Well, strictly speaking, Aleksander Brueckner did answer though his answer was not any coherent response but rather a statement along the lines of “I don’t want to believe this so I don’t believe it.” It’s easy to say “I don’t believe it because I don’t.” But Ketrzynski’s work merits more than foot stamping and hissy-fits of someone (like Bruckner) whose historic research was financed (including via the Archiv fuer slawische Phililogie) by the Prussian state.
We should note that, as a purely philosophical matter, we are not at all averse to finding the original Slavic homeland in the Pripet Marshes, on the Volga or even beyond the Urals (Mongolia, India, etc). Rather we find the current history telling to be very wanting and seeking merely to prove what is taken for a given while disregarding any contrary evidence – and that is not science or learning. So let us begin.
The mainline historical teaching is basically as follows:
- Suevi occupied most of Germania;
- After Suevi somehow disappeared, they were replaced almost inch for inch by a new tribe of the Slavs who came somewhere from the East;
- Slavs have nothing to do with the Suevi because the latter were “Germanic”.
We have discussed all of this before here. Nevertheless, it’s worth to posit several questions come to mind:
I. If most of Germania was covered by the Suevi at the time of Caesar, then how is it possible that this giant tribal union (nation?) devolved into virtually nothing?
The Suevi of later years are:
- the Suevi that are the smallest contingent in the Vandal, Alan, Suevi group crossing the Rhine in 405 or 406 and ending up in NW Portugal/Spain;
- the alleged Suevi of Swabia (including transplants into North-Schwabengau);
- the Suevi of the micro-state of Vannius on the Danube/Pannonia;
But the first group was small. As to the second group, German writers have went out of their way to draw an equal sign between the Schwaben and Alemanni. And yet it is precisely the entry of the Alemanni that suggests that – whatever Schwabia’s older name may have been – the later (and today’s) Schwabia has as much to do with the Suevic Suavia as 19th century Prussia had with 13th century Prussia, i.e., same territory – different inhabitants. Given the influence of the Alemanni it appears that the conquerors took the name of the conquered or, perhaps, of the country which the conquered left and the conquerors occupied. In fact, the Suevi may well have left years before the Alemanni got there. The same claim is often made about Bohemia with the Czechs supposedly taking on the name of the Bohemians who had been driven out by the Marcomanni years before (or were the Czechs just coming back?).
Now the third group is more interesting. They may have mingled with the Noricans (in fact one of Ariovistus’ wives was the sister of the Norican king Vocion suggesting bloodties) and whatever was left of the Vindelici. Not to mention with the “Sarmatian” Jazyges.
II. How is it possible that when the “fog of war” clears, the Suevic area is entirely occupied by Slavs?
Migrations are usually cited and there may well have been some. However, at least the Slavic chronicles speak of migrations from Pannonia and the south. Nestor outright calls Slavs “Noricans”, bringing to mind the alliance of Ariovistus with Vocion as well as the Vindelici.
If the Suevi did indeed leave the area, they surely did not leave it empty. And if they did leave it empty then there surely were plenty of other invaders who would have stopped over and kept portions of the country, e.g., the Goths. There should be plenty of different tribes in the area when Carolingian chronicles first shed some light on it. But there are only Slavs.
What happened to Ockham’s Razor? Did historians leave it at home?
III. How do we know that the Suevi were “Germanic” (as in Nordic)?
Because they lived in “Germania”? But so do the Turks, Poles, Portuguese, Croats, Serbs and Syrians today. Either these peoples too are “Germanic” or we have to acknowledge that the word Germanic can be nothing other than a geographic designation (at least for so long as the geography itself is not changed over time).
Of course, the Langobards and Angles – if they were Suevic as we are told – bear Nordic names. But the origin myth of the former speaks of the far north at a time when the Suevi were – probably – already in the south. It is not improbable that the northern roving bands – like the Rus or Bulgars later on – simply took over the local Suevic tribes. Note that the Langobards were, as we are told, earlier called Winnuli – a name that appears in a similar form on the Oder (Adam of Bremen – did the Langobards finally leave the Winnuli alone as the former headed to Pannonia?) but also, far west in France.
The names of the original Suevic rulers (e.g., Ariovistus) or sorceresses (e.g., Veleda) have Slavic explanations and many, in fact, sound Slavic. The Portuguese Suevi did have some Nordic names but others had some which were, at beast, ambiguous. Take the name of the king Miro or Ariomirus. Are these Nordic names? Note that the -mir suffix is a common one not just among the Slavs but also Goths and in fact among other Indo-Europeans (see the monarchs of Baluchistan or the Pashto name of the highest mountains if the Hindu Kush – Terichmir (or Tirich Mir) where “mir” may mean “king” so is Ariomir an invader (“King of the Aryans”?) from the Hindu Kush?).
We could ask other questions:
IV. Why is it that German writers of the 19th-20th century insist on writing Suevi in the form Suebi?
What was their reasoning for the “b”? Because it sounded more like ShwaBen?
The B > V but the sources speak of the SueVi almost exclusively so why all the effort to write Suebi?
V. Why do all Slavic languages have “słaby” as meaning “weak”?
Słaby (pronounced suabe) is “weak”. Why? Is it because it is derived from the Gothic slepan (or ON slapr)? But these mean sleeping. Perhaps they are related. But so what? The Slavic (and Baltic) languages have suabe – with a “b” – as “weak”.
Shouldn’t someone ask as to whether this may be a reference to the Schwaben, the weak Suevi that stayed behind and that let themselves be taken over by the Alemanni?
VI. Isn’t it strange that the Suevi of the Danube suddenly become Suavi in the 6th century (with an “a”)?
Just before he Sclavi (but Sclavenoi earlier) show up the old Suevi become Suavi. Curious.
VII. In fact, if the Slavs appear, as per their records in Pannonia, isn’t it just too convenient to also find the Suevi there right before?
Slavs record their beginnings in Pannonia. But we know that, among other peoples, there were Suevi (or Suavi) there right before the Slavs appeared. Isn’t that odd? Well, it’s not odd that they were there because we know of Vannius but it is odd that they should have survived so long. Or maybe it is not, maybe most of the commoners by that time in Pannonia were Suavi. They had had a longer start in Pannonia than any of the Herules, Gepids or Goths.
There is a suggestion that, at least some of them, left for Italy with the Langobards but how much evidence do we have for this?
(For our seven articles on the topic of the Danube Suavi see here)
VIII. If the Slavs are supposed to have borrowed certain terms from “Iranian” languages, why couldn’t they have borrowed them from the Jazyges?
Because, the Slavs did no live next to the Jazyges says official historiography.
Funny, enough though, we know the Suevi did – for a long time.
The Jazyges resided in Pannonia for as long as we can tell. If, in fact, (and it is a big “if”) they spoke some form of an Iranian language, then the Danube Suevi-Jazyges connection could have provided all the materials needed.
(The Iranian borrowings are questionable. Even such terms as bhaga may not be relevant or maybe relevant only on a much longer timescale. What do you do before the face of God? Bend the knee? Or beug dich? This may also explain why the word appears in the form Bug not Bag).
IX. How is it that all these tribes turn out to be Slavic?
Although the word “Slav” – in that form – does not appear before the 6th century, clearly that does not mean that the people called Slavs did not exist prior to that. Just because the word negro falls out of use and we start using the word Afro-American/Black British, etc does not mean that the people did not exist before the term became widely used. And, in this case, it does not mean that they did not exist as a people before that time either. Did the Slavs?
It is revealing that many of the tribes which we eventually come to call Slavic, do appear before the 6th century:
- Legii (aka Lugii)
- Veltae (think Veleda but also of the Czech river Vltava, the Ptolemeic Veltae and the Lupiones (Wiltzi) Sarmate of Tabula Peutingeriana)
- probably most of the Veneti, and
The common explanation is that these were “Slavicized”. But this is strange. By the 18th century, notwithstanding hundreds of years (perhaps a thousand or more) of Germanization there were still Slavic speaking Polabian peoples in Germany. The Slavic Sorbs persist till this day. If the Slavs really Slavicized all these Germanic tribes they did so extraordinarily quickly.
But then why preserve the names of the original tribes? Elsewhere, when a small group of conquerors (Bulgars, Rus) take over a tribe quickly, they may become Slavicized but they keep the name and impose it on the rest of the population. If the group were larger, wouldn’t it be even more likely that they would have imposed their names on the various peoples in question?
Maybe the Germans just kept the “old” names for their Slavicized “brothers & sisters” but if so they kept no narrative of how that happened.
X. And, importantly, if the above tribes could have been Slavicized, why not the Suevi?
Historians are ok with pointing out connections between prior Germanic tribes and the new reconstituted Slavic versions of the same. At least so long as theses tribes are small and insignificant. No one, as yet, however, has suggested a Slavicization of the Suevi. It seems that that would make too many uncomfortable.
Of course, such a Slavicization is as likely as the Slavicization of the Wagri, etc. In other words, theoretically possible but not very likely at all.
XI. And why if one can derive the name Slav from the name of a river, that river cannot be Solawa?
We know why. Because, we are told, the Slavs came from the East. But, if the question is “where did the Slavs come from”, that answer is no answer at all since you can’t answer a query with a statement whose validity is being challenged by the query.
Solawa is particularly problematic to present historiography because not only could its name be used etymologically to derive the name of the Slavs but it also occupies the region where the ancient authors found the river Suevus. That river, in turn, is associated with the Suevi and so the circle closes.
Of course, official historiography has never located the river Suevus – though it did not look too hard at the river Solawa lest something problematic might be found there.
XII. Was Grimm wrong in claiming that Suevi and Slavs Are Cognates?
Jacob Grimm was an excellent linguist. Yet his claim of the two words being cognates is almost embarrassingly swept under the carpet. Brueckner called it “unfortunate” without explaining exactly wherein should this lack of fortune lie. Curiously, Brueckner did not say that Grimm was wrong (presumably because then he’d have to explain why).
It is difficult not to conclude that Grimm, writing at a time when German nationalism was just in its romantic youthful phase, ended up (if only tentatively) delivering a delayed fuse grenade into the beehive of later 19th century extreme German nationalists.
The word swoi exists to this day, e.g., in Polish (the fact that the Swedes derive their name from a cognate of the same does not in any way answer the question (indeed, recall that the Swedes are a merging of several peoples including the Swedes of Swealand but also the Sami & Kvens of the North and of the Goths)).
(On the pronunciation of Suevi and the Polish (and Venetian!) letter ł we’ve written a number of times so we won’t return to that here).
XIII. Why are so many the ancient German river names ending in -awa? and place names in -owa?
We are told that -awa was Germanic for “water” (agua). But no such word has been attested in Germanic languages and there already is a German word for water, i.e., wasser. And yet, strangely, “water” names refer to rivers and rivers just happen to be feminine nouns in Slavic languages so that creating an adjective and adding an -awa would result in a Slavic river name.
As for place names, do they have -owa endings? Again, a feminine name for a village. But don’t they refer to German gau‘s? And yet the “gaus” even if they were spelled “gowi” previously would seem to require a “g” in Nordic languages. Not so for Slavic languages – there you can have an -owo, -owa, -owe and you do not need a “g” anywhere before that – any consonant will do. As the author (who believes the “ava” endings are Germanic) of one of the German place name dictionaries nevertheless honestly confesses: “Oft ist die scheidung von der slav. enduing -owo schwer.”
So then what place names are these?
The word gau would rather seem to be derived from the Slavic adjectives described above. For example, compare:
- Głogów (Polish) with
- Glogau (German)
- Częstochowa (Polish) with
- Tschenstochau (German)
XIV. What do the Niemcy have to do with the Nemetes and the Slavs with the Suavi?
There is the old theory about the Slavic word for Germans – Niemcy – being a reference to the Niemcy not speaking Slavic (i.e., the “mutes”) and the Slavs being people of the “word” (slovo), i.e., being the ones who do speak a mutually understandable language. And yet, this theory seems to be based on nothing and to be based on a Volksetymologie.
At the same time we have the Nemetes an ancient Germanic tribe that just so happened to live right next to the Suevi. In fact, Caesar faces both of them when he reports he was confronted by the “Harudes, Marcomanni, Tribocci, Vangiones, Nemetes, Sedusii, and Suevi.”
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