Old European hydronymy

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Old European (German: Alteuropäisch) is the term used by Hans Krahe (1964) for the language of the oldest reconstructed stratum of European hydronymy (river names) in Central and Western Europe.[1][note 1] The character of these river names is pre-Germanic and pre-Celtic and dated by Krahe to the 2nd millennium BCE.

Old European hydronymic map for the root *al-, *alm-.


Krahe writes in page 32 under III “Unsere ältesten Flussnamen” (Our oldest river-names) 1964 , Wiesbanden A1. “Introducing preface” Number 2 that the old European hydronomy spreads from Scandinavia to South Italy, from Western Europe including the British Isles to the Baltic countries. Of the three Mediterranean peninsulas Italy is included strongly whilst the Balkan Peninsula is only comprised scarcely. Later he writes that what he presents for hydronomy is valid also for mountains and range of mountains and he continues on page 12 with “Karpaten” and “Karawanken”, certainly within the Slavic settlement area (omitting the Bavarian/Austrian “Karwendel”). This area is associated with the spread of the later "Western" Indo-European dialects, the Celtic, Italic, Germanic, Baltic and Illyrian branches.[citation needed] Notably exempt isGreece.

Old European hydronymic map for the root *Sal-, *Salm-.

Krahe located the geographical nucleus of this area as stretching from the Baltic across Western Poland and Germany to the Swiss plateau and the upper Danube north of the Alps, while he considered the Old European river names of southern France, Italy and Spain to be later imports, replacing "Aegean-Pelasgian" and Iberian substrates,[1]:81 corresponding to Italic, Celtic and Illyrian "invasions" from about 1300 BCE. Krahe continues in page 77 III A 5. “Geographic Area and age of the paleoeuropean hydronomy”) that the overwhelming majority of river- and stream-names originate from words which in the historical single languages can not (or not any more) be found. Therefore he uses mainly Indo-European roots to “make speak” the river names in question (rule 1) of which are more than 10 000 are listed. And in III A 2. Etymology and Semasiology of the paleoeuropean river names he states on page 60 that the oldest strata is composed by prerequisites of nature and that the river names especially refer to the water itself (rule 2). Words referring to human and culture are considered younger. Both rules are important arguments for considering the old European hydronomy of southern France and the north of the Iberian Peninsula as a result of secondary implementation (A.1.number 3) due to a postulated immigration 1300 BC. In Morphology of the paleoeuropean river names III A1 number 3. Krahe concentrates on suffixes (simples and multiples) and distinguishes 11 different in a table without own page number between pages 62 and 63. He attributes to the suffixes of the river names geographical (Centre-European vs. South-European or eastern), functional (for example affluent) or temporal (before or after change of consonants or vowels) function (Rule 3). For the latter he claims a system of changes (Lautverschiebung). He does not include prefixes in his considerations. Krahe’sconcentration on Indo-European roots and the omission of prefixes had serious negative consequences, because ever later accent was laid on those more than 10000 roots, perhaps on old Irish (but scarcely or not on Gaulish and actual Celtic languages) or Baltic languages leaving Basque completely apart. Even Delamarre later included for example under Gaulish "dubron" only Rivers with “B” (or similar) leaving aside others which Krahe would have called “Schwundstufe” = loss of a letter or with inversion of letters or both. Krahe ignored thestrong impact of Moorish occupation which led to combinations of arab “prefix s” (always in first place) and Celtic “suffixes” like in Guadiana (Guadi= river and Anas = bayous, muddly as it appears by Ptolemy Ptolemaios Handbuch der Geographie, Herausgeber lfred Stückelberg und Gerd Grasshoff, Verlag Schwabe Basel ISBN 978-3-7965-2148-5, page 169. The tables <comparison old european hydronyms> show that, in contradiction to Krahe’s opinion, hydronyms (and toponyms) can in some cases very well be explained even by modern Irish, Welsh or French and certainly by Gaulish. Importance of Krahe and his rules Krahe has influenced Archaeologists, Linguists and specially Celtologists on a wide scale:

Marija Gimbutas (Lithuanian: Marija Gimbutiene) studied in Tübingen and got doctorate of archeology there 1946 in the same faculty where Krahe gave lecture. She has established the Kurgan-theory. Jürgen Untermann a disciple of Krahe (dissertation 1954 in Tübingen). Later professor for Comparative Linguistics at the university of Cologne. He was Linguist, Indoeuropeanist and Epigrafist. Antonio Tovar, preliminary studies in Berlin, later professor of the university of Salamanca. He was professor for Comparative Linguistics in Tübingen from 1967 to 1979. Together with Manuel Agud y Koldo Mitxelena he prepared a not yet edited etymological dictionary of the Basque language. Koldo Mitxelena (in English editions he appears as Luis Michelena) was not only the creator of the modern Basque language but also cofounder of the Basque National Party PNV, the political branch of ETA.

Other important authors centring on or touching the topic old European Hydronomy are:

Xavier Delamarre, French linguist.

The standard work of Delamarre in French language “Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise” with the modest title “Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtic continental” is in fact the most comprehensive publication on Gaulish words. A bit more than 800 catchwords appear in alphabetical order derived from Gaulish-Greek, Gaulish-Etruscan and Gaulish-Latin or solely Gaulish inscriptions, printed classical languages, coins and some terms of Celtic substrate in Occitan Language. He presents all cases of appearance of toponyms and hydronyms in question, cites authors and roots, showing alternatives and classifies, if necessary, as uncertain or questionable, but with river names also lets out all examples with prefixes.

For examples see “comparison old hydronyms” adding “water”, “clear”, “hard stone” a.s.o. German linguist Theo Vennemann suggested in 2003 that the language of the old European hydronyms was agglutinative and Pre-Indo-European.[2] This theory has been criticised as being seriously flawed, and the more generally accepted view is that hydronyms are of Indo-European origin.[3]

Spanish philologist Francisco Villar Liébana argued in 1990 for the Old European preserved in river names and confined to the hydronymic substratum in the Iberian Peninsula as yet another Indo-European layer with no immediate relationship to the Lusitanian language.[4] However, the idea of 'Old European' was criticized by Untermann in 1999 and De Hoz in 2001.[4] Francisco Villar Liébana is a supporter of Marija Gimbutas against the theories of Colin Renfrew. In his work in Spanish language “Indoeuropeos y No Indoeuropeos en la Hispania Perromana from february 2000(ISBN 84-7800-968-X) he presents nine root-“Series” and a few more collective ”Series” mainly of toponyms (Hispanic and non Hispanic) but also including hydronyms. For example: in chapter IV B VII (from page 120 on) he treats hydronyms of the series “uba” starting (page 149) with Maenuba (Pliny 3.8) = modern Veléz and with the same name affluent of the Baetis (Pliny 3.11) = Guadiamar, Salduba (close to Malaga), and modern rivers like Ubia, Ove, Fonte dos Ovos and he compares them with, amongst others, the Danube (page 149) and on page 153 with historical Corduba (actual Córdoba). Wherever the “uba” appears, like in the rivers Saruba = actual Saar affluent of Mosel, spanish fuente Sarobals (Huesca,), Sarrubian (Huesca), he sees only the “uba” and not the root ”Dan” in Danubius (corresponding to Dnieper and Dniester) or the root “Sar” in the others, all Indo-European roots.

Old European hydronymic map for the root *var-, *ver-.


Maps to the right show Old European hydronymic maps for the root *al-, *alm-(figure 1, entitled Karte 2).*Sal-, *Salm- (figure 2, entitled Karte 4) and *var-, *ver- (figure 3, entitled Karte 5).[citation needed]

Another example is the old river name Isar[citation needed]

  • Isar > Isar (Bavaria)
  • Isar > Isère (France)
  • Isar > Jizera (Czech Republic)
  • Isar > Yser (Belgium)
  • Isar > Ésera (Spain)
  • Isar > Esaro (Italy)
  • Isar > Isarco (Italy: Italian (from Latin Isarcus) name of the Eisack)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Old European" in this sense is not to be confused with the term as used by Marija Gimbutas who applies it to non-Indo-European or pre-Indo-European Neolithic Europe.


  1. ^ a b Hans Krahe, Unsere ältesten Flussnamen, Wiesbaden Edition Otto Harrassowiitz (1964)
  2. ^ Theo Vennemann, Patrizia Noel Aziz Hanna, Europa Vasconica, Europa Semitica, published by Walter de Gruyter, 2003, ISBN 3-11-017054-X, 9783110170542.
  3. ^ Kitson, P.R. (November 1996). "British and European River Names". Transactions of the Philological Society 94 (2): 73–118. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.1996.tb01178.x. 
  4. ^ a b Wodtko, Dagmar S (2010). Celtic from the West Chapter 11: The Problem of Lusitanian. Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK. p. 338. ISBN 978-1-84217-410-4. 

Further reading[edit]