Quite by chance, a correspondent of this site happened to forward to us an excerpt from the website of the University of Warsaw discussing our favourite topic – the Vandals. We previously discussed the scientific project that gave rise to this website here. But, in retrospect, we seem to have missed some of the morsels.
This is what that excerpt says:
“Vandals. A Germanic people whose original lands were located in the territories of today’s Poland… Based on [the works of Pliny and Tacitus] one may suppose that already at that time the Vandals constituted a large tribal confederacy inhabiting the lands of Western Poland near to the Goths (who the scholars are united in agreeing are represented by the Wielbark culture). This is confirmed by Jordanes who states that the Goths defeated the Ulmerugi and Vandals having landed on the southern shore of the Baltic… According to the opinion of most scholars who study this area, the Vandals were most likely a member of the tribal confederation called the Lugian Union… This hypotheses is supported by an analysis of archeological sources… A small part of the Vandals may have remained in its old lands [after the outmigration of the Vandals to Africa]. This is supported by the testimony of Procopius who says that during the kingship of Geiseric (439-477) there arrived a Vandalic embassy from their old dwellings… The archeological sign of these ‘old dwellings’ may be Germanic settlements from the later portion of the Migration Period – in the Kuyavia region and in the middle of the river Prosna.”
At first, we admit, we were a bit concerned. The view that the Vandals occupied vast tracks of Poland expressed in the write up finds no support in the source material as we already discussed many times before.
- No ancient source locates a people named Vandals in the territory of today’s Poland
- In fact, if one discards Tacitus’ (as he calls it) conjecture and Pliny’s Vinde-lici, no ancient source knows of a people named Vandals before their appearance in Dacia (Romania) in the third century (perhaps second).
- There is nothing to suggest that Legii (Lougii, Luti, Lugii) were Vandals.
- Recent scholarship has been skeptical on the connection of Vandals with Przeworsk.
- Even assuming, arguendo, that Vandals had lived in Poland in the first or second century, they’d since would have moved and it seems much more likely that, in the middle of the 5th century (time of the embassy), their “old dwellings” would refer to any of Spain, Gall, Pannonia or Dacia where they had lived for close to 300 years before hopping over to Africa.
Was this a copy of something that bullshitter extraordinaire – Herwig Wolfram wrote?
It turns out that the answer is “no”… Wolfram’s texts are nowhere listed in the biography generously provided by the authors of the website.
So what kind of scholarship were the authors of the above excerpt relying on? Most of the works listed in the accompanying biography are not particularly interesting but two things are striking.
First, let us note what’s not there. Whoever wrote that text did not seem interested in relying on/reading the latest scholarship on the Vandals – as in “The Vandals” by Andrew Merrills and Richard Miles. For a project selling itself as the latest and greatest on the topic, this seemed like a rather surprising omission.
Second, some of the works listed as relevant to the topic appeared, to put it charitably, questionable as regards their scholarship and genesis…
We decided to investigate – if only a little bit.
What Was “So Yesterday” Is Now All the Rage Again
The first book brought to our attention was Ferdinand Ludwig Schmidt‘s (1862 – 1944) History of the Vandals (Geschichte der Wandalen), published in Leipzig in 1942. This was actually a reprint of an earlier 1901 edition of the same work. Schmidt, best known for Die Geschichte der deutschen Stämme bis zum Ausgang der Völkerwanderung, was your typical turn of the century German historian with all the stereotypical baggage associated with that category. He, rather simplistically, equated Germanic tribes with modern Deutschen and let his interpretations be guided by scholars like Muhlenhoff who, as we noted, were always ready to fudge answers to difficult questions and to “emendate” left and right when the manuscripts did not show what they wanted to see.
Thus, Schmidt places the Vandals in Silesia, slavishly following Muhlenhoff, notwithstanding a complete lack of historic sources for such assertions. He also interprets the Legii name as Lugii and claims that their name signifies The Lying Ones (from luegnen) – a name allegedly given to these Lugii by their neighbors… Schmidt didn’t elaborate whether the same brilliant (and Germanic) etymology should be applied to the Lougei of Portugal, Lugdunum (Lyons) of France (City of Liars? A name given by a Germanic merchant cheated out his gold!?) or the Lugi of Scotland (incidentally, who lived next to the Smertae – what could that mean in German?). And so forth…
Ferdinand Ludwig Schmidt was not a fanatic but, as seen above, his Vandal history was written properly enough such that the country’s new management ordered an unaltered reprint in 1942.
Still, it is the other book listed as a worthwhile source by Warsaw University that piqued our interest…
Martin Jahn’s Die Wandalen – formed a portion of the Vorgeschichte der deutschen Stämme as edited by Hans Reinerth (volume 3: Die Ostgermanen und Nordgermannen) published in Leipzig-Berlin in 1940. This volume remains a hit since it is available from many sources including from this outfit, sporting a charmingly vibrant logo:
So who were Jahn and Reinerth?
Martin Jahn (born in 1888) was a pre-historian known for such inspiring titles as, for example:
- “The Siling – the Holy Mountain of the Vandals” (Der Siling, der heilige Berg der Wandalen),
- “The Separation of Culture Groups and Peoples in Pre-History” (Die Abgrenzung von Kulturgruppen und Völkern in der Vorgeschichte)
and similar titles that appropriately reflected the then prevalent Zeitgeist.
Not content to be merely a preeminent historian, Jahn was also engaged in various extracurricular activities. He took valuable time away from his studies to become a member of a number of social welfare, veterans‘ and teachers‘ organizations as well as a member of an environmentalist league specifically concerned with air quality.
After the war, he continued on his progressive path joining in 1947 a local labour federation.
But the real piece of work is the next fella.
Hans Reinerth, the editor of the volume, born in 1900, was, it seems, a man with a keen political sense. Early on he became a member of the KfdK (Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur) before joining a local socialist party in 1931. In March of 1933, he was one of the signatories of a declaration (in a local town paper) endorsing the then new budding leadership of Germany.
In 1933 he set out to rework the old Deutsche Gesellschaft für Vorgeschichte (founded by Gustaf Kossina) into a more open, diverse and inclusive organization which went by the name Reichsbund für Deutsche Vorgeschichte witha charming motto:
Zehntausende deutscher Volksgenossen bekennen sich in machtvoller Kundgebung zur Ehre unserer germanischen Vorfahren und zu unserem heiligen Lande: Deutschland!)
and whose leader he became in 1934.
The RDV organized frequent social events (also referred to in those days as Reichstagungs) such as this one (the 5th Reichstag was a splendid event – the best powwow in 1936 Germany, save for the Olympics):
Also in 1934 Reinerth replaced Kossina as head of German archeology at Berlin University bringing with him a more “modern” approach to that respected chair.
In 1937 Reinerth made the following comment in a German periodical by the name of Volk und Heimat:
“Wer unsere germanischen Vorfahren schmäht und herabsetzt, steht heute nicht mehr dem vereinzelten völkischen Kämpfer, sondern der geschlossenen Front aller nationalsozialistischen Deutschen gegenüber“
We will let you translate that.
By 1939 our Hans was the head of the Pre-History Department in a respected German historical think tank. Through hard Arbeit Reinerth quickly rose to become a leader in a Sonderstab for pre-history in the think tank’s department charged with striving to preserve European cultural heritage at all cost. During his career there he also gained a vast international experience leading, for example, an expedition to Greece in 1941 where he preserved an early Stone Age site that unequivocally showed that Greece had originally been settled and its ancient civilization established by various Germanic tribes from the north…
In 1942 Hans became a leader in another outstanding archeological institution. His boss continued to entrust Hans with massive and highly challenging scientific undertakings:
„From the 21 of September 1942, I have tasked Dr. Reinerth with the obtaining, securing and researching pre- and early-historical Germanic and Slavic finds and other types of legacy goods in scientific institutes, private collections and other places in the occupied territories in the East.”
Alfred Rosenberg to Richard Harder (Bundesarchiv (Deutschland), Signatur NS 8/265, S. 15)
And did we mention that not only was Herr Reinerth an outstanding scholar but also a stylish hipster? Check out these glasses and period-appropriate moustache – so fashionable in German pre-history circles of the 1940s:
After the war Reinerth lived on a life devoted to scholarship where he continued to publish titles that firmly established German history and archeology as independent and free of the ghosts of its nationalistic excesses such as this darling piece:
He led an active and busy life, our Hans (what with all the researching, not to mention the obtaining and securing) and Warsaw University today should be thankful that he was able to pull himself away from his demanding responsibilities to edit the Vorgeschichte der deutschen Stämme.
What would they have known to write about the Vandals had Herr Jahn and Herr Reinerth not taken the time to put together their volume?
In the West, folks who cite Nazi literature to support their claims about the past tend to lose their jobs and be ostracized by mainstream society. Different rules apply in Eastern Europe it seems. Let’s just hope these same researchers do not turn their attention to Holocaust studies or Warsaw University might get to have an international incident on its hands. That it hasn’t thus far, speaks volumes about the quality of the academic environment there.
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