Definitions

wends way

Wends

[wend]
The term Wends (Wenden, Winden, Vendere, Vender) is used in Germanic languages for Slavs living near or within Germanic (later German) settlement areas after the migration period. Therefore, this term does not describe a homogeneous people, but is rather applied to various peoples, tribes or groups depending on where and when it is (or was) used.

Today, the term Wends is used primarily in historical contexts, but may also refer to Kashubs, Sorbs or people of Sorbian descent (e.g. Texas Wends).

People termed Wend in the course of history

It is believed that Germanic peoples originally adopted the ethnonym from the ancient Veneti and after the migration period transferred it to their new easterly neighbours, the Slavs (see Relation between Veneti and Slavs for further details).

For the medieval Scandinavians, a Wend (Vender) was a Slav originating from the southern shore of the Baltic sea (Vendland), the term was therefore used to refer to Polabian Slavs like Obotrites, Rugian Slavs, Veleti and Pomeranian tribes.

For people living in medieval Northern Holy Roman Empire and its precursors, especially for the Saxons, a Wend (Wende) was a Slav living west of the Oder River area, an area entitled later as Germania Slavica, settled by the Polabian tribes mentioned above in the north and others, e.g. the Sorbs and the Milceni, in the south.

The Germans in the South used the term Winde instead of Wende and applied it, just as the Germans in the North, to Slavs they had contact with, e.g. Polabian people from Bavaria Slavica or the Slovenians (the names Windic march and Windisch Feistritz are still testimony to this historical denomination).

Following the 8th century, nearly all wendish land was organized in marches by the Frankish kings and their successors. By the 12th century, all wendish lands had become part of the Holy Roman Empire. In the course of the Ostsiedlung, reaching its peak in the 12th to 14th centuries, this land was settled by Germans and in all meanings reorganized. The term Wends now referred to Slavic-speaking minorities within the empire, whereas the Slavs east of the new border were not termed Wends, but Poles, Czechs etc.

Due to the process of assimilation following German settlement, many Slavs mixed with the Germans and/or adopted their culture and language. Only some rural communities that did not show strong admixture with Germans and continued to use West Slavic languages tongues were still termed Wends. With the gradual decline of the use of these local Slavic tongues, the term Wends slowly disappeared, too.

Today, only two groups of Wends still exist: the Lusatian Sorbs in present-day eastern Germany and the Pomeranian Kashubs in present-day northern Poland. Yet, today they are referred to as Sorbs and Kashubs rather than Wends.

History of the Wends

Early sources

In the third book of his Geographia, Ptolemy mentions the Ouenedai among other dwellers on the Baltic shore in the middle of the 2nd century CE. Some early scholars suggested the Ouenedai are synonymous with the Wends, however, based on linguistic facts, modern academic views now argue that the Ouenedai were ethnolinguistically different from Slavs and hence cannot be equated with Wends.

Rise (500-1000 AD)

As a part of the Slavic migrations in the first millennium, splitting the just evolved Slav ethnicity into Southern, Eastern and Western groups, some West Slavs moved into the areas between the Elbe and Oder Rivers from east to west and from south to north. There, they assimilated the remaining Germanic population that had not left the area in the Migration period. Their German neighbors adapted the term they had been using for peoples east of the Elbe River before to the Slavs, calling them Wends as they called the Venedi before and probably the Vandals also.

While the Wends were arriving in so-called Germania Slavica as large homogeneous groups, they soon divided into a variety of small tribes, with large strips of woodland separating one tribal settlement area from another. Their tribal names were derived from local place names, sometimes adopting the Germanic tradition (e.g. Heveller from Havel, Rujanes from Rugians). Settlements were secured by round burghs made of wood and clay, where either people could retreat in case of a raid from the neighboring tribe or used as military strongholds or outposts.

Some tribes unified to larger, duchy-like units. E.g., the Obotrites evolved from the unification of the Holstein and Western Mecklenburg tribes led by mighty dukes known for their raids into German Saxony. The Pomeranians, the only Wends east of the Oder River (in contrast, the Poles south of the Warthe River are not called Wends), emerged from the tribes north of the Warthe River and around the mouth of the Oder River, and were led by a duke, too. The Liutizians were an alliance of tribes living between Obotrites and Pomeranians. They did not unify under a duke, but remained independent and had their leaders meet and decide in the temple of Rethra.

The Wends of Pomerania are named by Saxo Grammaticus as having taken part in the Battle of Bråvalla on the side of the Danes.

In 983, many Wend tribes participated in a great uprising against the Holy Roman Empire, which before had established Christian missions, German colonies and German administrative institutions (Marken such as Nordmark and Billungermark) in pagan Wendish territories. The uprising was successful and the Wends delayed Germanisation for about two centuries.

Decline (1000-1200 AD)

After that victory, Wends were under increasing pressure from Germans, Danes and Poles. The Polish invaded Pomerania several times. The Danish often raided the Baltic shores (and, in turn, were often raided by the Wends). The Holy Roman Empire and its margraves tried to restore their marches.

In 1068/69, a German expedition took and destroyed Rethra, one of the major pagan Wend temples. The Wendish religious centre shifted to Arkona thereafter. In 1124 and 1128, the Pomeranians and some Liutizians were baptised. In 1147, the Wend crusade took place.

In 1168 during the Northern Crusades, Denmark mounted a crusade lead by Bishop Absalon and King Valdemar the Great against the Wends of Rugia in order to convert them to Christianity. They captured and destroyed Arkona, the Wendish temple fortress, and tore down the statue of the Wendish god, Svantevit. With the capitulation of the Rugian Wends, the last independent pagan Wendish were defeated by the surrounding Christian feudal powers.

From 12th to 14th century, German colonists were called in the Wend lands and settled there in large numbers, changing the area from Slav to German. The settlers were called in by local dukes and monasteries to repopulate land devastated in the wars, to cultivate the large woodlands and heavy soils that have not been settled before, and to found cities as part of the "Ostsiedlung" (German eastward expansion).

The German population assimilated most of the Wends, making them disappear as an ethnic minority except for parts of the Kashubs and Sorbs. The Polabian language survived until the beginning of the 19th century in what is now the German state of Lower Saxony. Yet, many place names and some family names in eastern Germany still are of Wendish origin today. Also, the Dukes of Mecklenburg, of Rügen and of Pomerania had Wendish ancestors.

Between 1540 and 1973, the kings of Sweden were officially called king of the Swedes, the Geats and the Wends (in Latin translation king of Suiones, Goths and Vandals) (Sw. Svears, Götes och Wendes Konung). The current monarch, Carl XVI Gustaf would be able to use the same title, but chose his royal title to be simply King of Sweden (Sveriges Konung), thereby changing an age-old tradition.

Since the Middle Age, the kings of Denmark and Denmark–Norway carried the titles King of the Wends and Goths. The use of both titles was discontinued in 1972.

Other uses

The term Wends was also used in history in the following meanings:

  1. The Franks referred to most Slavs living between the Oder and Elbe rivers as either Wends or Sorbs, while in Slavic literature these people are called Polabian Slavs.
  2. Until mid 19th Century, it used to be the most common German name for Slovenians. With the diffusion of the term slowenisch for the Slovenian language and Slowenen for Slovenes, the words windisch and Winde or Wende became a derogatory one. The same development could be seen in the case of the Hungarian Slovenes which used to be known under the name "Vends".
  3. In general, a German name for West Slavic people formerly inhabiting territories of pre-World War II Pomerania and historical eastern Germany. The term Wends was used in connection to all Slavs west of Poland and north of BohemiaPolabians, Pomeranians and Sorbs. It was also used to denote the Slovaks in German texts before ca. 1400.
  4. German and English name for Sorbs (White Serbs), a Slavic people who moved into Central Europe during the great migration, most likely in response to pressure by the westward movement of warlike peoples such as the Huns and Avars. Some of their descendants, also called Wends or Lusatian Sorbs (Łužyski Serby), still live in Lusatia today, where the Sorbian language is maintained in schools. Many Wends were driven out of the Kingdom of Prussia during the Revolutions of 1848. Many Lusatian Wends immigrated to countries that welcomed them as a source of cheap labor, including the United States and Australia. In the United States, the majority of Wends settled in Texas, where they became some of the earliest members of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran church. A notable settlement of Wends in Texas is the town of Serbin, in Lee County, where a church, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, stands as a typical example of Wendish architecture. In St. Paul's, the pulpit is located in the balcony of the church.
  5. A Finnish historian, Matti Klinge, has speculated that the words Wends or Vandals used in Scandinavian sources occasionally meant all peoples of the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea from Pomerania to Finland, including some Finnic peoples. The existence of these supposed Finnic Wends is far from clear. In the 13th century there was indeed a people called Wends or Vends living as far as northern Latvia around the city of Wenden and it is not known if they were indeed Slavs as their name suggests. Some researchers think they were related to Finnic-speaking Votians.
  6. Some sources speculate that, after the late 8th Century Slav migrations following on the earlier Germanic migrations, Wendish settlements in the Adriatic coastal area of confluence between Italian Romans, Germans, and Slavs gave rise to the name: Venezia / Venise / Venedig (Venice).

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