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Who is the most ancient historical Indo-European who is known by name?
In other words, is it Pythonos, king of Kussara (17th century BC) or are there more ancient figures?
Jared Diamond refers to "Hittite-like names in Assyrian," and there's a (possibly mythical) Hittite king from 23rd century bce, Pamba.
The earliest Hittite & Luwian (Indo-European, not Hattian) names date back to the 20th century BCE. They are known from the so called 'Cappadocian tablets' belonging to some Assyrian merchants near the site of Kultepe. Some examples of such names are:
Götze, Albrecht "Some Groups of Ancient Anatolian Proper Names", Language Vol. 30, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1954), pp. 349-359
10 Oldest Religious Texts in The World
Religion has been around for as long as man has existed. While it certainly has evolved over the years, the belief in gods and deities is an ancient tradition and dates back thousands of years. The proof of many of these religions are seen in religious texts discovered by experts and specialists. Here are ten of the world’s oldest religious texts.
10. Kesh Temple Hymn
Written: Circa 2600 BC
Religion: Various polytheistic beliefs
photo source: Wikipedia
The Kesh Temple Hymn is one of the oldest surviving pieces of literature in the world. It is often also known as the “Liturgy to Nintud” or “Liturgy to Nintud on the creation of man and woman”.
The first discovered tablets that were a part of this work were found during the excavations of a library temple in Nippur, the most ancient Sumerian city which focused on the worship of the gods Enlil and Nenlil, who Sumerians believed created all things.
The hymn consists of 134 lines, originally split into eight different houses, each ending with a unique rhetorical question.
9. Pyramid Texts
Written: Circa 2400–2300 BC
Location: Ancient Egypt
Religion: Various polytheistic beliefs
photo source: Wikipedia
The Pyramid Texts are known as one of the oldest religious texts in the world. During the 5th or 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom in Ancient Egypt, the text was carved on to the walls and within the sarcophagi of the Saqqara pyramids. These texts were meant to be for the pharaoh and were reserved for him.
The text of this religious script had to do with the protocol of dealing with the pharaoh’s body after his death, including how to protect his remains and ensure his reanimation after his passing, which would allow him to carry on to the afterlife and ascend to heaven.
These ways were known as “utterances” or spells and could be used to ask for the help of the gods and even punish or threaten gods who decided not to lend their help.
8. The Coffin Texts
Written: Circa 2100 BC
Location: Ancient Egypt
Discovered: Late 1800s
Religion: Various polytheistic beliefs
photo source: Wikipedia
Much like the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts are a collection of funerary works consisting of 1,815 spells to help bring the deceased to the afterlife safely and to protect them from danger in their journey. No longer reserved for pharaohs, anyone who could afford to be buried in a coffin could have access to parts of the text.
Due to often being written on the interior of coffins, the Coffin Texts’ spells were often shortened or simplified. More complex, full versions were found in later works that it inspired, such as the Book of the Dead, which we’ll discuss a little later in this article.
The Coffin Texts mainly focus on and describe the afterlife governed by the god Osiris. One of the most important books out of this collection of texts is the Book of Two Ways, which is the first text found that maps out the Ancient Egyptian idea of the underworld.
7. The Epic of Gilgamesh
Written: Circa 2100 BC
Religion: Various polytheistic beliefs
photo source: Wikipedia
Thought it is more of an epic story than a religious text, the Epic of Gilgamesh is often cited as a piece of holy literature. In fact, it is widely considered the earliest great literary work. This great tale tells the story of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk.
The very first parts of this story, including five Sumerian poems, were written first, then combined with future works to create one large epic. The oldest surviving completed compilation of the completed work is dated to the 18th century BC and is widely known as the Old Babylonian version, which was subtitled Shūtur eli sharrī, which translates to “Surpassing All Other Kings”.
The cumulation of the story involves Gilgamesh discovering, after years of dangerous and exhausting travel to discover the secret of eternal life, that “Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands.”
6. The Rigveda
Written: Circa 1700 BC
photo source: Wikipedia
Directly translating as “Praise Knowledge”, the Rigveda is one of the four canonical Hindu sacred texts that collectively make up the Vedas. It is, essentially, a collection of over 1,000 hymns that contain a total of 10,600 verses.
The massive amount of hymns in the Rigveda are arranged into ten books known as Mandalas, with the hymns shortening in length but increasing in number across each book. The first eight books written focused more on worship towards Rigvedan gods, but the final two books bordered on philosophical and discussed charity and morality.
Unfortunately, much of the language used in the Rigveda is obscure and as a result, many parts of it remain untranslated till this day. It remains one of the oldest discovered Indo-European extant texts, and today is one of the oldest religious texts still in use.
5. The Book of the Dead
Written: Circa 1550 BC
Discovered: Middle Ages
Religion: Various polytheistic beliefs
photo source: Wikipedia
The Book of the Dead isn’t exactly a book – it is a large amount of texts compiled. This funerary text describes a list of spells that can be used by individuals to make their journey from the underworld to the afterlife. There are some alternate translations of the title of this work, including the “Book of Coming Forth by Day” and the “Book of Emerging Forth into the Light”.
The book was placed into the coffin or burial chamber of those who had passed away, with its contents derived from years and years of spells written by many different priests. The earliest spells are taken from the aforementioned Pyramid and Coffin texts.
Written on papyrus with hieroglyphic or hieratic script, no canonical version of the Book of the Dead exists due to the countless variations discovered over the years. Knowledge of the existence of this holy text was present since the Middle Ages, so it’s not possible to accurately say when it was discovered, and by who.
4. The Instruction of Amenemope
Written: Circa 1300 BC
Religion: Various polytheistic beliefs
photo source: PerankhGroup
While it isn’t exactly an extremely religious text, we’re including the Instruction of Amenemope is often credited for its strong resemblance and relationship to the Bible’s Book of Proverbs. On top of that, it is often considered a masterpiece and an essential part of wisdom literature.
The text consists of a whopping thirty chapters of advice written by a scribe named Amenemope to pass on to his son and provide him with wisdom on how to live a successful life. It discusses values and attitudes needed in order to live happily despite the increasing social and economic difficulties in the world.
The format of the Instruction of Amenemope somewhat resembles that of an earlier, non-religious ancient text called The Maxims of Ptahhotep.
3. The Samaveda
Written: Circa 1200 BC
photo source: ScratchTap
The last three entries on this list are the other three texts in the Vedas apart from the aforementioned Rigveda. Literally translating to “song knowledge”, the Samaveda contains chants and speaks of melodies, comprising of 1,875 verses that are mainly derived from the Rigveda.
Some parts of the Samaveda are believed to date back to the Rigveda period, but the first version of the Samaveda used today surfaced around 1200 BC. This text contains two primary Upanishads, which are essential pillars of Hinduism.
Many traditional Indian dances are said to have their roots in the contents of the Samaveda, which is fitting since the Samaveda is officially considered the Veda of Chants.
2. The Yajurveda
Written: Circa 1200 BC
photo source: decodinghinduism
The title of this text literally translates to “prose mantra knowledge”, and as such, this Veda is the Veda of prose chants. It essentially is comprised of ritual chants and formulas and is divided into two.
One part of the text is the Krishna (black) section, which contains verses that are not well arranged. The other part is the Shukla (white) section, which has a much better structure. Four of the former’s recensions and two of the latter’s recensions continue to be used today.
The Yajurveda contains 1,875 verses which, while unique, are based on the foundation built by the Rigveda. The text also holds the largest collection of primary Upanishads.
1. The Atharvaveda
Written: Circa 1200 BC
photo source: Wikipedia
Unlike the other parts of the Vedas, the Atharvaveda has a more complex translation: “knowledge storehouse of atharvāṇas, the procedures for everyday life”. The texts is divided into 20 books which share 6,000 mantras and 730 hymns between them.
Some parts of the Atharvaveda discuss ancient medicine and medicals procedures, providing some of the earliest evidence and record of religious medical practices.
There are two versions of this religious text that made it into the modern world: the Paippalāda and the Śaunakīya. Like the other Vedas, it continues to have an impact on Hinduism today.
Discovered in Spain in the 1860s, the Madrid Codex – also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex – is one of the only surviving books attributable to the pre-Columbian Maya culture of around 900–1521 AD.
Most likely produced in Yucatán, the book is written in Yucatecan, a group of Mayan languages which includes Yucatec, Itza, Lacandon and Mopan.
Experts disagree on the exact date the Madrid Codex was created, though it is said by some to have been made before the Spanish conquest of the 16th century.
The book is currently held in the Museo de América in Madrid, Spain.
Estimated age: 494 years old.
Who is the most ancient Indo-European who is known by name? - History
The Indo-Europeans and Historical Linguistics
People, Places, Events and Terms To Know:
I. Introduction: The Archaeology of Language
The discovery of the Indo-Europeans is one of the most fascinating stories in modern scholarship. The tale begins with linguists in the late 1700's, in particular, William Jones, a British judge who lived in India and in 1786 was the first person to suggest the possibility of Indo-European civilization. Jones' hypothesis opened a new door to the past and sparked the modern science of historical linguistics.
Indo-European theory rests on the fact that various languages from all across Eurasia, in lands as far apart as India and Iceland, show many essential similarities, enough that they must have originated as a single tongue at some point long ago. Once Jones' successors began exploring the full linguistic record from this perspective, corroborating evidence started pouring in from all quarters. Parallels in vocabulary and grammar quickly emerged among foreign languages, particularly in what were then the oldest preserved tongues: Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. The last is the language of The Vedas, an ancient body of writings from India, and close analysis of its text showed that Sanskrit has a strong affinity with Latin and Greek. For instance, the Sanskrit word for "three" is trayas, clearly cognate with (i.e. from the same linguistic origin as) Latin tres and Greek treis, also words for "three." Likewise, the Sanskrit sarpa, "snake," obviously shares a common ancestor with the Latin serpens, the forebear of the English word serpent.
Jones' simple and elegant remarks concluding the paper he wrote for the 1786 Meeting of "the Asiatick Society of Calcutta" sum up the situation neatly:
. . . no philologer could examine all three languages [Sanskrit, Latin and Greek] without believing them to have sprung from some common source which, perhaps, no longer exists.
"Which perhaps no longer exists," this priceless piece of understatement was the overture to many important, indeed revolutionary insights into the history of Western Civilization.
First and foremost was that there must once have been a "mother" tongue which, as the peoples who spoke it spread across the globe, evolved into a family of "daughter" languages all of which, though they look different on the surface, are fundamentally related. Since these languages can be found all over Europe and Asia, scholars ultimately settled on the term Indo-European for this culture, and Proto-Indo-European as the designation for the mother tongue itself. While it would be better to call the language by the name its original speakers gave it, that isn't possible since no one has as yet been able to figure out what that name was, or for that matter what the Indo-Europeans as a people called themselves. Despite that, however, scholars were able to deduce much else about them.
For instance, as the study of linguistics advanced, it quickly became clear that quite a few languages belonged to the Indo-European family. "Threes," again, demonstrate the point well. Besides Latin (tres), Greek (treis) and Sanskrit (trayas), there are Spanish (tres), Danish, Italian and Swedish (tre), French (trois), German (drei), Dutch (drie), Russian (tri), English (three) and several other permutations all based on Indo-European *trejes. That these words are cognate is self-evident, especially when they're compared to "three" in non-Indo-European languages, such as Turkish (uc), Hebrew (shelosh), Malay (tiga) and Chinese (san). And adding in other basic Indo-European words like mother/moeder/mater and father/pater/patir makes the case overwhelming. All these languages which exhibit so many cognates must once have had a common source.
The ramifications of Indo-European theory were explosive, especially to Europeans in the nineteenth century. The presence of a long-lost common language presupposes, by definition, the historical existence of a common culture—anthropologists have shown that unity of culture nearly always accompanies unity of language—and, as the Indo-Europeans spread both widely and successfully across the globe, that culture must have traveled with them. Given that, scholars began looking at the fundamental similarities in native Indo-European civilizations and found remarkable parallels, the implication being that, for all their seeming differences in religion, government and family structure, peoples of Indo-European heritage share a cultural framework consistent with a shared origin. That is, the fundamental similarities in their cultures overshadow their superficial differences. It was a notion that was not well-received in all circles, especially the Eurocentric, white-supremacist factions which dominated the West in the nineteenth century.
Finally, linguistic research showed how extraordinarily successful these Indo-Europeans were in their near-global usurpation of the planet. To list ancient Indo-European civilizations is virtually to catalogue conquerors across Europe and western Asia: Indo-Aryans, Persians, Hittites, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Vikings, Medes and Philistines, to name just a few. And their modern counterparts are no less numerous, among them, Spanish conquistadors, Christian crusaders and all the major European colonial powers. Though there are also many ancient peoples who are not Indo-European—Sumerians, Egyptians, Elamites, Hurrians, Hebrews, Pelasgians, Etruscans, Assyrians, and Minoans—their Indo-European counterparts ultimately came to dominate Europe and, henceforth, much of world culture. Indeed, the triumphs of the ancient Indo-Europeans have carried over into the modern age, in which now more than half the people of the world speaks a language descended from Proto-Indo-European.
II. Indo-European Linguistics
To understand how Indo-European culture rose to such prominence, one must look far back in time. In late prehistory, waves of Indo-Europeans began migrating in several directions across the Eurasian continent, displacing natives and even other Indo-European settlers who had entered an area earlier. Scholars debate when exactly these massive migrations began—some say as early as 8000-5000 BCE, while others put it fairly late, after 3000 BCE—but it's clear that by the third millennium (3000-2000 BCE) the Indo-Europeans were on the move.
As they settled different areas of the world, they uprooted and overwhelmed indigenous peoples, which spelled in more than one instance the extermination of entire cultures. Indo-European groups moved into India, for instance, where they conquered the local population and established the caste system, with themselves at the top, of course. Likewise, a different Indo-European group invaded Italy and settled there as the Romans. Others became the Slavs in central Europe and the Philistines in the Near East. In every case, they caused upheaval and violent social change.
The Greeks provide a good example of the behavior typical of these conquerors. No fewer than three major waves of Indo-Europeans swept over Greece in the second millennium BCE, the last of which was the ferocious Dorian invasion that pushed aside at least two previous groups of Indo-European invaders and precipitated so much chaos that a centuries-long dark age ensued (1100-800 BCE). It's little wonder, then, that the native Pelasgians, an indigenous people in Greece, are now a historical mystery. When brutal invaders set about obliterating each other, native cultures have virtually no chance of survival, either in their own age or the historical record.
One of the major regions the Indo-Europeans settled was northern Europe, where there evolved an offshoot of the Proto-Indo-European language, a linguistic variant now called Common Germanic. Once established there, the speakers of this tongue drifted apart into various groups, as they continued to expand their domain, and this separation underlies the divisions still visible in the political and cultural landscape of northern Europe and in the different languages spoken there: the Celtic group including Welsh, Scots Gaelic, etc. the Germanic group including German, English, Dutch, Yiddish, etc. and the various Scandinavian tongues (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, etc.). Each of these derives from a distinct sub-population of Germanic speakers. With the data presently available, it's not possible to be precise about when these languages started separating, but it seems safe to say that by the first century BCE (i.e. after 100 BCE), there's good evidence Common Germanic had begun to break up.
The natural topography of the area clearly contributed to these linguistic divisions. The Scandinavian languages evolved north of the Baltic Sea and in Denmark. West German arose west of the Oder River. On the other side of this river in modern Poland, East German developed. The last (East German) is extinct now, because all of its "daughter languages" were wiped out of existence by the subsequent oppression of its peoples. Polish, the primary language of modern Poland, is instead an offshoot of Old Slavic, a different branch of Indo-European.
In politics and military affairs, speakers of West German were in general more successful than their Eastern counterparts, and the languages which arose out of West German culture (English, German, Dutch, etc.) all share an interesting feature. To grasp it, however, it is first necessary to understand some fundamental aspects of language, in particular, how sounds are produced in the mouth. In doing so, we gain insight into an important chapter in the history of the West German people, and an even more fascinating transition in the linguistic history of Europe.
After William Jones suggested that Latin, Greek and Sanskrit shared a common origin, the pace of linguistic study began to accelerate rapidly in the West. In part, this was due to the appearance of eager young scholars who were interested in exploring the world around them and making a name for themselves in academia. The most famous of these was Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), one of the famous Brothers Grimm. As a student of language, Jacob Grimm studied early German literature, seeking rare words unchanged over time, archaic vocabulary which might elucidate the history of the German language.
What he ended up with, however, was a fascinating body of folklore which he and his brother Wilhelm published as Grimms' Fairy Tales. The often macabre and sinister nature of these tales involving enslavement, poverty, starvation, abduction and even cannibalism reflects the dark view of those living where there's little protection from the vagaries of man and nature. It's one of the few glimpses history affords of non-urban life in Western Civilization, and it's not a pretty picture.
Grimm also got what he wanted word-wise. After some study he noticed a pattern in the evolution of Common Germanic as it was developing out of Proto-Indo-European, a change that he deduced had to have taken place long ago. This change came to be called the Great Consonant Shift. Grimm demonstrated that, even if a Germanic word and one from a different branch of Indo-European didn't look alike on the surface, in many cases they could be shown to be cognate with each other if one assumed that certain consonants had followed a predictable course of change. This linguistic rule was later dubbed Grimm's Law.
Here's what happened. At some point in the evolution of West German, some of its consonants began to shift dramatically. To understand how and why this shift occurred, one must look at the nature of consonants themselves, which are formed by briefly stopping the flow of air through the mouth (p, t, k, b, d, g) or by restricting it somehow (f, v, th, ch, j). The Great Consonant Shift in Germanic languages appears to have begun when a certain type of consonant called unvoiced (p, t, k) transformed into its aspirate equivalents (ph, th, kh).
Once that change took place, it put pressure on the original aspirates to sound different from the new ones in order to maintain enough distinction among words that sense wasn't lost. That is, if your tongs suddenly are thongs and your pans become fans, there's considerable fothential for conpusion. Consequently, what had originally been aspirates in Common Germanic (ph, th, kh) moved to their voiced equivalents (b, d, g). And soon thereafter, the original voiced consonants (b, d, g) did likewise and changed into their unvoiced counterparts (p, t, k), thus taking Common Germanic consonants in a full circle: from unvoiced to aspirate to voiced.
Grimm's Law: The Great Consonant Shift
(Indo-European > Germanic)
Bearing in mind that vowels are fluid and change unpredictably and that liquids (l, r) and nasals (m, n) are not as a rule affected by processes like those underlying Grimm's Law, we can deduce the Germanic—in this case, English—word which is cognate with its Indo-European form before it underwent the Great Consonant Shift. Since Latin and Greek are Indo-European tongues which stand outside Germanic and therefore were not influenced by Grimm's Law, words from these languages show the Indo-European root which Germanic inherited and changed. And because English contains many derivatives from Latin and Greek, we find within our own language words which do not look much alike but have similar meanings and are, in fact, cognate. For instance, the Indo-European root *pater which gives us words like paternal and paternity changed into father in English because the inherited p became f and t became th. The same thing happened to the th in mother which comes from an Indo-European base *mater, but the m was not changed because nasal consonants like m were not affected by Grimm's Law.
In the table below, use the Latin and Greek words and their English derivatives (in the left and center columns) to determine the changes which took place in Germanic words as outlined in the table of Grimm's Law cited above. By doing this, you should be able to decipher an English word which has the same basic meaning and Indo-European root but looks different because the Indo-European root word has undergone the Great Consonant Shift. [Click here for a printable version of this table which you can bring to class and fill in as we go over the answers together.]
In order to figure out the Germanic cognates , you may have to change, move or omit some of the letters in the Latin or Greek words —especially vowels and liquids (l/r) .
III. The Indo-Europeans: History and Culture
But language is not all there was to the Indo-Europeans. Anthropologists have long pointed out, as noted above, that language and culture go hand in hand. So, while shedding new and important light on the evolution of language, historical linguists have also discovered much about the Indo-Europeans' lives and livelihoods. Nevertheless, much remains uncertain, even such a basic question as where the Indo-Europeans lived before they embarked on their world-wide journeys and conquest.
A. What We Don't Know About The Indo-Europeans
Let's begin by looking as what is today unknown about the Indo-Europeans. Simply put, there is still no unequivocal evidence from either historical or archaeological sources for exactly where, when or how the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European lived. No site, no technology, no extant historical text, no particular past event has as yet been definitively associated with the people whose descendants would later spread Indo-European culture and language across the entire globe. The Indo-Europeans are at present in strictest terms a linguistic phenomenon, which is not to say their culture never existed—there is overwhelming evidence it must have at some point in history and, without doubt, somewhere in Eurasia—but that's not very precise.
Indeed, we cannot speak about Indo-European history and geography with certainty, which has not stopped scholars, however, from trying various means to determine the time and location of the original Indo-Europeans. For instance, based on calculations of the general rate at which languages change, attempts have been made to reason out how long ago Proto-Indo-European began to break apart. That is, by looking at how different its daughter languages are from one another, it may be possible to get a sense of the extent of time it took to create that number of variations in grammar and vocabulary evidenced in Indo-European languages.
This is called glossochronology and, though some linguists endorse this method of measuring language change, it has not found widespread favor among scholars. In actuality, the rate of language change can vary widely according to circumstances—languages sometimes evolve quickly and other times slowly—and none of it is predictable. All in all, the original Indo-European culture almost certainly existed at some time between 5000-2000 BCE, but such a wide range is not very helpful to those trying to assess the Indo-Europeans' role in history or tie them to particular developments in a certain age.
Where they lived is no less difficult to assess. Called the homeland problem and a matter of great debate among scholars, this question may ultimately also be unanswerable, inasmuch as the Indo-Europeans were in all likelihood a nomadic people and, while they may have had a home range, it's possible they had no specific homeland as such. And because nomads leave behind few traces archaeologically, at least compared to settled folk, historians are left grasping at straws in the wind here.
Tantalizing hints, however, emerge from the data, too. For example, the patterns of dispersion among Indo-European languages should after all furnish some sort of indication as to the migrational paths followed by the Indo-Europeans. Tracing those backwards ought, then, to provide at least a general indication of their place of origin. Moreover, similarities and differences in the daughter languages should also help point to how this dispersion proceeded, or at least where groups were at different times. But unfortunately, just as with glossochronology, there are too many variables at work, and no consensus has emerged among scholars about anything but the most basic solutions to the homeland problem. In sum, it seems safe to say only that the Indo-Europeans probably lived in or around the steppes of southern Russia at some point, simply because that area is central in the vast territory their descendants would later come to occupy. Little more can be said with certainty.
B. What We Do Know About The Indo-Europeans
In spite of not being able to answer some of the most basic questions about the Indo-Europeans, the body of data about them that we do have is very great, too. Of the original Indo-European civilization, many features can be reconstructed by comparing similar elements found widely among its daughter civilizations. For example, the Indo-Europeans must have been polytheistic, since all Indo-European cultures are—or at least were originally—that way. Their chief god was probably an entity whom they called "Sky-Father," because a name of this sort is seen in quite a few daughter cultures, for instance, the Romans whose principal deity was known as Ju-piter ("Day-father") and the Greeks whose god Zeus ("Day") headed up their pantheon.
The Indo-Europeans must also have favored tripartition ("division into threes") the tendency to envision and express the world in groups of three, which was a familiar habit of ancient Indo-European culture. For example, it's likely Indo-European society was separated into three basic strata: priests, warrior-rulers, and farmer-workers. Similarly, three fundamental elements constituted their universe: sky, sea, and earth. Indeed, our fondness for threes today surely derives from the Indo-Europeans' love of tripartition, such that many today envision God as a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and a good argument as having a beginning, middle, and end. We also start a race by saying, "Ready, Set, Go!"—why isn't it just "Ready? Go!"—our nursery rhymes feature "Winken, Blinken and Nod," we love waltzes set in three-quarters time and, as most lawyers will confirm, three examples are usually enough to make a convincing case. There is strong evidence from a wide range of data that these characteristics of life in the West today have their origin in Indo-European culture.
But the linguistic evidence affords an even closer view of the original Indo-European civilization. Words which derive from Proto-Indo-European and appear in several of its daughter languages suggest the existence of certain things within a shared experience, such as aspects of family life. One linguist writes:
. . . many family words (such as ‘mother', ‘husband', ‘brother') can be reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European. These include several words for ‘in-laws', which seem to have been used solely with reference to the bride. Evidence of this kind suggests that it was the wife who was given a position within the husband's family, rather than the other way round, and that the society must therefore have been patriarchal in character.
That is, in Proto-Indo-European society there were special words for the bride's parents because the "family" was presumed to mean the groom's family, the core social unit as it often is in patriarchal societies. Furthermore, that some Indo-European languages share a base that means "king" (*reg-, literally "straightener" cf. English regal) suggests the Indo-Europeans had or knew about "kings" of some sort. They probably also had cows (*gwous), as well as sheep, pigs, and dogs. They lived in villages (*weik-, cf. English vicinity), knew about silver and copper, had ships (*nau-, cf. nautical) as well as bows and arrows and rode horses (*ekwo-, from which we get equestrian).
That common words for other things do not show up in Indo-European daughter languages suggests the Indo-Europeans did not know about or have contact with these things. Among them are "ocean," "bronze," and "gold." One scholar puts it this way:
There are no anciently common Indo-European words for elephant, rhinoceros, camel, lion, tiger, monkey, crocodile, parrot, rice, banyan, bamboo, palm, but there are common words, more or less widely spread over Indo-European territory, for snow and freezing cold, for oak, beech, pine, birch, willow, bear, wolf, otter, beaver, polecat, marten, weasel, deer, rabbit, mouse, horse, ox, sheep, goat, pig, dog, eagle, hawk, owl, jay, wild goose, wild duck, partridge or pheasant, snake, tortoise, crab, ant, bee, etc.
With no common word for "ocean," it seem unlikely the Indo-Europeans were originally a coastal people. No shared word for "vine" makes a Mediterranean origin improbable, too. But even with such compelling and specific linguistic data, scholars still cannot agree as to the exact whereabouts of the aboriginal Indo-Europeans. Thus, the homeland problem remains just that, a problem.
IV. Conclusion: Who were the Indo-Europeans?
In conclusion, who were the Indo-Europeans? The truth is, we do not know who they were, but we do know who they are: virtually everyone of us, at least in some way. Seen genetically, Indo-European heritage encompasses all peoples of Germanic or Scandinavian or southern Mediterranean or Persian or Russian or northern Indian descent, any of a wide range of national groups stemming from India to Iceland. Viewed culturally—that is, as part of a common civilization—everyone who speaks an Indo-European language, or has an innate cultural predilection for threes, is the heir of Indo-European might and main. From that perspective, it's hard not to see Indo-Europeans everywhere!
And thanks to these ancestors' invasion of every continent on earth and usurpation of much of its natural wealth, the descendants of the Indo-Europeans represent one of the most populous and pervasive cultural forces on the planet. But the price of that success has been quite steep, in almost all cases, the extinction of native cultures. Seen this way, the colonization of the Americas is just one more Indo-European invasion in which the modern descendants of these most efficient conquerors overran and imposed their way of life on yet two more continents of natives, just another set of hapless victims. It should come as no surprise either, then, that the first men to walk on the moon were of immaculate Indo-European pedigree. "One small step for a man" are all Indo-European words. And the Indo-European nature of our adventures in space may explain another feature of these explorations: the reason we show so little eagerness to return there. Perhaps that's because we've found no lunar natives to displace as yet.
Who Was the First Named Human?
Not surprisingly, the record of the first humans identified by a personal name goes back to before the dawn of history itself. Through his artistic "Love Symbol", the The Artist Formerly Known as Prince gave us a clue how pre-writing names were probably rendered!
Pottery shards and other artifacts uncovered in China often bare curious symbols dating from the dawn of Chinese writing between 6600 and 6200 BC. Called Jiahu Symbols, they are not part of a written language but merely personally-invented symbols scratched on pottery to mark ownership by a specific individual: In other words a name!
Example of Jiahu Symbols (Wikipedia)
The first recorded name given in an actual writing system can be found on clay tablets dating from the Jemdet Nasr period in Sumeria between 3200 and 3101 BC.
Example of Jemdet Nasr cuneiform (Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art
The tablets are not profound treatises on human thinking, but accounting ledgers for tallying up goods and possessions! Some of the first names are those of the slave owner Gal-Sal and his two slaves Enpap-x and Sukkalgir (3200-3100 BC). Another name is that of Turgunu Sanga (3100 BC) who seems to have been an accountant for the Turgunu family. There are many more names from this period but none that appear much before 3200 BC.
Looking to Egypt, Iry-Hor (The Mouth of Horus) would be the earliest name we know dating from about 3200 BC. Little is known about King Iry-Hor other than his name found on pottery shards in one of the oldest tombs in Abydos, though based on his burial he was a pre-dynastic King of Upper Egypt. King Ka from around this same time was the first to put his name inside a box-shaped serekh as an indicator of kingship. Following King Ka and King Iry-Hor we also have kings with hieroglyphic symbols of Crocodile King and Scorpion King followed by the name of the first pharaoh, Narmer (Catfish King), who united both Upper and Lower Egypt and together with his wife Neithhotep, lived between 3150 and 3125 BC. She, by the way, is the oldest women to be mentioned by name. The name Neithhotep means "[The Goddess] Neith is satisfied."
Example of Iry-Hor's name on a pottery shard (Credit: Wikipedia)
Other civilizations arrive at writing names much later than the Chinese, Sumerians and Egyptians, but we can still ask the same question.
Anitta (no known meaning to the name) was the king of the Hittite city of Kussara. He lived around 1700 BC and is the earliest known ruler to compose a text in the Hittite language, which is the oldest known Indo-European text.
Linear B is a syllabic script that predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries. The oldest writing dates to about 1450 BC. Some Knossos Linear B tablets mention people by name. A number of Mycenaean names have exact equivalents in Homer such as Hektor , which means "holding fast."
Following many other ancient naming traditions, even ancient Greek names have an intrinsic meaning. For example Archimedes means "master of thought", from the Greek element (archos) "master" combined with (medomai) "to think, to be mindful of". And of course nearly all ancient Egyptian names have a separate meaning such as Amun Tut Ankh whose hieroglyphic name can be directly transcribed with the words 'Amun's Image Living'. We know him more popularly as Tutankhamun.
The Mayans rose to prominence around A.D. 250. The oldest clearly named king is given by a glyph that translates into Yax Ehb' Xook which literally means "First Step Shark". He was the first king of Tikal who ruled sometime between 63 and 90 AD. Much later in 420 AD we have the purported founder of Copan, K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo whose name means "Sun-Eyed Resplendent Quetzal Macaw."
The peoples of Africa, Australia and North America all had spoken languages but not written symbolism, so until writing was imported to these areas we have no documentable record of names.
For example, among Native Americans, the oldest known name dates from the arrival of the Pilgims and their historical record-keeping. We read about Tisquantum (meaning The Wrath of God) ca 1620 AD who was a member of the Patuxet tribe.
In Africa, there are many names that have come forward in time literally by word of mouth, but no way to establish their actual dates of usage through writing. For example, the legendary Queen of Sheba (1005-955 BC) was traditionally believed to be a part of the Ethiopian dynasty established in 1370 BC by Za Besi Angabo.
Among Australian Aboriginals, writing only appeared after the arrival of Europeans in ca 1780s who transcribed language sounds into Latin text. Some of their names include Tharah, which means 'thunder' or Mokee which means 'cloudy'.
What is interesting about almost all ancient human names is that in their own languages they actually mean something. They are not sterile monikers. At a cocktail party a conversation between two ancient Egyptians would be 'Hi, my name is Living Image of Amun'. 'Pleased to meet you! My name is The Beautiful One Has Come!" It would not be heard as 'Hi, my name is Tutankhamun'. 'Pleased to meet you! My name is Nefertiti!"
This widespread human habit of naming people by phrases is far different than what we experience in modern times. We rarely think too much about what names like 'John Cartwright', or Mike Brown actually mean, but there are exceptions. My own Swedish name, Sten Odenwald, translates into 'Stone of Oden's Forest', and occasionally I really do think of it as more than a set of sounds or letters that designate me.
So the next time you visit Starbucks, imagine having this conversation:
You: I'd like a vente hot chocolate with whipped cream. Barista: Your Name? You: The Living Image of the Iridescent Higgs Field Barista: ?? You: Just call me Bob.
Vedic Sanskrit evolved to Classical Sanskrit, which has influenced modern Indian languages and is used in religious rites.
Explain the importance of Sanskrit
- Sanskrit is originated as Vedic Sanskrit as early as 1700-1200 BCE, and was orally preserved as a part of the Vedic chanting tradition.
- The scholar Panini standardized Vedic Sanskrit into Classical Sanskrit when he defined the grammar, around 500 BCE.
- Vedic Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.
- Knowledge of Sanskrit became a marker of high social class during and after the Vedic Period.
- Hinduism: The dominant religion of the modern Indian subcontinent, which makes use of Sanskrit in its texts and practices.
- Panini: The scholar who standardized the grammar of Vedic Sanskrit to create Classical Sanskrit.
Sanskrit is the primary sacred language of Hinduism, and has been used as a philosophical language in the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Sanskrit is a standardized dialect of Old Indo- Aryan, originating as Vedic Sanskrit as early as 170001200 BCE.
One of the oldest Indo-European languages for which substantial documentation exists, Sanskrit is believed to have been the general language of the greater Indian Subcontinent in ancient times. It is still used today in Hindu religious rituals, Buddhist hymns and chants, and Jain texts.
Sanskrit traces its linguistic ancestry to Proto-Indo-Iranian and ultimately to Proto-Indo-European languages, meaning that it can be traced historically back to the people who spoke Indo-Iranian, also called the Aryan languages, as well as the Indo-European languages, a family of several hundred related languages and dialects. Today, an estimated 46% of humans speak some form of Indo-European language. The most widely-spoken Indo-European languages are English, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, each with over 100 million speakers.
Sanskrit manuscript on palm-leaf, in Bihar or Nepal, 11th century: Sanskrit evolved from Proto-Indo-European languages and was used to write the Vedas, the Hindu religious texts compiled between 1500-500 BCE.
Vedic Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scripts, compiled c. 1500-500 BCE. The Vedas contain hymns, incantations called Samhitas, and theological and philosophical guidance for priests of the Vedic religion. Believed to be direct revelations to seers among the early Aryan people of India, the four chief collections are the Rig Veda, Sam Veda, Yajur Vedia, and Atharva Veda. (Depending on the source consulted, these are spelled, for example, either Rig Veda or Rigveda.)
Vedic Sanskrit was orally preserved as a part of the Vedic chanting tradition, predating alphabetic writing in India by several centuries. Modern linguists consider the metrical hymns of the Rigveda Samhita, the most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, to have been composed by many authors over several centuries of oral tradition.
Sanskrit Literature began with the spoken or sung literature of the Vedas from c. 1500 BCE, and continued with the oral tradition of the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India, the period after the Bronze Age began, around 1200 BCE. At approximately 1000 BCE, Vedic Sanskrit began the transition from a first language to a second language of religion and learning.
Around 500 BCE, the ancient scholar Panini standardized the grammar of Vedic Sanskrit, including 3,959 rules of syntax, semantics, and morphology (the study of words and how they are formed and relate to each other). Panini’s Astadhyayi is the most important of the surviving texts of Vyakarana, the linguistic analysis of Sanskrit, consisting of eight chapters laying out his rules and their sources. Through this standardization, Panini helped create what is now known as Classical Sanskrit.
A 2004 Indian stamp honoring Panini, the great Sanskrit grammarian: The scholar Panini standardized the grammar of Vedic Sanskrit to create Classical Sanskrit. With this standardization, Sanskrit became a language of religion and learning.
The classical period of Sanskrit literature dates to the Gupta period and the successive pre-Islamic middle kingdoms of India, spanning approximately the 3rd to 8th centuries CE. Hindu Puranas, a genre of Indian literature that includes myths and legends, fall into the period of Classical Sanskrit.
Drama as a distinct genre of Sanskrit literature emerged in the final centuries BCE, influenced partly by Vedic mythology. Famous Sanskrit dramatists include Shudraka, Bhasa, Asvaghosa, and Kalidasa their numerous plays are still available, although little is known about the authors themselves. Kalidasa’s play, Abhijnanasakuntalam, is generally regarded as a masterpiece and was among the first Sanskrit works to be translated into English, as well as numerous other languages.
Works of Sanskrit literature, such as the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali, which are still consulted by practitioners of yoga today, and the Upanishads, a series of sacred Hindu treatises, were translated into Arabic and Persian. Sanskrit fairy tales and fables were characterized by ethical reflections and proverbial philosophy, with a particular style making its way into Persian and Arabic literature and exerting influence over such famed tales as One Thousand and One Nights, better known in English as Arabian Nights.
Poetry was also a key feature of this period of the language. Kalidasa was the foremost Classical Sanskrit poet, with a simple but beautiful style, while later poetry shifted toward more intricate techniques including stanzas that read the same backwards and forwards, words that could be split to produce different meanings, and sophisticated metaphors.
Sanskrit is vital to Indian culture because of its extensive use in religious literature, primarily in Hinduism, and because most modern Indian languages have been directly derived from, or strongly influenced by, Sanskrit.
Knowledge of Sanskrit was a marker of social class and educational attainment in ancient India, and it was taught mainly to members of the higher castes (social groups based on birth and employment status). In the medieval era, Sanskrit continued to be spoken and written, particularly by Brahmins (the name for Hindu priests of the highest caste) for scholarly communication.
Today, Sanskrit is still used on the Indian Subcontinent. More than 3,000 Sanskrit works have been composed since India became independent in 1947, while more than 90 weekly, biweekly, and quarterly publications are published in Sanskrit. Sudharma, a daily newspaper written in Sanskrit, has been published in India since 1970. Sanskrit is used extensively in the Carnatic and Hindustani branches of classical music, and it continues to be used during worship in Hindu temples as well as in Buddhist and Jain religious practices.
Sanskrit is a major feature of the academic linguistic field of Indo-European studies, which focuses on both extinct and current Indo-European languages, and can be studied in major universities around the world.
Linguists say the language was first spoken in Eurasia and spread to the entire world over a period of 6,000 years. Indo European has been placed in history in the period preceding the invention of farming because some of its ancient words are related to farming activities. It is subdivided further into nine subgroups which include Indo-Iranian languages, Armenian, Greek or Hellenic, Albanian, Italo-Celtic languages, Balto-Salvic languages, Germanic languages, Tocharian, and Anatolian. Bernard Sergent updated the classification of the language in 2005 in an effort to support other classifications carried out before him. Sergent categorized the language into five broad sub classes as Northwest group, Southeast group, Anatolian, Indo-European with undetermined status and hypothetically Indo-European languages.
The Origins of the Ashkenazim
But the 2013 study showed 80% of Ashkenazi Jews’ maternal line comes from Europe - only a few people had genes originating in the Near East. As Professor Richards said at the time, “This suggests that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they seem to have married European women.”
A Jewish couple from Worms, Germany, with the obligatory yellow badge on their clothes. The man holds a moneybag and bulbs of garlic, both often used in the portrayal of Jews. 16th century. ( Public Domain )
It appears that the majority of the European converts to Judaism during the early years of the Diaspora were women. That helps explain why the Ashkenazim can trace their female lineage to southern and western Europe.
In conclusion, Richards said , “The origins of the Ashkenazim is one of the big questions that people have pursued again and again and never really come to a conclusive view.”
Top Image: Detail of ‘Ashkenazi Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) Source: Public Domain
Updated on December 2, 2020.
Joanna Gillan is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins.
Joanna completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in Australia and published research in the field of Educational Psychology. She has a rich and varied career, ranging from teaching. Read More
15 Ancient Celtic Gods and Goddesses You Should Know About
When it comes to the ancient Celts, the scope is not really about a singular group of people who dominated some specific region or realm. Instead, we are talking about a vast and variegated culture that made its presence felt all the way from the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and Ireland to the frontiers of Liguria in Italy and the upper Danube. Suffice it to say, their mythology rather mirrored this multifarious scope, with various tribes, chiefdoms, and even later kingdoms having their own set of folklore and pantheons. Essentially, what we know as Celtic mythology (and whom we know as Celtic gods and goddesses) is borrowed from a patchwork of oral traditions and local tales that were conceived in pre-Christian Gaul (France), Iberia, Britain, and Ireland.
Furthermore, these regional Celtic gods had their cognates and associated deities in other Celtic cultures, with the apt example of Lugus – as he was known in Gaul, and Lugh – as he was known in Ireland. To that end, in this article, we have mainly focused on the ancient Celtic gods and goddesses of Ireland and Gaul, with the former having its distinct mythical narrative preserved in part by medieval Irish literature. So, without further ado, let us take a gander at 15 ancient Celtic gods and goddesses you should know about.
1) Ana or Danu/Dana – The Primordial Goddess of Nature
Counted among the oldest of the ancient Celtic gods in Ireland, Ana (also known as Anu , Dana , Danu, and Annan ) possibly embodied the primordial scope, with her epithets describing her as a mother goddess. Thus the Celtic goddess, often portrayed as a beautiful and mature woman, was associated with nature and the spiritual essence of nature, while also representing the contrasting (yet cyclic) aspects of prosperity, wisdom, death, and regeneration.
The role of Ana is very much pronounced in Irish mythology, where she is often referred to as Anu , Danu or Dana , and is considered as the divine mother of the Tuatha Dé Danann (‘people of Dana’) – the supernatural race (or tribe) of Celtic gods that possibly formed one of the major pantheons of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland. To that end, her cultic center was probably based in Munster, while two hills in County Kerry are still known as Da Chich Anann (‘The Paps of Anu’). The goddess Don in Welsh mythology was also often associated with her matronly Irish counterpart. As for the historical side of affairs, Ana (or her related deities), in spite of her relative inconspicuousness in folkloric references, was counted among the major Celtic gods not only in Ireland but also in Britain and Gaul.
2) Dagda – The Cheerful Chief of Gods
Source: Heroes of Camelot Wikia
Since we delved into the Gaelic pantheon in the first entry, the most important father-figure deity within the scope of Irish Celtic gods pertained to the Dagda ( An Dagda – ‘the Good God’). Revered as the leader of the Tuatha Dé Danann tribe of gods, he was usually associated with fertility, agriculture, weather, and masculine strength, while also embodying the aspects of magic, wisdom, knowledge, and Druidry. These facets do explain his renown and veneration among the Celtic druids. Many of the aspects also bear striking similarities to the divine characteristics of Odin , the chieftain of the Æsir tribe of ancient Norse gods.
Reinforcing his nature as the father-figure among the Celtic gods (especially in Gaelic Ireland), the Dagda was often represented as a rustic tunic (that barely covered his rear end) wearing plump, old man who carried an imposing magic staff/club ( lorg mór ) that could slay nine people with a single blow and yet resurrect the dead to life. Curiously enough, the Celtic god also carried a huge magic cauldron ( coire ansic ) that was bottomless – and was accompanied by a humongous ladle that could fit two people, thus alluding to his power of abundance and penchant for food. And in spite of his seemingly oafish physical characteristics, the Dagda took numerous lovers, including Morrigan – the Celtic goddess of war and fate (discussed later).
3) Aengus (Angus) /Aonghus – The Youthful God of LoveIllustration by Beatrice Elvery in Violet Russell’s Heroes of the Dawn (1914). Source: Wikimedia Commons
The son of the Dagda and river goddess Bionn , Aengus (or Aonghus ) – meaning ‘true vigor’, was the Celtic deity of love, youth, and even poetic inspiration. In the mythical narrative, to cover up his illicit affair and consequent pregnancy of Bionn , the Dagda (who was the leader of the Celtic gods and could magically control the weather) made the sun stand still for nine months, which resulted in Aengus being birthed in just a single day. In any case, Aengus turned out to be a lively man with a charming (if somewhat whimsical) character who always had four birds hovering and chirping around his head.
It was said that Aengus has his dwelling around Newgrange after he had tricked his father Dagda into giving him the possession of the Brú na Bóinne – the spiritual abode of the chieftain of the Tuatha Dé Danann . But his status in ancient Ireland as a patron of young lovers was borne by his own love for Caer Ibormeith , a girl who was seen in a dream by the god. Aengus was then able to find her and marry after instantly recognizing his muse as one of the swans (since Caer turned into a swan every alternate year). As for the historical side of affairs, Aengus, with its epithet Mac Óg (‘young son’), was possibly linked with Maponos , one of the Celtic gods of youth, venerated in both ancient Britain and Gaul.
4) Lugus / Lugh – The Courageous Warrior God
Artwork by Mickie Mueller Studio
Though rarely mentioned in inscriptions, Lugos or Lugus (as known in Gaul) or his cognates Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Arm) in Gaelic Irish and Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu of the Skillful Hand) in Welsh, was an important deity among the Celtic gods and goddesses. Often revered as the resplendent sun god, Lugus or Lugh was also perceived as a dashing (and often youthful) warrior responsible for slaying Balor – the one-eyed chief of the Formorii , the old adversaries of the Tuatha Dé Danann .
The heroic act achieved by a precise slingshot into Balor’s eye heralded the ascendance of the Tuatha Dé Danann as the dominant tribe of gods in Ireland (over the Formorii , who were portrayed with darker characteristics) . Interestingly enough, in spite of being the champion of the Tuath Dé , in the narrative sense, Lugh himself descended from the one-eyed (or one-limbed) Formorii , with Balor being his maternal grandfather.
Also known as the Samildánach (Skilled in All the Arts), Lugh (or Lug ) was additionally associated with thunderstorms, ravens, and even lynxes. And befitting his status as one of the preeminent Celtic gods, he was often portrayed with his armor, helmet and invincible spear Gae Assail. In the mythical narrative, Lugh was perceived as the divine father of Cú Chulainn , the most famous of Irish heroes, whose character and feats bore similarities to both Greek Heracles (Hercules) and Persian Rostam .
As for history, due to the Roman cultural trait of interpretatio Romana, Lugus was possibly perceived as the Gallic equivalent of Roman god Mercury – and as such, the ancient settlement of Lugdunum (modern Lyon) had its place-name derived from the Celtic god – meaning ‘fort of Lugus’. Quite intriguingly, the very term ‘leprechaun’ is also possibly derived from Luchorpain or ‘little stopping Lugh’ – a blanket term used for the fairy in Gaelic.
5) Mórrígan – The Mysterious Goddess of Fate
Source: Katie Wood
Mórrígan or Morrigan (also known as Morrígu ) was perceived as a mysterious and rather ominous female deity among the Irish Celtic gods and goddesses, associated with both war and fate. In modern Irish, her name Mór-Ríoghain roughly translates to the ‘phantom queen’. Befitting this cryptic epithet, in the mythical narrative, Morrigan was capable of shapeshifting (who usually transformed into a crow – the badb) and foretelling doom, while also inciting men into a war frenzy. On the other hand, in contrast to these seemingly chaotic and ‘war-mongering’ attributes, Morrigan was possibly also venerated as a Celtic goddess of sovereignty who acted as the symbolic guardian of the land and its people.
Morrigan was often associated with other warlike Celtic gods like Macha , Badb , and Nemain , and thus sometimes she was presented as a composite figure of the trinity (who were also collectively portrayed as a group of beautiful women having the ability to transform into balefully screeching crows over battlefields). And talking of the mythical narrative, Morrigan was romantically linked with the aforementioned Dagda (and had a tryst with the chieftain of gods on Samhain ).
Consequently, she magically aided him against the war with the Formorii. On the other hand, a nascent sinister aspect of Morrigan is revealed when she settles in triumph on the shoulder of the dying hero Cú Chulainn – after the hero unknowingly wounded the goddess in her shapeshifted form. In essence, her characterizations and prophetic powers are often associated with the premonitions of a warrior’s violent death, thus suggesting a link to the folkloric Banshees – derived from bean sidhe (‘woman of the fairies’).
6) Brigid – The ‘Triple’ Goddess of Healing
In contrast to the brooding aspects of Morrigan , Brigid, in pre-Christianity Ireland, was regarded as the Celtic goddess of healing, spring season, and even smithcraft. In the mythical narrative, she is the daughter of the Dagda and thus a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann . Curiously enough, in Lebor Gabála Érenn ( The Book of the Taking of Ireland – collection of poems compiled in the 11th century AD), she is mentioned to have a quite a few domesticated animals, ranging from oxen, the king of boars, to sheep – and these critters used to cry out as a warning to the goddess.
Beyond the narrative, it is the history of Brigid as one of the major Celtic gods in Ireland that fascinates many aficionados. To that end, continuing the tradition of the Indo-European dawn goddess, Brigid was possibly sometimes venerated in her three aspects – the healer, the poet, and the smith. In essence, she may have been a triple deity (the composite of three entities). Furthermore, her eminence (in at least Ireland) stems from the possibility that pre-Christian Brigid was syncretized in the medieval times with the Catholic Saint Brigid of Kildare. This incredible form of syncretism hints at how the early medieval Christian monks played their part in adapting to the changing religious landscape of the realm by retaining a few of the older native ‘pagan’ elements.
7) Belenus – The Effulgent Sun God
One of the most ancient and most widely worshiped of Celtic gods – who was venerated in Continental Europe, Britain and Ireland, Belenus (also known as Belenos , Bel , and Beli Mawr ) was the quintessential sun god in the Celtic mythology. Known by his epithet ‘Fair Shining One’, Belenus was also associated with the horse and the wheel – and their composites tended to portray him as the effulgent Sun God gloriously riding across the sky in his horse-drawn chariot. Other representations depict Belenus as only riding his horse while throwing thunderbolts and using the wheel as his shield.
Now given his eminence in ancient times, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Roman identified him with one of their own syncretic Greco-Roman deities – Apollo , the archetype of the youthful god of light. Thus over time, Belenus was also associated with the healing and regenerative aspects of Apollo , with healing shrines dedicated to the dual entities found across western Europe, including the one at Sainte-Sabine in Burgundy and even others as far away as Inveresk in Scotland.
In fact, the cult of Belenus was so strong in some parts of the continent that the god was regarded as the patron deity of Aquileia (the ancient Roman city situated at the ‘head’ of the Adriatic sea) as well as the national god of Noricum (comprising parts of modern-day Austria and Slovenia). Even in our modern context, the legacy of Belenus (or Bel ) survives through the continued festival of Beltane (‘Fires of Bel’) that was originally celebrated to signify the healing powers of the spring sun. Interestingly enough, the familiar Welsh name ‘Llywelyn’ also comes from two Celtic sun gods, since it is derived from Lugubelinos – the composite of Lugus (or Lleu in Welsh) and Belenos (or Belyn in Welsh).
8) Toutatis – The Guardian God of Gauls
From the Gaelic scope, we move on to ancient Gaul and their Celtic gods. To that end, in our modern context, Toutatis is made famous by the Asterix comics catchphrase ‘By Toutatis!’. And while not much is known about the mythological scope, Toutatis (or Teutates ) was probably quite an important Celtic deity, with his very name roughly translating to ‘God of the People’. In essence, he was possibly perceived as a crucial guardian entity who took up the role of the tribe protector, and thus his inscribed name ( TOT – as pictured above) has been found in quite a few ancient artifacts in both Roman-Britain and Gaul.
Ist century Roman poet Lucan mentioned Teutates as one of the three major Celtic gods (along with Esus and Taranis), while by the aforementioned trait of interpretatio Romana, Toutatis was seen the equivalent of both Mars and Mercury . On the macabre side of affairs, later Roman commentators mentioned how victims were sacrificed in the god’s name by plunging their head into a vat of unknown liquid (possibly ale). Interestingly enough, Toutatis possibly also had his Irish counterpart in the form of Tuathal Techtmar , the legendary conqueror of Ireland – whose name originally referred to the eponymous deity Teuto-valos (‘Ruler of people’).
9) Camulos – The God of War
Camulos envisioned as a Celtic warrior. Artwork by Trollskog-Studio (DeviantArt)
Rather than being counted among the core Celtic gods, Camulos was possibly more of a Romano-Celtic deity, often associated with Mars (or Greek Ares ), and thus was perceived as a god of war. However, his origins lie as the tribal god of the Remi, a Belgic tribe that dominated north-eastern Gaul (comprising modern-day Belgium and parts of both Netherlands and Germany).
In any case, Camulos was regarded as one of the important ancient Celtic gods (or Romano-Celtic deities) in Britain, judging by his name being given to several places in the region, including Camulodunum, the ancient Roman name for Colchester in Essex, England. And while, initially, he was just worshipped on stones where wreaths of oak were placed, later characterizations portrayed Camulos has having horns of ram on his head.
10) Taranis – The God of Thunder
A small figurine of Taranis at Le Chatelet, Gourzon, (Haute-Marne), France. Source: Balkan Celts (link)
While widely known as one of the major gods of Gaul during Roman times, the origins of Taranis probably harked back to far older (and ancient) Celtic traditions. As we mentioned before, according to Lucan, Taranis formed a triad of Celtic gods (along with Toutatis and Esus), and as such, he was regarded as the god of thunder, thus drawing obvious comparisons to Roman Jupiter (and Greek Zeus). Even in the visual scale, the god was portrayed with a lightning bolt, thus bearing more similarity to Zeus. However, literally, on the other hand, Taranis was also depicted with a solar wheel – one of the most prevalent symbols found on Celtic artifacts, which suggests his eminence in the related pantheon.
Furthermore, Taranis was associated with fire, be it the fire of the sky or the fire of the air. This had led to some disturbing allegations by other Roman authors, including that of Strabo and Julius Caesar who described sacrificial victims being burned inside ‘wicker man’ constructs to appease the deity. In any case, i nterestingly enough, the very name Taranis (as mentioned by Lucan) is unattested when it comes to historical inscriptions, though related forms like Tanarus and Taranucno- have been identified by archaeologists. And talking of archaeology, the cult of Taranis probably carried and venerated small votive wheels known as Rouelles that symbolized the solar shape.
11) Cernunnos – The Lord of the Wild Things
Arguably the most visually impressive and rather portentous of ancient Celtic gods, Cernunnos is actually the conventional name given to the deity ‘Horned One’. As the horned god of Celtic polytheism, Cernunnos is often associated with animals, forests, fertility, and even wealth. His very depiction mirrors such attributes, with the conspicuous antlers of the stag on his head and the poetic epithets like the ‘Lord of the Wild Things’.
As for history, there is only single known evidence for the full name Cernunnos, and it comes from the Pillar of the Boatmen carved by the Gaulish sailors in circa 14 AD. Considered as one of the important reliefs of the Gallo-Roman religion, the pillar additionally depicts other Roman deities like Jupiter and Vulcan .
However, quite intriguingly, the visual representations of the horned deity (as one of the Celtic gods) predate such inscriptions and names by centuries. To that end, one of the apt examples would pertain to an antlered human figure featured in a 7th-4th century BC dated petroglyph in Cisalpine Gaul and other related horned figures worshipped by the Celtiberians based in what is now modern-day Spain and Portugal. And the most well-known depiction of Cernunnos can be found on the Gundestrup Cauldron (circa 1st century BC).
12) Ogmios / Ogma – The God of Eloquence
Artwork by Yuri Leitch. Source: FineArtAmerica
In most ancient mythical narratives, we rarely come across divine entities that are solely associated with language. Well, Ogmios, as one of the ancient Celtic gods, goes against this ‘trend’ since he was simply considered as the god of eloquence. 2nd century Hellenized Syrian satirist and rhetorician Lucian of Samosata mentioned how Ogmios was like the older version of Hercules in appearance, with both wearing lion skins and carrying clubs and bows. However, Ogmios does one better on the ‘bling’ factor by having long chains (made of amber and gold) attached to his tongue (inside his smiling mouth) that connect him with his group of followers. Essentially, the visual scope symbolically represented how the Celtic god had the power of eloquence and persuasion to bind his followers to him.
Ogmios’ later Irish equivalent Ogma also plays a crucial role in the Gaelic myths. Regarded as the son of Dagda , and thus a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann , Ogma is credited as being the inventor of Ogham – the earliest system of writing in Ireland. Given the epithet of the ‘Lord of Knowledge’, Ogam was also portrayed as a capable warrior who went to slay the Fomorian king Indech and claim a magical sword that could recount his heroic deeds. In another version, he dies along with his enemy Indech in single combat.
13) Grannus – The God of Hot Springs
Stone fascia of the Roman-British shrine of ‘Minerva Aquae Sulis’ at Bath displaying the resplendent head of Apollo Grannus. Source: Atlantic Religion
In another fascinating example of Gallo-Roman syncretism, Grannus was perceived as one of the (originally) Celtic gods of healing, who was later associated with Apollo and often venerated as a composite deity of Apollo-Grannus in the Roman world. To that end, Grannus was typically linked to the hot springs and often worshipped in conjunction with Sirona – a Celtic goddess of healing.
Unsurprisingly, his cult centers were often focused on areas with thermal and mineral springs, with the most famous one pertaining to Aquae Granni, which was later known as Aachen – the royal center of the later Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne. And it should be noted that Grannus was also regarded as a solar deity, thus symbolically linking his powers to that of the healing rays of the sun.
14) Epona – The Protector Goddess of Horses
Rhiannon. Source: Sacred Wicca
Beyond syncretism, there were also sole Celtic gods worshipped in the pantheon of the ancient Gallo-Roman religion and even Rome itself. Epona belonged to the rare second category. Regarded as the female deity and protector of horses, donkeys, and mules (etymologically, the word ‘Epona’ is derived from Proto-Celtic * ekwos – meaning horse) , the Celtic goddess was also possibly associated with fertility – given the visual cues of patera, cornucopia, and foals in some of her extant sculptures. And talking of depictions, most of the dedicatory inscriptions to Epona (found by archaeologists) were made in Latin (as opposed to Celtic), thus suggesting her popularity in the Roman world.
In fact, with her aspect as the protector of horses, Epona was favored and venerated by the auxiliary cavalrymen of the Roman Empire, especially the renowned Imperial Horse Guards ( Equites Singulares Augusti ), who were the cavalry counterparts to the Praetorian Guards. As for the other Celtic cultures, it has been argued in the academic circles that Epona possibly inspired the Welsh mythical/folkloric character of Rhiannon – the tenacious lady of the Otherworld.
15) Eriu/Eire – The Goddess of ‘Ireland’
Artwork by Jim Fitzpatrick
Regarded as one of the Celtic gods among the Tuatha Dé Danann , Eriu (modern Irish – Eire) has the distinction of having an entire nation named after her. To that end, the very term Ireland comes from Eriu (as the realm was known in the ‘olden’ times), and thus her modern name Eire is modified to suit the current pronunciation of Ireland. Essentially, Eriu serves as the modern personification of Ireland.
As for the mythological side of affairs, Eriu in many ways symbolized the legacy of the Tuatha Dé Danann after they were defeated by the Milesians . In the related narrative, when the Milesians invaded Ireland from Galicia, Eriu and her two sisters Banba and Fotla went forth and greeted the newcomers. As a courtesy, the Milesians promised to name the land after her. But unfortunately for the Tuatha Dé Danann , they were only given the underground to dwell in by the victorious Milesians – and this realm (underneath the Sidhe mounds) was perceived as the passage to the Celtic Otherworld. The latter was associated with the supernatural, mystical world where fairies and gods lived.
Featured Image – Cú Chulainn ‘The Hound of Ulster’ in Battle. Painting by Joseph Christian Leyendecker.
Book Reference – The Encyclopedia of Mythology (Edited by Arthur Cotterell)
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Just Guessing Here
Would it be a she or a he? (I’m figuring a he, because writing was a new thing, and males are usually the early adopters.) [*Please see note at bottom of post for more on this.]
Would he be a king? Warrior? Poet? Merchant? Commoner? (I’m guessing not a commoner. To be mentioned in an ancient document, he’d need a reputation, tools, and maybe a scribe. He wouldn’t be poor.)
Would he be a person of great accomplishment or just an ordinary Joe? (The odds favor a well-regarded person, someone who is mentioned often. Regular Joes, I figured, would pop up irregularly, while a great king, a leading poet, or a victorious general would get thousands of mentions.)
So I trolled the internet, read some books, and to my great surprise—the first name in recorded history isn’t a king. Nor a warrior. Or a poet. He was, it turns out … an accountant. In his new book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari goes back 33 centuries before Christ to a 5,000-year-old clay tablet found in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). It has dots, brackets, and little drawings carved on it and appears to record a business deal.
It’s a receipt for multiple shipments of barley. The tablet says, very simply:
29,086 measures barley 37 months Kushim
“The most probable reading of this sentence,” Harari writes, “is: ‘A total of 29,086 measures of barley were received over the course of 37 months. Signed, Kushim.’ ”
So who was “Kushim”? The word might have been a job title, not a person (maybe kushim meant “barley assessor”) but check the video down below. It suggests that Kushim was indeed a guy, a record keeper who counted things for others—in short, an accountant. And if Kushim was his name, then with this tablet, Harari writes, “we are beginning to hear history through the ears of its protagonists. When Kushim’s neighbours called out to him, they might really have shouted, ‘Kushim!’”
It’s pretty clear Kushim was not famous, not hugely accomplished, certainly not a king. So all of my hunches were off.
But wait. The Kushim tablet is just one of tens of thousands of business records found on the deserts of Iraq. A single example is too random. We need more. So I keep looking and find what may be the second, third, and fourth oldest names we know of. They appear on a different Mesopotamian tablet.
Once again, they are not A-list ancients. Dated to around 3100 B.C.—about a generation or two after Kushim—the tablet’s heading is, “Two slaves held by Gal-Sal.” Gal-Sal is the owner. Next come the slaves, “En-pap X and Sukkalgir.” So now we’ve got four names: an accountant, a slave owner, and two slaves. No kings. They don’t show up for another generation or so.
The predominance of ordinary Sumerians doesn’t surprise Harari. Five thousand years ago, most humans on Earth were farmers, herders, and artisans who needed to keep track of what they owned and what they owed—and that’s how writing started. It was a technology for regular people, not a megaphone for the powerful.
“It is telling,” Harari writes, “that the first recorded name in history belongs to an accountant, rather than a prophet, a poet, or a great conqueror.” Most of what people did back then was business.
Kings come, kings go, but keeping track of your barley—your sheep, your money, your property—that’s the real story of the world.
*Note from Robert Krulwich: I see that this column has offended a whole bunch of you. Yes, as many of you point out, my viewpoint was white, male (and hung up on fame and power) and many of you have serious, and totally legitimate arguments with my assumptions. Now that I read your comments, I’m a little surprised, and a touch ashamed of myself. But the thing is—those were my assumptions. They were wrong. I say so.
This is a blog. So it’s designed to be personal, and confessional. So I want you to know who’s talking to you, and if you think I’m way off base, by all means, let me know. And in the end, if you read the totality, my column and your responses, the story I wrote gets deeper and richer. You call me out on my assumptions, you offer some of your own, and what actually happened, what it was really like to be alive 5,300 years ago becomes… well, an argument among moderns about ancients that we will never meet.
Scholars aren’t unanimous about who’s name is oldest in the historical record. Yuval Noah Harari’s new book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind gives the crown to Kushim. The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago goes for Gal-Sal and his slaves in their 2010-2011 annual report. Andrew Robinson, in his Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction also champions Gal-Sal, but his book came earlier, so maybe Harari has scooped him. Here’s the video that argues for Kushim: