Wulfstan (& Ohthere) on the Wends (and a little bit on the Esti)

We’ve discussed chapters 11 & 12 of King Alfred’s Orosius which chapters deal with Europe’s geography previously.  What follows those chapters are accounts of:

  • the explorations by Ohthere who sailed along the Norwegian coast all the way to the White  Sea (chapters 13-19);
  • the trip of Wulfstan who travelled from Denmark to the Prussian town of Truso (chapter 20), and
  • the customs of the Esti, by which the writer of Alfred’s book meant the various Baltic tribes (chapters 21-23).

We will get back to Esti (Balts) later (they appear in Tacitus, Jordanes, Cassiodorus and Alfred’s Orosius) as they provide useful clues to the location and identity of the Veneti.  With one exception we will not spend time on Ohthere as his trip was not through Slavic lands.  But we do want to give the full (a shorter version was previously discussed here) account of Wulfstan as he travelled to Truso along the entire Pomeranian coast and so we do that here (we also note the one mention of the Wends in the Ohthere account at the end of chapter 19).  As with the Geography section before, we first give the Old English versions followed by the English.

As before, a reminder on the Old English letters is in order:

  • Þ þ – “thorn” – basically a “th”;
  • Ð ð – “eth” – roughly the same “th”;
  • Æ æ – “ash – representing a middle sound between “a” and “e”;


Chapter 19

Ohthere’s Account – Last Section

Old English 

“And of Sciringes heale he cwæð þæt he seglode on fif dagan to þæm porte þe mon hæt æt Hæþum; se stent betuh Winedum, and Seaxum, and Angle, and hyrð in on Dene. Ða he þiderweard seglode fram Sciringes heale, þa wæs him on þæt bæcbord Denamearc, and on þæt steorbord widsæ þry dagas;  and þa, twegen dagas ær he to Hæþum come, him wæs on þæt steorbord Gotland, and Sillende, and iglanda fela.  On þæm landum eardodon Engle, ær hi hider on land coman.  And hym wæs ða twegen dagas on ðæt bæcbord þa igland þe in Denemearce hyrað.”


“From Sciringes heal he said that he sailed in five days to the trading-town called Hedeby, which is situated among Wends, Saxons and Angles and belongs to the Danes. When he sailed there from Sciringes heal he had Denmark to port and the open sea to starboard for three days. Then two days before he arrived at Hedeby he had Jutland and Sillende and many islands to starboard. The Angles lived in these districts before they came to this land.  On the port side he had, for two days, those islands which belong to Denmark.”


11th century MS BL Cotton Tiberius B.i

Chapter 20

Wulfstan’s Account

Old English 

“Wulfstan sæde  þæt he gefore of Hæðum, þæt he wære on Truso on syfan dagum & nihtum, þæt þæt scip wæs ealne weg yrnende under segle.  Weonoðland him wæs on steorbord, & on bæcbord him wæs Langaland, & Læland, & Falster, & S[c]oneg; & þas land eall hyrað to Denemearcan.  & þonne Burgenda land wæs us on bæcbord, & þa habbað him sylf cyning. Þonne æfter Burgenda lande wæron us þas land, þa synd hatene ærest Blecingaeg, & Meore, & Eowland, & Gotland on bæcbord; & þas land hyrað to Sweon.  & Weonodland wæs us ealne weg on steorbord oð Wislemuðan.  Seo Wisle is swyðe mycel ea, & hio tolið WitlandWeonodland;  & þæt Witland belimpeð to Estum; & seo Wisle lið ut of Weonodlande, & lið in Estmere; & se Estmere is huru fiftene mila brad.  Þonne cymeð Ilfing eastan in Estmere of ðæm mere ðe Truso standeð in staðe, & cumað ut samod in Estmere, Ilfing eastan of Estlande, & Wisle suðan of Winodlande.  & þonne benimð Wisle Ilfing hire naman, & ligeð of  þæm mere west & norð on sæ; for ðy hit man hæt Wislemuða.  Þæt Estland is swyðe* mycel, & þær bið swyðe manig burh, & on ælcere byrig bið cyningc; & þær bið swyðe mycel hunig, & fiscað; & se cyning & þa ricostan men drincað myran meolc, & þa unspedigan & þa beowan drincað medo.  Þær bið swyðe mycel gewinn betweonan him; & ne bið ðær nænig ealo gebrowen mid E’stum, ac þær bið medo genoh.”

swyðe as in “very, exceedingly or severely” – see, for example, the River Swider.


“Wulfstan said that he travelled from Hedeby, arriving in Truso after seven days and nights, the boat running under sail the whole way.  To starboard he had Weonodland, to port Langaland, Laeland, and Falster and Skane [?].  All these lands belong to Denmark.   And then we had Burgenda land [Bornholm?] to port, where the people have their own king. Then after Burgenda land [Bornholm] we had on our port side the lands which are called Blekingey, and Meore, and Eoland [Oeland] and Gotland, and these lands belong to the Swedes.  And we had Weonodland to starboard, the whole of the way to the mouth of the Wisle [Vistula] [i.e.,Wislemuðan].  This Wisle [Vistula] is a very large river and she separates Witland and Weonodland;  Witland belongs to the Este.  The Wisle [Vistula] flows out of Weonodland and into Estmere; and the Estmere is indeed [here?] fifteen miles wide.  The Ilfing flows into Estmere from the lake on the shore of which the town of Truso stands, and they flow together into Estmere, the Ilfing east of [out of the East from?] Estland and the Wisle [Vistula] south of [out of the South from?]** Weonodland.  And there Wisle [Vistula] deprives the Ilfing of its name and lies/flows north-west towards the sea as from then on the [estuary] is known as the Wislemuda [Vistula estuary].  This Estland is very large and has many fortified settlements [burgs], and in each of these there is a king.  And there is a great deal of honey and fishing.  And the king and the most powerful men drink mare’s milk, the poor men and the slaves drink mead. There is very much strife among them.  And there is no ale brewed among the Este but there is plenty of mead.”

** The translations correct this to say that the Ilfing flows west and the Vistula north but the text says the opposite – we provide an alternative form of reading as in “out of”.


A Description of the Esti follows thereafter as to which we shall have more to say later.

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September 28, 2015

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  1. Pingback: Wends in Early Western Sources – Jonas Bobiensis, Fredegar Anonymous & Others | In Nomine Jassa

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