A reader asked whether there any chance that the Veneti were Balts, as in speakers of Prussian, Lithuanian, Latvian and related languages.
Well, this certainly is possible but several factors speak against that.
The Veneti are described as being pretty much where the Western and Eastern Slavs later appear by Pliny (also Slovenes), Tacitus and Ptolemy. Arguably they appear in Strabo and in several earlier writers in roughly the same area. The Baltic tribes of Galindae, Sudini and Borusci of Ptolemy (who does not have Aestii) are not described as being on the Baltic.
By the 9th century the word Aestii refers to the Balts. These people appear to be the Aestii of Cassiodorus and Tacitus. This also fits with Ptolemy who, again, does not have Aestii but does have Galindae, Sudini and Borusci who – probably – are the medieval tribes of Galindae, (?) Sudini and Prussians. These tribes are thus distinguished from the Veneti. The Livland Chronicle also distinguishes the Wends from the Balts and medieval German crusaders certainly knew who Wends were in their time (that is Slavs).
The Veneti are described by Ptolemy and as a populous bunch. Later Jordanes makes the same claim about the Slavs, calling them Veneti. The Aestii and later Balts are never described as populous.
As already mentioned Max Vasmer did not have an issue in ultimately concluding that the Veneti were Slavs.
The conclusion from the above should be obvious.
I should note that it is possible that both Slavs and Balts were part of one and the same grouping called Veneti and that one or the other group later changed languages. The question would be who. It is possible that the Slavs were the Veneti who were dragged by the Goths into the influence of the Jazyges, Alans or Huns and that, as a result, it is their language that changed. The appearance of the ending -vit in Slavic divinities’ names on the Baltic suggests that. As does also the naming of the lands of the Aestii as Witland. Whether Tacitan Veneti and Aestii spoke the same language is debatable.
On the other hand, the presence of Baltic hydronyms deep in Belarus suggests perhaps something different. Perhaps the Balts started deeper in the East and North East (their language is supposedly more “archaic” whatever that means – presumably closer to original IE) and then migrated West pushing the Veneti/Slavs out further West. Nevertheless, for this to be plausible, one would have to conclude that the hydronyms in Old Prussia and along the coast have Slavic roots.
There is one more argument for identifying Slavs or at least some Slavs with the Veneti and it is theological.
The Veneti were pronounced Vindi or Winden in German. The root india suggests some connection to, well, India or, more precisely, it suggests that the same people as the Venedi went East to bring the name India to India. If you look at the names of Polish Gods, names such as Jassa, Devana in India (just Google Jassa and Devana and see what comes up). Indeed, whatever the Baltic connection may be, the names of these Gods clearly point to similarities with India – and that fact, in and of itself, suggests that those who worshipped such Gods were the most likely candidates to be identified with the Vindi. Piorun/Perun, if it is related to Parjanya (but see even more similar village name of Peron in Punjab), does appear as Perkunas in Lithuania (too so this “divine” factor is not decisive but, the majority of such “Indian” names are Polish, not Lithuanian (some other shared names have no obvious Indian connection – such as the Polish and Lithuanian Lada). (Interestingly, the name also appears to mean a “pear” in Swedish – päron (and, presumably as a result, it means “potato” in Finnish).)
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