On Svantovit (or Fortune) in the Writing of William of Malmesbury

We have presented the writings of Saxo Grammaticus on Arkona/Svantevit (and will continue to do so). In the meantime, however, we would like to respond to some readers inquiring as to whether other sources regarding the Ruegen God exist.


Gorgeous calligraphy but not the relevant pages (we do not have the relevant ones in manuscript format)

Indeed they do. Here is one written by William of Malmesbury (c 1095 – c 1143). William has been seen as one of Britain’s greatest medieval scholars after Bede (the Venerable – on whose work William patterned his own and to whom we will return in the future when discussing Easter). In his monumental work, Chronicle of the Kings of England, William stated the following when discussing the Germans and their Emperor Henry (Chapter XII Of King Harold and Hardecanute discussing the years):

“This emperor [Henry III] possessed many and great virtues; and nearly surpassed in military skill all his predecessors: so much so, that he subdued the Vindelici and the Leutici, and the other nations bordering on the Suevi, who alone, even to the present day, lust after pagan superstitions: for the Saracens and Turks worship God the Creator, looking upon Mahomet not as God, but as his prophet. But the Vindelici worship fortune, and putting her idol in the most prominent location, they place a horn in her right hand, filled with Greek term we call “hydromel”. Saint Jerome proves, in his eighteenth book on Isaiah, that the Egyptians and almost all the eastern nations do the same. Wherefore on the last day of November, sitting around in a circle, they all taste it; and if they find the horn full, they applaud with loud clamors: because in the ensuing year, plenty with her brimming horn will fulfill their wishes in everything: but if it be otherwise, they lament. Henry made these nations in such a wise tributary to him, that upon very solemnity on which he wore his crown, four of their kings were obliged to carry a cauldron in which flesh was boiled, upon their shoulders, to the kitchen, by means of levers passed through rings.”

(Erat imperator multis et magnis virtutibus praeditus, et omnium pene ante se bellicosissimus, quippe qui etiam Vindelicos et Leuticios subegerit, ceterosque populos Suevis conterminos, qui usque ad hanc diem soli omnium mortalium paganas superstitiones anhelant; nam Saraceni et Turchi Deum Creatorem colunt, Mahumet non Deum sed ejus prophetam aestimantes. Vindelici vero Fortunam adorant; cujus idolum loco nominatissimo ponentes, cornu dextrae illius componunt plenum potu illo quem [variant: quod] Graeco vocabulo, ex aqua et melle, Hydromellum vocamus. Idem sanctus Hieronymus Aegiptos et omnes pene Orientales fecisse, in decimo octavo super Isaiam libro confirmat. Unde ultimo die Novembris mensis, in circuitu sedentes, in commune praegustant; et si cornu plenum invenerint, magno strepitu applaudunt [variant: plaudentes], quod eis futuro anno pleno copia cornu resdponsura sit in omnibus; si contra, gemunt. Hos ergo ita Henricus tributarios effecerat, ut, omnibus sollempnitatibus quibus coronabatur, reges eorum quatuor, lebetem quo carnes condiebantur, in humeris suis, per anulos quatuor vectibus ad coquinam vectitarent)

Incidentally, the reason this story even appears in the English writing is because King Harthacnut (son of Cnut/Canute the Great) gave away his sister Gunhilda to marry Henry III, the Holy Roman Emperor.  The siblings were obviously also great-grandchildren of Mieszko I (since Cnut’s mother was Mieszko’s daughter Świętosława).  Thus, interestingly, all these people were Polish.

Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2015, All Rights Reserved

February 12, 2015

3 thoughts on “On Svantovit (or Fortune) in the Writing of William of Malmesbury

  1. Pingback: Once More on William of Malmesbury | In Nomine Jassa

  2. Pingback: Batavian Veleti – Part II | In Nomine Jassa

  3. Pingback: On Veneti, Übertragungen and Cernunnos | In Nomine Jassa

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