King Krak is a legendary monarch of Poland. King Krok a legendary ruler of Bohemia.
The Polish Krak (known from the Master Kadlubek Chronicle and from the Greater Poland Chronicles) fought many wars, founded (and gave his name to) the city of Krakow, had to deal with a dragon, was succeeded by a son who killed another one of his son’s and then, when the crime was discovered, by a daughter – Wanda – who was of legendary beauty and who rallied her people against an Alemanic prince (only later called “German” by the name of Rittiger by the Polish Chronicler Jan Dlugosz) so smitten with her that he first tried to invade her country and then just could not bring himself up to an open war with Wanda.
The Czech Krok, after whom a castle was named, was also a great man though more in the nature of a wise man. He lacked male offspring but had three daughters: Kazi, Tetka and, most importantly, the magician Libuse. It was Libuse who married the simple ploughman Premysl, the founder of the Premyslid dynasty.
BTW in this the Czech Krok legend (known from Cosmas and Dalimil) is different from the Polish one since the former connects Krok to the Czech ruling house whereas the latter does not make such a connection to the Polish House of Piast. The reason for this may be that the Polish version stems out of the (likely) formerly Czech lands of Krakow (Little or New Poland) and does not tie easily (nor has it been expressly tied by any chroniclers) to the legend of Piast known in Gniezno (Great or Old Poland).
But what is the origin of the legend? Where does the name come from? The Polish chroniclers by using the name Graccus suggested a relationship with the ancient Romans by the same name. But perhaps a different source presents itself. Note that in the Polish version, the Poles are associated with Vandals and Wanda, the daughter of Krak, is about fight an Alemannic prince…
The Real Crocus/Chrocus?
History, via the mouth of Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks (or Decem Libri Historiarum), knows of an Alemannic Crocus (or Chrocus or Croscus) (with the -us suffix being a typical “Latinization” of the name) who raided with his comrades the Roman province of Gaul around the years A.D. 253-258 causing much damage including the destruction of the temple of Vasso Galatae (and causing the martyrdom of Saint Didier the third Bishop of Langres).
This is what Gregory says:
“Valerian and Gallienus receive the Roman imperial power in the twenty-seventh place, and set on foot a cruel perscution of the Christians. At that time Cornelius brought fame to Rome by his happy death and Cyprian to Carthage. In their time also Chrocus the famous king of the Alemanni raised an army and overran the Gauls. This Chrocus is said to have been very arrogant. And when he committed a great many crimes he gathered the tribe of the Alemanni, as we have stated, by the advice, it is said, of his wicked mother, and overran the whole of the Gauls, and destroyed from their foundations all the temples which had been built in ancient times. And coming to Claremont he set on fire, overthrew and destroyed that shrine which they call Vasso Galatae in the Gallic tongue…” (History of the Franks, Book I, 32 (Chrocus and the Shrine in Auvergne))
The Epitome de Caesaribus (41, 3) also speaks of a Crocus as a king of the Alemanni, this time serving the function of a Roman general/warlord in Britain (York) in July of the year A.D. 306. It is not clear whether this was the same or a different Crocus. But either there is a mistake or it is a different Chrocus as over 40 years separate these the events in these two accounts.
This is the text:
“Constantine [the Great], son of imperator Constantius and Helena, ruled thirty years. While a young man being held as a hostage by Galerius in the city of Rome on the pretence of his religion, he took flight and, for the purpose of frustrating his pursuers, wherever his journey had brought him, he destroyed the public transports, and reached his father in Britain; and by chance, in those very days in the same place, ultimate destiny was pressing on his parent, Constantius. With him dead, as all who were present — but especially Crocus, King of the Alamanni, who had accompanied Constantius for the sake of support — were urging him on, he took imperium.” (Translated by Thomas M. Banchich)
Finally, and this is perhaps even more of interest, the Chronicle of Fredegar, which copies portions of the History of Franks, also mentions Crocus… but this time he is a King of the Vandals, leading them along with the Alans and the Suebi across the Rhine in that fateful year A.D. 406 (i.e., 100 years after the Epitome episode) when these tribes crossed into the Roman Empire and made their way to Gaul, Spain and then, now Vandals and Alans only, to Africa. Some believe that Fredegar was mistaken here but we were tempted, given the Vandal connection, to mention this and reproduce the following (from Fredegar):
So what does the above say?
“Chrocus rex Wandalorum cum Suaevis et Alanis egressus de sedibus, Galleas adpetens, consilium matris neequissimam utens, dum ei dixisset: ‘Se novam rem volueris facere et omen adquirere, quod alli aedifficaverunt cuncta distruae et populum, quem superas, totum interfice; nam nec aedificum meliorem a praecessorebus facere non potes neque plus magnam rem, per qua nomen tuum elevis’. Qui Renum Mogancia ponte ingeniosae transiens, primum ipsamque civitatem et populum vasta vit; deind cunctasque civitatis Germaniae vallans, Mettis pervenit, ubi murus civitatis divino noto per nocte ruens, capta est civetas a Wandalis. Treverici vero in arenam huius civitates, quem munierant, liberati sunt. Post haec cunctas Galleas Chrocus cum Wandalis, Suaevis et Alanis pervagans, alias ubsidione delivit, aliasques ingeniosae rumpens, vastavit. Nec ulla civetasaut caster ab eis in Gallis liberata est. Cumque Arelato obsederint, Chrocos a Mario quaedam militae captus et vinculis constrictus est. Qui ductus ad poenam per universas civitates, quas vastaverat, impia vita digna morte finivit. Cui Trasemundus successit in rignum. Alamanni adversus Wandalos arma commovunt. Uterque consencientes singulare certamen prilliandum, duos miserunt. Sed et ille qui a Wandalis missus est ab Alamannos superator. Victusque Trasemundus et Wandali, secundum placetum cum Wandalis, Suaevis et Alanis de Galllias praetermissis Spanias adpetivit, ibique multos christianorum, pro fide catholica interfecit.”
Essentially, “Chrocus king of the Vandals, left his dominions together with the Suevi and Alans, eager to attack Gaul following his mother’s wicked advice, for she had said to him: ‘if you wish to carry out a new exploit and gain renown destroy all that others have built and kill everyone you conquer; for you cannot build a better building than you forefathers nor carry out a greater deed with which to make a name for yourself.’ Thus, after crossing the Rhine through Mainz, by means of an ingenious bridge, he first devastated this city and decimated its people. After fortifying all the cities of Germania, he arrived in Metz, where the city wall collapsed when a divine wind was unleashed during the night and the city was captured by the Vandals. The inhabitants of Trier, however, were saved by taking refuge in their city amphitheater, which they had fortified. Afterwards, Chrocus, crossing the whole of Gaul with Vandals, Suevi and Alans, destroyed some towns by means of a siege and devastated others by ingeniously busting in. And there was no city or fortress in Gaul that was saved from them. However, when they were besieging Arles, Chrocus was captured and put in chains by a soldier called Marius [perhaps the Emperor usurper]. And led to execution through all the cities he had devastated, his impious life ended with the death he deserved. Thrasamund reigned after him. Then the Alamanni went to war against the Vandals and, as both parties agreed that there should be a single combat, they sent two warriors. But the one sent by the Vandals was defeated by the Alaman. And as Thrasamund and his Vandals were thus vanquished, after leaving Gaul together with Suevi and Alans, as it had been agreed, they attacked Spain and there they slew many Christians for their Catholic faith.”
[the translation is by Agusti Alemany]
Note that here Vandals lose and move on to Spain. In the version by Gregory of Tours, Vandals lose in Spain with a Suev champion defeating a Vandal one and then move on to Africa. In each case the Vandal king at this point is Thrasamund. This kind of David-Goliath one on one combat to settle affairs is also found in other places, e.g., in the combat between the Slav and Saxon champions (Slav won this one) much later in Germany. Note also that the Alamanni here seem to be distinct from the Suevi. The latter come with Chrocus and his Vandals and Alans into Gaul and also leave with him once the Alemanni defeat the Vandal champion. All in all, it is difficult to establish whether the Gregory or the Fredegar account is correct (or more correct since each has major issues). For example, Gregory has Chrocus’ Alemanni martyr one Vicentius who is known to have met that fate in the early 400s. But Fredegar also varies his timeline widely, e.g., by mentioning that Chrocus was succeeded by Thrasamund, a Vandalic king who ruled in the late 5th and early 6th century (almost 100 years after the Rhine crossing by the Vandals, Suevi and Alans). Of course, Gregory also has Thrasamund be the king. In reality, the trek to Africa was under Geiseric.* Whoever may be closer to the truth, in Fredegar we have Alemanns in one on one combat with Vandals and we have Chrocus…
This Vandalic interpretation was then picked up by Annonius (Aimonius) in his de Gestis Francorum (Book III) in the year 1008.
Could Master Kadlubek (who is known to have perused ancient sources) also perused Fredegar’s Chronicles from 600 years earlier to come up with the story of Krak? Or the slightly more recent Aimonius?
(Note that Krakow could have been named after the crowing of crows not after any Krak – such an etymology is mentioned, in the alternative, by the GPCs).
Kadlubek never connected his Polish Gracchus to the Allemanic or Vandalic Chrocus of the past – just mentioned the connection of Graccus to the city of Cracow. However, another writer then made the connection explicit. Alberic of Trois-Fontaines (Albericus Trium Fontium) a Cistercian monk and chronicler who wrote a chronicle of world events through the year 1241 (written between 1232-1252 (some people think in 1246)) when Cracow was already a well known city and a capital of (then divided) Poland) in which, under the year 413 he describes the invasion of Gall again by the Vandals and the Alans led by Craco/Crosco a duke/king in Cracoviae/Craconie (variations depending, it seems, on the manuscript):
Keeping in mind that Master Kadlubek’s Chronicle would then have already been written (Kadlubek passed away in 1223), could Alberic have had a chance to glance at it or was the connection to Cracow a figment of his own imagination (or not)?
In any event, we think the Alemanic and Vandalic connections are of interest in light of the Krak legend. It is harder, however, to connect (even if ephemerally) this to the Czech version of Krok.
Next time when we touch this subject we will talk about the Norse angle, that of Hrolf Kraki‘s saga.
* Also, Fredegar was, supposedly basing his version of events on the work by Hydatius (Idacius) the bishop of Aquae Flaviae (Chaves or Chiaves) in Gallicia (Spain), from circa 427 to 470 who was an author of a Chronicle (itself one of the continuations of Jerome) and who would have been closer to these events (for example, he discusses the plundering of Spain in 408-410 by the Vandals, Suevi and Alans). Yet the timeline given by Hydatius supposedly is closer to the 250s as specified by Gregory of Tours.
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