Lech, Čech, and Rus
Lech, Čech (or Czech), and Rus are three legendary brothers who founded three Slavic nations: Lechia (Poland), Czechia (Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia; thus the modern Czech Republic), and Ruthenia (Rus', modern Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine). There are multiple versions of the legend, including several regional variants that mention only one or two of the brothers.
Variants of the legend
In the Polish version of the legend, three brothers went hunting together but each of them followed a different prey and eventually they all traveled in different directions. Rus went to the east, Čech headed to the west to settle on the Říp Mountain rising up from the Bohemian hilly countryside, while Lech traveled north. There, while hunting, he followed his arrow and suddenly found himself face-to-face with a fierce, white eagle guarding its nest from intruders. Seeing the eagle against the red of the setting sun, Lech took this as a good omen and decided to settle there. He named his settlement Gniezno (Polish gniazdo - 'nest') in commemoration and adopted the White Eagle as his coat-of-arms. The white eagle remains a symbol of Poland to this day, and the colors of the eagle and the setting sun are depicted in Poland's flag.
Czech, or Praotec Čech (pronounced [ˈpra.otɛts ˈtʃɛx]; Forefather Čech) also comes under the Latin name Bohemus, for the name is based on a pre-Slavic Celtic designation (Celtic tribe Boii, Latin form Boiohaemum that was used for Czech lands).
A variant of this legend, involving only two brothers, is also known in the Czech Republic. As described by Alois Jirásek in Staré pověsti české, two brothers came to Central Europe from the east: Čech and Lech. As in the Polish version, Čech is identified as the founder of the Czech nation (Češi pl.) and Lech as the founder of the Polish nation. Čech had to climb up the mountain Říp, look to the landscape and settled with a tribe in the area, whereas Lech continued to the lowlands of the north.
A similar legend (with partly changed names) was also registered in folk tales at two separated locations in Croatia: in the Kajkavian dialect of Krapina in Zagorje (northern Croatia) and in the Chakavian dialect of Poljica on the Adriatic Sea (central Dalmatia). The Croatian variant was described and analysed in detail by S. Sakač in 1940.
Legend versus reality
The earliest Polish mention of Lech, Čech, and Rus is found in the Chronicle of Greater Poland written in 1295 in Gniezno or Poznań. In Bohemian chronicles, Čech appears on his own or with Lech only; he is first mentioned as Bohemus in Cosmas' chronicle (1125).
The legend suggests the common ancestry of the Poles, the Czechs and the Ruthenians (Ukrainians and Belarusians) and illustrates the fact that as early as the 13th century, at least three different Slavic peoples were aware of being ethnically and linguistically interrelated, and, indeed, derived from a common root stock.
The legends also agree with the location of the homeland of the Slavic peoples in eastern Europe. This area overlapped the region presumed by mainstream scholarship to be the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the general region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe. In the framework of the Kurgan hypothesis, "the Indo-Europeans who remained after the migrations became speakers of Balto-Slavic".
A prominent Renaissance Polish man of letters, Jan Kochanowski, in his essay on the origin of the Slavs, makes no mention of the third "brother", Rus. Moreover, he dismisses the legend entirely, stating that "no historian who has taken up the subject of the Slavic nation [...] mentions any of those two Slavic leaders, Lech and Czech". He goes on to assume that "Czechy" and "Lachy" are quite probably the original names for the two nations, although he does not dismiss the possibility that there might have been a great leader by the name Lech whose name replaced the original and later forgotten name for the Polish nation.
Oaks of Rogalin
Lech, Czech, and Rus are three ancient large oaks in the garden adjacent to the 18th-century palace in Rogalin, Greater Poland. Each of them is several hundred years old. They vary between 23 and 30 feet (7 and 9 m). They have been declared natural landmarks and placed under protection.
- Lech — a Bohemian prince who was killed in the war with Charlemagne's army in 805
- Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv
- Etymology of Rus and derivatives
- Reges Et Principes Regni Poloniae Adrian Kochan Wolski; Riksarkivet E 8603; BUV 220.127.116.11  Quote: LECHUS adest, a quo deducta colonia nostra est.
- Andreas Osiander, Before the state: systemic political change in the West from the Greeks to the French Revolution, pg. 241, Oxford University Press (2008), ISBN 0-19-829451-4
- Krapina-Kijev-Ararat, Priča o troje braće i jednoj sestri. Život 21/3: 129–149, Zagreb
- "Fix hiis itaque Pannoniis tres fratres filii Pan principis Pannoniorum nati fuere quorum primogenitus Lech, alter Rus, tercius Czech nomine habuerunt. Et hii tres hec tria regna Lechitarum, Ruthenorum, et Czechorum quit et Bohemi [...] Germo est quaddam instrumentum in quo duo boves simul iuncti trahendo aratrum seu plaustrum incedunt, sic et Theutunici cum slavis regna contigua habentes simul ..." Translation: Among the Pannonians, therefore, three brothers were born to Pan, prince of the Pannonians. The first was named Lech, the second Rus and the third Czech. These three held the three kingdoms of the Lechites [Poles], Russians and Czechs (or Bohemians) […] Germo is a type of vehicle in which two oxen are yoked together to draw a plough or pull a cart, and so the Germans and the Slavs, having common borders, pull together; there is no people in the world so familiar and friendly to one another as the Slavs and Germans. [in:] Chronica Poloniae Maioris. Kronika Wielkopolska. ed. and commentary by Brygida Kürbis. Warszawa 1970
- Anthony, David W. (2007). The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Prss. ISBN 978-0-691-05887-0.
- F. Kortlandt, The spread of the Indo-Europeans, p.4
- Jan Kochanowski, Proza polska, Universitas, Kraków 2004, pp. 19-21 (in Polish)
- Taylor, Patrick (2006). The Oxford Companion to the Garden. Oxford University Press. p. 411. ISBN 0-198-66255-6.