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Personifications of Sclavinia, Germania, Gallia, and Roma, bringing offerings to Otto III; from a gospel book dated 990 4 Gift Bringers of Otto III.jpg
Personifications of Sclavinia, Germania, Gallia, and Roma, bringing offerings to Otto III; from a gospel book dated 990
The Limes Saxoniae border between the Saxons and the Lechites Obotrites, established about 810 in present-day Schleswig-Holstein Limes.saxoniae.wmt.png
The Limes Saxoniae border between the Saxons and the Lechites Obotrites, established about 810 in present-day Schleswig-Holstein
Germaniae veteris typus (Old Germany). Aestui, Venedi, Gythones and Ingaevones are visible on the right upper corner of the map. Edited by Willem and Joan Blaeu, 1645. Blaeu 1645 - Germaniae veteris typus.jpg
Germaniae veteris typus (Old Germany). Aestui, Venedi, Gythones and Ingaevones are visible on the right upper corner of the map. Edited by Willem and Joan Blaeu, 1645.

Wends (Old English :Winedas; Old Norse: Vindr; German : Wenden, Winden; Danish : vendere; Swedish : vender; Polish : Wendowie, Czech : Wendové) is a historical name for Slavs living near Germanic settlement areas. It refers not to a homogeneous people, but to various peoples, tribes or groups depending on where and when it was used. In the modern day, communities identifying as Wendish exist in Lusatia, Texas, [1] and Australia. [2]


In German-speaking Europe during the Middle Ages, the term "Wends" was interpreted as synonymous with "Slavs" and sporadically used in literature to refer to West Slavs and South Slavs living within the Holy Roman Empire. The name has possibly survived in Finnic languages (Finnish : Venäjä, Estonian : Vene, Karelian: Veneä), denoting Russia. [3] [4]

People termed "Wendes" in the course of history

According to one theory, Germanic peoples first applied this name to the ancient Veneti, and then after the migration period they transferred it to their new neighbours, the Slavs.

For the medieval Scandinavians, the term Wends (Vender) meant Slavs living near the southern shore of the Baltic Sea (Vendland), and the term was therefore used to refer to Polabian Slavs like the Obotrites, Rugian Slavs, Veleti/Lutici and Pomeranian tribes.

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

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., the Polabians from Bavaria Slavica or the Slovenes (the names Windic March, Windisch Feistritz, or Windischgraz still bear testimony to this historical denomination). The same term was sometimes applied to the neighoring region of Slavonia, which appears as Windischland in some documents prior to the 18th century.

Following the 8th century, the Frankish kings and their successors organised nearly all Wendish land into marches. This process later turned into the series of crusades. By the 12th century, all Wendish lands had become part of the Holy Roman Empire. In the course of the Ostsiedlung, which reached its peak in the 12th to 14th centuries, this land was settled by Germans and reorganised.

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

Some sources claim that in the 13th century there were actual historic people called Wends or Vends living as far as northern Latvia (east of the Baltic Sea) around the city of Wenden. Henry of Livonia (Henricus de Lettis) in his 13th-century Latin chronicle described a tribe called the Vindi.

Today, only one group of Wends still exists: the Lusatian Sorbs in present-day eastern Germany, with international diaspora. [5]

Roman-era Veneti

The term "Wends" derived from the Roman-era people called in Latin Veneti , Venedi or Venethi, in Greek Ουενεδαι (Ouenedai). This people is mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy as inhabiting the Baltic coast.


Rise (500–1000)

In the 1st millennium AD, during the Slavic migrations which split the recently formed Slav ethnicity into Southern, Eastern and Western groups, some West Slavs moved into the areas between the Rivers Elbe and Oder - moving 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 neighbours adapted the term they had been using for peoples east of the River Elbe before to the Slavs, calling them Wends as they called the Venedi before and probably the Vandals also. In his late sixth century work History of Armenia , Movses Khorenatsi mentions their raids into the lands named Vanand after them. [6]

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 neighbouring tribe or used as military strongholds or outposts.

Some tribes unified into larger, duchy-like units. For example, 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 Lutici were an alliance of tribes living between Obotrites and Pomeranians. They did not unify under a duke, but remained independent. Their leaders met in the temple of Rethra.

In 983, many Wend tribes participated in a great uprising against the Holy Roman Empire, which had previously 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.

Wends and Danes had early and continuous contact including settlement, first and mainly through the closest South Danish islands of Møn, Lolland and Falster, all having place-names of Wendish origin. There were also trading and settlement outposts by Danish towns as important as Roskilde, when it was the capital: 'Vindeboder' (Wends' booths) is the name of a city neighbourhood there. Danes and Wends also fought wars due to piracy and crusading. [7]

Decline (1000–1200)

After their successes in 983 the Wends came under increasing pressure from Germans, Danes and Poles. The Poles invaded Pomerania several times. The Danes often raided the Baltic shores (and, in turn, the Wends often raided the raiders). 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 Lutici were baptised. In 1147, the Wend crusade took place in what is today north-eastern Germany.

This did not, however, affect the Wendish people in today's Saxony, where a relatively stable co-existence of German and Slavic inhabitants as well as close dynastic and diplomatic cooperation of Wendish and German nobility had been achieved. (See: Wiprecht of Groitzsch).

In 1168, during the Northern Crusades, Denmark mounted a crusade led by Bishop Absalon and King Valdemar the Great against the Wends of Rugia in order to convert them to Christianity. The crusaders 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 Wends were defeated by the surrounding Christian feudal powers.

From the 12th to the 14th centuries, Germanic settlers moved into the Wendish lands in large numbers, transforming the area's culture from a Slavic to a Germanic one. Local dukes and monasteries invited settlers to repopulate farmlands devastated in the wars, as well as to cultivate new farmlands from the expansive woodlands and heavy soils, with the use of iron-based agricultural tools that had developed in Western Europe. Concurrently, a large number of new towns were created under German town law with the introduction of legally enforced markets, contracts and property rights. These developments over two centuries were collectively known as the "Ostsiedlung" (German eastward expansion). A minority of Germanic settlers moved beyond the Wendish territory into Hungary, Bohemia and Poland, where they were generally welcomed for their skills in farming and craftsmanship.

The Polabian language was spoken in the central area of Lower Saxony and in Brandenburg until around the 17th or 18th century. [8] [9] The German population assimilated most of the Wends, meaning that they disappeared as an ethnic minority - except for the Sorbs. Yet many place names and some family names in eastern Germany still show Wendish origins 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 kings of the Swedes, the Goths and the Wends (in Latin translation: kings of Suiones, Goths and Vandals) (Swedish: Svears, Götes och Wendes Konung). After the Danish monarch Queen Margrethe II chose not to use these titles in 1972 the current Swedish monarch, Carl XVI Gustaf also chose only to use the title King of Sweden" (Sveriges Konung), thereby changing an age-old tradition.

From the Middle Ages the kings of Denmark and of Denmark–Norway used the titles King of the Wends (from 1362) and Goths (from the 12th century). The use of both titles was discontinued in 1973. [10]


The Wendish people co-existed with the German settlers for centuries and became gradually assimilated into the German-speaking culture.

The Golden Bull of 1356 (one of the constitutional foundations of the German-Roman Empire) explicitly recognised in its Art. 31 that the German-Roman Empire was a multi-national entity with "diverse nations distinct in customs, manner of life, and in language". [11] For that it stipulated "the sons, or heirs and successors of the illustrious prince electors, [...] since they are expected in all likelihood to have naturally acquired the German language, [...] shall be instructed in the grammar of the Italian and Slavic (i.e. Wendish) tongues, beginning with the seventh Year of their age." [12]

Many geographical names in Central Germany and northern Germany can be traced back to a Slavic origin. Typical Slavic endings include -itz, -itzsch and -ow. They can be found in city names such as Delitzsch and Rochlitz. Even names of major cities like Leipzig and Berlin are most likely of Wendish origin.

Today, the only remaining minority people of Wendish origin, the Sorbs, maintain their traditional language and culture and enjoy cultural self-determination exercised through the Domowina. The third minister president of Saxony Stanislaw Tillich (2008-2017) is of Sorbian origin, being the first head of a German federal state with an ethnic minority background.

The Texas Wends

In 1854, the Wends of Texas departed Lusatia on the Ben Nevis [13] seeking greater liberty, in order to settle an area of central Texas, primarily Serbin. The Wends succeeded, expanding into Warda, Giddings, Austin, Houston, Fedor, Swiss Alp, Port Arthur, Mannheim, Copperas Cove, Vernon, Walburg, The Grove, Bishop, and the Rio Grande Valley.

A strong emphasis on tradition, principles, and education is evident today in families descendant from the Wendish pioneers. Today, thousands of Texans and other Americans (many unaware of their background), can lay claim to the rich heritage of the Wends. [14]

The interior of the original Lutheran Church the Wends established in Serbin, Texas, St. Paul. Serbin church facing the rear.jpg
The interior of the original Lutheran Church the Wends established in Serbin, Texas, St. Paul.

Other uses

Historically, the term "Wends" has also occurred in the following contexts:

With the diffusion of the term slowenisch for the Slovene language and Slowenen for Slovenes, the words windisch and Winde or Wende became derogatory in connotation. The same development could be seen in the case of the Hungarian Slovenes, who used to be known under the name "Vends".

See also

Related Research Articles

Sorbian languages

The Sorbian languages are two closely related, but only partially mutually intelligible, West Slavic languages spoken by the Sorbs, a West Slavic minority in the Lusatia region of eastern Germany. They are classified under the West Slavic branch of the Indo-European languages and are therefore closely related to the other two West Slavic subgroups: Lechitic and Czech–Slovak. Historically, the languages have also been known as Wendish or Lusatian. Their collective ISO 639-2 code is wen.

Slavs European ethno-linguistic group

Slavs are ethnolinguistic groups of people who speak the various Slavic languages of the larger Balto-Slavic linguistic group of the Indo-European language family. They are native to Eurasia, stretching from Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe all the way north and eastwards to Northeast Europe, Northern Asia (Siberia) and Central Asia, as well as historically in Western Europe and Western Asia. From the early 6th century they spread to inhabit most of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Today, there is a large Slavic diaspora throughout North America, particularly in the United States and Canada as a result of immigration.


The Obotrites or Obodrites, also spelled Abodrites, were a confederation of medieval West Slavic tribes within the territory of modern Mecklenburg and Holstein in northern Germany. For decades, they were allies of Charlemagne in his wars against the Germanic Saxons and the Slavic Veleti. The Obotrites under Prince Thrasco defeated the Saxons in the Battle of Bornhöved (798). The still heathen Saxons were dispersed by the emperor, and the part of their former land in Holstein north of Elbe was awarded to the Obotrites in 804, as a reward for their victory. This however was soon reverted through an invasion of the Danes. The Obotrite regnal style was abolished in 1167, when Pribislav was restored to power by Duke Henry the Lion, as Prince of Mecklenburg, thereby founding the German House of Mecklenburg.

Sorbs Ethnic group in Europe, Lusatia

Sorbs are a West Slavic ethnic group predominantly inhabiting Lusatia, a region divided between Germany and Poland. Sorbs traditionally speak the Sorbian languages, which are closely related to Polish, Kashubian, Czech, Silesian, and Slovak. Sorbian is an officially recognized minority language in Germany. Sorbs are genetically closest to the Poles and Czechs.

Polabian language

Polabian is an extinct West Slavic language that was spoken by the Polabian Slavs in present-day northeastern Germany around the Elbe river, from which its name derives. It was spoken approximately until the rise to power of Prussia in the mid-18th century, when it was superseded by Low German.

The Vistula Veneti were Indo-European peoples that inhabited the region of central Europe east of the Vistula River and the coastal areas around the Bay of Gdańsk. The name first appears in the 1st century AD in the writings of ancient Roman geographers to differentiate a group of peoples whose manner and language differed from those of the Germanic and Sarmatian tribes around them. Later, in the 6th century AD, Byzantine historians described the Veneti as the ancestors of the Early Slavs of the 6th to 8th centuries: Vends, Sclavens and Antes, who, during the second phase of the Migration Period, crossed the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire.

Northern March 10th-century march of East Francia

The Northern March or North March was created out of the division of the vast Marca Geronis in 965. It initially comprised the northern third of the Marca and was part of the territorial organisation of areas conquered from the Wends. A Lutician rebellion in 983 reversed German control over the region until the establishment of the March of Brandenburg by Albert the Bear in the 12th century.

Wendish Crusade Military campaign in 1147

The Wendish Crusade was a military campaign in 1147, one of the Northern Crusades and a part of the Second Crusade, led primarily by the Kingdom of Germany within the Holy Roman Empire and directed against the Polabian Slavs. The Wends are made up of the Slavic tribes of Abrotrites, Rani, Liutizians, Wagarians, and Pomeranians who lived east of the River Elbe in present-day northeast Germany and Poland.

West Slavic languages

The West Slavic languages are a subdivision of the Slavic language group. They include Polish, Czech, Slovak, Kashubian, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian. The languages are spoken across a continuous region encompassing the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland as well as the former East Germany and the westernmost regions of Ukraine and Belarus.

Novgorod Slavs

The Novgorod Slavs, Slovenes or Ilmen Slavs were the northernmost tribe of the Early East Slavs, which inhabited the shores of Lake Ilmen and the basin of the rivers of Volkhov, Lovat, Msta, and the upper stream of the Mologa River in the 8th to 10th centuries. The Slovenes were native to the region around Novgorod. There is a belief among researchers that Novgorod is one of the regions that are the original home / Urheimat of Russians and Slavic tribes.

Polabian Slavs

Polabian Slavs is a collective term applied to a number of Lechitic tribes who lived along the Elbe river in what is today Eastern Germany. The approximate territory stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north, the Saale and the Limes Saxoniae in the west, the Ore Mountains and the Western Sudetes in the south, and Poland in the east. They have also been known as Elbe Slavs or Wends. Their name derives from the Slavic po, meaning "by/next to/along", and the Slavic name for the Elbe.


The Veleti or Wilzi, Wielzians and Wiltzes were a group of medieval Lechitic tribes within the territory of what is now northeastern Germany, related to Polabian Slavs. In common with other Slavic groups between the Elbe and Oder Rivers, they were often described by Germanic sources as Wends. In the late 10th century, they were continued by the Lutici. In Einhard's Vita Karoli Magni, the Wilzi are said to refer to themselves as Welatabians.

West Slavs

The West Slavs are a subgroup of Slavic peoples who speak the West Slavic languages. They separated from the common Slavic group around the 7th century, and established independent polities in Central Europe by the 8th to 9th centuries. The West Slavic languages diversified into their historically attested forms over the 10th to 14th centuries.

Wolkwitz is a family name, or surname, of German/Western-Slavic origins.

Rani (Slavic tribe) Historical Slavic tribe

The Rani or Rujani were a West Slavic tribe based on the island of Rugia (Rügen) and the southwestern mainland across the Strelasund in what is today northeastern Germany.

The Venetic theory is an pseudohistorical interpretation of the origin of the Slovenes that denies the Slavic settlement of the Eastern Alps in the 6th century, claiming that proto-Slovenes have inhabited the region since ancient times. During the 1980s and 1990s, it gained wide attention in Slovenia and the former Yugoslavia. The Venetic theory has been rejected by scholars.

Slavic revolt of 983 Late 10th-century uprising of ethnic Slavs in the Holy Roman Empire

In the Slavic revolt of 983, Polabian Slavs, (Wends), Lutici and Obotrite tribes, that lived east of the Elbe River in modern north-east Germany overthrew an assumed Ottonian rule over the Slavic lands and rejected Christianization under Emperor Otto I.

Ostsiedlung High Middle Age German migration movement

Ostsiedlung is the term for the High Medieval migration period of ethnic Germans to and beyond the territories at the eastern periphery of the Holy Roman Empire and the consequences for settlement development and social structures in the immigration areas. Generally sparsely and only recently populated by Slavic and Baltic tribes, the area of colonization, also known as Germania Slavica, encompassed the region east of the Saale and Elbe rivers, Lower Austria, Styria, the Baltics, the territories that conform to modern Poland, Bohemia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and Transylvania.

Duchy of Kopanica

The Duchy of Kopanica was a Slavonic principality in Central Europe in present-day central and eastern Brandenburg. Its capital was Kopnik.


  1. http://texaswendish.org/2010/01/01/who-are-the-wends/
  2. https://www.wendishheritage.org.au/research/migration-to-australia/history-of-migration/
  3. Campbell, Lyle (2004). Historical Linguistics. MIT Press. p. 418. ISBN   0-262-53267-0.
  4. Bojtár, Endre (1999). Foreword to the Past. Central European University Press. p. 88. ISBN   9639116424.
  5. http://texaswendish.org/museum/
  6. Istorija Armenii Mojseja Horenskogo, II izd. Per. N. O. Emina, M., 1893, s.55-56.
  7. Venderne og Danmark. http://static.sdu.dk/mediafiles//Files/Om_SDU/Institutter/Ihks/Projekter/Middelalderstudier/Venderne_og_Danmark.pdf
  8. Harry van der Hulst. Word Prosodic Systems in the Languages of Europe. Walter de Gruyter. 1999. p. 837.
  9. Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Lekhitic languages. Retrieved2013-03-09.
  10. "Kungl. Maj:ts kungörelse med anledning av konung Gustaf VI Adolfs frånfälle". Lagen.nu. Archived from the original on 12 July 2014.
  11. Charles IV, Golden Bull of 1356 (full text English translation) translated into English, Yale
  12. Charles IV, Golden Bull of 1356 (full text English translation) translated into English, Yale
  13. http://www.texasescapes.com/WTBlock/Texas-Germanic-Heritage-2-Ben-Nevis.htm
  14. http://texaswendish.org/2010/01/01/who-are-the-wends//
  15. Dimitz, August (2013). History of Carniola Volume Ii: From Ancient Times to the Year 1813 with Special Consideration of Cultural Development. Xlibris Corporation. p. 229. ISBN   9781483604114.[ self-published source ]
  16. Gluhak, Alemko (2003). The name "Slavonia".[ self-published source ]

Further reading