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-.


Old European river names are found in the Baltic and southern Scandinavia, Central Europe, France, the British Isles, and the Iberian and Italian peninsulas. 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 are the Balkans and Greece, as well as the Eastern European parts associated with Slavic settlement.

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.

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]

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 Isara[citation needed]

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 (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]