Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

On the origin of the word God

Posted by Fredsvenn on May 21, 2017

Gaut is an early Germanic name, from a Proto-Germanic gautaz, which represents a national god in the origin myth of a number of related Germanic peoples of the Migration Period, running about the 5th to 8th centuries AD. when it affected the Roman world.

Originally the German root was a neuter noun, but the gender of the monotheistic God shifted to masculine under the influence of Christianity. In contrast, all ancient Indo-European cultures and mythologies recognized both masculine and feminine deities.

Gautr is also one of the Eddaic names of Odin in Norse mythology, but also as an alternative form of the name Gauti, who was one of Odin’s sons, and the founder of the kingdom of the Geats, Götaland (Gautland/Geatland), in Bósa saga ok Herrauðs (c. 1300).

This Gautr/Gauti also appears as the father of the recurrent and undatable Geatish king Gautrekr in that saga, and several other sagas produced between 1225 and 1310.

The term “god” refers to “supreme being, deity”, which states Douglas Harper, is derived from Proto-Germanic *guthan, from PIE *ghut-, which means “that which is invoked”.

Guth in the Irish language means “voice.” The term *ghut- is also the source of Old Church Slavonic zovo (“to call”), Sanskrit huta- (“invoked,” an epithet of Indra), from the root *gheu(e)- (“to call, invoke.”)

An alternate etymology for the term “god” comes from the Proto-Germanic Gaut, which traces it to the PIE root *ghu-to- (“poured”), which from the root *gheu- (“to pour, pour a libation”). The term *gheu- is also the source of the Greek khein “to pour”.

Gautaz derived from the Proto-Germanic geutaną, meaning “to pour” which could allude to watercourses in the land where they were living. This same root may be connected to the name of the Swedish river Göta älv at the city of Gothenburg.

Some trace it to PIE *ghu-to- “poured,” from root *gheu- “to pour, pour a libation” (source of Greek khein “to pour,” also in the phrase khute gaia “poured earth,” referring to a burial mound. “Given the Greek facts, the Germanic form may have referred in the first instance to the spirit immanent in a burial mound.

According to the rules of Indo-European ablaut, the full grade (containing an *e), *gʰewd-, might be replaced with the zero-grade (with the *e disappearing), *gʰud-, or the o-grade (where the *e changes to an *o), *gʰowd-, accounting for the various forms of the name. The use of all three grades suggests that the name derives from an Indo-European stage; otherwise, it would be from a line descending from one grade.

The Goths

The names Geats, Goths and Gutes are closely related tribal names. Geat was originally Proto-Germanic *Gautoz, and Goths and Gutes were *Gutaniz. The etymology of the name Geat (Old English Geatas, from a Proto-Germanic *Gautaz, plural *Gautōz) is similar, although not identical, to that of Goths and Gutar (*Gutô, plural *Gutaniz).

In the Gothic language they were called the Gut-þiuda, most commonly translated as “Gothic people”, but only attested as dat. sg. Gut-þiudai, or Gutans Inferred from gen. pl.(?) gutani in Pietroassa inscription. In Old Norse they were known as the Gutar or Gotar, in Latin as the Gothi, and in Greek as the Γότθοι, Gótthoi.

The names are derived from different ablaut grades of the Proto-Germanic word *geutaną, meaning “to pour”. They are generally accepted as having originated as heiti for “men (of the tribe)”, with the literal meaning “they who pour their seed”.

It could also allude to watercourses in the land where they were living, but this is not generally accepted to be the case, partly because that would mean that the names’ similarity would be coincidental.

A more specific theory about the word Gautigoths is that it means the Goths who live near the river Gaut, today’s Göta älv (Old Norse: Gautelfr). It might also have been a conflation of the word Gauti with a gloss of Goths.

The Goths have been referred to by many names, perhaps at least in part because they comprised many separate ethnic groups, but also because in early accounts of Proto-Indo-European and later Germanic migrations in the Migration Period in general it was common practice to use various names to refer to the same group.

Both the migration period Goths and the Scandinavian tribe of the Gutes (the Gotlanders) were called Gotar in West Old Norse, and Gutar in East Norse (for example in the Gutasaga and in runic inscription on the Rökstone).

The Goths believed (as most modern scholars do) that the various names all derived from a single prehistoric ethnonym that referred originally to a uniform culture that flourished around the middle of the first millennium BC, i.e. the original Goths.

The earliest mention of the Geats (Old English: gēatas; Old Norse: gautar; Swedish: götar) was possibly made by Ptolemy in the 100s AD (“doutai” or “goutai”) or in the 500s by Jordanes (“gauthigoth”) and Prokopios (“gautoi”).

The earliest known surviving mention of the Geats appears in Ptolemy (2nd century A.D.), who refers to them as Goutai. In the 6th century, Jordanes writes of the Gautigoths and Ostrogoths (the Ostrogoths of Scandza); and Procopius refers to Gautoi. The Norse Sagas know them as Gautar; Beowulf and Widsith as Gēatas.

The Geats , and sometimes Goths, were a North Germanic tribe inhabiting what is now Götaland (“land of the Geats”) in southern Sweden. The Goths were an East Germanic people, two of whose branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe.

The Goths dominated a vast area, which at its peak under the Germanic king Ermanaric and his sub-king Athanaric possibly extended all the way from the Danube to the Don, and from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea.

The name of the Geats also lives on in the Swedish provinces of Västergötland and Östergötland, the Western and Eastern lands of the Geats, and in many other toponyms.

In the 17th century the name Göta älv, ‘River of the Geats’, replaced the earlier names Götälven and Gautelfr. The etymology of the word Gaut is as mentioned derived from the Proto-Germanic word *geutan, and the extended meaning of “to pour” is “flow, stream, waterfall” which could refer to Trollhättan Falls or the river itself.


The Guti

The Guti or Quti, also known by the derived exonyms Gutians or Guteans, were a nomadic people of the Zagros Mountains (on the border of modern Iran and Iraq) during ancient times. Their homeland was known as Gutium (Sumerian: Gu-tu-umki or Gu-ti-umki).

Conflict between people from Gutium and the Akkadian Empire has been linked to the collapse of the empire, towards the end of the 3rd Millennium BCE.

The Guti subsequently overran southern Mesopotamia and formed a royal dynasty in Sumer. The Sumerian king list suggests that the Guti ruled over Sumer for several generations, following the fall of the Akkadian Empire.

The Sumerian ruler Utu-hengal of Uruk is similarly credited on the King List with defeating the Gutian ruler Tirigan, and removing the Guti from the country (ca. 2050 BCE (short)).

Following this, Ur-Nammu of Ur had their homeland of Gutium devastated, though according to one lengthy Sumerian poem, he died in battle with the Gutians, after having been abandoned by his own army.

By the 1st Millennium BCE, usage of the name Gutium, by the peoples of lowland Mesopotamia, had expanded to include all of western Media, between the Zagros and the Tigris. Various tribes and places to the east and northeast were often referred to as Gutians or Gutium.

For example, Assyrian royal annals use the term Gutians in relation to populations known to have been Medes or Mannaeans. As late as the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia, the famous general Gubaru (Gobryas) was described as the “governor of Gutium”.

Little is known of the origins, material culture or language of the Guti, as contemporary sources provide few details and no artifacts have been positively identified.

As the Gutian language lacks a text corpus, apart from some proper names, its similarities to other languages are impossible to verify. The names of Gutian-Sumerian kings, suggest that the language was not closely related to any languages of the region, including Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, Hittite and Elamite.

W. B. Henning suggested that the different endings of the king names resembled case endings in the Tocharian languages, a branch of Indo-European known from texts found in the Tarim Basin (in the northwest of modern China) dating from the 6th to 8th centuries CE, making Gutian the earliest documented Indo-European language.

He further suggested that they had subsequently migrated to the Tarim. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov explored Henning’s suggestion as possible support for their proposal of an Indo-European Urheimat in the Near East.

The historical Guti have been regarded by some as among the ancestors of the Kurds. However, the term Guti had by late antiquity become a “catch all” term to describe all tribal peoples in the Zagros region, and according to J.P. Mallory, the original Gutians precede the arrival of Indo-Iranian peoples (of which the Kurds are one) by some 1500 years.

In the late 19th-century, Assyriologist Julius Oppert sought to connect the Gutians of remote antiquity with the later Gutones (Goths), whom Ptolemy in 150 AD had known as the “Guti”, a tribe of Scandia. Oppert’s theory on this connection is not shared by any scholars today.

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