Goths, Naming and Ablaut

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Sat Mar 10 06:13:14 UTC 2001

I wrote:
<<Once again we have no good reason to be sure Goth was first a

self-name (cf., "Germans", "Apaches", "Basques").>>

In a message dated 3/8/2001 12:59:19 AM, dlwhite at writes:
<<I agree.  There are, as I see it, three theoretically possible sources of
the difference between Latin /o/ and Greek /u/.

1)  The Vulgar Latin change of short /u/ to /o/.

2)  A possible Gothic change of /au/ to /o/.

3)  Latin borrowing from other Germanic with /o/, Greek borrowing

from Gothic, with /u/ for other Germanic /o/. >>

But of course if the name was given by someone else, there's no reason to
limit it to other Germanics.

In fact, the proposed position of the Goths at the time, east of the Vistula
and later into the Ukraine as far as and beyond Crimea would suggest that
"first word" of the Goths would not have come from other Germanic speakers.

Instead we would expect that the name of the Goths would have come from the
northern and northeastern neighbors of the Greeks.  These would be Thracians,
Dacians, Getae, Celts, Paeonians, Bastarnae, Illyrians, Bosporians and of
course Scythians and Sarmatians.

None of these peoples named above, with the exception of the Bastarnae,
appear to be Germanic speakers.

So if the name of the Goths was given, it could have been given in a
non-Germanic language.  And it may have reached the Greeks being spoken in a
non-Germanic tongue.

If, in fact, the Goth name came into Greek in the forms <gut->, <gaut->,
<goth->, <gud-> or <gout->, it may well have come in the Scythian or Thracian
tongue.  And may have reached Ptolemy in Alexandria fourth-hand and become
<Gythones>.  (On the other hand, it should be remembered that Ptolemy placed
the <Gutae> up in Scandia, with no recognition of any connection with

The Latin situation is different. The Goths first reported by Tacitus in his
Annals are involved with the Marcomanni and Marobodus and Catwalda on the
Roman border far to the west of where Ptolemy's <Gythones> are located.  Here
there are two main speaking factions involved, Germanics and Celts, with
Dacians and Paenonians mixed in.

But key here is that it appears there may have been direct Roman contact with
the "Gotones" in their attempt to subvert the regime in Marobudum.  So
Tacitus' may have had the name from the horse's mouth.  In which case,
whether or not Goth was a given or assumed name or original, what the Romans
seem to have heard was "Got-".

(The Romans seemed quite capable of saying "gut" (e.g., guttur) and "gau-"
(e.g., gaudia) but it appears no other word in Latin began with <got->).

The hitch here is that Tacitus places these "Gotones" lingering around in
Central Europe near the Suevi and getting involved in events a day's drive
west of modern Vienna, precisely when the archaeological Goths and the Goths
of Jordanes are supposed to be marching into what will become Kiev and points

So it may not be impossible that we are dealing with two different groups
here with very similar names.  The Geats and "tribes" with similar names that
in Latin begin with <C> or even <Ch> might suggest this is possible (e.g.,
Cotini, Cotensi, Chatti).  In connection with this it bears noting that
Ptolemy also located north of the eastern Danube tribes named in the later
Latin version <Sargati>, <Piengitae>, <Exobygitae>, <Tyrangitae> and the
Sarmatian <Tyrgetas>.

To sum up, the Latin o/ Greek u question may not be what it appears to be on
closer inspection.

Now, with all that said, it still seems possible to me that Greek originally
gave a name to the historical Goths who later appear on the Danube coming
from the direction of the Ukraine in the early 3d century AD.   And that
those particular Goths could have taken the name as their own or perhaps took
a name in the Greek tongue. One reason among others is simply that when the
Greeks named something, it often stuck - like it or not.

Steve Long

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