Abu Yahya Zakariya’ ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini or Zakarya Qazvini (probably dated to the 13th century) was an Arab or Persian (from Kazvin) traveler. His reports (called the Monument of Places and History of the Servants of God or Athar al-bilād wa-akhbar al-‘ibād) were partly printed by Georg Jacob in 1896 (see “Ein arabischer Berichterstatter aus dem 10 Jahrhundert über Fulda, Schleswig, Soest, Paderborn und andere Städte des Abendlandes”). As the title suggests these reports are dated to the 10th century (apparently including reports from Al-Turtushi, Al-Udri, Al-Bekri).
In his Book 7 al-Qazwini describes the neighborhood of Soest, the country of Mieszko and then of Paderborn. Here is a map showing the location of Soest and Paderborn:
And here is the text (we include Jacob’s translation):
“Schuschit [Soest] is a town in the land of the Slavs. There lies a salty spring, while there otherwise is no salt in that area. When the people need salt, they take water from this source, fill with it a pot and set it on a stone oven and make a great fire underneath so that it becomes thick and turbid. Then it sits until it becomes cold and turns into hard, white salt. In this way is salt made in all the lands of the Slavs.”
“Mischqo [Mieszko] is a spacious town in the land of the Slavs on the shore of a lake/sea in a deep forest, which cannot be penetrated by armies. The name of their King is Mischqo, and it [the town] is known by his name. She is a town that is rich in grains, honey, meat and fish. Their King has army made up of foot soldiers because horses cannot ride in his land [because of the thicket]. Also he imposes taxes in his Kingdom, so that he can pay his army for their maintenance monthly. And in case of need he gives them steeds, saddles, bridles, weapons and all that they need. When someone is born, whether it be a boy or a girl, the King provides for the babe.”
“When the child becomes an adult, he marries him, if he is a man, and takes from his father bridal funds and gives it to the father of the bride and the bridal funds are very high by them [these people]. Thus, if a man has two or three daughters, he becomes rich; but if he has two or three sons he becomes poor. The marriage/wedding occurs at the discretion of the King, not out of free will, and the King provides the pledges for the provisions and covers the costs of the wedding. He is like a tender, caring father for his underlings. The jealousy of their women is great in comparison to the other Turks.”
“Waterbrunn [Paderborn] is a town in the land of the Slavs close to the town of Schuschit [Soest]. There there is a wonderful spring called Honeyspring.* She is to be found on a mountain in the vicinity of a forest. Its water tastes in the beginning like honey, but then has a bile aftertaste, which had seeped into it from the trees that grow around it [the spring].”
* Methbrunnen? So we have the Arab word for “honey” and we have the word “Meth-brunnen.” Now the Slavic miod/med has as its counterpart in Germanic languages “mead” (e.g., OHG metu). Both have been known to mean honey (the Slavic to this day) so no solution here seemingly.
So What Does This Mean?
Georg Jacob rushes to explain that Arabs used the term Saqaliba “frequently in a eider sense that our concept of ‘Slavs'” and often expanded it to cover the Germani.
Typically dismissive is also the faux-erudite German historian Aleksander Brueckner* who, in reference to al-Qazwini’s report, sneers (in a culturally “sensitive” statement) that “we know what to think of such imprecision of the Arabs” concluding that “[al-Qazwini]’s testimony is worthless.” (We say “concluding” in the colloquial sense. Since, as is typical of Brueckner, there is a lack of any analysis to back up his statements, his conclusion is probably better termed an “assertion.”)
* Brueckner rather pathetically claims that “we” [the “royal” we] would rather believe Caesar and Tacitus and melodramatically states that “no false translation will shake our [again, royal] conviction, if we are not to give up on these sources altogether.” Of course, no one asked him to do that as neither Caesar nor Tacitus mention the Deutsche or the Slavs under either of those names. Though the fact that Brueckner would trust Tacitus who never visited Germania before Arab travelers who actually did (and closer in time) speaks volumes about the nature of Brueckner’s “conviction.” (Incidentally, Brueckner is perhaps the chief asshole of turn of the century Slavicists – a wart on the butt of Sclavinia that just won’t go away. More on that later.)
There is no reason (absent preconceived notions) to question al-Qazwini’s report. In fact:
- The compiler of this report interposes a reference to the Slavs of Soest and Paderborn with the report on Mieszko’s country showing intention of grouping these reports together. Why do that, unless he thought that these were all in reference to the same people? (No doubt if the Mieszko report preceded or followed the Soest/Paderborn report, Jacob and Brueckner would argue that they are separate parts of the reports).
- There is little evidence of Germans being called Slavs by Arab travelers. The only instance of that may be in Masudi’s report. While Otto I is in fact called King of the Slavs in two reports, that description, in his case, is accurate (if confusing) – and, to be clear, he is not called a Slav himself. In any event, what other Arab writers knew is somewhat irrelevant. The question is this particular writer or writers. And in all of al-Qazwini’s reports, the authors distinguish, e.g., Slavs from Franks.
- While the reference to Slavs as Turks may be confusing, the whole report regarding Mieszko apparently comes from Ibrahim bin Yaqub’s report – the other two pieces regarding Soest and Paderborn, however, are not in bin Yaqub’s story. And they are clear (the first one even repeating the word Slavs twice) on the Slav point.
- Soest is of uncertain origin but if Terg-este (Triest) is supposed to mean “marketplace” (Targ-jest) and Br-est is to mean a “place where there is a shoreline” (Breg-jest) then So-est could refer to Sol-jest, i.e., “place where there is salt.” Certainly, in keeping with “al-Qazwini”‘s report.
- Separately, the town’s Latin name is Susatium/Susata and the Soestbach may have been called Sus-ata or *Sus-ila – whether that has anything to do with the Slavic Susli tribe should be, at least, asked. That Þiðrekssaga makes Soest the capital of Attila is, of course, an added bonus.
- Further, note that Gervaise of Tillsbury says the following: “Inter Saxoniam et Wasfaliam est Albis fluvius. Est autem Wasfalia terra, cuius gentes Suevi dicuntur.” But who were these Suevi – were they the North Suavi? And who were the North Suavi? Suevi, Slavs, so difficult to distinguish after all.
- both Soest and Paderborn lie in a very interesting area of West Germany, namely between the Lippe (Lippa) and the Ruhr. We’ve already mentioned that the former river has interesting connotations (as well as having a town called Kamen on its shores) and that not far from where the latter joins the Rhein there was once a town called Cracow… But did you know that the Ruhr itself had been called the Rura in Slavic? Well, big deal, it still is, you say? Except that that name was mentioned as a “Slavic Rura” for the river already in the 13th century (and it had been called the Rura in the first record of its name – in the 8th century). But there should not have been any Slavs there, right? So why would they have attached “Slavic” to a name of that river?
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