• Proto-Indo-European Religion
• Indo-European Languages
• Albanian and the Paleo-Balkan Dialects
• Proto-Indo-European Goddesses
• Proto-Indo-European Myths
• Proto-Indo-European Rituals
• Festivals, Food and Farming
|Albanian and the
Paleo-Balkan Dialects make up a group of Indo-European languages that are not closely related to each other but are grouped
together for convenience. Most of them are recorded from the Balkans or northern
Greece, though some are recorded in Italy or Turkey. The Paleo-Balkan dialects
include: Dacian, Thracian, Moesian, Mysian, Old Macedonian, Illyrian, Messapic,
Phrygian and Venetic.
AlbanianThe Albanian language is still spoken by a small but nationalist group of people in the country of Albania and in nearby countries. It is one of the “mountain” languages that are both isolated and conserved by what are seen as surrounding hostile forces from the Romans in the late imperial age to the communist regime until quite recently. This isolation and hostility prevented the Albanians from learning to read or developing a written literature before 1500 and until the communist educational programs, no one ever learned to read in Albanian. The isolation and the rough geography of this area have preserved the language as it has in Wales and in the Pyrenees. The Albanians have deified Mount Tomor as their Deus Patri Tomo, since he has indeed protected them. There is a film about Mount Tomor on YouTube.
History and Geography
The Albanians were only nominally christianized since they lived in an area where the Roman Catholic Church, based in Italy, competed with the Greek Orthodox Church based in Byzantia for the Albanians’ souls, but neither could be bothered to translate their sacred texts into any language the Albanians knew. For their part, the Albanians had no interest in foreigners who only taxed and then drafted them for the military. Many Albanians today are Moslems after centuries of exploitation and coercion from the Ottoman Turks. The standard tactic that Moslems use to force people to convert is to have two tax rates, one for Moslems and one for non-Moslems. The tax rate is set for the village as a whole, and the non-Moslems have to split the tax bill for that village. As a few villagers convert to Islam, those who are left have a higher percentage of the bill, until the last holdout has to pay the entire village bill. That doesn't last long of course, so most Albanians had converted to Islam during the Ottoman empire. But generally Albanians are more interested in protecting Albanians than signing onto anyone else’s political or religious agenda.
References especially for Albanian
Paleo-Balkan DialectsThe Paleo-Balkan Dialects which follow became extinct during or soon after the Roman imperial period, roughly between 200 BCE and 400 CE, some earlier. They are known only from a few references in ancient literature or from inscriptions found at archaeological sites. See Paleo-Balkan dialects on Bizland, which has a nice map showing where they were spoken. There is also a Yahoo group for discussing the Paleo-Balkan dialects (although not specifically Paganism), called Balkanika, at http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/balkanika.
DacianDacian was the language spoken in most of the geographic area now known as Romania and Moldova (although other languages were spoken there also). The Dacians were destroyed, either killed, sold into slavery or driven out of the country by the Romans in 112 CE, after years of wars. By 270 CE, the Romans left Dacia but the country was so decimated by the Roman military activity, that there were not enough people left to defend it when tribes came in from the east. Nevertheless, a form of vernacular Latin which we now know as Romanian replaced Dacian in the region.
There are no documents actually in Dacian and the Roman description of the country which would have been written for the report on Trajan’s campaign has been lost. The Column of Trajan depicts this event from a Roman perspective and shows the Dacian people with their typical garments, weapons (a curved knife), etc. A few words of the Dacian language are known from classical texts, mainly names of healing herbs which were included in Greek copies of Galen. A few more words are identified as Dacian borrowings into the Romanian language based on the observation that they do not fit the expected form in a Romance language. Although the Dacian language is thought to have gone extinct in most of Romania not long after the Roman conquest, it seems to persist in modern Albanian. Some Dacians apparently moved to an enclave south of the Danube river, in western Bulgaria. The Dacians of this area seem to have become the (linguistic) ancestors of the Albanians.
References especially for Dacian
ThracianThe kingdom of Thrace is roughly continuous with the modern country of Bulgaria, south of the Danube River. This geographic region gives its name to an archaeological culture which is known especially for fabulous hoards found occasionally in Bulgaria, such as gold and silver tableware, especially rhytons (drinking cups) with animal heads and some repousse vessels like the Gundestrap cauldron. However the language spoken by the makers of these finds is unknown and unknowable. By classical times, there are enough references to Thracians in classical literature to make some identification of their language possible, but there is nothing to show that it can be identified backward to the earlier archaeological finds. In any case the Thracian-speakers lived in the southern Balkans and possibly also in the island of Samothrace, though most of what is known about them is recorded in the Greek language. Apart from a few references to names in classical texts and a very few inscriptions, there is nothing else known of Thracian and it became extinct as Greek reached its cultural height.
The Thracian religion is described by the Greeks as consisting of a series of complex prayers or songs produced by priests which they sang but did not write down. The deities whose names are mentioned include the theoi, Zalmoxis, Bendis, Bassareus, Nike at Samothrace, Dionysus (properly, Bacchus), Axieros, Leucothea, Derzalas, Semele, Kotys, and Orpheus. Bendis, Bacchus, Nike and Orpheus were adopted by the Greeks and became very important throughout the classical world. They are often specifically named as “Thracian” and yet little is known about their origin, or their function among the Thracians. Bendis appears in many bas reliefs in an iconography based perhaps on that of Artemis (Diana the Huntress) where she wears a short chiton, which is blown by the wind as she runs and she is often accompanied by a deer or a hound or both and she often carries a bow and arrows. In some images she is wearing hunting boots which come up to below the knee. In Rome, she was confused with Venus, the supposed ancestor of Julius Caesar, presumably because of the similarity of their names and so she appears in the Aeneid, (I:335-337 especially) wearing red leather hunting boots.
A few myths are attributed to the Thracians, though they are told in Greek, such as the story of Ariadne and Theseus. This myth has been identified with some images known from the silver hoards, but in fact there is nothing to make the identification certain. Myths about Heracles (Hercules) are set partly in a Thracian landscape and may represent some sort of Greek hostility toward the hinterlands since Heracles mostly kills or captures the representative animals of various ethnic groups, such as the Golden-horned Stag of the Herzegovinians.
Little is known about Thracian religious rituals. Archaeological records show that Thracians (or at least, people living in Thracia) are known to have worshiped at elaborate tombs which may have been dedicated to “heroes” with offerings left outside the doors. Greek classical sources describe the “Rites of Bendis” which were adopted by the Greeks, with a festival date of Thargelion 16. The Greeks seem to have turned “borrowed” deities into an excuse to party and so the festival of Bendis is described as a drunken riot in which guests raced on horseback at night carrying torches. The Rites of Dionysus are also described as raucous. Much has been written about the Mysteries of Orpheus, however since they are mysteries, very little is actually known.
References especially for Thracian
Moesian and MysianThese two languages are combined because there is next to nothing known about either of them. Moesia (Superior and Inferior) are Roman administrative districts, not language areas. Moesia Superior in modern Serbia was probably a Celtic-speaking area, whereas Moesia Inferior (in modern Bulgaria), is a shifting mixture of Dacian, Thracian, Greek, Armenian and Scythian. The boundaries of the Roman provinces of Moesia kept changing to such a great degree that often they do not even overlap. The languages are identified from a few inscriptions (published in CIL 3), but there is not enough information to define their phonetic characteristics. Mysia is in Turkey. By 488 CE, the Romans had withdrawn from the Danube region and Greek became the culturally dominant language, used for inscriptions. Eventually the Slavic languages were introduced into this area.
The only deities named in inscriptions are the Heroi “Heroes,” and Domina “Lady,” presumably their mother. She appears as Matri Deum Magnae “Great Goddess Mother” in Moesia Inferior.
No myths are actually recorded from these languages. The exact importance of the Heroi and their mother is not known, though they have been compared to Demeter and the Horse Twins. The Heroi appear in many bas reliefs where they are referred to as Rider Gods, but this iconography seems to be based on the old Roman intimidation stelae which were set up to threaten “barbarians” during the Roman imperial campaigns. These images were eventually incorporated into Christianity as St. George. The Goddess, of course, was absorbed into Christianity as a form of Mary, Great Mother of the God(s).
In this area also, information about rituals is only known from archaeological finds. All offerings seem to be at burial sites which were destinations for worship. This compares closely with Greek Pagan practices and practice in the Greek Orthodox Church for that matter, but nothing is known in detail.
References especially for Moesian and Mysian
Old MacedonianThe name Old Macedonian is used to refer to this language to distinguish it from (modern) Macedonian which is a Slavic dialect spoken today in the same general area, part of northern Greece and the modern country of Macedonia. Old Macedonian was spoken in the region ruled by the family of Alexander the Great and his father Phillip, in northern Greece (Macedonia and Thessaly). When Alexander the Great conquered Greece (332 BCE), the Old Macedonian language was absorbed culturally by Greek and fell out of use.
The few inscriptions from this area that give the names of Gods and Goddesses (CIL 3) seem to mainly identify Goddesses in other languages, such as Bendis (Thracian) and Tyche (Lydian). There are also a few words such as the names of herbs mentioned in the Lexicon of Hesychius.
IllyrianTwo different groups of people are identified as Illyrians in ancient sources. One is the Illyrians of Troy who are thought to have removed to Italy after the destruction of their city, as told in the Iliad. The other is known from some references to people of Epirus, and the western Balkans, including Herzegovina. Both are referred to in mythological texts which cannot be securely dated or located, and in both, Hyllus or Illys is the eponymous ancestor of the tribe and has the same divine parents. The Illyrians referred to here are the Illyrians associated with northern Greece and the Balkans.
Inscriptions in the region of Illyria (provinces of Dalmatia and Epirus) include many languages, mostly in the Roman alphabet and context (e.g. votive offerings connected to the Roman legions). Some are noticeably Celtic), such as Epona and this seems to be the language family that can be identified most closely with the Illyrians. Inscriptions for this area are published in the CIL books, mainly in the third volume.
There is not enough known about an Illyrian language to even determine its phonological characteristics. The three deities that I could find are Dualos, Mezana and Zis. Two of these have correspondents in Messapic (see next), namely Zis and Menzana. Some of the kings and queens of the Illyrian dynasties seem to have names which might be the names of deities, such as Queen Teuta. There are no myths known directly from these languages, though the stories told about Heracles are sometimes set in these areas. Some rituals of the typical food offering kind, such as the ones for Epona, can be reconstructed based on archaeological finds.
References especially for Illyrian
MessapicMessapic is thought to be closely related to Illyrian because many of the same names appear in both, but it is recorded only in the area of Calabria and Apulia in southern Italy. Inscriptions are dated to about 550 BCE, for example Zis appears in an inscription at Vaste, a city in Apulia. All that is known is printed in Prae-Italic Dialects in the second volume.
References especially for Messapic
PhrygianSince Phrygian is known from a few finds in central and eastern Turkey, it is not strictly speaking a Balkan dialect, but it is grouped with them for convenience. Only a few inscriptions are known in Old Phrygian from the 8th century BCE, and in New Phrygian texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE; and there are a few words given in classical sources. There is very little vocabulary known but tios ‘God’ and tiveia ‘Goddess’ and Bedu are recorded. The myth of the origin of the Phrygians from the children Hellas and Phrygia is told in Greek sources, as well as the myths of King Midas.
VeneticVenetic is recorded in about 250 inscriptions, most of them found in a temple near the city of Este, north of Venice, Italy. It's important not to confuse this group with the Veneti of northern Europe who spoke a language closer to the Germanic or Slavic group. The language and later the city of Venice are named for the Veneti, tribes in northern Italy who were assimilated by the imperial Romans after which the language fell out of use. The inscriptions date from the 6th to the 1st century BCE, and are mainly votive offerings. The inscriptions are easily transcribed and translated since the alphabet is easy to read. Often there is a formulaic inscription naming the giver and the Goddess.
Although the vocabulary is limited, the language can be reconstructed and looks similar to the Italic languages, and it shares features with the Celtic languages too. The major temple is for the Goddess Reitia and her name appears many times in the inscriptions. Another deity is Louzera, a deity of vegetation, growth and viticulture, according to Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture which has entries for the Venetic languages and Este culture.
It is impossible to believe that the temple site at Este represents the whole of Venetic religion, however, it provides almost all of the information that we have about it. Based on archaeological finds, it is known that the people gave offerings such as bronze horse models, pins, and alphabets written out. It seems that writing was an act with sacred significance and it was an important part of the ritual, so the pins may have been styli. Some images on decorated metal (such as sacred situli) are thought to show funeral rites. A situla is a water bucket and the Indo-Europeans seem to have had a lot of sacred water buckets.
References especially for Venetic
General References for Albanian and the Paleo-Balkan Dialects• Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, ed. by Theodore Mommsen, Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR, Berlin, 1873, mainly Volume 3, for Asia, Provinces of Greek Europe and Illyria.
• Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and a Proto-Culture, (Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs 80, 2 Vol. Set), by Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and Vjaceslav V. Ivanov, with Werner Winter, ed., and Johanna Nichols, translator (original title Indoevropeiskii iazyk i indoevropeistsy), M. De Gruyter, Berlin & NY, 1995.
• The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, by J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.
• Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, ed. by J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, Fitzroy Dearborn, London, 1997. This book has individual entries for most of these languages.
© 2009, last updated 6/2/2012, piereligion.org/albanian.html