Who were the Vendars?

The name of the village of Tillitse in southwestern Lolland is of Wendish origin. Photo: Museum Lolland-Falster

Who were the Vendars?

Map of the Slavic tribes south of the Baltic Sea
Map of the Wendish tribes south of the Baltic Sea. (From Anna Elisabeth Jensen: Dania Slavica).

The Vendians were a Slavic people. They called themselves neither slaves nor Wenders. They were given that designation by others. Danes, Saxons and Swedes already established regular states on the north and west coast of the Baltic Sea in the 8th and 9th centuries. To the east, an independent Slavic state arose in what is now central Poland in the 10th century. But among the Wendish tribes in the west between the rivers Elbe and Oder, several approaches to statehood failed.

Among the Wends in present-day Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and in eastern Holstein, no independent state was established. Initiatives for firmer power structures were replaced time and time again by a traditional loose tribal structure with power placed with the pagan priesthood. Occasionally a tribe succeeded in subduing other tribes, but only for a time. The Christian Church was also only periodically a power factor.

Fig 4 Slavic Place Names
Map of the distribution of Vendian place names in Lolland-Falster (From Anna Elisabeth Jensen: Dania Slavica)

Turnpikes on Lolland and Falster

Today, when you travel along the country roads in Lolland and Falster, you pass villages and places with a special ending, "itse". It is Slavic and means "the place where someone lives". These are villages such as Tillitse, Kuditse and Binnitse, all of which are place names of Slavic origin. Tillitse thus means "the place where the people of Tilos live" in Slavic. Add to that a number of natural place names with Slavic origins.

The place names tell us that people with Slavic roots had so much power 1000 years ago that their names for the places have been handed down to this day. The sites may have come into Slavic hands in connection with a change of spouses or succession in the two areas, or a group of Slavic inhabitants may have come to Lolland and Falster as part of an arranged marriage between ruling families across the Baltic Sea.

The concentration of Slavic place names in West Lolland can be connected with the Slavic Knud Prislavsøn, who in the 1170s was not only a member of the Danish royal family, he was also a magnate in Lolland.

The only evidence of Slavic settlements is the place names. No archaeological finds have provided clear physical evidence for them. This suggests that the coastal Slavs who came to Lolland and Falster were completely assimilated in a short time, so that only the place names remain as witnesses of their presence.

Gnemer Falstring

His name was Gnemer, and he was a landowner in Falster. He is one of the Slavic persons known from the written sources, and draws the contours of a Slavic grand family in the 11th-1200th centuries. The family is handed down through the Slavic male names Chocel and Genemovir. These were names which, after a few generations, were Danishized to Ketil and Gnemer respectively. These are the names found in the place names Corselitse and Sønder Grimmelstrup, which were originally called Gnemerstorp.

The Gnemers family may have come to Falster with the entourage of the Slavic prince Henrik Gottskalksøn at the end of the 1000th century, while his descendant, a Gnemer Ketilsøn appeared in the Knytlingesagaen and in Saxo's descriptions of the political conditions in the 1100th century. He was perhaps an interpreter, negotiator and intermediary during King Valdemar and Absalon's expeditions to the coastal Slavic areas in the middle of the 1100th century.

The sources of the Slavic landowners are known from the Falster list, which is a record of the king's land on Falster. It was prepared around the year 1255 and is part of what is called King Valdemar's Land Register, which is a series of records of the Danish king's possessions. The Falster list is a unique source of information about ownership at Falster in the mid-1200th century.

See Valdemars Jordebog


Note: Danish only