Lech, Czech, and Rus'

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The brothers Lech and Czech, founders of West Slavic lands of Lechia (Poland) and Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic) in "Chronica Polonorum" (1506)

Lech, Czech and Rus' (Czech pronunciation: [lɛx tʃɛx rus], Polish pronunciation: [lɛx t͡ʂɛx rus]) refers to a founding legend of three Slavic brothers: the Poles (or Lechites), the Czechs, and the Rus'. The three legendary brothers appear together in the Wielkopolska Chronicle, compiled in the early 14th century. The legend states that the brothers, on a hunting trip, followed different prey and thus travelled (and settled) in different directions: Lech in the northwest, Czech in the west, and Rus' in the northeast. There are multiple versions of the legend, including several regional variants throughout West Slavic, and to lesser extent, other Slavic countries that mention only one or two brothers. The three also figure into the origin myth of South Slavic peoples in some legends. Their stories are often, to some extent as well, used as a myth to understand the eventual foundation of the Polish, Czech and the East Slavic states (Kievan Rus'), in accordance with the legend.[1]

Polish version[edit]

Lech, Czech, Rus' and the White Eagle, as painted by Walery Eljasz-Radzikowski (1841–1905)

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. Lech, while hunting, 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 coat of arms, as well as its flag, with a white stripe on top for the eagle, and a red stripe on the bottom for the sunset.

According to Wielkopolska Chronicle (13th century), Slavs are descendants of Pan, a Pannonian prince. He had three sons – Lech (the youngest), Rus', and Čech (the oldest), who decided to settle north, east, and west, respectively.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

Czech version[edit]

A variant of this legend, involving only two brothers (and three sisters), is also known in the Czech Republic. 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. Zdeněk Nejedlý argued that Cosmas of Prague's Chronica Boemorum (12th century) described Čech's arrival from Northeastern Bohemia once called White Croatia.[8] The older chronicles from 14th century (such as those of Dalimil, Wenceslaus Hajek and Přibík Pulkava z Radenína) do not specify the location of Čech and Lech's homeland Charvaty, but in the Alois Jirásek retelling of Staré pověsti české (Old Bohemian Legends) from 1894 it is more closely determined; Za Tatrami, v rovinách při řece Visle rozkládala se od nepaměti charvátská země, část prvotní veliké vlasti slovanské (Behind the Tatra Mountains, in the plains of the river Vistula, stretched from immemorial time Charvátská country (probably meaning so-called Great or White Croatia[9]), the initial part of the great Slavic homeland), and V té charvátské zemi bytovala četná plemena, příbuzná jazykem, mravy, způsobem života (In Charvátská existed numerous tribes, related by language, manners, and way of life).[10] In the same century, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor in 1347 claimed "seniority of Croatian" language over Bohemian language, while Jan of Holešov in 1397 wrote "it should be known, first, that we, Bohemians, by origin and language initially descend from the Croats, as our chronicles relate and testify, and therefore our Bohemian language by its origin is the Croatian language".[11] Dušan Třeštík saw parallels of number seven and else in the Croatian origo gentis of five brothers and two sisters from the 30th chapter of De Administrando Imperio by Constantine VII (10th century).[12]

However, numerous battles had made the country very unfavorable for the people, who were accustomed to living in peace, cultivate the land and grow grain. According to other versions, the reason was that Čech had been accused of murder. They gathered their people and set off towards the sunset. According to the Chronicle of Dalimil (1314), when Čech and his people climbed Říp Mountain, he looked upon the landscape and told his six brothers that they have reached the promised land: a country where there are enough of beasts, birds, fish, and bees so that their tables will be always full, and where they could defend themselves against enemies.[13] He settled in the area with a tribe and, according to the Přibík Pulkava version (circa 1374), his brother Lech continued his journey to the lowlands over the snowy mountains of the north, where he founded Poland.[14]

Wenceslaus Hajek's version from 1541 adds many (probably fanciful) details not found in other sources. According to Hájek, the brothers were dukes who had already owned castles in their homeland before their arrival in the region and dates their arrival to the year 644.[13]

Croatian version[edit]

A similar legend with partly changed names (Čeh, Leh, Meh and sister Vilina), was also registered in folk tales in Croatia in the Kajkavian dialect of Krapina in Zagorje (northern Croatia).[15][16] However, some believe it isn't of ancient origin but rather it was introduced among commoners by literary people since 16th century.[17] Hajek was the first to mention Krapina as place of origin of Leh meanwhile Čeh ruled over Psar near stream/river Krupa, while Klemens Janicki wrote that Lech emigrated from island Hvar in Dalmatia.[17] Already since 16th century Vinko Pribojević, Faust Vrančić, Mavro Orbini and others from today's Croatia wrote that Čeh and Leh arrived from Croatia and related Czech and Polish language with Croatian, while Juraj Ratkaj was the first to assert that Čeh, Leh, and Meh's origin is in Krapina.[18] Many wrote about it, including Johann Christoph Jordan who personally came to Krapina to hear it told by the local people and mentioned it in De Originibus Slavicis (1745),[15] in 1702 was held a theatre play, in 1848 the three brothers were part of the coat of arms of Varaždin county and the flag was present during the office inauguration of Josip Jelačić, the legend was in addition popularized especially by Ljudevit Gaj, while Stjepan Ortner published the legend in full form in 1899.[18] The legend was one of the reasons Croatian language was chosen in 17th century as the common Slavic language for Catholic books for all Slavic nations.[19]


In the Bohemian chronicles, Čech appears on his own or only with Lech. Čech is first mentioned in Latin as Bohemus in the Cosmas' chronicle of 1125.[citation needed] The earliest Polish mention of Lech, Čech, and Rus' is found in the Chronicle of Greater Poland[20] written at the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century.[citation needed]

Area of Balto-Slavic dialectic continuum (purple) with proposed Bronze Age material cultures in white. Red dots indicate archaic Slavic hydronyms

The legend suggests a common ancestry of the Poles, Czechs and the Rus', 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. The legends also agree on the location of the homeland of the Early 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.[21] In the framework of the Kurgan hypothesis, "the Indo-Europeans who remained after the migrations became speakers of Balto-Slavic".[22]

The most well-known version of the legend is seen to be somewhat Polonocentric, as it mentions a national symbol (the white eagle) only for Lech and the Polish nation, while relegating the two other brothers Czech and Rus' to secondary characters. Furthermore, this particular version does not address the origin of the South Slavic peoples.[citation needed]

The legend also attempts to explain the etymology of the ethnonyms: Lechia (another name for Poland including Silesia), the Czech lands (including Bohemia, Moravia, and also Silesia), and Rus'. Jan Kochanowski, a prominent Renaissance Polish man of letters, 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 "Lechy" 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.[23]


Oaks of Rogalin[edit]

Lech, Czech, and Rus' oaks in Rogalin, Poland

Three large oaks in the garden adjacent to the 18th-century palace in Rogalin, Greater Poland, are named after the brothers (Lech, Czech i Rus'), and are several hundred years old.[24] They vary between 670 and 930 centimetres (22 and 31 ft) in circumference. They are part of the Rogalin Landscape Park, and together with others they have been declared nature monuments and placed under protection.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mylʹnikov, Aleksandr Sergeevich (1996). Kartina slavi︠a︡nskogo mira : vzgli︠a︡d iz Vostochnoǐ Evropy. Ėtnogeneticheskie legendy, dogadki, protogipotezy XVI-nachala XVIII veka. Sankt-Peterburg: PV. ISBN 5-85803-063-7.
  2. ^ Czesław Łuczak, Kazimierz Tymieniecki, Europa, Słowiańszczyzna, Polska. 1970. p. 296.
  3. ^ Brygida Kurbisówna, Studia nad Kroniką wielkopolską, Poznańskie Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Nauk, Poznań 1952.
  4. ^ Adam Fałowski, Bogdan Sendero, Biesiada słowiańska, Universitas, Kraków 1992, p. 40.
  5. ^ Kultura polski średniowiecznej XIV-XV w. pod red. B. Geremka, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Semper, Warszawa 1997, p. 651.
  6. ^ Kronika wielkopolska, wstęp i tłum. K. Abgarowicz, Warszawa 1965; UNIVERSITAS, Poznań 2010, ISBN 978-83-242-1275-0.
  7. ^ Kronika Dalimila [in:] LitDok Europa Środkowo-Wschodnia, Herder-Institut, Marburg.
  8. ^ Sanchuk, G. E. (1962). Козьма Пражский. "Чешская хроника" [Kozma of Prague. "Czech Chronicle"] (in Russian). Издательство АН СССР. p. 247.
  9. ^ Váňa, Zdeněk (1983). The World of the Ancient Slavs. Wayne State University Press. p. 32. ISBN 9780814317488.
  10. ^ Jirásek, Alois (6 February 2015). "4". Staré pověsti české. ISBN 9788088061144. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  11. ^ Verkholantsev, Julia (2014). The Slavic Letters of St. Jerome: The History of the Legend and Its Legacy, or, How the Translator of the Vulgate Became an Apostle of the Slavs. Cornell University Press. p. 67–68. ISBN 9781501757921.
  12. ^ Alimov, Denis Jevgenjevič (2015). "Hrvati, kult Peruna i slavenski gentilizam (Komentari na hipotezu Ante Miloševića o identitetu Porina i Peruna)" [Croats, the cult of Perun and Slavic "gentilism". (A Comment on the hypothesis of Ante Miloševic about the identity of Porin and Perun)]. Starohrvatska Prosvjeta (in Croatian). III (42): 153.
  13. ^ a b "Praotec Čech". hora-rip.cz. Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  14. ^ Přibík Pulkava
  15. ^ a b Sakač, S. K. (1940). Krapina-Kijev-Ararat, Priča o troje braće i jednoj sestri. Obnovljeni Život 21/3-4: 129–149, Zagreb
  16. ^ Dugački, Vlatka (2009). "Historiografija o Česima u Hrvatskoj" [Historiography about Czechs in Croatia]. Historijski zbornik (in Croatian). 62 (1): 233–250.
  17. ^ a b Jurić, Šime (1962). "Hvar - kolijevka poljskog naroda!" [Hvar - cradle of Polish nation!]. Prilozi Povijesti Otoka Hvara (in Croatian). II (1): 4–8.
  18. ^ a b Repar, Kristina (2017). "Hrvatske varijante legende o Čehu, Lehu i Mehu" [Croatian variations of the legend about Czech, Leh and Meh]. Bašćina (Zagreb): Glasilo Društva prijatelja glagoljice (in Croatian) (18): 120–124.
  19. ^ Cekol, Sandra (29 April 2004). "Čeh, Leh i Meh". Vijenac (in Croatian) (265).
  20. ^ "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], Ruthenians 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
  21. ^ 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 Press. ISBN 978-0-691-05887-0.
  22. ^ F. Kortlandt, The spread of the Indo-Europeans, p.4
  23. ^ Jan Kochanowski, Proza polska, Universitas, Kraków 2004, pp. 19–21 (in Polish)
  24. ^ Taylor, Patrick (2006). The Oxford Companion to the Garden. Oxford University Press. p. 411. ISBN 0-198-66255-6.
  25. ^ "Dęby rogalińskie", Catalog of protected objects (retrieved 7 October 2016)