Eccentrics, Epicycles and Equants to the Rescue

An amusing article in “Science in Poland” with some wonderful (and wonderfully mischaracterized) treasures found in Poland.  Here is a quote:

“Some of these peoples, among them Germanic tribes, observed in ancient written sources, for example Goths or Vandals, came from the Odra-Vistula basin where they lived in the first centuries of our era.”

This Veranstaltung is orchestrated by professor Bursche who believes that Germanic tribes were present in Poland (Kuyavia) up until the 7th century. The archeologist believes that such a long presence of Germanics in this are allowed the pre-Slavic names especially certain hydronyms to reach Slavic times with one example give as Vistula – Wisla.

The Professor is an archeologist so he can be somewhat forgiven his lack of basic historical knowledge but, if he is going to venture out of his comfort zone and make such statements, as a non-expert, he should approach a foreign area with a little better prep.  It would behoove him to realize a few points:

  • No source asserts the presence of any Vandals in the territory of, as the above article so unfortunately puts it, “current Polish lands”
  • The presence of Goths in such lands is attested in sources at the Vistula mouth and that is about it

Beyond that, the German name for the Vistula is Weichsel (itself probably a borrowing from the Balts which should also provide some food for thought as to how exactly the Goths “got” to Poland) and the Polish name is Wisla which just happens to match the ancient Vistla ever so better than the Weichsel.  Perhaps the theory here is that Germanic tribes used Vistla, passed it onto the Slavs then the Germans changed their pronunciation to Weichsel?  

Of course, a simpler solution would be to assume that the Slavs got Vistla from someone who used Vistla in antiquity.  Here the Veneti come to mind.

But then, if we believe there were Germanic tribes in the “current” lands of Poland, we would have to believe that the Veneti survived all these Germanic rampages through their lands long enough to pass the knowledge of local hydronymy to the incoming Slavs (whom the Germans to this day just happened to call Wenden…). This too is, of course, possible in the sense that anything is possible. But there is obviously a more economical solution.

Or if we did not believe that there were significant Germanics in the area, we would have to conclude that the Veneti were absorbed by the incoming Slavs but then these artifacts may be Venetic or Slavic or have nothing to say about who used actually them. And given then that the Germans (but also Finns) call Slavs Wenden, another simpler solution also presents itself.

In any event, for archeologists who want to cling to difficult to maintain positions, I include here a link that should help them do that.  They should study up on eccentrics, epicycles and equants.  These esoteric concepts might just prove invaluable in salvaging their theory.  And, indeed, they, like Ptolemy, may still be right.

But, as they say, it’s a question of probabilities.

More on the theoretical underpinnings of the research project which generated this Veranstaltung here and here.

And Science in Poland should also check whether it still is where it claims.  After all, things change.

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November 1, 2017

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