On Thietmar & Hennil

No one is quite sure whether the following fragment of Thietmar’s Chronicle has anything to do with Slavs or whether the locals in question were Franks or Saxons.  Nevertheless, as the anecdotes relayed by Thietmar immediately before and after (and which we might discuss at some future time) appear to relate to Slavic territories (towns mentioned in those being Silivellun and Rödlitz)  we quote this passage here just in case the Slavs are mentioned here as well:

“…One should scarcely be surprised to find that such portents occur in our regions. For the inhabitants rarely come to church and show little concern at the visits of their pastors. They worship their household gods and sacrifice to them, hoping thereby to obtain their aid. I’ve heard too of a certain staff to whose tip was attached an arm holding an iron ring.  This staff was carried about all the houses by a certain shepherd from the village and spoke to the staff thusly/saluted the staff whenever crossing a house’s threshold: ‘Be vigilant Hennil, be vigilant’.  For that was the name of this staff in the rustic tongue.  And the people celebrated thereafter to their delight, being of the mind in their foolishness that they are safe under the care of this staff.  They did not know the words of David: ‘Pagan idols are the work of human hands, etc.  Similar to them [i.e., the idols] are those who make them and all those who trust in them.'”


…Non est admirandum, quod in his partibus tale ostentatur prodigium. Nam habitatores illi raro ad ecclesiam venientes de suorum visitatione custodum nil curant. Domesticos colunt Deos, multumque sibi prodesse eosdem sperantes, his immolant. Audivi de quodam baculo, in cuius summitate manus erat, unum in se ferreum tenens circulum, quod cum pastore illius villae, in quo is fuerat, per omnes domos has singulariter ductus, in primo introitu a portitore suo sic salutaretur: ‘Vigila, Hennil, vigila!’ – sic enim rustica vocabatur lingua; et epulantes ibi delicate de eiusdem se tueri custodia stulti autumabant, ignorantes illud Daviticum: ‘Simulacra gentium opera hominum et caetera.  Similes illisjiunt facientes ea et confidentes hiis.’

Who was Hennil?  No one really knows as this reference is the single reference to such a guardian as far as we know.  Was he a deified Hunuil – a son of Ostrogotha (Getica, chapter 14)?  Maybe, which would, absent more, put him outside of the Slavic “pantheon”.  In the form that we hear of him in Thietmar, likely, he was a God that, perhaps, had something to do with shepherds.  In the book Die Wissenschaft des slavischen Mythus, JJ Hanusch thought as much liking Hunnil to the Honidlo or Honilo or Gonidlo of the Czechs and Serbs or the Goniglis of the Lithuanians.  On the feast day of this God, the shepherds would supposedly go visit all the houses in the village and so entrust the households to the protection of Hunil with the magic of the staff.  In return the shepherds would receive various presents from the inhabitants – a kind of “bless & treat” visit.  Thereafter, they would throw parties and dances to honor this God during which the various flocks would graze on their own without their shepherds (it’s unclear at what point after the party the shepherds would be ready to get back to work – give or take a couple of days).  This as per Hannusch but see also A Kuhn’s Maerkische Sagen und Maerchen.


Jacob Grimm believed that the name of the God could be derived from the Polish “hejnał” meaning the morning dawn [red] sky and later supposedly a song to the rising Sun.  However, the word hejnał seems to come from hajnala Hungarian word for dawn…  So were there Hungarians living in Germany at the time?  Perhaps not.  What is interesting, however, is that Hungarian is an Ugro-Finnic tongue and there clearly was an an Ugro-finnic influence in Central Europe that hints at an earlier occupation of the territory by those people.  Amongst examples suggesting this we may mention:

  • the Scridifinni – a people that seems to appear among many ancient and medieval authors (e.g., Jordanes, Procopius, Paul the Deacon or the Ravenna Cosmography);
  • various, arguably, Finnic names such as the Roxoalani (or Roxo-alainen); or

Fearsome Veps people – almost as fearsome as the Sorbs

There will be much more to say about this in the future.

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

July 22, 2015

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  1. Pingback: Were There Vandals in Poland? – Part IV | In Nomine Jassa

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