Monthly Archives: February 2017

Historical Settings

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In his intro to Slavic linguistics – “The Dawn of Slavic”, Alexander Schenker provided the reader with some historical background on the early Slavs.  This certainly made his book less dry that it otherwise would have been (even to a linguistics student).  Interestingly for us, as part of this side endeavor Schenker also decided to tackle the Slav – Veneti connection.

Let’s take a look at what this freebie that Professor Schenker tossed into his book looks like.

Without ultimately committing himself to any position, he generally rejects the evidence of a link between the Veneti and the Slavs.

Let’s go through his arguments.

The Tacitian Tackle

To start with he says that there were three different tribes bearing the name Veneti or Venedi: the Adriatic Veneti as to which place names and inscriptions “suggest” that they spoke an Italic dialect.  A “Celtic” Veneti who, according to Caesar, “excelled in the theory and practice of navigation.” And, finally, the Veneti on the Vistula who he concentrates on.*

[* note that, as we discussed, there may have been other Venetic tribes such as the Paphlagonian Enetoi as well as the Illyrian Veneti (assuming the Adratic and Illyrian were different or became different).]

Schenker observes that Tacitus was the first to “tackle” the ethnic affiliation of the northern Veneti and saw the Veneti as, in the end, Germanic based on cultural similarity.  Schenker writes:

“After hesitating whether to classify them as Germanic or Sarmatian, he finally decided in favor of the former on the basis of their cultural similarity with the Germanic peoples.”

This statement suggests more than it should.  To see how little Tacitus thought about the problem all we have to do is, once again, cite him:

Peucinorum Venedorumque et Fennorum nationes Germanis an Sarmatis adscribam dubito, quamquam Peucini, quos quidam Bastarnas vocant, sermone, cultu, sede ac domiciliis ut Germani agunt. Sordes omnium ac torpor procerum; conubiis mixtis nonnihil in Sarmatarum habitum foedantur. Venedi multum ex moribus traxerunt; nam quidquid inter Peucinos Fennosque silvarum ac montium erigitur latrociniis pererrant. Hi tamen inter Germanos potius referuntur, quia et domos figunt et scuta gestant et pedum usu ac pernicitate gaudent: quae omnia diversa Sarmatis sunt in plaustro equoque viventibus.

And the graphic representation (for the English see here):

Codex Aesinas

That’s all.  That’s the extent of the “tackling”.

The Schenkerian Complaint

Schenker then notes “[y]et, in most investigations dealing with Slavic prehistory, the Baltic VenetI are not considered Germanic, as Tacitus would have it, or Illyrian, like their namesakes on the Adriatic, or Celtic, like the Morbihan Veneti. Rather they are generally regarded as Slavic.”

This requires an unpacking.

First, there is the question about what Tacitus considered Germanic.  Tacitus cites nothing to suggest that we should view, for example, the Suevi as Germanic in today’s – German speaking /vaguely Nordic – sense of the word.  Yet using Tacitus’ vision of the world they were labeled as Germanic.  Consequently, the suggestion that the Veneti may have seemed “Germanic” to Tacitus proves only that, to Tacitus, they were similar to people Tacitus considered Germanic.  The classifications says nothing about the nature of the thing Tacitus compared them to, i.e., Tacitus’ Germanics such as the Suevi.  Since the Suevi, as we have argued, may well have been the same people as some or all of today’s Western Slavs (for example, the Aesti, typically viewed as Balts – who are today viewed as most similar to Slavs – are described by Tacitus as similar to the Suevi except for some language differences), the similarity between the Veneti and the Suevi does not help us to determine whether the Veneti were “Nordic” or “Slavic”.  In any event, this similarity seems to be based entirely on one cultural aspect – the Venetis’ fixed dwellings which characteristic made them, to Tacitus, similar to Germanics and distinguished them in his mind from the Saramatians (who lived on wagons).

Second, as regards the Adriatic Veneti, it is not even clear what Schenker means by “Illyrian”.  Just a few lines above he says that “[a] few surviving place names and brief inscriptions suggest that the Adriatic Veneti spoke an Italic dialect.  The memory of the Italic Veneti survives in the names of their province Venetia and the city of Venice.”

So were the Adriatic Veneti Italic or Illyrian?  Does Schenker think these are the same thing or is he just being sloppy?

Third, Schenker calls the Morbihan Veneti “Gallic”.  What does he mean by that?  He does not say – other than, we assume, he thinks that they lived in the territory of a Roman {eventually) province called by the Romans Gall and, presumably, spoke a language which Schenker views as Gallic.  As to the former, that is, of course, true.  As to the latter, we have zero evidence as to what language the Veneti of today’s Morbihan spoke as they seem to have left no inscriptions in their own language.

(Morbihan itself is a Breton word that may have arrived in that area with the Britons fleeing England after the Anglo-Saxon invasion – a documented exodus – incidentally. hence the current name of the area – Brittany).

Schenker then notes that the Veneti “are also mentioned twice on… the Tabula Peutingeriana whose protograph may go back to the the third or fourth century A.D.”

This is incorrect.  Veneti are mentioned three times on the Tabula.  Once in Gall, once on the Baltic and once at the mouth of the Danube.  (We might suppose that Schenker either has not familiarized himself with the Tabula sufficiently or by Veneti here he means only those Veneti that he thinks might conceivably be Slavs.)

The Schenkerian Tackle

Professor Schenker then proceeds to suggest why people have argued that the Baltic Veneti were Slavs.  He lists three arguments:

  • The Veneti of the first and second centuries A.D. occupied the same area as the historic Slavs of the sixth century.
  • The name of the Veneti survived in the German language as Wenden or Winden where it designated Slavs who lived in the closest proximity to Germany.
  • “And, last,” Jordanes “applied the terms Veneti and Slavs to the same ethnic community.”

Though the “last” is also incorrect as other arguments had been made in addition to the above, let’s go with Schenker’s tackling of the above.

What does Schenker think of these arguments?

Well, first he tells us that he thinks that they are “not decisive”.  Since he does not define what would be decisive, we must assume that what he really means is that, in his subjective judgement, for one reason or another he refuses to be convinced.


Argument 1
Quantum Reality 

What of the first argument? He notes that the Slavs by the 6th century were somewhere in the vicinity of where the Veneti had been recorded in the first but observes:

“This does not mean, however, that they had to be there in the time of Tacitus.  During the intervening four hundred years Europe underwent its most momentous transformations, as the fall of Rome and the Hunnic invasions started the ethnic whirligig known as the Great Migrations.  To assume a lack of change during during the period of such profound ethnic perturbations is to strain the laws of historical probability.”

There are two obvious problems with this statement.

For one thing, Schenker seems basically to argue that just because condition A was true at time T1, does not mean that A was also true at T0.  This, of course, is true.  But neither does this mean that at T0 we had condition B.  If a rock made of limestone sits on a mountain today, and you are vehement that yesterday that mountain side was occupied by an obsidian or quartzite boulder, it is you who should establish that the latter tumbled down into the valley over night and the former tumbled down onto their spot – not the proponents of the contrary view.

Schenker seems aware of that but obviously can’t prove it so he resorts to some factual assumptions and the laws of probability.

He says, well, there was a “whirligig” and also those “profound ethnic perturbations” so things must have changed (or at least so would “historical probability” dictate in Schenker’s view).

But here is the other problem.

There is currently no agreement among historians as to whether there were any such ethnic perturbations.  Modern scholarship takes a much more nuanced view of the Voelkerwanderung than the heroic scholarship of the 19th century.*

[* note: while we strongly suspect that the view of “modern scholarship” was influenced by a desire to refute the Germanic notion of a heroic Voelkerwanderung, it would be a height of cynicism to assume that that scholarship takes a purely results-oriented view of such arguments – claiming keine Wanderungen when talking to proponents of the Germanic “travel” mythos but claiming a “whirligig” of ethnic change when talking to proponents of Slavic “autochtonism”…]

In other words, was there really a whirligig?

Well, barbarians were roving left and right, the Roman Empire fell and different new kingdoms arose.  Seems like the whirligig theory wins hands down.

But does it?

Let’s take a look at the whirligig up close

Remember, Schenker’s theory requires not just any whirligig but rather an “ethnic” whirligig.  What would we really know about about this period if we were to follow Schenker’s logic?  Let’s look at the remnants of the Roman Empire and beyond:

  • In Spain, the prior Roman-era population was replaced with the new Germanic tribes of the Suevi, the Visigoths and the Vandals (and the Sarmatian Alans).  No one knows what happened to the indigenous population but we must assume that it was driven out, killed and/or assimilated.  As a result, of this whirligig, by the late 5th century the newcomers’ Gothic became the dominant language in Iberia where it continued its supreme position until Arabic replaced it as a result of the Muslim invasions and the driving out of the Germanics.  Subsequently, a new people – the modern Spanish emerged to drive out the Arabs – where did the Spanish speakers come from?  Modern historians are most perplexed by this query some locating their homeland in the Jutland Peninsula and others arguing for the Pripet Marshes.  Ahhhhhh…. Nope.
  • In Gall, the Galls and Romans were exterminated by the newly arrived Franks who also gave their name to the new ethnic creation.  France and its Franks remain the preeminent force in Europe today where Merovecha Lepenech seems destined to become the new All-Frankish monarch proudly pushing for the primacy of the Frankish Teutonic dialect within all gaus under Frankish control.  Yeeeahhh… Nope again.
  • In Italy, the population was perhaps the most brutalized in the wake of the Empire’s collapse.  After the Goths, Vandals, Ostrogoths and Lombards drove out the locals and established their polities, nothing was left of the aborigines (such as they had been).  Gothic and other East Germanic dialects naturally became predominant in this new environment and these languages continue their Teutonic preeminence on the peninsula till this very day.  See above...
  • In Britain the invading Anglo-Saxons replaced whatever locals there were and English is now the language of the day.  The locals themselves have either fled (see Brittany) or been killed.   Even here… while we do not pretend to deal much with DNA, it seems “Anglo-Saxon” DNA accounts for about 1/3 of British male DNA.  According to “Modern studies of British people suggest the earliest populations continued to exist and adapt and absorb the new arrivals.” Not to mention that “prior” Gaelic languages continue to exist in the west of Britain.  All that really seems to have happened is a bit of technological collapse where we learn that, for example, “…even basic technologies, like the use of the wheel for pottery production, all vanished during the fifth century…” Now, where did we see that before?
  • In Scandinavia, the intense Nordic invasions of the Continent not only relieved population pressures that caused such invasions in the first place but resulted in a virtual emptying out of the entire region.  As a result, vast numbers of Finns moved in, which is why, today, all of Scandinavia is simply known as Suomi.  Ahem… naaaahhh.
  • In Central and Eastern Europe, the Germanics on the move emptied themselves out here as well.  In the place of the proud Suavi, there now moved in – from parts unknown – the Sclavi – the newcomers whom we know as Slavs.   Oh, and the Veneti – they kind of disappeared… ehhh, the dog ate them.  Well, this one (finally!) seems ENTIRELY BELIEVABLE!

This is not to say that invaders cannot bring new languages (Today’s Turkey did not previously speak Turkish, the US did not speak English, etc) but the conditions for an ethnic language and culture change vary and one cannot a priori claim that every whirligig will result in such a change (as evidenced by the above).  In fact, the claim of a whirligig, as made by Schenker, necessarily assumes the conclusion.

Perhaps even more importantly, even if a language (and culture) changes that certainly is no indication that the population changed.  just look at Spanish speaking America.  Would Schenker claim that the Spanish invaders replaced the natives?  As rulers sure, but it’s not like those natives disappeared.

Put in other words, the laws of probability cannot be invoked (at least not with a straight face) to say anything about a population exchange in general, the 5th century European exchange in particular and the Venetic place in Slavic history in the very particular.

If anything the laws of probability here would suggests precisely the opposite conclusion than that drawn by Schenker.

There is one point to be made here.  If “whirligig” happened then what happened to the Veneti? Where did they go?  Surely, an out migration of the Veneti would have been registered somewhere?

The Slavs were according to this story coming from the East.  So the Veneti would have had to flee West, South or North?  Is there any evidence of this?  One could claim that the Western Slavs were the fleeing Veneti but at no point (that we know of) are their names, customs or look (based on anthropological similarities and probably genetic) different from that of the “eastern” Slavs.  In any event, Schenker does not claim such an outmigration.  He is just silent on the topic altogether.

Argument 2
Of Susan McKendrick and Sharon Evers 

Let’s give the pulpit back to Schenker:

“Nor can the German practice of designating their Slavic neighbors by the names Wenden or Winden help us to solve the question of the ethnic character of the Veneti.”


According to Schenker:

“[t]ransfers of names from one ethnic group to another have frequently occurred in history and signify no more than some kind of spatial and temporal contiguity between the two communities.”

[As a matter of English usage, the conjunctive above is quite difficult to untangle.  Assuming that the “two communities” that Schenker is referring to are the Veneti and the Slavs, presumably he means spatial but not temporal overlap.  Assuming “contiguity” refers to the Germans on the one hand and the Veneti/Slavs on the other, presumably he means that each of the latter two shared a boundary with the Germans, albeit at different times.  If so, then that would not preclude them sharing a different space from one another but, let’s move on.]

He goes on to say:

“The German usage may merely indicate that some non-Germanic Veneti lived in the area occupied later [aha, there it is!] by the West Slavs and that the Germans transferred the name of the former to the latter.”

He then cites cases of Lithuanians calling the East Slavs “Goths” (Gudai) and the German practice of referring to the Czechs as Bohemians by reason of “the Celtic tribe of the Boii who lived in Bohemia before the Czechs.”

He continues:

“There is no reason, however, to assume that the transfer of the name Veneti to the Slavs occurred much before the sixth century.”

That’s all of his Argument 2…

To begin with, let’s assume for the sake of argument that the East Slavs have nothing to do with the Goths and the Czechs have nothing to do with the “Celtic” Boii other than their spatial overlap.

The fact that transference of names does occasionally occur does not mean that it happens always and continuously.  When an astronaut looks down on France and Germany, then closes his eyes for a second, and, upon opening again notes that the French still call the Germans Allemands and the Germans call the French Franzosen, surely he won’t be justified in arguing that there is no evidence for the population remaining the same on both sides of the border…

If we may assume (as surely we may) that the general and more likely case is that when we call something A at T0 and A at T1, we mean the same thing and the thing is indeed the same, then “tribal name transference” must be an exception, a special case to that general rule.  Indeed, that is precisely why such a confusing set of words is needed to explain this unusual phenomenon.  On the other hand, we lack a term for the more usual case of “nothing happened”.

It is ridiculous to claim, as Schenker does, that what is an occasional exception to the rule renders the rule meaningless altogether.  Specifically, to say that “the German practice of designating their Slavic neighbors by the names Wenden or Winden [cannot] help us to solve the question of the ethnic character of the Veneti” because such practice “may merely indicate” a transference of names, is just pure bunk.  Here, Schenker goes further in what he writes above, by literally claiming not just that the rule is meaningless but that it states the opposite from what it states.  In fact in the above, Schenker says that evidence of condition A may indicate condition B…

(It seems that authors need not only the help of an editor but also of a logician)

Of course, anything “is possible” but what is more likely?

And were the Finns (and Estonians) also previously in spatial (but not temporal!) “contiguity” with the Veneti and the Slavs?  Are they also engaged in tribal name transference when they refer to the Russians as Venäläiset (Venelased)?

So that, as they say, is that.

Argument 3
Or How the Gallo-Romans Conquered the Franks

Schenker goes on:

“There is also no compelling evidence to justify the claim that Jordanes’ identification of the Veneti with the Slavs reflects an ancient situation.  The Slavicization of the Veneti is possible in the sixth century but most improbable in the first.  To take an anologous example, the Franks in the eight-century France were already fully Romanized and could be identified with the native Gallo-Roman population.  It would be absurd, however, to extend such an identification to the fifth-century Germanic Franks, who were then just embarking upon their conquest of Gaul.”

It’s entirely unclear what he means here.  For starters, let’s put aside subjective judgment words such as “compelling” or “most improbable” or “absurd.”

Beyond that much of this is silly.

First of all, Schenker’s use of an “analogous example” is only analogous if the argument he is trying to prove is correct.  Otherwise he’s just assuming the conclusion.

But it’s even more confusing that that.  Schenker’s arguments 1 and 2 assume a full or substantial replacement of the Venetic population with the Slavs (remember the ethnic whirligig whereby the Veneti disappear and Slavs appear?  Or the mistaken transference of the Venetic name onto the “new” Slavs?).  Yet in his argument 3, Schenker admits the possibility of the “Slavicization” of the Veneti.  So now he argues that the Veneti could have stayed where they were after all but were – by the 6th century – “Slavicized.”  And what does he mean by “Slavicization”?

Presumably, he means just a change of language/culture as a result of some new incoming people.  But then of what relevance is the Frankish example?

The Franks were conquerors who melded into the local “Gallo-Roman” population adopting the locals’ language while giving their name to the locals.  We know the same thing happened with the Rus in the East somewhat later.  In each case, this outcome seems to have resulted from the relatively small number of the newcomers and the quick merging of the populations.

If this is indeed the analogy Schenker sees, is he then saying that the language the “Slavs” speak is the Venetic?  Surely, that is what his “analogy” would tell us if the Veneti preceded the Slavs in their mutual “space.”

But if so, then it is not the Veneti that were Slavicized but the incoming Slavs (Suevi?) who were “Venetized.”  

Except that is not what Schenker seems to be saying.

Presumably he means that the Veneti were the minority and the Slavs were the majority.  The Slavs came and took over the Venetic lands absorbing the remnants of the Veneti.  That would explain why there may be some “Venetic” dNA in Slavic blood but why the culture/language is Slavic.

But then the above Frankish example is hardly analogous.

As a side note, it is also not clear why he also objects to the “Slavicization” of the Veneti in the 1st century.  The people who are arguing for the Slavic nature of the Veneti do not argue that the Veneti were Slavicized in the 1st century (or earlier) but rather that they were always Slavic in the sense that the Slavs (as Jordanes says) emerged from the Veneti.

And if Schenker accepts Veneti somewhere about the Vistula in the first century (as he seems to – though even this is not clear), does he question the existence of a post-Venetic Germanic (meaning Nordic) interlude?  Though he does not even acknowledge the issue, presumably he would not take that position.  And so, if there really were Germanic Goths, Vandals and Burgundians living in formerly Venetic lands, why does Jordanes not say that the Slavs also incorporated those?  Were the Veneti living in Central Europe before, during and after the Germanic invasions?  Successfully resisting Germanization all along for 200-400 years?  And then when the Germanic tribes left (?) the Veneti immediately fell victim to Slavicization?

Most fundamentally, Schenker does not even try to impugn Jordanes’ credibility.  He says there is no “compelling” reason to “justify” Jordanes’ claim of the Venetic-Slavic identity  (Compelling how/to whom?).

But it stretches credulity to suggest that a 6th century observer of these events (who, supposedly, relied on earlier sources) would need to do more to justify his plainly reasonable and hardly fantastic claims (no alien spaceships here!) to someone who finds the observer uncompelling from a distance of over a millennium and a half.

The very lack of Schenker’s temporal contiguity with Jordanes and the events of Jordanes’ day makes the former, without more, a less compelling source as to the truthfulness of these events than our Gothic scribe.

Argument 4
A Meillet Detour

Then Schenker throws in a couple of other thoughts:

“… the very fact that the ancient sources locate the Veneti on the Baltic provides the most persuasive argument against their identification with the Slavs  The point is that Slavic vocabulary does not contain any indication that he early Slavs were exposed to the sea.  Proto-Slavic had no maritime terminology whatsoever, be it in the domain of seafaring, sea fishing, boat building, or sea trade.  Especially striking is the absence of a Proto-Slavic word for amber, the most important item for export from the shores of the Baltic to the Mediterranean.  In view of this, the very fact that Ptolemy refers to the Baltic as the Venedic Bay* appears to rule out a possible identification of the Veneti of his time with the Slavs.”

[* note: It’s actually not entirely clear as to what Ptolemy thought represented the Venedic Bay.  It may have been the entire Baltic Sea but it also may have been a portion of the Baltic (candidates range from the Kiel Bay (on which the Wagri were known to reside) to the Gulf of Finland) or even (and less plausibly) some other location]

These “very facts” turns out are less factual than we might think just reading the above.  Ancient sources may or may not have located the Veneti on the Baltic.  Jordanes locates the Veneti at the Vistula but the Vidivarii at the river’s mouth.  Before that, Pliny locates the Veneti in the continent’s interior but not necessarily on the Baltic.  Tacitus does not locate the Veneti anywhere specific other than somewhere at the edge of Suevia – whether that is on the Baltic or not depends on a number of assumptions, starting with the assumption of where is the hic at which his Suevia finis.  The only person who, arguably, speaks of the Baltic is Ptolemy who locates the Veneti at the Venetic Bay which – probably – was a bay on the Baltic.  That said, it is also not clear whether Ptolemy locates all the Veneti at that bay as his description of the “greater” and “lesser” peoples suggests that he may have understood the Veneti to encompass several sub tribes, some of which he clearly does not locate at the Venetic Bay.

What about these claims about “maritime” vocabulary?

Here we come to an interesting detour.  Schenker’s only citation for the above sweeping claim is to Antoine Meillet‘s three and a half page article in the Revue des études slaves titled “De quelques mots relatifs a la navigation.” (A few words relating to navigation) which we discussed here and here.  As we’ve shown Meillet’s article exhibits, what may charitably be called, a shocking ignorance of Slavic languages (at least shocking in case of someone who purports to be a linguist undertaking to write a scholarly article about such languages) combined with no relevant examples to support his claim.

So that, as we say again, is that for the only reference that Schenker provides.

What about Schenker’s own (since gives no other citation we should presume that to be his own argument) argument “that Slavic vocabulary does not contain any indication that he early Slavs were exposed to the sea.  Proto-Slavic had no maritime terminology whatsoever, be it in the domain of seafaring, sea fishing, boat building, or sea trade”?

As we previously noted when discussing Meillet, Slavic vocabulary in fact does contain words with a clear Slavic origin that relate to maritime matters.  In answering the question of how rich that vocabulary was, we must first ask as compared to what?  In other words, it’s all relative.

Did Schenker undertake an examination of the maritime terminology of the proto-Germanic languages?  Of proto-Illyrian?  Proto-Celtic?  Proto-Greek?  Dacian?  Did he, upon concluding such an examination, tabulate the various seafaring, sea fishing, boat building, and sea trade terms across these groups concluding, based on such unassailable evidence, that the proto-Slavic was, in fact, greatly lacking in the maritime department?

We assume the answer must be yes and he is just careful not to share his findings with the reader since otherwise he’d just be spouting hot air…

In fact, this is the same sleight of hand as is often done with the disappearance wheel-based pottery in Central Europe in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire.  This fact is taken as proof of a cultural change (and hence a change of ethnicities) without bothering to test for the presence or absence of such cultural collapse across the entire Roman frontier (thus, missing, as noted above, evidence of the same collapse in other areas where a population exchange did not take place or, to the extent it took place, it took the form of Celtic tribes being “augmented” by Germanic (as in Nordic) tribes, both presumably familiar with wheel based pottery and yet none able to prevent a regression to the simpler hand-made pottery model).

Does Schenker suggest that Slavs could not have lived near the sea because they lacked a word for mizen-mast, leach lines and spinnaker?

There is also another problem with this argument.  It says nothing about where specific Slavic groups lived.  The proto-Slavic may have developed 100k years ago right on the sea’s edge but if it developed in an era of primitive boating, it would contain no sophisticated nautical vocabulary.

(You could easily see a situation whereby some Slavs then head out East and never develop more sophisticated maritime vocabulary.  The Slavs that remain do but then those words never make it back to Proto-Slavic.  What’s more if the Slavs that remain do develop certain words and then pass them onto the Germans, such words make it into Proto-Germanic. Now they are in Proto-Germanic and in – some – Slavic languages (the ones from which the Germans borrowed them) but the result is that Proto-Germanic has them but Proto-Slavic does not.  If that is the case, the easy next step is to claim that those Slavs with whom the words originated instead borrowed such words from the Germanic.)

So much for the claim of “whatsoever”.

What about amber – the Greek electron, the Latin Sucinum or glaesum?

The claim is that the Slavs use variations on the Germanic/Nordic word Bernstein (meaning “burning stone”).  This is true but just this much.

Suffice it to say that we do know (from Pliny) that the trade in amber was run by the Gutones and, perhaps, the Teutones – not the Slavs.  As such it is their (Gothic) name of the resin that became predominant.  This, however, does not mean that there was no Slavic name for the same product.

In fact, we know of at least two:

Here there is word for amber that appears in all Slavic languages – jantar.  This has been as a borrowing from the Baltic languages (Lithuanian gintaras, Latvian dzintars, Prussian gīntars?).  But this does not stop here… Rather we are also told the Baltic words are themselves borrowings from… the Phoenician jainitar meaning “sea-resin”.  Say what?

So the Slavic J came from the Baltic G but the Baltic G came from the Phoenician J!?  Why not just say that both Slavic and Baltic got the word from the Phoenician?  Or maybe the Phoenicians got it from the Balts?

And why from the Phoenician?  The Phoenicians are not known to have reached the Black Sea or the Baltic Sea.  Why not from the Venetic?

And how do we know the word is even Phoenician!?  (We have not seen this explained anywhere – just repeated).  The Phoenician word for “sea” seems to be ym or yam.  Not Jain or Yain.  In fact, the latter smack of Indian Jainism.  And what of the word tar for “resin”?  Do we have to reach to the Phoenician for that?

Isn’t the most obvious connection to the Germanic/Nordic “tar”?:

“tar (n.1) a viscous liquid, Old English teoruteru “tar, bitumen, resin, gum,” literally “the pitch of (certain kinds of) trees,” from Proto-Germanic *terwo- (source also of Old Norse tjara, Old Frisian tera, Middle Dutch tar, Dutch teer, German Teer), probably a derivation of *trewo-, from PIE *derw-, variant of root *deru-*dreu- in its sense “wood, tree” (see tree (n.)).” [but what about terra – Earth!?]

(Moreover, the Lithuanians feature a name Gintaras.  But that name seems to have first come up in the 1940s suggesting (perhaps) an imitation of the German GüntherGunther.  These names are related to Gunnar and, ultimately supposed to relate to something like “fight/battle” and “warrior/army”.  For example, Günther from Old High German gund ‎(battle) + heri ‎(army) or Gunnar is derived from Old Norse gunnr ‎(fight) and -arr from Proto-Germanic *harjaz ‎(warrior)).

This would suggest a Germanic origin for jantar.  But the Germans already have Bernstein!  And, to top it off there is another Germanic word – Rav/Raaf.  Why would then need three different words for the same thing and does that suggest that some of these are not Germanic?  Which of the three would not then be Germanic?  Presumably jantar or gintaras/dzintars but what is its origin?

We add to this the fact that the Prussians seem to have also had the word glēsis (in addition to gīntars).  This makes for a very close match with Pliny’s glæsum.  In addition, as shown here, there is also the Polish głaz (pronounced “guaz”) which means a “large stone” but in, for example, Russian, refers to an eye.  What this tells us is that the Slavic “oko” was partly replaced by the “stone” word of głaz (see Polish gałki or gały).  

But for that to have made any sense, the głaz stone must have been understood as a much smaller stone than the current Polish głaz.  In fact, such a głaz would have been the size of a piece of amber.  The assumption is that there must have been a specialized term for this kind of a “stone” such as a “burn stone” or “amber” but unless you were involved in the amber trade*, a stone was just a stone.  For this argument to have any legs you’d presumably have to establish that the Slavs did have their own words for pumice, jade, marble, granite, obsidian, etc…  Otherwise, to be consistent, you’d want to conclude that they originated in an area devoid of those rocks as well.

[* note: we also suspect that the above paragraph overstates the importance of amber in the Baltic-Rome trade.  While amber did come to Rome from the Baltic, it also came from other European areas such as Friesland.  And while amber did come from the Baltic, other goods came from the Baltic (and came from Rome to the Baltic) as well.  Even if the Slavs (and Balts) were not ever to have had their own word for amber, that relevance of that fact to the debate about Slavic ethnogenesis is itself debatable.]

Note too, that the “island” that Pliny refers to as the island of amber is named by the “Germans” Austeravia.  This can mean “Eastern” island obviously is also very similar to the Slavic name for (we are told, river) island – ostrów.

Where does this leave us?   The fact that Bernstein became the prevalent name for amber among many Slavs may have much to do with the fact that the Goths ran (took over?) the amber trade.  The only thing that is safe to say beyond that is that, it may be the case, that the Slavs referred to these little amber stones as głazy and that no one knows for sure what the origin of the word jantar is – even if it were derived from a Baltic form, it may well be that the Balts were included among the Veneti…

Argument 5
Schwinden Winden

We previously discussed the account of Cornelius Nepos (relayed by Pomponius Mela and, in a different variation, by Pliny the Elder) regarding the capture of the “Indian” sailors by the king of the Boii (Mela) or of the Suevi (Pliny) and the gift made of these to a Roman proconsul in Gaul, one Qunitus Metellus Celer.  Professor Schenker points out that these Indi have at times (starting with Pavel Jozef Šafárik) been hypothesized to have been the Windische, i.e., the Veneti and hence possibly Slavs:

“It is interesting to recall in this connection a story that many scholars, from Šafárikon, have adduced in support of the identification of the Veneti with the Slavs…  Could one claim that the Indi of this account were Slavs?  In suggesting that this indeed could have been the case, Šafárik had to accept a number of hypotheses [we number these assertions for ease of reference]:

  1. that Nepos’ story was not fictitious;
  2. that a sea voyage from India (or some other place referred to as India) to Western Europe was not feasible in or before the first century B.C.;
  3. that Indi and Indicus are to be read as Vindi and Vindicus;
  4. that the Indi (now identified as the Vindi) were in fact the Venedi < Veneti;
  5. that the Indi (now identified as the Veneti) arrived on the shores of Germany from the Baltic rather than from some other sea like the Adriatic;
  6. that the watery expanse [aequora] which the luckless sailors had to traverse was merely the Kattegat and the Skagerrak;
  7. that the Indi ( = Indi = Veneti) were Slavic; and
  8. that the Slavs were capable of making long sea voyages in or before the first century B.C.

The degree of probability of most of these assumptions is fairly low, and Šafárik was duly cautious in advancing his hypothesis… Šafárik’s followers, however, show no hesitation ion considering his surmise a proven fact.”

First, as a matter of logic, the only thing that needs to be true here are hypothesis 1 and 7.  The other hypotheses are either irrelevant to the argument (for example 2), largely subsumed by hypothesis 7 (for example, 3, 4 and 5) or irrelevant and set forth in an inconsistent way (hypothesis 6 and 8).

Second, one might observe that the Slavic connection with the Veneti hardly depends on this story.

Third, there is Veleda…


Well, we have previously argued that the Batavian priestess Veleda appears to us suspiciously Slavic.  Indeed, we have previously written about the Dutch Slavic myths (see here and here).

It just so happens that we have some names of the members of the Imperial Germanic Bodyguards.  One of those names is of a man named Indus.  He is described there as a Batavian.

“Indus, bodyguard of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus, of the Second Decuria, of the Batavian nation, [who] lived 36 years, is buried here. [The gravestone] was erected by his brother and heir, Eumenes, from the collegium of the Germans”

[Indus / Neronis Claudi / Caesaris Aug(usti) / corpor(is) custos / dec(uria) Secundi / natione Batavus / vix(it) ann(os) XXXVI h(ic) s(itus) e(st) / posuit / Eumenes frater / et heres eius ex collegio / Germanorum.]

(His (?) brother’s name is recorded as Eumenes – this appears to be a Greek or perhaps Thracian name – for example, Eumenes of Cardia).

So what you say? Well, maybe the Indi were just Batavi in Celler’s mind.   Or maybe there is something to that Batavian – Slavic connection.

Argument 6
Quantum Arguments

The last argument that Schenker makes is rather bizarre.  He uses the report of Henry of Livonia “who described a clearly non-Slavic tribe of the Vindi which lived in Courland and Livonia… [and whose people] may well be the descendants of the Baltic Veneti.”

Schenker’s statement is puzzling and one has to wonder how any thinking person could have made it.

First of all Schenker (whose citation practice leaves much to be desired) provides zero evidence to support his claim that this tribe was “clearly non-Slavic”.  There is nothing clear here because there is nothing here at all.  Schenker just asserts this.

We have previously written about this report.

For Schenker’s argument to hold, we would have to accept a number of hypotheses:

  1. that the Veneti were not Slavs;
  2. that these non-Slavic Veneti did in fact live near the Baltic;
  3. that the same non-Slavic Veneti survived as a distinct people for about a millenium, all along avoiding any Germanization, Gothicization, Balticization or Slavicization;
  4. that the continued existence of such a tribe went about unnoticed and unremarked on for the duration of the same millenium until one Heinrich of Lettland stumbled upon them in the first half of the 13th century;
  5. that this Heinrich, a German crusader who must have been intimately aware of the practice of his people calling the Slavs of his time Wenden would have called some other tribe by that exact same name;
  6. that Heinrich would have done so with respect to a tribe that he encountered in the Baltic-Slavic borderlands; and that
  7. that Heinrich, a writer who conveyed much about the life of the local tribes, would have considered his use of such nomenclature for a “clearly non-Slavic” tribe to be something entirely unremarkable to the point of not observing upon the oddity of the existence of these “clearly non-Slavic” Wends to his readers.

Oh, and that these Wends’ “colours” were the same as those of the other Western Slavic tribes such as Poles or Czechs (as per the later Livländische Reimchronik we hear of  “a red banner cut through with white after the manner of the Wends.”).

Now, to make this kind of an argument is not only to strain the laws of historical probability but to leave them by the wayside entirely.  Here we really are in the world of quantum history.

The last stand of the last non-Slavic Venet – somewhere on the Venta River about 1250 (photo credit: Heinrich von Lettlandski)

(p.s. otherwise, the book is ok but if we are to take a linguist’s word as to the relationship between the Veneti and the Slavs, we’ll go with Vasmer‘s).

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February 27, 2017

Signs of Lada – Part IV

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And speaking of Ispania:

From Jan Gruter’s “Ancient inscriptions of the entire Roman world, edited in the most complete assemblage” (Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis romani, in absolutissimum corpus redactae) we have the following information:

This inscription appears near Monte Furado in Gallicia in the province of Lugo (where later the Suevi appear to have settled.  Incidentally, these Suevi left interesting names behind.  For example you can see Guitiriz (supposedly from the name of Witiricus, a Suevian) or nearby towns such as Becin, Buriz, Mariz, Guimil, Petin or Parga.

Another inscription to the same Jupiter appears in the area:

This picture comes from Juan Francisco de Masdeu’s Historia crítica de España y de la cultura Española, en todo genero (volume 5 part II).

We hear that “Jupiter Ladicus” was the Jupiter equated with a Celtiberian mountain-god and worshipped as the spirit of Mount Ladicus in Gallaecia, northwest Iberia, preserved in the toponym Codos de Ladoco.

Why was the mountain referred to as Lada?  If, as Dlugosz would have it, Yesse or Yassa was Jove or Jupiter and Lada was His Guardian, then the phrase Alado gardzyna yesse comes to mind here.

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February 26, 2017

Argentine Netherlands

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Were going to reply to one of the posts but a longer note is in order.  First, thanks for the note on “isep”.  Second, you are, of course, right.

Thus, for example: “que inter fluuium Viszla et dictam lacum nyeczecza cum insulis vulgariter yspy” (from March 16, 1468):

Note isep or ispa is still Slavic with a clear meaning (wysep, nasyp, etc) as in sypać, that is to “spill” or “pour” or “strew” pieces of a solid substance (like grains of sand).  Brückner derives all of these from suć (also noting Lithuanian/Old Prussian supis and Latin supare).

For that matter note the English “dissipate” (see you found that too) which the Online Etymology Dictionary pronounces as coming from Latin:

“early 15c., from Latin dissipatus, past participle of dissipare “to spread abroad, scatter, disperse; squander, disintegrate,” from dis- “apart” (see dis-) + supare “to throw, scatter,” from PIE *swep- “to throw, sling, cast” (source also of Lithuanian supu “to swing, rock,” Old Church Slavonic supo “to strew”). Related: Dissipateddissipatesdissipating.”

Note also the Latin variations suposuparesupavisupatus.  This is defined as “pour”, “strew”, “scatter”, “throw” as per the highly authoritative (:-)) Latin Dictionary which states its age as “unknown”.

As Boryś describes it, it is land “surrounded on ALL sides” by water.  So if one thinks “ostrow” (which, as noted, it does not) implies a river island he can look to the Slavic isep or ispa for any island.

So was Meillet not aware of this?

What Else Can One Do With This?

On this topic, check out “Słownik historyczno-geograficzny ziem polskich w średniowieczu” for a village (still there apparently) “Isep”.  Now that seems to have been first recorded as “yssep” in 1462 (?).

Meillet in that article could not place insula into any Indo-European bucket.  And yet, above we have a Slavic/Baltic etymology.

Does insula have anything to do with the above Slavic yssep?

Not clear but if you want to get closer…

In the Netherlands we have the river IJssel (a part of the Rhine).  In West Flemish this river is also spelled Yssel.  Now the name of this river may relate to the Proto IE root *eis- “to move quickly” as in the Polish jazda (“ride”).  Although, it may just mean the “flowing” or passage of water/time  (as in the word yesterday) or may relate to being in Indo-European (“is” “its” “jest“) or elsewhere 

But the Yssel was also spelled IslaIsala.  So maybe the river was named after its islands?

(But compare Ister, Saal, Solawa/Soława).  (For more on potential Slavic signs in the Netherlands see here and here).

For a real brain teaser, check out the “Arte, y vocabulario de la lengua Lule, y Tonocotè” by Antonio Machoni where we find the following definition (at least one of them) of the Spanish word isla in the Argentine Lule languageA to yesitip.

Now all that remains is to connect the Lule to the Sami Lule, then to the River Lule and onwards full circle to Lulajże, Jezuniu (since Jesus’ name, as well as its Hebrew variant Yehoshua, may well have Old European roots that take it back to the ancient Esus/Ister (a lord > don > (Slovene) donava (the Lord’s river? :-)).  Note too that Ister (“Illyrian”?) as well as the Old Greek version of Ister – Ístros – has the same etymology as “stream” or, for that matter ostrow).

And we have not even gotten to Ispania yet… All you have to recall is our discussion of the Pyrenee name.  For signs of Slavs in Spain see here.  Spain’s name is supposedly Phoenician.  But if there is a link between the Phoenicians and the Veneti, maybe the Veneti thought Spain to be an island  even though it turns out to be more of a peninsula?

And one other thing: although półwysep (peninsula) has been declared a creation from the German (Halbinsel), note that there seems little proof of that.  The problem with the German-Slavic comparisons (or for that matter Latin-German) is that the German literary language preceded Slavic and Latin preceded German.  Thus, the “earlier” attested word will inevitably appear in the earlier literary language.  That, however, can only be a proof of that earlier written appearance.  It is, of course, not proof that the later appearing word – even if constructed in the same fashion – is just a translation of the earlier appareling one.  One could just as easily claim the opposite (that Halbinsel is a translation of półwysep).  We don’t do that because the bias is to assume, given two similar constructs, that the German one is the earlier (same with Latin German going the other way).  In the end, absent direct evidence of a translation, all we can talk about is when some words appeared in some languages’ literary tradition.

A similar complaint may be raised about saying that some word is “only attested” since [12]th century.  This may, of course, be true but that should not be taken to mean that that word was not in existence prior to that time.  This is particularly true with Slavic languages where the literary tradition is not old but no one would claim that we know nothing of Slavic before the 9th/10th century when first Slavic written records appear.

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February 25, 2017

Meillet and How the Veneti Discovered America – Part II

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So where else does Meillet wander?

Argument 3?

He next proceeds to confess that the Slavic word for “stern”, that is, krma, крма, кормової, кърма, etc. is, in fact, Indo-European (note that this word does not appear in West Slavic languages – the Polish has a borrowing from the Dutch and the Czech and Slovak are too different – it’s not clear whether Meillet was even aware of this).  However, he notes that this is of no relevance since, of course, the back of the boat is of particular “importance” to the person who engages in paddling!  Why the back of the boat of the boat should be more relevant for the paddler than the rower (or, in fact, anyone who happens to be traveling on a boat) is left unclear  by Meillet and that is all that we will say about this.

Argument 4

Meillet then proceeds to argue that the Slavic name for an island indicates that this must be a river island.  He notes that this name is ostrovu (or ostrów) and that this means an island around which water flows.  He notes that the same concept is found in Indo-Iranian languages observing that the Sanksrit word for an island was dvipam meaning “water on both sides” and states that this concept only applies to a river island.  He also points to the dvaepa of the Avesta (but also maybe in Greek as per Meillet’s citation of Homer).

That ostrovu indicates a current flowing around something is unquestionable (same concept with the “str” of a “stream”).

Whether this has any bearing on the location of the Slavic “homeland” is quite another story.

First of all, the Slavic ostrovu does not feature any explicit concept of “two sides” (of whatever) that the Sanksrit version of the  island name seems to have.  Therefore, the Sanksrit parallel is of little use here.  We are not debating Sanskrit but Slavic vocabulary so let’s stick to Slavic words.

Second of all, a current can certainly flow around sea islands as well.   Ocean currents do exist and that is something that, presumably, Meillet was or should have been aware of.

Third, there is a fundamental problem here.  It may be that the “original” Slavic word for an island did have a “river” like connotation.  But the fact that such a name was then extended to sea islands tells us precisely nothing as to when that happened.  In other words, Slavs may well have called sea islands ostrovu already 2,000 BC in which case the whole discussion as to what their homeland remains completely impervious to the linguistic argument that Meillet raises.

One might observe that in German a lake is called a See but a “sea” is also a See.  And while German also has Meer (as does Slavic with its morje – incidentally, think of the north Gallic “Morini”), the English language does not and still calls a sea by the word “sea” (both from Proto-Germanic *saiwaz?) while using the mar concept for a “marsh”.  What precisely are we to conclude from this?  Presumably, that Germanic languages developed far from the seas and oceans?

Fourth, and this is again strange, Meillet forgets to mention some other Slavic names of islands. He notes that other IE languages use various names for the concept of an island (and in most of these cases their origin is, he says, “obscure”).  He mentions the Armenian kghzi, the Latin insula and the Greek νασος/νησί.  And yet, with all this vast knowledge of IE languages, he seems unaware of other Slavic names for an island.  

For example, in addition to ostrów, there is otok in Slovene and Polish (but also attested in Czech and Croat).  The concept of otok as in a place that is “surrounded” [by water] is similar to that of ostrów, except that it does not involve the concept of “flowing” around the island.  So ostrów minus the current.

Then there is the Polish wyspa (earlier wysepwysop) whose age is precisely unclear.

Incidentally, he says that islainsula is of uncertain derivation – may be – curiously, the Slavic Wisła (Vistula) may be broken to get an isla as in:


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February 19, 2017

Meillet and How the Veneti Discovered America – Part I

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Antoine Meillet‘s three and a half page article in the Revue des études slaves titled “De quelques mots relatifs a la navigation.” (A few words relating to navigation) has over the years served to muddy the Slavic origin waters.

We thought we should start tackling it here.

So what does Meillet have to say about navigation and the Slavs?

Essentially, he argues that the Slavic vocabulary contains a limited number of navigational words, indicating the Slavs landlocked origins.

Argument 1

The Indo-European root for “rowing”, present “across” the IE spectrum disappeared in Slavic.  Why?  Meillet has the answer.  Because the Slavs only navigated rivers and lakes.  Therefore, they had no use of “rowing” or “oars”, etc.  Instead, the used simpler “furrowing” techniques of transportation on water evidenced by the use of the word grebo meaning “I dig” or “burrow”.  Of course, the digging notion is present also in other IE languages.  Take, for example, the German Grab or the same grave (English).  A similar concept exists for physically “grabbing” someone.  Conceptually similar Slavic words can be found in greben (comb) or greblio (rake) or, for that matter, grobla (causeway/levee/dike – presumably, a result of digging up enough dirt).

As proof how easily such an association might arise in someone’s mind, Meillet cites a passage from Arrian of Nicomedia‘s Indica regarding Gedrosians (being from the coast between the Strait of Hormuz and the Indus river) that the travelers observed:

“…a pilot sailed with them, a Gadrosian called Hydraces… Thence about midnight they sailed and came to a harbour Cophas, after a voyage of about four hundred stades; here dwelt fishermen, with small and feeble boats; and they did not row with their oars on a rowlock, as the Greeks do, but as you do in a river, propelling the water on this side or that like labourers digging in the soil.

That “digging” or “burrowing in” water could have been a natural progression of the concept of digging to simple navigation is, of course, obvious and hardly needs the above example from an entirely different part of the world.

More importantly, it is strange that Meillet should have chosen the Bulgarian or Russian гребло as the only “paddling” word to focus.  The word doesn’t seem to have existed in West Slavic languages.  Instead he could have just as easily looked at wiosło, весло, вясло, veslo – meaning “oar” in all Slavic languages.

The wiosło, вясло, veslo (an “oar” or “paddle” being a tool derived from wieźć – to carry, transport – hence wiosłować “to row”) contains ios or ies or ias just as jazda – ride which matches nicely with many European (Old European!) river names (Visla or Vis-tula but also Tam-issa, Is-ter and so forth).  Such Visla river names – aside from the well known Vistula itself – appear in as wide a variety of locations as the Alps (as in Wiesle) and the Shetlands.

This suggests a concept of movement and a rather ancient origin.  It also has nothing to do with digging, nor any such secondary meaning.  The concept of an oar embedded in the veslo can be applied to either a river or sea or ocean going ship.  The only thing that Meillet has shown is that the oar family of words began to mean – outside of Slavic – something other than mere paddling.  

Moreover, both of these types of words may have been associated with IE water travel.  The fact is that the -ios, -ias, -ies words existed outside of Slavic with same or similar meanings.  We said “ship” above but could have just as easily said “vessel”.  Now this comes from the Latin vasculum from vas a “container,” “vase” or “vessel” but also meant “ship” (a container ship concept all in one!).  Now, presumably the container concept came first but even that concept captures the notion of a fluid being contained (just think of a flower vase).

Yet, Meillet does not even discuss this – not even in a footnote!  

It seems very selective to focus on a word which – by the way – is not attested in all Slavic languages (such as West Slavic) – and build your sandcastle on that.

So why the selectivity?  He wrote his doctorate on Slavic languages.  He was familiar with Baltic languages (“anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant”).  On the other hand, he seems to have concentrated on Eastern and Southern Slavic languages and may have lacked the skill set to address as broad a topic as he tried to do within the above article.  In days past one could pretend to be a Slavicist solely coasting on your knowledge of Russian.

In the end, all that Meillet has shown is that in Bulgarian and in portions of Russian the word for a small boat oat developed from a word for digging.  Given that Slavic languages have another word for oar that carries no “digging” connotations, so what?  It’s as if he were to ignore the words ship, vessel, etc. and used the word “dinghy” to claim the British were not sea going people after all.

Argument 2

There is no “navi” type word for ship/boat in either Slavic or Baltic “probably” because that term did not survive as these folks were not seagoing.

For starters, this may instead suggest that such a word did not exist in IE at all and is a borrowing or a development that happened to non-Balto-Slavic languages. (And does Meillet seriously argue that the Balts did not engage in navigation on the Baltic?  Or just that their ships were not as big as Meillet would have liked them to be?).

More relevantly, the word did exist in the sense of “going to nava” (as in Krok went to the land of the dead when he passed away).  This nava has been understood in architectural terms but a reference to “Viking” boat funeral would provide a similar explanation with a nautical angle.

Furthermore, why should it matter that non-Slavic languages developed a word for ship that contains nauh or navis?

Isn’t the better question whether Slavs had a name for the concept of a “ship” whatever that name may have been?

Here Meillet makes a sub argument.  He states that Slavs do not have own words for the concept of a ship or a larger boat which he thinks is consistent with their simple navigation arts.  Thus, for example, the Byzantines speak of the Slavic monoxylae (i.e., μονοξυλα  ωλοια, as in the Russian odnoderevka, from “one trunk”).

He notes that all the basic words for boats in Slavic languages indicate simple boats made from single hollowed tree trunks of such “monoxyla” type such as:

  • чёлн [choln] or czółno (i.e., a canoe), or
  • aludiiladiiladja or лодья (lodya) (i.e., a boat, also Lithuanian aldija)

He associates the first with the Lithuanian keltas meaning “ferry” that reminds him (!) of Lithuanian kelmas “tree trunk”.  The second, he notes, Liden derives from the Norwegian olle meaning “big trough”, i.e., made from a hollow tree trunk.

Yet all of this is raw and wild speculation.  You could just as easily claim that lodya comes from lod (лод) meaning “ice” and try to prove that early Slavs had ice floats for boats.  Or that the aludii comes from ludi meaning “people” – after all the transport of people was the point of ferry boats, etc.

In fact, Meillet completely ignores statek.  This word existed in Polish for quite a while.  Why does he ignore it?  Just because he can’t find it elsewhere in Slavic?  But maybe it was “forgotten” just as the Slavs “forgot” nauh type words… We may note that Meillet’s reasoning is so razor thin we could just as easily use another Polish word okręt (meaning “that which is turned” – a word for a “ship” that is dated very roughly to the 16th century) to claim that this proves that the Poles were the first to propellers.  Or if that’s too much of a stretch, we could claim that okręt has something to do with the kra – again, floating ice – thereby confirming the above ice hypothesis or, in the “advanced Slavs” version, firmly (or as firmly as one can in these unchartered waters) establishing the fact that Slavs were the first to pioneer ice breakers…

A Slav proudly presenting his home-made propeller

We should note another interesting point made by Meillet.  He claims that korab, another Slavic name for a boat is a borrowing.  Specifically, he notes that this is a borrowing from Greek (karabos) and perhaps one of the earliest of such borrowings from Greek to Slavic.

The reason for the “early” nature of this claim is that the Slavic clearly has a “b” pronunciation in there but the Greeks, by the 1st or 2nd century, began to pronounce their b’s as v’s so, if Slavs, who supposedly appear on the historical stage first in the 6th century, had borrowed this word from Greeks they should have borrowed it in the form korav (indeed, this is the source of the later caravel).  This has given a number of historians/etymologists problems.  Thus, Alexander Brueckner, for example, suggests that the name may have been borrowed earlier via an intermediary language.  He says perhaps the Slavs got this from the Thracians.  That is, in his view, it’s impossible for the Slavs to have been neighbors to the Greeks in the 1st or 2nd century but conceivable for them to have been located next to the Thracians.

The above argument ignores the possibility of Greek colonies on the Black Sea (see the story of the Geloni and Budini in Herodotus, for example, to imagine the possibilities) but let’s put that aside.

We aim to show here on just how little these arguments are based.  Each such theory allows its inventor to write his or her doctoral thesis no doubt but too often carries us merely sideways.

The Greek word is karabos.  But what does it mean?  Well, it means a “ship”, of course.  Yet the use of the word in Greek for a ship seems to postdate antiquity (it’s really a Byzantine concept it seems).  So where does the Greek word come from?

An article by Jukka Hyrkkanen and Erkki Salonen first observes that Greek etymological dictionaries are scanty on the origin but that, for the most part, they seem to point towards the “beetle” or “lobster” (hence, too, a scarab).

Then the authors note that such an explanation is “unconvincing” and suggest that the word is not even Greek.  And, indeed, some etymological dictionaries suggest the origin of the word may be Macedonian.  The authors go further and suggest similarities with Arabic!  Indeed, in Arabic there is a word qarib meaning “boat”.   But they do not stop there.  The Arabic word may have come from Aramaic and originally from?  They suggest another language of a Semitic (?) people skilled in navigation such as the Phoenicians.  But then they note that the word may also appear in Ugaritic (“to approach”) and Akkadian (with the meaning “to approach/to bring/to transport?”).  They can’t quite pin this down but note that their view is that it is very improbable that the word is Greek and think that it is, instead, a borrowing into Greek from some unspecified Middle Eastern – probably Semitic – language.

What about the Slavs?  It seems they are merely the excuse for the authors’ excursus designed to establish that the word is not Greek but a conclusion must be presented nevertheless.  So what do we find out?  The paper notes that it is possible that the Slavs borrowed this non Greek word from the Greeks (which, of course, we know from the above would indicate an early Slav-Greek contact) but also may have borrowed it from that mysterious naval Semitic (?) people hundreds of years before the Slavs first had contact with the sea.

Of course this too raises questions.  How? Did the naval travelers also travel on the rivers to reach these landlocked Slavs?

We will pause here and address Meillet’s other arguments subsequently.  For now, a reflection is in order.


If we must posit ocean travelers, must they be Semitic Phoenicians?  Why not the Veneti?  (In fact, is there a link between the two?).

Which brings us to another name for a “boat”.  We know that the Finns (and other “Uralic” speaking peoples such as the Veps, Estonians, etc) call the Slavs Venäjä.  This means, in effect, boat people.  Thus, “boat” in Finnish is vene (veneh in Veps).  

Does this mean that the name Veneti was passed to the Romans via Finns?  Perhaps the secret, hidden Finns or Scritifinni!?  Or… did the Germans get that name from the Finns but then this would suggest Finnic-Slavic contact before Germanic-Slavic contact.

Who knows.

The point is that the above kinds of arguments could be used to prove just about anything.

You want to know something interesting about boats?

Ok, so take чёлн [choln] or czółno – why does it sound so similar to a “canoe“?  We know that a “canoe” is a word derived from a certain language spoken in the Lesser Antilles islands.

In that same language we have another name for a small boat.  This is pirogue.  And yet we have also heard in the Old World of pirones.  Recently we mentioned such reference in our discussion of Aethicus Ister as in “… the Albanians, Maeoti, and Mazeti, people from the Ganges, and Turks all use these boats, and call them pirones in their barbarian tongue.”

What language is that?  What language brought us both canoe and pirogue?  Why, the Carib language, of course.  Does this have anything to do with the Arabic qarib, the Greek karabos or the Slavic korab?

To top it off we will note again that the Slavic word orkan is supposed to have come from the word hurricane which is supposed to have come from another Arawakan (Carib is an Arawakan language) language of the Taíno people – the Taíno an extinct and “poorly attested” language.

And yet, hundreds of years before Columbus, the great wind-swept Slavic temple on the island of Ruegen was inside the Slavic city of Arkona… (Ruegen itself has a Slavic etymology from ruga, that is, a “wrinkle” – compare the Italian and Latin name for the same).

And then we have these Slavic Veneti.

Holy Quetzalcoatl! (after all we already had the Algonquian language featured here; the continental Caribs referred to the Europeans as “spirits of the sea” – Palanakili.  Palana, apparently, means sea in their language).

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February 17, 2017


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Jarilo” is supposedly a Slavic God.  No historic sources for this God exist but folk festivals in Belarus and eastwards (plus Serbia) are attested to have used the word Jarilo.  A possible connection is the God Gerovit mentioned in the lives of Otto which name may have referred to a Slavic Jarowit (pronounced Yarovit; the “Y” sound in Slavic was previously written with a “G”).

Which brings us to volume 2 of this curious book (Old Celtic Language Treasures):

It is here that we find Iarilla and, conveniently, Iariovidius.

The first is found in Vienne on the Iser and is ascribed to the tribe of the Allobroges.  Regarding the French Perigord and Vindalium which were nearby we wrote here.

(Incidentally, a similar name – Perigardi appears in Greece where, in the Chronicle of Morea, we read that the Turks “set out along the road straight along the tributary of the river Alpheios and went to Perigardi, in the direction of Vlyziri.  Now after they had arrived in Servia, Melik…” and that Sir Simon was “to take his own troops and those of the drones of Skorta and the troops of Kalamata and of Perigardi, of Chalandritza and also those of Vostitza, and to go to Isova, to the ford of Ptere…”  Virtually, all of these are Slavic names – incidentally, attesting to their presence in the Peloponnesus in the 13th century).

The second is believed to be “Venetic” and was found in Valle Policella, today’s Valpolicella just east of Lake Garda in the Veneto region of Italy.  There are other names that are curious when we think of Yassa of the Polish Gods or Jasion – both being associated with spring and fall fertility/agricultural rites (Polish wiosna – spring or jesien – fall).

Here is the imprint of the actual picture (from Giuseppe Razzetti, Monumenti romani e medioevali di Marano, Valgatara e Sanfloriano disegnati per incarico del conte Giovanni Orti Manara (portion from the Erica Fazzini paper): Just on the same page we also found other interesting names, including Iassa, Iassia, Iassus, Iausus, Iarus, Iasir as well as others.

Some of these appear in relation to various Venetic names whereas others appear in other places such as Nijmegen (the oldest city in Holland – incidentally, an area of settled by the Batavians of Veleda fame).  Some have likely nothing to do with the Veneti (for example, the name Iulius Iausus).  Others that you can see but we did not mark may be related but that is uncertain (for example Iavvos or Iavus may be related to the Slavic jawa (pronounced yava) meaning consciousness, the conscious state or reality) but maybe not.

And speaking of Nijmegen, it is also the place where we find another mention of Lada in the inscription Minervae cur(iae) Ladae T. Punicius Genialis Ilvir coln. Morinorum sacerdos Romae et Aug. ob honorem:

This, as well as the other mention of Lada (Imple o Lada) we already discussed here.

(Incidentally, if you think Laba, the Slavic name of the Elbe comes from the German, just look at the number of words in this book that contain lab-, the word labia, by the way, expresses the river concept quite well and is, of course, present in many Indo-European languages.  This makes one think that Elbe, as in albius/white, may or may not be the right etymology).

What about Nia?  Well, no such name.  There is a Ni in an inscription near Polenzo (near Turin… Turin) and a Niati near Lyon.  Otherwise, there are various rivers named Nava (compare Krok going to “Nava”).

If you want to keep going you can consult other volumes where you will find, for example, Devana, a city of the Taizali tribe on Loch Daven (Devon?).

Incidentally, we were hardly the first to notice the above.  The following is from an 1894 Slovenian periodical Dom in Svet:

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February 13, 2017

Hüter am Rhein

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An interesting study of Slavic place names on the Rhine* was conducted at the end of the 19th century.  These place names were assumed by the author – Hubert Marjan – to have appeared there by reason of the resettlement policies of Constantine the Great who in 334 supposedly resettled 300,000 Sarmatians somewhere in the Roman Empire, presumably including Gall.  According to other authors, the settlement took place under Constantius II in 359.  If some or all of these Sarmatians happened to speak Slavic then their settlement would have left a mark.

(* note – we have come across a view that the very name of the river is Slavic… how, well, in some old documents (including the Vita Louis) the river is repeatedly referred to as Hrenus and the suggestion is that the H was a G originally G>H, in which case the next step would be to change the “e” to an “a” and add an -ica so that we have granica/граница (Croat, Polish, Russian) or better yet hraniční (Czech) or hraničné (Slovak) (it’s different in Slovenian/Ukrainian).  That way the Rhine would the “border”.  Since the Slavs would presumably be on its Eastern side, they would neatly fit with the Suevi yet again.  That said, the above requires a number of steps which we are not convinced are justified.)

Whether or not this resettlement is true or, if true, whether or not it has any relation to the below data, the below data is interesting in and of itself.

Where are or were those places?

We put them on the map:

Most of them are in red.  (The blue square is a place the author did not associate with Slavs.  It is the town Graach which appears in documents first as Gracho, Gracha and Graca).

Here is the list (you would not have guessed them and we are not saying we agree with all of them as being Slavic (or with classifying others, not listed below, such as the above Gracho, not with Slavs)):

  • Trechirgau – Latin Trigorium, otherwise Trechere, Drikerigau, Trichire, Drachere, Trekere, Trechgere – “three mountains”;
  • Brodenbach – from brod, i.e., “ford”;
  • Sarmersheim, Simmern, Simmerbach – meaning “Sarmatian-“;
  • Traust – previously Trausrait from trusa, trusti  author compares with Truosnasteti in Sclavis (from the area of Meiningen).  Meaning “reeds” trstinatrskatростни́кtrichina*trъstina;
  • Riegenroth – from reka;
  • Windesheim – obvious from Venadi (presumably Venadi Sarmatae);
  • Strimmig – from stream – Indoeuropean (e.g., German Strom) but with the Slavic diminutive -ig as in -ik, strumyk – “little stream”; (compare the German forms Sterminaberg, Strimitz, Strimmelitz, Stremmen, Strummin – all Slavic);
  • Kleinich –  previously Clenniche, Cleniche.  From klen or klon;
  • Crastel – chrast, that is, “brushwood”;
  • Savershausen – from the tribe of the Savari;
  • Seibershausen – from sebru – “farmer”;
  • Rhaunen – previously Hruna which he ties to a Croatian Pagus Crauvati, Chrouvat, praedia… Chrouata et Runa by Knittenfeld in Austria;
  • Weithersheim – from vetr, vetoer, vjetar, etc;
  • Namedi – earlier Namedey, Namedy – from Nemci or Nemetes (or same?) or “Germans”;
  • Veitskopf – that is “Vit’s head”;
  • Künskopfe – “horses’ heads”;
  • Pfalzfeld – because of the discovery of this column which, however, may have looked like the below reconstruction before (note the heads on top – this detail comes from earlier descriptions); this column has been classified as Celtic:
  • Hoch-Simmer – from zima (compare ZImor in Bohemia); Same concept as Sniezka;
  • Nurburg – from Mons Nore – Slavic nora;
  • Hoch-Pochten – Puthena  from bohin or pogoda or others (this one seems highly suspect);
  • Saffenburg – from “frogs” – compare with other such names from clearly Slavic places such as Sabnica or Sabniza, Safen and Saffin – all referring to frogs;
  • Sehl – previously Sele; nearby mountain Soch;
  • Soch – mountain name from socha/sucha that is “dry” – he notes the reference the “completely uncultivated” mountain in 1144 (penitus incultus).
  • Cochem – previously Cuchuma, Cuhckeme, Cochomo, Cochma, Kuchema and others – compared with villa Cugme (Serb) on the Danube which was Schaffarik thought was related to the word kukma, that is comb (but compare the Gujarati village Kukma);
  • Sarmersbach – “Sarmatian stream”.  Here the author relies on spring celebrations which were recorded in the village and which seem to have involved young men going around, with a basket that had a spruce in it and collecting eggs.  They would go house to house and demand eggs of young ladies singing as follows: “Will das Mädchen nicht obstohn, Fein Liebchen fein! So wollen wir’s in die Blotz dröhn.”  The “Blotz” had been explained as referring to an “offering” (Gothic blotan or Ahd pluozan).  But the author compares this to bloto meaning “mud”, i.e., if you do not give us eggs we will throw you in the mud.  He further compares this to the dyngus of Poland and Silesia (not found elsewhere in Germany).
  • Mückeln – in the area there are (or were in the 19th century) many pagan burial sites that the locals called tumuli.  The author derives the name from the Slavic mogila (see also Mugilones) and cites Miklosich as showing similar names in the area of Magdeburg such as Müglenz, Muggel, Möchling, Mücheln, Muchil, Mügeln, Muggelink.
  • Ober-Wesel – Wesel meaning froh or “happy” vesel, Veselka, Veseloe, Vjessel  

These people belong to a local “Keltengruppe” – look at these faces :-).

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February 3, 2017

Thegan’s Deeds of Louis (the Pious) and its Few Slavs (or Suavs)

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The following are the few Slavic excerpts from Thegan’s Deeds of Louis (the Pious) (778 – 840).  That “Vita” (Gesta Hludowici imperatoris) is one of the few (relatively) contemporary biographies written about Louis (the others – the Life of Louis (the Pious) and Carmina in honorem Hludowici Caesaris –  having been written, respectively, by the anonymous, so-called Astronomer and by Ermold) .  Thegan (before 800 – circa 850) was the bishop of Trier.

About twenty manuscripts of this work remain.  One of the oldest (from about 1090) is one where the scribe could not quite make up his mind how to spell Slavs.  In the earlier section we have Suavos and in the later we have Sclavos (the other manuscripts seem to have Sclavos in both places).


It is interesting to note (see below) how easily a “u” may become a “cl” (or vice versa).

Gesta Hludowici imperatoris

14. In the next year [815] of his reign he held his general assembly in the territory of Saxony and there he decreed many good things.  Danish legates came to him requesting peace; all who were in the surrounding pagan countries came to him.  Bernard came to him there, and Louis sent him back to Italy.  After Louis confirmed the confines of his kingdom in these territories, he returned to his seat in the palace at Aachen and there spent the winter.

15.  In the following year [816] Louis sent his army against the Slavs who lived in the east.  The Franks overcame them and were victorious by the gift of God.  That done, each of them returned to his own lands.

27.  In the following year [820] Louis sent his army against the eastern Slavs.  The leader of the Slavs was named Ljudovit.  The Franks put him to flight and laid waste to that land.  Returning from there, they went home.

34.  In the next year [825] Louis was at the palace at Aachen with his army and there legates of the Bulgars came bearing gifts.  Louis received them graciously and dismissed them to return to their own land.

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February 2, 2017