The name of the tribe Veleti has historically presented a problem for those historians who insisted on a relatively late (6th century A.D.) appearance of the Slavs in Europe. They are one of the first tribes to be mentioned as definitely Slavic. In the Royal Frankish Annals under the year 789 we read:
“The Wilzi have always been hostile to the Franks and used to hate and harass their neighbors who were either subject to the Franks or allied with them and provoke them into war… Entering the country of the Wilzi [Charlemagne] ordered everything to be laid waste with fire and sword. But that tribe, although warlike and confident in numbers, was not able to withstand the attack of the royal army for very long. Therefore, as soon as he came to the city of Dragawit, who stands above the other kinglets of the Wilzi in age and lineage Dragawit at once with all his people came forth from the city, gave the hostages he was ordered to provide, and promised by oath to keep faith with the king and the Franks. The other magnates and chieftains of the Slavs followed suit and submitted to the authority of the king.”
The same information is repeated by a number of other annalists (see here).
Similarly, Einhard in his Life of Charlemagne says of these events:
“After the insurrection [of duke Tasillo of the Bavarians who confronted Charlemagne at the River Lech in 787], [the king] declared war against the Slavs, whom we normally refer to as the Wilzi, but who are properly called Welatabi in their own language. In that war the Saxons fought as auxiliaries alongside the other peoples who were ordered to march in the king’s army, but the obedience [of the Saxons] was insincere and lacking in complete commitment. That war came about because they [the Slavs] were constatntly harassing and attacking the Abotrites, who had once allied themselves with the Franks. They [the Slavs] were not inclined to listen to the commands [of Charlemagne]…”
“A certain gulf [i.e., the Baltic] with an unknown length and a width no more than a hundred miles wide and in many places [much] narrower runs from the western ocean towards the east. Many peoples live around this sea. In fact, the Danes and the Swedes, whom we call Northmen, live along the northern shore [of the sea]. The Slavs, Estonians and other peoples live along the southern shore. The Welatabi were the most prominent of these peoples and it was against them that the king now took up war. He beat them and brought them under his control in the one and only campaign he personally waged [against them], that from that point on they never thought of refusing to obey his commands.”
Finally, we hear that:
“… [Charlemagne] subordinated and made tributary all the rough and uncivilized peoples inhabiting Germany between the Rhine and Vistula rivers, the ocean and the Danube. They almost all speak a similar language, but are very different from each other in customs and appearance. Among these peoples the Welatabi, Sorbs, Obotrites and Bohemians are of special importance, and he came into armed conflict with all of them. Other peoples [living there], who far outnumbered them, simply surrendered.”
The problem is that the name Welatabi appears much earlier – already in Ptolemy’s Geography where we read of the Ουελται:
“Back from the Ocean, near the Venedicus bay, the Veltae dwell, above whom are the Ossi; then more toward the north, the Carbones and toward the east are the Careotae and the Sali; below whom are the Gelones…”
The gap between the 2nd century of Ptolemy and the late 8th century of the Royal Annals and (later yet) of Einhard seems rather wide. So were the later Veleti the same as the Ουελται?
It turns out that there is another source attesting the existence of a tribe by that name. This is the Cosmography of Pseudo-Aethicus. It begins with the words:
“Lectionum pervigili cura comperimus, senatum populumque Romanum totius mundi dominos, domitores orbis et praesules…”
This text dates back to the late 4th century or 5th century and had initially been thought of as the Cosmography of Aethicus Ister (more on that work here) but later had been instead ascribed to Julius Honorius or Julius Orator.
This work was first published in 1575 by Josias Simmler:
And, thereafter reprinted a number of times usually as part of compilations of latin texts (in 1577, 1626, 1646). In the 19th century it was analyzed, among others, by Pertz in 1853 and published by Alexander Riese in 1878 in his Geographi latino minores.
Riese observes that although the name appears as vel Haedui, a second hand seems to have corrected (?) the same to uelhedi.
The work appears, among others, in the Vienna Codex (Vindobonensis 181) and in the Codex of the Laurentian Library (Laurentianus 89?).
What is even more interesting is that the Haedui were a Gallic people whose name is normally written these days as Aedui. The Aedui were attacked by the Sequani with the help of Ariovistus at the Battle of Magetobriga but later joined the Gallic revolt. They are known for the only druid whose name is attested: Divitiacus or DIviciacus. They are also known for a magister named Liscus who is mentioned in Caesar’s Civil War (Caes. Gal. 1.16-1.18) (in McDevitte’s translation):
“Meanwhile, Caesar kept daily importuning the Aedui for the corn which they had promised in the name of their state; for, in consequence of the coldness (Gaul, being as before said, situated toward the north), not only was the corn in the fields not ripe, but there was not in store a sufficiently large quantity even of fodder: besides he was unable to use the corn which he had conveyed in ships up the river Saone , because the Helvetii, from whom he was unwilling to retire had diverted their march from the Saone . The Aedui kept deferring from day to day, and saying that it was being collected-brought in-on the road.” When he saw that he was put off too long, and that the day was close at hand on which he ought to serve out the corn to his soldiers;-having called together their chiefs, of whom he had a great number in his camp, among them Divitiacus and Liscus who was invested with the chief magistracy (whom the Aedui style the Vergobretus, and who is elected annually and has power of life or death over his countrymen), he severely reprimands them, because he is not assisted by them on so urgent an occasion, when the enemy were so close at hand, and when [corn] could neither be bought nor taken from the fields, particularly as, in a great measure urged by their prayers, he had undertaken the war; much more bitterly, therefore does he complain of his being forsaken.”
“Then at length Liscus, moved by Caesar’s speech, discloses what he had hitherto kept secret:-that there are some whose influences with the people is very great, who, though private men, have more power than the magistrates themselves: that these by seditions and violent language are deterring the populace from contributing the corn which they ought to supply; [by telling them] that, if they can not any longer retain the supremacy of Gaul, it were better to submit to the government of Gauls than of Romans, nor ought they to doubt that, if the Romans should overpower the Helvetii, they would wrest their freedom from the Aedui together with the remainder of Gaul. By these very men, [said he], are our plans and whatever is done in the camp, disclosed to the enemy; that they could not be restrained by him: nay more, he was well aware, that though compelled by necessity, he had disclosed the matter to Caesar, at how great a risk he had done it; and for that reason, he had been silent as long as he could.”
“Caesar perceived that by this speech of Liscus, Dumnorix, the brother of Divitiacus, was indicated; but, as he was unwilling that these matters should be discussed while so many were present, he speedily dismisses: the council, but detains Liscus: he inquires from him when alone, about those things which he had said in the meeting. He [Liscus] speaks more unreservedly and boldly. He [Caesar] makes inquiries on the same points privately of others, and discovered that it is all true; that “Dumnorix is the person, a man of the highest daring, in great favor with the people on account of his liberality, a man eager for a revolution: that for a great many years he has been in the habit of contracting for the customs and all the other taxes of the Aedui at a small cost, because when he bids, no one dares to bid against him. By these means he has both increased his own private property, and amassed great means for giving largesses; that he maintains constantly at his own expense and keeps about his own person a great number of cavalry, and that not only at home, but even among the neighboring states, he has great influence, and for the sake of strengthening this influence has given his mother in marriage among the Bituriges to a man the most noble and most influential there; that he has himself taken a wife from among the Helvetii, and has given his sister by the mother’s side and his female relations in marriage into other states; that he favors and wishes well to the Helvetii on account of this connection; and that he hates Caesar and the Romans, on his own account, because by their arrival his power was weakened, and his brother, Divitiacus, restored to his former position of influence and dignity: that, if any thing should happen to the Romans, he entertains the highest hope of gaining the sovereignty by means of the Helvetii, but that under the government of the Roman people he despairs not only of royalty, but even of that influence which he already has.” Caesar discovered too, on inquiring into the unsuccessful cavalry engagement which had taken place a few days before, that the commencement of that flight had been made by Dumnorix and his cavalry (for Dumnorix was in command of the cavalry which the Aedui had sent for aid to Caesar); that by their flight the rest of the cavalry were dismayed. “
Thus, we either found the original Veleti or at least found the source of Wincenty Kadlubek‘s inspiration for his stories about Caesar and Leszek.
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