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European Kingdoms

Barbarians

 

Wends / Vindi (West Indo-Europeans)
Incorporating the Veleti Union

The first millennium AD witnessed massive changes in the make-up of western and Central Europe's dominant ethnic groups. Large areas of Central Europe were conquered by Germanic groups at the start of the millennium, largely during the existence of the Western Roman empire.

As the empire faded and dominance by the Carolingian Franks resulted in the formation of a German kingdom, early records referred to a largely-submissive people who were known as Wends or Vindi.

In the Germanic north they were Wenden or Winden or even Winds, while farther south the early Carinthians and Styrians (later to form part of Austria) referred to them as Windische. Not only does this provide some idea of the extent of settlement by this somewhat mysterious West Indo-European people, it also helps to pinpoint just who they had been before the arrival of Germanic domination.

FeatureThe 'third wave' of Celtic expansion appears to have been formed of tribes which were seaborne and which lived along the North Atlantic and/or Baltic coastlines. Known as Belgae, they were Celts who seem to have established themselves in Northern Europe, although precisely where is entirely open to speculation (not to mention some heated debate). The available evidence suggests a general settlement of areas of today's northern Germany and perhaps northern Poland too (see feature link for a discussion on the origins of the name 'Celt').

Simultaneously, a large area of Eastern Europe was occupied by a people called the Veneti (or Venedi). Today these are largely referred to as the Baltic or Vistula Venedi to differentiate them from the Armorican Veneti of Western Europe, while a much more distantly-related population with the same name is known as the Adriatic Veneti.

The idea that both groups - northern Belgae and eastern Veneti - were related in some ways to Celts of the Hallstatt culture is generally not doubted (except perhaps by individuals who are searching for Slav origins which predate the fourth to sixth centuries AD). Celtic influence reached far and wide, and was especially attractive to fellow West Indo-Europeans of the proto-Celtic and proto-Italic branches.

Those aforementioned Slav researchers who are convinced that Wends were Slavic from the beginning are entirely incorrect in their assumptions. Slavs were famous as infantry, but only as infantry. As Veneti in their various forms, the ancestors of the Wends could consistently be found near bodies of water, usually powerful rivers. They were sailors. However, centuries of dominance by other groups gradually hybridised them.

In the east they found themselves under control by Scythians, Sarmatians, and Huns. In the north, this control was exerted by Balts, Germanics, and Western Polans, especially once the Veleti Union there was defeated (a confederation of ethnic Celts which may have formed out of the remnants of the widespread Venedi).

This not only resulted in their gradual disappearance as a recognisable group. It also gradually improved and deepened their use of military tactics. The Sarmatians who are mentioned above managed to extend deep into Central Europe at one point, and probably into the north as well.

The Wendish use of boats would have come from their West Indo-European and Celtic origins and influences, but their later addition of cavalry tactics would seem to have come from the Indo-Iranian Sarmatians - either that or they adopted it from Germanics who had themselves adopted it from Franks. Far from being Slavic, they possessed an extremely mixed and multilayered heritage of which Slav was only the final addition.

The Wends were not Slavs, but they did come to be dominated by Slavs after the fourth century AD. Frankish and Eastern Roman chroniclers perhaps did not appreciate this complication, lumping them all together so that, in written works, Wends were Slavs and Slavs were Wends. Only once Slavic assimilation was complete were they all Slavs, both culturally and linguistically.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Hudud al-'Alam, The Regions of the World, and The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it), and Wends: The Slavic Pirates that the Vikings Feared (Baltic Empire, YouTube video).)

8th century AD

FeatureThe Veleti Union has formed on the western edge of Pomerania, on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea and the western bank of the Oder, in modern north-eastern Germany.

The name is the same as 'Galati', but without the 'w' to 'gw' to 'g' shift which long ago produced 'Galati' (see feature link). Instead this 'Veleti' is either the original 'w' pronunciation (which seems most likely, as 'Weleti', a modified form of 'Galati') or a Belgic-style 'w' to 'v' pronunciation (which is possible).

Stettin in Pomerania
Stettin in Pomerania was for a brief time controlled by Poland during one of that state's many forays into Pomeranian lands in an attempt to control the pagan natives (and possibly also to block similar German incursions)

What this 'Veleti' means is that Venedi and other Celtic groups in this region are recorded not by tribal name but by ethnic identity, usually as Wends. Once conquered by new arrivals, these Celticised groups eventually adopt Slavic speech before being incorporated into the German empire.

fl 789

Dragovit

King of the Veleti. Conquered by the Franks.

789

The Carolingian Frankish king, Charlemagne, leads an expedition against Dragovit, king of the Veleti (Venedi remnants, otherwise known as Wends) on the opposite bank of the Oder. Charlemagne defeats him and makes him a vassal in the only venture he makes into what are now Slavic lands - generally, at least. This expedition shows that some earlier groups are still recognisable.

8th century

The Venedi of Eastern Europe gradually disappear between the sixth and ninth centuries AD. Pressure from Germanic groups to their west, but more especially from migrating Slavs from the east sees them assimilated. The northernmost parts of their territory are absorbed by various natives which include the Prussians and Lithuanians. The majority of the north is slowly amalgamated into early Poland.

Map of Germany AD 962
Germany in AD 962 may have had its new emperor to govern the territories shown within the dark black line, but it was still a patchwork of competing interests and power bases, most notably in the five great stem duchies, many of which were attempting to expand their own territories outside the empire, creating the various march or border regions to the east and south (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Thanks to that assimilation, Germans largely see the new Slav masters of surviving identifiably-Venedi groups as being of the same group, and the Venedi name is transferred to them (although they do not use it to describe themselves).

In the German tongue they are called Wends (Wenden or Winden), while farther south the early Carinthians and Styrians (later to form part of Austria) refer to them as Windische. This helps to show just how great a territory had been settled by the Venedi in the preceding millennium or more.

The vocabulary of the proto-Slavic language shows signs of adoption from multiple sources, with evidence of loan words from Indo-European languages of Eastern Europe. Naturally the Venedi have been suggested as one of those sources.

Given the probable origins of the Slavs between the rivers Bug and Dnieper (the latter of which runs through Belarus and Kyiv in Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea), the two groups have probably interacted long before the Slavs now become dominant, in much the same way as Germans and Gauls had interacted across the Rhine in the second and first centuries BC.

Wends
A personification of the early Wends was presented by a gospel book of 990 which showed them as the Sclavinia (early Slavs, of which the westernmost groups were known as Wends), plus Germania, Gallia, and Roma, all of whom were bringing tribute to Holy Roman emperor Otto III

1168

In his work, Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus describes the defeat of a group of Wends. They occupy the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of north-eastern Germany. After years of pirate attacks by the Wends, King Valdemar of Denmark has been persuaded by Absalon, bishop of Roskilde and the chief royal advisor (and future archbishop of Lund), to launch a crusade against them.

The Danes land on Rügen and besiege the capital city of Arkona. Once Valdemar's forces set fire to the city's walls and buildings, the residents of Arkona surrender.

Valdemar takes control of Arkona and receives hostages from the leaders of the Wendish people. Then he orders the statue of a local deity named Svantevit to be destroyed. The Danes receive word from the people of Karenz - another important town on the island - that they are also ready to surrender. Absalon travels to the town with thirty men, where they are met by six thousand warriors.

However, the Wends prostrate themselves before the Christians and welcome the bishop. Karenz is the home to three pagan deities - Rugevit, Porevit, and Porenut - which are believed to be the gods of war, lightning, and thunder. Bishop Absalon destroys the temples to all three of these gods and Christianises the populace. Rügen, and also an area of the adjoining mainland, are taken into Danish control.

The Danes conquer Rugen
The Danish conquest of Rügen ended more than a millennium of independence for the native people - a possible combination of Celts, Germanics, and Slavs - pulling down their gods in the process

c.1200

The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia describes a clearly non-Slavic tribe called the Vindi (German Winden, English Wends). They live in Courland and Livonia in what is now Latvia, clearly the northernmost remnants of the Venedi.

The tribe's name is preserved in the River Windau (in Latvian this is the Venta), which has the town of Windau (the Latvian Ventspils) at its mouth. It is also preserved in Wenden, the old name for the town of Cēsis in Livonia.

At the start of the second millennium AD, there are two countries or people who occupy this region, called Ventava (the Ventspils area) and Vanema to its east. It is unclear whether or not these are names which relate to the Venedi, although given the location it seems likely.

In possible opposition to this is the fact that 'vene' words are in common use across the north both today and two thousand years ago, and even farther south (witness the Vindelici of Rhaetia and the Adriatic Veneti of Italy). Even the modern Estonian word for Russians is 'Vene', suggesting that the word existed before Russians, perhaps being used to denote previous neighbours in the same territory - the Venedi.

 
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