Fanes' saga - Short essays
The populations of the Dolomites
Fanes’ saga quotes several peoples as inhabitants of the
Dolomites. Obviously, we cannot extract them from the myth and
assign them a geographic and historical location, as if we possessed
an archaeological evidence of their actual existence. However,
the saga allows to reconstruct a surprising picture. Let us start
by reordering what the legends actually tell about them.
peoples already appear in the "myth
of the origins" :
very knowledgeable, fond of song, they own magic, silvery wind
music instruments, the “tìmpenes”.
They inhabit the Popena valley, from the lake of Landro up to
the highlands around the Tre Cime. From their castle, the Croda
Rossa is on full sight. The word “landro”
(from Latin antrum=cavern), which is present with the
same specific meaning both in Ladinian and in Friulian, makes
us suppose that the Landrines, although knowledgeable (with respect
to the Fanes!) are cave-dwellers. We may presume that the “royal
castle” itself isn’t but a well-defendable and fortified
cavern. The territory of this people appears (maybe) partially
located in the valleys, but is mostly placed on highlands, like
the Fanes’ one. They seem to represent a matriarchal society,
since a “king” is never mentioned. Observe, moreover,
that the prince’s bride, who comes from abroad, is never
completely accepted, and eventually she is compelled to go away..
As far as the “tìmpenes”
are concerned, notice the synonimy, that we shall find again and
again in the legend: “magic” = “silvery”
= “metallic”, and in the case of an ancient trumpet
the metal can’t be but bronze. Did the Landrines smelt bronze
themselves, did they have it worked by itinerant smelters, or
did they just procure their tìmpenes
through bartering of other products?
The Bedoyeres: they live farther North and their
queen “is the proudest and mightiest Queen all over the
Thence, they should have lived in the Pusteria valley; at least
since Aeneolithic up to the end of the Bronze Age, a wealthy community
with several villages was settled in that valley, out of which
a number of findings have been recovered. Legend clearly shows
them organized as a matriarchate. “Bedoia”
in Ladinian means “birch-tree”, therefore the Bedoyeres
should be “the
people of the birches"”.
Is it possible that in the past the Pusteria was mainly covered
by birches, instead of conifers like today? We sure can’t
rule it out.
the Fanes saga proper:
Bedoyeres aren’t mentioned any longer. After Moltina’s
story, datable to several centuries earlier, they have completely
disappeared from the scene. We may suppose that they were swept
away by invasions from the East, according to what archaeological
findings tell us. It is probable, however, that settlements in
the fertile Pusteria have been rebuilt again and again, and that
the valley has been initially re-colonized by the Rhaetians themseleves
quite early; therefeore, we cannot discard that the Fanes “visited”
it, but certainly what had been the people of “the proudest
and mightiest Queen all over the Alps” doesn’t even
deserve being hinted at any longer.
The Landrines, on the contrary, obtain being mentioned: the legend
generically claims they were defeated twice. It is possible that
they escaped the Bedoyeres’ doom by retiring on their highlands,
but even if so, they must just be the shadow of the relevant people
they once were. In any case, evidently the Fanes don’t feel
bound to them by any type of kinship. According to Wolff,
the Landrines don’t take any part in the final coalition
against the Fanes, while Morlang
on the contrary add them to the list. He might be throwing everything
available into the soup; but even if this were not the case, their
role would remain quite marginal.
We can remark that in the (certainly medieval) legend of the “Knight
of the crocuses” it is stated that the Bedoyeres defeated
the Landrines and the Fanes destroyed the Bedoyeres. These are
heavily distorted notions, if not wholly invented. At most, even
if we were to concede that they may derive from a genuine traditional
core, we might admit that the Landrines were defeated by a people
who came from the Pusteria and the Fanes just destroyed a few
villages that were beginning to grow up in the intervals between
can also observe that no significant populations are quoted in
the Fassa valley, nor in Gardena, nor in Badia, nor in the Ampezzo
bowl: at most, a few silvani.
The situation of the four valleys appears however slightly different
from each other.
The Ampezzo area apparently was not steadily
populated before the early Middle-Ages: therefore it is not disconcerting
that we find it more or less uninhabited at the end of Bronze.
The Badia valley was populated by stable settlements
in the middle and late Bronze, but around 1300 B.C. these were
destroyed; and therefore this also would be o.k..
The Gardena valley – which, strangely enough,
is never quoted by any passage in the whole legend cycle –
was on the contrary in the Bronze Age the site of important cult
places, that allow us to suppose the existence of settlements
as well; and the cult was still alive in the Iron Age also. Were
these villages destroyed them too at the end of the late Bronze,
although the valley were less exposed to invasions, and were rebuilt
only later? Were they not such as to claim the Fanes’ attentions?
For any reason, maybe a religious one, or because they were appeared
fearsome, the Fanes respected them? Or did they stipulate a pact?
Or did the Gardena people enjoy their share of raids, and were
not mentioned by sheer chance? I’m unable to advance any
answer. We always must remind that we are dealing with myth, not
history; therefore we must be ready to grasp an outline, or some
details, that may match what we know by other means, but we cannot
expect it to deliver a complete, consistent and coherent picture
in all occasions.
Even more delicate is the case of the Fassa valley.
It certainly was the site of a few hamlets in the Bronze Age,
and later on in the Iron Age also, although the findings here
don’t appear to be as significant as in the Gardena valley.
Its position is such that it is highly unprobable that it was
sacked and put on fire by the first Rhaetian invasions. Yet, in
the legend we find it unpopulated. There is the exception of the
“dwarfs” (= silvani)
of mount Latemar, perhaps located at the border between Fiemme
and Fassa, who are capable of metalworking of some even qualitative
relevance. Apparently, they were not destroyed. And then? The
upper valley of the Avisio stream was gradually abandoned for
some other reason? Were the silvani
fading out by themselves (following epidemics, or other causes?)
Other questions with no answer outside of the myth.
us discuss now, instead, of the peoples who compose the anti-Fanes
first, and the most important, are the Caiutes.
They are described as the Fanes’ arch-enemies, the backbone
of the coalition that will eventually destroy them (even if we
shall see that things are slightly different). It is stated that
they move against the Fanes “from mount Migogn”: this
is a part of their territory, but its size is too small to make
it the exclusive residence of a “powerful” people
(leaving aside that Ey-de-Net combs the mountain for days without
meeting a living soul). The Caiutes evidently live in the upper
valley of the Cordevole (elsewhere it is stated that they live
“south of the Marmolada”; in “Albolina”
it is said that their country stretched “down to Agordo”).
have then the Lastoieres,
probably the most exposed and most harassed by the Fanes: their
name too closely reminds the Lastoi di Formin to allow locating
them far away from these. As a matter of fact, today the Lastoi
are so desertic a stonefield that in comparison the Fanes’
Alps look like the garden of Eden: once maybe it was not so,
or the Lastoieres just lived nearby, possibly on the Mondeval
Cadubrenes are the only
ones whose name is still nowadays applied to a definite territory:
we can reasonably conclude that they inhabited the Cadore. “Cadubrenes”
is an adaptation of “Catubriges”, which is a Celtic
word. It is possible, however, that the people who are named here
that way really occupied the Cadore earlier than the Celtic invasions
(through the Alps, not through the Po plain; V-IV century B.C.?).
to what the legend “The
sorcerers of the Delamis wood” says, should have dwelled
either in the Zoldo valley or in the area around Agordo; elsewhere,
however (see above) it is stated that Agordo was a part of the
Caiutes’ territory. On the other hand, it seems that “Peles”
or “Peleghes” (from “Pale”?) was an ancient
Ladinian name of mount Pelmo (Palmieri);
if so, their residence can be identified in the Zoldo area, probably
once again on a plateau.
Duranni, reknowned warriors,
inhabit the “remote Pregajanis”; their name is preserved
in a few placenames scattered on a wide area of the Belluno province
(Duran pass, mount Duranno…). Again according to “The
sorcerers of the Delamis wood”, they live between the
Peleghetes and the plain. Spina-de-Mul obtains their help before
of the Peleghetes’ one, whom he visits on his way back;
therefore they should be located farther away than the latter
ones, but not too much. In “Merisana’s
wedding” it is stated that the protagonist (an undine
of the Costeana
valley, in the Cortina bowl) was the queen of a mythical kingdom
stretching “from mount Cristallo to the Duranni’s
blue mountains”. Since mount Cristallo rises North of Cortina,
the “blue mountains” must be located South, and this
discards that their colour may be determined by ice. Thence they
are misty mountains seen from a distance, and the last mountains
visible South are those which crown the northern side of the Belluna
valley (little more than thirty km from Cortina at birds’
flight): just a little beyond them, there’s the plain.
is, finally, a quick hint to the fact that among the troops fighting
at the Furcia
dai Fers there are those sent “even from the Sillivena
and the remote Splanedis”.
(in his “gleanings” attached to the “White alpine
roses of the Dolomites” takes care of telling us what the
Sillivena is: it is the Alpago, where this name was still being
remembered at his times, as well as a strict relationship with
the ancient Venetic town named Oderzo.
And now, the meaning of that mysterious “remote Splanedis”,
quoted aside the Sillivena, suddenly becomes clear: the “splanedis”
(with lowercase initial) is nothing but the Italian “spianata”
(flat land), i.e. the plain, the Venetian plain that stretches,
apparently unlimited, at the feet of the last hills. Wolff
himself (as I learned later, after several headaches about this
"Splanedis") clearly states that in his Foreword
to the Eighth Issue of his Dolomitensagen.
So the whole, apparently random picture of
all peoples mentioned above suddenly takes a well defined outline
and colours. What we see is a group of peoples who fosters a unitarian
spirit, a sense of statehood, as rudimentary as you may like,
but sufficient to send troops even from the plain to help a remote
highland outpost threatened by foes: in this place and at this
time, they cannot be but the Palaeo-Venetics.
From their seats in the plain (“splanedis”)
they have conquered,(or colonized, or federated) the Alpago (Sillivena)
and the Belluna valley, that can’t but coincide with the
“remote Pregajanis”: farther away from the Fanes area
than the Zoldo valley or the Agordo area, but closer than the
Sillivena, crowned by the last mountains visible to the South,
broad enough to feed a powerful population, and site of several
ancient and important Palaeo-Venetic settlements. From here, presumably
looking for ore mines, the colonists have climbed up the valleys,
incorporating into their sphere of influence all peoples that
already had settled there: in the Piave mainstream valley, the
Catubrenes; in the Cordevole basin, Caiutes and Lastoieres; in
the Maè one, the Peleghetes.
must say that not all scientists are of the same opinion about
the Palaeo-Venetics’ origin, like about the Etruscans’
one. Classical sources, actually, define them as a people from
Asia Minor that fought aside the Trojans and were scattered after
their defeat, eventually landing on the northern shores of the
Hadriatic sea As a matter of fact, their language and some cultural
traits differentiate them from the pre-existing populations, while
archaeological findings don’t show any substantial discontinuity
in coincidence with their arrival.
It is probable, therefore, that only a relatively small group
of colonists actually came to the Venetian area by sea, maybe
in a sequence of waves from the end of the XI century B.C. onwards,
and that their expansion was relatively peaceful and looked more
like a steady increase of their political and cultural influence
than a warlike invasion.
For this reason, we may expect that the tribes who join the anti-Fanes
coalition are in their majority composed by people of the same
ethnical stock to which the Fanes themselves belong, however yet
culturally and politically well inserted into the Palaeo-Venetic
sphere and, maybe, at least partially controlled by an aristocratic
class of that same ethnical origin.
The legend tells us very little about the cultural features of
the coalition tribes. We can presume that their society was organized
as a patriarchate, also since the legend always and only speaks
of kings, and never of queens. They seem to be lowland or valley
people, better than highlanders, as in any case we had to expect:
therefore, they presumably practice extensive livestock raising
and farming. They sure are clever at metalworking: probably they
also brought with themselves from the East the first notions about
iron workmanship, that shortly later will display an explosive
diffusion (it’s almost certain that the Caiutes, and maybe
not them alone, gave a strong impulse to mining activities in
their territory). On the religious ground, they accept the previous
existing cults, which from the Bronze Age will continue, substantially
undisturbed, into the Iron one: cult of waters, maybe also connected
with Sun worship, ritual bonfires: obviously, however, in this
field also they introduce new concepts, probably a personification
of the deities (Reitia, the three-faced Trumusjatis…) who
previously seem as having been felt only as “spirits of
A partial exception to this picture may be represented by the
people of Lastoieres who, as we said, probably are a highland
tribe, therefore culturally closer to the Fanes than to the others,
even if under all aspects politically bound to the Palaeo-Venetics
- and the Fanes’ raids obviously tend to further reinforce