Do you know that one third of today’s Germany territory was once Slavic? Do you know that today we could have one more Slavic country, a Wendland? Do you know that philosopher Nietzsche and Chancellor Bismarck had Slavic ancestors? A long time ago, all the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, which is the possible proto-homeland of all Slavs, belonged to different tribes of the Baltic Slavs. They were cruel pirates, gifted craftsmen, skilled merchants and fierce warriors (maybe the most fierce of all Slavs). Why did they disappear? The Baltic Slavs belonged to the Lechitic group, which also included the Poles.
The tribal unions and the most important tribes of the Baltic Slavs were:
The Wagry a tribe inhabiting the Wagria peninsula. Later they joined the Obodrite confederacy. Being at the crossroads between Danes and Germans, they suffered the first and the most. After bloody uprisings, their country was depopulated.
The Rane or Rujane based on the island of Rujan (contemporary Rügen) and the southwestern mainland across the Strelasund in what is today northeastern Germany. Rujane were considered to be the main West Slavic tribe because they had the sacred temple dedicated to the Sventovit god in legendary Arkona and the sacred king who didn’t have any actual power. Actually, a priest ruled the island. Still those kings were so respected that enemy warriors wouldn’t fight them back in a battle, dying from their weapon. Also 300 selected warriors of the Sventovit Temple raided the Baltic Sea. Rujane had pilgrims from all Slavic countries making a competition with the Radgosc (or Radegast, Rethra), Lutichi’s cult center. Rujane were the most fanatical pagans.
The Lutichi (known by various spelling variants) were a federation of West Slavic Polabian tribes. Four tribes made up the core of the federation: Redari or Redarii, Circipani, Kessini, and Tholenzi. Other tribes: the Stodorane (sometimes Havolane), the Doshane, the Morichane, the Rechane, the Sprevane, the Ukrane, the Zamchichi and the Zemchichi. At least in part, the Lutici were possibly a continuation of the Veleti (Wilzi) tribal union. Both Lutici and Wilzi mean “wolves”, and they were the fiercest.
The Serby (Sorby) lived to the south and were the only Baltic Slavic tribal union without an access to the Baltic Sea. They consisted of the Sorbs proper, the Khudichi, the Glomachi (or Dalemintsy), the Koledichi, the Luzhichane, the Milchane, the Souseltsy, the Zhirmunty, the Zhitichi, the Neletichi, the Nizhichi, the Nishane.
The Pomoriane were a group who lived along the shore of the Baltic Sea between the mouths of the Oder and Visla rivers. The union consisted of the Kashuby, the Wolinane, the Pyzhichane, the Slovintsy.
The Obodrity (or Reregi, possibly means “falcons”), were a confederation of West Slavic tribes. The main tribes of the Obodritic confederation were the Obodrity proper, the Wagry, the Warnaby (possibly “crows”), the Polabians proper. Other tribes associated with the confederation include the Linonen (or Glinane), the Smolintsy, the Travnjane, the Drevane.
There were also smaller tribes.
There were hundreds of settlements and towns in the Wendland according to the German chroniclers. We can say that now, in the 21st century, that region has less population than had those days. Also there were thousands of the Slavic deities’ idols located everywhere – in towns, at bridges, at crossroads, in forests. There were towns dedicated to gods, particularly Perun. The majority of Polabian Slavs were peasants in small villages who engaged in agriculture (rich in grains, flax) and animal husbandry (poultry, cattle). Some villagers were fishermen, beekeepers, or trappers.
Due to the profitable location, Slavic merchants made fabulous profits, but the Baltic Slavs were so strong that the Vikings switched their routes to England. Although the Vikings made raids sometimes, Slavs controlled the most part of the Baltic Sea and a couple of times almost conquered all Denmark. There were also Slavic colonies in the Danelaw (part of England controlled by Vikings). Maybe the famous Hansa Union was originally established by Slavic merchants.
The war with Germans lasted for 500 years (with breaks). For example, Slavs burnt down Hamburg 5 times. Usually Slavs were conquered by a great emperor like Charlemagne in 789 or Otton I in 939, but later they would revolt again. There were periods when Slavs were formally dependent from Germans and sometimes even partially baptized, but still they wanted a civilian and religious freedom. Why did Germans win? First, they had a target – to get an access to the Baltic Sea. Second, their country was centralized unlike the Slavs’ lands. Third, and the main reason – the Slavic mentality. Slavs fought each other and sometimes even helped Germans to subdue rival Slavic tribes. You’ll see it by yourselves.
Wendish Crusade, 1147.
Eventually Germans were fed up with that formal Slavic dependency. Officially, they wanted to establish Christianity once and for all, but actually, they wanted to rob rich Slavic lands and turn Slavs into slaves. Niklot, the leader of the Obodrites confederation opposed them. Unlike other anarchical Slavs (especially Lutichi) Obodrity made a kingdom, because they had close ties with Germans and borrowed a lot of from them. Niklot managed to combine all Slavic tribes, which were still independent to that moment. He was brave and smart in his actions and the Crusade… failed. Slavs promised to adopt Christianity and let free all captives, but it was a formal condition, never fulfilled. Now Niklot had all chances to make a strong kingdom, which could stand its freedom, but… Circipani and Kessini revolted against him. Most likely, they didn’t want to share their profits from the silver trade. Maybe they didn’t want to be ruled by a king from other tribe. They didn’t care the Baltic Slavs had big problems to that time and all of them evaded from slavery and death by miracle. Slavs don’t like to unite even if they are dying. But Niklot wasn’t any smarter. He asked a help from… his German ally. The latter helped him with pleasure and they broke the resistance.
But Wendland didn’t happen.
In 1160 Germans started another war and Niklot was killed during a raid. Thus, Baltic Slavs lost their only chance. They were brave and proud people, but not smart ones. The language of the Baltic Slavs belongs to the Northern-Lechites group. Due to contacts with Germans it was influenced by the German language. At the same time, there are borrowings from the Slavic into German: granica (hranica) – Grenze (border), ogurec (ogurek) – Gurke (cucumber).
The Rane language became extinct when the last Rujani-speaking woman with the name Gulitsyna died on the Jasmund peninsula in 1404 (or 1450). The last Slav who could speak Slavic, died on October 3, 1756 in the Dolgov (German Dolgow) village.
Remnants of the Baltic Slavs.
During the final colonization part of Baltic Slavs died. Others left for other countries. The third ones eventually assimilated. Nowadays you can find a lot of people in Germany with last names like Sukow, Medow, Rakow, Pankow, Bulow, Wirchow, Grabow, but they would be offended if somebody called them Slavs. Many towns in Germany have corrupted Slavic names: Leipzig – Lipsk, Brandenburg – Branibor, Lubeck – Lubitse, Lausitz – Luzhica, Chemnitz – Kamenitsa, Schwerin – Zverin, and so on. There are approximately 500 000 Kashubians, descendants of Pomoriane, in Poland now. And there are approximately 60 000 Sorbs in Germany now. Nobody knows a specific number. A lot of them try to assimilate, because they still don’t feel comfortable.