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Vistula Veneti

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Vistula Veneti

The term Vistula Veneti (or Baltic Veneti) has been used in modern times to distinguish the Veneti noted by Greek and Roman geographers along the Vistula and the Bay of Gdańsk from other tribes around them and other tribes of the same name elsewhere such as the Adriatic Veneti (about the same area of today's Veneto), the Veneti of Bretagne, and the so-called Paphlagonian Veneti (of today's northern Turkey coast). They are one of the tribes that are suspected as the ancestors of some or all of today's Slavs.


Ethnolinguistic character

During the Middle Ages the region east of the Vistula was inhabited by people speaking Old Prussian, a now-extinct Baltic language in an area by Tacitus in AD 98 described as "Suebian Sea, which washes the country of the Aestii, who have the same customs and fashions as the Suebi, but a language more like the British". It is unknown what language the yet further east Veneti spoke, although the implication of Tacitus' description of them is that it was not a form of Germanic.

It has been argued that the Veneti were a centum Indo-European people, rather than satem Baltic-speakers. Zbigniew Gołąb considers that the hydronyms of the Vistula and Odra river basins had a North-West Indo-European character with close affinities to the Italo-Celtic branch, but different from the Germanic branch, and show resemblances to those attested in the area of the Adriatic Veneti (in Northeastern Italy) as well as those attested in the Western Balkans that are attributed to Illyrians, which suggests points to a possible connection between these ancient Indo-European peoples.


In the region identified by Ptolemy and Pliny, east of the Vistula and adjoining the Baltic, there was an Iron Age culture, known to archaeologists as the West Baltic Cairns Culture or West Baltic Barrow Culture, shown coloured violet on the map given here. The culture is associated with the Proto-Balts, who kept this area for almost two thousand years, avoiding adoption of new ideas from their neighbours. These herders lived in small settlements or in little lake dwellings built on artificial islands made of several layers of wooden logs attached by stakes. Their metals were imported, and their dead were cremated and put in urns covered by small mounds.

In the Post-War era Polish archaeologists generally interpreted the Veneti as the possible bearers of the Pomeranian culture, an Iron Age archaeological culture in Poland, including, to the west of the Vistula. Although still preponderant, this west-of-Vistula hypotheses has been rejected by one Polish author,

Relation between the Veneti, the Slavs, and the Balts

Based on the above sources, the Veneti in antiquity were geographically contiguous to and coterminous with the various early Germanic peoples.

It is also clear that the Franks (see, e.g., Life of Saint Martinus, Fredegar's Chronicle, Gregory of Tours), Lombards (see, e.g., Paul the Deacon), and Anglo-Saxons (see Widsith's Song) referred to Slavs both in the Elbe-Saal region and in Pomerania generally, as Wenden or Winden (see Wends). Likewise, the Franks and Bavarians of Styria and Carinthia referred to their Slavic neighbours as Windische.

It has not been show that either the original Veneti or the Slavs themselves used the ethnonym Veneti to describe their ethos. Of course, other peoples, e.g., the Germans (called so first by the Romans), did not have a name for themselves other than localized tribal names.

Considering Ptolemy's Ouenedai and their location along the Baltic sea, a German linguist, Alexander M. Schenker, asserts that the vocabulary of the Slavic languages shows no evidence that the early Slavs were exposed to the sea. Schenker claims that Proto-Slavic had no maritime terminology and further claims it even lacked a word for amber (but see "jantar" whose etymology is unclear and Polish "glaz" as in 'stone' or 'rock') which was the most important item of export from the shores of the Baltic to the Mediterranean. Based on this belief, and the fact that Ptolemy refers to the Baltic Sea as the "Venedic" Bay Schenker decides against a possible identification of the Veneti of Ptolemy's times, with today's Slavs. According to Gołąb, Schenker's conclusion is supported by the fact that to the east of the Venedae, Ptolemy mentions two further tribes called Stavanoi (Σταυανοί) and Souobenoi (Σουοβενοι), both of which have been interpreted as possibly the oldest historical attestations of at least some Slavs.

On the other hand, others have interpreted these as Prussian tribes (Sudini) as they follow other known Prussian tribes in Ptolemy's listing (e.g., the Galindae (Γαλίνδαι)). Moreover, that conclusion (Gołąb, Schenker), if correct, may only account for the Byzantine Slavs of Jordanes and Procopius since Jordanes clearly (see above) understands Veneti as a group at least as broad as - today's - Slavs but does not understand the converse to be the case (i.e., his "Slavs" are localized around Byzantium and north through Moravia only) since his Slavs remain a subset of the broader category of Veneti. It also is clear that the Byzantine term "Slav" had gradually replaced the Germanic "Winden"/"Wenden" as applied to all the people we would, today, consider Slavs.

Linguists agree that Slavic languages evolved in close proximity with the Baltic languages. The two language families probably evolved from a common ancestor, a phylogenetic Proto-Balto-Slavic language continuum. The earliest origins of Slavs seem to lie in the area between the Middle Dnieper and the Bug rivers, where the most archaic Slavic hydronyms have been established. The vocabulary of Proto-Slavic had a heterogenous character and there is evidence that in the early stages of its evolution it adopted some loanwords from centum-type Indo-European languages. It has been proposed that contacts of Proto-Slavs with the Veneti may have been one of the sources for these borrowings. The aforementioned area of proto-Slavic hydronyms roughly corresponds with the Zarubintsy archeological culture which has been interpreted as the most likely locus of the ethnogenesis of Slavs. According to Polish archaeologist Michał Parczewski, Slavs began to settle in southeastern Poland no earlier than the late 5th century AD, the Prague culture being their recognizable expression.

Etymology of the ethnonym Veneti

According to Julius Pokorný, the ethnonym Venetī (singular *Venetos) is derived from Proto Indo-European root *u̯en-, 'to strive; to wish for, to love'. As shown by the comparative material, the Germanic languages may have had two terms of different origin: Old High German Winida 'Wende' points to Pre-Germanic *u̯enétos, while Lat.-Germ. Venedi (as attested in Tacitus) and Old English Winedas 'Wends' call for Pre-Germanic *u̯énetos.

The ethnonym would then be etymologically related to words as Latin venus, -eris 'love, passion, grace'; Sanskrit vanas- 'lust, zest', vani- 'wish, desire'; Old Irish fine (< Proto-Celtic *venjā) 'kinship, kinfolk, alliance, tribe, family'; Old Norse vinr, Old Saxon, Old High German wini, Old Frisian, Old English wine 'friend'.

Notwithstanding the above, the word 'wend' meant water in the Baltic Old Prussian language suggesting that the Wends were those who lived by the water or waters.


Steinacher, incorrectly, states: "The name Veneder was introduced by Jordanes. The assumption that these were Slavs can be traced back to the 19th century to Pavel Josef Šafařík from Prague, who tried to establish a Slavic Origin history. Scholars and historians since then viewed the reports on Venedi/Venethi by Tacitus, Pliny and Ptolemy as the earliest historical attestation of Slavs. "Such conceptions, started in the 16th century, resurfaced in the 19th century where they provided the basis for interpretations of the history and origins of Slavs."

On the other hand, in the 1980s and 1990s some Slovene scholars proposed a theory according to which the Veneti were Proto-Slavs and bearers of the Lusatian culture along the Amber Path who settled the region between the Baltic sea and Adriatic Sea and included the Adriatic Veneti, as presented in their book "Veneti - First Builders of European Community". This theory would place the Veneti as a pre-Celtic, pre-Latin and pre-Germanic population of Europe. The theory has been criticised and rejected by some Slovenian and other European scholars.

The Slavs, an eastern branch of the Indo-European family, were known to the Roman and Greek writers of the 1st and 2d centuries A.D. under the name of Venedi as inhabiting the region beyond the Vistula. ... In the course of the early centuries of our era the Slavs expanded in all directions, and by the 6th century, when they were known to Gothic and Byzantine writers as Sclaveni, they were apparently already separated into three main divisions: ...


The Estonian and Finnish names for Russia - Venemaa and Venäjä - possibly originate from the name of the Veneti.


Vistula Veneti Wikipedia

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