The More Things Change

In the spirit of reconciliation and in an attempt at finding common ground we decided to review some of the ethnographic descriptions of the “Germans” in Julius Caesar’s Galllic Wars and in Tactius’ Germania (and also in his Annals) and compare these with sources we have on the “Slavs”.  We arrange these topically.

Only one conclusion may be drawn, of course, the Germanic cultural impact on the Slavs has been just incredible.

German Looks


Germans wear Adidas

“Hence a family likeness pervades the whole, though their numbers are so great: eyes stern and blue; ruddy hair; large bodies, powerful in sudden exertions…”


Slavic Looks


Slavs wear Nike

“For they are all exceptionally tall and stalwart men, while their bodies and hair are neither very fair or blonde, nor indeed do they incline entirely to the dark type, but they are all slightly ruddy in color.”


Germanic Kryptonite


This beetish German is fleeing the Sun’s Chariot – his eyes have already burned out black

“[Their bodies are] impatient of toil and labor, least of all capable of sustaining thirst and heat. Cold and hunger they are accustomed by their climate and soil to endure.”


Slavic Kryptonite


A Slav desperately trying to shield his face from the scorching rays of Svarog the Slavic Sun God

“The cold even when it is intense, is healthful to them, but the heat destroys them.  They are unable to travel to the country of the Lombards because of the heat, for the hear there is fierce and they perish.”

[Ibrahim Ibn Yaqub]

Germanic Density of Settlement

“It is well known that none of the German nations inhabit cities; or even admit of contiguous settlements. They dwell scattered and separate, as a spring, a meadow, or a grove may chance to invite them.”

another version of same:

“It is well known that the nations of Germany have not cities, and that they do not even tolerate closely contiguous dwellings.  They live scattered and apart, just as a sling, a meadow, or a wood has attracted them.”


Sporadic Germanic dwellings dot the dreary landscape

“Their villages are laid out, not like ours in rows of adjoining buildings; but every one surrounds his house with a vacant space, either by way of security against fire, or through ignorance of the art of building…”

another version of same:

“Their village they do not arrange in our fashion, with the buildings connected and joined together but every person surrounds his dwelling with an open space, either as a precaution against the disasters of fire, or because they do not know how to build.”


Slavic Density of Settlement

“They live in pitiful hovels which they set up far apart from one another”


Slavic hovels appear among the plains only sporadically

“… for they were both called Spori [i.e., spores or “germlings”] in olden times, because, I suppose, living apart one man from another, they inhabit their country in a sporadic fashion.”


Germanic Lodgings


Germanic peasants go underground for the winter

“…They also dig subterraneous caves, and cover them over with a great quantity of dung. These they use as winter-retreats, and granaries; for they preserve a moderate temperature”


Slavic Lodgings


Slavic peasants made their way under already in the fall

“The extreme cold which afflicts the country is so harsh that the inhabitants are forced to construct underground dwellings, roofed with wood like a church and completely covered with earth.”

[Ibn Rusta]

Germanic Wanderings


Typical Germanic Wanderers

“nor are they [Suevi] permitted to remain more than one year in one place for the purpose of residence.”

[Julius Caesar]

Slavic Rovings


Typical Slavic rover

“as a general thing, every man is constantly changing his place of above.”


Germanic Funerals 


Intense Germanic funeral pyre

“Their funerals are without parade.  The only circumstance to which they attend, is to burn the bodies of eminent persons with some particular kinds of wood. Neither vestments nor perfumes are heaped upon the pile:  the arms of the deceased, and sometimes his horse,  are given to the flames. The tomb is a mound of turf.”

another version of same:

“In their funerals there is no pomp they simply observe the custom of burning the bodies of illustrious men with certain kinds of wood.  They do not heap garments or spices on the funeral pile.  The arms of the dead man and in some cases his horse are consigned to fire.”


Slavic Funerals


Calm, slow-moving Slavic funeral pyre

“They burn their dead.  When a woman dies, they cut her hands and face with a knife.  The day after the funeral of a man, after he has been burned, they collect the ashes and put them in an urn, which is buried on a hill.”

[Ibn Rusta]

Germanic Hospitality


All strangers are welcome in Germany (even complete strangers)

“No people are more addicted to social entertainments, or more liberal in the exercise of hospitality.  To refuse any person whatever admittance under their roof, is accounted flagitious.  Every one according to his ability feasts his guest: when his provisions are exhausted, he who was late the host, is now the guide and companion to another hospitable board. They enter the next house uninvited, and are received with equal cordiality. No one makes a distinction with respect to the rights of hospitality, between a stranger and an acquaintance. The departing guest is presented with whatever he may ask for; and with the same freedom a boon is desired in return.”


Slavic Hospitality

Vice President Joe Biden dips a piece of bread in salt as part of a welcoming ceremony upon the Vice President's arrival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, July 20, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann

Every traveler receives a loaf of bread and three Slavic women

“They are kind and hospitable to travelers in their country and conduct them safely from one place to another, wherever they wish.”

“If the stranger should suffer some harm because of his host’s negligence, the one who first commended him will wage war against that host, regarding vengeance for the stranger as a religious duty.”

[Maurice’s Strategikon]

Germanic Sword Dances


Germanic women wanted to partake too

“They have only one kind of public spectacle, which is exhibited in every company. Young men, who make it their diversion, dance naked amidst drawn swords and presented spears.”


Slavic Sword Dances


In the taste of dancing well known to Slavic men

“I recall that in youth I read in a certain chronicle that there were in Poland Gods and from those days to our times such rites come that, young women [in his time] dance with swords, as if in offering to the pagan Gods, and not to [the] God, as well as [dances of] young men with swords and sticks, which they then hit about…”

[Lucas of Great Koźmin]

Germanic Auguries

“No people are more addicted to divination by omens and lots. The latter is performed in the following simple manner. They cut a twig from a fruit-tree, and divide it into small pieces, which, distinguished by certain marks, are thrown promiscuously upon a white garment. Then, the priest of the canton, if the occasion be public; if private, the master of the family; after an invocation of the gods, with his eyes lifted up to heaven, thrice takes out each piece, and, as they come up, interprets their signification according to the marks fixed upon them. If the result prove unfavorable, there is no more consultation on the same affair that day; if propitious, a confirmation by omens is still required…”


Odin’s priests conducted strange auguries

“… it is peculiar [i.e., unique] to them to derive admonitions and presages from horses also.  Certain of these animals, milk-white, and untouched by earthly labor, are pastured at the public expense in the sacred woods and groves.”


Slavic Auguries

“After these magics/readings they cover the auguries with green grass/turf and after sticking into the ground in the form of a cross two spear tips/shafts, they walk through them a horse while making penitent gestures – a horse that they consider to be of the most importance and that they revere as something that is holy.  Throwing the auguries which they already used in divination, they take up again the augury through this as if holy animal.  If both of the auguries produce the same sign, then these tribes follow that answer in their deeds, and if not then they stop with sadness whatever undertaking.”


“[Svantovit] also had his own holy white horse and it was seen as sacrilege to rip a hair from his mane or tail, and no one other than the priest was permitted to feed him or ride him…”


Svantovit’s priests’ auguries were odder still

“They also read warnings from the horse’s behaviour in the following way: when war was intended with one country or another, it was the custom of the temple attendants to stick six spears into the ground in pairs of two where the shafts of each such pair would cross and where the spear pairs would be equidistant.  When the troop was to march out, the priest gave a solemn prayer and thereafter he led the horse in a harness from the [temple] foyer and led so that he had to jump in front of [or through] the spears.  Should the horse lift the right leg ahead of the left, they took that to mean that the war will be successful.  But should he have raised only one time [i.e., once out of the three] the left leg as the first, they gave up on their expedition and would not even raise anchors until such time that they saw him [the horse] jumping three times through the spears in such a manner that they took to be a good omen [i.e., right leg ahead of the left].”

“Also when they were to set out in other matters, they took the augury from the first encountered animal.  If the augury was favorable, they rode further happy, if it were not they then quickly went back home.  It was also not unknown to them to throw lots, they threw, namely, on their lap three pieces of wood as lots, they were white on one side and black on the other and white meant luck and black meant misfortune.  Even the women did not avoid such practices.  When they sat at a fire sometimes they drew random lines in the ash and counted them together.  If the number was even they believed that that portended good fortune, when it was odd, though, they took that as a bad sign.”

[Saxo Grammaticus]

“This emperor [Henry III] possessed many and great virtues; and nearly surpassed in military skill all his predecessors: so much so, that he subdued the Vindelici and the Leutici, and the other nations bordering on the Suevi, who alone, even to the present day, lust after pagan superstitions: for the Saracens and Turks worship God the Creator, looking upon Mahomet not as God, but as his prophet. But the Vindelici worship fortune.”

[William of Malmesbury]

Germanic Religion

Some of the Suevi also perform sacred rites to Isidi.


[the temple too of Taefanae, as they called it, the special resort of all those tribes, was leveled to the ground.]

[Tacitus’ Annals]

Slavic Religion

“[u]nfortunately during those three days of the Pentacost that ought to be spent on introspection, there come the old women and the girls not to church, not to prayers, but to dance, not to call God, but the devil, specifically ysaya lado ylely ya ya.”

[Sermones per circulum anni Cunradi]

“Diana which in their tongue was called Dzewana

[Jan Dlugosz]

Germanic Gerries

“[F]or that the people who first crossed the Rhine, and expelled the Gauls, and are now called Tungri, were then named Germans; which appellation of a particular tribe, not of a whole people, gradually prevailed.”


Slavic Gerries

“On the very day of his arrival flags were placed around the town, which was engaged in celebrating a festival in honour of an idol called Gerovit… a golden shield fastened to the wall which had been dedicated to Gerovit their god of war, and which they considered it unlawful to touch.”


Germanic Warfighting

“The Galls toss [stuff materibus], and the Suavi/Suevi lances.”

[L. Cornelius Sisenna]


Slavic Warfighting

“They are armed with short javelins, two to each man. Some also have nice-looking but unwieldy shields.”


Germanic Suevia

“I must now proceed to speak of the Suevians, who are not, like the Cattans and Tencterians, comprehended in a single people; but divided into several nations all bearing distinct names, though in general they are entitled Suevians, and occupy the larger share of Germany.”


“The lands of Europe in the East are first, Alania; in the middle, Dacia (there we also find Gothia); and finally, Germania, the main part of which is held by the Suevi. In all there are fifty-four tribes. Now I shall describe the lands between Mare Nostrum and the Danube, a river which separates these lands from the territories of the barbarians.”


Slavic Sclavania 

“Sclavania is a very large province of Germany inhabited by the Winuli who at one time were called Vandals.  It is said to be ten times larger than our Saxony, especially if you count as part of Slavia Bohemia and the expanses across the Oder, the Poles, because they differ neither in appearance nor in language.”

[Adam of Bremen]

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February 28, 2016

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