A New Look at Slovene History

By Anton Škerbinc

The historical fact that Vinidi, Wenden, or Veneti--as Slovenes were called in the past--were an indigenous people of the Alpine region went unchallenged until around the middle of the 19th century. At that time, German and Austrian historians began researching possibilities to discredit and suppress it. Backed by a strong nationalistic environment, they created, without documentary or archeological evidence, theories that "proved" the Slovenes were not indigenous West Slavs but rather a branch of South Slavs who reached the eastern Alps in the 6th century A.D. These and similar inventions became established around that time as the official history of the Slovenes. They were further elaborated early in the 20th century. Research in Slovene studies at any university, including the Department of History in Slovenia, is done within this framework.

Only since the middle of the 1980's has there developed among concerned Slovenes (outside the historiographic establishment) an open rebellion against the invented history. Central to the undertaking are the findings of three Slovene researchers: Matej Bor, Jožko Šavli, and Ivan Tomažič. They published their studies in German, Slovene, Italian, and finally in English under the title Veneti: First Builders of European Community. A Russian translation is to appear soon.

Two reviews published recently corroborate the findings of the above three researchers.

The prestigious journal Revue des Études Slaves, Paris (LXX/l, 1998), published the essay "The Theory of the Veneti in Slovenia: A Problem of History, Historiography, or Ideology?" by Professor Antonia Bernard (translated into English in Canada). She is apologetic for not having studied the Venetic theory more thoroughly, but it is clear she has considerable knowledge in the field, and her paper is well researched. Part of the essay is presented here.

In regard to the name "Veneti," she says, "The Fredegarii Chronicon supports their thesis, since in 623 AD it equates the Veneti with the Slavs: 'Sclavi coinomento Vinedos,' and speaks of the 'marca Winedorum' and the 'Walucus dux Winedorum.' The same theme occurs in the 'Vitae S. Columbani,' where the author speaks of the 'country of the Veneti who consider themselves also Slavs' [Termini Venetiorum qui et Sclavi dicuntur]."

In support of the indigenous status of the Slovenes in their present homeland, the three authors submitted countless pieces of evidence concerning all areas under study. In essence, all their writings are but a clarification of this one historical fact, Professor Bernard elaborates'. "

... they energetically refute the idea that their Slavic ancestors came from the marshlands east of the Carpathians during the 6th century. On the contrary, they see themselves as the original inhabitants who lived in the area before the Roman Empire. This is how Ivan Tomažič explains the theory: 'My intention is to present ... in a clear and accessible manner, important evidence showing that we Slovenes are a people rooted in central Europe since time immemorial. We created our own social system, and the first form of statehood before the Roman times (Noric Kingdom). We reestablished them in the Middle Ages, and we have maintained the same foundations of social and judicial organization in the traditions of our village community up to modem times . . . "'

There were in the past other Slovene intellectuals who had the same understanding. We should also acknowledge the Italian researcher Guiseppe Sergi, who considered Slovenes to have resided in their present homeland since prehistoric times and were descendants of the Proto-Slavic Veneti. Professor Bernard concurs: "However, we should be aware that these theories that unite the Slavs and the Veneti in former times, if even considered by other West Slavs, notably the Poles, do not represent anything new for the Slovenes. At the beginning of this century, J. Mal, H. Tuma, and D. Trstenjak undertook some research in this direction. For the first Slovenian historians such as J.V. Valvasor (1641-93) or A.T. Linhart (1756-95), there was no doubt about the identity between Veneti, Slavs, and the residents of Carniola [Slovenia]." She adds: " . . . one has to admit that these amateurs bring something like a breath of fresh air to the Slovene historiography which until now was idling in its cozy microcosm of unquestioned absolutes."

When Communist rule began to crumble in the mid 1980's and some degree of freedom of speech had been regained, Slovenes wanted to reexamine their history. This was of great importance because they had been denied this right for many centuries. Professor Bernard assesses it this way: "The myth of Napoleon, liberator of the Slovenes and founder of Yugoslavia, was never questioned by the professional historians, any more than 'Illyria Revived,' the famous poem by Vodnik (1811), in which the poet considers the Illyrians, that is to say, the Slovenes, as indigenous residents and their civilization to have preceded that of the Romans. Our amateur historians do not say anything different. Could there be a history for historians, and another one for the people?"

About the advantages to be gained from the work of the three authors, Professor Bernard states: "As far as the Venetic theory in Slovenia is concerned, one has to point out that the published works, as well as the ensuing polemics, have served to awaken in the public at large an interest in history which cannot hurt this discipline." And she adds: "As to the underlying problems raised by the Venetic theory, these go far beyond the Slovenian context and should be looked at from a regional as well as a European point of view."

Another significant item on the Venetic theory appeared recently in The Augustan, the intonational journal of the Augustan Society, California, where Veneti: First Builders of European Community was reviewed by Professor Charles Bryant-Abraham. A small portion of his review is presented here.

Among other introductory thoughts Professor Bryant-Abraham states: " . . . two ideologically driven trends of thought have shaped the course of Slovenian studies over the past 150 years: the German and the Pan-Slavic (Russian) Historical Schools. Each sought to establish its own cultural hegemony over strategically and economically important tracts of real estate, including the Slovenian homeland.

"Veneti, the book under review, comes to mount a serious, well-substantiated challenge both to the official occidental (German) and oriental (Russian) histories of not only Slovenian cultural and linguistic development but indeed of Europe itself."

He continues: "A Proto-Slavic speech community had divided into Proto-West Slavic and Proto-East Slavic dialects some time before the formation of the Lusatian Culture (ca. 1300-ca. 1100 B.C.E.) and had also extended throughout a great part of Western and Central Europe and as far as Paphlagonia, the northern coast of Asia Minor. There, according to Homer (11. ii, 85), they (hoi Henetoi) specialized in the breeding of 'wild mules.' Šavli's valid findings from his analysis of European toponymy (Veneti, 13-47) adequately establish an infra-structural Slavic presence throughout these regions. This conclusion is equally supported by Bor's chapter, 'Similarity of the Slovene, Latvian, and Breton Words.' (Veneti, 324-33 1) The reviewer has also carried out the homework for this independently, inducing him to inevitable concurrence with Bor's results. The significance of Bor's discovery of a layer of Slavic loanwords in Breton cannot be overstated.... Bor has clearly established the existence of Slavic loans in Breton and this fact strongly suggests that prior to the arrival in Armorica of the Brythonic (Insular P-Celtic) speaking refugees fleeing the Saxon invasions of South Britain, the indigenous Venetic population had indeed been Slavic. That a knowledge of Slovenian dialectology enabled Bor to proceed in his analysis is itself of importance."

Professor Bryant-Abraham takes note of another important and interesting detail: "Furthermore, we can henceforth assert that St. Jerome, born ca. 347 at Stridon, near modem Ljubljana, very probably spoke the Slavic regional dialect (Venetic), for in his Commentary to Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (see Veneti, p. 463), he explains the name Tychicus as 'Tychicus enim silens interpretatur,' 'Tychicus actually means silent.' The Slovenian adjective tih, Štix], means 'silent' and emerges as a highly probable Venetic loan into St. Jerome's Latin, which would have suffixed the adjectival desinence -icus.

"We discover that Etruscan inscriptions betray a gradual process of linguistic fusion (akin to that of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French) upon an earlier Slavic substrat, extant prior to the arrival of the Lydian or Hittite immigration. Again here, it is a knowledge of Slovenian dialectology that allowed Bor to decipher the earlier inscriptions. "We are brought to appreciate the fact that it is specifically Slovenian dialectology that provides the missing key to a meaningful reading of early Venetic, Phrygian, Rhaetian, and Yapodic inscriptions, even permitting a partial reconstruction of Venetic grammar. The task had facilely eluded every preceding Venetologist and, for his pioneering achievement in this field, the reviewer would advance the candidacy of Matej Bor for academic acclaim." (Veneti, 174-420).

Professor Bryant-Abraham further comments: "The problem had heretofore maintained its intransigence simply because no Venetologist had yet brought into the arena a thorough working knowledge of Slovenian dialectology. Specifically herein resides the genius of Bor's contribution."

Those who seriously wish to examine this problem point by point will find Veneti: First Builders of European Community very helpful. The most thorough work in the English language on the Venetic theory and its relation to the modem Slovenes, Veneti presents a wide selection of details on every aspect of the subject covered by Professors Bernard and Bryant-Abraham.

Veneti: First Builders of European Community is published by Editiones Veneti, Vienna 1996, translated and printed in Canada, hardbound with an attractive dustcover, 534 pages, 150 illustrations, index. Price in the USA, Australia, and other destinations 29 USD, in Canada 34 CAD. Postage included. Quantity discounts are available. Write to Anton Škerbinc, Site 1, Box 17, R.R. 1, Boswe1l B.C., V0B 1A0 Canada.

From Slovenija, Quarterly Magazine, Spring No. 1/2000 Vol. XIV, pages 49-50.


For criticism of this topic, please contact Anton Skerbinc
who is anton at kootenay dot com
I don't know much more than what is presented and he sells his English translation of the book on Veneti and knows much more than I.

More on my web site

Book Review by Charles Bryant-Abraham

Thorough Review by Antonia Bernard

Another Review by Anton Škerbinc

Recommended on other web sites:

Links on Prah.net

Forum Veneti on Niagara.com has changed to Carantha.net

Dr. Jožko Šavli wrote me asking me to include this link!

Veneti on Angelfire.com

There are other sites that have been suggested, but I think this enough for you to get started.

James R. Dangel
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