Life in a Slavic Tribe, part 2 – Pomeranian Chronicles
Before reading, we recommend that you read the first part, which introduces the series and the topics. You can do so here.
The men spent a lot of time outside their home fishing, hunting, practicing piracy, training fighting skills etc. The roles of women changed throughout the ages. The further back we look, the closer we get to the Sarmatian „head hunting“ maidens. We know of examples of female leaders of military groups in the VII century. Women participated in the expansion of Pomeranians to eastern Dennmark. Yet the further we look into the future, all Western Slavonic groups were becoming more and more patriarchal, with a clear separation of roles and both social and cultural views on men and women became crystallized. In Xth century, when Czechs, Moravians, Poles and Polabians still spoke the same language, the women were already practically house centered. They did protect the house when necessary, but they were mostly doing the typically female works. Even in the areas of village and farm work, such as works on fields or with cattle, they did not take a significant part. They neither played any roles in the fields of politics and religion.
A prevalent custom among other cultures and tribes since the ancient times, one of the ways of demographic control was killing newborn female babies. Many people attribute this custom to ancient Rome or Sparta, but it was widespread throughout Europe.
On one hand, the Pomeranian culture supported having daughters due to the custom of the “buying of the bride” from the father by a fiancée for quite a price – some historians comment that having daughters meant wealth and having sons meant losing it. On the other hand, demographic disproportion lead to bigamy among wealthy men. Prince Wracisław, the elder brother of the legendary Racibor I of the Gryphite dynasty, had to divorce his 24 wives to marry a Christian woman. Notwithstanding, bigamy (and polygamy) as well as the tragedy of killing newborn girls were mere necessities of that time. It had nothing to do with orgies or perversion. Prostitution was forbidden and impossible by the moral standards of those times; the women would have died anyway as they could not sustain themselves alone.
Breaking the fidelity in marriage was punished in different ways among different tribes, but the punishments were always very harsh and in most cases resulted in death. Polabian Redars would bake the unfaithful husbands and wives in ovens as punishment from their supreme God – Swarożyc (Sun). Poles would nail men by the ballsack to a tree and give a knife to the cheater. He could either kill himself or cut off his balls, maybe survive, and live in humiliation. This practice was actually still popular even in Christian times. Pomeranians used to exile both of the participants in the act of unfaithfulness from the village under one condition: the lovers had to stay connected by genitals all the way out of the settlement. Because most people would interrupt them in any manner they could, they would be killed on the spot. Stability in marriage and family was necessary for the survival of the tribe. “Free-love” was technically illegal back then. Now let’s continue to the other aspect of family life.
Slaves couldn’t have families. When members of the same family were taken into slavery, they would always be separated and given to different owners. Slaves were acquired in many different ways. The most obvious ones were wars, pirate raids and trade. Some poor families or people with debt would sell their children or themselves to slavery, just like in ancient Rome. Slavery was also used as form of punishment for certain crimes.
Sometimes one could become a slave by bad luck, for example when wandering in foreign lands, being beaten up and put into chains by a local who needed help in his work. And that was a unique trait when compared to other cultures infamous for slavery. In Rome and Sparta, it was slaves who were doing everything that needed to be done to sustain the house and the life of their owners. Among western Slavonics, the slave was… a part of the family. Obviously not by blood, but by dependence and hierarchy relations. This approach made a whole world of difference in the eyes of the law. Slaves worked WITH, not exclusively FOR their owners.
Wealthier tribesmen had their own servants who were free people paid for their work, and who – if they were able to – had their own families or even houses.
Pomeranian society of the early medieval age, same as any other of that time, was a society of young people. Life was fast, short and intensive. Statistically, life expectancy was approximately 30 years. Old age would raise one’s status as much as accumulated wealth or military fame would.
The old and the ill in many societies of that time would be exiled or left on streets to beg and die. Yet in Pomerania, even the poorest tribe – the Ruyani (Rani, Rugii) was described by chroniclers, who were hostile towards them, as very protective and – as we would say today – humane. According to historians of that time, there were neither beggars nor sick people on the territory of the Ruyani tribe. The old and sick were a responsibility of their closest relative. Although it may seem a bit radical and funny, it is a fact, according to chroniclers, that if a Pomeranian would not shelter a person in need, his neighbors were allowed to burn his house down. If one didn’t share food with the hungry, he was despised. Interestingly enough, one of the oldest names for settlements among Slavs on all territories was “Radogost” or “Radohost,” where “rado” means “glad, eager” and “gost” means “guest”. Slavonics were always described as cruel and merciless for the enemy, but loving and caring for their own people. Their hospitality was always strange for outside observers and accented in descriptions of them.
Another thing that surprised Christian missionaries was the fact that stealing from each other was practically nonexistent among Pomeranians, and asking for help wasn’t abused because it was not any reason for pride. They go as far as to claim that there was no word for “stealing” in the language of those “pagans”.
The Pomeranians also had a statistically higher percentage of warriors and armed people in their tribe than the average for that period of time, which was approx. 10-15% of population, so they weren’t the first choice of people with malicious intentions to prey on. The high militarization of Pomerania was a source of its stability and the reason why they were the last of the Slavonic pagans. Life of those tribes was calm – for those times – for approximately six centuries. Raids between Pomerania and Denmark, the closest significantly hostile neighbour were very one-sided. Pomeranians (and let’s be honest, mostly Ranians who hated Danes the most) got to the point where they exterminated what is estimated as a 1/3 of the whole Danish population. The Baltic Slavs, when asked for help from Frankish rulers, even in their internal dispute were able to send an army of the enormous size of 100.000 knights. They also managed to gather a fleet of historical size and power, destroy the whole Danish fleet on their way to the religious and economical center of the entire Scandinavia which they burned to the ground. To this day, this is the biggest pirate raid in known history, and for many centuries it was the most massive naval military operation.
If you wish to learn more about that, read our article about the conquest of Konungahela by prince Racibor.
In the following articles from this series, we hope to cover other aspects of everyday life in early medieval Pomerania such as food, settlements, war, death rituals, sailing and their view on the afterlife, and other. If you want to read about houses and wealth of early medieval Slavs, click here for the first part.