Batavian Veleti – Part II

We previously discussed Dutch references to the Veleti or, more precisely, Wiltzi, as they were known to the Franks.  Such mentions were made by the Venerable Bede and, perhaps, if you believe Safarik on this, by an even earlier source (to be discussed later).  The notion that there had been Slavs in Holland, however, continued after Bede and into the Middle Ages and beyond.


Thus, during the late Middle Ages, we have the famous ChronographiaJan Beka (or Jan Beke)’s (Johannes de Beke or Beka) chronicle of “counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht” (or Chronicon episcoporumTraiectensium et comitum Hollandiae).  Beke who some think was a monk at the Egmond Abbey (alternatively a canon at the Utrecht cathedral, or both) wrote his chronicle in (written in 1343-1346) as a call to reconciliation between Utrecht and Holland (those were different back then) and, therefore, dedicated his work to to Jan van Arkel, bishop of Utrecht (1342-1364) and William V of Bavaria, count of Holland (1346-1358).  The chronicle starts back in Roman times and continues until his day (i.e., through 1346).  Historians believe the chronicle to be a compilation of other material including the Melis Stoke (circa 1235 -circa 1305) chronicle of Holland (Rijmkroniek, or the Rhyming Chronicle which was, in fact, written, in rhyme just as, e.g., the Dalimil Chronicle a sign of the times) and others (perhaps, also Bede’s work).

The Latin version of the chronicle was edited by other authors and parts were added to it up until 1393.  Antheun Janse states that it was translated into the Dutch vernacular about the year 1395.  It was then supplemented by additions into the 15th century.  It proved popular since there are 20 known manuscripts in Latin, 21 in Dutch and seven in French.

Beka’s Story (& Where It Came From?)

The story that Beka tells us is one of a Roman town called Antonina.   Antonina was founded by as well as named after Antonius, a refugee from Nero’s Rome.  According to Beka, the place was run by Antonius’ heirs up until various barbarians invaded the area coming from the Sea of Azov and Scandinavia.  Among the barbarians were the Slavs named Wilti/Wiltzi who conquered/lay waste all of Holland.  After some time, the Wiltzi conspired with the Frisians to conquer all of Gall.  However, the emperor Valentinian defeated them and cast down the castle of Wiltenburg.  Later the Frankish king Dagobert rebuilt the castle and had it called  Traiectum (Utrecht) in the Latin language.

The most recent thorough interpretation of how this story came about is presented in the Czech historian’s Libuše Hrabová‘s article WIltenburg und der hollaendische Mythus von den Anfaengen in The Medieval Chronicle III: Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on the Medieval Chronicle (edited by Erik Kooper) (the conference was held in 2002 in, of course, Utrecht).   We set out what Libuše Hrabová discovered here below.

First, she speculates that Jan Beka could have known that several miles east of Utrecht there were ancient Roman ruins.  The ruins had been subject to archeological most recently in 1994 (by Van Es en Hessing).  The archeologists had assumed the name of the town had been Fectio.  The reason for this assumption lay in the fact that, already in 1869, so writes Hrabová, an altar to Jupiter was found in the area dedicated by Tungrian boatmen “who made up Fectio” (qui Fectionem consistuunt).  The town nearby is called Vechten to this day.

Fort Vechten – site of the former Slavic Wiltenburg?

However, the archeological digs in the area also discovered a civilian town – west of the Roman fortress.  It was there that in 1991 another altar was found dedicated to the Goddess Fortuna by one Antonius Priscus:


As a side note, we note that the reference to raises another curious connection to the Wiltzi that Hrabová does not seem to have been aware of, namely the statement in William of Malmesbury Chronicle of the Kings of England:  “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’.” (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.)

Getting back to the matter at hand.

Hrabová speculates that Jan Beka could have visited the ruins and could have seen this inscription since, as per the archeologists (Van Es en Hessing, p. 206), the ruins of the Roman fortress were even in the 16th century still recognizable above ground.  He, therefore, may have invented his Antonius from that inscription and Antonina from Antonius.  Of course, one could also view the inscription as some proof of his story – but for the name Fectio as found on the other altar.  Thus, Hrabová concludes that the Roman fortress did in fact exist but its name is questionable.

Beka could also have learnt the name WIltenburg from the locals as Hrabová surmises.  But he did not have to.  As she notes, the name appears first before 732 in the work of the Venerable Bede – a topic we already discussed previously.

The reference to the Wiltenburg appears again in the Deeds of the Abbots of Fontenelle (Gesta abbatum Fontanellensium) from the 9th century – a fact which we mentioned earlier as well.  Hrabová notes too that later chronicles (which we will mention later) – from the 9th -11th centuries – also note that Utrecht was earlier called Wiltenburg.  However, these do not refer to the tribe of the Wiltzi anymore.  Hrabová notes that the first mention of the tribe again comes from the Chronicle of Sigebert de Gembloux (1030-1112) who wrote that Bishop WiIlibrod’s (Willibrod’s story was the story told by the Venerable Bede)  seat was “in a place called Wultaburg that nowadays is called Wultrecht, composed from the name of the tribes Vultari and Traiecti” (“in loco Vultaburch dicto, qui nunc Vultraiectum dicitur, a nomine gents Vultarum et Traiecto compositum“).  As Hrabová observes, however, none of these references mention the Wiltzi as a Slavic tribe.

She notes that the Wiltzi (or Wilzi) appear as a Slavic tribe in the annals of the 8th-10th century – for the first time in 789.  (You can read all about that here – “From Aachen a campaign was launched with the help of God into the land of the Slavs who are called Wilzi”, etc.).  She then speculates that the name Wilti cannot be Slavic and may be a reference to the “Wild Ones” – in a Germanic language and that the Wilti called themselves Wilci – which may mean “wolves” or Veleti meaning many peoples – Wiele-ludzi (viele-leute) – which brings up the Vidivarii to mind.  Or the name may mean something similar to volot which, in Russian, means a giant.  And, here Hrabová notes something that we already suggested earlier, the name is similar to the Celtic veldt meaning “prophet”.  She also notes that, starting in the 11th century the name of the tribe was known as the Lutici meaning – supposedly – as much as “the fierce ones” – see, e.g., the Polish (but maybe also Saxon?) name for February – Luty.

As another side note, the Croatian name for February is Veljača – suggesting  that the “fierce” etymology is correct even for the Veleti/Wilzi name but that two words existed for the same concept – perhaps even simultaneously or perhaps Veljača is older.  Or perhaps the source is different…

In any event, Hrabová then proceeds to speculate how the name of the Slavic  Wiltzi/Wilti/Wilzi could have been transferred back to the Netherlands in time for Jan Beke to make it clear that these Wiltzi were Slavs.  She looks at a number of possibilities.

  • First, the most obvious, the 12th century Dutch colonists who were settled in the country of the Lutici – then renamed Mark Brandenburg.  She discounts this possibility on the account of the fact that the old name Wiltzi would have been forgotten by the 12th century.  This seems very unconvincing.
  • Nevertheless, she prefers to think that the name may have been transferred by the family of the notorious Count Wichmann who – in the 10th century – fought both with and against the Lutici.  This is, of course, possible but seems to us far less likely than the former possibility.
  • She also thinks that Martin of Oppava (Martin z Opavy, Martinus Oppaviensis or Martinus Polonus – lived circa 1220/1230 – 1278) was the source of Bekas inclusion of the Slavs as taking part in the Voelkerwanderung but frets that Martin did not mention the Wiltzi;
  • She notes that Beka could have picked up the reference to the Slavic Wiltzi from Vita Caroli Magni by Einhard (where they are mentioned not just as Slavs but using their own name – Welatabi – a name found already in Ptolemy) but frets that the volume was largely unavailable in the Netherlands of the 14th century.  This too seems a weak argument.
  • Finally, she suggests the possibility that the name of Slavic Wilti/Wilti/Wilzi arrived in Utrecht courtesy of the Utrecht Archbishop Adalbold who had worked in the chancellery of the German Emperor Henry II (whose biography the Bishop penned himself) and would have been familiar with the situation in the East.

Hrabová does not make a final determination (and does not seem to notice that Beka could also have had access to the various Frankish annals which she herself took note contain references to the Wilti/Wilti/Wilzi) but observes that the myth of the Slavic founding of (some of) the Netherlands persisted and resurfaced in many other works.

Such works include, for example, the 1478 Chronicle of Gouda (1-11, 203-205) written by Gerard Leewe where the Slavs arrive in the Netherlands in 1166 B.C. (!) from England (!) to build the Slawenburch (but in Vlaardingen).  Except here they are called – explicitly – giants (see the reference to the Russian word velot – as an explanation of the Veleti name – above).  In this version the Wiltzi are inhabitants of Utrecht, whereas the Slavs are the Dutch.    Thus, they are two peoples although they work together to conquer the fortress Antonina. Even Pippin is brought into this and he is the one that names what was called Slavenia previously – East Francia.  Whether this reference is a reference to the former Suevia is another mystery – see for example here.  Other references to the Wiltenburg or Slawenburch apparently appear in the Chronicle of Tiel (De Tielse kroniek, 19-22), in the Latin Chronicle of Utrecht (Cronica de Trajecto, 303-311) and in other sources. hrabova

Curiously, in the same area the “Suevi” also make their appearance.  So we read in Venantius Fortunatus Poems Book 9, chapter 1, verse 73:

Quem Geta, Wasco tremunt, Danus, Euthio (al. Estio), Saxo, Britannus, Cum patre (Chlotario I) quos acie te (Chilpericum Suession.) domitasse patet; Terror et extremis Frisonibus atque Suevis.

Relevant Parts of Beka’s Chronicle

Following the H. Bruch edition we list the parts relevant to us both in the Latin version of the chronicle and in the old Dutch one.  The English version that is given first is a mix of the two other versions.  The chapter titles are from the Dutch version.

English Version 

Chapter 2

Of Anthony who built the first fortress where now Utrecht stands and who called it Antonina

…And the same land was possessed by Anthony and his heirs for many years until the Slavs [called] the Wiltzi won/destroyed the town called Antonina just as one shall describe here below.


Chapter 3 

How the Slavs who are called Wiltzi won the land

Finally, after many years so as to inflict punishment for the sins of men against God, many renowned barbarians emerge from the land of Maeotic Lake [Sea of Azov] and from Scandinavia, and with the permission of God scourge Europe and [too] conquer many kingdoms in a bloody slaughter.  [Thus,] for example, the Gepids, the Alani, the Sarmatians, the Vandals, the Goths, the Avars that one [also calls] Huns, [at the end] Slavs that one [also calls] Wiltzi [Wildlings?].   The Gepids conquered Italy.  Alans conquered [won] [Austria/Austrasia], Sarmatians [won] Pannonia, Vandals [won] Africa, Goths [won] Catalonia, Avars that one also [calls] Huns [won] Gall, Slavs that one also [calls] Wiltzi [won] all of Holland.


This rustic/wild people – that one calls Wiltzi – after they destroyed the city of Antonina, they built a fortress that, from the name of that cruel/terrible people, was called Wiltenburg.  Then after many years, the Wiltzi together with the Frisians conspired to cross the Rhine and with a mighty hand to storm through all of Gall.  At the end of the Roman times, there was a Christian emperor who was called Valentinian, the 44th caesar since Julius Caesar, learned quickly reports [thereof] and of the outrages of these foolish people and gathered/collected a mighty army and hasted to punish and [cause] to grieve this rebellious/disobedient people.  And this [Christian] emperor defeated this common rebellion and forced this rebellious/disobedient people [diet] and won many ships and crossed the Rhein and destroyed the castle Wiltzenburg and conquered/subjugated for the first the Friesians [in the year of our lord 409]*.  And he then returned with great praise and ruled as emperor for a few glorious years more.

* in the Dutch version; note that this may be the year of the Rhine crossing of the Vandals, Alans and Suevi.


Latin Version

Caput 2

… Eandem urique patriam longeva posteritas Antonii ducis potestative possedit, quoadusque vulgus Slavorum seu Wiltorum urbem Antoninam, ut inferius enarrabitur, expugnavit.

Caput 3

Denique post quedam annorum curricula peccatis hominum exigentibus multe barbare naciones armipotenter egresse sunt a paludibus Meotidis et Scandinavia, que permissione divina totam Europam acerrime flagellaverunt, insuper et in cruenta strage regna plurima subiugarunt, utpote Gippides, Alani, Sarmati, Wandali, Goti, Avarri qui et Huni, Slavi qui et Wilti. Nam et Gippides expugnaverunt Ytaliam, Alani Austriam, Sarmati Pannoniam, Wandali Affricam, Goti Catholongiam, Avarri qui et Huni Galliam, Slavi qui et Wilti totam Hollandiam. Hic agrestis Wiltorum populus post eversionem urbis Antonine castrum munitissimum fabricavit, quod ex eiusdem dire gentis cognacione Wiltenburch nomen accepit.  Demum vero post oblonga tempora Wilti cum Frisonibus coniuraverunt Reni gurgitem transire ac in manu forti totam Galliam expugnare.  Valentinianus autem, ut Romana canit historia, xlus a Iulio Cesar augustus, tumultum tam insulse plebis festina relacione percipiens, coadunavit econtra valentem exercitum acceleravitque rebellantem sibi disturbare populum. Et ecce christianus imperator rebelle vulgus victoriose subegit, classem magnam apprehendit, Reni fluenta transcendit, castrum Wiltorum evertit, Frisiam sibi primo subiecit et exinde cum triumphali laude rediens aliquantis annis gloriosius imperavit.

Old Dutch Version

II. Van Antonius, die dat ierste casteel timmerde, daer nu Utrecht staet, ende noemdet Antonina.

… Ende datselve lant besat Antonius voerscreven ende sine nacomelinge mit crachten lange tijt, ja so lange dattie Slaven ende die Wilten die stat die Antonina hiet, wonnen ende vernielden, als men hierna bescreven vinden sal.

III.  Hoe die Slaven, die men Wilten hiet, dit lant wonnen.

Daerna in onlangen jaren overmids der menschen sunden de God an hem wreken woude, so quamen ghewapent mit groter heercracht menigherhan de volc uut Barbariën ende uut Broeclanden van den lande dat Scandinavia hiet, die vermids der verhengenisse Gods alle Europen – dat is een deel van der werelt daer Romen ende dit lant in leit – jamerlike quelleden ende vernielden. Ende mit groten bloedighen striden ende manslachte so wonnen si vele conincriken, die aldus ghenoemt waren alse Gippides, Alani, Sarmati, Wandali, Avarri die men oec Hunen hiet, ende Slaven dien men Wilten hiet. Want die Gippides bedwonghen Ytaliën, Alani wonnen Oesterrijc, Sarmati wonnen Pannoniën, Wandali wonnen Affrike, Scoten wonnen Cathaloengen, Hunen wonnen Gallen, Slaven die men Wilten hiet wonnen alle Hollant. Dit wilde volc dat men Wilten hiet, nadat si die stat die Antonina hiet, ghedestruiert hadden, doe tymmerden si een sunderlinge vast casteel, dat van dien wreden volke sinen name ontfinc ende hiet Wiltenborch.  Daerna lange tijt makeden die Wilten een eendrachticheit mitten Vriesen, dat si wouden den Rijn dat rivier opvaren ende mit heercracht vervechten alle tlant van Gallen. Ende also die Roemsche hystorie seit, so was in dier tijt een kersten keyser die Valentinianus hiet, die xliiii. keyser van Iulius Cesar, ende vernam snellike die mare ende die verwoetheit van dien onvroeden volke, ende vergaderde daertieghen een machtich heer ende haeste hem, dat onhoorsamige volc te wederstane ende te bedroeven.  Daer geschiede dattie keyser venvan ende bedwanc dat onhoorsamighee diet ende behield al hoer scepe, ende voer den Rijn neder, vernielde dat casteel te Wiltenborch ende bedwanc alre ierst die Vriesen, in ons Heren jaer cccc ix.  Ende keerde vandaen weder mit zeghe ende mit groten love ende was moghende keyser daernae somich jaer.


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September 25, 2015

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