Goths, Naming and Ablaut

Hans-Werner Hatting hwhatting at
Thu Mar 15 06:19:16 UTC 2001

On Sat, 10 Mar 2001 01:13:14 EST Steve Long wrote:

>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.

This is a possibility. As long as we have no good Etymology, we should
explore all avenues. But if, on all these avenues, we do not find some
convincing proposals, only a lot of associations, it might be better to
stick to a Germanic etymology - here at least we have a root, variants of
the name which stick to an ablaut pattern, and we just have to get the
semantics straight.

>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 <Gythones>.)

One thing we should keep in mind is on what information Ptolemy relied. For
the mediterranean region, he probably was able to tell who was situated
where. For the regions farther away, he had to rely on travellers' stories
and on older written sources, and he certainly did not check them.
Especially the written sources must have been outdated in many cases. E.g.,
our form "Gythones" looks suspicious to me - AFAIK, at Ptolemy's time Greek
_y_ did not render /u/ any more, so it seems Ptolemy copied from an older
source, written at least 200 years earlier. The _Gutae_ came from another
source, and as at that time the Goths were just a faraway people, Ptolemy
had no reason to waste his readers' time by speculations about a possible
relationship between Gythones and Gutae.

>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-".

Which would not be astonishing if their sources were West Germanic, which is
very propbable in that area.

>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
>east.  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>.

Not impossible, but unlikely, as the Goths did not vanish from the Roman
horizon afterwards, so I think we ought to assume an identity between
Tacitus' Goths and the later ones. I think it is more likely that the Goths
Tacitus mentions are Visigoths, while the ones going down to the Crimea were
Ostrogoths. Correct me if I'm wrong - I don't remember when exactly the
Visigoth - Ostrogoth split was supposed to have happened.

>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.

In this case, we would have:
1. the Goths, named by the Greeks (or anybody else in the Balkan
2. Tacitus' Gotones, which are to be kept separate;
3. the Gythones;
4. the Gutae (= Geats?).

Of which, at least the latter two must have got their names earlier. To me,
it seems unlikely that these people have to be kept separate. After all,
until we find more evidence, I favour to explain all these names as denoting
the same (or related) people, and as coming from a Germanic source (Gmc.
*giut/gaut/gut-, PIE *gheu-d- "pour").

Best regards,
Hans-Werner Hatting

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