Goths, Naming and Ablaut

Hans-Werner Hatting hwhatting at
Fri Mar 9 10:25:15 UTC 2001

On Thu, 1 Mar 2001 23:12:39 EST Steve Long wrote:

>To address this in a little more detail:
>It should be remembered that the evidence that the Goths looked to
>Scandinavia as their homeland appears after Ulfila and is connected with
>Roman historians writing for neo-Gothic rulers who were well aware of
>histories and conscious of a need to find their place in them.

Generally, I accept that we cannot take the writing of the classical authors
without subjecting them to critique. And you argue quite convincing that we
cannot take the Scandinavian origin of the Goths
for granted. But I'd like to make the following points:
1) I do not see any special "prestige value" for the Goths in coming from
Scandinavia. In accordance to classical criteria, we would expect them to
show that they descend from Greeks or Troians, or from some prestigious
mythical personage, or to some other people known from antiquity. The
link-up and mix-up with the Getae you describe is much more in line with
what we would expect.
2) We have the mention at Ptolemy you quoted, showing them in about the
Wielbark area, so archaeology seems at least to corroborate this part of the
migration history of the Goths. AFAIK, this is not an area which nowadays is
seen as part of the original homeland of the Germanic peoples, so the Goths
have to have got there from somewhere else. Scandinavia seems as good a
candidate for me as Northern Germany.

>And the question is whether the connection is folk etymology or more
>specifically noble etymology.   (With regard for example to the city,
>Gothenburg, it was named in the 17th Century, Go:teborg, in Swedish, for
>the "Go:ta alv", the river.  Not the Goths)

But there may be a link between the river name and the name of the Goths.

>It appears this has been recently discussed on the cybalist, the archives are
>on the web.  There one finds an incredible list of <gud-> place names, along
>with some fair indications that the form may be indigenous to either Slavic or
>Lithuanian (with meanings like marsh, meadow, thicket - all meaning that the
>basic <cheo:> form in Greek for example can easily be extrapolated to take
>depending on context.  (e.g., a marsh is flooded, a meadow can be

>The problem with Gdansk and Gdynia were also addressed in those archives.  As
>you also point out, <regressive assimilation of obstruents is the norm. We
>would expect *g(=U)t- to yield *kt-.> The problem presented by these place
>names has not been fully appreciated as yet I think.

I would agree that we should not count these names as evidence for anything
"Gothic" as long as we do not have good etymologies for them.

>Here are potentially a
>large number of place names of apparently non-Germanic origin that are
>located in the best "homeland" that archaeology can find for the
>prehistoric <Gothi>.

I do not understand your point here. If we are talking about the Wielbark
area, this  normally is not assumed to be a homeland for Gmc. people. The
Goths would have been there only for some generations, not leaving many
toponyms behind.

>Complicated even more by the existence of a people in the first
>historical works in the east called the Chuds, who do not even appear to be
>IE speakers.

In later times the Chudy (with /ch/ standing for English /ch/, not for Greek
"chi") are a Finno-Ugrian people. I am not able to look it up now, but I
remember having read that the name goes back to a pre-form *tyud- (which
some have linked to West-IE *teuta). I don't see how they come in here;
AFAIK, they are mentioned first in Old Russian sources, long after the
period we are discussing now.

On Fri, 2 Mar 2001 02:05:12 EST Steve Long wrote:

>Also, something that distinguishes burials that are thought to be Gothic
>from others near the Danube is the large amount of metalworks, especially
>the fibulae.  Dobhanov mentions "plenty of iron" as distinguishing "Gothic"
>burials.  (Large numbers of "Gothic" graves have been found, settlements
>are relatively rare.)
>There are several variations of the "pour" words in Greek that refer to
>metal-working, including such forms as <chutos>, cast, melted, fused,
>welded; and <kausis>, smelting.  But that is for another post.

Just as a remark, in German "giessen" = Gothic "giutan" is the normal word
for metal casting. The verbal noun is "Guss", with the zero degree we have
in *Guto:n-.
Concerning the rest of Steve Long's proposals, they make semantical sense to
me, but none of them seems provable.
As the Gythones were mentioned by Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD in an area
quite far away from the Classical world, it seems that the Goths already
carried their name before they crossed the horizon of the Classical world.
So whatever the semantics behind the name, libations or metal casting, I
think it is a name given to them by themselves or by their Gmc. speaking
neighbours. So if we take the Greek forms given by Steve Long as examples
for the sematic range obtainable from PIE *gheu-, I can go along with that;
but I think we win nothing by assuming that the Goths got their name from
the Greeks, or from assuming multiple cross-borrowings, or inter-linguistic

Best regards,

Hans-Werner Hatting

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