The origins of Jazlowiec - legends and historical deductions


The complex, ancient origins of Jazlowiec are shrouded in time and a vaguely-reported past, inhibiting attempts to recreate them with the accuracy and credibility of historical detail. More often than not, the ancient history of Jazlowiec has been preserved through legend and folklore,

and an occasional archeological discovery. Folklore, unfortunately, may or may not be accurate for it may originate in some facts blurred by time and circumstances. Yet, we must assume that every story has some basis in fact, and in spite of distortion and modification, may assist us in piecing together the past.

There are more than one legend relating to the origins of Jazlowiec, and a dearth of evidence to verify them. Limited archeological studies, which might have lent credence to some of the legends, were not conducted; therefore, the legends (and their interpretations within a framework of logical fact) is for now the only way to reconstruct the distant beginnings of Jazlowiec.

Either factual evidence or imagination provided Jazlowiec with three basic legends relating to the town's founders and its mythical past. No one can say for sure where they originated, or how much truth is in the rich colorful stories, but we cannot deny that these three stories vividly recreate a past that would have been otherwise lost.

As the town prospered, the citizens called for a local bard to create a tale of Jazlowiec's past. Using nothing more than the town's name, the poet composed a folk tale which more than satisfied his sponsors. It may also be that the legends based on real events that preserved the facts of the town's early existence.

The most common of the stories pertains to the legendary Jas Lowiec (John the Hunter), who accidentally strayed into the valley that became his future home. This story strongly appealed to the populace, because it was told in more than one version, although the hero's name remains the same. The most graphic presentation of this story is from Rev. Sadok Baroncz, a man deeply affected by the town's history, and who decided to try and recreate it through the sources available to him. His imaginative approach and colorful description of John the Hunter, deserves to be told verbatim:


"Almost at the southern point of Podolia, very close to its borders with Pokucie (the east sub-Carpathian region) there was a deep valley braced by three tall hills, separated from one another by two passing streams. In the beautiful green dale Jaz the Hunter and his wife found a safe place to set their homestead. Its location provided good protection against marauding bands of thieves and robbers, and furthermore the fertility of the land assured them of the provisions needed to sustain good living. Before long their children were born, and they took over much of the chores, like the care of sheep grazing on the slopes of the valley. As a result Jas could devote most of his time to his favorite pastime, hunting the game.

Within the next decade or so several other families moved into the valley to start their households, too. As the settlement grew in size and Jas grew older in age he had to restrict his hunting and eventually abandon it altogether. Since he could no longer set his falcons against the birds or kill big game with his spear he found a more suitable pastime for his old age. He walked in the bright sun over fields and hills, searching for herbs, so abundant in Podolia, which served as medication for sick people of his settlement. In the evenings he sat on the hill, surrounded by his grandchildren, telling the stories of the Slavic tribes of the Derewlans, who, at the time lived in Podolia, believed in their ancient tribal gods and lived by the generosity of nature.

In his old ways he made his life meaningful and pleasant and exciting for all his family and his neighbors too. But this could not last forever. One day he was taken gravely ill, and shortly thereafter his industrious life came to an end. The small group of family members and faithful friends carried his body to the hill, where he used to tell his stories. They buried him on the top, so that he, as an angel, could protect their freedom and their homesteads from the high position. Then, all of them joined their hands together and promised one another brotherly love, everlasting friendship and mutual help in times of need. To preserve the memory of this respected member of the community they gave their village his name, Jas Lowiec, which later developed into Jazlowiec."

This beautiful and moving story of the town's founder, although impressive and realistic, does not correspond to the era suggested by the tale. It also misplaces historic facts like the habitat of the ancient Derewlans.

The story's substance indicates that the founding of the village took place during the Kievian domination of Podolia. Were it true, the Polish-sounding name "Jas" would have been certainly expressed within the Ruthenian name "Ivan." The etymology of the names is so different that they carry no resemblance to one another outside of their meaning. If the town's origins goes back farther, to the era of the early Slavs, the name "Jas" (the biblical John) could hardly be part of the story. At that time, the Slavic tribes still practiced paganism.

As mentioned previously, the Derewlan's habitat does not quite fit into the Slavic demography of the area, as the tribe, which was well-established, lived in the land that is present-day Belorus (White Russia). The area is too distant from southern Podolia or the Derewlan's presence to be feasible. As at the time of Rev. Baroncz the history of the early Slav was still in the process of development, very little information would be available for his story. The fact point to this area at this time of history as being under Dulebian habitation, and this was the tribal name that should have been used by Rev. Baroncz.

For this reasons, we should consider the Altaic Antes and the Slavic tribes remaining under their control, in the context to the story. As underscored earlier, the Altaic tribe of the "Az" (As, Asii, Yaz or Jaz in Slavic) family resided in nearby Vohlynia and maintained intimate relations with the Slavs in Podolia. This led to frequent intermarriages between these two groups, especially between chieftains and leaders.

It is therefore conceivable that a male member of the Antes group married a Slavic princess in order to become a leader of the Slavic tribe, an apparently common occurrence at the time. In such a case, he would change his name to comply with the requirements of the local customs, retaining his Antes root "Yaz" ("Jaz" in Slavic) and combine it with a Slavic word appropriate to describe his certain qualities. In this instance, the word could have been

"Lowiec" (the hunter), a common occupation for men at the time. Thus, we have two verbal elements for the name Jaz-Lowiec, or Jazlowiec.

This version of the story may relate as much to the Antes as the Yazyges, another Turkic group of "Az" family, who lived south of the Dniestr River and may have exercised some political control over the Slavs across the river. In such a case it can be assumed that Jas the Hunter must have been a Jaz from the other side of the river who by virtue of marriage with a Dulebian princess have become leader of a tribe and a founder of the town.

This may corroborate another version of the tale of Jas Lowiec, also preserved in local folklore. According to this version, a hunter named Jas Lowiec, while following game through a forest, came to a hill surrounded by water on three sides, overlooking a beautiful green valley. Recognizing its potential as a defensive stronghold, he brought his people to the place and built on the top of the hill the first wooden fort. Around this protective fortification a settlement grew, the first beginning of a town.

With this perspective on the legend, the town's origin would have to be placed as far back as the 4th century AD. In view of the demographic records relating to the territory, this would not have been too distant of a time for the first man to appear in the valley of Jazlowiec. Archeological finds in areas close to the town prove that man was present in the area as far back as the Bronze Age. Testimony of this is provided by artifacts of the Globular Amphora culture found in Buczacz, and the sub-Carpathian Barrow Grave culture discovered in nearby Rusilow. The first part of the first millennium would not have been too distant of a date for settlement of early Slavs on the site of the future Jazlowiec.

Another popular legend claims close ties to the Armenian people, who once resided in the town, and who can claim responsibility for this version. This legend can be accepted as fact, with some modification, but does not necessarily relate to the town's origins.

The legend describes the arrival of an Armenian group to a green valley surrounded by three hills where they took their rest in a long migration from their Caucasian country to the west. As they looked upon the peaceful scene, they were taken aback by the resemblance to the country they had left behind. They also recognized the valley as a suitable grazing pasture to raise cattle and sheep, and decided to make it their home. Because of excellent sheep-grazing conditions, they called the place "the sheep's crib," or "jaslo owiec" in Polish. This bears a close resemblance to the town's name, but does not lend enough credence to the legend to make it sound factual.

The research of Armenian sources by the Rev. Sadok Baroncz reveals a similar episode in this group's history. According to the information he obtained, the Armenians left their town of Ani in 1060 to escape Turkish persecution. At some point in the westward movement, they reached the Podolian territory, and its ideal living conditions. The description of the place they chose for their settlement is identical to the account of the valley in the legend. This source of information gives an accurate description of the valley's scenery, and we can reasonably assume that the story of the Armenians' arrival in Jazlowiec to be true.

There is an unrealistic part to the legend. The two word "jaslo" and "owiec" have no meaning in the Armenian language, however. This implies that the Armenians could not have provided the town with its name. As the words are of Polish origin, this would probably mean that the legend is a later addition to local folklore. The Armenians are also known to be merchants, artists, craftsmen, diplomats and interpreters and, as such, were basically urban dwellers. Thus, raising of sheep would hardly be their line of work. The legend could therefore be applied to the Polowtsy rather than the Armenians, as these people were nomads making their living by raising sheep and cattle.

The Armenian story cannot be verified with written evidence, although these people were known for recording their history and matters relating to religion. If the information had been recorded, some incident may have been responsible for their destruction. When the Armenian community relocated from Jazlowiec to the city of Lwow in the 17th century, all of the old records were deposited in the archives of the Archdiocese in that city. Periodic fires that caused varying amounts of damage plagued Lwow, like many cities and towns of that period. The Great Fire of 1778, which destroyed much of the city, also badly damaged the Armenian Cathedral, where Jazlowiec records had been stored, destroying all the valuable documents. Some short references on the early history of the Armenians in Jazlowiec found their way into the Polish chronicles, and those became the main source of information for their history in that area.

There is yet another legend concerning the town's beginning, but mentioning nothing about the name. It refers to the first trading post, which had been built on one of the hills. It must have been a solid structure, since it was referred to as a castle, and most probably was built of wood as protection from merchants and their families. This legend is very viable, as ever since ancient times, an East-West route, called the "Amber Route", was used by the merchants and travelers as the shortest passage between the ports of Black Sea and the shores of the Baltic Sea. The trading post legend indicates that this important route passed through Jazlowiec, and there are many valid arguments to support this supposition.

This important land route, connecting East and West, is mentioned in the earliest known documentation of the area. In ancient times, when the Sarmatian Sea was still in existence, the route had to follow the dry land pass between the Dniestr River and the said sea. The only likely passage would have to run along the north banks of the river, placing Jazlowiec directly on the route. This would justify the positioning of a fortified trading post within the town's limits.

The question may also arise as to who used the trade route and who built the post. Prior to World War Two, the site on the hill where the legendary post once stood was the location of a local synagogue. In view of numerous invasions and periodic destruction of many communities in that area, it is unlikely that the site always remained the property of a single group or owner. It is, however, possible that the tradition kept the site available for people of the same ethnicity. We can therefore draw the conclusion that either the Jews or followers of the same religion, the Khazars, were the merchants who frequented the "Amber Route" and built the trading post in Jazlowiec.

There are other indications that an important trade route passed through Jazlowiec. Evidence of this is found in the ancient stone rampart along the road now in disuse leading to the village of Rusilow and also in the remains of stone embankments at the crossing of Strypa River. Both lead to the assumption that at some time a well-kept road existed in that area, as well as a bridge joining two banks of the river. Since the two mile length of road between Jazlowiec and Rusilow be of no importance to anyone, its stone reinforcement suggest that a route of greater importance once ran through these point. A village lay on the line between Jazlowiec and Halicz, the latter also known as a post on the Amber Route. The finding of gold artifacts from Great Britain in the village, may be proof that trade on a larger scale passed through Jazlowiec.

Considering all legends and deductions, based on available data, we cannot easily conclude the exact date of the first settlement in Jazlowiec. Prof. J. Kozlowski's findings, which gave evidence of man in that area as far back as the bronze Age (1600 BCE), may not mean that he was the first human being in that valley. But any organized settlement would not have stretched back so far in time, due to long periods of nomadic life. This did not end on the Pontic Steppe until the Scythians appeared there. We can deduce from this that the first signs of early civilization did not appear in Jazlowiec before the beginning of Christian era. But taking into account that Soviet and Ukrainian authorities are extremely reluctant to permit access to these area, archeological digs to evidence this fact is highly unlikely.

In regards to the name of the town, a viable conclusion can be made. The various legends have little credence, and in light of available information presented in the text, the most logical and realistic conclusion would have to be based on the Anto-Slavic relationship. In this context, the name "Jazlowiec" is perhaps the most perfect example of the ancient people of Podolia. The Altaic and Slavic components of the name are nowhere else more prominently displayed. And nowhere else is there a better testimony to the etymology of Podolia.