One of the more interesting medieval German books is the Sachsenspiegel which is beautifully illustrated and preserved in over 400 manuscripts. It contains a number of passages about Slavs but, more relevantly for the current topic, it also makes the following reference to the Frankish or Saxon conquest of Thuringia (Landrecht III, 44):
“Unse vorderen die her to lande quamen unde die doringe verdreven. die hadden in allexandres here gewesen, mit erer helpe hadde he bedvungen al asiam. Do alexander starf, do ne dorste sie sik nicht to dun in’me lande, durch des landes hat, und scepeden mit dren hundert kelen; die verdorven alle up vier unde vestich. Der selven quamen achteine to prutzen unde besaten dat; tvelve besaten rujan; vier unde tvintich quamen her to lande. Do irer so vele nicht newas, dat sie den acker verdreven, do lieten sie die gebure sitten ungeslagen, unde bestadeden in den acker to alsogedaneme rechte, als in noch die late hebbet; dar af quamen die late. Von den laten die sik verwarchten an irme rechte sint komen dagewerchten.”
The Doringe seem to be Thuringians. Doringe, however, could just mean “those from over there” which would suggest a rather simple explanation for the Thuringian name.
Of course, the above also mentions the conquest of the Prussians and the Rugians (Rujani or Rani).
But let’s look at the gebure. The gebure are local peasants. There is, apparently, a gloss in some manuscripts that says these were Wends…
This has been rejected by Gaupp because Wends can’t be that far deep in Thuringia – only Thuringians and Saxons can be there – and so forth. (check out Die germanischen Ansiedlungen und Landtheilungen in den Provinzen des Römischen Westreiches by Ernst Theodor Gaupp).
More interestingly, the Slavic word gbur is supposed to have come from the same (German) source. It means a rustic, rude person.
First of all, as with many of these German “borrowings,” it’s not very clear that it is a borrowing at all. The fact that it was first mentioned from the 16th century does not mean much since written works in Polish from before 1500 are few and far between. To the extent anything was written it was usually written in Latin so the fact that Bruckner did not find it before 1500 does not mean that it was not already in use.
But what’s also interesting about this Germanic word is that Bur is, apparently, the same word as:
Bursche (young man)
Bauer (farmer, peasant)
and, even more interestingly, to neighbor which can be traced to the Old English neahgebur (West Saxon) or nehebur (Anglian) “neighbor,” from neah “near” (see nigh) plus gebur “dweller.”
The same word is related to bur as in “dwelling” – think “to burrow”.
And what about the various references to the Legii/Lygyi/Lugii Burii? Were these neighbors too?
Speaking of neighbors, let’s look at how one says “neighbor” in various languages. The following groupings are in no way scientific as should be obvious but… they are suggestive.
nabo (Danish, Norwegian)
buur or buurman (Dutch, Afrikans)
These are virtually all based on the the concept of “vicinity”:
kòmšija (Serb/Croat – borrowing from Turkish)
All that sounds great but is this a stream of consciousness narrative or does any of this have anything to do with the Slavs?
Let’s try to bring this full circle.
Here is something neighborly suggesting “Russian“:
Here is something neighborly suggesting “Antes/Antoi“:
Here is something neighborly suggesting the “Rani“:
Perhaps this also sheds some light on why the Slavic Rugians were called Rani? Were they called that by themselves? Or only by others? Note that Granni is also a form used by Jordanes.
And, to really come full circle here is something suggesting “Saxons“:
sosed (Slovene, Russian, Macedonian, Serb)
sused (Slovak, Lower Sorbian, Belarussian, Bulgarian)
susod (Upper Sorbian)
susjed (Croatian, Bosnian)
we should include here the Hungarian as well as it looks like a borrowing:
What does the Slavic name for “neighbor” (sąsiad in Polish) mean? Well, Bruckner above thinks the są- is just a prefix meaning “from”. And, indeed, such a prefix does appear in other words as seen above. But is that what it means here?
Regarding “siad” – that part is clear. The suffix just means “sat” or “there sat”. But this is a bit odd since this form of the verb seems to be in the past tense. Who sat?
Now, whether the Saxons derive their name from the God Saxnot or from a knife (sax) is beside the point. What matters is that others – Slavs but also Irish and others referred to Saxons not with an “x” but with an “s” – that is:
- Sasové (Czech)
- Sasi (Polish)
- Sasana (Celtic)
This makes some sense since the “x” is not the easiest to pronounce. Indeed, that form (Saß/Sass) also survives in Germanic languages (and names).
So how would you say a Saxon sat there in Slavic?
Well, today, you might say: Sas siadł
Crazy? And yet it is interesting. You can almost hear someone warning:
“Don’t go there. There [tam] Sas siadł” or
“There be Saxons!”
(Ya know the guys with the sæxes!)
If this is correct, it answers a number of questions. it means that:
- the Saxons were from rather old times neighbors to Slavs
- the Saxons “sat” near the Slavs, that is the Saxons were newcomers who “sat” next to already present Slavs; note that the Saxons are present – probably – in Ptolemy but otherwise make their historical appearance about the 4th century
- since all Slavic languages have the above form of “neighbor,” since we have no evidence of Saxons coming anywhere into Europe other than from the North into Germany and since the Saxons never expanded further east than what is today’s Poland, it would seem that the eastern Slavs migrated West to East after the coming of the Saxons from Scandinavia.
The point is not whether this is true or not but that many a more prominent theory rests on foundations just as strong (or as weak) as the above .
P.S. The compiler of the Sachsenspiegel was Eike of Repgow. And yes, Repgow aka Repkow aka Repchow aka Repchau aka Reppichau was originally a Slavic town as the name pretty clearly indicates.
P.S. 2 If you look at the above map, the first question that has to come to mind is what is east of the “Saxon coast”? Which also raises the question of why was it that the Saxons decided to invade Britain all the way across the water rather than settling lands to the east?
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