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Wends or Sorbs, Slavic people (numbering about 60,000) of Brandenburg and Saxony, E Germany, in Lusatia. They speak Lusatian (also known as Sorbic or Wendish), a West Slavic language with two main dialects: Upper Lusatian, nearer to Czech, and Lower Lusatian, nearer to Polish. The towns of Bautzen (Upper Lusatia) and Cottbus (Lower Lusatia in modern Silesia) are their chief cultural centers.

In the Middle Ages the term Wends was applied by the Germans to all the Slavs inhabiting the area between the Oder River in the east and the Elbe River and the Saale River in the west. German conquest of their land began in the 6th cent. and was completed under Charlemagne (8th cent.). A coalition of Wendish tribes in the 10th cent. and again in the early 12th cent. temporarily halted German expansion. A crusade against the pagan Wends was launched in 1147 under the leadership of Henry the Lion of Saxony and Albert the Bear of Brandenburg. The crusade itself was, on the whole, a failure, but in subsequent years Henry the Lion, aided by Waldemar I of Denmark, Albert the Bear, and other princes, carried out a systematic campaign of conquest. By the end of the 12th cent. nearly all Germany except East Prussia had been subjected to German rule and was Christianized. However, a group of Slavic-speaking Wends has maintained itself to the present day in Lusatia. They call themselves Srbi and hence are known also in English as Lusatian Sorbs or Serbs.


See G. Stone, The Smallest Slavonic Nation: The Sorbs of Lusatia (1972).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Latin Venedi, Veneti), oldest name of the Slavic tribes, evidently referring to those of the western branch. The name “Veneti” was first recorded in the first century A.D. Several ancient authors stated that they lived along the Vistula River and the shores of the Baltic Sea and, according to the Peutinger tablets, north of the Carpathians and on the lower Danube. With some hesitation, Pliny the Elder and Tacitus ranked the Wends among the Sarmatians, and the Gothic historian Jordanes (sixth century) related them to the Slavs. Archaeological remains left by the Wends have not been precisely identified. Some researchers have identified the Wends with the remains of the Przeworsk and Zarubintsy cultures (second century B.C. to fourth century A.D.), but this is debatable. At the turn of the seventh and eighth centuries, some of the Wends apparently migrated further east and merged with the East Slavs. The ethnonym “Wend” may possibly have been preserved in the name “Viatichi” (pronounced “ventichi”), an ancient Russian tribe living near the Oka River. The terms “Wenden” and “Winden” were used by the Germans during the Middle Ages to designate the Slavs, and to this day the Finns call the Russians “Venaja.”


Tret’iakov, P. N. Vostochno-slavianskie plemena, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1953.
Liapushkin, I. I. Slaviane Vostochnoi Evropy nakanune obrazo-vaniia drevnerusskogo gosudarstva. Leningrad, 1968.
Jordanes. O proiskhozhdenii i deianiiakh getov (Getica). Moscow, 1960. Pages 209-10.




(self-designation, Serbja, Serby; also Sorbs), West Slavic nationality in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), living in 12 regions of Cottbus and Dresden districts with a center in the city of Bautzen (Budysin). There are about 100,000 Wends (1970, estimate). They speak Wendish as well as German. Most are Lutherans, although some are Catholics. They work in agriculture and industry, and there is a significantly large intelligentsia.

The Wends were part of the Polabian Slavs and lived in the area bounded on the east by the Oder (Odra) and Bobr rivers, on the west by the Saale River, on the north by the lower Spree, and on the south by the northern Sudeten. In the eighth to tenth centuries they often fought off attacks by German feudal lords. After their lands were captured by the lords in the late tenth century, the Wends were partly Germanized and suffered as an oppressed national minority until the defeat of fascist Germany in 1945. The Wends were united in their struggle against German oppression and for national rights and the development of national culture and language by their petit bourgeois peasant union, the Domowina, created in 1912. In 1937 the union was banned by the fascist regime. Restored in May 1945, it entered the National Front of the GDR as a mass democratic organization. The Wends were guaranteed full equality and the chance to develop their culture and native language by the Constitution of the GDR (art. 40).


Semiriaga, M. I. Luzhichane. Moscow-Leningrad, 1955.
Die Sorben, 4th ed. Bautzen, 1971. (Bibliography).
Cyz, B. Die DDR und die Sorben: Eine Dokumentation zur Nationalitdtenpolitik in der DDR. Bautzen [1969].


Literature. Until the advent of literature in their mother tongue, the Wends, like many Western European peoples, wrote in Latin. The oldest preserved document in Wendish is the Budysin Oath (early 16th century). The founder of Wendish national literature was the poet and prose writer H. Zejler (1804-72). In the 19th century the poet J. Wjela-Radyserb (1822-1907) and the prose writer J. Mucink (1821-1904), among others, produced literary works. Wendish literature at the turn of the 20th century was represented first and foremost by the poet J. BartCisinski (1856-1909); the prose writers M. Andricki (1871 –1908) and J. Winger (1872–1918) were also well known at the time. The works of the poets J. Nowak (born 1895), M. Witkojc (born 1893), and J. Chezka (1917-44) and the works of the prose writers J. Skala(1889-l945) and J. Lorenc-Zaleski (1874-1939) were typical of the literature of 20th-century critical realism.

Since 1945 the development of literature has reflected the growth of Wendish culture in the GDR. Contemporary literature, an inalienable part of socialist national literature in the GDR, is represented by the prose writers J. Brezan (born 1916) and J. Koch (born 1936) and the poet K. Lorenc (born 1938).


Trofymovych, K., and V. Motornyi. Narysy z istorii serboluzhyts’koi literatury. L’vov, 1970’.
Architecture and art. Single-story log buildings are typical in Lower Lusatia, whereas two-story buildings with a log first floor and a frame second floor are typical in Upper Lusatia. The popular decorative applied arts flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries, and some forms continued to develop even in the first half of the 20th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries weaving (blue printed cloth with a white foliage design) and embroidery were widely developed, the motifs of which are similar to the ornamental designs of the ancient Slavic peoples. Even in the early 20th century, brightly painted handmade carved furniture and wooden utensils occupied an important place in the everyday life of the Wends. Also well known are painted Easter eggs (pisanki), multicolored ceramics, braided tree branches, and carved gingerbread boards.
With the formation of the GDR, the Wends received all kinds of opportunities for developing professional art. The leading Wendish artists M. Nowak and Hanka Krawcec, who deal with historic and folk subjects and themes, are active mainly in drawing and illustrating books. Young artists, including W. Sybaf and J. Buk, grouped around Nowak in the 1950’s.


Lücking, W., and P. Nedo. Die Lausitz. Berlin, 1956.
Deutschmann, E. Die Lausitzer Holzbaukunst. Bautzen, 1959.
Langematz, R., and P. Nedo. Sorbische Volkskunst. Bautzen, 1968.


Music and theater. Since the 17th century, corporations of national musicians have been formed in the areas of Gorlitz, Guben, and Luckau. The names of a singer who performed church songs, Bartolomae (17th century), and the composer J. Rak (18th century) are well known. Folk songs were the major form of Wendish music until the mid-19th century. Several types of old Wendish songs exist, including romantic and elegiac traveling songs, wedding songs, songs accompanying dances, and song legends performed during church services. The melodic structure is simple, and the range usually does not exceed an octave. A consistent rhythmical pattern distinguishes the melodies, which differ in character. Trills on the introductory notes, grace notes, and reedy trills at the end of the song are used as ornamentation. The first collection of Wendish songs was published in 1841-43, and reprinted in 1953. The main musical instruments are the tarakawa (a type of oboe), bagpipes, and violin.

Professional music appeared in the 1840’s; its founder was the composer K. A. Kocor, the author of the first Wendish opera, Jakub and Kata (1861), oratorios, chamber works, and numerous arrangements of folk songs. The Festivals of Wendish Song, organized by Kocor in 1845, became significant national musical events. The musical leaders of the early 20th century were B. Krawc-Schneider, K. Karnawk, and since the late 1940’s, J. Winar, a composer of popular Wendish songs, folk-song arrangements, and variety music. In the early 1970’s the composers J. Rawp, J. Bulank, and H. Nagel have worked on symphonic and instrumental chamber music. The State Ensemble of Wendish National Culture, consisting of a choir, an orchestra, and a dance group, was created in 1952. The House of Wendish Folk Art in Bautzen is the center for national music, and the Institute of Wendish Ethnology, also in Bautzen, deals with professional music and musical folklore.

In 1862, on the initiative of the poet J. Cesla, the first theatrical presentation took place in Bautzen, after which amateur theater became very popular. Wendish theater was banned when the fascist dictatorship was established. After liberation Wendish amateur theater occupied an important place in popular art in the GDR; numerous companies were established in the villages and, in 1945, in Bautzen.

In 1948 the Sorbische Volksbiihne traveling theater was opened; it merged in 1963 with the German State Theater, forming the Deutsch-Sorbisches Volkstheater in Bautzen (with performances in Wendish and German). In addition to drama, the theater also stages operas, operettas, and singspiels; the production of the first Wendish ballet, D. Nowka’s The Peasant Legend, or The Girl Hanka, was staged there in 1972-73. Its repertoire includes works of Wendish, German, and foreign playwrights. The Wendish dramatists J. Brezan, J. Wjela-Kubscan, J. Krajan, and M. Kubasec have become well known. In 1955 a theatrical studio that prepares actors for the Wendish theater was organized at the Deutsch-Sorbisches Volkstheater.


Die Sorben, 4th ed. Bautzen, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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