The Slavs and the Avars

Omeljan Pritsak












It was not only the Ostrogoths who possessed the institution of Vinid-. They are also attested among the Franks, the ephemeral realm of the Frankish merchant Samo, and the Lombards (Langobards).


The Frankish Vinidi occur explicitly in the «Chronicle» of Pseudo-Fredegar Continuatus under the years 747-748 [77]. But there is good reason to suppose that the Vinidi were already employed by Sigibert as early as 562-565 (see sect. V. 1). They must have been stationed both along the Frankish-Bavarian frontier (the Main, Regnitz and Baunach rivers, i.e. Franconia) and in the frontier territory between the Saale and Elbe rivers (i.e. Thuringia). The latter supposition is corroborated by King Alfred the Great, who in his updated, Anglo-Saxon version of Paul Orosius's work (ca. 890-899) clearly locates the Vinidi there: Wineda lond, þe mon hœtt Sysyle 'The Vinidi-land, called Sysyle' [78]. The word Sysyle is also of importance, for it is doubtless a term used by the Heruli, relatives of the early Norsemen (cf. ON sýsla) and means



(77) The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar with its Continuations, ed. John Michael Walxace-Hadrill, London 1960, p. 101.


(78) Quoted in Pritsak, The Origin of Rus', vol. 1, p. 687.





«stewardship; district, bailiwick, prefecture» [79]. This means that the Franks used an Old Norse designation for the territory where the Frankish Vinidi were stationed. Apparently it was mostly Heruli, or other «Scandinavians», who were recruited for service as Vinidi [80].


Historical toponymy supplies further proof that military colonies existed along the two Frankish limites of Franconia and Thuringia. Medieval documents from these territoires have provided 139 toponyms containing the name Vinid-, 88 in Franconia and 51 in Thuringia [81]. The oldest documentation for Franconia (the Main-Radenz limes) goes back to the eighth century (741: Moinuuinida et Radanzuinida, i.e. «the Winidi of the Main [river] and the Winidi of the Radenz [river]») [82]. Thuringian Winidi names first appear in documents from 874; curiously enough the name is again Moinuuinida [83].



(79) See Max Vasmer, «Wikingisches bei den Westslaven», in Schriften zur slavischen Altertumskunde und Namenkunde, vol. 2, Berlin 1971, p. 806. See also Paul Johansen, «Der altnordische Name Ösels als verfassungsgeschichtliches Problem», Festschrift Karl Harff, Innsbruck 1950, pp. 95-100, and Adolf Stender-Petersen, « Zur Geschichte des altslavischen *vitęgŭ», Zeitschrift für slavische Philologie, 4, Leipzig 1927, 44-59.


(80) When the German king Heinrich I was reorganizing the former Eastern Frankish defense system against the barbarians (this time against the Slavs proper), he established an eastern Mark in an area which some twenty years later was divided into three: Lausitian, Zeitz and Meissen. See Gerard Labuda, «Marchia», SSS, vol. 3 : 1 (1967), pp. 168-177.


(81) Among investigators who have discovered these toponyms are Ernst Eichler, Rudolf Fischer, Hans Jacob, Erhard Müller, Horst Naumann, Ernst Schwarz, and Hans Walther. In 1965, German and Polish scholars established a special yearbook, Onomastica Slavogermanica, published alternately in Berlin and Wrocław (Breslau).


Unless otherwise noted, the data quoted below are taken from Horst Naumann, «Mischnamen in Nordostbayern and angrenzenden Gebieten», Slavische Namenforschung, Berlin 1963, pp. 88-94.


(82) Formulae Merovingici et Karolini aevi, ed. Kahl Zeumer, Hannover 1886 (= MHH, Leges, Sect. V), no. 40, p. 318.


(83) There was close cooperation between the two groups of the Winidi. See Ernst Schwarz, «Die elbgermanische Grundlage des Ostfrankischen», Jahrbuch für fränkische Landesforschung 15 (1955), pp. 31-67.





The names show three subdivisions: a) German personal name + winid-, e.g. Walubrameswinida (908); b) German appellative or river c) -name + -winid, e.g. Abswinden (1281), Moinuuinida; c) simplex form, e.g. Winden.


Hans Jacob's studies of field-names (Flurnamen) and abandoned settlements (Wüstungen) [84] in historical documents and oral history have shown a relation between the so-called «Slavic» place-names and the system of the burghs, which was evolving during the eighth century.


Jordanes's data in §§ 118-119, where he is dealing with the Ostrogoth Hermanarich's establishment of an empire (Reichsgründung) in the fourth century, seem to indicate that the military organisation of the Winidi type (or Venethae) were a creation of the Heruli. This «merkwürdiges Volk» (to quote Ernst Schwartz) [85] of East Germanic origin dominated Eastern Europe between 267 and about 350, as the «nomads of the sea» of the epoch; their first activity was on the periphery of the Bosporus kingdom. This fact could explain the presence of the «Old Norse» elements (e.g. sýsla) in the language of the Thuringian Vinidi, as I mentioned above. The Ostrogoths took over the system, since the Venethi are named by Jordanes among those who were «obedient to Hermanarich's command» (§ 120).





Later, during the first half of the sixth century, the institution of the frontiermen Vinidi was introduced to Central Europe by the Salian Franks, who after their



(84) The military colonists usually settled in freshly cleared fields and abandoned settlements.


(85) Germanische Volkskunde, Heidelberg 1956, p. 104.





great victories in Gaul had entered on the path of state-building within the Roman-Christian cultural patterns.


Vinidi in the realm of Samo occur in the «Chronicle» by Pseudo-Fredegar II over a period of ten years (623-633). This source contains the phrase Sclaui coinomento Winidi [86], i.e., «the Slavi [possibly already slavophone] known as [professional warriors of the] Winidi [type]». The terminology shows that in Burgundy in about 660 [87], the place and date of the work's composition, the existence of disciplined warriors called Vinidi who (possibly) used Slavic as a lingua franca was already well known.


From the context of the Samo story in the same source we see that the terms Vinidi and Sclavi were originally oppositional rather than substitutional. The befulci, or the «cannon fodder» type warriors of the Avars were called Sclavi, and in addition the Sclavi still paid tribute to the Avars (p. 40), but the Avars wintered with the Eclaui, slept with the wives of the Sclavi.


The revolutionary warriors called Winidi made the Frankish merchant Samo their king, and he subsequently married twelve wives from among their kind (ex genere Winidorum, p. 40); this very likely means that these Winidi had twelve units. The Winidi of Samo killed and robbed the Frankish merchants in 630 (p. 56); the army (exercitus) of the Winiti had entered Thuringia in 631 (p. 62), and in 632 (p. 63). The army of King Dagobert (d. 641) set out against the Winidi (p. 57). Dagobert's allies, the duke of the Alamans and the Lombards, entered the territory of the Sclavi and took many Sclavi prisoner (p. 57). Dagobert's envoy Sicharius, in order to gain admit-



(86) Pseudo-Fredegar, Chronicle, ed. Wallace-Hadrill, p. 39, «in Sclauos coinomento Winedos». Hereafter this edition will be cited only by page-number.


(87) See Wallace-Hadrill's introduction to Pseudo-Fredegar, pp. xxii-xxiii.





tance to Samo's presence, had to dress as a Sclauus (p. 56). But the most resolute Venedi had taken refuge in a stronghold with the (traditional) Germanic name of Wogastisburc (p. 57). In 631, the Austrasians bravely defended their frontier and the Frankish kingdom against Winedus (p. 63).


It is still common among scholars to substitute automatically the ethnic concept of Slavs every time the name Vinid- appears in any kind of source (as here in Pseudo-Fredegar's text, Winedi and similar spellings), but this practice makes it impossible to understand the early medieval context properly [88].


The existence of a Lombardian Marca Vinedorum in



(88) Just recently Heinrich Kunstmann proposed Slavic etymologies for both the name Samo and the castle Wogastiburc in three articles: «Was besagt der Name Samo, und wo liegt Wogastiburg»?, Die Welt der Slaven, 24 (1979) 1-21; «Die Pontius-Pilatus-Sage von Hausen-Forschheim und Wogastiburg», WdS 24 (1979), 225-247; «Samo, Dervanus und der Slovenenfürst Wallucus», WdS 25 (1980) 171-177.


Kunstmann's notion that Samo was not a Frankish name (against the testimony of the sources which know very well the Galloromance name Samon, Sammo, etc; see G. Labuda, Pierwsze państwo słowiahskie. Państwo Samona [Poznan 1949], pp. 119-124), but a Slavic samŭ, an elliptic form for samodĭržĭcĭ (autokrator) is completely impossible historically, just as it would be out of the question to assume that a pre-Columbian American Indian would understand and appreciate the problems of Italian Humanism and Renaissance.


Kunstmann's etymology of Wogastisburc as Slavic vŭ gosti burc «Im Kaufmanns-Hospiz an der Burg» (WdS 24.14) is utterly unacceptable.


As for the location of Wogastiburc, two main contenders still hold the field, but significantly enough, both places are in Franconia. One, defended by Rudolf Grünwald, is the former Celtic «oppidum» of Wugastesrode near Staffelstein on the Main («Wogastiburc», Vznik a počátky Slovanů 2 [Prague 1952] 99-120). The opposing view is presented by Hans Jacob, taking Samo's «burc» to be Burk near Forchheim on the Regnitz river («War Burk das historische Wogastiburc, und wo lag das Oppidum Berleich»? WdS 25 (1980), 39-67; see also Jacob's «Das Allodium Wugastesrode», Forschungen und Fortschritte 37, Berlin 1963, 44-45).


The concept that Samo's activities constituted the «first Slavic state» should be abandoned, the sooner the better. The Slavs of the first half of the seventh century were not yet sufficiently advanced to be capable of establishing their own statehood. I submit, however, that it is entirely plausible to interpret this episode as cooperation between the Frankish merchant Samo and the Germanic-speaking frontiersmen against the Frankish king.





the Italian Abruzzi Moutains (Duchy of Beneventum) is obvious from a comparison of two sources. While Pseudo-Fredegar II designates the Lombardian leader who gave refuge to the Bulgarian commander Alciocus/Alzeco as the Dux Winedorum [89], the Lombardian historian Paul the Deacon (d. 799) styles the same person as duke of Beneventum [90].





The professional warriors who in the Byzantine cultural sphere were called Ἄνται = syr. Anṭi-y-ū = Lat. Antes (~ *Anti), as documented above in fn. 73, appear within the system of the paxes of the Ostrogoths, the Proto-Bulgars, and the Avars.


As already noted, Jordanes calls them braver than the Sclaveni : Antes vero, qui sunt eorum fortissimi (§ 35). The whole context we have established allows us to interpret this to mean that they were elite troops. The conflict between them and the Gothic king Vinitharius, and the king's terrible vengeance, indicates that they aspired to independence and did not submit easily (§ 247) [91].





Jordanes calls the pre-Gothic lords of the Ukrainian Mesopotamia (Gothic Oium), i.e. the territory between the Dniester and Dnieper rivers, sometimes Spali (§ 28) [92],



(89) Ed. Wallace-Hadrill, p. 61.


(90) Pauli Historia Langobardorum, ed. Georg Waitz, Hannover 1878 (= MGH SS, no. 48), p. 154.


(91) In this connection see the provocative article by Bohdan Strumins'kyj, «Were the Antes Eastern Slavs»?, Eucharisterion 2 = HUS 4 (1979-80) 786-796.


(92) Josef Markwart (Untersuchungen zur Geschichte von Eran, part 1 [Göttingen 1896], p. 37) suggested that Jordanes took the name Spali from





and sometimes Antes (§ 35), but he never refers to them as Halani (Alans), despite the well-known fact [93] that a Latin contemporary, Ammianus Marcellinus (ca. 330-400) writes clearly about the war between the Gothi Greuthungi and the Halani [94]. One must suppose that one of Jordanes's sources, probably Gothic oral tradition, gave him reason for doing so.


The earliest occurence of the name Alan in the west is in «Thyestes», a tragedy by Seneca (4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.) [95]. At approximately the same time Hou Han-shu (chap. 118, fol. 13r°) states that the name Yen-ts'ai (= Greek Ἄορσοι < vrs-) [96] had been changed into A-lan (Alan) [97].


Neither term is an ethnic or linguistic indicator; both surely are professional designations. The Alans were a special type of cavalrymen who used Eastern Iranian as a lingua franca. Ammianus Marcellinus writes [98]:


«Thus the Halani [Alans]... are divided between the two parts of the earth [i.e. Europe and Asia], but although widely separated from each other and roaming



Pliny (Nat. hist. VI.7.22). Procopius uses instead the form Sporoi, and he clearly connects them with the Antai. He writes, «In fact, the Σκλαβηνοί and Ἄνται actually had a single name in the remote past, for they were both called Σπόρους (= Spori) in olden times» (vol. 4, p. 272). New literature and discussions in Skržinskaja's commentary on Jordanes (note 70, p. 194) and two articles by Henryk Łowmiański in SSS 5 (1975), «Spalowie» (pp. 354-355) and «Sporowie» (p. 366).


Note that in Rus'ian manuscripts as early s the 1073 Izbornik of Svjatoslav the word ispolinǔ 'gigas, giant' occurs, cf. Max Vasmer, Russ. etym. Wörterbuch, vol. 1, p. 489.


(93) For a recent discussion see Łowmiański in SSS 5, p. 355.


(94) Rerum gestarum, ed. John C. Rolfe (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Mass., repr. 1958), vol. 3, p. 396.


(95) Tragoediae, ed. R. Peiper and G. Richter, Leipzig 1902, ll. 627 ff.


(96) See the discussion by E. G. Pulleyblank in Asia Major 9/2 (1963) 220.


(97) Curiously enough, Ptolemy (100-178) has a composite form of the name where both elements are present: Ἀλαναορσοι (Geographia, ed. C. Müller and C. Fischer, 2nd ed. [Paris 1901], VI.14, 9).


(98) Rerum gestarum, ed. J. C. Rolfe, vol. 3, pp. 390, 392, 394.





over vast tracts, as nomads do, yet in the course of history they have united under one name, and are, for short, all called Halani because of the similarity in their customs, their savage mode of life, and their weapons. . . the young men grow up in the habit of riding from their earliest boyhood and regard it as contemptible to go on foot; and by various forms of training they are all skilled warriors... They do not know the meaning of slavery, since all are of noble blood».


From data provided by Lucian (ca. 125-190), it has been assumed that the Alans «were engaged in a practice that modern anthropologists would classify as ritual adoption» [99]. The remarkable career of the Alans both in Constantinople and in Western Europe (Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain) has recently been studied by Bernard S. Bachrach [100].


The discrepancy in names -Halani in Ammianus Marcellinus, but Antes in Jordanes - in easily explained. The Antiochian Ammianus, residing in Rome, used the generic term known to everybody in the empire. The Gotho-Alan Jordanes, knowing from his people's tradition the precise designation for the particular type of Alans he was describing, used the word he considered correct.


Thus we take it that the Antes/Antai were the frontiersmen of the Alans, the warriors whose duty it was to have contact with the Alans' neighbors. This type of force was probably created by the Alans during the fourth century, as a response to the imperial ambitious of Hermanarich. As subsequent groups came into Eastern Europe - the Huns in 375 and later their successors, the Utiġur-Quturġur-Bulgars - they adopted this type of Ala-



(99) George Vernadsky, The origins of Russia, Oxford 1959, pp. 13-16.


(100) A history of the Alans in the West, Minneapolis 1973.





nic warriors for their own aims, and therefore the sources provide information about the Antai used by the newcomers.


Procopius (d. ca. 562) surely had in mind the Hunnic Antai when he located them in the frontier zone of the Maeotis (Sea of Azov) and Tanais (Don) regions to the north of the Hunnic Οὐτίγουροι. [101]


The Antai of the Proto-Bulgars were said by Procopius to be living on the Danube limes close to the [Pannonian Proto-] Bulgarian Σκλαβηνοί «at the time Justinian I [527-565] took over the Roman Empire» (vol. 6, p. 216). The Chilbudius episode in the year 546 is especially instructive concerning the mode of action of the Bulgarian Antai [102]. The Proto-Bulgarian Antai also occur in the «History» of Menander Protector (d. after 582) in the context of the story of Mezamiros [103]. All these instances show how jealously they guarded their freedom of action and how easily conflicts between them and the Sclaveni arose.


Emperor Justinian I established a special relationship with the Antai, who often supported him in his many wars. He made Anticus [104] a part of his official titulature, and in 545 he «expressed the desire that they should all settle in an [abandoned] ancient city, Turris by name, situated to the north of the river Ister [Danube]» [105]. From 545 to 602 the Antai usually cooperated with the Romans, but in about 560 the Avars began to assume the hegemony over Eastern Europe and to demand loyalty from the Antai. The tragedy of these warriors - who had



(101) Procopius, vol. 5, p. 84.


(102) Procopius, vol. 4, pp. 262, 264, 268, 270, 272, 274.


(103) Menander Protector, ed. Dindorf, HGM, vol. 2, pp. 5-6.


(104) Codex Justinianus in Corpus iuris civilis, ed. P. Krueger, vol. 2, 9th ed. (Berlin, 1915), p. 3.


(105) Procopius, vol. 4, p. 272.





striven for independence, especially in 602, and to change their masters (in this case, from the Avars to the Byzantines) - is presented in the seventh-century «History» of Theophylact Simocattes [106], and repeated in the «Chronicle» of Theophanes (760-818) [107]. These events of 602 mark the last time this group is named; at this point the Antai just disappear from history.





The word Antai is, as Max Vasmer has shown [108], of Iranian origin; the ending -tä is a typical plural suffix in the language of the Alans (and modern Ossetians). The root is the Iranian word anta = Sanskrit anta- 'frontier; end'. In developing this etymology further, one should note, beside the derivative in Iranian *ant-ya 'frontier-man, Ukrainian [in the original meaning of the word]', that Ossetian shows two parallel forms for *antya, one with /nt/ and the other with the geminate */tt/ > /dd/ : ändä and äddä 'behind'. These forms and the Syriac spelling anṭi-y-ū (where /ū/ is the plural suffix functionally equal to the Alanian /tä/), suggests that the Greek Antai /antä/ goes back to *antya-tä, which developed into *anttä [109] and then was simplified by degemination. This change suggests that the Byzantines first received the name either via the Proto-Bulgars or from the Turks; both linguistic groups tend to avoid geminates.


The term Antai, not unlike Winid-, appears to be a



(106) Historiae, ed. de Boor/Wirth, p. 293.


(107) «Chronography», ed. Čičurov, p. 34.


(108) Russisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, s.v. vjatiči, and a letter of February 1, 1958, published by Franz Altheim in his Geschichte der Hunnen, vol. 1, Berlin 1959, pp. 71, 76, 94.


(109) Vasilij Ivanovič Abaev, Istoriko-ètimologičeskij slovar' osetinskogo jazyka, vol. 1, Moscow-Leningrad 1958, pp. 104-105.





designation for frontierman, but most probably one using an Eastern Iranian lingua franca. Possibly the word was the creation of the Alans, and therefore Jordanes equated the Antes with the Spali/*Alani (§ 28).


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