Monthly Archives: July 2017


Published Post author

Once more on the topic of Ostara.  This time from Grimm:

In this list of related concepts, Grimm could have added next to Vesta and Estia also the Slavic Vesna/Wiosna (spring).

For more see here.

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 28, 2017

The Making of Silliness

Published Post author

The only book in the last twenty years in the English language providing new theories regarding the early history of the Slavs is Curta’s “The Making of the Slavs”.

Haven’t written about it (people have asked) because there is not much to write about.  Curta, who seems like a bright, nice fellow, wrote a highly academic book that is, depending on what you think Curta says, either banal or just plain silly in its thesis, seems suspiciously in tune with the current deconstructive work on nation states and on top of that is not very original (compare the theory that it was the Romans who “created” the “Germanic” (Nordic) tribes).

Early reviewers of the work were excited (particularly Slovenes but also Poles) because Curta seemed to be saying (he wasn’t – but they misread him) that Slavs were autochtonous to Europe  (versus the allochtonous theory that deems them late arrivals from somewhere else).  But what he actually said was simply that there were no Slavs until the Byxantines created a barbarian political taxonomy in their heads that included a new subcategory called “Slav”.  In that sense, the ancestors of the Slavs may well have lived in Europe before but not as Slavs.  Put differently, the question of whether the “Slavs” were “always here” or “came from somewhere else” was, in Curta’s view, the wrong question.  What he said is that, basically, at least as a group, there were no Slavs before the Byzantine writers such as Procopius chose to identify them as such.  The name assigned to the Slavs, in Curta’s view, seems to have been a label for a political group because the Byzantines did not view ethnicity as a linguistic or cultural concept but a political or military one.

This is basically the application of similar theories that were previously used to “deconstruct” the concept of “Germanic” tribes to the Slavs.  In that its originality exists only in the selection of a new object (target?).

Further, the theory seems, as noted, to be basking in the currently favored climate of “ethnicities as merely political constructs”.  The popular idea here is that you can mold “new peoples” solely through politics.  There is, as in most anything, some truth to that too but, in general, one might observe that the better of these projects are not really projects but rather a natural coming together of free will (how this can go wrong you can see in “Iraq” or “Yugoslavia” or the “Soviet Union” – nothing good usually comes from forced associations – pay attention “Europe”).

Most importantly, the idea is bull.  Yes, Byzantines saw Slavs as a threat and so the “Slavs” become first noticed by the Byzantines.  But the Byzantine authors did not act in some sort of Schroedingerian God-Observer function.  At best what can be said is that absence of proof is not proof of absence.

And proof depends on whether you’re willing to open your eyes. The idea, for example, that the Slavs have nothing to do with the Suevi strikes one as willful blindness.  The idea that Slavs or Antae have nothing to do with the Veneti strikes one as deranged (charitably put).  Curta seems to implicitly accept the former and actually tries to promote the latter.

To be fair, one assumes that Curta would, consistently with the above, also claim that since Deutsch did not appear – even in an approximate form – until the 10th century (diutsch), neither did the Germans exist prior to that time.  At that point we could all agree that communication is not possible since we refuse to use the same dictionary.

Most significantly the Byzantines themselves did not act as Curta would have them do.  They did recognize the Slavs as a political group but also recognized them as a cultural and linguistic group.  It is culture and language that most of today’s anthropologists would define as some of the basic components of an “ethnie.”

But the Byzantines went one further because they were not anthropologists.  They were humans. And so they also defined the Slav ethnie the same way that most people would define it – by looks or “race”.  Slavs are large, hardy and white/pinkish (from Arabs we learn that Slavs do not suffer heat well).  Their hair is neither dark nor pure blonde but tends to be “ruddy”.  And so on.  Politics is irrelevant here.  Of course, Curta’s Balkan Slavs may be slightly different in looks due to pre-existing populations being Slavicized (and Slavs later being Bulgarized) but the exception cannot become the rule.

What recent genetic studies have shown (you don’t really need “studies”, just need to open your eyes and not lie) is the remarkable homogeneity of the Slavs (at least northern ones).  Did the Byzantines implant the specific “Slavic” variants of R1a/R1b/I/or other haplogroups typically found among male Slavs?

In any event, at least the “Balkan” Slavs spoke one language (whether that was “Common Slavic” or something else) – we have this much information from Procopius at least.  That too was a defining characteristic of an ethnic group for the Byzantines (but obviously neither a necessary characteristic nor a sufficient one).  Curta later tries to suggest (seems unconvinced himself) that the Slavic language was the “lingua franca” of the Avar khaganate.  That it may well have been and the Avars may well have contributed to its spread so that that may explain why some people in the Balkans speak Slavic but there is no reason to believe that the language is “Avar” in its origin.   Moreover, the Avars did not conquer vast swaths of Eastern Europe – there is little evidence of Avars anywhere north of the Carpathian mountains.

Curta may have better luck with Hunnic which may well have been imposed on the Goths as well as those who had earlier been conquered by the Goths (if we are to believe Jordanes) though even here, given the short time which the Huns spent in Europe, the presumption may well be the opposite – that they became Slavicized (perhaps after the Goths became Slavicized), the same way the Rus were later Slavicized.  Each of the three words that we know of “Hunnic” appears to have a possible Slavic equivalent (to the extent we can rely on Priscus’ and Jordanes’ reports) .

Curta’s an archeologist and “The Making of the Slavs” is basically a book about archeological finds but his moonlighting as a historian produces mostly silliness.

His archeological observations, on the other hand, are worth noting – for example the similarities between “fibulae” in the Balkans and the Masurian region.  But those would suggest a connection between the Slavs/Veneti of the Danube and the “Vistula” or “Baltic Veneti – a connection that Curta wants to deny and treats as an invention of Jordanes’.

Beyond that, this seems to be a case where he had to have a “thesis” in order to publish something and so took a thesis that had been applied to other folk (Nordics making their appearance as “Germanics”) and used the same recipe on the Slavs.  The problem with painting a VW pink is not the VW so applying the same coat to a Skoda, just repeats the mistake.

So did the Byzantines create the Slavs?  Of course not.  The Slavs were likely a group (whether they recognized themselves as such or not) separate from other “peoples” hundreds of years before the Byzantines jotted down their appearance on Justinian’s frontier.  Did they exist from “forever”?  Of course not.  Did the Byzantines recognize the Slavs as Slavs and placed them onto pages of history which no one disputes as Slavic?  Yes, and for that we should be thankful to Procopius, Jordanes and company.

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 27, 2017

Slavs in the Netherlands Once More

Published Post author

Here is an interesting Dutch name:

Today’s Maarssen, earlier Merseen or Marsenhofen on the Mass river nearby Utrecht.

Its prior names?

  • Marsana
  • Marsna
  • Marna

Even if this does not have anything to do with the Polish Goddess Marzanna, the name is suspiciously Slavic looking.  If the name had been discovered in Eastern Germany, there’d likely be no question about its provenance.  But here it is connected with Mars,,

Marsna and Marzana of Dlugosz

For other mentions of Dutch Slavs see here and here.

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 26, 2017

Ausserordentlich Viele Koinkidinks

Published Post author

Speaking of Grimm, it is unfortunate that his Deutsche Mythologie has not been translated into a Slavic language (as far as we know).  There are lots of interesting tidbits throughout that book…

For example:

Most adults are aware that light travels faster than sound.  The difference is actually quite significant.  The speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second whereas sound will travel only 1,125 feet in that same second.  It is for this reason that when you see lightning, you then expect to hear thunder.  In fact, you can calculate how far lightning struck from you merely by counting the number of seconds that pass when you hear the thunder sound that follows it.

What does that have to do with Grimm and Slavs?

Well, there is an interesting passage in Procopius that says something like:

“For they believe that one God, the maker of lightning, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims…”

For years, it was assumed that this was a reference to the Russian Perun.*  And yet, as we know the Polish Piorun, the East Slav Perun or Lithuanian Perkunas refer to thunder not lightning.  Is the same God the maker of lightning?

* note: the cattle reference suggested Veles to some but, to the extent that there even was any Veles, it seems odd to sacrifice “cattle” to the alleged “cattle god”. Veles can, on the other hand, be another name for Piorun.

We might say yes if we look at expressions such as “Jasny piorun”, “jasny grom” and others…  And yet these expressions seem like conflations of two independent atmospheric phenomena.

The distinction of these two phenomena is hinted at in the 8th century work of Cosmography of Aethicus Ister where we learn that:

“Naxos and Melos and these islands are islands of the Cyclades, and the very round Isle of Melon as well, which is ver fertile; Jason, Pluto or Paron, and Pharius were born there.”

Naxon et Melos et ipsae insolae Cicladum insolaque Melon rotundissima adeo et fertilis, ubi Iason et Plutonem uel Paronem et Pharium editos.  

Here Paron is equated with Pluto but “Iason” remains separate.

So what does this have to do with Grimm, again?

Well, we’ve previously noted the strange fact that Odin simply means “one” in Russian/Ukrainian (Polish jeden – eden?).

Did Grimm know that?  He was a competent anthropologist, well-learned in Teutonic, Gallic and Slavic beliefs.

And so right at the beginning of the very first edition of his book, he mentions some Slavic Gods.

Among those, looking for similarities and differences between Slavic and Germanic Gods, he notices a God from the Slavic region of Krain (Italian Carniola) in today’s Slovenia (mentioned in a local dictionary).  That God’s name is Torik or Tork.  Grimm looks at the name and expresses his belief that this (war!) God has nothing to do with either the Germanic Tyr nor Thor.

So far so good…

But Grimm then provides an explanation of the Slavic God’s name, the implication of which he does not appear to grasp.

“There is an extraordinary great overlap in Germanic and Slavic superstitions”

He says that the Slavic God’s name simply comes from vtorik, that is the “other” or “second”.  He says this is because the Slavic Torik was a war God and the name was a simple translation of the  name Mars.  Mars or Martis was and is Tuesday (incidentally, Tyr’s day) which was the second day of the Slavic week.  So the Slavs started to call their Mars by using their translated name of the “second” day of the week which day was dedicated to the god Mars.

This may or may not be true, of course.

A much more interesting question, however, is why is Thor called Thor or Tyr called Tyr?

And here is the real brain twister.  How is it that two Germanic Gods’ names Odin and his “son” Thor correspond to Slavic numerals of one and two.  Note also that vtori can mean the returning, repeated.

And why is Odin called Odin, again?  What is the Germanic etymology here?

Moreover, is not the God of Lightning, the “first” God?  You see lightening first before you hear the corresponding thunder.  Lighting is, well, bright.  Brightness corresponds to the name of the God Jasion (the Polish Jaś), the God of the “year” or Jahr or spring (Slavic v-esna or v-iosna) also the God of agriculture rebirth (notice the adventure with Demeter – Dea – meter – the Mother Goddess but also the Earth Goddess).

First, comes Jasion (“lightning”) and then comes Peron (“thunder”).

“Father” and “Son”.

Odin and Vtor

Odin and Thor.

Was then Zeus Thor who struck his father Jasion in an act of not simply “divine punishment” but usurpation?

Incidentally, Jasion is also mentioned in Sacra Moraviae Historia  where He is referred to as “Chasson/sive Jassen”.

It is also noteworthy that “Chasson” was the name of one of the Slavic leaders in Book 2 of the Miracles of Saint Demetrius.

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 22, 2017

German Village Superstitions

Published Post author

About artemisia, the Polish bielica or bylica as a “divine” herb we wrote here some time ago. But here is an interesting factoid: a similar practice of using the same (?) herb was found deep in Germany, as already pointed out by Grimm:

“et extra villam, ubi herbam iusquiamum inveniunt, quae Teutonice belisa vocatur…”

Grimm’s observation in his volume III of Deutsche Mythologie) comes from the Collection of Decrees by Buchard of Worms (died 1024 or 1025) (Decretorum libri viginti).

Now, according to Grimm, the German belisa is supposedly not artemisia but henbane which is in Slavic is bielum (Polish) or belena (Russian).

This is an interpretation of Grimm’s.  The addition of hyoscyamum is his own and does not appear in the original text.

This much we can see comparing to the Migne edition:

Henbane’s name supposedly comes from *bhelena – an “Indo-European” reconstructed word.  Henbane has a whitish look and biel means “white” in Slavic so there is a separate question about that IE word.

But…  bylica does not appear to be derived from any “whitish” word and artemisia is not itself white.  And Grimm is right that his belisa sounds more like that bylica than bielum or belena by reason of the final “ts” sound expressed with an “s” as in “-sa” in German and with a a “c” as in “-ca” in Polish.

Perhaps a reading of the rest of this would skew this one way or another? (Going with artemisia)

Otherwise, we have a problem with what Teutonice means in this case (whether Buchard knew it or not).

For another instance of strangely Slavic sounding names in German pagan rituals see here.

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 19, 2017

The % of Goth in a Goth

Published Post author

As a curiousity, this is the “latest” on the so-called Wielbark culture from “Ludność kultury wielbarskiej – wyniki badań antropologicznych” by a Polish anthropologist (Piontek).

Its summary:

“… it was shown that the population of the Wielbark culture was characterized by a very high biological (genetic) similarity to the population of Western Slavs, that is the people living in the Oder and Vistula basin during the Middle Ages did not differ in biological terms from the people inhabiting these areas in the Roman period.

On the basis of a comparison analysis of different skeletal populations from Central and Eastern Europe, taking into account the morphological characteristics of a skull, it was also shown, that the populations of Wielbark culture, connected in some archeological papers with Germanic groups (Goths), show a low biological similarity with medieval German or Scandinavian populations.

Therefore, the results of anthropological analyses do not confirm the thesis about a gap in population continuity of the Oder and Vistula basin between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages but rather indicate the opposite: a high biological similarity between the people inhabiting the Oder and Vistula basin during the Roman period and in the Middle Ages.”

This raises a number of possibilities:

  • the Goths arrived in the Ukraine from further east (for example, they went over Lithuania and Belarus or from even further east)
  • the Goths arrived in Ukraine from the West along the Danube
  • the “true” Goths constituted a very small part of the original population over which they ruled
  • the Western Slavs are descendants of Goths who – at some point – switched languages
  • the Western Slavs are descendants of the people who were ruled by the true Goths and never switched languages (“always” spoke “Slavic”) or switched languages but switched from a non-Gothic language (“Venetic” > Slavic)

These are just a few possibilities and are not all mutually exclusive.

That Przeworsk – the other archeological culture of the “Roman” period – was not “Vandalic” is discussed here.

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 14, 2017

Pseudo-Callisthenes’ Völkertafel

Published Post author

Pseudo-Callisthenes refers to the author of a 3rd century work known as the “Alexander Romance”.  There are numerous version of it including one Greek version (written circa 800) which contains a list of peoples including some of the peoples of more recent vintage:

“I Alexander, king of the Macedonians, conquered a great number of peoples: the Avars, the Slavs … the Rus, the Khazars, the Bulgars … and others we’ve brought under our yoke without war so that they paid tribute.”

From the Heinrich Meusel edition (based on a 15th/16th century manuscript):

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved


July 13, 2017

Frothy Mountains

Published Post author

We’ve discussed the Pyrenees and Pirins here.

Here is an interesting set of other similar names:

  • Apennines Range
  • Pennine Alps
  • Pennines (northern England)
  • Pieniny (Poland/Slovakia)

An interesting story shows what people really know about etymologies of names.  For years the English Pennines were assumed to be made up by Charles Bertram in the 18th century.  But George Redmonds in his “Names and History: People, Places and Things” traces it to William Camden (1551-1623) who writing of the town of Skipton in Yorkshire said as follows:

“For the whole tract there is rough all over and unpleasant to see to, with craggie stones, hanging rockes, and rugged waies, in the midest whereof, as it were in a lurking hole, not farre from Are standeth Skipton, and lieth hidden and enclosed among steepe hilles, in like manner as Latium in Italie, which Varro supposeth to have beene so called because it lieth close under Apennine and the Alpes.” [from A description of Yorkshire in William Camden, Britain, or, a Chorographicall Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland)]

But is the name actually earlier than that?

“Piana” means “flat” in Italian (a “plain”?).

But in Slavic it means “foam or froth” and in Lithuanian (pienas) refers to milk.

So what’s the snow forecast up there?

As a reader points out, you can also get foam from limestone being exposed to acid.  Limestone is wapno and “made of limestone” is wapienny.  Both words are “native” Slavic.


Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 11, 2017

Melting Pots and Other Mix-Ups

Published Post author

Stralsund is a town originally founded by the Slavic Rani (as far as we know).  It makes its first historical appearance in 1234 as Stralowe in a document issued by Vislav I, the duke of Rugia (one of those Slavic chieftains who gave in and got themselves new jobs as imperial dukes) in Charenz/Charenza.

We will not discuss here the rather obvious connections between Charenz and Carinthia or the Portuguese town of Chorenze.

Rather just wanted to bring up a rather curious little fact.  Sund is the same as the English “sound” (as in bay or inlet).  Its origin is obviously Germanic.  Stralowe, on the other hand was clearly named after the Slavic word for arrow (*strěla).  In fact to this day the town’s coat of arms features such an arrow:

Traditional red and white “Wendish” colors

But then we come to an interesting question, what is the etymology of the Slavic word for arrow which is the same in all Slavic languages?  It supposedly comes from a proto-Slavic word *strěla.

You can even come up with a pretty good etymology coming from the word trzec meaning “to rub” or “to grind.” (Interestingly these words can also mean “to quarrel”).  The grinding referring to the process of making the arrow or perhaps the arrow rubbing against the bow.  The initial “s” indicating completion/origin (as in “coming from grinding”).

On the other hand, there is a word stral or strale which appears in Germanic languages (Old English stræl).

Predictably, there are also those who believe that it was then borrowed into Slavic.  The people who believe that are, of course, unbothered by the fact that the Slavic version appears in all Slavic languages.  They are also unbothered by the fact that the Germanic languages also have:

  • arrow (arwan, Gothic arhwanza) related to “arc” (either bow or, more likely, the path of an arrow – think big battles; compare though with urwac meaning “to rip out”)
  • Pheil/pil (< pilowac !?) or flaflan (fly?)
  • quarrel
  • bolt (slightly different meaning – think crossbow)

and others.

Given all of that it is hard to assume that Germanic peoples had so many different original names for the same thing.  Were the situation reversed (many different names in Slavic but one of those (and only one) also found in Germanic), most academics would argue that the Slavic word also found in Germanic would necessarily be of Germanic origin (i.e., import into Slavic).  And yet, here some still argued that the Slavic came from Germanic.

This is the same reasoning as the one that:

  • allows for –mir to be a Slavic suffix but also lays a potential Germanic – depending on the context – claim to some appearances of it,
  • but reserves –mar and -mer exclusively for the Germanic sphere.

You can see where this is going, of course.  Since the Germanics were the warrior group, it, of course, makes sense that they would have “invented”their own word for “arrow”.  You can also use this to prove that Slavs did not know arrows until they learned of their existence from Germanics.  Perhaps, in your mind’s eye, you can even see a cohort of Slavic peasants servicing a Germanic lord’s bow by quickly grinding out arrows for his upcoming campaign against the Romans, Persians or whatever else his testosterone driven brain set its sights upon.  You might even try to prove that the very concept of “rubbing” became known to Slavs by way of testosterone-infused Germanics… 🙂

To be fair, there is the word “strahlen” meaning project rays (or, more recently, radioactivity) and things may be gestreut as in spread out (related to “stray”).

But then there is also “stream” (but also strimon/strumien in Slavic) and a whole host of other IE words conveying a similar concept.

Original Germanic word?

It seems that “arrow” may have come from the “original” version of an “arrow-concept” in Germanic languages.

  • Old English: earharwearewe
    • Middle English: arwearewearowearow
      • Scots: arowearow
      • English: arrow
  • Old Norse: ǫr
    • Icelandic: ör
    • Faroese: ørvørvur
    • Old Swedish: arf

Whereas the various strales in Scandinavian languages appear to be borrowings from German (MLG) probably via the Hanseatic League though maybe earlier.

This raises another series of questions

If the conclusion is that strale was an import into Germanic (West Germanic) languages then the question must inevitably be asked – from whom?  That question is intertwined with the date of the borrowing, that is “when” was the word borrowed?  

One might hesitate to note that if strahlen was also imported then these imports must have come early.

If you keep on this path, you may conclude that there may have been multiple migrations of people who (linguistically) could be designated as “Slavs” over many centuries.

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 10, 2017

At the Walls of Jericho

Published Post author

Those who think they can find Slavs in the Levant should look into the following divinities:

  • Yarikh (Jerah, Jarah, Jorah) – aka “illuminator of the heavens”‘, “illuminator of the myriads of stars” and “lord of the sickle”.
    • Yarikh was the provider of nightly dew, and married to the goddess Nikkal, his moisture causing her orchards to bloom in the desert. The city of Jericho was a center of his worship, and its name may derive from the name Yarikh, or from the Cannanite word for moon, Yareaẖ
    • origin: Canaanite
  • Yarhibol – worshiped mainly in ancient Palmyra, a city in central Syria. He was depicted with a solar nimbus and styled “lord of the spring“. (The suffix -bol may simply refer to “a god” (as in Baal) – what is interesting is whether that has anything to do with “Bol” as in “great” such as in Boleslav)
    • origin: Aramean

Now compare with:

  • Jarowit or Yarovit (GerovitHerovith) – the Polabian God of War
  • Yassa, Yessa – probably a diminutive (compare, Sasha) of Yarovit, the Polish High God (Jupiter) who was also seen as the fertility/spring God (compare with the English “year” or German Jahr) that is Dionyssus or Bacchus or Jasion (with Demeter, the Earth Mother).  Perhaps the same as the Ukrainian/Belorussian/Russian, Jarilo.

For some explanations (?), see here.  Jassa is also a city in the Bible.

For more Bible “stuff” see here.

What this really suggests is an IE influence much further south than previously thought.

Copyright ©2017 All Rights Reserved

July 8, 2017