Wends in Early Western Sources – Jonas Bobiensis, Fredegar Anonymous & Others

It is worth mentioning that other sources – in Western Europe – though sparser and of somewhat more recent vintage also seem to make the connection between Slavs and Venethi.  As far as we know, there is no source indicating that they borrowed from Jordanes or were even aware of his work.  Consequently, if in fact Jordanes is seen as an example of Byzantine historiography (i.e., as opposed to a copy of Cassiodorus of Ravenna), then these writers may be seen as a second, quite independent confirmation of the validity of the Slav-Venethi connection.

Jonas Bobiensis

One of the earliest Western European sources is Jonas Bobiensis’ classic hit Vitae Columbani (Life of Saint Columbanus) (written in relevant parts circa 639-643 and excerpted in part in the Fredegar Chronicle) where it is said (Book I, 27):

Interea cogitatio in mentem ruit, ut Venetiorum qui et Sclavi dicuntur terminos adiret caecasque mentes euangelica luce lustraret ac ab origine per avia oberrantibus veritatis viam panderet.” (roughly: “to the Veneti who are also called Slavs”)*

Fredegar Anonymous

Then we’ve got Freddie.  The Chronicarum Quae Dicuntur Fredegarii Scholastici or “Fredegar Chronicle” (written in relevant parts circa 659) talks of the Slavs (Book IV, 48, as published in Monumenta Germaniae Historica in 1883) as follows:


The only surviving picture of Fredegar the Anonymous

Anno 40, regni Chlothariae homo nomen Samo natione Francos de pago Senomago plures secum neutiantes adcivit, exercendum negucium in Sclavos coinomento Winedos perrexit.  Sclavi iam contra Avaris coinomento Chunis et regem corum gagano ceperant revellare.

(roughly: Slavs that are of/are also known as the Veneti; this interpretation is consistent with the Avars being seen by the writer as being part of the Huns in the very next sentence (Huns being part of Avars would make no sense)

Later, the same Freddie says (Book IV, 68):

Eo anno Slav coinomento Winidi in regno Samone neguciantes Francorum cum plure multetudine interfecissent et rebus expoliassint, haec fuit inicium scandali inter Dagobertum et Samonem regem Sclavinorum.” (same)

Saint Boniface

Saint Boniface in his letter (written in 745-746) to King Ethelbald of Mercia writes as follows:

Et Uuinedi, qued est foedissimum et deterrimum genus hominum, tam magno zelo matrimonii amorem mutuum observant, ut mulier viro proprio mortuno vivere recuset.  Et laudabilis mulier inter illos esse iudicatur, quia propria manu sibi mortem intulerit et in una strue pariter ardeat cum viro suo.

Roughly: “And the Wends are a people uncouth and worst of all, and the zeal of their marriage/love is so strong that a woman on the death of her husband refuses to live on her own.  And that one is judged praiseworthy among them, who brings death to herself with her own hand and burns in one pyre with her husband.”


The above comes from The Letters of Saint Bonifacius (Michael Tangl editor, 1916).

Incidentally, this “suttee” type practice – albeit for men and women both apparently and only upon the death of a chieftain – is also mentioned among the Serbs (?) by Masudi and a more “humane” practice of first chopping off of the head and only then burning was mentioned by Thietmar for pre-baptismal Poland (to come).  However, the practice was not unknown to the Germans either – see the Sigurdlied with its Brunhilde.  Procopius, with reference to the Heruli mentions a hanging of the women rather than a pyre.  Ibn-Fadlan also speaks of a Rus funeral pyre in a famous passage.

(Bishop) Salomon

One of the Bishops of (ironically?) Constanz (on the Lake Venethi), Salomon II or Salomon III (sometime between 875-919) compiled or funded the compilation of (take your pick) a Latin dictionary (Glossae Salomonis) which also contained some German words.

The sources used for this dictionary or encyclopedia or, if you will, commentary/ies (germ: Glossen) apparently used an earlier book from Regensburg which has also been dated to the 9th century.

There is also a so-called Spanish dictionary (which bases itself on several earlier works, including Isidore’s Ethymologies) of that Regensburg book from around 750 which may have served as a source for the Regensburg version.

In the Regensburg version of the dictionary (see work of Steinmeyer/Sievers) there is an entry that goes as follows:

UUandalus id est uuinid

[“Wandal is a Wend” – the double “u” was, well, now you know why a double u is the name of the letter “w” which itself did not exist before the 12th century]

We have not been able to confirm the exact laanguage but note that the following appears in the Saint Gallen version of the same (we note that the Glossae Salomonis exists in more than than one version)**:

Saint Gallen version

Saint Gallen version

This does not say that the Venethi were Slavs but merely suggests Vandals and Wends to be the same.  (Now, that is a line of thinking that we are not going to take up since, it seems to us, at this time, that to try to put an equal sign between Wends/Slavs and Vandals is a bit of a “cause” and one that, in any event, appears entirely unnecessary to the main Venethi question).***

Nonetheless, this is clearly a mention of Slavs (described as Wends) and if more proof is needed we note  that another of those versions of Glossae Salomonis is the Prague Codex (X A 11).  This version, known as Mater Verborum, is famous for the fact that it contains little annotations in Czech thereby providing Czech translations of certain words (and then some as will examine in subsequent posts).  For purposes of our investigation what is of interest is that the word Wandal in the Mater Verborum has been “annotated” with Zlowene.  This would thus link the Slavs to the Venethi/Wends albeit via a discussion of Vandals – the one minor glitch being that the Saint Gallen windiculu becomes wandiculu in the Prague version.  And now for the centerpiece:


Prague version

This also hints at an entirely new etymology of the word Slavs – Slovene – a word used frequently by all Slavs (in contrast to Sclavi) to describe themselves and a word – Zlowene – which, obviously, contains the “Vene” or “wene” of the Venethi.

There is a question as to the dating of the Prague version – it is dated to sometime between the 9th-13th century.  Of course, the annotations are another matter. (And, we ought to add the Mater Verborum has apparently been tampered with by Vaclav Hanka, a 19th century forger.  Adolph Patera provided an analysis of the glosses found it and concluded that roughly 2/3 were fake – his view of Zlowene is not clear).

We will leave it to armchair etymologists to ask whether Zlo-wene were “bad” Venethi or were rather Z-Lovene as in “those who hunt” but, perhaps, really, “those who fish” – there was all that water in Venether Bay…

Widsith or the Bard’s/Traveller’s Tale

The Travels of the Bard is an Anglo-Saxon poem/song that comes to us from the 8th century (and maybe earlier) having been transcribed in the so-called Book of Exeter.  Aside from the description of some battles of the Goths at the Vistula, it has the following to say about the traveling bard’s travels in Venethi country (inter alia, of course, as the poem is quite long):

Mid Sveom and mid Geatum and mid Sudhdenum Mid Venlum ie vas and mid Varnum and mid Vicingum; Mid Gesdum i.e. vas, and mid Vinedum, and Gesslegum

(I traveled [or was] with the Sveami [?] and the Gettae and with the southern Danes; and with the Vinlans [?] I was and with the Varns and with the Vikings; and with the Gesdams and with the Wends and with the Gesslegams [?])

For a more detailed discussion of Widsith see here.  Also see Conybear and Altsächsische und Angelsächsische Sprachproben.

Wulfstan’s Travels

Wulfstan (a friend of the better known Otter) was a Danish navigator whose voyage to Truso made its way into King Alfred’s Description of Germany – a book allegedly authored by the Anglo-Saxon Wessex king who apparently was interested in geography when not bashing Viking heads.  This now is Wulfstan’s story (before 900):

“Wulfstan said that, leaving Schlesvig in seven days and nights sailing without any break he arrived at Truso [famous Eastern Baltic Viking port].  And always he had the country of the Wends on his right, on the left though Laeland, Falster and Skania (Sconeg).  And all those countries belong to Dennmark.”

For a more detailed discussion of Wulfstan’s travels (and a mention of the Wends in the Ohthere part) see here.  See also Scriptores rerum Danicarum (p 118);

Incidentally, a description of the country of the Wends is also found in the motherwork for the above tale, i.e.,  King Alfred’s Description of Germany but we will not tackle that here except to note that the “country of Amazons” mentioned by bin-Yakub is also described here as Maeg(h)daland being north of (White) Croatia.  This seems to be Mazovia, i.e., aMazovia or aMazonia, where as we learn in subsequent blog entries the locals venerated the goddess Lada.

For a more detailed discussion of the geography of Alfred’s Orosius see here.

See also Altsächsische und Angelsächsische Sprachproben;

Wessobrunn Commentaries

The Wessobrun Prayer is one of the oldest German poems.  It comes from the Wessobrun Abbey in Bavaria.  What else comes from that abbey, however, are the various associated commentaries (written circa 790-814).  Amongst those are the following explanations of terms in a section about the names of various provinces (Hec nomina de uariies prouintiis):

Pannonia. sic nominator illa terra meridie danobiae; et uuandoli habent hoc.” (Pannonia a country on the Danube; and Vandals live there [or have it]”;

A few lines, thereafter:

Sclauus et avarus.  huni. et uuinida” (Slav and/vs Avar.  Hun and/vs Wend);

And then:

UUandali. huni, et citta auh uuandoli.” (citta presumably means Scythians who are “(also?) Vandals”)

Here is the same in an 1827 version courtesy of Wilhelm Wackernagel:


Although this middle line of names has been explained as a chiasmus (look it up), it is, honestly, unclear of what to make of it.  Nevertheless, it is another connection (of some sort) between Slavs and the Venethi.

(Interestingly, a few lines below a list of cities follows with Spira (Speyer) called nimitensis civitas – a city of the Nemeter or… Nemcy?)

There are other sources that discuss Wends and Slavs as synonymous but they come later – Adam von Bremen, Helmold and Saxo Grammaticus will concern us when discussing Western (or Elbe) Slavs.  (For another source discussing the various connections see G.H. Pertz, Ueber eine fraenkische Kosmographie des siebten Jahrhunderts, Berlin 1847).

For now, let us conclude this section by making a reference to a source that does not discuss Wends but does discuss Slavs and, interestingly, in a slightly different way (it also denies Vandals were ever called Wends).

Annales Vedastini/Chronicon Vedastinum

The Annales (which served as a part of the backbone for the later Cronicon Vedastinum) were written in the early 900s at the Abbey of Saint Vaast in Arras, France.  The passage of interest is the following:

Ostrogothas sibi vicinos, qui longissimam oceani Germanici ripam insidebant, a quibus illi discesserant Gothi, quos notavimus ex Asia in Europae Galliam transisse, primo invadunt, sed mox repulsi, agilitate corporum confisi et agmine suorum, rursus crebro pertemptant, donec federatos recipiunt.  Alanos, quos dicunt Sclavos, pugna sibi pares, sed humanitate — in pignora sua primo die nota deseviunt.  Nam maribus — beluina vivunt sevitia.  Wandalos, quos nunc appellant Guenedos, attemptaverunt, suis victoriis faclie applicavere.  Gens Suavorum, id est Alamannorum, Gallis saepenumero infesta, et ipsa Hunis cessit foederata.




This, of course, does also point us to think about the discussion as to why the first Poles were referred to as Palani.  E.g., “cum Bolizlauo Palaniorum duce” (Joannes Canaparius in Vita Sancti Alberti) or  “Polania ergo tanti sepeliens floret martyryii pignora” (in the Reichenau Hymns/Prayers) or Bolizlaus Sclavigena, dux Bolanorum” (in Gesta Chuonradi of Wipo of Burgundy).  Compare that with the current Polonia version where all the “a”‘s go away replaced with “o”‘s.

For more on this topic see here.

* Incidentally, the “Sc” or “Sk” is strange in that no Slavic people use the “k” sound as part of their name.  It is always Slovenes or Slovaks (or rather these are the English version of Slavic names) not Sklovenes or Sklovaks.  In fact, the Slavic sound is actually a “sw” sound or, alternatively, a “su” sound.  The closest being among the ancient peoples being the Suavi (who are also mentioned by Jordanes) Suabi or Suavi (see  – but who really were Germanic.  A topic for another time.  See also discussion of the Zlo-vene below.

** Several “Salomon” codices of the dictionary in question contain such language.  See, for example, Muenchner Einzelblatt (187), Stiftsbibliothek Einsiedlen Codex 293, Admonter Stiftsbibliothek Codex III, St. Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Codex 905 (folio 1026), British Library  (Codex Ms. Add. 18379).  Steinmeyer & Sievers count 11 versions including the “Zlowene” Prague Codex (see their book Die Althochdeutschen Glossen, Berlin 1893).

*** Yes, it is strange that both the Venethi and Vandals have similar names and apparently lived in similar areas.  However, this hardly proves a connection.  For one thing, if the Vandals came from Scandinavia (and they were not called Vandals then), they could have overnighted in some valley in Venethiland, say, Vene[ther]thal and gotten their Van-thal name that way.  We know that, at least after their breakout across the Rhine and, likely earlier, they were a Germanic people (Greuthingi, Theuringi, Silingi, etc all had Germanic-named leaders… probably).  See also the reference in the Annales Vedastini section of this post – “Vandals who were never called Venethi/Wends.” In any event the Regensburg version also contains the Isydorian explanation of the Vandal name based on the river Vandalus – supposedly Vistula (also present in Kadlubek and his legend of Wanda).

In any event, the name of “Vandals” appears numerous times in the Frankish annals and often in reference to Western Slavs.  We do not discuss these unless also accompanied by a reference to Venethi or Wends.  This is so even when Vandals are clearly discussed and by Vandals Slavs are meant – see, for example, the references to the Slav terminated Life of Saint Martinus (Vita Sanctorum Marini) whose Vita was terminated by the Slavs, either while praying/conducting prayers in the middle of a dale (burnt to death) – note to self – if you believe the Tegernsee version or, in another variation, because he refused to give the Slavs directions (perhaps, if you want to combine the two, because he thought prayers were more important than talking to Slavs – again, non-Slavs – note to self).

Shaettner Rickover & Borg Corporation – Copyright ©2014, All Rights Reserved

September 19, 2014

3 thoughts on “Wends in Early Western Sources – Jonas Bobiensis, Fredegar Anonymous & Others

  1. Pingback: On the Moinu-Winidi & Ratanz-Winidi | In Nomine Jassa

  2. Pingback: Wulfstan (& Ohthere) on the Wends (and a little bit on the Esti) | In Nomine Jassa

  3. Pingback: Boniface’s Ignorant Aenigmatic Poem | In Nomine Jassa

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