The Lion of Thuringia

I was recently reading some old accounts of the legend of Nine Crosses at Červený Kostelec. [1] The story is basically a late medieval version of Romeo and Juliet set on the Náchod estate in northeastern Bohemia, except that unlike Shakespeare’s version, these events probably really did happen in real life.

Nine Crosses Memorial in Lhota za Červeným Kostelcem [2]

To this day, a crucifix stands in Lhota za Červeným Kostelcem in Hradec Králové, Czechia commemorating the nine noblemen who lost their lives in this romantic misadventure in the year 1428.

Yet what caught my attention was the following passage from the story:

Byl parný den roku 1428 v měsíci červnu. Na hradě Vízmburku hledali zbrojnoši stinná místa a čistili zbroj. Pán a majitel hradu s panstvím se rozhlížel z hradní věže po překrásné krajině. Jeho zrak utkvěl na městečku Úpice, pak prohlédl celou řeku až ke hradu Červená hora a zahlédl i tvrz Turyň, ztracenou za hustými lesy. Mezi buky, borovicemi i smrky zahlédl v dálce i věž náchodského hradu.

It was a steamy June day in the year 1428. At Vízmburk Castle, the gunsmiths searched for a shady place and cleaned their guns. The lord and owner of the castle and manor looked about the beautiful landscape from the castle tower. His gaze fixed upon the small village of Úpice, then he inspected the entire river as far as Červená Hora castle and even saw the fortress Turyň, lost behind the dense forests. Amongst the beeches, pines and spruces, he even saw the tower of Náchod castle off in the distance.

Toponyms are probably my favorite diversion, and that name Turyň is definitely something we’ve all heard before. Even the Google AI will tell you that it sure sounds a lot like the famous city of Turin, Italy:

The correspondences between Bohemia and northern Italy are worth exploring in their own right, but some brief highlights include:

  • The ancient Boii were said to have left their home in Bohemia and conquered most of northern Italy in the fourth century B.C., crossing the river Po and giving their name to Bologna, Italy. In 191 B.C. they were defeated by the Romans and driven back north of the Alps. [3,4]
  • King Charles IV of Prague waged war in Tuscany, Italy against the Houses of Visconti and Scaligeri in the 1330s, founding the fortress Montecarlo in Lucca, Italy in the process. [5]
  • Between 1634 and 1783, the Náchod estate was owned by the Piccolomini family of Siena, Italy. This same family produced two Roman Catholic Popes — Pope Pius II (née Enea Silvio Piccolomini, †1464), and Pope Pius III (née Francesco Piccolomini, †1503). [6, 7, 8]

But there’s another matching and perhaps less obvious toponym that’s just as interesting — the German province of Thurginia, located just west of the Czech border.

The German province of Thurginia [9]

Here again the Google AI agrees that we’re onto something:

During the reign of Charles IV the Bohemian Crown exercised jurisdiction over a small portion of the Upper Palatinate in Bavaria that is now known historically as the Bohemian Palatinate, with its administrative center in Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Germany. [10] But while Slavic influence over a small portion of northern Bavaria is one thing, what are we to make of the whole of Thuringia?

We could start by taking a look at their coat of arms:

Thuringian Coat of Arms [9]

I don’t know about you, but to me that sure looks a lot like a Bohemian lion dressed up in pan-Slavic red, white and blue. 😉

Thuringian Flag [9]

The Thuringian flag isn’t really any more convincing — it looks like a straight up clone of the ancient Bohemian flag, and/or the modern Polish flag.

An interesting quirk of history that’s never been adequately explained (as far as I know) is the seemingly close relationship between the Low Countries and Bohemia:

  • King Samo, King of Slavs, who would go on to create a Slavic kingdom loosely centered (geographically) on modern Prague, was born in c. 600 in Soignies, Belgium. [11]
  • One of the world’s oldest pub, in business since 1375 and located immediately adjacent to Prague Castle, is named “At the Brabantian King’s” (i.e., “U Krále Brabantského”), a reference to the province of Brabant in the Low Countries. [12]
  • The most successful line of Bohemian kings, including Charles IV, were all from the House of Luxembourg.
  • The Nyvlt family, a family of some local prominence in the Podkrkonoší (i.e., Sudeten) region of northeastern Bohemia, migrated to Bohemia in the mid-15th century from Utrecht, Holland.

Many more examples could be cited, but this is a good start.

These correspondences are seemingly difficult to explain in terms of what we know about medieval commerce. For instance, in the Middle Ages, national boundaries were defined largely by river basins — Bohemia, almost by definition, is that land which drains into the Elbe River, which in turn drains directly into Hanseatic Hamburg. You might expect kings and pubs in Prague to be named after people and places in Hamburg or Saxony, but instead the correspondence seems to be much stronger with the Low Countries — countries which sit the mouth of the Rhine River and which have no obvious maritime passage directly into Bohemia.

The shortest, most direct overland  route connecting  Amsterdam and Prague cuts straight through the center of Thuringia.

The German province of Thuringia, however, sits directly on the straight-line overland route connecting Amsterdam and Prague. Thuringia is also mostly inside the Fowler Line, a region discussed earlier that demarcates ethnically Slavic populations inside modern German borders. [13] Thuringia and the Low Countries are topics that we will explore in more depth soon, this post is intended as a short primer on both.

Related Articles

Footnotes

  1. Devět křížů. [Source]
  2. Národní Památkový Ústav, Krucifix U Devíti křížů. [Source]
  3. Wikipedia, Boii. [Source]
  4. The words “boii”, or “boi”, “boj”, or sometimes spelled “voj” or “woj” all mean “war”, “warrior”, “battle”, or “fight” in Slavic.
  5. Wikipedia, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. [Source]
  6. Wikipedia, Piccolomini. [Source]
  7. Wikipedia, Náchod. [Source]
  8. Pope Pius III had one of the shortest reigns in Vatican history, lasting only for a few weeks from September 22, 1503 to October 18, 1503.
  9. Wikipedia, Thuringia. [Source]
  10. Wikipedia, Bohemian Palatinate. [Source]
  11. Wikipedia, Samo [Source]
  12. Holland, Belgium and northern France all have provinces or regions named Brabant.
  13. Yiddish-Speaking Slavs [Source]

3 thoughts on “The Lion of Thuringia

  1. Another name that could be added to the list of Czech-BeNeLux nexus points is that of John Amos Comenius, the well-known 17th-century theologian and pedagogue. He was born in Moravia (1592) and died in Amsterdam (1670).

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s