Thanks for the gentleman who forwarded a link to this 2016 interview with Adam Ziółkowski of Warsaw University. It is unfortunately only in Polish but if you can figure some of it out, it is very interesting. Its conclusion is also onto “something.” That said, Ziółkowski’s exposition has a number of factual errors and not so insignificant logical problems that should be noted so that he can improve his presentation the next time he speaks on this topic. (Also his manner of speaking is grating – he sounds like a friar of the Spanish Inquisition after a dozen cans of Red Bull – check out the guy’s “rrrrrrs”)
Slavs are not (just) a linguistic community
Ziółkowski starts with the unfortunate assertion that Slavs are only a linguistic community. This is a popular trope these days with a transparent intent of breaking down the concept that Slavs are a nation – which would mean ties of blood. Those ties are, of course, attested (and visible to the naked eye) but the unscientific and politicized view of Slavs as merely a linguistic community is important to anyone hostile to any blood communities (another example of Slavs suffering for the sins of the Nordics).
Here he gets challenged a bit by the interviewer who asks (since according to Ziółkowski Slavs are those “who understand one another”) whether a German who understands another German is also a Slav. Indeed, Ziółkowski does not seem to believe his own silliness as he answers the interviewers question with a “no” – a German who understands another German is not a Slav – but then adds (giggling!?) “unless he had learned to speak German…” So in this telling a Slav who learns German is still a Slav.
Ok, but the better question to ask Ziółkowski would have been, is this Slav now (also) a German? And what about a German who learns Slavic? Is he both Slav and German? Does the “first” language matter? Why? And what if you were raised with Slavic language but then learned German and forgot Slavic. Are you now a German or a Slav?
How ridiculous this view is can be demonstrated by its application to the Lebensborn program – these children stolen by the Germans and raised as German would in Ziółkowski’s way of thinking be seen as German. I hesitate to ask what he thinks Edith Stein was.
Further, to give support to this “linguistic” community, he creates a fable of Slavs (those who speak the word) and Nemcy (those who do not). This etymology is tempting and has been much talked about but is way uncertain for a whole number of reasons – one of which being is that it very much smacks of being a Volksetymologie.
Finally, any such definition of Slavs that Ziółkowski comes up with makes irrelevant (to most people) the answer to the question for which he got air time to expound on this stuff. Simply put, while the question of “where the Slavic language came from” may be interesting, the question that most people are interested in is not that – their question is rather “where did their ancestors come from”. Ancestor does not mean “linguistic ancestor”. Our ancestors may or may not have spoken Slavic. We see a certain level of biological similarity among Northern Slavs and, separately, Southern Slavs, and the question is where did those communities come from. Their ancestors may well have spoken Slavic but if someone told me tomorrow that Slav was an Avar (unlikely) or Hunnic language imposed on the Veneti, I would say, great, but I don’t care because Slavdom and ancestry are independent of that.
I suspect that if Ziółkowski were to say that our ancestors did not speak Slavic and then wanted to get on the radio to discuss where these linguistic Slavs came from, he would have gotten a 10th of the listeners he got. And I suspect, he well knows that.
Anyway, I am on this “linguistic ancestry” train only so long as it can be shown that Slavic is what my ancestors spoke. If, looking back, there is a divergence I’ll follow the ancestral path further back. (Of course, it could be too that at some point you’d come across a linguistically mixed marriage or other type of coupling).
Enough on that.
Our knowledge of “peoples, geography and archeology” does not answer these questions
Central Europe was, according to Ziółkowski, very well known to the Romans. He says that we have names of peoples, geography and archeology and that there “simply are no Slavs here” in that period. This is just silliness.
As to peoples, he does not mention the Suevi. Why? He does mention the Veneti but then later makes a claim that they were Balts… They may well have included Balts if by Balts we understand the genetic ancestors of today’s Latvians, Lithuanians and Old Prussians but the Veneti were natio populosa and that is not what the Balts are. I also seriously doubt that the Veneti – even the ones on the Baltic – spoke a “Baltic” language. It’s possible but, as a primary language, I doubt it.
As to geography, I am not sure what he means because he does not develop this thought beyond his “geography” incantation.
As to archeology, he himself earlier says that we do not know who the people were (and, of course cannot, know) who made the various pots and pans… Even that would assume that the people who made them were the same people as the people who used them. Even putting aside imports, it does not take much of an imagination to see that you could have a craftsman from tribe A living among tribe B, particularly if tribe A was known for its pan making skills.
There certainly are more than two possibilities
Ziółkowski mentions there are two possibilities for the appearance of the Slavs. One is that they were here under “different names” before. But then he serves up only the Veneti (dismissing their Slavicity) – more on that below.
The second is that there was some sort of an “accelerated birth” of the Slavs. This second concept seems to be derived from Florin Curta’s theories which, as noted here, are just plain silly.
There is, of course, another version: that the Slavs came – as a group – from somewhere else. This is the allochtonic theory but in today’s Europe which is supposed to be building an uebernational identity, any “group” activities (even going for a walk) that obviously exclude others are viewed with suspicion… On this see below.
Limited Voelkerwanderung and no emptying of Central Europe
Ziółkowski says that Central Europe was emptied because of the Voelkerwanderung. This is curious on two fronts.
First, we know now that there was no such “complete emptying” (this is a quote) and that there appears to be settlement continuity with, perhaps, some modest population reduction.
Second, it is curious that Ziółkowski seems unaware that the Voelkerwanderung is now considered (in German circles) to be a myth. This is striking because most of the ideas he talks about seem to come straight from German historiography – but not this one. Modern German scholars view the Voelkerwanderung as a myth but modern Polish scholars such as Ziółkowski not so much. Difference of opinion – but why?
I have to say that I was always suspicious that the idea that the Voelkerwanderung was a myth came from those hostile to Germans having any such myths (better safe than sorry).
However, as applied to the Poles the myth claim is well and good. From a Polish “autochtonic” perspective, the idea that the Voelkerwanderung is a myth is likely to be whole-heartedly embraced. These Poles would say “of course, it’s a myth, because there were no Nordics in those areas that you are talking about – just our ancestors.”
In other words, while for modern politically-driven German historiography the Germanic Voelkerwanderung is a necessary myth, for modern Polish historiography the same Germanic Voelkerwanderung is politically necessary as a way of busting Polish autochtonic “myths” and so it undoubtedly took place and Nordics lived in Poland prior to Slavs having somehow arisen. In either case, however, the idea is that the concept of ancient national action or existence is deprecated. In fact, modern German scholars were so eager to apply this new myth-busting way of thinking to the Poles that one of them – Walter Pohl – pathetically ignorant that Slav autochtonists are perfectly happy with the German Voelkerwanderung being a myth – started attacking the idea of a Slavic Voelkerwanderung in an apparent attempt to shatter the Slavic version of the Germanic “myth”. All this notwithstanding the fact that no such myth exists in Slavic autochtonic historiography and that Slav “autochtonists” would, as noted above, be more than happy to dispense with both any alleged Germanic or with a Slavic Voelkerwanderung…
In fact, Ziółkowski, calls Slavs (and presumably) Poles “Immigrants”. Wittingly or not, he becomes part of a movement (as absurd and ridiculous as it is) that would place Poles on the same level as immigrants who just got to Poland (that is, non-Poles). To say that this is an overeager anticipation of the European elites’ current political narrative would be so obvious an observation as to make the observer almost embarrassed to even have to utter it.
Ziółkowski does note that these Slavs were “legal” immigrants but, apparently, only because they walked into a portion of Germania which had been entirely depopulated by the escaping Germanics. Now, however, we know that no such major depopulation took place (notwithstanding the various pollen counts undertaken).
Of course, if this were all correct, it would be perfectly fine with me – it’s just that the approach here reeks of political necessity.
Veneti likely were ancestors of the Slavs (and maybe of Balts) & Antes may well have spoken Slavic
Ziółkowski says that both those in the East (from south of Danube) and West (from West of the Rhine) looking at Central Europe only see Slavs and Antes but not – with the exception of Jordanes – the Veneti. As an example of this in the West, he mentions Fredegar who speaks of the Slavs.
Right off the bat, this is technically wrong for two reasons.
First, Fredegar, as Ziółkowski himself notes a few seconds later, does speak of the Wends (“Slavs who are called Wends”).
Second, no one in the West at the end of antiquity uses the name Antes – that name is only used by the Greek Byzantine writers (and Jordanes). (Whether the earlier Antes of Pomponius Mela & Co had anything to do with the Antes Jordanes, Procopius & Co, is at least as debatable as whether the earlier Veneti had anything to do with the Slavs).
Ziółkowski then notes that the Antes must have spoken Slavic. Why? Because they spoke the same language as the Slavs (likely true) but best exemplified by the Slavic name Dabragezas who he identifies as a written version of Dobrogost. This may be true (though presumably Florin Curta could object) but may also not be true. Every part of this name can be explained through use of non-Slavic languages.
Take Dabra: the suggestion has been made that some of the Dubr names are Celtic. Thus, for example, Portus Dubris (Dubrae) is the ancient name for Dover, England. Dubrovnik in Croatia is explained with a Slavic etymology but that is because that is the easiest. The fact that Caesar may have come to Dubris from Illyria might suggest a different answer. Or maybe even before Caesar there were pre-Slavs living in Britain.
Take Gezas: If Gezas is supposed to be Gost then why not Gaisus? Are we suggesting that Radagaisus – the Goth – was a Slav or spoke Slavic? I guess, why not? Both Rad- and -gaisus can be just as (and perhaps more) easily Slavic than Germanic.
And what about other names associated with the Antes: Mezamer/Idariz/Kelagast, Chilbudios, Boz? At least one Ukrainian writer believed that these were all Goths…
In any event, I think that the Antes actually did speak Slavic but the above name may or may not be Slavic.
There are other issues in this part of the discussion:
- Ziółkowski calls Jordanes a “pseudo-historian” but does in now way challenge his credibility (and says his ethnographic descriptions are accurate – but check out the War of Vesosis!). And who was a “real” historian back in those days? (On the tendentious, perfunctory and annoying criticisms of Jordanes in general, you can see here)
- The fact that the Antes appear in earlier sources way in the East (as do Souobenoi, by the way), “surrounded by Iranian speaking tribes” in no way, contrary to Ziółkowski’s assertion, requires these Antes to have been Iranian speakers.
- Tacitus does not end his description of Suevia “on the Bug River” thereby “placing Veneti in northern Ukraine and in Belarus.” Tacitus does not mention the Vistula, Oder or Bug under any names. All he says “here Suevia ends.” Since he just discussed the Swedes (and Sitones?)*, it is questionable what gives any reader the right to jump back down to the Bug. We may infer from the Veneti being between the Fenni and the Peucini that – some of them – were in Belarus and Ukraine but Ptolemy places them on the Baltic and Pliny seemingly in all of Central Europe.
[*note: “Bordering on the Suiones are the nations of the Sitones. They resemble them in all respects but one – the female is the ruling sex. That is the measure of their decline, I will not say below freedom, but even below decent slavery.”]
- As noted above, there is nothing to indicate that the Veneti were Balts or merely Balts and much speaks against that (such as the natio populosa concept).
- He seems to conflate the Alans with the Antes – this is just a supposition based on very little.
- Ziółkowski claims – and this is just plain wrong and false – that Pliny the Elder identified the Venedi with the Aestii. Ziółkowski also appears to say that those are the people “who live today in Prussia”. I have to say that it is difficult not to do an “ahem” since there is no Prussia “today” but this statement suggests where Ziółkowski got this idea – that is from 19th century German historiography – a major Freudian slip it seems. Moreover, I cannot see where Pliny talks about the Aestii at all (“some writers state that these regions, as far as the river Vistula, are inhabited by the Sarmati, the Venedi, the Sciri, and the Hirri“). The first mention of the Aestii comes from Tacitus and he certainly does not equate the Aestii with the Veneti.
Veneti and Volcae
Ziółkowski continues to perpetuate the early 20th century invention, according to which Germanic tribes called all people to the East “Veneti” – no matter their ethnic/blood/linguistic affiliation. How do we know that? Well, because the Germans did something similar with the Volcae so that the people in the South were Volcae but in the East they were Veneti.
This is bullshit.
It received its strongest expression in the 1905 work of Hermann Hirt “Die Indogermanen“. Now Hirt was also a believer in the Baltic Urheimat of the Indo-European languages – a position that was politically important to pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany. Since the Venetic Uebertragung theory would have expelled Slavs into areas even further east, it naturally found a home in Nazi and post-war Germany. Why such nonsense is repeated today though is curious.
It is also worth mentioning what Hirt actually wrote:
“Since no Slavic tribe refers to itself as the Veneti, one can come to suppose that in the East of the Germans a non-Slavic people with the name Veneti [once] sat, whose name then was transferred onto the Slavs, once these ran into the Germans. Nevertheless, this can be treated only as a very uncertain supposition.”
So the Father of this theory is leery of fully accepting his child but his students fell no such reservations.
What can we say about this?
First of all if the Germanic tribes called people to the South (in some version “to the West”) of them Volcae and if this was because they first encountered the Belgae and then the Welsh then they must have come down into Europe from Scandinavia – probably over today’s Denmark. If so, then who lived in Germany before the Germans?
Second, even if the Germans were to call everyone South (or is it West?) of them Volcae – which they did not – it does not stand to reason that they should do the same for all peoples in the East.
The truth is that there is nothing to suggest that in Germanic languages Volc is associated with the West and Wind with the East.
Moreover, Germanics clearly did see different peoples in both the West and the East. The Franks did not think the Thuringians and Saxons were Windische. But why? After all they lived to the East of the Franks. They should have been Windische!
But maybe that is because they spoke a Germanic language!? But the Huns, Avars, Hungarians, Aestii (Cassiodorus) and Fenni were not called Windische. None of them spoke a Germanic language.
Most importantly, the Balts themselves were never in Middle Ages called Veneti by the Germans and were called Aestii (Cassiodorus, Alfred’s Orosius).
But maybe that is because these other peoples spoke a non-Germanic language that was not Slavic! That must be it. So to sum up:
- The Germans transferred the Veneti name from a non-Slavic tribe onto everyone who lived in the East but only if by everyone we mean more or less just the Slavs. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense…
And what about the Veneti of the Adriatic… Were they named by the Germans too? No, of course not, those were the original Veneti. But, wait a minute now, these Veneti were to the South of the Germans so should they not have been called Volcae!? And how is that we find here, again, Slavs!? Why, for example, is Grad called Grad in the Chronicle of Grad? Why is there a Wistla in the Alps?
And what about the Veneti in Bretagne!? Are the Germans now calling people to the West of them Veneti!? And, by the way, why do the descendants of these Bretagnish Veneti still use the word divyezhek (dwujezyczny) to denote “bilingual“?
Fredegar, contrary to Ziółkowski, cannot be used to support the notion that Venethi was a name given to everyone in the East by the Germans. In fact, it only supports the view that Slavs and Venethi were the same people.
What makes sense
The interview above actually is pretty good so my criticism is intended to be limited. What makes it good, however, is the rest of the “meat” on these bones. Let’s take a look at that.
An important observation that Ziółkowski makes is that linguists are basically useless in this discussion. He even mentions that whenever you see the universal warning sign for a “reconstructed” word – that is * – that sight might be preceded by a stench of bullshit. Completely agree with that sentiment.
(It behooves me to note that the word “asterisk” as in “little star” may go back to the symbol for the Eostre/Ashera).
He says that Venethi may have been ancestors of the Slavs or may have been pre-Slavs. Agree with that.
He says that the Slavs are Veneti (by whom he means Balts) mixed with Germanics (which ones we do not know) and Iranians (presumably Antes – if they were even Iranian – or Alans). I think there is something to this concept but I would make the following “emendations”:
- the Veneti are more (or at least just as) likely to have been the ancestors of today’s Slavs (in the biological sense) as today’s Balts – the Balts are much more likely to be the Aestii.
- although whether the Suevi of Caesar spoke a Germanic language is very uncertain, for reasons that need no be repeated here, if Germanics as in Nordics we must have in the mix, the Suevi may provide that connection best (than say Goths). Remember swoboda (“own body).
- the “Iranian element” need not come from the Antes or Alans – the Yazyges were present in Pannonia for quite some time and their interactions with the Suevi are well know.
There IS a possibility that Slavs came from Prussia… or that Prussian Balts were a mixed people – compare Witland with the name of the Ranian Gods and with the Lithuanian Wits such as Vitas or Vitautas – this is something that certainly merits amuck more detailed study.
There is another possibility… (there always is): that the Veneti were Slavs but that the Suevi were Balts…
With all that in mind, I think the interview is terrific (if you can put up with the way this guy pronounces his “r’s”) and I encourage everyone who understand Polish to tune in.
Copyright ©2017 jassa.org All Rights Reserved