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European Kingdoms

Barbarians

 

Hellusii / Hellusios (Finno-Ugrics)

Uralic is a broad language family which covers wide areas of modern Northern Europe and Siberia. Daughters of Uralic languages are still spoken in Estonia and Finland, by many smaller groups which are located across Russia, and with one southern offshoot, Magyar, in Hungary. The homeland of proto-Uralic was most likely the forest zone on the southern flanks of the Ural Mountains.

From about 3000 BC, the Finno-Ugric branch began to expand across northern Russia and into Estonia, Finland, and northern Sweden and Norway. The vast forests of the north were rarely penetrated by ancient civilisations though, even on a secondhand basis.

Vague stories would sometimes emerge and outlandish characterisations would be noted, but the truth behind such records requires deep analysis even to produce the most basic realistic picture of tribes here. Much of this territory became part of a poorly-defined (and poorly understood) region known sometimes as Kvenland, which stretched all the way east into modern Russia's Murmansk Oblask.

The Hellusii (or Hellusios) were noted alongside the Oxiones by the first century AD Roman historian, Tacitus, in his great work, Germania. He recorded every known tribe of Europe, venturing north and east as far as his information would allow.

On the very edges of that territory even he was forced to state that 'the rest is the stuff of fables'. These two mysterious tribes were noted as having 'the faces and features of men, but the bodies and limbs of animals', although Tacitus refused to express an opinion on such 'unverifiable stories'.

He spoke of them after describing the Fenni (Sámi), which would place both the Hellusii and Oxiones within today's Finland and Karelia. Professor Tuomo Pekkanen has presented a theory which states that the Oxiones name is an endonym (one used by the tribe itself), which comes from the Finnish word 'oksi', meaning 'bear'.

The Hellusii name would therefore be an exonym (one given by outsiders), which has been connected by the experienced R Much with the Indo-Germanic stem 'fawn', Lithuanian 'élnis', and German 'elch', meaning 'elk'. The word 'oksi' is the oldest such word for bear in Finnish, one which has its etymological equivalent in Finnic languages around the Baltic Sea (Estonian 'ott', Livonian 'ok'), and in Mordvian as 'ovto, ofto, oftâ'.

With Oxiones being derived from this word, the Greek and Latin suffixes were added in the form of '-on' and '-es' to give Oxiones. The result is that the etymology of the names Oxiones and Hellusii leads to the conclusion that the earliest-recorded tribal inhabitants of Finland were known as 'the bears' and 'the elks'.

Tacitus speaks of Finnish shamans being dressed in animal skins (a very old practice, and one which explains 'the bodies and limbs of animals'): 'the animal disguise was used in the worship of the respective animals or in exacting circumstances, when it was considered important to have the strength or other characteristics of the divine animals'.

Tacitus also mentions first the Hellusii, and then the Oxiones, which would further support the idea that the 'Elks' (Hellusii) were located in the west and the 'Bears' (Oxiones) in the east.

Seto People of Estonia

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from Germania, Tacitus, from Uralic Evidence for the Indo-European Homeland, Jaakko Häkkinen (2012), from On the Edge of the World, Nikolaĭ Semenovich Leskov, from Roman Soldier versus Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, and from External Links: Problems in the taxonomy of the Uralic languages in light of modern comparative studies, Tapani Salminen (2002 - dead link), and Kvenland (a detailed overview of the existence of Kvenland before it was absorbed into Norway, Sweden, and Finland, although with some content which is of dubious reliability).)

AD 98

Writing at this time, Tacitus mentions a large number of tribes in Germania Magna and beyond. Culturally speaking at this time the Germanic warrior tradition is so strong that other groups can appear weak or primitive by comparison, at least to civilised writers who are working from non-first-hand records.

Tombstone of Tacitus
The tombstone of Tacitus once marked the final resting place of one of Rome's most important authors, who not only chronicled the creation of the empire, but also listed the many barbarian tribes of continental Europe and the British Isles (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike International)

Some historians (especially Paul the Deacon in his eighth century AD history of the Langobards) paint the Finnic tribes as being particularly barbaric, so undeveloped that they are described as eating raw meat and wearing shaggy animal skins. Tacitus, however, conducts a more analytical discussion of the Hellusii and Oxiones, neighbours of the Fenni (Sámi).

He dismisses the more fantastical elements of the materials at hand, concentrating instead on the tribe's shamans being dressed in animal skins, which is a very old practice.

It is also one which Finno-Ugric tribes may have passed onto Germanic tribes, given frequent Roman descriptions of 'priestesses' who, more accurately, would have been men in women's clothing: shamen.

100s - 400s

Between the second and fifth centuries AD the material standards of the Baltic culture rise tremendously, due to intensive amber trade with the provinces of the Roman empire. Archaeological finds demonstrate how for centuries bronze and iron tools and ornaments are exported from the Balts to Uralic-speaking Finno-Ugric lands.

Map of European Tribes
This vast map covers just about all possible tribes which were documented in the first centuries BC and AD, mostly by the Romans and Greeks, and with an especial focus on 52 BC (click or tap on map to view at an intermediate size)

The western Finnic, the Mari, and Mordvin areas are flooded with or strongly influenced by ornaments which are typical of the Baltic culture.

However, encroaching activity by Norse and Swedes, and then Germans, erodes native cultures and creates new states which incorporate their people. Today's Finland includes the descendants of many (but certainly not all) of the Finno-Ugric groups of the first century AD.

 
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