Monthly Archives: December 2017

Rashi on Ballynia

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The Book of Nahum is the seventh book of the 12 minor prophets (a portion of Nevi’im Aharonim) of the Hebrew Bible.  He wrote towards the end of the 7th century B.C.

Its chapter 1 begins as follows:

1 The harsh prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

א מַשָּׂ֖א נִֽינְוֵ֑ה סֵ֧פֶר חֲז֛וֹן נַח֖וּם הָֽאֶלְקֹשִֽׁי

This refers to Nineveh, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire until its fall about the year 612 B.C. when, after a period of civil war, it was eventually destroyed by the Neo-Assyrians’ former subjects (Babylonians, Medes, Chaldeans, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians). The Neo-Assyrians (911-612 B.C.) were the successors to the Old Assyrian Empire (circa 2025-1378 B.C.) and the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1050 B.C.).  They spoke Akkadian but Aramaic was also in usage.  Anyway they conquered a lot of places and one of those was Israel. The Israelites (and others) did not like being taken over and one of them – Nahum – wrote of the downfall of Nineveh (though it is suspected that he wrote his “prophesy” after the actual downfall).

Now, this is what the Bible Gateway website has to say about the term “Elkoshite” mentioned to describe Nahum:

ELKOSH, ELKOSHITE ĕl’ kŏsh, īt (אֶלְקֹשִֽׁי). A term used to identify Nahum the prophet (Nah 1:1). It prob. refers to a place, but if so, the place is unknown. Several possible locations have been proposed: 1. A site in Galilee called Elcesi. Jerome thought this was the site. 2. A site in Mesopotamia N of Mosul near the Tigris River. Nestorius was the first to suggest this site. A so-called “tomb of Nahum” is found at Elqush N of Mosul. 3. A site in S Judah, prob. Beit Jibrin between Jerusalem and Gaza. This supposition has the merit of Nahum’s apparently having been from Judah. 4. The most apparent site, but one doubted by most scholars, is כְּפַר נַחוּם i.e. Capernaum, the village of Nahum. This is the village on the N shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught frequently in His earthly ministry. It must be emphasized that there is no real evidence for any of these sites. Perhaps the site is yet to be discovered, if indeed a geographical site is intended.”


Anyways… quite some time later you had Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040 – 1105) aka Rashi, a rabbi in France (born in Troyes, Champagne) write a commentary on (among other writings) Nahum the Elkoshite and his book.  Of course, he, like others,before and after him did not know where Elkosh was but he, like others, tried to interpret this name based on his own then current knowledge.  That knowledge apparently included knowledge of a kingdom in the East of Europe and a city in it – the Polish Olkusz.

The following comes from that commentary:

“Chapter 1

‘1 The harsh prophecy concerning Nineveh

Heb. מַשָׂא . The burden of the cup of the curse [which was] to be given Nineveh to drink.

‘The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite’

חזון is vowelized with a “kamatz” (חָזוֹן) since it is not in the construct state, and it is unlike “ חֲזוֹן יִשַׁעְיָהוּ ,” the vision of Isaiah, which is vowelized with a “hataf pattah.” This is its meaning: A book of vision has already been written concerning it [Nineveh], the prophecy of Jonah son of Amittai; and now, again, Nahum the Elkoshite prophesied this harsh prophecy over it. Elkosh is the name of his [Nahum’s] city. And so did Jonathan paraphrase: In early times, Jonah son of Amittai prophesied concerning it, and they repented of their sins, and when they continued to sin, Nahum of the house of Elkosh prophesied further concerning them.

‘the Elkoshite’

That city is in the province of Ballynia, which is in the state of Eretz Israel, although it is outside the Holy Land. Proof of the matter is that there is gold, silver, and salt dust near it because the Dead Sea, which is near Eretz Israel, goes there under the earth. In this state they do not crown a king the son of a king [i.e., the throne is not hereditary]; and they are of the seed of Judah. [Sod Mesharim]”


“Ballynia” refers to – probably – Poland.  What Rashi was doing was trying to figure out where Elkosh was and, knowing of Olkusz in “Ballynia”, he came up with that as the place for his ancient Nahum.

Now, Olkusz supposedly has a German etymology (it lies near Katowice) and its rise is tied to German colonization of Silesia.  Officially, the name appears first only in the 13th century (after the Mongol invasions when local rulers were trying to repopulate Silesia including by bringing German colonists in).  Its names are listed as: Lcuhs (1257), Hilcus (1262), Helcus (1301), Ylcus (1314), Elcus (1409), Olkusch (1462).

If Rashi was right then Olkusz’s place in history can be pushed up some 200 years back.  Moreover, we get a mention of Poland and the fantastic assertions that:

  • the Dead Sea extends – underground – all the way to Poland, and that
  • its nonhereditary rulers (which at that time was most certainly not the case – although perhaps Rashi meant that the crown was not hereditary – because the Empire was actively against that), and that
  • its rulers were from the tribe of Judah.

As to the last claim, what is interesting in this is that the Poles had a counterpart in the East – in Kiev and Ukraine there was a tribe of the “Eastern” Polanie.  They were tributary to the Jewish Khazars and then, after, perhaps, a brief period of independence became conquered by the Rus.  A half century later, the Polish state emerges.  While some have posited Mieszko or rather his ancestors as Vikings and others as refugees from Great Moravia, a more plausible scenario involves Poles (or people we today would call Ukrainians) fleeing the Vikings from the East and establishing their own state in the West, that is in Poland. Compare, for example, Gnezdovo in the lands conquered by the Rus with the Polish capital of Gniezno – both meaning “nest”.

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December 25, 2017

The Slavs of al-Ṭabarī

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Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (839 – 923) was a Persian scholar writing in Arabic. His History (History of the Prophets and Kings) is a multi-volume work which, in vol. 31 (“The War Between Brothers”) describing the events of 808 – 814 mentions Slavs.  The work is written in poetic form so the historical significance of these mentions appears debatable.  Nevertheless, the reference is to actual historical events – the battles between the succesors of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, his sons al-Amin (aka Muhammad ibn Harun al-Rashid) and al-Ma’mun (aka Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Maʾmūn ibn Hārūn al-Rashīd) as well as al-Qasim (aka Al-Qasim ibn Harun al-Rashid). Apparently, their father decided that al-Amin would succeed him but that al-Ma’mun would have sovereignty over Khurasan and, that, afterwards, al-Ma’mun would take over. Al-Ma’miun also got himself a large portion of the Baghdad army. Al-Qasim could not alter this.  After Al-Ma’mun it was to be al-Quasim although al-Ma’mun could replace him as successor. 

The below relates to events taking place after the death of al-Rashid in 809 when al-Amin was supposed to take over but soon fell out with al-Ma’mun who won their civil war in 813. Al-Amin was killed (head was placed on the Anbar Gate in Baghdad) and al-Qasim (who had already been arrested by al-Amin) was deposed (only?). 

The mention below is to al-Jaradiyyah – the Slav guards of al-Amin – and to Slavs. Note that there were apparently two guard units – the Slavic “white” one (named after locust or falcon species) and an Abyssynian “black” one (named after ravens – the al-Ghurabiyyah). 

Here are those mentions in the translation by Michael Fishbein (from the SUNY edition).  The notes are his and he is also the source of much of the background given above. 

The Byzantine embassy of John the Grammarian in 829 to al-Ma’mun (left) from the Emperor Theophilos (right)

Details and Results of the Siege of Baghdad (812 – 813)

“…At Zandaward and al-Yasiriyah,
      and on the two river banks, where the ferries have ceased,
At the mills and Upper al-Khayzuraniyyah,
whose bridges were lofty,
And at the Palace of ‘Abduyah, there is a lesson and guidance
      for every soul whose inner thoughts have become pure.
Where are their guards, and where is their guardian?
Where is he upon whom benefits were bestowed, and where is their bestower?
Where are their eunuchs and their servants?
Where are their inhabitants and their builder?
Where are the Slavic al-Jaradiyyah* guards gone,
and the Abyssinians, with their pendulous lips?
The army disperses from its parades;
its lean [horses] run there at random –
Carrying men from Sind and India, Slavs,
and Nubians with whom Berbers have been mixed –
Like birds in flights, they have been sent forth to no avail,

  their fair-skinned troops preceding their blacks.
Where are the virgin gazelles in the garden
      of the kingdom – the young ones who walked so gracefully?
Where are their comforts and their pleasures?”

*note – “The Jaradiyyah corps of guards may have been given this name in reference to the pale color of the locust (jarad) or to a species of falcon (saqr al-jarad or al-jaradi). See ed. Leiden, Glossarium, CLXII; also the explanation given below.”

Some Aspects of the Conduct and Mode of Life of the Deposed Muhammad bin Harun (813 – 814)

“According to Humayd bin Sa’id, who said: After he became ruler andter al-Ma’mun wrote to him and gave him his allegiance, Muhammad sought out eunuchs and purchased them, spending inordinately on them. He appointed them to [attend on] his private quarters by night and by day, his provisions of food and drink, and his decisions commanding or forbidding. Some he enrolled into a special unit [fard] that he named “al-Jaradiyyah,” and other, Abyssinians, he enrolled into a special unit which he name “al-Ghurabiyyah.”* He forsook both free women and slave girls, so that they were sent await. Concerning this, a certain poet said:

O you who stay long at your residence in Tus,
far from your family, who cannot be ransomed by [other] lives:
You have left behind a husband for the eunuchs –
someone who has endured the bad luck of Basus from them!
As for Nawfal, he is a person of importance.
What a companion Badr is!”

*note – “Cf. the reference to the two groups in the poem quoted above, where the Jaradiyyah are identified as Saqalib, or Slavs, and the accompanying note, explaining the possible origin of the name. “Ghurabiyyah” is derived from the word of raven, ghurab, with reference to their black skins. See Abbott, Two Queens of Baghdad, 210 – 211. On fard, troops not on the regular muster roll and paid contractually, see ed. Leiden, Glossarium, CDI; also Baladhuri, Futuh, glossarium, s.v.”

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December 11, 2017

Time of the Aestii

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I have left the Aestii description in Wulfstan out of the posts thus far but think it worth including it now.  To give a prior mention of the Aestii, I also include the small piece from Tacitus’ Germania as well as from Cassiodorus, Jordanes and, for completeness, Einhard and Widsith. An interesting aspect of this seems to be that it is “Witland” that belongs to the Aestii and also that the Aestii are apparently quite skilled cremationists – much as the Slavs were, suggesting that this method of burial was not limited to Slavs in that part of Europe. Also the Aestii, like the Redarii appear to have worshipped boars.

The location of Aestii on this ultra precise turn of the millennium map

Note too that neither Pliny nor Ptolemy nor Strabo mention the Aestii.  This is not surprising as to Pliny and Strabo. As to Ptolemy, I suspect that the same people might be hiding under other names.

Tacitus Germania
Chapter 45

Beyond the Suiones is another sea, sluggish and almost  motionless, which, we may certainly infer, girdles and surrounds the world, from the fact that the last radiance of the setting sun lingers on till sunrise, with a brightness sufficient to dim the light of the stars. Even the very sound of his rising, as popular belief adds, may be heard, and the forms of gods and the glory round his head may be seen. Only thus far (and here rumour seems truth) does the world extend.

At this point the Suevic sea, on its eastern shore, washes the tribes of the Æstii, whose rites and fashions and style of dress are those of the Suevi, while their language is more like the British. They worship the mother of the gods, and wear as a religious symbol the device of a wild boar. This serves as armour, and as a universal defence, rendering the votary of the goddess safe even amidst enemies. They often use clubs, iron weapons but seldom. They are more patient in cultivating corn and other produce than might be expected from the general indolence of the Germans. But they also search the deep, and are the only people who gather amber (which they call “glesum”), in the shallows, and also on the shore itself. Barbarians as they are they have not investigated or discovered what natural cause or process produces it. Nay, it even lay amid the sea’s other refuse, till our luxury gave it a name. To them it is utterly useless; they gather it in its raw state, bring it to us in shapeless lumps, and marvel at the price which they receive. It is however a juice from trees, as you may infer from the fact that there are often seen shining through it, reptiles, and even winged insects, which, having become entangled in the fluid, are gradually enclosed in the substance as it hardens. I am therefore inclined to think that the islands and countries of the West, like the remote recesses of the East, where frankincense and balsam exude, contain fruitful woods and groves; that these productions, acted on by the near rays of the sun, glide in a liquid state into the adjacent sea, and are thrown up by the force of storms on the opposite shores. If you test the composition of amber by applying fire, it burns like pinewood, and sends forth a rich and fragrant flame; it is soon softened into something like pitch or resin.

Closely bordering on the Suiones are the tribes of the Sitones, which, resembling them in all else, differ only in being ruled by a woman. So low have they fallen, not merely from freedom, but even from slavery itself. Here Suevia ends.

Cassiodorus Variae
Book V, 2
King Theodoric to the Haesti

It is gratifying to us to know that you have heard of our fame, and have sent ambassadors who have passed through so many strange nations to seek our friendship. We have received the amber which you have sent us. You say that you gather this lightest of all substances from the shores of ocean, but now it comes thither you know not. But as an author named Cornelius informs us, it is gathered in the innermost islands of the ocean, being formed originally of the juice of a tree (whence its name succinum), and gradually hardened by the heat of the sun. Thus it becomes an exuded metal, a transparent softness, sometimes blushing with the color of saffron, sometimes glowing with flame-like clearness. Then, gliding down to the margin of sea, and further purified by the rolling of the tides, it is at length transported to your shores to be cast upon them. We have thought it better to point this out to you, lest you should imagine that your supposed secrets have escaped our knowledge. We sent you some presents by our ambassadors, and shall be glad to receive further visits from you by the road which you have thus opened up, and to show you future favours.

Jordanes’ Getica
Chapter 5

The abode of the Sclaveni extends from the city of Noviodunum and the lake called Mursianus to the Danaster, and northward as far as the Vistula. They have swamps and forests for their cities. The Antes, who are the bravest of these peoples dwelling in the curve of the sea of Pontus, spread from the Danaster to the Danaper, rivers that are many days’ journey apart.  But on the shore of Ocean, where the floods of the river Vistula empty from three mouths, the Vidivarii dwell, a people gathered out of various tribes. Beyond them the Aesti, a subject race, likewise hold the shore of Ocean. To the south dwell the Acatziri, a very brave tribe ignorant of agriculture, who subsist on their flocks and by hunting.  Farther away and above the Sea of Pontus are the abodes of the Bulgares, well known from the wrongs done to them by reason of our oppression.

Chapter 23

These people, as we started to say at the beginning of our account or catalogue of nations, though off-shoots from one stock, have now three names, that is, Venethi, Antes and Sclaveni. Though they now rage in war far and wide, in punishment for our sins, yet at that time they were all obedient to Hermanaric’s commands. This ruler also subdued by his wisdom and might the race of the Aesti, who dwell on the farthest shore of the German Ocean, and ruled all the nations of Scythia and Germany by his own prowess alone.

Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne
Chapter 12

A certain gulf [i.e., the Baltic] with an unknown length and a width no more than a hundred miles wide and in many places [much] narrower runs from the western ocean towards the east. Many peoples live around this sea.  In fact, the Danes and the Swedes, whom we call Northmen, live along the northern shore [of the sea].  The Slavs, Aisti and other peoples live along the southern shore.  The Welatabi were the most prominent of these peoples and it was against them that the  king now took up war.  He beat them and brought them under his control in the one and only campaign he personally waged [against them], that from that point on they never thought of refusing to obey his commands.


and with Amothings.      With East-Thuringians I was
and with Eols [?] and with Isti      and Idumings.
And I was with Ermanaric      all the time,
there me Goth king      goods gave/with goods benefitted me/did well for me;

ond Mofdingum      ond ongend Myrgingum,
ond mid Amothingum.      Mid Eastþyringum ic wæs
ond mid Eolum ond mid Istum      ond Idumingum.
Ond ic wæs mid Eormanrice      ealle þrage,
þær me Gotena cyning      gode dohte; and Mofdings      and against Myrgings

Alfred’s Orosius’ Wulfstan
Chapter 20

. . . And then we had Bornholm to port, where the people have their own king. Then after Bornholm we had on our port side the lands which are called  Blekinge, Möre, Øland and Gotland, and these lands belong to the Swedes. Wendland was to starboard the whole of the way to the mouth of the Vistula. This Vistula is a very large river which separates Witland and Wendland. Witland belongs to the Este. The Vistula flows out of Wendland into Estmere which is at least fifteen miles wide. The Ilfing flows into Estmere from the lake on the shore of which Truso stands, and they flow together into Estmere, the Ilfing west from Estland and the Vistula north from Wendland. Then the Vistula deprives the Ilfing of its name for the estuary is known as the Vistula estuary and flows from Estmere northwest into the sea. This Estland is very large and has many fortified settlements, and in each of these there is a king. There is a great deal of honey and fishing. The king and the most powerful men drink mare’s milk, the poor men and the slaves drink mead. There is very much strife among them. There is no ale brewed among the Este but there is plenty of mead.

. . . And Þonne æfter Burgendalande wæron us þas land, þa synd hatene ærest Blecingaeg, and Meore, and Eowland, and Gotland on bæcbord; and þas land hyrað to Sweon. And Weonodland wæs us ealne weg on steorbord oð Wislemuðan. Seo Wisle is swyðe mycel ea, and hio tolið Witland and Weonodland; and þæt Witland belimpeð to Estum; and seo Wisle lið ut of Weonodlande, and lið in Estmere; and se Estmere is huru fiftene mila brad. Þonne cymeð Ilfing eastan in Estmere of ðæm mere ðe Truso standeð in staðe, and cumað ut samod in Estmere, Ilfing eastan of Estlande, and Wisle suðan of Winodlande, and þonne benimð Wisle Ilfing hire naman, and ligeð of þæm mere west and norð on sæ; for ðy hit man hæt Wislemuða. Þæt Estland is swyðe mycel, and þær bið swyðe manig burh, and on ælcere byrig bið cynincg. And þær bið swyðe mycel hunig and fiscað; and se cyning and þa ricostan men drincað myran meolc, and þa unspedigan and þa þeowan drincað medo. Þær bið swyðe mycel gewinn betweonan him. And ne bið ðær nænig ealo gebrowen mid Estum, ac þær bið medo genoh.

Chapter 21

There is a custom among the Este that after a man’s death he lies indoors uncremated among his relatives and friends for a month, sometimes two. The kings and other high- ranking men remain uncremated sometimes for half a year – the more wealth they have the longer they lie above ground in their houses. All the time that the corpse lies indoors it is the custom for there to be drinking and gambling until the day on which they cremate it.

And þær is mid Estum ðeaw, þonne þær bið man dead, þæt he lið inne unforbærned mid his magum and freondum monað, ge hwilum twegen; and þa kyningas, and þa oðre heahðungene men, swa micle lencg swa hi maran speda habbað, hwilum healf gear þæt hi beoð unforbærned, and licgað bufan eorðan on hyra husum. And ealle þa hwile þe þæt lic bið inne, þær sceal beon gedrync and plega, oð ðone dæg þe hi hine forbærnað.

Chapter 22

On the very day on which they intend to carry the dead man to the pyre, they divide his property – whatever is left of it after drinking and gambling – into five or six portions, sometimes more, depending on how much there is. They place the biggest portion about a mile from the settlement, then the second, then the third, until it is all distributed within the mile,  so that the smallest portion is closest to the place where the dead man lies. All the men who have the swiftest horses in the country are assembled at a point about five or six miles from the property, and then they all gallop towards it. The man who has the fastest horse comes to the first portion (which is also the largest) and then one after the other until it has all been taken. He has the smallest portion who reaches from his ride the one nearest to the settlement. Then each of them then rides on his way with the property and is allowed to keep it all. For this reason good horses are extremely valuable there. When the man’s treasures have all been spent in this way, then he is carried out and burned up with his weapons and clothes. They use up most of the dead man’s wealth with what they spend during the long period of his lying in the house, and with what they put by the wayside which strangers ride up to and take.

Þonne þy ylcan dæg þe hi hine to þæm ade beran wyllað, þonne todælað hi his feoh, þæt þær to lafe bið æfter þæm gedrynce and þæm plegan, on fif oððe syx, hwylum on ma, swa swa þæs feos andefn bið. Alecgað hit ðonne forhwæga on anre mile þone mæstan dæl fram þæm tune, þonne oðerne, ðonne þæne þriddan, oþþe hyt eall aled bið on þære anre mile; and sceall beon se læsta dæl nyhst þæm tune ðe se deada man on lið. Ðonne sceolon beon gesamnode ealle ða menn ðe swyftoste hors habbað on þæm lande, forhwæga on fif milum oððe on syx milum fram þæm feo. Þonne ærnað hy ealle toweard þæm feo; ðonne cymeð se man se þæt swiftoste hors hafað to þæm ærestan dæle and to þæm mæstan, and swa ælc æfter oðrum, oþ hit bið eall genumen; and se nimð þone læstan dæl se nyhst þæm tune þæt feoh geærneð. And þonne rideð ælc hys weges mid ðan feo, and hyt motan habban eall; and for ðy þær beoð þa swiftan hors ungefoge dyre. And þonne hys gestreon beoð þus eall aspended, þonne byrð man hine ut, and forbærneð mid his wæpnum and hrægle. And swiðost ealle hys speda hy forspendað mid þan langan legere þæs deadan mannes inne, and þæs þe hy be þæm wegum alecgað, þe ða fremdan to ærnað, and nimað.

Chapter 23

It is the custom among the Este that the men of each tribe are cremated, and if one bone is found not completely burned, heavy compensation must be paid. There is a tribe among the Este that knows how to cause cold, and this is why the dead men there lie so long and do not rot, because they keep them cold. If two containers are put out full of beer or water, they can cause one of the two to be frozen overwhether it is summer or winter.

And þæt is mid Estum þeaw þæt þær sceal ælces geðeodes man beon forbærned; and gyf þar man an ban findeð unforbærned, hi hit sceolan miclum gebetan. And þær is mid Estum an mægð þæt hi magon cyle gewyrcan; and þy þær licgað þa deadan men swa lange and ne fuliað, þæt hy wyrcað þone cyle hine on. And þeah man asette twegen fætels full ealað oððe wæteres, hy gedoð þæt oþer bið oferfroren, sam hit sy sumor sam winter.

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December 5, 2017


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Having looked at Jachna, let’s look at other river names in Germany.  Here is the Jeetzel:

Looking at the Deutsches Gewässernamenbuch it seems the river is German.  Specifically, the author, Albrecht Greule, claims that the root is the Old West German:

  • osa ‘in heftige Bewegung setzen’ meaning that is “to set about in rapid motion.”

This, in and of itself, should be interesting.  Why?  Because that is the Polish and Slavic word for a wasp:

Indeed, this should also be of interest to some readers since at least Brueckner thought that the word changed as follows having had a “w” upfront:

  • *wopsa > *opsa > *osa

The proof of this is supposed to be the Lithuanian wapsa and the German Wespe as, of course, also the English wasp or latin vespa.

(The insertion (or retention?) of the frontal “w” is present in northwest Slavic languages.  Thus, the Polish jaszczurka which also used to exist in the form jeszczerzyca becomes wieszczerzyca in Kashubian and wiestarica in Polabian).

In any event, the Jetzel flows, as Greule himself notes, through the so-called Wendland.  The Wendland refers to the Wends meaning Slavs.  The name itself was first used at the beginning of the 18th century.  This was because, at the time, there still lived Slavs in the area and a local priest took an interest in their customs, beliefs and language.   Note that this Wendland is west of the Elbe. 

Note too that the entire area to the northeast, labeled Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the above picture was Slavic as well.  As a few points of interest, the Elde, in Slavic was Leda (same as Elbe or really Alba vs Laba) and note too Neu Kaliss (first mentioned in 1431) which is yet another Kalisz type name in Slavic lands (if you had any doubts about Ptolemy’s Calissia being Slavic).

But back to the Jeetzel which is also visible flowing through the Wendland. Greule lists the following names for it in the following years:

  • Jesne (1014)
  • ultra Yesnam (1258)
  • vltra Yesnam (1268)
  • Yhesene (1303)
  • iuxta Gysnam (1339)
  • Gisne, Gysne (1341)
  • Gysna (1344)
  • by der Iesne (1362)
  • Jetze (1392)
  • an der Yetze (1452)
  • in de Jetzen (1531)
  • Jetza (1652)
  • Jeetzel (1702)

There is also a town nearby in Kreis Lüchow and Greule shows its name’s historic development too – obviously the two are relate:

  • Yesne (1330 or 1352)
  • to Getzene (1360)
  • to Yesne (1360)
  • to dem Iesne (1360)
  • to Jesene (1368)

All this is great record keeping.

Given the Wendland connection and the obvious Slavic etymology:

you would think that the matter of the name of Jeetzel would be easy for Greule to resolve.

To be sure you understand this, remember that jasny is a masculine adjectival ending.  For a river name which is necessarily feminine in Slavic (rzeka/reka), the adjective ending would be -a as in jasna.

But what happens next is strange.

Greule observes that there are other place names/towns with such names, states that their etymology is Middle Low German and decides that, therefore, the above must be German too in the form Jesene, Jesne!  The root is a reconstructed (of course) *jesa-/*jeso.

Let’s see how that reasoning holds up.

What are those other town names?

  • Niedernjesa and Obernjesa
    • Gese (1022 or 12th century)
    • Gese (1142)
    • Yese (1196)
  • Jesuborn
    • geseborn (1368)
    • Yesebirn (circa 1450)
    • Jheseborn (1465)

You can see these town and their relation to the Jeetzel of Wendland on this map.  Jeetzel in Wendland is in the Northeast.  Niedernjesa and Obernjesa in the middle and in the south, near Goettingen lies Jesuborn.

The problem with these other names is that – were they Slavic – they would indicate Slavic presence far to the West of where it is permitted by official historiography.  Since the names of these places exhibit a similar development and, therefore, etymology and since these other names “cannot” be Slavic, the obvious answer as to the origin of Jeetzel is also that it is not Slavic.

But this is only true so long as we desperately defend the assumption that Slavs could not have lived in Niedernjesa/Obernjesa and at Jesuborn.  Is that assumption defendable though?

Niedernjesa and Obernjesa

What about Niedernjesa and Obernjesa? The lower and upper Jesa were once one.  The name appears in annals as Gese/Jese/Iese/Jese in the years 1022, 1100, 1142, 1168, 1189, 1197 and 1269. In 1269, for the first time we have in Minori Jese presumably referring to the “minor” or maybe “lower” Jesa.

According to Die Ortsnamen des Landkreises Göttingen which was put out by, among others, Juergen Udolph of the Slavic hydronymy fame, the origin of the name Jesa is not entirely clear. The supposition is that the name goes back to jesan (gären, schäumen meaning “to boil” or “to gush” or “to simmer”) which may have been replaced by the word Leine which, the writers, guess could have been even older.

Well, the Jesas are located near a river and the river’s name – Leine – appears old.  In the old documents several versions of the name appear – most often Loine, Legine, Leine but also Laina.  The Polish version of the name is Lejna. The obvious Slavic etymology would be from “lac” that is “to pour”.  Beyond that the name appears in three other contexts.  There is a Leine which is a tributary of the Helme and then of the Solawa (that is the Thuringian Saale).  That one appears first as Lina.  Then there is Leine which is in Sachsen Anchalt.  Finally, further East  you have the Leine that is a tributary of the Mulde.  This last one Greule thinks may (but not necessarily) have been of Sorb origin (certainly all the associated towns appear Slavic).  The first mention of this Leine is in 1185 as fluvius Lynaw.

What about town names?  Most of the town names around the Jesas appear German.  But you also have some oddities such as:

  • Bovenden (Bowenden)
  • Weende (Wenden)
  • Weenderode
  • Potzwenden

In Gottingen itself which is the main town in the area, as last as the 15th century one of the gates was called Wender-Thor since right next to it there apparently was an old Slavic village: antiqua villa [?] Wendensis. There apparently was a Wenderwald near Ziegel-Huette and a river Wenda and even a Wender-Spring fountains.  In Heilgenstadt there was even a Windischgasse.  The other nearby river – Garde (earlier Garthe) – reminds one of the Slavic gardina.

Check out too the Urkundenbuch der Stadt Göttingen and Dietrich Denecke’s Göttingen: Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Dreissigjährigen Krieges:

There is a town nearby called Grone which, I confess, brings to mind the Slavic grono (as in wino-grono) meaning roughly “a bunch”.  It is true that Gronau is another place name in Germany but to be honest that name appears in the area on the Dutch border where such suspicious names as Vreden, Borken, Velen, Reken, Gescher pop up.

In any event, according to Wilhelm Boguslawski, in the 18th century, between Grone and Lauenstein, there were discovered 52 funerary urns suggesting a pagan ritual similar to the one that the Slavs used in historic times. Boguslawski’s claim is based on the Descriptio salae principatus Calenbergici locorumque adjacentium by Daniel Eberhard Baring from 1744.

Of course, all of this could be nothing and yet, I think there is enough here for a deeper investigation of the topic.

For more in Polish see pages 244-266 of volume 4 of Boguslawski’s Dzieje słowiańszczyzny północno-zachodniej do połowy XIII wieku (“The History of North Western Slavic Lands Through the First Half of the 13th Century”).


As regards Jesuborn, a Slavic etymology is more than possible.  The town lies between Pennewitz (clearly Slavic) and Gehren (which spelling is identical to Gehren in the East Sorb country which was a German rendering of Thietmar’s urbs quaedam Jarina).  Just to the east is Ilmenau (compare with Lake Ilmen?) which seems to have been founded by Slavic Sorbs.  So Jesuborn is quite easily a Slavic name – at least as regards the prefix.

Officially, the name is (first mention in 1368 as das dorf czu deme geseborn) to be derived from the “Indogermanic” (!) word jesen, which, as alleged above, meant “to boil” or “to gush” or “to simmer”.  That is the name refers, as per the above, to the “springs” that surface there.

This is not impossible as indicated by the Slavic jazda, jechac/jechat and so forth.  But the Slavic etymology is more likely for two reasons.  First, there are two Slavic etymologies – that of “bright” or “light” being the second.  And, moreover, the Slavic word forms exist today whereas the Indogermanic  Indoeuropean etymologies have to be reconstructed.  The same word “jasion” or “jesion” is the name of the ash tree in Slavic todayJezioro/ozero means “lake” to this day and so forth. Compare this too to the Persian rulers Yazdegerds – supposedly meaning “made by God” with “Yaz” being the Persian name for God – this too indicates a connection to Jassa – perhaps through the Slavic way of worshipping fast moving streams.

Incidentally, it is more than curious that the Slavic jazda should have the same suffix as the Persian Mazda or that the suffix -t should be similar to the Old Indian -ti.

Of course, Born is a bit of a problem here unless one wants to look at Borna as a Dalmatian/Croatian name (the placenames Borna appear principally in Saxony – if you don’t count India). In any event, it may well be that “Jesu” comes from one language but “born” from another – that is, “born” being Germanic.


All in all there does not seem to be a reason to assume that Jeetzel/Jesna does not have a Slavic etymology.  Whether or not the same is the case with Niedern- and Obernjesa and with Jesuborn is another matter.  However, even here a Slavic etymology seems a reasonable possibility.

Incidentally, the idea that there was a Germanic word jesan and that it meant “to simmer” and so forth, seems to have come from Karl Brugmann and later Jan Pieter Marie Laurens de Vries (altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch and Nederlands Etymologisch Woordenboek).

De Vries had a bit of a checked past but I don’t think he was overall biased.  I just doubt he knew much about Slavic languages – I will only note that the word jaga there is derived from “hunt” (jagen) which, I suppose means that Baba Yaga was an evil huntress. A similar view is expressed by Pokorny but is hardly the only one.  Here is Alois Walde in his Lateinisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (in a slightly different context): 

Note too the Old Indian “-ti” suffix in “yasati, yasyati” which is similar to the Slavic “-t” ending or -ć in Polish .

The Sprachgeschichte: ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und ihrer Erforschung (edited by Werner Besch) suggests that the Jeetzel was a Slavic name but that it was formed from a prior Germanic name:

This is indeed possible but is hardly necessary since Jasna would refer to a bright, light river.

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December 4, 2017

Etwas stimmt nicht

Published Post author

The Polish capital’s name is Warszawa.  No one suggested that this name is German.  And yet, why not?

Take a look at the river Warsbach.  As early as 633 it was referred to as Warspach:

ad meridianam plagam super Warspach, et inde ad Bodemlosestompha

Even if the above is a forgery, it is probably a forgery of no later than the 10th century.  In any event, the river to this day is called Warsbach.  But if you have a Warsbach then why not a Warsaha or Warsawa? After all, isn’t -awa supposed to be the (reconstructed) German suffix meaning “water”?

What is the official explanation of Warsaw’s name?  It supposedly comes from the name of:

  • a knight named Warsz
  • the Czech family of Warszowcy (or, in Czech, Vršovci) who fled from Bohemia to Poland in the 12th century – you can read all about them in the Czech Chronicle of Cosmas

But even if this were true, it just pushes the question further and deeper: who were these Warszowcy? Who was Warsz?  Or rather, why was he called Warsz?

Incidentally, the Polish “sz” represents the “sh” sound and, not surprisingly, the river Warsbach has also been spelled (and therefore pronounced) Warschbach (the German “sch” corresponds to the Polish “sz” and the English “sh”).

So where is Warsbach or Warschbach? Right here:

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December 1, 2017