The very first time that the Slavs appear on the history’s scene is, apparently, about the year 380 in the story of Boz.* The story comes from Getica a history of the Goths written by Jordanes.
“Since I have followed the stories of my ancestors and retold to the best of my ability the tale of the period when both tribes, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, were united, and then clearly treated of the Visigoths apart from the Ostrogoths, I must now return to those ancient Scythian abodes and set forth in like manner the ancestry and deeds of the Ostrogoths. It appears that at the death of their king, Hermanaric, they were made a separate people by the departure of the Visigoths, and remained in their country subject to the sway of the Huns; yet Vinitharius of the Amali retained the insignia of his rule. He rivalled the valor of his grandfather Vultuulf, although he had not the good fortune of Hermanaric. But disliking to remain under the rule of the Huns, he withdrew a little from them and strove to show his courage by moving his forces against the country of the Antes. When he attacked them, he was beaten in the first encounter. Thereafter he did valiantly and, as a terrible example, crucified their king, named Boz, together with his sons and seventy nobles, and left their bodies hanging there to double the fear of those who had surrendered. When he had ruled with such license for barely a year, Balamber, king of the Huns, would no longer endure it, but sent for Gesimund, son of Hunimund the Great. Now Gesimund, together with a great part of the Goths, remained under the rule of the Huns, being mindful of his oath of fidelity. Balamber renewed his alliance with him and led his army up against Vinitharius. After a long contest, Vinitharius prevailed in the first and in the second conflict, nor can any say how great a slaughter he made of the army of the Huns. But in the third battle, when they met each other unexpectedly at the river named Erac, Balamber shot an arrow and wounded Vinitharius in the head, so that he died. Then Balamber took to himself in marriage Vadamerca, the grand-daughter of Vinitharius, and finally ruled all the people of the Goths as his peaceful subjects, but in such a way that one ruler of their own number always held the power over the Gothic race, though subject to the Huns. And later, after the death of Vinitharius, Hunimund ruled them, the son of Hermanaric, a mighty king of yore; a man fierce in war and of famous personal beauty, who afterwards fought successfully against the race of the Suavi. And when he died, his son Thorismud succeeded him, in the very bloom of youth. In the second year of his rule he moved an army against the Gepidae and won a great victory over them, but is said to have been killed by falling from his horse. When he was dead, the Ostrogoths mourned for him so deeply that for forty years no other king succeeded in his place, and during all this time they had ever on their lips the tale of his memory. Now as time went on, Valamir grew to man’s estate. He was the son of Thorismud’s cousin Vandalarius. For his son Beremud, as we have said before, at last grew to despise the race of the Ostrogoths because of the overlordship of the Huns, and so had followed the tribe of the Visigoths to the western country, and it was from him Veteric was descended. Veteric also had a son Eutharic, who married Amalasuentha, the daughter of Theodoric, thus uniting again the stock of the Amali which had divided long ago. Eutharic begat Athalaric and Mathesuentha. But since Athalaric died in the years of his boyhood, Mathesuentha was taken to Constantinople by her second husband, namely Germanus, a cousin of the Emperor Justinian, and bore a posthumous son, whom she named Germanus. But that the order we have taken for our history may run its due course, we must return to the stock of Vandalarius, which put forth three branches. This Vandalarius, the son of a brother of Hermanaric and cousin of the aforesaid Thorismud, vaunted himself among the race of the Amali because he had begotten three sons, Valamir, Thiudimer and Vidimer. Of these Valamir ascended the throne after his parents, though the Huns as yet held the power over the Goths in general as among other nations. It was pleasant to behold the concord of these three brothers; for the admirable Thiudimer served as a soldier for the empire of his brother Valamir, and Valamir bade honors be given him, while Vidimer was eager to serve them both. Thus regarding one another with common affection, not one was wholly deprived of the kingdom which two of them held in mutual peace. Yet, as has often been said, they ruled in such a way that they respected the dominion of Attila, king or the Huns. Indeed they could not have refused to fight against their kinsmen the Visigoths, and they must even have committed parricide at their lord’s command. There was no way whereby any Scythian tribe could have been wrested from the power of the Huns, save by the death of Attila,–an event the Romans and all other nations desired. Now his death was as base as his life was marvelous.”
(Et quia, dum utrique gentes, tam Ostrogothae quam etiam Vesegothae, in uno essent, ut valui, maiorum sequens dicta revolvi divisosque Vesegothas ab Ostrogothis ad liquidum sum prosecutus, necesse nobis est iterum ad antiquas eorum Scythicas sedes redire et Ostrogotharum genealogia actusque pari tenore exponere. Quos constat morte Hermanarici regis sui, decessione a Vesegothis divisos, Hunnorum subditos dicioni, in eadem patria remorasse, Vinithario tamen Amalo principatus sui insignia retinente. Qui avi Vultulfi virtute imitatus, quamvis Hermanarici felicitate inferior, tamen aegre ferens Hunnorum imperio subiacere, paululum se subtrahens ab illis suaque dum nititur ostendere virtute, in Antorum fines movit procinctum, eosque dum adgreditur prima congressione superatus, deinde fortiter egit regemque eorum Boz nomine cum filiis suis et lxx primatibus in exemplum terroris adfixit, ut dediticiis metum cadavera pendentium geminarent. Sed dum tali libertate vix anni spatio imperasset, non est passus Balamber, rex Hunnorum, sed ascito ad se Gesimundo, Hunnimundi magni filio, qui iuramenti sui et fidei memor cum ampla parte Gothorum Hunnorum imperio subiacebat, renovatoque cum eo foedere super Vinitharium duxit exercitum; diuque certati primo et secundo certamine Vinitharius vincit. Nec valet aliquis commemorare, quanta strage de Hunnorum Venetharius fecit exercitu. Tertio vero proelio subreptionis auxilio ad fluvium nomine Erac, dum utrique ad se venissent, Balamber sagitta missa caput Venetharii saucians interemit neptemque eius Vadamercam sibi in coniugio copulans iam omnem in pace Gothorum populum subactum possedit, ita tamen, ut genti Gothorum semperum proprius regulus, quamvis Hunnorum consilio, imperaret. Et mox defuncto Venethario rexit eos Hunimundus, filius quondam regis potentissimi Hermanarici, acer in bello totoque corpore pulchritudine pollens, qui post haec contra Suavorum gente feliciter dimicavit. Eoque defuncto successit Thorismud filius eius flore iuventutis ornatus, qui secundo principatus sui anno contra Gepidas movit exercitum magnaque de illis potitus victoria casu equi dicitur interemptus. Quo defuncto sic eum luxerunt Ostrogothae, ut quadraginta per annos in eius locum rex alius non succederet, quatenus et illius memoriae semperum haberent in ore et tempus accederet, quo Valamer habitum repararet virilem, qui erat ex consubrino eius genitus Vandalario; quia filius eius, ut superius diximus, Beremud iam contempta Ostrogotharum gente propter Hunnorum dominio ad partes Hesperias Vesegotharum fuisset gente secutus, de quo et ortus est Vetericus. Veterici quoque filius natus est Eutharicus, qui iunctus Amalasuenthae filiae Theodorici, item Amalorum stirpe iam divisa coniunxit et genuit Athalaricum et Mathesuentam. Sed quia Athalaricus in annis puerilibus defunctus est, Mathesuenta Constantinopolim allata de secundo uiro, id est Germano fratruele Iustiniani imperatoris, genuit postumum filium, quem nominavit Germanum. Sed nobis, ut ordo, quem coepimus, decurrat, ad Vandalarii sobulem, quae trino flore pululabat redeundum est. Hic enim Vandalarius, fratruelis Hermanarici et supra scripti Thorismudi consubrinus, tribus editis liberis in gente Amala gloriatus est, id est Valamir Thiudimir Vidimir. Ex quibus per successione parentum Valamir in regno conscendit adhuc Hunnis eos inter alias gentes generaliter optinentibus. Eratque tunc in tribus his germanis contemplatio grata, quando mirabilis Thiudimer pro fratris Valamir militabat imperio, Valamir vero pro altero iubebat ornando, Vidimer servire fratribus aestimabat. Sic eis mutua affectione se tuentibus nulli paenitus deerat regnum, quod utrique in sua pace tenebant. Ita tamen, ut saepe dictum est, imperabant, ut ipsi Attilae Hunnorum regis imperio deservirent: quibus nec contra parentes Vesegothas licuisset recusare certamen, sed necessitas domini, etiam parricidium si iubet, implendum est. Nec aliter ab Hunnorum dominio divelli potuit gens aliqua Scythica, nisi optata cunctis nationibus in commune et Romanis mors Attilae proveniret, quae tam fuit vilis, ut vita mirabilis.)
From other parts of Getica we know too that Jordanes saw the Antes as related to the Sclaveni (Getica 23) with Procopius, another chronicler of the time, agreeing with Jordanes in this much. Therefore, we assume that the Antes were what we would today call Slavs.
Several things become immediately interesting from the above account.
First, and least remarkably, we have the conflict between Slav and Teuton right there from the start. In case you were wondering when it was “on” for the first time, this appears to be the first time, it was on. (To be precise, Hermanaric, Vinitharius’ great uncle may have ruled over the Antes, Sclaveni & Veneti a few years back before the Huns and Alans showed him a giant Game Over sign in 376).
Second, and more interestingly, some of the events in question may have been related earlier in the account of Ammianus Marcellinus who claimed in his Res Gestae that at or after the passing of Ermanaric (Jordanes’ Hermanaric?) the Goths fell under the Huns and then the the next Gothic chieftain to emerge, Vithimiris (Jordanes’ Vinitharius?) fought and lost to the Alans, at that time the allies of the Huns.
You might say was it then Vinitharius or Vithimiris? But here is the interesting thing, it was common to name people by reference to those they have “conquered.” See for example, the avenger of Varus, i.e., Claudius Germanicus. Jordanes himself calls, at the very end of the Getica, Justinian and Belisarius to be “Vandalicus, Africanus and Geticus.” (And, because of his wars against the Antae, Justinian was also called Anticus). So was Vithimiris simply Vithimiris Vinitharius? And if so, is this another confirmation that the Antes were simply the Veneti? Of course, Jordanes could have faked this (or perhaps the earlier section on the Antes, Slavs and Veneti) to make his connection between Antes and the Veneti to be stronger but that seems to be a rather elaborate scheme for someone who should not have expected much controversy on this rather tangential topic in his History of the Goths. Or perhaps the story was true but the rebellion was of the Veneti but not the Antes?
Incidentally, Cassiodorus in his letters does mention a Vinitharius (or Munitarius?) albeit says nothing about his military campaigns (Variae Epistolae XI, I) only stating that he was known for his sense of justice (see picture above).
(There is another set of interesting parallels here. To some it is difficult to let go of the fact that phonetically the most similar name to Slavs (in Slavic pronounced Suovieni) were the Suevi (on the assumption that the “u” was not pronounced as a “v”, as in Swaben). The Suevi, however, appear early in Roman annals (as a confederation) but there is no mention of them between 150 A.D. and 400 A.D. and there is no direct proof that the latter Suevi were the former Suevi. Perhaps they were Suevi Marcomanni and/or Quadi – perhaps not; In Ammalius the Goths fight the Alans. In Jordanes they fight the Antes; Then we have the Veneti and the Vandals; We also know that the “actual” Suevi (but see above), Vandals and Alans headed west into the West-Gothic territories in France, then Spain and then (minus the Suevi) the Vandals and Alans rolled into Africa; It seems a huge stretch to think of those that remained as connected – and yet what remained/appeared were the Slavs, Wends/Veneti and, for a while at least, the Antes).
Third, we have the name Boz. Bog, Bozy or Bozhy are generally Slavic names for God (apparently (to be discussed) from Iranian or Hindu – baga) or, in case of Boz, godly and indeed many Slavic names feature Bog in them (e.g., Boguslav, Bogumir, Bozydar) even today.
Indeed, a similar claim was made about the connection (if any) between the West Slavic God Radagast (of Rethra) and the earlier Gothic King Radagaisus (a “Scythian” according to Orosius and, later, Issidore of Seville).**
Fourth, and this goes in tandem with the above point, Boz the Godly perishes via crucifixion… While crucifixion, today much unappreciated, was a common method of problem resolution during the troubled times we speak of, an obvious parallel to that other prior crucifixion draws itself. Thus, we may ask, is it possible that when later faced with Christian missionaries, at least some of the Slavs, thought ‘hey that’s our guy on that cross you got there – yeah we know he was very Bozhi ‘ and ‘you guys worship our guy? Awesome of you to join us’?
For the remaining portions of the Getica relevant to the Slavs see here.
* This is probably not exactly true as various Slavic-like tribes are mentioned earlier but since the Antes are named as Slavs or as being part of a Slav ethnos of sorts in all sources, let’s ignore the earlier mentions, for now (we will return to those later at a time of our choosing).
** We may try to discuss the story of the origins of Radagaisus at a later time.
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