Proto-Indo-European society

Proto-Indo-European society is the hypothesized culture of the ancient speakers of Proto-Indo-European, ancestors of all modern Indo–European ethnic groups who are speakers of Indo-European languages.

Theories about the culture are based primarily on linguistics and not ethnic, social, or cultural study, as the origin of Indo–European and their urheimat is still debated. There is no direct evidence of the nature of a "Proto-Indo-European society", as such. Any conclusions in this article or otherwise are only purely linguistic inferences, and not established facts.

Scientific approaches

Much of our modern ideas in this field involve the unsettled Indo-European homeland debate about the precise origins of the language itself. There are three main approaches researchers have employed in their attempts to study this culture, but all are subject to resolution of the debate and all are the subject of criticism:

  • Archeology: Interpretations that are based on archaeological evidence.
  • Comparative linguistics: Interpretations that are based on the comparative analysis of the languages of historically known societies (see Trifunctional hypothesis).
  • Linguistic reconstruction: Interpretations that are based on the reconstruction and identification of words (those cited *thus on this page, with a preceding asterisk) which formed part of the vocabulary of the Proto-Indo-European language. These are reconstructed on the basis of sounds, not meaning. Exactly what these terms may have referred to at the stage of Proto-Indo-European is therefore less certain. The technique of inferring culture from such reconstructions is known as linguistic palaeontology.

What follows in this page are interpretations based only on the assumption of the Kurgan hypothesis of Indo-European origins, and are by no means universally accepted.

Societal structure

Whether these people regarded themselves as a linguistic or ethnic community cannot be known, nor by which name they may have referred to themselves.

Linguistics has allowed the reliable reconstruction of a large number of words relating to kinship relations. These all agree in exhibiting a patriarchal, patrilocal and patrilineal social fabric. Patrilocality is confirmed by lexical evidence, including the word *h2u̯edh, "to lead (away)", being the word that denotes a male wedding a female (but not vice versa). It is also the dominant pattern in historical IE societies, and matrilocality would be unlikely in a patrilineal society.[1]

Inferences have been made for sacral kingship, suggesting the tribal chief at the same time assumed the role of high priest. Georges Dumézil suggested for Proto-Indo-European society a threefold division of a clerical class, a warrior class and a class of farmers or husbandmen, on his interpretations that many historically known groups speaking Indo-European languages show such a division, but Dumézil's approach has been widely criticised.

If there was a separate class of warriors, it probably consisted of single young men. They would have followed a separate warrior code unacceptable in the society outside their peer-group. Traces of initiation rites in several Indo-European societies (e.g. early Slav, Volcae, Neuri and their lupine ritualism) suggest that this group identified itself with wolves or dogs (see Berserker, Werewolf, Wild Hunt).

The people were organized in settlements (*weiḱs; Sanskrit viś, Polish wieś "village"; Ancient Greek woikos "home"; Latin vicus), probably each with its chief (*h₃rēǵs—Sanskrit rājan, Latin rex, reg-, Gaulish -riks). These settlements or villages were further divided in households (*domos; Latin domus, Polish dom), each headed by a patriarch (*dems-potis; Ancient Greek despotes, Sanskrit dampati, Polish pan domu).


Technologically, linguistic reconstruction suggests a culture of the Bronze Age: words for bronze can be reconstructed (*h₂éyos) from Germanic, Italic and Indo-Iranian, while no word for iron can be dated to the proto-language. Gold and silver were known.

An *n̥sis (Vedic Sanskrit así, Latin ensis) was a bladed weapon, originally a dagger of bronze or (in earliest times) of bone. An *iḱmos was a spear or similar pointed weapon. Words for axe include *h₂égʷsih₂ (Germanic, Greek, Italic) and *péleḱu- (Vedic Sanskrit paraśú, Greek pélekus); these could have been either of stone or of bronze.

The wheel (*kʷékʷlos – Vedic Sanskrit cakrá, Greek kúklos, Old English hweol, Serbo-Croatian kolo; or *róth₂eh₂ – Vedic Sanskrit rathá, German Rad, Latin rota) was known, certainly for ox-drawn carts. The wheel was probably not invented by the Proto-Indo-Europeans, but the word *kʷékʷlos is a native derivation of the root *kʷel- "to turn" rather than a borrowing, suggesting that the PIE speakers' contact with the people who introduced the wheel to them was short.[2] Horse-drawn chariots developed after the breakup of the proto-language, originating with the Proto-Indo-Iranians around 2000 BC.

Judging by the vocabulary, techniques of weaving, plaiting, tying knots etc. were important and well-developed and used for textile production as well as for baskets, fences, walls etc.


Tarpan horse (1841 drawing)

Proto-Indo-European society depended on animal husbandry. People valued cattle (*péḱu – Vedic Sanskrit páśu, Latin pecu- *gʷōus – Sanskrit go, Latin bo-) as their most important animals, measuring a man's wealth by the number of cows he owned (Latin pecunia 'money' from pecus). Sheep (*h₃ówis) and goats (*gʰáidos) were also kept, presumably by the less wealthy. Agriculture and catching fish (*písḱos) also featured.

The domestication of the horse (*h₁eḱuos – Vedic Sanskrit áśvas, Latin equus, Greek hippos) (see Tarpan) may have originated with these peoples: scholars sometimes invoke this as a factor contributing to their rapid expansion.

Ritual and sacrifice

They practiced a polytheistic religion centered on sacrificial rites, probably administered by a class of priests or shamans.

Animals were slaughtered (*gʷʰn̥tós) and dedicated to the gods (*déiwos) in the hope of winning their favour. The king as the high priest would have been the central figure in establishing favourable relations with the other world.

The Kurgan hypothesis suggests burials in barrows or tomb chambers. Important leaders would have been buried with their belongings, and possibly also with members of their household or wives (sati). The practice of human sacrifice is inferred from the Luhansk sacrificial site.


The use of two-word compound words for personal names, typically but not always ascribing some noble or heroic feat to their bearer, is so common in Indo-European languages that it seems certainly inherited. These names are often of the class of compound words that in Sanskrit are called bahuvrihi compounds.

They are found in the Celtic region (Dumnorix: "king of the world"), in Indo-Aryan (Asvaghosa: "tamer of horses"); in Iranian (Vishtaspa: "possessing horses untied (for racing)"); in Hellenic (Socrates: "good ruler"); in Slavic (Vladimir: "ruler of the world"); in Germanic (Godgifu: "gift of God"), and in Anatolian (Piyama-Radu: "gift of the devotee?"). German itself follows the same pattern ger: spear and man: man.

Patronymics such as Gustafsson ("son of Gustaf"), Rostamzād ("son of Rostam"), Hakopian ("son of Hakop"), and MacDòmhnaill ("son of Donald") are also frequently encountered in Indo-European languages.


Some words connected with PIE world-view:

  • *gʰosti- concerned mutual obligations between people and between worshippers and gods, and from which guest and host are derived.
  • *h₁r̥-tu-, *h₁r̥-to-, a cosmic, ethical, and social "right order of being": that which is "fitting, right, ordered"; also, "right time, ritually correct", revealing the harmony and order of the world (Avestan asha, Vedic Sanskrit ṛta-, ṛtu-, Latin rītus, etc. )


  1. ^ Mallory, J. P.; Adams, Douglas Q., eds. (1997). "Residence". Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 483.
  2. ^ Anthony, David W. (2010). The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton University Press. pp. 30–31.


  • Fortson IV, Benjamin W. (2004). Indo-European Language and Culture. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 16–44. ISBN 1-4051-0316-7.
  • Stüber, Karin (2007). "Die Stellung der Frau: Spuren indogermanischer Gesellschaftsordnung in der Sprache". In Schärer, K. Spuren lesen. Chronos. pp. 97–115. ISBN 978-3-0340-0879-2. (in German)

In medieval Gaelic and British culture, a bard was a professional story teller, verse-maker, music composer, oral historian and genealogist, employed by a patron (such as a monarch or noble), to commemorate one or more of the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own activities.

Originally a specific, lower class of poet, contrasting with the higher rank known as fili in Ireland and Highland Scotland, with the decline of living bardic tradition in the modern period the term "bard" acquired generic meanings of an author or minstrel, especially a famous one. For example, William Shakespeare and Rabindranath Tagore, are known as "the Bard of Avon" (often simply "the Bard") and "the Bard of Bengal" respectively.


A churl (etymologically the same name as Charles / Carl and Old High German karal), in its earliest Old English (Anglo-Saxon) meaning, was simply "a man", and more particularly a "husband", but the word soon came to mean "a non-servile peasant", still spelled ċeorl(e), and denoting the lowest rank of freemen. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it later came to mean the opposite of the nobility and royalty, "a common person". Says Chadwick:

the distinction between thegn and ceorl is from the time of Aethelstan, the broad line of demarcation between the classes of society.

This meaning held through the 15th century, but by then the word had taken on negative overtones, meaning "a country person" and then "a low fellow". By the 19th century, a new and pejorative meaning arose, "one inclined to uncivil or loutish behaviour"—hence "churlish" (cf. the pejorative sense of the term boor, whose original meaning of "country person" or "farmer" is preserved in Dutch and Afrikaans boer and German Bauer, although the latter has its own pejorative connotations such as those prompting its use as the name for the chess piece known in English as a pawn. Also the word villain - derived from Anglo-French and Old French and originally meaning "farmhand" - had gone through a similar process to reach its present meaning).

The ċeorles of Anglo-Saxon times lived in a largely free society, and one in which their fealty was principally to their king. Their low status is shown by their werġild ("man-price"), which, over a large part of England, was fixed at 200 shillings (one-sixth that of a theġn). Agriculture was largely community-based and communal in open-field systems. This freedom was eventually eroded by the increase in power of feudal lords and the manorial system. Some scholars argue, however, that anterior to the encroachment of the manorial system the ċeorles owed various services and rents to local lords and powers.

In the North Germanic (Scandinavian) languages, the word Karl has the same root as churl and meant originally a "free man". As "housecarl", it came back to England. In German, Kerl is used to describe a somewhat rough and common man and is no longer in use as a synonym for a common soldier (die langen Kerls of Frederick the Great of Prussia). Rígsþula, a poem in the Poetic Edda, explains the social classes as originating from the three sons of Ríg: Thrall, Karl and Earl (Þræl, Karl and Jarl). This story has been interpreted in the context of the proposed trifunctional hypothesis of Proto-Indo-European society.

Cognates to the word ceorle are frequently found in place names, throughout the Anglophone world, in towns such as Carlton and Charlton, meaning "the farm of the churls". Names such as Carl and Charles are derived from cognates of churl or ċeorle.

While the word churl went down in the social scale, the first name derived from the same etymological source ("Karl" in German, "Charles" in French and English, "Carlos" in Spanish etc.) remained prestigious enough to be used frequently by many European royal families - owing originally to the fame of Charlemagne, to which was added that of later illustrious kings and emperors of the same name. Król, the Polish word for "king", is also derived from the same origin.


Dyēus or Dyēus Phter (Proto-Indo-European: *dyḗws ph₂tḗr, also *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr or Dyēus Pətḗr, alternatively spelled dyēws) is believed to have been the chief deity in Proto-Indo-European mythology. Part of a larger pantheon, he was the god of the daylit sky, and his position may have mirrored the position of the patriarch or monarch in Proto-Indo-European society.

This deity is not directly attested; rather, scholars have reconstructed this deity from the languages and cultures of later Indo-European peoples such as the Greeks, Latins, and Indo-Aryans. According to this scholarly reconstruction, Dyeus was known as Dyḗus Ph2tḗr, literally "sky father" or "shining father", as reflected in Latin Iūpiter, Diēspiter, possibly Dis Pater and deus pater, Greek Zeu Pater, Vedic Dyáuṣ Pitṛ́. As the pantheons of the individual mythologies related to Proto-Indo-European religion evolved, attributes of Dyeus seem to have been redistributed to other deities. In Greek and Roman mythology, Dyeus remained the chief god; however, in Vedic mythology, the etymological continuant of Dyeus became a very abstract god, and his original attributes and dominance over other gods appear to have been transferred to gods such as Agni or Indra.

Georges Dumézil

Georges Dumézil (French: [ʒɔʁʒ dymezil]; 4 March 1898 – 11 October 1986, Paris) was a French comparative philologist best known for his analysis of sovereignty and power in Proto-Indo-European religion and society. He is considered one of the major contributors to mythography, in particular for his formulation of the trifunctional hypothesis of social class in ancient societies.

Hansel and Gretel

"Hansel and Gretel" (; also known as Hansel and Grettel, Hansel and Grethel, or Little Brother and Little Sister; German: Hänsel und Gretel (Hänsel und Grethel) [ˈhɛnzl̩ ʔʊnt ˈɡʁeːtl̩]) is a well-known German fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. Hansel and Gretel are a young brother and sister kidnapped by a cannibalistic witch living in a forest, in a house constructed of cake, confectionery, candy, and many more treats than are imaginable. The two children escape with their lives by outwitting her. The tale has been adapted to various media, most notably the opera Hänsel und Gretel (1893) by Engelbert Humperdinck. Under the Aarne–Thompson classification system, "Hansel and Gretel" is classified under Class 327.

Hengist and Horsa

Hengist and Horsa are legendary brothers said to have led the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in their invasion of Britain in the 5th century. Tradition lists Hengist as the first of the Jutish kings of Kent.

According to early sources, Hengist and Horsa arrived in Britain at Ebbsfleet on the Isle of Thanet. For a time, they served as mercenaries for Vortigern, King of the Britons, but later they turned against him (British accounts have them betraying him in the Treachery

of the Long Knives). Horsa was killed fighting the Britons, but Hengist successfully conquered Kent, becoming the forefather of its kings.

A figure named Hengest, who may be identifiable with the leader of British legend, appears in the Finnsburg Fragment and in Beowulf.

Legends of horse-associated founding brothers are attested among other Germanic peoples and appear in other Indo-European cultures. As a result, scholars have theorized a pan-Germanic mythological origin for Hengist and Horsa, stemming originally from divine twins found in Proto-Indo-European religion. Other scholars, including J. R. R. Tolkien, have argued for a historical basis for Hengist and Horsa.


Indo-European may refer to:

Relating to Europe and India.

Indo-European languages, a major language family of Europe, the Middle East and South Asia

Indo-European migrations

Indo-European studies, an academic field involving linguistics, anthropology, history, archaeology

Indo-European vocabulary, a table of the most fundamental Proto-Indo-European language words and roots


Knésetja (lit. "knee-setting"; German Kniesetzung) is the Old Norse expression for a custom in Germanic law, by which adoption was formally expressed by setting the fosterchild on the knees of the foster-father.

Kurgan hypothesis

The Kurgan hypothesis (also known as the Kurgan theory or Kurgan model) or steppe theory is the most widely accepted proposal to identify the Proto-Indo-European homeland from which the Indo-European languages spread out throughout Europe, Eurasia and parts of Asia. It postulates that the people of a Kurgan culture in the Pontic steppe north of the Black Sea were the most likely speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). The term is derived from the Russian kurgan (курга́н), meaning tumulus or burial mound.

The Kurgan hypothesis was first formulated in the 1950s by Marija Gimbutas, who used the term to group various cultures, including the Yamnaya, or Pit Grave, culture and its predecessors. David Anthony instead uses the core Yamnaya culture and its relationship with other cultures as a point of reference.

Marija Gimbutas defined the Kurgan culture as composed of four successive periods, with the earliest (Kurgan I) including the Samara and Seroglazovo cultures of the Dnieper–Volga region in the Copper Age (early 4th millennium BC). The people of these cultures were nomadic pastoralists, who, according to the model, by the early 3rd millennium BC had expanded throughout the Pontic–Caspian steppe and into Eastern Europe.Three genetic studies in 2015 gave partial support to Gimbutas's Kurgan theory regarding the Indo-European Urheimat. According to those studies, haplogroups R1b and R1a, now the most common in Europe (R1a is also common in South Asia) would have expanded from the Russian and Ukrainian steppes, along with the Indo-European languages; they also detected an autosomal component present in modern Europeans which was not present in Neolithic Europeans, which would have been introduced with paternal lineages R1b and R1a, as well as Indo-European languages.

Myles Dillon

Myles Dillon (11 May 1900 — 18 June 1972) was an Irish historian, philologist and celticist.

Myles Dillon was born in Dublin; he was one of six children of John Dillon and his wife Elizabeth Mathew; James Matthew Dillon, the leader of Fine Gael, was his younger brother.

Myles Dillon graduated from University College Dublin, than travelled to Germany and France, where he studied in deep Old Irish and Celtic philology under Joseph Vendryes and Rudolf Thurneysen. Dillon taught Sanskrit and comparative philology in Trinity College, Dublin (1928–1930) and University College, Dublin (1930–1937). In 1937 moved to USA, where he taught Irish in the University of Madison (his son John M. Dillon was born in Madison), in 1946-1947 taught in Chicago. On his return to Ireland worked in the School of Celtic Studies in Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies; was the director of the School from 1960 till 1968, edited Celtica. Volume 11 of Celtica is dedicated to his memory. From 1966 to 1967 he was President of the Royal Irish Academy.

Myles Dillon is the author of a number of important scholarly books, handbooks and translations from Old Irish. Among his most notable works are The Cycles of the Kings (1946), Early Irish literature (1948), The Celtic realms (1967, with Nora Kershaw Chadwick). M. Dillon published a modern translation and commentary of The Book of Rights (Old Irish: Lebor na cert, 1962). He also translated Dieux et héros des Celtes by Marie-Louise Sjoestedt into English, thus making the book available for a wider scholarly audience. The monograph Celts and Aryans, published posthumously by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study reflects Dillon's interest in the traces of the shared heritage in the Indian and Irish cultures deriving from Proto-Indo-European society based on a period of research Dillon spent in Simla, India.


A priest is a religious leader authorized to perform the sacred rituals of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities. Their office or position is the priesthood, a term which also may apply to such persons collectively.

Proto-Indo-European mythology

Proto-Indo-European mythology is the body of myths and stories associated with the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Although these stories are not directly attested, they have been reconstructed by scholars of comparative mythology based on the similarities in the belief systems of various Indo-European peoples.

Various schools of thought exist regarding the precise nature of Proto-Indo-European mythology, which do not always agree with each other. The main mythologies used in comparative reconstruction are Vedic, Roman, and Norse, often supported with evidence from the Baltic, Celtic, Greek, Slavic, and Hittite traditions as well.

The Proto-Indo-European pantheon includes well-attested deities such as *Dyḗus Pḥatḗr, the god of the daylit skies, his daughter *Haéusōs, the goddess of the dawn, the divine twins, and the storm god *Perkwunos. Other probable deities include *Péh2usōn, a pastoral god, and *Seh2ul, a female solar deity.

Well-attested myths of the Proto-Indo-Europeans include a myth involving a storm god who slays a multi-headed serpent that dwells in water and a creation story involving two brothers, one of whom sacrifices the other to create the world. The Proto-Indo-Europeans may have believed that the Otherworld was guarded by a watchdog and could only be reached by crossing a river. They also may have believed in a world tree, bearing fruit of immortality, either guarded by or gnawed on by a serpent or dragon, and tended by three goddesses who spun the thread of life.


The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the prehistoric people of Eurasia who spoke Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the ancestor of the Indo-European languages according to linguistic reconstruction.

Knowledge of them comes chiefly from that reconstruction, along with material evidence from archaeology and archaeogenetics. The Proto-Indo-Europeans likely lived during the late Neolithic, or roughly the 4th millennium BC. Mainstream scholarship places them in the Pontic–Caspian steppe zone in Eastern Europe (present day Ukraine and Russia). Some archaeologists would extend the time depth of PIE to the middle Neolithic (5500 to 4500 BC) or even the early Neolithic (7500 to 5500 BC), and suggest alternative location hypotheses.

By the early second millennium BC, offshoots of the Proto-Indo-Europeans had reached far and wide across Eurasia, including Anatolia (Hittites), the Aegean (the ancestors of Mycenaean Greece), the north of Europe (Corded Ware culture), the edges of Central Asia (Yamnaya culture), and southern Siberia (Afanasievo culture).


Rígsþula or Rígsmál ("Lay of Ríg") is an Eddic poem, preserved in the manuscript (AM 242 fol, the Codex Wormianus), in which a Norse god named Ríg or Rígr, described as "old and wise, mighty and strong", referring to Odin, fathers the classes of mankind. The prose introduction states that Rígr is another name for Heimdall, who is also called the father of mankind in Völuspá.

In Rígsþula, Rig wanders through the world and fathers the progenitors of the three classes of human beings as conceived by the poet. The youngest of these sons inherits the name or title "Ríg" and so in turn does his youngest son, Kon the Young or Kon ungr (Old Norse: konungr, king). This third Ríg was the first true king and the ultimate founder of the state of royalty as appears in the Rígsþula and in two other associated works. In all three sources he is connected with two primordial Danish rulers named Dan and Danþír.

The poem Rígsþula is preserved incomplete on the last surviving sheet in the 14th-century Codex Wormianus, following Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda. A short prose introduction explains that the god in question was Heimdall, who wandered along the seashore until he came to a farm where he called himself Ríg. The name Rígr appears to be the oblique case of Old Irish rí, ríg "king", cognate to Latin rex, Sanskrit rajan. and Gothic reiks.The identification of Rígr with Heimdall is supported by his characterization as an ancestor, or kinsman, of humankind in the first two lines of the Eddic poem Völuspá:'

I ask for a hearing

of all the holy races

Greater and lesser

kinsmen of HeimdallHowever, some scholars, including Finnur Jónsson and Rudolf Simek, have suggested this is a role more appropriate to Óðinn and that the Eddic tradition has thus transferred the name Rígr from him to Heimdall. Since Rígsþula is only preserved in a 14th-century manuscript, it is also plausible that the prose introduction was added by the compiler to conform it to the opening of Völuspá.

Tabu Homosexualität

Tabu Homosexualität: Die Geschichte eines Vorurteils (German: The Taboo of Homosexuality: The History of a Prejudice) is a standard work of Germanophone research into homophobia, written by German sociologist, ethnologist, and sexologist Gisela Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg, and first published in 1978.

The Rape of the Sabine Women

The Rape of the Sabine Women was an incident in Roman mythology in which the men of Rome committed a mass abduction of young women from the other cities in the region. It has been a frequent subject of artists, particularly during the Renaissance and post-Renaissance eras.

The word "rape" is the conventional translation of the Latin word raptio used in the ancient accounts of the incident. Modern scholars tend to interpret the word as "abduction" or "kidnapping" as opposed to a sexual assault. Controversy remains, however, as to how the acts committed against the women should be judged.

Trifunctional hypothesis

The trifunctional hypothesis of prehistoric Proto-Indo-European society postulates a tripartite ideology ("idéologie tripartite") reflected in the existence of three classes or castes—priests, warriors, and commoners (farmers or tradesmen)—corresponding to the three functions of the sacral, the martial and the economic, respectively. The trifunctional thesis is primarily associated with the French mythographer Georges Dumézil, who proposed it in 1929 in the book Flamen-Brahman, and later in Mitra-Varuna.


According to Tacitus's Germania (AD 98), Tuisto (or Tuisco) is the legendary divine ancestor of the Germanic peoples. The figure remains the subject of some scholarly discussion, largely focused upon etymological connections and comparisons to figures in later (particularly Norse) Germanic mythology.

Æsir–Vanir War

In Norse mythology, the Æsir–Vanir War was a conflict between two groups of deities that ultimately resulted in the unification of the Æsir and the Vanir into a single pantheon. The war is an important event in Norse mythology, and the implications for the potential historicity surrounding accounts of the war are a matter of scholarly debate and discourse.

Fragmented information about the war appears in surviving sources, including Völuspá, a poem collected in the Poetic Edda in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; in the book Skáldskaparmál in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; and in euhemerized form in the Ynglinga saga from Heimskringla, also written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century.

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