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Wends (Old English: Winedas, Old Norse: Vindr, German: Wenden, Winden, Danish: Vendere, Swedish: Vender, Polish: Wendowie) is a historical name for Slavs living near Germanic settlement areas. It does not refer to a homogeneous people, but to various peoples, tribes or groups depending on where and when it is used.
In the Middle Ages the term "Wends" often referred to Western Slavs living within the Holy Roman Empire, though not always. Mieszko I, the first historical ruler of Poland, also appeared as "Dagome, King of the Wends" (Old Norse: Vindakonungr). The name has also survived in Finnic languages (Finnish: Venäjä, Estonian: Vene, Karelian: Veneä) denoting Russia.
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 (see Relation between Veneti and Slavs for further details).
For the medieval Scandinavians, the term Wends (Vender) meant Slavs living near the southern shore of the Baltic Sea (Vendland), the term was therefore used to refer to Polabian Slavs like 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. Polabian people from Bavaria Slavica or the Slovenes (the names Windic March and Windisch Feistritz still bear testimony to this historical denomination).
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.
In the third book of his Geographia, Ptolemy mentions the Ouenedai among other dwellers on the Baltic shore in the middle of the 2nd century. Some early scholars identified the Ouenedai with the Wends, however, based on linguistic facts, modern academic views now argue that the Ouenedai were ethnolinguistically different from Slavs and hence cannot be equated with Wends.
In the 1st millennium CE, 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 6thC. Armenian Histories, Movses Khorenatsi mentions their raids into the lands named Vanand after them.
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.
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 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, German colonists settled in the Wend lands in large numbers, transforming the area's culture from a Slavic to a Germanic one. Local dukes and monasteries invited settlers to repopulate land devastated in the wars, to cultivate the large woodlands and heavy soils that had not supported agriculture beforehand, and to found cities as part of the "Ostsiedlung" (German eastward expansion).
The Polabian language was spoken in the central area of Lower Saxony and in Brandenburg until around the 17th or 18th century. The German population assimilated most of the Wends, meaning that they disappeared as an ethnic minority - except for some 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 Geats and the Wends (in Latin translation: kings of Suiones, Goths and Vandals) (Swedish: Svears, Götes och Wendes Konung). The current[update] Swedish monarch, Carl XVI Gustaf chose only to use the title King of Sweden" (Sveriges Konung), thereby changing an age-old tradition.
Historically, the term "Wends" has also occurred in the following contexts:
|Wikisource has the text of a 1920 Encyclopedia Americana article about Wends.|