Page images

wagons drawn by oxen, and covered in the form of tents, the ordinary abode of their wives and children. In this they resembled the more ancient Scythians, according to the earliest description of that people.* The strength of their armies. was in bands of fleet horsemen. Their arms were strong bows, with quivers of arrows, headed by fish-bones in the want of iron, and dipped in poison. Though of a different race from the modern Kalmuks, they resembled that nomadic people in all the particulars of their roving and predatory life.

All these habits were unknown to the German tribes, who had fixed or permanent houses and villages or towns, whose armies consisted of foot-soldiers, and who among barbarous nations were equally distinguished for the cleanliness of their habits, and for the comparative purity of their morals. In two remarkable traits the Germans differed from the Sarmatic, as well as from the Slavic nations, and indeed from all those other races to whom the Greeks and Romans give the designation of barbarians. I allude to their personal freedom, and regard for the rights of men; secondly, to the respect paid by them to the female sex, and the chastity for which the latter were celebrated among the people of the north. These were the foundations of that probity of character and self-respect and purity of manners, which may be traced among the Germans and Goths even during pagan times, and which when their sentiments were enlightened by Christianity, brought out those splendid traits of character which distinguish the age of chivalry and romance. The Sarmatæ had all the vices of orientals: their polygamy, their sensuality, and their abject servility. Nor were the nations whose name furnished the modern languages with a term for slave, in any of these instances superior to the Sarmatæ. The Venedi, as Tacitus informs us, agreed with the Germans in dwelling in fixed houses, in travelling on foot, and in using in battle the defence of shields: unlike them, they inhabited not open steppes, but woody and mountainous tracts. The Sclaveni described by Procopius lived in miserable cabins, solitary, and scattered at remote distances from each other among the woods, not collected into villages: they

• Σκύθας δ ̓ ἀφίξει νομάδας οἵ πλεκτὰς στέγας
Πεδάρσιοι ναίουσ ̓ ἐπ ̓ εὐκύκλοις ὄχοις.-Prom. Vinct.

were neglectful of ordinary personal comforts, and covered with squalid filthiness. They were almost naked savages. Some of them had not even a coat or cloak to cover them, and wore no clothing but hose up to their waists, which they put on when they went to battle. For the rest, they had no defensive armour about their bodies. battle carrying short bucklers and javelins in their hands. At other times they were accustomed to lie in solitary ambush behind a bush or a rock, and to wait with patience for an opportunity of seizing suddenly upon their enemy.+

Most of them went to

SECTION VI. Of the Mythology of the Slavic Nations.

As the Slavic nations have preserved no relics of ancient literature or even of traditional poetry from periods of remote antiquity, nearly all that we know of their mythology must be collected from incidental notices given by foreign writers. Procopius has left a few general remarks; but it is evident that he possessed very little information on this subject. Some brief accounts of the destruction of idolatry in Russia are to be found in the narratives of Christian missionaries who planted the true religion in that country. The superstitions of the Western Slaves or Obotrites and their kindred tribes have furnished the subject of many works of research published by German writers, who have treated it rather in the manner of antiquarians than in that of philosophical investigation. The principal sources of knowledge are passages in the works of some old historians who have described the Obotrites and other Wendish tribes in the north of Germany, while they were still subsisting in their independent states, and maintaining a protracted struggle in defence of their liberty and pagan superstition against the Saxon princes and the Teutonic knights.‡

̓Αναξυρίδας ἐναρμοσάμενοι μέχρι ἐς τὰ αἰδοῖα. Procop. Bell. Gotth. iii. 14. Corpus Byzant. tom. ii. p. 132.

The fifth volume of Karamsin's history contains a good picture of the manners and civil condition of the Russians; but this refers to a later date than the period in which I have endeavoured to trace the ethnographical characters of the Slavic race.

The worship of the heathen gods among the Obotrites or Wends of Mecklenburg reaches down within the historical age of Germany, to a period at which we

be so

Though the ancient Slavi were, as we have seen, a very rude and barbarous people, they appear to have been elevated in their religious ideas and their conceptions of the nature of the Deity far above the Turanian nations and the Siberians, who worshipped the material and visible universe, and were addicted to the superstition of the Schamanists, or the Fetisism of the North. They held, as we shall observe, the oriental dogma of two principles, which gives evidence that their belief was connected with the ancient religion of Iran. They were polytheists in the sense in which most nations may termed; that is, they believed the existence of many invisible agents, but they supposed all of them to be under the command of a supreme ruler. "The Sclaveni-Exλabйvo-says Procopius, worship one God, the maker of lightning-τὸν τῆς ̓Αστραπῆς inpiovpyóv. They regard him as the sole governor of the universe, and sacrifice to him oxen and victims of all descriptions. They likewise pay veneration to rivers and nymphs and some other inferior divinities: to all these they perform offerings and sacrifices, in the midst of which they make divinations."*

might look for authentic and correct accounts. There are three German historians of the middle ages who are regarded as principal sources of information on the mythology and worship of the Slavi. The first of these is Dithmar, a Count of Waldeck and bishop of Merseburg. This writer lived at the beginning of the eleventh century, at a period when the idolatrous worship of the Obotrites at Rhetra, which was its principal centre, had been restored, after a temporary abolition, effected through the zeal of Christian missionaries and princes. He wrote a chronicle of the history of Henry I. and the three Othos, and died before the year 1030. His work was published at Helmstadt in 1667, and was included by Leibnitz in his collection of the Brunswick historians. The second writer is Adam of Bremen, who lived in the same century, had much intercourse with the Wends, particularly the Wagrians or W'ends of Holstein, and wrote an ecclesiastical history, extending from the year 778 to 1072. A third writer is Helmoldus, whose history of the Slavi or "Chronica Slavorum" was published by Henry Bangert, at Lubeck, in 1702. These three historians treat almost exclusively of the western branches of the Wends in Mecklenburg and Holstein. There are a few scattered notices to be collected from other writers respecting the superstitions of the more eastern tribes of the same stock, as the Sorabians, the Moravians, Bohemians, Poles, and Russians. Lastly, considerable light has been thrown on the same subject, by the remains of statues and figures of the Slavonic gods, and the implements of superstitious rites, which have been found in different parts of the Wendish country, and particularly, as we shall have occasion to observe, by some curious and unexpected discoveries of inscriptions in Mecklenburg.

* Procop. Cæsariens. Bell. Gotth. ubi supra.

The assertion that the Slavonic nations, notwithstanding their polytheism and the worship paid by them to inferior divinities, believed in the existence of one supreme God, under whom all the rest acted as subordinate agents, is confirmed by Helmoldus, who was well acquainted by personal intercourse with the Obotrites and the northern Wends. He says,* Among the various deities whom they suppose to preside over fields and forests, pain and pleasure, they nevertheless confess the more powerful God in heaven who rules the rest, and employs himself merely in heavenly affairs. The other gods they believe to follow separate duties, and to be his offspring; and the nearer each is to that God of gods, the better they consider him." Karamsin, the learned historian of the Russian empire, is of opinion that the "Slavi, in the midst of their foolish superstitions, believed in the existence of one allpowerful Divinity, to whom the immensity of the skies, embellished with the sparkling light of the stars, formed a temple worthy of his supreme greatness; who while his attention was occupied with higher matters, confided to his offspring the government of the earth. To him," as Karamsin supposes, "the Slavi erected no temple, being persuaded that mortals can hold no communication with him; and that in their necessities they must have recourse to gods of a second order, whose office it is to give timely aid to brave and virtuous men."+

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The religion of the Slavi contained the dualism of the Iranian nations, and the opposition of the good and evil principles, the

* Chronica Slavorum Helmoldi Presbyteri Bosoniensis, et Arnoldi, Abbatis Lubecensis, à quibus Res Slavicæ et Saxonicæ fere à tempore Caroli Magni usque ad Ottonem IV. exponuntur, Henr. Bangertus è MSS. codicibus recensuit et notis illustravit. Lubecæ, 1559. 4to.

“Helmoldus,” says Bangert, lived “eâ ætate quà hæc nostra Lubeca condita est, i.e. circa A.D. 1140." He was a missionary among the Wagrians, and had a temple and domuncula in Bosow, near the Lacus Plönensis, and was thence called Presbyter Bosoniensis. The coast of the Baltic was then subject to the pagan Slavi, and Hamburg was in their possession. How they came into the country previously possessed by the Vandili is explained by Helmoldus in lib. i. c. 2. He used the help and authority of Geroldus, the last bishop of Aldenburg in Wagria, and the first of Lubeck. Nobody before Helmoldus wrote so fully on the history of the Slavi. He died 1170. Arnoldus continued his Chronica down to 1198.

+ Karamsin, Hist. of the Russian Empire, tom. 1.

former identified with light, the latter with darkness. The former was termed, as we learn from Helmoldus and others, Veli-bogc,* or the White god; the latter Czerne-bogc, or the Black divinity. Czerne-boge, or Tschernebog, was represented even in the temples of the Wends on the Baltic, a circumstance which points to their Asiatic origin, under the figure of a lion. To him appeasing sacrifices are supposed to have been offered. Sviatovid, or the god of light, was worshipped in the isle of Rugen. Peroun, or the god of thunder, was the principal divinity of the Russians, whose image was publicly destroyed on the introduction of Christianity. The Obotrites and other Wendish nations in Germany worshipped many different gods, adopted in part, as it would appear, from the Teutonic tribes whom they succeeded. The following is an enumeration of some of the most remarkable. The Sorabians or Wends of Lausitz or Lusatia assigned the first place to Swantewit and Radagast. The Moravians worshipped Peron or Pierun, Radgost or Radegast, Witislaw and the Krasopani ;§ the Bohemians, Peron, together with Swantewit:|| the Poles had nearly the same gods. According to the opinion of Alexander Guanini,¶ they worshipped the sun, which was Swantewit, or the sacred light of other Wendish nations; the moon; and tempest, which they termed Pogwist. Jupiter was termed by them. Jessa; Pluto, Lacton; Ceres, Nia; Venus, Marzana; Diana, Zievonia; Castor and Pollux, Lelus and Potetus. John Duglossus further adds, that Mars was called Liadu; Venus, Djedijielia; and tempests, Pogoda.**

A very remarkable collection of Slavic remains was dis

*Bog or Boga means God in the Slavic language. This was also a Bulgarian word. It is observed in the "Panoplia Dogmatica" of Nicetas Choniates Acominatus, Βόγ, ἡ τῶν Βουλγάρων γλῶσσα καλεῖ τὸν Θεόν. (Montfaucon, Palæogr. Græc. p. 333.)

+ Masch mentions the gods of the Prussians, of whom Hartknoch has given an account among the objects of worship among the Wends. But the Prussians were, as we shall see, not Wends, but a different race. Hartknoch says that Percunus and Picollo or Potrimpi were their principal deities.

Abr. Frenzel de Diis Soraborum in G. Hoffmann's Scriptorum Lusat. Collect.


§ T. G. Stredowski, Sacra Moraviæ Historiæ, Solislar. 1710.

|| Paul Stransky, Resp. Bohem. Lugd. Bat. 1634.

¶ Descriptio Sarmat. Europ. 1581.

** Hist. Polon. lib. i. ed. 1711.

« PreviousContinue »