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History of the Polabian (Baltic) Slavs

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This is a historiographical term used to refer to a large group of West Slavic tribes that inhabited around the end of the V century until the middle of the thirteenth century an extensive territory from the mouth of the river Elbe and its tributary r. Hall in the West, to r. Vodra, Oder in the east, from the Ore Mountains in the south to the Baltic Sea in the north. Thus, the lands of the Polab Slavs covered the east, north and north-west of modern Germany, which is at least one third of its territory.

The Polab Slavs formed three tribal unions: Lusatians (Serbs, Lusatians) in the south, Lutiches (Viltians, Veleta) in the central regions and Bodrichi in the north-west. The Germans, until the XIX century, called the Slavs Vendians.


Since the 9th or 8th century, the life of the Polab Slavs proceeded in a bitter struggle with the constant attempts of the German invasion. For the first time an attempt to conquer them was undertaken by Charlemagne. It should be noted that at first, when not all the Germanic tribes neighboring the Polabian Slavs were conquered and Christianized, they often acted in concert with the Slavs. For example, the army sent by Charlemagne to the conquest of the sorbs (Luditsky Serbs) was destroyed by the Saxons, who at that time, like the Slavs, held paganism and fought against the Christianization and accession to the empire of Charles. On the other hand, during the reign of the Franks of Charlemagne, the encouragement fought on his side against the Lyutics and the Saxons. In 844, Louis II of Germany made an unsuccessful attempt to conquer them.

X-XIII centuries are characterized by frequent and bloody wars between the Polab Slavs and the advancing Germans and Danes. These wars are accompanied by attempts to Christianize the Slavs. In the course of these wars, one or other lands of the Polab Slavs for some time fall under the power of the Germans. At this time, the German chronicles recorded frequent retaliatory campaigns of the Slavs on German lands, during which they ruined German settlements, burned cities and monasteries, robbed and killed residents, and took prisoners.

After the victory over Otto I in the Battle of Rax (955), the conquest of the wolfs and lutets was accompanied by their violent Christianization, which caused strong resistance from the Slavic nobility and the priesthood. In 983, a reciprocal Slavic uprising began under the leadership of Prince Mstivoj, enlisting the support of the Danish king Harald the Blue-tooth. Immediate impetus to the uprising was the news of the defeat of the troops of Emperor Otto II by the Saracens at Croton in Calabria in the summer of 982. Many Catholic churches were destroyed, bishop residences in Brandenburg and Havelberg were seized, a monastery in Kalbe was destroyed, Hamburg was ravaged and Magdeburg was besieged. To the east of the Elbe, according to the apt expression of a German chronicler, “there is not a trace of Christianity left,” and “demonic worship” was restored everywhere.

It was only in 995 that Otto III succeeded in regaining his power on parts of the Slavic lands, capturing Veligrad, mentioned in the composition of the Arab author Ibrahim ibn Yacoub under the year 965 as the capital of Bodrich, and renamed Mechlenburg.

In 1043, when Prince Gotshalka from the Nakhonid dynasty, who also benefited from the support of the Sven Estridsen Danes, formed the Vendian power, which occupied the Baltic Sea coast between the mouths of the Odra and Elba rivers, which included tribal unions and existed until 1129.

In August 1135, the Polab Slavs, led by Ratibor, made a devastating raid on the Norwegian city of Konungagelu. According to the Saga of Magnus Blind and Harald Gilly, the invaders had “five and a half hundred Wendy augers, and each screw had forty-four people and two horses.” The city was burned, and the fortress was captured after a stubborn siege, many people were captured, and the trade settlement itself soon fell into disrepair and did not revive.

In 1147, the last independent prince of the Obodritic state, Niclot, succeeded in repelling a joint crusade of German and Danish feudal lords, but in 1160 he died in battle with the combined army of the Saxon duke Heinrich Leo and King of Denmark Valdemar I the Great. The sons of Niclot Pribislav and Vartislav tried to continue resistance, but after the capture and execution of Vartislav, his brother Pribislav was forced to be baptized and recognize himself as a vassal of the Saxon dukes, becoming the founder of the Mecklenburg house.

The forgotten history of Polabian Slavs

Approximately to the XII-XIII centuries, all the Slavic lands of Labia merged with one or another German state formations as part of the Holy Roman Empire and adopted Christianity in the Roman style. After this, a gradual process of Germanization of the local population begins, which lasted for several centuries through the influx of German Slaves into the lands of the Polaba Slavs, thanks to the legislative rooting of the German language, appropriation of German surnames, inter-ethnic marriages, influence of the church, etc.

The internal policy of the Polab Slavs was characterized by frequent mutual quarrels, to some extent inflamed and initiated by the Germans.

The only part of the modern German population that still retains its Slavic language and culture is the Lusatians.

In modern Germany there is a large number of Slavic location names.


Polabsky and Baltic Slavs // Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron
Pervolf I. I. “Germanization of the Baltic Slavs”
Slavic chronicles. Adam of Bremen, Helmold from Bosau

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