Description of Slavia in Adam of Bremen

We have discussed previously Adam of Bremen’s History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen in the context of Polabian religion as well as regarding the Rarogi.  However, Adam’s work also touches upon other aspects of Polabian Slavs and his description of the Slavs is worth discussing on its own.  In the following we include a description of Slavia – that “region of Germany” where Slavs live with the exception of two fragments – one is what we already discussed regarding religion and which you may find here; the other is the description of Wolin or Jumneta which we leave for another time.

We note first that Adam understood Slavs to mean chiefly Wends, i.e., western-most or Polabian Slavs.  Other Slavs already had their separate names and states and as such were distinguished by Adam from the Polabian “Rest-Slavs”, so, crudely, to speak, that inhabited the lands between the Oder and the Elbe (and beyond).

In the section references we use the alternative numbering system (the book numbers are the same) used in some manuscripts.

[BTW the reference to the Winuli (Winnulis, Wimulis, Vinnulis, Vinulis) is curious and likely a mistake (Adam also calls Winuli, Vandals – which clearly is a mistake) in that that is the old name of the Lombards/ Langobarden as per Paul the Deacon.   See also Benedict from Monte Soratte (previously, Monte Soracte) (aka Benedict of Soracte) in his 968 (?) Chronicle (Chapter 36 (SS, III, 717) as per MGH (the truthfulness of a lot of Benedict’s work has been put in some doubt); apparently the Winuli are separate from the Wilini also mentioned by Adam]

Book II
Section 14

“To the archbishopric of Magdeburg was subjected all Slavia as far as the Peene River.  There were five suffragan bishoprics.  Of these Merseburg and Zeitz were established on the Saale River, Meissen on the Elbe, Brandenburg and Havelberg farther inland.  The sixth bishopric of Slavia is Oldenburg.  Because it is nearer to us, the emperor put it under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Hamburg.  For it our archbishop consecrated as the first bishop Ebrachar or Egward, whom in Latin we call Evagrius…”


Section 15

“We have also found that the boundaries of Saxony across the Elbe were drawn by Charles and other emperors as follows:  The first extends from the east bank of the Elbe up to the rivulet which the Slavs call Boize.  From that stream the line runs through the Delvunder wood up to the Delvenau River.  And so it goes on to the Hornbecker Muehlen-Bach and to the source of the Bille, thence to Liudwinestein and Weisbirken and Barkhorst.  Then it passes on through Suederbeste to the Trave woods and again through this forest to Blunk.  Next it goes to the Tensfelder Au and ascends directly up to the ford called Agrimeswidil.  At that place, too, Burwid fought a duel with a Slavic champion and slew him; and a memorial stone has been put in that spot.  Thence the line runs up, going to the Stocksee, and thus on to the Zwentifeld lying to the East as far as the Schwentine River itself.  Along the latter stream the Saxon boundary goes down to the Scythian Lake and to the sea they call the Eastern Sea.”


Section 17

“Thus far Einhard: but since the Slavs are mentioned so many times we do not think it improper to say something about the nature and peoples of Slavia by way of an historical survey, especially since it is related that nearly all the Slavs were at that time converted to the Christian religion though the efforts of our archbishop Adaldag.”

Section 18

“Slavia is a very large province of Germany inhabited by the Winuli who at one time were called Vandals.  It is said to be ten times larger than our Saxony, especially if you count as part of Slavia Bohemia and the expanses across the Oder, the Poles, because they differ neither in appearance nor in language.  Although this region is very rich in arms, men and crops, it is shut on all sides by fast barriers of wooded mountains and rivers.  In breadth it extends from south to north, that is, from the Elbe River to the Scythian Sea.  And in length it appears to stretch from our diocese of Hamburg, where it begins, toward the east and, spread in boundless expanses, reaches clear to Bavaria, Hungary and Greece.  There are many Slavic people, of whom the first, beginning in the west, are the Wagiri, neighbors of the Transalbingians.  their city is Oldenburg by the sea.  Then come the Abotrites, who now are called Reregi, and their city is Mecklemburg.  In our direction too, are the Polabingi, whose city is Ratzeburg.  Beyond them live the Linguones and Warnavi.  Farther on dwell the Chizzini and Circipani, whom the Peene River separates from the Tholenzi and from the Retharii and their city of Demmin.  There is the end of the diocese of Hamburg.  There also are other Slavic peoples, who live between the Elbe and the Oder; such as the Heveldi, who are seated by the Havel River, and the Doxani, Leubuzi, Wilini, and Stoderani, besides many other.  Among them the Retharii, centrally located are the mightiest of all.  Their city, very widely known as Rethra, is a seat of idolatry…”


[for a description of the next part see here]

Section 19

“Beyond the Leutici, who are also called Wilzi, one comes to the Oder River, the largest stream in the Slavic region.  At its mouth, where it feeds the Scythian marshes, Jumne, a most noble city, affords, a very widely known trading center for the barbarians…”

[a description of Jumne/Wolin follows – we will discuss it later so we skip it for now]


Section 19 (continued)

“From that city it is a short passage in one direction to the city of Demmin, which is situated at the mouth of the Peene River, where the Rugiani also live.  The other one reaches the province of Semland, which the Prussians occupy.  The journey is such that it takes seven days to go from Hamburg or the Elbe River to the city of Jumne by land; for by the sea route one boards ship at Schleswig or Oldenburg to get to Jumne.  From that city it is fourteen days’ sail up to Ostrogard of Russia.  The largest city of Russia is Kiev, rival of the scepter of Constantinople, the brightest ornament of Greece.  Now, as was said before, the Oder River rises in the depths of the Moravian forest, where our Elbe also has its source.  At first not a great distance from each other, these rivers follow different courses.  For the one, that is the Oder, tending toward the north, passes through the midst of the Winuli  peoples [medios Winulorum populos] until it passes by Jumne, where it divides the Pomeranians from the Wilzi.  But the other, that is the Elbe, rushing toward the west, waters in the uppermost course the country of the Bohemians and the Sorbs; midway in its course it divides the pagans from the Saxons; in its lower part it divides the dioceses of Hamburg from that of Bremen and sweeps into the British Ocean.”

Section 20

“These remarks about the Slavs and their country may suffice, because through the valor of the great Otto they were all at that time converted to Christianity.  Now we shall address our pen to what was done after the emperor’s death and in the remaining years of our archbishop.”

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

March 4, 2015

4 thoughts on “Description of Slavia in Adam of Bremen

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