Lives Journal 6

Srechko Vilhar




The history of the Slovenians, who in the 12th century were still very much present as far west as the River Tagliamento, is shrouded in obscurity. Old sources tell us very little about them and are inaccurate and deficient. None of the old historians and writers tells us how far west our people were settled. Some modern historians strive in vain to unravel various myths and legends and solve the problem in this way but this kind of research has proved unproductive. These historians do nothing but mislead.

We must therefore look for new ways and new perspectives. The linguist must do what do historian cannot.

The study of place names in northern Italy (the Alps) and Friuli brings us to interesting and above all concrete results.

Many place names in northern Italy clearly show that Slovenians lived there long ago. In Alpine regions, the terminology used by our shepherds in connection with their work is particularly widespread. Examples of such words are: tanar, polica, planja, planica, krnica, kuk (hmelj), kocelj, kukla, chukla (kolk), laz, peski, draga, kalishche, poljana, dol etc.

The Slovenian word “kuk”, which denotes something that sticks out, is widespread all over northern Italy. Needless to say, there are many mountains in our Alps that bear this name. This is particularly the case in areas in which shepherds were present. The Italian geologist Marinelli counted 18 “kuks” (peaks) in the Carnic Alps, and around Ravenna he counted 5 of them. This word is widespread in the Alps far towards the West. So, for example, in the province of Como, there is a mountain called Monte Cuco (2652 m) and in its vicinity are many other “kuks”.

The Slovenian word “tamar”, which denotes a fenced off area at an elevated altitude (for sheep) is also very widespread in the Alps. In some places, Slovenian shepherds still use the verb “tamariti” = to herd flocks from one place to another.

Near Lake Maggiore is Monte Tamaro, and next to it also Gradisca (1028 m) and Cucco. Mount Tamar (2241 m) is also part of the Cimone della Pala group.

There are of course innumerable other Slovenian words. Near Trento there is a place called Predol and Mt. Calis (in Ladin = calisciù), which is the same as the Slovenian Kalishche (near Begunje). Near Lago di Garda there is a place called Dolo, and around Padua there are many places called “dolo” (dol, dolina - valley). Near Como there is a place called “Pogliano”. Most place names in the Alps (n. Italy) and Friuli are Slovenian names that have been distorted. What is Piave (name of a river) supposed to mean in Italian? And Livenza?

The Ladins in Tirol have many Slovenian words. Dr. Belli, who studied names in Tirol (termini dialettali nel Trentino) mentions the Ladin words: suer (sovar) = vento del nord sul lago di Como = Slov. Sever (north); planizie = basso di valle = Slov. planica; sgreben = terreno alpestre sassoso = Slov. greben (groblja).

In 12th century Friuli and later, Slovenian was the common language of conversation. The Slovenian nobility was still strong here when they had long since disappeared amongst other Slavs. For example, the Chuk and Bojan clans are known from this period.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, various intellectuals and especially priests eagerly translated various church works and secular documents into Slovenian (Johannes civis Vegle, Sommaripa). Many other manuscripts have also been preserved.

As the Slovenians were mainly shepherds, they were like islands in the inhospitable and thickly forested region of Friuli. Despite their relatively low level of culture it was so much easier for them to be romanised. Assimilation was therefore inevitable. However, the names of lakes, rivers, mountains and settlements everywhere clearly show us the traces of a Slovenian population. Near the River Tagliamento there are villages called Beograd, Gorichica etc.

The Slovenians could survive on this wide territory only in those parts where they had natural protection from neighbours and their culture. This is especially typical of the Resians who live in the mountain valley of the river Bela (Resia) at the foot of the Mt Kanin massif. These people are incredibly tough also in the physical sense. A Resian is tall in stature, muscular, lean and tanned. The Venetian governor Aloise Marcello reported in 1599 on the Resians and their neighbours: “sono quasi tutti bellissimi uomini e degli più alti”. The present-day Italian national statistics also came to this conclusion. The Slovenian poet Stanko Vraz wrote about them:


Further towards the west

in peaceful shelter

live a people as happy

as a baby in bloom


Their home feeds them poorly,

but like the birds to the sky

they happily fly

through the world for their bread.



When the Resians came under Venetian rule and when their economic ties were consolidated southwards, Italian influences grew stronger. As there was not enough contact with other Slovenians, their language also became considerably removed from standard Slovenian and developed in its own way. This was aided especially by an unfavourable economic location, which prevented lively contact with Slovenians living on the other side of Kanin and Kolovrat.

The Polish linguist B. de Courtenay maintained that the Resians are a special branch of Slavs who have little in common with the Slovenians. Meanwhile, some people say that the Resians came from Russia; they try to prove that their language is very similar to Russian and attempt to back this up by claiming that Resians acted as interpreters for the Russian General Suvorov (who came to Italy in the time of Napoleon’s wars). They also mention that the Cossacks were very surprised when they heard in Italy a language that so strongly resembled their own.


However, the only correct claim is that the Resians are genuine Slovenians (the Italians claim that the Resians are Italian people!).




A document from 1242 mentions the Resian famers: Gorjanin, Golob, Bilino, Chrnigoj, Kos, Vekoslav, Janjigoj, Popligoj etc.

Another document from the 13th century lists the names of Resian farmers: Stanigoj, Siliboj, Radosh, Mali, Ljubigoj, Vogrich, Cherni, Chadezh etc.

In the same period we find around the city of Gorizia equally beautiful and authentic Slovenian names. A document from 1300 mentions two farmers from Trnovo called Dragonja and Ljubigoj. A document from 1181 mentions the farmers from Shteverjan: Budin, Stojan, Zdebor, Dobrushka, Velikonja, Tihonja etc. A document from 1360, concerning the village of Vishnjevik in the Gorishka Brda region mentions someone called Bojan and someone called Chrne.

A document from 1290 mentions the farmers Chaslav and Koroshec from Fojana, as well as a famer called Sebislav from Trnovo.

The name Budigoj is still widespread around Resia nowadays; by the valley of the river Idrija there is a place called Budigoj. In the 15th century this name was widespread also in Gorizia (Kos).

I believe this is strong enough proof that the Resians are neither Russians, nor Italians, nor some unknown branch of Slavs. This all goes to show that the people living in Resia are of the same Slovenian descent as those living in the Soča valley, for example.

It is, however, interesting that the language of the Carinthian Slovenians (Zilja valley) is very similar to Resian. Some forms of words are used only in Carinthia and Resia; e.g. brater (brat - brother), pozde (pozno - late), nebozec (sveder - drill) etc. The Resians also count in the same way as the Carinthians.

Research in this domain (language, place names, etc.) will open the way for historians into a period, which has been like a great void between the ruin of the Roman Empire and the late Middle Ages.

Some conscientious Italian geologists (Marinelli, Sergi, Belli, etc.) now allow this possibility. Research in this domain also brings us to other findings.

There is no trace of the Celts? Some Latin place names can be interpreted as being Slovenian? It is also being asserted that Slovenians (shepherds) were the indigenous population in Alpine regions of northern Italy.


ISTRA (Zagreb), 29. 4. 1932


Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich




Slovenian (gajica)

Slovenian (bohorichica)