Of Rugians and Rani

The name of the Rani tribe has given people headaches for many years.  The Greater Poland Chronicle derived it as follows:

“The Rani are called so for when fighting enemies they had the custom to yell ‘rani!’ ‘rani!’ that is, wound ’em!, wound ’em!”


Item Rani seu Rana dicuntur ex eo, quia semper in conflictu hostium vociferare solebant rani! rani! id est vulnera, vulnera.

Here’s Brueckner on rana (wound):


Widukind writes of the Ruani.  In the Life of Otto we hear of the Rutheni (terra barbarorum, qui Rutheni dicuntur; also Ruthi sive Rutheni, de Rutzen; and Brutenis; also Ruthos sive Ruthenos de Rutzen; but Pomerania post se in Oceano Daciam habet et Rugiam insulam).  Adam of Bremen spoke of “Rani or Runi… a might Slavic peoples” (Rani vel Runi… fortissima Slavorum gens).  Some years later Helmold of Bosau wrote of “Rani called Rugiani” (Rani qui et Rugiani [or Rani sive Rugiani]).  Wibald of Corvey said in 1149: “which [island] is called Ruyana by the Germans, Rana by the Slavs.” (pro recipienda regione, quae a Teutonicis Rujana, a Slavis Rana dicitur).  Saxo Grammaticus has the name as Rugiani.

Now let’s look at something else: the etymology of the name and the origin of the tribe.

The predominant theories provide two postulates:

  • that the name Rani is derived from the Germanic Rugians, and
  • that the Slavs arrived on the island of Ruegen sometime in the second half of the 8th century.

As we can show, one of these is likely false.

The conversion of the Rugians to the name Rani is supposed to have happened approximately as follows:

Rugii > Rugiani > Rujani > Rani

As an aside, we are told that it was the Germans who called the island of Ruegen Rujana whereas the Slavs called it Rana (a Teutonicis Rujana, a Slavis Rana).  If this is true then it seems that it was the German name that changed demonstrably whereas we see no proven changes in the Slavic name.

As another aside, the Germanic etymology of Ruegen and the Germanic tribe of the Rugii seems as uncertain as the Slavic one.

Be that as it may, the suggestion is that the Rugii lived on the island of Ruegen and then some or all of them headed out to conquer the Roman Empire, etc.  In their place there appeared the Slavs who eventually settled on the island of Ruegen (in the 8th century or so), overtook the remnants of the Rugii along with their name and changed the latter to Rujani and then shortened it to Rani.

Can all this be true?

As regards the etymological derivation of Rani we can say only that it seems improbable but not impossible.

As regards, the arrival of the “Rani” Slavs on Ruegen in the 8th century this too is theoretically possible.

The problem arises when we ask what the name of the Slavic tribe which “took over” Ruegen before it did so?  One might say what does that matter?  And yet it does.

The reason for this is that the name Rani (as well as Granii) appears well before the 8th century in a famous passage in Getica (chapter 3) wherein Jordanes writes (in the 6th century although it is not clear whether this description does not refer to an even earlier time):

“Furthermore there are in the same neighborhood the Grannii, Augandzi, [Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi,]* Arochi and Ranii, over whom Roduulf was king not many years ago. But he despised his own kingdom and fled to the embrace of Theodoric, king of the Goths, finding there what he desired. All these nations surpassed the Germans in size and spirit, and fought with the cruelty of wild beasts.”


(Sunt quamquam et horum positura Grannii, Augandzi, [Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi,]* Arochi, Ranii, quibus non ante multos annos Roduulf rex fuit, qui contempto proprio regno ad Theodorici Gothorum regis gremio convolavit et, ut desiderabat, invenit. Hae itaque gentes, Germanis corpore et animo grandiores, pugnabant beluina saevitia.)

* we have followed the translators here; while the manuscript above shows zieunixitae and telrugi or, if you will, zieunixi taetel rugi, this seems to be a result of carrying over the “zi” – see here from the MGH (the above is P):

mghhPutting aside the fact that Jordanes clearly distinguishes between these [Scandinavian?] nations and the Germans and distinguishes the Rugii from the Ranii (and the Granii whoever they were), we are confronted with the question:

How could there be Rani in the 6th century if the Slavs had not reached Ruegen until 200 years later?

As we said, one of the above statements is likely false.  Either the name Rani is not derived from the name Rugii/Ruegen or the Slavic Rani arrived (or were) on Ruegen much earlier than the 8th century.

Of course, it IS possible to solve this conundrum and still preserve both propositions but doing so requires some rather precarious  footwork… The Rugii may have ran (no pun intended) into some Slavs on the former’s excursions all over Europe during the Voelkerwanderung times.  The name may have then transferred to the Slavs.  The Slavs may have subsequently altered it to Rani and so forth…

Even so, how did these Rani then find their way to the island of Ruegen?  Did they find out about it from the Germanic Rugii and headed for it afterwards arriving around the turn of the 9th century?

Or maybe the island was not even called Ruegen in the 6th century and only the Slavs brought the name?  But if the Slavs were already called Rani, then why did the island ever become known as Ruegen?

(Bede in Book 5, chapter 9 of his Ecclesiastical History of England discusses Bishop Egbert (circa year 688) and his ambitions to convert some continental Europeans listing “the Frisians, the Rugini, the Danes, the Huns, the Old Saxons, and the Boructuari.” lt is unclear who these Rugini are at this point.  They could be Germanic Rugini or they could be Slavs.  Certainly, the Huns were not (at least originally) Germanic).

Something is not right here.

Of course, it is also true that rano refers to the “morning.”  Back to Brueckner:


It is also noteworthy that the word świt means “dawn” whereas Svantovit/Sventovit or Świętowit was a Deity worshipped among the Rani on Arkona.  The name of that Deity is usually translated as Strong Master or Strong Lord.  But maybe it meant the Dawn Lord?


If so He would be celebrated in the morning, i.e., in the ранок or rano. Note that in most Slavic languages “morning” is jutro.  Regarding the possibility of connections of that word with yester-day and the Goddess Eostre of Easter (as well more Bede) see here.

Post Scriptum

Incidentally, the Germanic Rugii is supposedly derived from the word for rye (rugr), i.e., rye people.  They have been posited to have migrated from Norway to Ruegen at the beginning of the Christian Era.  They may have from Rogaland in Southwest of the country (though whether that was a major rye growing area is a question).  If so, then they made it just in time to be mentioned by Tacitus in Germania.

All of this is uncertain. For one thing, a similar word for rye may have existed in Slavic languages.  For another, a similar name was born by the Slavic Reregi or (?) Rarogi.  Rügen in German means as much as “reprimand” (therefrom, supposedly, the Polish rugować).  Ruga itself also means “wrinkle” in some Latin languages.

Finally, we should mention that Rugila (in the form Ρούγας (Rougas), Ρουας (Rouas), and ΄Ρωίλας (Roilas)) was a Hun leader before Bleda and Attila (who were probably his nephews) in the 420s and 430s.

As for rana, curiously, Rana is also the name of a Norwegian municipality – rana – perhaps – meaning “fast” in Old Norwegian.  There is also a mountain in Norway named Råna.  On the other side of the world, we have a Nepali dynasty by the same name (now well remembered) and the name rana signifies too a “ruler” in Rajput.  Also Rana is a rather popular name from Iran to India.  Moving further afield, Ra’na was a village in Palestine (now Gal On) and is a town in Burkina Faso.  Coming back towards Slavic lands, two villages bear the name in the Czech Republic.

Copyright ©2016 jassa.org All Rights Reserved

November 23, 2016

2 thoughts on “Of Rugians and Rani

  1. Marek

    Rujen to pażdziernik, Rujewit więc jest Dionizosem, bogiem Wagi, a rugia jego wyspą, w wersii żeńskiej wenus, jutrzenka, venera czciciel (dzidziela), ruja to płodność


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *