Our Roots: The Veneti and Slovenes
Excerpted from Rodna Gruda, English Section May 1986
Numerous articles have recently been published in the Slovene
press, particularly in the central daily newspaper "Delo",
as well as in "Teleks", "Nasi razgledi",
and "Novi list" (published in Trieste), about the
origins of the Slovene nation. This discussion has been going
on for several months, and still has not been concluded. This
discussion originated from an article entitled "The Veneti
- Our Far Off Ancestors?", which was published in 1985
in issue No. 10 of "Glas Korotana" (the Korotan Herald).
This magazine is published by the Korotan Lodge of Vienna, which
is run by Father Ivan Tomazic.
This study was written by Jozko Savli, who has tried to prove
that the national roots of Slovenes actually reach all the way
to a prehistoric people which, in the 13th Century B.C., originating
from the Sorb culture in today's Poland, carried to all parts
of Europe, in strong movements of expansion and settlement,
a new culture, known as the culture of urn burial, since it
was the custom of this people to cremate their dead and bury
their ashes in urns.
Most of today's linguists are of the opinion that the people
of the urn burial culture were the Veneti. It was by this name
that they were mentioned several centuries later, by Greek sources,
in the form "Enetoi", e. g. by Herodotus, in the Fifth
Century B. C.
Savli's study on the Veneti was met by criticism in the Slovene
press, which expanded into wider discussions in favour of and
against it, particularly after the well known Slovene poet,
writer and Slavist, Matej Bor joined the discussion. He had
studied the Venetic inscriptions from the areas along the coast
of the Upper Adriatic, and tried to explain their meaning on
the basis of the Slovene and other Slav languages.
Reports on the discussion appeared in other Yugoslav newspapers
and magazines, first of all in the Belgrade weekly "Nin",
which made its own interpretation. According to articles published
in "Nin", Slovenes no longer wanted to be of Slav
origin, but instead descendants of the Veneti. This would mean
no less than a tendency to break up the Yugoslav community.
This controversy was then reported by the foreign press, too,
including the newspaper Die Welt, of Hamburg, Frankfurter Allgemeine,
of Frankfurt, and La Stampa of Turin.
Of course, in reality the main point of the discussion had been
missed. The question is whether or not it should be admitted
that the Veneti were a proto-Slavonic people, and that Slovenes
originate from them. For the names of many mountains, rivers,
town and willages, of Slovene ongin, can be found in Alpine
regions all the way to central Switzerland. These regions were,
in prehistoric times, settled only by the Veneti. In historic
sources concerning Slav settlement in the Balkans, there is
no mention of Slav settlements even in the Eastern Alps, let
alone in the Central Alps, as far as Switzerland.
The disclosing of these ancient roots of Slovenes cannot possibly
be associated with a tendency towards the breaking up of the
Yugoslav community, as some had feared, since the coexistence
of the Yugoslav nations, as defined in the present constitution,
is based on the reality of today, and not on events which took
place two or three thousand years ago. It is also a fact that
the other Yugoslav nations, too, are linked to other ancient
cultures, such as those of the Illyrians, Celts, etc. This leaves
no room for the unrealistic ideal of pure Slavic roots, which
was often advocated in the past. The uncovering of these ancient
roots may indicate differences between individual Yugoslav nations,
but these differences actually provide cultural enrichment for
each individual nation. However, in the past, in prewar Yugoslavia,
discussions about the roots of nations were considered undesirable.
It was thought that any uncovering of differences in origin
among the Yugoslav nations would, by itself, have an anti-Yugoslav
character. It was supposed that the assumption of a common origin
of all nations from the originally uniform South Slav nation
would strengthen the internal unity of the state.
The open discussion about the question of the prehistoric roots
of Slovenes proved something quite different from what some
people had expected. It proved that nowadays questions which
used to be taboo can be discussed openly. This is a sign of
the openness of our society to everything in which we are interested.
For this reason the whole of the Slovene public followed the
discussion about the Veneti with great interest.
A very interesting explanation of the name "Veneti"
was proposed by the writer Matei Bor, at a cultural meeting
held in Tolmin. According to Matej Bor, the word "Veneti"
was originally "Sloven't"'. It is well known that
Ancient Greek had no syllable of the form "Slo", and
no sound "v ". For this reason, the Greeks read this
name as "Enetoi", and the Romans, after them, as "Veneti".
When, in the 6th Century A. D., new Slav peoples arrived in
the Balkans, the Byzantine writers did not describe them with
the name "Enetoi", since they were not Veneti or proto-Slavs.
They changed the name into "Esclabenoi", changing
once again the syllable "slo".
Early sources therefore designate Slovenes as Slavs, but not
as newly arrived Slavs. Thus we read, "Sclavos coinomento
Vinedos" - Fredegarii Cronicon in the Seventh Century.
Thus Slovenes are Slavs, but of the older type, Veneti. Discussions
on these questions will certainly still go on. Of course, it
is not certain whether or not agreement will be reached. These
discussions indicate, however, new interest in Slovene history