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The Fanes' saga - Short essays


The populations of the Dolomites


The 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.

Two peoples already appear in the "myth of the origins" :

The Landrines: 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 Alps”.
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.

In the Fanes saga proper:

The 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 invasion waves.

We 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.

Let us discuss now, instead, of the peoples who compose the anti-Fanes coalitions.

The 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”).

We 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 highlands.

The 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.?).

The Peleghetes, according 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.

The 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.

There 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”.
Wolff himself (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.

We 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 nature”.
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 this connection.