Name of Galicia

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Arms of the Kingdom of Galicia, Pedro de Teixeira, 17th century

The name of Galicia, an autonomous community of Spain and former kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula, derives from the Latin toponym Callaecia, later Gallaecia, related to the name of an ancient tribe that resided north of the Douro river, the Gallaeci or Callaeci in Latin, or Kallaikói (καλλαικoι) in Greek.[1]


The etymology of the name has been studied since the 7th century. The earliest known attempt at this was due to Isidore of Seville, who related the name of the Galicians and of the Gauls to the Greek word γάλα, milk, 'they are called Galicians because of their fair skin, as the Gauls. For they are fairer than the rest of the peoples of Spain.'[1] Currently, scholars[1] relate the name of the ancient Callaeci either to the Proto-Indo-European *kal-n-eH2 'hill', derived through a local relational suffix -aik-, so meaning 'the hill (people)'; or either to Proto-Celtic *kallī- 'forest', so meaning 'the forest (people)'.[2] In either case, Galicia would mean "land of the Kallaikoi", and be unrelated to the Insular Celtic word Gael, which derives from the root *weydʰ- 'wilderness', or to Gallia, which derives from Celtic *galn- 'power, might'.


The Callaeci were the first tribe in the area to help the Lusitanians against the invading Romans, and gave their name to the rest of the tribes living north of them,[3][4] and to their victor, Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus, who defeated them in 137 BC and was acclaimed in Rome.

From the beginning of the Christian era, after the campaigns of Augustus had brought all of Hispania under Roman control, the lands of Gallaecia—including Galicia and northern Portugal to the Douro river—were organized into two conventi iuridici, Bracarense and Lucense,[5] belonging to the province Tarraconensis. During the last years of the 3rd century during Diocletian's reforms these two convents, together with the Asturicense, and maybe also the Cluniacense,[6] were organized in a single presidential province, Gallaecia, later promoted to consular status in the 4th century, with the city of Bracara Augusta its capital.

In 411 the Suevi, a Germanic people, settled in Gallaecia, establishing a kingdom which maintained its independence till 585, when it was annexed by the Visigoths of Spain. During these two centuries Gallaecia and its evolved form Gallicia[7] became the name associated with the kingdom of the Suevi and with its territory, which included current Galicia, much of northern Portugal as far as Coimbra and Idanha-a-Velha, much of the Spanish provinces of Asturias, León, and Zamora, and parts of Salamanca.[8]

In 666 the southern extreme of the province, beyond the Douro, was formally reincorporated into Lusitania, but the destruction of the Visigothic kingdom in 711 by the Arabs, and the early reconquest of Coimbra by Galician forces in 866 led to the name Gallicia being applied not just to the westernmost areas north of the Douro, but also to much of the north-west of the Iberian peninsula,[9] from the Bay of Biscay to Coimbra, and from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Eo, Navia and Cea[10] rivers in the east, including the city of León.[11] So, from that time and to the twelfth century the name Galicia maintained some kind of duality, which is exactly symbolised by the Arab geographers and historians, who gave the name Ŷillīquiya (adaptation of Gallaecia) to the Christian kingdom of the northwest and to the lands north and west of the Sistema Central mountains, now known as Kingdom of Asturias and Kingdom of León, whilst the term Galīsiya (adaptation of Galicia) was more usually reserved for Galicia and Portugal, although both terms were used interchangeably.[12] On the other hand, Gallaecia or an evolved form of it was a common name used by other Europeans to refer in general to the Christians of the northwest of Hispania and to their kingdom.[13][14] But from the 11th-12th century the independence of Portugal in the south, and the prominence of the city of León in the east as capital of the Christians, led to the restriction of the name Galicia to roughly its actual territorial boundaries.

During the 13th century, with the written emergence of the Galician language, Galiza became the most usual written form of the name of the country, being replaced during the 15th and 16th centuries by the current form, Galicia, which coincides with the Castilian Spanish name. The historical denomination Galiza became popular again during the end of the 19th and the first three quarters of the 20th century, and it is still used with some frequency by among others the Galician reintegrationists. Nevertheless, this alternative is now seldom used by the Xunta de Galicia, the local devolved government. Besides, the Royal Galician Academy, the institution responsible for regulating the Galician language, whilst recognizing it as a legitimate current denomination has stated that the only official name of the country is Galicia.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Moralejo, Juan J. (2008). Callaica nomina : estudios de onomástica gallega (PDF). A Coruña: Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza. pp. 113–148. ISBN 978-84-95892-68-3.
  2. ^ Curchin, Leonard A. (2008) Estudios GallegosThe toponyms of the Roman Galicia: New Study. CUADERNOS DE ESTUDIOS GALLEGOS LV (121): 111.
  3. ^ Luján, Eugenio R. (2000): "Ptolemy's 'Callaecia' and the language(s) of the 'Callaeci', in Ptolemy: towards a linguistic atlas of the earliest Celtic place-names of Europe : papers from a workshop sponsored by the British Academy, Dept. of Welsh, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 11–12 April 1999, pp. 55-72. Parsons and Patrick Sims-Williams editors.
  4. ^ Paredes, Xoán (2000): "Curiosities across the Atlantic: a brief summary of some of the Irish-Galician classical folkloric similarities nowadays. Galician singularities for the Irish", in Chimera, Dept. of Geography, University College Cork, Ireland
  5. ^ Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic culture a historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. p. 790. ISBN 1-85109-440-7.
  6. ^ Arce, Javier (1982). El último siglo de la España Romana : 284-409 (1a. ed.,2a. reimp. ed.). Madrid: Alianza Ed. p. 50. ISBN 84-206-2347-4.
  7. ^ 'Mirus rex Galliciensis legatos ad Guntchramnum regem dirixit'; 'In Gallitia quoque novae res actae sunt, quae de superius memorabuntur (...) Mironis Galliciensis regis (...) Quo defuncto, filius eius Eurichus Leuvichildi regis amicitias expetiit, dataque, ut pater fecerat, sacramenta, regnum Galliciensim suscepit (...) Hoc vero anno cognatus eius Audica (...) Ipse quoque acceptam soceri sui uxorem, Galliciensim regnum obtenuit.' Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, V.41 and VI.43.
  8. ^ López Carreira, Anselmo (2005). O reino medieval de Galicia (1 ed.). Vigo: A nosa terra. pp. 67–70. ISBN 84-96403-54-8.
  9. ^ López Carreira, Anselmo (2005). O reino medieval de Galicia (1 ed.). Vigo: A nosa terra. pp. 213–248. ISBN 84-96403-54-8.
  10. ^ Escalona, Fr. Romualdo (1782). Historia del Real Monasterio de Sahagún. Madrid: Joachin Ibarra. pp. 377, 383.
  11. ^ 'In civitate que vocitatur Legio, in territorio Gallecie', year 928, in del Ser Quijano, Gregorio (1981). Documentacion de la Catedral de Leon (siglos IX - X). Salamanca: Ed. Univ. p. 70. ISBN 84-7481-160-0.
  12. ^ For the Arab use of the name Galicia cf. Carballeira Debasa, Ana María (2007). Galicia y los gallegos en las fuentes árabes medievales. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientifícas. pp. 59–77. ISBN 978-84-00-08576-6.
  13. ^ Alfonso II of Asturias was addressed as: "DCCXCVIII. Venit etiam et legatus Hadefonsi regis Galleciae et Asturiae, nomine Froia, papilionem mirae pulchritudinis praesentans. (…) Hadefonsus rex Galleciae et Asturiae praedata Olisipona ultima Hispaniae civitate insignia victoriae suae loricas, mulos captivosque Mauros domno regi per legatos suos Froiam et Basiliscum hiemis tempore misit.” (ANNALES REGNI FRANCORUM); “Hadefuns rex Gallaeciae Carolo prius munera pretiosa itemque manubias suas pro munere misit.” (CODEX AUGIENSIS); "Galleciarum princeps" (VITA LUDOVICI) Cf. López Carreira, Anselmo (2005): O Reino medieval de Galicia. A Nosa Terra, Vigo. ISBN 978-84-8341-293-0 pp. 211–248.
  14. ^ 'We must also consider that there are five kingdoms among the Spaniards, namely that of Aragon, that of the Navarrese, and that of those who specifically are named Spaniards, which capital is Toledo, as well as those of the inhabitants of Galicia and Portugal', "Considerandum etiam quod, cum sint quinque regna in Ispaniorum, videlicet Arragonensium, Navarrorum et eorum qui specificato vocabulo Ispani dicuntur, quorum metropolis est Tolletum, item incholarum Galicie et Portugalensium", Narratio de Itinere Navali Peregrinorum Hierosolymam Tendentium et Silviam Capientium, AD. 1189. Cf. Bruno Meyer (2000): "El papel de los cruzados alemanes en la reconquista de la Península Ibérica en los siglos XII y XIII". En la España Medieval, 23: 41-66.
  15. ^ Fraga, Xesús (8 June 2008). "La Academia contesta a la Xunta que el único topónimo oficial es Galicia" [The Academy responds to the Xunta saying that the only official toponym is Galicia]. La Voz de Galicia. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.