Text #2555

Fredegar. The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar
[Fred. Chron. 48. Translated by John Michael Wallace-Hadrill. Oxford University Press. 1960 pp. 39--40]

In the fortieth year of Chlotar’s reign, a certain Frank named Samo, from the district Soignies1, joined with other merchants in order to go and do business with those Slavs who are known as Wends. The Slavs had already started to rise against the Avars (called Huns)2 and against their ruler, the Khagan. The Wends had long since been subjected to the Huns, who used them as Befulci. Whenever the Huns took the field against another people, they stayed encamped in battle array while the Wends did the fighting. If the Wends won, the Huns advanced to pillage, but if they lost the Huns backed them up and they resumed the fight. The Wends were called Befulci by the Huns because they advanced twice to the attack in their war bands, and so covered the Huns3. Every year the Huns wintered with the Slavs, sleeping with their wives and daughters, and in addition the Slavs paid tribute and endured many other burdens. The sons born to the Huns by the Slavs’ wives and daughters eventually found this shameful oppression intolerable; and so, as I said, they refused to obey their lords and started to rise in rebellion. When they took the field against the Huns, Samo, the merchant of whom I have spoken, went with them and his bravery won their admiration: an astounding number of Huns were put to the sword by the Wends. Recognising his parts, the Wends made Samo their king; and he ruled them well for thirty-five years. Several times they fought under his leadership against the Huns and his prudence and courage always brought the Wends victory. Samo had twelve Wendish wives, who bore him twenty-two sons and fifteen daughters.

  1. In Hainaut; or possibly the district of Sens (Krusch and Labuda). Ch. Verlinden, Rev belge de philol. et d’hist. XII (1993), pp 1090-5, sees Samo as an adventurer, not as a simple merchant, probably interested in the slave-trade. A case for his being a diplomatic agent is made by G. Labuda in an article written in Polish, of which a résumé is provided by V. Chaloupecky (‘Considérations sur Samon, le premier roi des Slaves,’ Byzantinoslavica, XI, 1950, pp. 223-39), Labuda stresses the remarkable value of the information given by Fredegar on central European affairs. I owe this reference to Professor Bognetti. Dr. E. B. Fryde informs me that Labuda’s argument that Samo led the Slavs of Moravia or Czechs is based on archaeological evidence that could be interpreted another way. [OF]

  2. These Avars were not descendants of Attila’s Huns. ‘Khagan’ was their ruler’s title, not his name as Fredegar supposes. [OF]

  3. There are several possible explanations of this difficult passage, none entirely satisfactory. The best, that of Theodor Mayer, ‘Fredegars Bericht über die Slaven’ is that the Slavs were known, in their own language, as Byvolci, the people who looked after the buffaloes (byvolu) of the Avars. The nearest homophone in Latin known to Fredegar or his informant was befulti (=befulci), and of this rare word he gives a reasonable explanation in the context. What the Slavs actually did was to drive the Avars’ buffalo- waggons on campaigns; what Fredegar makes them do is to fight first, and then, set on their feet again if necessary by the Avars, to continue the battle. Two other instances where Fredegar misunderstands a Slav word are (1) in this chapter, gagano, and (2) in chapter 72, Walluc. Other less satisfactory solutions are to derive befulci from bubulcus (mod. Ital. bifolco) , an oxherd, or to suppose a scribal corruption of bifurci and imagine a two-pronged attack (something of this lies behind Labuda’s solution, that befulci is a hybrid, bis + folc, meaning ‘a double regiment’); neither agrees with the careful explanation given by Fredegar.

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