An American in Prague

In the previous post on Yiddish-Speaking Slavs, I had mentioned that Slavs have a long history of confusing and conflating Germans with Jews — much of it due to the closeness of spoken-German and spoken-Yiddish — and that Slavs often cynically regard Germany as the “Land where Jews come from.” Westerners today are largely tone-deaf to these kinds of European cultural nuances, so I thought it would be interesting to cite an example where a prominent American tourist traveling in Bohemia in the early 20th-century had observed exactly this same linguistic and cultural phenomenon.

Booker_T._Washington_Lecture,_1906

Washington speaking at Carnegie Hall, New York City, 1909 [1]

Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in Virginia on the eve of the U.S. Civil War in 1856. He rose to national prominence after Emancipation and is probably best-known today for founding the Tuskagee Institute in Alabama in 1881. In 1910 his friends persuaded him to take a three-month trip to visit Europe, where he visited the prominent capitals of Vienna, Budapest and Prague in Austria-Hungary. His memoirs were later published as part of an autobiographical anthology of papers, The Booker T. Washington Papers.

Washington’s observations in Prague are worth noting:

Washington-quote

“When I reached Prague in Bohemia I learned that among the masses of the people there is little distinction made between Jews and Germans, since both speak the same language and the Czechs, confusing one with the other, hate both with a double hatred, first for what they are and then for what they seem to be.”

— Booker T. Washington, Race and Prejudice in Europe [2]

Exactly the ideological basis of our Yiddish-Speaking Slavs article, as expressed by an American tourist in Prague in 1910. 🙂

Footnotes

  1. Public Domain Image [source]
  2. “Race and Prejudice in Europe”, Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee, Alabama, December 5, 1911.

Yiddish-Speaking Slavs

“Austrians are basically just South Slavs who pretend to be Germans”
@DrunkAustrian on Twitter

There’s a joke in Eastern Europe about how Germans are really nothing more than Yiddish-speaking Slavs. The joke is a riff on the perceived German “superiority complex” relative to both East Europeans and Jews, the irony being not only that Germans might actually be ethnic Slavs, but even worse that their language bears an eerie and uncanny resemblance to Yiddish (at least to Slavic ears). [12]

Yet what may have started out as a snarky joke about German-speaking Jews wandering around Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages is now slowly being proven true by genetics and a better understanding of the historical record.

Administrative-Division-German-Union-1866-10-and-Germany-2009

The Cold War border between East and West Germany is already clearly visible on this 1866 map. [3]

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the New York Times recently re-published an old story named Zombie Borders about the persistence of certain political boundaries in Central Europe. [4] For example, the Cold War border between East and West Germany can already be discerned on 19th-century maps of Europe as the boundary between Saxony and Prussia to the east, and the rest of Germany to the west.

12borderlines-blog427

The ancient German-Slavic border (c. 900 A.D.) aligns nearly perfectly with the former German-German Iron Curtain border (1949-1990) [5]

In fact, this divide between east and west “Germany” goes back for more than a thousand years to the time of Henry the Fowler (876 – 936 A.D.), the first German king to successfully advance eastward out of the Rhineland and push the opposing Slavic tribes back over to the far side of the Elbe River. The resulting boundary he established — which, for the sake of discussion, we’ll call the Fowler Line — has persisted in one form or another ever since, right down to the Iron Curtain of yesteryear. [6]

What’s even more remarkable is that this thousand-year old divide running down the middle of Germany is not only an ideological, political or dynastic border, but also an ethnic one. For more than a millennium, the “Germans” living on the eastern side of the Fowler Line have been — quite literally — “Yiddish”-speaking Slavs. It’s also remarkable that it was the Russians who first proposed using these specific (ethnic and Slavic) boundaries to define the DDR, long before the Western allies had given any thought to the matter. [4]

It’s almost as if the old Soviet Bloc was some kind of grotesque, inverted parody of the pan-Slavic ideals of the late 19th-century — complete with the Slavic half of Germany included.

More on this idea in future posts..

main-qimg-b863bc39725be4dccfce63d9b548156c

Slavic R1a haplogroup distribution in the German-speaking lands [7]

Compare now the medieval “zombie border” map above to a modern map of Slavic R1a haplogroup distribution in eastern Germany. The influence of Slavic genes in the area is obvious, even today. Bear in mind too that this map indicates the modern-day borders of Germany, and excludes most of the territory once known as Prussia — that is, parts of what are now Poland, Russia and the Baltic States. Prussia was the dominant cultural and political force in Germany during the Second and Third German Reichs, and the underlying Slavic tenor of what otherwise passes for “German” would have been even more pronounced back then.

michael-schnabl-theresa-steinkellner-portret-makiiazh-retush

Theresa Steinkellner is an Austrian fashion model: German or Slavic? [8]

The eastern edge of Austria — an area which includes the capital city of Vienna — is also worth a closer look. It’s remarkable that 43% of the German-speaking residents in Graz, Austria are of type R1a, compared to a country-wide average of only 38% for neighboring Slovenia. [9] The ancient name of Graz is Gradec (pronounced “Gradetz”), which means “small castle” in Slavic. [10]

The ancient Roman name for Vienna was “Vindobona”, literally “the white city”. [11] White City, in turn, or Belgrade (Белград), is of course a name that Slavic people frequently attach to their own capital cities. It’s well-known that the modern Belgrade is located just down the road from Vienna, in Serbia. It’s less well known that the ancient name for both Kiev, Ukraine and Moscow, Russia was also Belgrade. [12]

Austria-Slavs

We can even speculate that what very nearly happened to Czechia during WWII must have already happened to Austria sometime during the Middle Ages — namely, that the indigenous Slavic population and culture was overrun and ultimately wiped out by German colonization. 

So what’s in a Name?

The fact that German-sounding Graz is really just a recent corruption of an older and originally Slavic name is a hint that we should take a closer look at toponyms across Germany and see if we can determine their origin.

brandenburg-gate-former-berlin-city-inspired-greek-propylea-hall-doric-columns-quadriga-depicting-victoria-87862471

We could just try not building capital cities on top of actual, literal swamps. [13]

That Germany is filled with toponyms of Slavic origin is well-known to many East Europeans. [14] The most politically awkward example, perhaps, is Berlin itself — the name means “swampy place” in Slavic. The same root is used in Bern, Switzerland and Brno, Moravia, also swampy regional capitals. [1516] The New York Times article above even acknowledges how the famous Berlin city flag with a bear on it is really just a sneaky German attempt to misdirect away from the city’s Slavic origins. [17] 😉

Jens Ohlig, a German blogger, made an informal study into German toponyms that end with the Slavic suffixes -ow (e.g., Moscow, Russia or Krakow, Poland) or -itz (e.g., Chemnitz, Germany, which is from the Slavic Kamenice, meaning “stony river”). [18, 19] His findings are reproduced below:

German_ow_itz

German cities and towns that end with the Slavic suffix -ow or -itz, from blog.johl.io. [20]

The results are striking, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) they correlate almost perfectly with the Fowler Line. To help provide some contextual background, Ohlig links to the following German-language resources, which have quite a bit of useful information:

For the sake of discussion, I’m going to reproduce the -itz toponym map generated by Wikipedia from the link above:

800px-Ortsnamenendung-itz

Areas of Germany where toponyms ending in -itz can be found. [21]

As you can see, the -itz toponyms (again) align almost perfectly with the Fowler Line “zombie border” map produced by the New York Times.

But there’s still more to the story.

Lusatia-2

For instance, looking at a map of Lusatia (i.e., Sorbia) — located in the east German state of Saxony at the Czech-German-Polish tri-state boundary — we can easily identify several Slavic toponyms inside Germany that have slipped past Ohlig’s filter:

  • Zittau — It’s true that -ow is a typical Slavic suffix, but so is the sneaky German misspelling -au which is pronounced identically. [22] Other examples in Lusatia using this suffix include Drebkau, Großdubrau, Hohendubrau, Löbau, Niederau, Wittichenau and many more too numerous to list. [23]
  • Bad Muskau — Presented without comment.
  • Kamenz — Literally means “stone” in Slavic.
  • Niesky — Literally means “lowlands” in Slavic.
  • Oybin — Etymology is unclear but the town was founded by the Czech Ronovec family (probably in the late thirteenth century) and the name sounds more Slavic than German. The original name was probably closer to Mojivín.

As for Dresden, yes it’s very German-sounding but in reality the name of the city and all its suburbs and geographical features all have Slavic origins. [24] We could go through the same exercise for German-sounding cities like Leipzig, Lübeck, Potsdam, Rostock, Rügen, Schwerin, etc., none of which have a canonical Slavic suffix but all of which have names of Slavic origin. [25, 26, 27, 28]

Knowing this, I decided to try my hand at some SPARQL data queries and Perl scripting, and see if I could generate some slightly more refined maps. I first wanted to split out of the -itz and -ow toponyms from Ohlig’s map.

First let’s take a look at the -ow toponyms:

Suffix_ow

German toponyms ending with the -ow suffix.

It’s remarkable that throughout the whole of Germany, the -ow toponym really only occurs in the very northeastern corner of the country. The toponyms cover the states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern almost uniformly, but outside of those two regions — both of which border Poland — there is almost nothing.

The German-language link above about -ow toponyms indicates that many areas in the Prussian Saxony (1816-1944) that had originally used the toponym -ow were gradually (and deliberately) changed over to the sneaky and misleading -o suffix instead. [29] I decided to plot the -o suffixes alongside the -ow suffixes to see how they lined up:

Suffix_ow_o

German toponyms ending with the -ow suffix (red) and the -o suffix (green).

Clearly there are not as many, and while some examples can be found in western Germany and in Bavaria near the Austrian border, the -o toponyms mostly just form a sort of “southern border” around the -ow toponyms in eastern Germany.

A short geography and history lesson may add some needed context here — Prussian Saxony (also known as the Province of Saxony) was something different and distinct from the Kingdom of Saxony, although the two regions once shared a common border:

Map-Prussia-Saxony

Prussian Saxony (red) and Prussia (blue). The Kingdom of Saxony is wedged inbetween Prussian Saxony and the modern Czech Republic. [30]

The Kingdom of Saxony is what has now become the federal German state of Saxony.  It runs alongside the northwestern border of the Czech Republic and its capital is Dresden. Prussian Saxony, on the other hand, was a short-lived province during the Second and Third German Reichs which has now been mostly absorbed into the federal German state of Anhalt, and which was located immediately to the north of the Kingdom of Saxony. Our -o toponym map above confirms that the changeover to the -o suffix seems to have been limited mostly to Prussian Saxony.

So if Germans are being sneaky with the -o suffix, using it to disguise the Slavic -ow suffix, what about the German -au suffix? Remember we mentioned earlier that -au is often used as a sneaky German way to disguise what was originally a Slavic -ow suffix.

Suffix_au

German toponyms ending with the -au suffix.

Oww! Now that looks incriminating! 🙂

It would be a cheap-shot to say that all of these toponyms must necessarily be Slavic in origin (or would it?!) For now, let’s give our German friends the benefit of the doubt and assume that many, if not most of these toponyms are organically German.

1600px-Lustnau_Evangelische_Kirche_Nordseite_01

Evangelical church in Lustnau, Germany near the Black Forest. [31]

Nevertheless, it’s worth taking a look at one example in the far southwestern corner of Germany, exactly on the opposite side of the country from where we find all the -ow toponyms near Poland — that example is Lustnau, a suburb of the famous university town of Tübingen, which itself is a suburb of Stuttgart. [32]

The Wikipedia entry for Lustnau talks about how the city was founded as an Alemannic settlement sometime around the 7th century A.D., and about recent archaeological excavations in the city wherein Roman-era artifacts were discovered. What’s really interesting, though, is how in the first written records we have of the city, dating to around 1100 A.D., the city’s name is recorded using the Slavic spelling Lustnow. [33]

So here we have at least one example of the Slavic -ow toponym occurring about as far from the Polish border as you can get and still be in Germany. Moreover, it’s an example of where the originally Slavic -ow suffix has been deliberately changed over to the more Germanic -au suffix. The possibility of a Slavic presence on the Rhine in ancient times is a topic we’ve explored previously on this blog. [34]

Next I wanted to take a look at the -itz toponyms, broken out separately from the -ow toponyms. I also included -etz toponyms on this map (in green) since as we saw with the example of Graz, Austria, whose older German name Gradetz is based on the Slavic name Gradec, there are many cases where the Slavic -ec suffix is transliterated into German as -etz rather than as -itz.

Suffix_itz_etz

German toponyms ending with the -itz suffix (red) and the -etz suffix (green).

The results are not surprising — the -itz toponyms conform almost perfectly to the contours of the Fowler Line — although they are fewer in number than in the previous examples. Likewise, the -etz toponyms form a distinct cluster in northeastern Germany near the Polish border — mostly in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern — just like the -ow toponyms.

Suffix_ingen

German toponyms ending with the -ingen suffix.

Finally, I wanted to look at the -ingen toponym, which is common throughout the upper Rhine Valley and in all of German-speaking Switzerland. In fact, judging by the map, it looks like the toponym is common throughout all of western Germany, and especially so in Baden-Württemberg. We’ll note in passing that Switzerland and Swabia is where the Habsburg dynasty first got their start about a thousand years ago.

Other canonical Slavic suffixes include -gast and -anz [35], as well as those based on the Slavic root grad which means “castle” or “city”. Examples of the later in German would include variants like -grad, -gard or -gart [36]. In all these cases, though, the German maps are too sparsely populated to be of much interest and we’ll pursue specific examples individually in future posts.

Data Sets

The following data sets, generated from Wikidata, were used for this project:

The SPARQL query I used was:

SELECT DISTINCT ?item ?itemLabel ?coord WHERE {
  ?item (wdt:P31/(wdt:P279*)) wd:Q486972;
    wdt:P17 wd:Q183;
    rdfs:label ?itemLabel;
    wdt:P625 ?coord;
  FILTER (lang(?itemLabel) = "de").
  FILTER regex (?itemLabel, "(itz)$").
}

Adjust the final regex as appropriate for the suffix you’re filtering on (e.g., “itz”).

Related Articles

Update – April 15, 2020

Some more supporting imagery recently found on social media:

EVFBFAwWkAA43hG

Update – August 20, 2020

Some more supporting imagery recently found on social media:

Ef2kzqMX0AUcM11

Footnotes

  1. Spoken German differs from spoken Yiddish only in relatively small ways, especially to outsiders who are unfamiliar with either language. The major difference is that German is written using the Roman Latin script whereas Yiddish is written using the Semitic Hebrew script. During the Middle Ages — before the advent of canonical Hochdeutsch, when written literacy was low or non-existent, and at a time when dialectical differences were extreme — the two languages could have been confused easily, especially since most German speakers traveling in Eastern Europe in those days were Jewish merchants.
  2. Slavic people place great emphasis on language and instinctively regard themselves as “the people of the word” (i.e., slovo) — in the sense that they can all generally more-or-less mutually understand one another when speaking. In contrast, to this day the formal, diplomatic name for Germany in the Slavic world is still Němci or Německo — which literally means “the people who cannot speak (correctly)”. While this seems like a snarky little back-handed Euro-insult, it’s actually an important clue about Germany’s true origins and history, and is a topic that we’ll return to in future blog posts.
  3. Image reference: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Administrative-Division-German-Union-1866-10-and-Germany-2009_fig4_254404794
  4. Reference: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/zombie-borders/
  5. Image reproduced under fair use, original article is available at: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/zombie-borders/.
  6. Henry the Fowler is a prominent character in Lohengrin, Richard Wagner’s Grail Quest opera. That opera, in turn, inspired King Ludwig II of Bavaria to construct his iconic Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria. On a darker note, NSDAP leader Heinrich Himmler believed himself to be the reincarnation of Henry the Fowler, and participated in an occult ceremony on July 2, 1936 at the king’s crypt in Quedlinburg, marking the 1,000-year anniversary of the king’s death.
  7. Image reference: https://www.quora.com/Are-many-East-Germans-descendants-of-the-Slavic-Wends
  8. Image reference: https://www.goodfon.com/wallpaper/michael-schnabl-theresa-steinkellner-portret-makiiazh-retush.html
  9. Reference for Austria DNA: https://www.eupedia.com/forum/threads/32728-My-map-of-haplogroup-R1a-in-Germany-and-Austria; Reference for Slovenian DNA: https://www.eupedia.com/europe/european_y-dna_haplogroups.shtml
  10. Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graz
  11. Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vindobona
  12. Reference: https://cogniarchae.com/2017/12/21/what-does-aryan-mean/
  13. Image Reference: https://www.dreamstime.com/brandenburg-gate-former-berlin-city-inspired-greek-propylea-hall-doric-columns-quadriga-depicting-victoria-public-domain-image-free-87862471
  14. It’s obvious to any English-speaker that California was settled by the Spanish, as half (or more) of the towns all have Spanish names. It’s much the same situation in Germany — the Slavic city names are literally everywhere, but they’re frequently missed by German- or English-speakers who don’t recognize them for what they are.
  15. Berlin is notoriously located on top of some of the swampiest marshland in all of Europe. [Source] Likewise, Bern, Switzerland is located at the edge of the Seeland swamp system, high in the Alps. [Source]
  16. Old habits die hard and the Americans have continued this time-honored European tradition of placing the capital city, Washington D.C. in this case, literally inside a swamp — Trump take note!
  17. Both Bern and Berlin feature a bear on their city flag. It is, of course, possible that both cities are actually, legitimately named after bears, although the fact that both cities happen to sit on top of dense swampland should raise an eyebrow or two regarding this story. Supposing that the bears really are an intentional misdirection, it’s an interesting choice of animal — bears are well-known as the iconic “totem” animal of Slavic people, it’s almost as if the cites’ origins are still “hiding in plain sight” albeit it in symbols rather than words.
  18. Reference: http://blog.johl.io/blog/2016/05/28/orte/
  19. Why the Slavic suffix -ice maps to the German suffix -tz is as follows — in Romanized Slavic, which is what you have at the western edge of Eastern Europe (i.e., in places near Germany), the symbol “c” transliterates to the Latin digraph “tz“. In Cyrillic Slavic, like what you have in Russia, the symbol “c” maps directly to the Latin “s“. Readers old enough to remember will recall that the Russian spelling for USSR is CCCP.
  20. Image reference, under fair use: http://blog.johl.io/blog/2016/05/28/orte/
  21. Image reference, under fair use: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/-itz
  22. Zittau was probably settled by the Czech Ronovec family sometime in the early 13th century. The name for the city comes from žito, the Slavic word for “rye”. Source: https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%BDitava
  23. The name Großdubrau sounds like a German-Slavic mash-up that was originally supposed to mean “large oaks”, as “dub” is the Slavic word for an oak tree. Likewise, I’m guessing that Hohendubrau was originally supposed to mean “high oaks”. The powerful Czech noble family Berka z Dubé (“Baron of Oaks”) used to own a lot of property in this area back in the 13th century — it’s possible that that’s the origin of the cities’ names, or else it’s possible that lots of oak trees just happen to grow in the area.
  24. Quoting from Wikipedia: “The name of the city (Dresden) as well as the names of most of its boroughs and rivers are of Slavic origin.” [Source]
  25. The German name “Leipzig” is derived from the Slavic root lípa, which means “linden tree”. Indeed, the Czech city Česká Lípa (“Czech Linden”) in northern Bohemia is so named to distinguish it from the (German) “Lípa” in Saxony.
  26. German name “Rostock” is from the Slavic roots “roz-tok”, which means the splitting of streams or waters (e.g., a distributary at the mouth of a river). Confusingly, it can also mean a “solution” in the sense of a chemical mixture or solution. There are no fewer than five cities in the Czech Republic named Roztoky, mostly in northern Bohemia: Roztoky u Křivoklátu, Roztoky nad Labem, Roztoky nad Metují, Roztoky u Jilemnice and Roztoky u Semil. There’s also a castle near Prague named Roztoky. Additionally, there’s another Roztoky in Slovakia and four more in Ukraine.
  27. The root “tok” — meaning “stream” or “brook” — also appears in the name of Tokaj, the world-famous East European wine.
  28. The German name “Potsdam” is a corruption of the Slavic terms pod-dub, meaning “beneath the oak tree”. [Source]
  29. Quoting the original German source: “In Gegenden, die bis 1815 zum Kurfürstentum Sachsen (vormals Mark Meißen) gehörten verschwand das stumme -w aus einigen Ortsnamen. Statt -ow wird -o geschrieben: Grabo (bei Wittenberg und bei Jessen), Dubro, Ostro, sowie mehrere Dörfer nördlich von Roßlau. Auch in der Niederlausitz gibt es eine Reihe von Orten mit dieser Schreibweise, beispielsweise Meuro, Sauo oder Horno.” [Source]
  30. Image reference: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map-Prussia-Saxony.png
  31. Image Reference: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lustnau_Evangelische_Kirche_Nordseite_01.JPG.
  32. Stuttgart, as we’ll see below, is another example of a possible Slavic toponym.
  33. Quoting the original German source: “Ursprünglich war Lustnau ein eigenständiges Dorf. Es wurde 1100 erstmals urkundlich unter dem Ortsnamen „Lustnow“ erwähnt.” [Source]
  34. Previous blog entry: The Slavic Rhine.
  35. Konstanz am Bodensee comes to mind, again referring to a possible Slavic presence on the Rhine in ancient times.
  36. Stuttgart in the modern German state of Baden-Württemberg stands out as an obvious example. Again, this area is close to both the Rhine Valley and to the ancient Habsburg dominions.

 

The Cold, Snowy Winter Abode

The name of the Himalayan Mountain Range comes, as one might reasonably expect, from the Sanskrit — himá (हिम) signifying “snow” and ā-laya (आलय) signifying “dwelling” or “abode”. Hence, the Himalaya are the Snowy Abode.

Nanda_devi

Mount Nanda Devi in the Himalayan Mountain Range

However, it was recently pointed out to me — by a gentleman from India no less — that roughly the same etymology works coming from the Slavic as well, provided that we exchange the “H” in Himalaya for a “Z” — Zima-laya. Here, zima is the Slavic word for “cold” or “winter”, and “laya” could be derived from conjugating verbs like lehnout or ležet, which indicate “to lay down” or “to rest” in Slavic. In this case, Zimalaya would work out to something like the Cold Abode or the Wintry Place.

The point of this article is not to argue that the name Himalaya comes from the Slavic. It doesn’t, the name is from the Sanskrit. Rather, I just wanted to add yet another example to the long list of words that are in common, or at the very least, extremely similar between Slavic and Sanskrit.

A brief list of some of these cognates includes the following [1]:

English German Slavic Sanskrit
to ask fragen prosit prachhati (पृच्छति)
to awaken wecken budit budhyate (बुध्यते) [2]
to bake backen péct pacati (पचति)
to be sein být bhavati (भ्वति)
to burn brennen gorit gharati (घरति)
to cough husten kašlat kasate (कासते)
to dawn dämmern svítat svetate (श्वेतते)
to die sterben umirat marati (मरति)
to distribute verteilen vydávat vidhatte (विधत्ते)
to dry trocknen sušit susyati (शुषति)
to fall fallen padat padyate (पद्यते)
to hunt jagen lovit labhate (लभते)
to live leben žít jiv (जीव्)
to praise loben slavit sramyati (श्राम्यति)
to roll around herumrollen valet valate (वलते)
to rotate rotieren vrtat vartate (वर्तते)
to sell verkaufen prodat pradatte (प्रदत्ते)
to stick kleben lepit lepayati (लेपयति)
to swim schwimmen plavat plavate (प्लवते)
to think denken myslet manate (मनति)
to transport transportieren vozit vahati (वहति)

Note that the Slavic variants are all much closer to Sanskrit than the English or German equivalents.

There are also very interesting “near” cognates, where the same word has a complementary albeit slightly different meaning. We’ve already discussed one such example — the Slavic word zima, meaning “cold” or “winter”, being correlated with Sanskrit word hima, meaning “snow”.

Another interesting example is the word smrti, which in Slavic means “death” while in Sanskrit the same word means “memory” or “to remember”. This is interesting in the context of re-incarnation — for example, the ancient Greeks believed that upon death the Soul could suddenly regain full remembrance of all its past lives, and hence stop the cycle of re-incarnation.

1024px-Jupiter,_vermomd_als_herder,_verleidt_Mnemosyne,_godin_van_het_geheugen_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-3886

Upon death in Greek mythology, the Soul could drink remembrance from the
waters of the River Mnemosyne and stop the cycle of reincarnation.

As for the Germans, who persistently insist that they are the “Aryans”, how do toponyms like Kaltplatz or Winterstelle work out insofar as the Himalaya are concerned? These names translate with the identical literal meaning, but they’re not even remotely similar to Himalaya or its analogous Slavic counterpart. 🙂

Footnotes

    1. Source: Russian-Sanskrit Wordlist
    2. Obviously this is likewise a cognate of Buddha, which also indicates “awakened” in Sanskrit. Note that the cognate works well in both Slavic and Sanskrit, but not in English or German.

Aryan Silver

Most people today associate the word “Aryan” with Nazis and swastikas, but what does the word really? Wikipedia speaks at length about how the term is an ethnic “self-designation” for tribes coming out of India, but nowhere do they state what this “self-designation” actually means. [1]

Arjuna-Krishna

The archer Arjuna riding into battle on a horse-drawn chariot alongside Krishna

A good place to start would be in India. Most people trace the word “Aryan” back to the Mahabarta and its hero Arjuna (अर्जुन), whose name means “white”, “clear” or “silver” in Sanskrit. [2] It’s a cognate of the Latin word “argentum” (which also means “silver”), and even of the French word “l’argent” (which again, means “silver”).

So what is the word for “silver” in other Indo-European languages?

If we look at the Brythonic (i.e., “Celtic”) languages of the British Isles, we can quickly understand why the British might fancy themselves to be “Aryans”:

English silver
Irish airgead
Scottish-Gaelic airgead
Welsh arian

The Welsh variant for “silver”, in particular, is very close to the word Aryan. It seems that Sanskrit isn’t the only language where the word for “silver” translates into a local ethnonym.

In some Nordic languages, the word “silver” is quite close to the modern term “Slav”:

English silver
Danish sølv
Norwegian sølv

Does this mean that Nordics might secretly be closet Slavs? 🙂

In the numerous Slavic languages, the word “silver” almost universally reduces to some variant on the root SRB, indicating a Serb or Sorb:

English silver
Belarusian срэбра (srebra)
Bosnian srebro
Bulgarian сребърен (srebŭren)
Croatian stříbro
Czech stříbro
Macedonian сребро (srebro)
Polish srebro
Russian серебро (serebro)
Slovakian striebro
Slovenian srebro
Sorbian (Upper) slěbro
Sorbian (Lower) slobro
Ukranian срібло (sriblo)

How about Mongolian? It’s not an Indo-European language, but let’s see what we get:

English silver
Mongolian мөнгө (mongo)

Are you starting to see the pattern?

In all these Eurasian languages, the racial ethnonym that a group picks for itself is almost universally the local word for “silver” — a tradition that seems to go all the way back to Vedic India, Sanskrit and the Aryans.

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Austrian Empress Maria Theresa Silver Coin

It’s ironic that most Nordic languages — with the exception of Danish and Norwegian, cited above — break with this rule, especially since the English and Germans are usually the ones most obsessed with trying to prove their “Aryanhood”. It’s also ironic that amongst the Slavic languages, only Serbian breaks this rule — since in all the other Slavic languages the word “silver” reduces to the ethnonym Serb:

English silver
Dutch zilver
German silber
Icelandic silfur
Serbian силвер (silver)
Swedish silver

The Indian Connection

We’re accustomed to speaking loosely about “Indo-European” languages and religions, but the two ethnic groups closest to each other on this axis are, respectively, the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe (on the European side) and North Indians living along the sub-Himalaya (on the Indian side).

A full review of the close similarities between Slavic and Indian culture are beyond the scope of this article, but briefly:

  • Genetics — The R1a genetic marker is found only amongst Slavs of Eastern Europe and high-caste Brahmins in India (and, to a lesser extent, amongst Iranians). [3]
  • Language — The modern Slavic languages are still extremely close to the oldest forms of ancient Sanskrit. [4]
  • Culture – The Slavs of Eastern Europe have lived for centuries (or more) alongside the Gypsies, who are now known to originate from northern India. [5]
  • Toponyms — Eastern Europe and northern India share an astonishing number of place- and river-names in common with each other.
  • History — Slavic chroniclers from the Middle Ages have documented the existence of the Slavic nation in India in ancient times. [6]
6b078331b6860e036400fbea6f021ac6

Frequency distribution map for the R1a “Aryan” genetic marker.

How amazing is it, then, that in Telugu — a regional Dravidian dialectic spoken in south-eastern India — the word for “silver” is “vendi”:

English silver
Telugu వెండి (vendi)

The Veneti were an ancient European race that once occupied most of northern and eastern Europe, including Anatolia and the area surrounding Lake Van, Turkey. They lent their name to Venice, Italy and are known to history under a variety of pseudonyms, including the Venedi, the Vani and the Vandals (who famously sacked Rome in 455 A.D.). To Germans they were known as the Wends, a name still used to refer to Slavs in parts of eastern Germany today.

venetic-origins-cover

Frequency distribution map for the R1a-Z92 genetic clade, associated with the Veneti. [7]

To the ancient Greeks, who did not have a “V” sound their language, the Veneti were known as the “Eneti”. Homer places the Eneti in Paphlagonia (Pontic Anatolia) and claims that they came to the aid of Troy during the Trojan War. [8]

Many scholars believe the Veneti, or Vani, to be the ancestors of modern Slavs. The map above, illustrating distribution of the R1a-Z92 genetic clade, suggests that this isn’t an altogether unreasonable idea. Scholars have speculated that the label “Slovani” — the Slavic ethnonym for themselves (in Slavic) — was coined circa the sixth century A.D. (possibly by Jordanes) to indicate either “Šlo-vani” or “Slo-vani”, meaning, “comes from the Vani” or “word/language of the Vani”, respectively.

Aryan

Colored areas indicate fullest extent of Aryan settlement into India.

Classically, it has been thought that Aryan settlement into India was largely limited to the Indus river valley (in what is today mostly Pakistan), and then later spreading down the Ganges river valley along the Himalayan mountains.

dravidian_lgs

Telugu is a Dravidian dialect spoken mostly in south-eastern India.

Telugu is a Dravidian dialect spoken much further south into the subcontinent than where Aryans are traditionally thought to have settled. Does the “silver-vendi” cognate in Telugu indicate that the Veneti, or the Aryans, or the Slavs, were once settled much further south into India than what is traditionally believed?

Are the Welsh Turkic?

Let’s keep pushing forward and see what the word for  “silver” is in some of the Turkic languages spoken on the vast Russian steppes:

English silver
Kazakh күміс (kümis)
Uzbek kumush

This word is quite close to Cumans, the name of a nomadic Turkic tribe that roamed the Eurasian steppes in ancient times. Pliny the Elder describes a large fortress named Cumania located in Darial Pass, whose purpose was to stop these tribes from transiting south through the Caucasus mountains. [9] The Greek philosopher Strabo refers to Darial Pass as Porta Caucasica or Porta Cumana. [10]

Ivan-Aivazovsky-Handmade-Oil-Painting-Repro-Daryal-Pass-Canvas-Wall-Art-Set-Room-Painting-Designs-Decorative

Darial Gorge by Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky, 1862

The name “Cumans” also reminds me a bit of the Cimmerians, a large nomadic tribe  from the Pontic steppe also mentioned by classical writers. Some Western historians have tried to connect the Cimmerians to the Cimbri — an enigmatic tribe from Jutland that battled with Rome circa 100 B.C. – and from there, to the Welsh:

English Welsh
Scottish-Gaelic Cuimris
Welsh Cymraeg

and also:

English Wales
Scottish-Gaelic A ’Chuimrigh
Welsh Cymru

As you can see, the Welsh ethnonym for themselves, in their own language, is quite similar to the word for “silver” in some of the Turkic languages spoken on the Russian steppes! It’s worth pointing out, though, that most modern linguists regard this as a historical oddity, and derive the Welsh “Cymru” instead from a Brythonic root meaning “compatriot”:

English compatriot
Welsh cydwladwr

To me, the Turkic word for “silver” seems like a slightly better fit, and with a much more interesting backstory, but I don’t know enough about Turkic, or Welsh history to comment much further.

The Nobleman

A final point, in conclusion, is that “Aryan” has often been translated from the Sanskrit as meaning “noble” or “freeman”. This etymology is thoroughly documented, is widely known, and is the one that English and German authors tend to favor — but note that both English and German lack the “silver thread” relating to Aryans that is evident in nearly every other Eurasian language.

I didn’t think the “Aryan-as-noble” etymology was worth giving much attention to here since you can easily find hundreds of other Internet resources discussing it. One interesting point, however, is that in their respective languages, both the word “Frank” — in the Carolingian, King Charlemagne-sense of that word — and the word “Slavic” can trace their etymology back to the concept of being a “noble” or “freeman”. This is noteworthy insofar as King Samo, the first (documented) king of the Slavs, is usually described as being of “Frankish” descent, having been born circa 600 A.D. in what is today Belgium [11] — in this context, however, “Frankish” and “Slavic” could well have the identical meaning, i.e., “of nobility”, or being “noble-born”. [12,13]

Addendum

This post is largely an adaption and editorialization of the article “What Does Aryan Mean?” available on the blog Cogniarchae. More information on this subject can be found at the following link:

Footnotes

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aryan
    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arjuna
    3. It’s worth noting that ‘Aryan” is the root of the modern name of Iran.
    4. French linguist Antoine Meillet once stated that anyone who wants to know what ancient Sanskrit sounded like should go talk to a Lithuanian farmer — http://vilnews.com/2011-04-incredible-indian-lithuanian-relations-2
    5. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/genetic-sequencing-traces-gypsies-back-to-ancient-indian-origin/
    6. In the 15th century, Jan Długosz of Poland wrote that: “It is worth noting hereby that the Slavic nation possessed great luck for fortune gave it such splendid lands. For no other lands in the world – save for India – which lands the Slavs possessed, produce more gold, silver, salt, brass, copper and other metals which the human race has learned of and values.” — http://www.jassa.org/?p=12140
    7. Source for the graphic and R1a-Z92 genetic clade — http://venetianambassadors.org/projects/your-venetic-origins/
    8. “The Paphlagonians were commanded by stout-hearted Pylaemanes from Enetae, where the mules run wild in herds. These were they that held Cytorus and the country round Sesamus, with the cities by the river Parthenius, Cromna, Aegialus, and lofty Erithini” — Homer, The Illiad, Book II.
    9. “Beyond the Sodii are the Gates of Caucasus, which many have very erroneously called Caspise Portae, or the Caspian Gates : a mighty Piece of Nature’s Work, by suddenly cleaving asunder those Mountains, where the Gates were barred up with iron Bars, whilst under the midst thereof, the River Dyriodorus runneth : and on this Side of it standeth a formidable Castle called Cumania, situated upon a Rock, able to arrest the Passage of a very numerous Army; so that in this Place, by means of these Gates, one Part of the World is excluded from the other.” — Pliny the Elder, History of Nature, Book VI
    10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darial_Gorge
    11. Samo’s birth in Belgium suggests the possibility that he may have descended from the Britannic, or Amorican Veneti in what is today northern France.
    12. https://www.etymonline.com/word/frank
    13. Some linguists trace the word “Slav” back to the Slavic root “svoboda” which means “free” or “independent”. The cultural and historical context for this is that Slavs have traditionally regarded themselves as “freeman” in contradistinction to their neighbors, the Germans, who “bent the knee” and became subject to the Roman Empire.