Where is Irmnitz?

Where is Irmnitz?

28. October, 2018


Oxford

Where is Irmnitz? The short answer can be found in the Danish poem, which is the only surviving source that mentions the place.

Hin føddæs i Irmnitz
en kald Decembris Nat
lithet nordheſth for Kransveſit.

In English:

They born were in Irmnitz
one cold December’s night
a little north east of Kransvesit.

[My translation]

The undated epic, of which this is an excerpt, was written in Old Danish by a scribe, who calls himself Siurbi Dwæ. The first name could be a variant of Sig(ur)bjørn “victory-bear”, and the second seems to be the nickname Due “dove”1.

The poem tells us that Irmnitz is located “a little north east of Kransvesit”—another place name that is not known from any other source. It is also mentioned that december nights in Irmnitz are (or at least can be) cold. That rules out big swathes of the southern hemisphere.

Another detail, which is not directly evident from the excerpt, is that hin (they) refers to the epic’s hero: a large sea mammal, whose adventures take place at Elsinore and near Dogger Bank among other places. That narrows our search to the coasts.

Slavic origin?

From the description of the place, it is hard to pinpoint the location with any accuracy, and therefore, we must look at the possible origin of the place name. A good place to start is with the ending, which we can compare to other place names that we know. In this case the ending could be ‑itz or possibly ‑nitz.

That may look quite alien in a Danish context, but it could be the expression of an ending that we know from several towns in the area of Lolland-Falster, namely the ending ‑itse. In Danmarks Stednavne2 (Denmark’s Place Names) you can read about the ending ‑itse that it is a “derivational suffix of Slavic (Wendish) origin”. It can be seen in the place names Kuditse, Tillitse, Binnitse and Korselitse among others. It also says:

In German sources from Mecklenburg and Holstein, originally Slavic place names ending in ‑ici are usually given as ‑iz(e), ‑itz(e) ever since the 12th century. [...] In German sources from the 12th and 13th centuries, the ending is almost always one syllable, while it is more often two syllables in later sources.

[My translation]

So ‑itz could be a version of the Wendish ending. In University of Copenhagen’s name of the month3 from September, the standardization of the spellings of these names is discussed.

But the ending can also be something else. For example, the place name Kramnitse is not of Wendish origin, although the present spelling might suggest it. According to Danmarks Stednavne (Denmark’s Place Names), it could be a combination of kram “market” or “goods” and hus “house” or næs “cape”. Since then, it has changed its spelling analogously to other place names in the area with the ending ‑itse.

And looking at the place name Irmnitz, it does have some similarities with Kramnitse, so it could also be originally Danish. But in order for the spelling to make sense, it would be more likely that it is in an area with a prevalence of other Wendish place names.

Lolland-Falster?

The Wends were a people from Eastern Europe, and from their legacy of Slavic place names it seems they settled in northern Germany and southern Denmark. There are references to the Wends in several Zealandic place names and places on the southern islands, but the ending ‑itse is only found on Lolland, Falster and Møn. So if Irmnitz is in Denmark, it is most likely on one of these islands.

But it could also be in Germany, because the Wends were also present in Holstein, Mecklenburg and Rügen. Some Slavic place names in this area include Grömitz (Holstein), Ribnitz (Mecklenburg) and Sassnitz (Rügen). And since we are looking for a place by the sea, it is plausible that Irmnitz lies somewhere along the southern coast of Denmark or the northern coast of Germany.

The latter may be more consistent with the spelling of Irmnitz.


  1. Though, it is more likely that Siurbi Dwæ is a badly disguised reference to the Danish band Shu·bi·dua, since the “epic” is a mangled excerpt of their song Hvalborg (1976). 

  2. Source: Danmarks Stednavne (In Danish) 

  3. You can read the article here (in Danish) 

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