Slavs in the Viking World Series: Slavs in Scandinavia
There were Slavs living on the shores of the Baltic since antiquity. In spite of the fact that the role Slavs played on the Baltic was considerable, it is not very well known in the West. It is interesting to see that the famous Norman Vikings who plundered so much of Western Europe completely failed to duplicate their feats against the Slavs dwelling on the shores of the Baltic. In fact, it is these very Slavs who often raided and pillaged the Norsemen instead!
These Slavic raids varied greatly in size and took place on Danish, Swedish, and even Norwegian soil. Their devastating nature is well testified in the literary works of the notable Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus. The Danes even frequently paid tribute to these Slavic tribes in order to avoid being raided. Many words of Slavic origin found their way to the Scandinavian vocabulary, even those that have to do with maritime issues, like the words for a “boat” or a “ferry”, and that fact is even recognized by Western scholars (for more details on that subject see Krystyna Pieradzka’s Walki Slowian na Baltyku w X-XII Wieku, Warszawa, 1953).
The Slavs who dwelled on the shores of the Baltic not only proved to be more than a match for the Norsemen on the waters of the Baltic Sea, but they are also known to have ventured outside and into the North Sea. Such forays took place during the Slavic raids against both Denmark and Norway.
Оn one occasion, during a campaign in 1043 AD, the Polabian Slavs first defeated a Danish fleet that was sent to capture Vineta, then took advantage of the victory by launching a naval expedition against Denmark. This expedition sailed south of Falster and Lolland, then between Jutland and Fionia, it fought a battle off Arhus, circumnavigated all of Jutland thus ending up on its western or North Sea side, and then crossed Schleswig by land (between the Danish strongholds of Schleswig and Haithabu), fighting much of the way in the process, and, after successfully completing the land crossing of Schleswig, safely returned by sea to Slavia. In the end, the Polabian Slavs managed to lay waste to many of Denmark’s coastal areas only during this one expedition.
Speaking of Slavs on the North Sea, one must also add that some Slavs actually lived on the shores of the North Sea, as partial settlement of Polabian Slavs is known to have taken place in areas on the North Sea to the west of Hamburg. Another noteworthy event is the participation of both Vielet and Polish warriors in a Danish expedition against England – these Slavic fighters not only crossed much of the North Sea, but even ended up fighting in distant England (see Gerard Labuda’s Slowianie na Baltyku, Szczecin-Tygodnik Wybrzeza, Nr. 24).
There is even some evidence of a more significant and permanent Slavic settlement in Scandinavia. For example, there are place names of Slavic origin in Denmark, and in Sweden there is at least one town that is named Wendel – and Wendel is an old Swedish name for Slavs, implying that the town was named after Slavs who must have founded it. In fact, it was originally an old Germanic designation for Slavs, at least the Western ones, and it was derived from the name of the proto-Slavic Venedi (also known as Veneti, Vineti, or Vinedi).
Wendel is also found as a surname in Scandinavia, and it is sometimes even used as a first name in the English-speaking and Germanic-speaking countries. For instance, Patrick Hankes and Flavia Hodges in their Oxford Dictionary of First Names, (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, Oxford/New York, 1996 (c 1990), have to say the following about the origin of that name: “(m.) German: from an old Germanic personal name, in origin an ethnic byname for a Wend, a member of the Slavonic people living in the area between the [Laba/]Elbe and the [Odra/]Oder…”(that is, the Obodriti tribe). The same book also states that the given names of Wendelin, Wenda, and Wanda are of the same derivation.
Previously, we defined the term viking and gave an outline of their history, and now we’ve established the presence of Slavs in Scandinavia . This article has been just an introduction, so stay tuned as we delve deeper into this subject in the rest of the series.
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