Jozko �avli, Matej Bor, Ivan Tomazic.

Veneti: First Builders of European Community:

Tracing the History and Language of Early Ancestors of Slovenes.

Published by Editiones Veneti, 1996 Bennogasse 21, A-1080, Vienna, Austria.
Co-published by and available through Anton �kerbinc, Site 1, Box 17, RR 1, Boswell, British Columbia, Canada. 533 pages. $25.00 + $4.00 postage/handling.

Veneti is scarcely a reader-friendly book. In this critique the reviewer will attempt to somewhat popularize its abstruse subject matter. In order to assist our fellow-Augustans toward a well-reasoned, dispassionate evaluation of its merits, the reviewer [1] must shoulder a three-fold task.

  1. rehearse a brief litany of inherited linguistic and historic presuppositions countered by the book's theses;
  2. go over the literary qualities of the book itself,
  3. cogently consider the arguments of the authors' theses, theses which the reader will find authentically iconoclastic.


The academic world classifies Slovenian as a South Slavic language, sharing phonologic, morphologic and lexical features with Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Serbo-Croatian, and lacking the common features of the West-Slavic languages, Czech, Polish, Slovak, Lusatian (Wendish) and Kashubian. We can illustrate this with two examples drawn from de Bray's Guide to the Slavonic Languages.[2] Consider the consonant clusters /kv/ and /gv/ of Old Church Slavonic (Staroslavianski), which were kept in the West Slavic languages, but became [CV] (C=TS) and [ZV] in the South Slavic languages, thus:
    "flower" in South Slavic
      Slovenian: [cvet]
      Bulgarian: [cvyat]
      Macedonian: [cvyat]
      Serbo-Croatian: [cvet]

    "flower"in West Slavic
      Czech: [kvyet]
      Polish: [kvyat]
      Slovak: [kvet]
      Lusatian: [kvyet]

    "star"in South Slavic
      Slovenian: ['zvezda]
      Bulgarian: [zve'zda]
      Macedonian: ['dzvezda]
      Serbo-Croatian: ['zvezda]

    "star"in West Slavic
      Czech: ['hvezda]
      Polish: ['gvyazdal
      Slovak: ['hvyezda]
      Lusatian: ['hvyezda]

    One after another, Slovenian's significant distinctive features map out in the same comparative profile. That is why we consistently classify it as a South Slavic language. Yet the authors of Veneti would assert and reaffirm a West Slavic identity for Slovenian. A reader might well ask, "With what justification?"

    The Slovenian speech area stretches from the Julian Alps to the Croatian border near Zagreb and from the Hungarian border to the Italian littoral. With more than 46 dialects, standard literary Slovenian represents a composite linguistic system, based primarily on the geographically central dialects of Dolenjsko and Gorenjsko. We generally group the isoglosses of Slovenian dialectology into the following broad regional variations:

    • Lower Carniolan (Dolenjsko);
    • Upper Carniolan (Gorenisko);
    • Styrian (Stayersko);
    • Carinthian (Korosko);
    • Pannonian (Panonsko) along the Hungarian border;
    • Adriatic (Primorsko) along the Italian/Friulian border,and ;
    • Rovte (Rovtarsko) between the Italian littoral and Upper Carniola.

    In the diachronic study of language change, glottochronology is a fairly reliable tool useful in the approximation of variable rates of predictable linguistic innovation. We can apply it judiciously as a kind of 'linguistic carbon-14' dating technique for morphologic and phonologic change. Glottochronologic results for Slovenian do tend to confirm the conventional wisdom among Slavicists that its distinctive features, just as those of other South Slavic languages, are indeed datable after the sixth century C.E. (Christian Era). Yet the authors of Veneti would propose that not only the Veneti themselves but even the Etruscans were genetic and linguistic predecessors of the modern Slovenian people. Our first impression is necessarily, what kind of raw, chauvinistic, separatist Slovene nationalism is confronting the reader?

    True, two ideologically driven trends of thought have shaped the course of Slovenian studies over the past 150 years: the German and the Pan-Slavic (Russian) Historical Schools. Each sought to establish its own cultural hegemony over strategically and economically important tracts of real estate, including the Slovenian homeland. Moreover, we Augustans are quite aware that history, including linguistic history, is, in essence, the story-line that any given 'historian' can piece together from disjointed documentary or archeological facts. The story line is accepted as adequately valid until challenged by new information or by a new political agenda, witness the number of rewritings that official Russian history underwent throughout the Soviet era.

    Veneti, the book under review, comes to mount a serious, well-substantiated challenge both to the official Occidental (German) and Oriental (Russian) histories of not only Slovenian cultural and linguistic development but indeed of Europe itself.

    We find the earliest documented occurrence of the name "Veneti" in the accounts of the sack of Rome by the Celts who were forced to retreat when the Veneti broke through into their territory. During the Second Punic War, the Veneti came under the political influence of Rome, although they retained complete autonomy in internal affairs until 89 Before C.E. Thereafter, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo conferred the Ius Latinum upon them as a part of Cisalpine Gaul. Together with Istria, Augustus brought them into the tenth region of Italy with Aquileia as capital. Aquileia suffered attacks and destruction by the Alamanni, the Franks, and the Juthungi in 286 C.E., by the Goths under Alaric early in the fifth century, and by Attila in 452 C.E. Under Theodoric the Great, 493-526 C.E., the Veneti prospered, but in 568 C.E. found themselves again occupied, this time under the Lombards, after which period scanty documentation leaves us more questions than answers.

    Such in brief outline are the linguistic and historic givens against which the book, Veneti, emerges.


    Frankly, the book as a literary product leaves more to be desired than to be praised. An English translation from the German original, Unsere Vorfahren die Veneter, the book is essentially an amalgam of articles by three authors: economist Jozko �avli, Ph.D.; poet, dramatist and critic, Matej Bor, recipient of the Preseren Prize, Slovenia's highest award for culture; and Father Ivan Tomazic of the University of Vienna. Each of these three contribute to the book as a recognized scholar in his own right. Dr. �avli, a respected fellow Augustan, has published a number of quality studies in our society's journals, and the reviewer has had the pleasure of assisting him on occasion as proof reader/ translator. Therein lies the reviewer's frustration with the literary quality of Veneti. Technically correct, much of the language is "translational English," with sporadic lapses of number accord and cognate grammatical deficiencies. Predictably, it is somewhat lacking in idiomatic English Sprachgef�hl. Nor is it inappropriate at this juncture for the reviewer to note his fraternal willingness to assist Dr. �avli in anglicizing, ars pro arte, any subsequent English-language edition of the book. Its subject matter is simply too important to beg vigorous, structurally strong argumentation, as the reader will shortly see.

    Veneti presents the contributions of each author consecutively in three distinct sections. Dr. �avli's articles in Part One set the tone for the reader's subsequent evaluations, and, deplorably, are phrased most "translationally". Part Two,[3] Bor's contribution, is the most reader-friendly section of the book. Yet, rare will be the layman with the Sitzfliesch to wade so far into it undeterred. On the other hand, perhaps even more seldom will be the open-minded specialist whom the preceding pages will not have dissuaded from a resolute determination to digest Veneti's arguments. The line of argumentation itself, the only real point of the book is not well seamed and simply presents the reader with a dearth of cogency. Had Part Two, Bor's writings, opened the discussion, the stage could have been set for �avli's Part One to supplement and significantly underscore Bor's conclusions. The approach of each author does successfully propound the central theses of the book, though the reader is left the overwhelming task of constructing his own synthesis from the array of disparate data set out. Nevertheless, even this architectural flaw cannot detract from the splendid accomplishment of �avli, Bor, and Tomazic in bringing to the attention of the English-speaking world the results of their studies. May it be acknowledged that beneath the imperfect form of this first English edition of Veneti lies a serious example of refined erudition and objective scholarly investigation.


    Having set forth for the reader a laconic sketch of the linguistic and historic backdrop to the printing of Veneti, and having summarily indicated some areas for amelioration in subsequent English editions, we may now direct our concern to issues of content.

    It is unlikely that any member of our society will be unaware that the line of demarcation dividing the Early and Late Iron Ages in Europe is represented by the Celtic migration c 400 B.C.E. More, the Celtic migration extended throughout Western and Central Europe and reached, in the early third century B.C.E., as far as what had earlier been known as Phrygia in Asia Minor. It is to this "Gallic" Christian community that St. Paul directed his Epistle to the Galatians. We refer to the Indo-European language of these peoples as Proto-Celtic and to their civilization as La Tene culture (c 400 - c 15 B.C.E.) Keeping this paradigm in mind, it will be somewhat easier for the reader to envisage the probabilities of historical accuracy in the following iconoclastic theses defended by the book.


    A Proto-Slavic speech community had divided into Proto-West Slavic and Proto-East Slavic dialects some time before the formation of the Lusatian Culture (c 1300-c 1100 B.C.E) and had also extended throughout a great part of Western and Central Europe and as far as Pamphlagonia, the northern coast of Asia Minor. There, according to Homer (II. ii, 85), they (hoi Henetoi) specialized in the breeding of "wild mules." �avli's valid findings from his analysis of European toponyms [4] adequately establish an infra-structural Slavic presence throughout these regions. This conclusion is equally supported by Bor's chapter, "Similarity of the Slovene, Latvian, and Breton Words." [5] The reviewer has also carried out the homework for this independently, [6] inducing him to inevitable concurrence with Bor's results. The significance of Bor's discovery of a layer of Slavic loanwords in Breton cannot be overstated. Their presence clarifies the comments of Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico. "The Veneti are by far the strongest tribe on this coast� They possess the most powerful fleet with which they sail as far as Britain... " [7]

    Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Ptolemy, and Casius Dio also refer to the Veneti in Gaul (Armorica). Bor's recovery of these Slavic lexical loans in Breton necessitates our reexamination of certain aspects of universally accepted academic theory as exemplified by the following definition: "VENETI... A Celtic people in the northwest of Gallia Celtica... In the winter of 57 B.C., they took up arms against the Romans, and in 56 were decisively defeated in a naval engagement."

    Bor has clearly established the existence of Slavic loans in Breton and this fact strongly suggests that prior to the arrival in Armorica of the Brythonic (Insular P-Celtic) speaking refugees fleeing the Saxon invasions of South Britain, the indigenous Venetic population had indeed been Slavic. That a knowledge of Slovenian dialectology enabled Bor to proceed in his analysis is itself of importance.


    It is not only plausible but phonologically sound thinking that Greek, lacking the consonant cluster /sl-/, would have transcribed '/slovene(ti)/, as /henetoi/, with assimilation of /-o-/ to /-e-/, or, with the digraph, /weneti/, and that the word would thence have passed to the Romans as "Veneti" "(Latin /v/ = [w]). Homer recorded that the Pamphlagonian Henetoi had fought on the side of Troy, and after a long sea voyage along the Illyrian Coast, settled as far as beyond the Timava River. We have an unimpeachable attestation equating the names Veneti and Slav, authored by Abbot Jona Bobbiensis, disciple and successor of St. Columban, 543-615 CE., which comes to disprove prior historical assertions that Slavs were newcomers to the Slovenian territory from the sixth/seventh century on: ". . . Veneti qui et Sclavi dicuntur. . .", ". . .the Veneti who are also called Slavs. . ."[9] Furthermore, we can henceforth assert that St. Jerome, born c 347 at Stridon, near modern Ljubljana, very probably spoke the Slavic regional dialect (Venetic), for in his Commentary to Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians,[10] he explains the name Tychicus as "Tychicus enim silens interpretatur," "Tychicus actually means silent." The Slovenian adjective tih, [tix], means "silent" and emerges as a highly probable Venetic loan into St Jerome's Latin, which would have suffixed the adjectival desinence -icus.


    We discover that Etruscan inscriptions betray a gradual process of linguistic fusion (akin to that of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French) upon an earlier Slavic substrate extant prior to the arrival of the Lydian or Hittite immigration. Again here, it is a knowledge of Slovenian dialectology that allowed Bor to decipher the earlier inscriptions.


    We are brought to appreciate the fact that it is specifically Slovenian dialectology that provides the missing key to a meaningful reading of early Venetic, Phrygian, Rhaetian, and Yapodic inscriptions, even permitting a partial reconstruction of Venetic grammar. The task had facilely eluded every preceding Venetologist and, for his pioneering achievement in this field, the reviewer would advance the candidacy of Matej Bor for academic acclaim.[11]

    Prior to Bor's work, opinions were divided on the Venetic language, attested in 200 brief inscriptions, all of which are datable to the last five centuries B.C.E., most of them from Este, Padua, Vicenza, Trieste, Pieve di Cadore and the Gurina plateau in Austrian Carinthia: ". . . some regard the language as closely related to Latin and to the other members of the Italic branch, while others classify it as a wholly independent member of the family. The evidence is not sufficient to afford a completely unambiguous answer to the problem." [12] The problem had heretofore maintained its intransigence simply because no Venetologist had yet brought into the arena a thorough working knowledge of Slovenian dialectology. Specifically herein resides the genius of Bor's contribution.

But what of the book's thesis that modern Slovenian descends demonstrably from Proto-West Slavic, that it is in fact erroneously classified as a Yugoslavic (South Slavic) language in accord with the linguistic objections signaled above? The reader must bear in mind that phonologic and morphologic innovations in any given linguistic system geographically disseminate out in what eventuate into broad "isoglossic fans." It is accurate to underscore that the distinctive features referred to above are all characteristic of South Slavic innovations. But what can we uncover of the original Slavic language spoken from high antiquity in the eastern Alps and northwestern Balkan peninsula which received and integrated these South Slavic innovations?

R.G.A. de Bray comments in Guide to the South Slavonic Languages: [13] "Perhaps the most interesting of the other [Slovenian] dialects is that of Carinthia... which has certain features such as the preservation, in certain regions, of the groups -tl, -dl-, and the ending -e for adjectives in the neut[ral] sing[ular], eg dobre mleko (= good milk) [cf. Czech], which seem to point to its being a transition stage to West Slav." Moreover, �avli is correct when he affirms: "Beside the lexical relationship with the Baltic languages, Slovene exhibits still other Proto-Slavic characteristics; the dual, as with the Wends in Lusation; the supine, as with the Czechs; the genitive in the negative form as found in the Balto-Slavic group. The large number of dialects, forty-six altogether, reveals the [sic] great age of the Slovene language, as is not the case with any other Slavic language ... In Slovene, all the reflections of the ancient Proto-Slavic have been preserved."[14]

To fathom the implications of only one of these "reflections," the metathesis of /-tl/ and /-dl/, let the reader but pause to consider �avli's statement [15] "The West Slavic languages in this region [Kashubian Zone] have preserved certain ancient peculiarities; e-g., the characteristic Proto-Slavic consonant pair ti and dl. The same consonant pair is retained in the northwest Russian dialect of Pskov; Le., in the region of the 'Slovieni'. . ." Actually, in point of fact, only Kashubian -- often misclassified as a Polish dialect --preserves without metathesis the Proto-Slavic /-tl-/ and /-dl-/, as de Bray observes in his Guide to the West Slavonic Languages: [16] "... Kashubian can be considered a transition to the old dialects of the now Germanized Slavs on the left bank of the lower Oder. With them it affords some examples of Slavonic words without the metathesis of liquids. . ." For the other West Slavic languages, de Bray confirms: ". . . Czech: The Slavonic metathesis of liquids. Here Czech has the same forms as South Slav [17] ... Slovak: The Slavonic metathesis of liquids. Slovak, like Czech, has the same forms and vowels as the South Slav languages [18]... Lusatian, like Polish has true West Slav forms with vowels ... after the liquids [metathesis]." [19]

The earliest South Slavic language with ample documentation is Old Church Slavonic which was reduced to writing by the Macedonian saints, Methodius and Cyril (mid-ninth century.) Characteristic of this language, as of every South Slavic language thereafter, is the metathesis of /-tl-/ and /-dl-/. How then are we to account for the preservation of this archaic distinctive feature in any South Slavic dialect? Linguistic innovation is not known to reverse itself once carried out. And yet it is precisely in Carinthia that we find this Proto-Slavic feature shared with Kashubian and the Sloviene dialect of Pskov, Russia. Only one conceivable explanation presents itself. The Carinthian dialects of Slovenian are not to be understood as transitional to West Slavic, but rather as uniquely residual from the primordial Slavic language, Venetic, once spoken throughout the region. They must be seen as the linguistic residue of dialects which somehow remained unaffected by the great South Slavic isoglossic fans that, through the centuries, swept through the Balkans and into the eastern Alps. This, as indeed every piece of evidence set forth by the authors of Veneti leads inexorably to the justification and substantiation of their conclusions.

Their labor is to be applauded and The Augustan Society can take pride that one of these remarkable men, Dr. Jozko �avli, stands among us as one of our own.