Ancient Teutonic, Gothic, and Frankish Place Names in Eastern Europe.



The Urheimat (ancestral home) of the Germanic peoples on the whole Indo-European space, which was determined using the graphic-analytical method, was located in the area between the Neman, Narev, Yaselda Rivers, and its eastern boundary was the Sluch River, the left tributary (lt) of the Pripyat River (see the map below)

The habitats of the ancient Indo-Europeans


Taking into consideration the location of the primary areas of distinct Indo-European peoples and subsequent places and time of population them, we can assume that the first who left their Urheimat were tribes populated areas on both banks of the Dnieper River perhaps using the waterway. Thus, they were the Italiсs, Greeks, Armenians, and Phrygians. The Indo-Aryans and Tocharians followed them later. The Thracians (Proto-Albanians) involving in this movement crossed the Dnieper and occupated the area between the Teteriv and Ros' Rivers.

After this First Great Migration the Ancient Germanic people still remained near their Urheimat though considerably expanded their settlement territory occupying the areas of the Greeks, Italics, Illyrians, and Celts (see the map below). In these the Ethno-producing areas, primary dialects began to form, which developed in modern English, German, Gothic, Frisian and North Germanic languages over time. The correspondence between areas and languages is confirmed by the place names left by the ancient ancestors of the speakers of these languages.


At left: Ancestral homes of Germanic peoples


The Anglo-Saxons and the Northern Germanic tribe left their traces in respective areas most of all. This part of the entire Germanic toponymy is considered separately in the sections
Ancient Anglo-Saxon Place Names in Continental Europe and
North Germanic Place Names in Belorus, Baltic States, and Russia. The remaining part of the Germanic place names toponymy is reviewed here.


In the 2nd mill BC the area, located between the Western Bug and Sluch Rivers, south from the Upper Pripyat, that is, the historical region Volyn (at present Volins’ka oblast’, Eng. Volin Region) was inhabited by the ancient Germans (Teutons). Later this country has been populated by the Slavic tribe of Dulebs or Dudlebs. This ethnonym originates from the West Germanic Deudo and laifs [MELNYCHUK O.S. (Ed.) 1982-2004. Vol. 2.: 144; VASMER M. 1964-1973. Vol.: 551].

The first part of the compound word means “Teutons” derived in the eponymous designation for modern Germans (Deutsch); the second part means “the rest” (Got. laiba, O.Eng. làf). Thus the word Dudlebs may be explained as “the remnants of the Teutons”.

The most persuasive evidence of a Teutonic settlement in Volhyn is given by the mysterious name of the village of Velbovne in Rivne Region. It is located adjacent to the historic city of Ostroh on the right bank of the Horyn’ River. The name consists of two ancient Germanic words: O.H.G. welb-en “to build an arch” and ovan "oven, furnace”.


At right:The scheme of bloomery.
[ZVORYKIN А.А. a.o. 1962: 69, Fig. 30].


The furnace in the form of a vault, made of stone, could be a bloomery. In this place along the right bank of the Goryn' River, the marshes stretched out for many kilometers even at present. Swamp ore is a good raw material for the iron industry. The town of Neteshin is located near to Velbovne. Its name may also have Germanic origins. For the area with metallurgical furnaces, the second part of the name can be connected with O.H.G. asca "ashes" (Ger. Asche). Accordingly, for the first part of the word, you should look for something logically related to the second one. Old Icelandic hnjođa "to forge" suits well. In the German language is present a derivative from the disappeared relative word Niete "a rivet" [KLUGE FRIEDRICH, SEEBOLD ELMAR. 1989: 504]. The bloomery produced not pure iron, but a porous mass with impurities of sulfur, phosphorus, and other metals and slag. To produce iron, this bloom must be re-forged, when the impurities were separated as ash [ZVORYKIN А.А. a.o. 1962: 68]. Thus, there was a specialization – the bloom was produced in Velbovne, and it was converted to the pure iron in Neteshin.

In the ancestral home of the Teutons, there are more than ten toponyms containing the word "Huta". This word is present in the Ukrainian language and it means "smeltery". It is present also both in the Russian and Belarusian languages. There are about eight dozen such place names in Eastern Europe. It is very doubtful whether they are all of the Slavic origins. Since they are in the overwhelming majority located on the common German territory or along the migration routes of Germanic tribes among other place names of Germanic origin, it should be admitted that they mainly descend from OHG of Old Saxon hutta "hut, cabin".Only a small part of such toponyms may have Slavic origin since the craft of glass or metal smelters was not so widespread among the Slavs. However, it is practically impossible to distinguish them, therefore all toponyms of this type are highlighted in a paler color.

We now look at several other examples of place names which have no compelling definition by means of the Slavic languages, but which can be etymologized on the basis of German:

The village of Farinky, east of the town of Kamin' Kashirsky, Volin Region – O.H.G. faran "to drive, go” -ing is a noun suffix.

The village of Fusiv in Sokal district, Lviv Region – Ger Fuß, O.H.G. fuoz “foot”.

The town of Kiwerci, Volin Region – Ger. Kiefer, M.H.G. kiver, "jaw, chin".

The city of Kowel, Volin Region – Ger. Kabel “fat, lot”, M.H.G. kavel-en – "to draw lots".

The village of Merwa, near the town of Berestechko Volin Region – Ger Merle, O.H.G merla “blackbird, merle” (alternation lw for the Ukrainian language is typical).

The village of Newel, southwest of the city of Pinsk (Belarus) – Ger. Nebel, M.H.G nebel, OE neowol "fog".


Lake Nobel and the village of Nobel, located west of the urban-type settlement of Zarične in Rivno Region on a peninsula of the lake – Ger. Nabel, O.H.G. nabalo, “navel”.


At left: Lake Nobel. Satellite photo.


The town of Radekhiv, Lviv Region – Ger Rad, O.H.G. (h)rad “wheel”, Ger. Achse, O.H.G. ahsa “axle”.

The town of Radywiliv, Rivne Region – Ger Rad, O.H.G. (h)rad “wheel”, Ger. übel, O.H.G. ubil – “evil”.

The village of Rastow, west of the town of Turiys’k, Volin Region – O.H.G. rasta, "stay".

The village of Reklynets in Sokal district, Lviv Region – Ger. rekel “a big he-dog”.

The Styr River, the tributary of the Pripjat’ – Ger. Stör, O.H.G. stür(e), "sturgeon”.

The Strypa River, the tributary of the Dnister, which spring lies on the border of the Teuton area – M.N.G. strīpe “a stripe”. However the name can have Anglo-Saxon origin.

The village of Tsehiw in Horokhiv district, Volin Region – M.H.G. zæh(e) "viscous, tough".

The village of Tsuman', to east of the town of Kivertsi – Ger. zu Mann “to a man”.

The Tsyr River and the village of Tsyr – Ger. Zier, "decoration”, O.H.G. zieri "good”.


These examples list of names of Teutonic origin in Volyn may not be exhaustive, but there are some place names in the northern part of the area which could also have Frankish origin. We name the ancestors of the Dutch as the Franks, who, together with the Frisians occupied the most western area of the entire Germanic territory. This area is restricted by San and the Vistula Rivers in the west, by the Niemen River in the north, the Yaselda River in the northeast and by the upper Pripyat River in the southeast. This area boders with the Teutonic one near Lakes Shatski. There is an accumulation of names here, which can have both Teutonic or Frankish origin. The very name of the lakes is best deciphered by the German languages (O.H.G scaz, "money, cattle", Ger. Schatz "treasure", Dt. schat "the same"). We can also speak about Teutonic origin of the names of the village of Pulemets and Lake Pulemetske. They can be deciphered as "the full measure of grain" (Ger. volle Metze, O.H.G. fulle mezza – EWDS). A fancy name of another lake Lyutsemer can be understood as the "little sea" (Ger. lütt, lütz, O.H.G. luzzil "little", mer, Ger. Meer "sea"). Words similar to the mentioned exist sometimes in other Germanic languages, but the transition of Germanic t in z, being present here, is characteristic only for the High German language. At the same time the name of Lake Svityaz belongs better to the Dutch language, as Gmc *hweits "white" corresponds better Dt. wit and just its pre-form *hwit could naturally transfotm to Svityaz in the Slavic languages (Gmc. -ing, -ung corresponds always Slav -iaz'). For O.H.G. (h)wīz "white", it seems unreal.

The migration routes of the Teutons and Franks to Central Europe passed through the territory of Poland and they had to leave their traces in toponymy on it. There are a lot of place names of German origin in Poland, but it is difficult to distinguish the most ancient ones, because many toponyms can refer to later times.


Frankish place names


Obviously the Western Bug River divided the Franks and Frisians in indicated above area. A Frisian dictionary of a large amount was absent for services, so we will restrict the search only by names that can have a Frankish origin. Using the Dutch language, we can talk about such possible Frankish place names:

Brok, a town in Ostrów Mazowiecka County, Masovian Voivodeship and a village in the administrative district of Gmina Wysokie Mazowieckie, within Wysokie Mazowieckie County, Podlaskie Voivodeship – Dt. broek, M.Dt. brōk “humid lowland”;

Western Bug, rt of the Vistula River – M. Vasmer considers the possibility of the Germanic origin of the name of the Western Bug, but does not give Dutch words [VASMER M. 1964: 227]. Meanwhile, M.Dt. bugen (Dt. buigen) "to bend" fits well (the Western Bug River is very winding);

Garwolin, a village in Masovian Voivodeship – Dt. garwe, garf “sheaf”, lijn “flax”;

Kobryn, a town in Belarus – Dt. kobber “he-pigeon”;

Kodeń, a village on the banks of the Western Bug River in Poland – Dt. kodde “sack, bag”;

Kujawy, a village in Masovian Voivodeship – Dt. kuif “a crest”;

Wagan, a village in the administrative district of Gmina Tłuszcz, within Wołomin County, Masovian Voivodeship – Dt. wagen “a car”;

Worsy, a village in Lublin Voivodeship – Dt. vors “frog”;

Germanic place names in Eastern Europe

On the map, settlements are indicated by asterisks.
Teutonic place names and the Urheimat of the Teutons are tinted by red color.
Frankish place names and the Urheimat of Franks and Frisians are blue.
Gothic place names and the Urheimat of the Goths are tinted by green.
Norse place names and the Urheimat of the Norsemen are brown.
Anglo-Saxon place names are orange. The Urheimat of the Anglo-Saxons is tinted by yellow.
Place names Huta are highlighted in pink in the ancestral home of the Teutons, in yellow in the ancestral home of the Anglo-Saxons, and in the ancestral home of the ready-made light green.


Gothic place names


The area of the formation of the Gothic language because of the scarcity of available lexicon was localized only conceived. A suitable place was found on both sides of the Schara River, left tributary of the Niemen River, i.e. where was the common Urheimat of all Germanic people. The name of this river should be considered as the Paleo-European substrate, which traces can be found in some Germanic languages, cf. Eng. shore, Ger. Schaar "area of the sea, where you can wade". Confirmation that the Gothic language began to form precisely here, is given by local toponymy. When their deciphering F. Holthausen's Gothic Dictionary and partly Dictionary of the Icelandic Language as the closest to the Gothic were used. The following are examples of possible place names in Belarus:

Abrova, a village in Ivatsevich districk of Brest Region – Got. *abr-s "strong, stormy".

Alba, a village in Brest Region, Belarus – Got.*alb-s "a demon".

Bastyn', a village in Lunenets district of Brest Region – the all modern Germanic languages have the word bast "bast, the inner bark of the lime-tree" (Old Norse, Dt. bast, OE. bæst, Ger. Bast). Undoubtedly, this word was present in the Gothic language, but not preserved in written sources referring to specific meaning.

Lida, a town in Grodno Region – Got. liudan "to grow", lita "transposition".

Malaryta, a town in Brest Region – Got. *mala "strong", Old Norse rita "scratch", riđa 1. "to tremble", 2. "fever, ague".

Rumliovo, a forest park in the city of Grodno – Got.rūm "room, space", lēw "a case".

Trabovychy, a village in Lakhovychy districkt of Brest Region – Got *draibjan "to drive".

Vangi, a village в Grodno Region, Belarus – Old Norse vang-r "a garden, green home-field".

Zelva, the center of district in Grodno Region – Got. silba, Old Fr. selva "self".


There are on the Urheimat of the Goths a few place names, which could be deciphered by other Germanic languages (Fasty, Gresk, Narev, Rekliovtsy), the Gothic language has or maybe had similar words, therefore it is difficult to judge about their origin. The most frequently is mentioned place name Huta (five or six cases). However, the Gothic language did not record the word hutta in the meaning of "hut". One can only assume that such a word existed in it, therefore the place names Huta are nevertheless marked in the ancestral home of the Goths .


Gothic place names in Eastern Pomerania


If traces of the Goths remain in the place toponymy on their ancestral home, then all the more Gothic place names must be preserved on places of their later residence. Clearly, the search began in neighboring areas, that is, in eastern Poland and quickly has succeeded. Gothic place names formed a chain which led to the city of Danzig:

Kundzin, a village in the administrative district of Gmina Sokółka, within Sokółka County, Podlaskie Voivodeship – Goth. kunþi "relationship, home".

Chilmony, a village in the administrative district of Gmina Nowy Dwór, within Sokółka County, Podlaskie Voivodeship – Goth. hilm "helmet".

Fasty, a village in the administrative district of Gmina Dobrzyniewo Duże, within Białystok County, Podlaskie Voivodeship – Goth. fastan "hold, guard".

Sajno, lakes in Augustów County of Podlaskie Voivodeship and in Pisz County of Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, – Goth. sainjan "to tarry, hesitate".

Ełk (previous Łek), a town in Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship – Goth. leik "bode".

Ukta, a village in the administrative district of Gmina Ruciane-Nida, within Pisz County, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship – Goth. ūhtwō "dawn".

Wałdyki, a village in the administrative district of Gmina Lubawa, within Iława County, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship – Goth. waldan "prevail, govern".

Markowo, villages in Gmina Dubeninki, within Gołdap County and Gmina Morąg, within Ostróda County Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship; – Goth. marka "sigh", "border'.

Gruta, a village in Grudziądz County, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship – Goth. grūts "grain".

Wandowo, a village in Kwidzyn County in Pomeranian Voivodeship – Goth. wandjan "tp turn".

Kaldowo, a village in the administrative district of Gmina Malbork, within Malbork County, Pomeranian Voivodeship – Goth. kald-s "cold".


To decode the name of the city of Danzig failed, but it was found evidence that the city was founded by the Goths (see the image below)



The image is a copy of the page from the book of Daniel Gralath "The try of a story of Danzig on reliable sources and manuscripts" (GRALATH DANIEL, 1789: 4). The copy is made out of a book of the Library of Chicago University, posted on the Internet. Translation of the text from German:


As in old and in new times, historians and geographers are unanimous in their reports, concluded that the Gothic nation dwelled along the Vistula River and on the banks of the Baltic Sea, which from one can conclude with unquestionable certainty that the city of Danzig was founded by the Goths. Voyage of Pytheas from Marseilles, who lived three centuries before the birth of Christ, and who is mentioned by Pliny the Elder, and also geographies of Pomponius Mela and Claudius Ptolemy being the most ancient sources, clearly indicate the settlements of the Goths here, and some later several we find the same evidence from the Gothic Bishop Jordanes, also called Jornandes, who this confirms, and no historian has questioned all these messages.


Further Gralath Daniel as so long-winded interprets the evidence of Jordanes, that Danzig (ie Gdansk) was founded by Githic king Berich and disputes other versions. The fact, that the message of Jordanes is something contradictory, he argued that the Gothic king came on three ships at the mouth of the Vistula from Skancia (Scandinavia), and the founded city named Gothenschanz (or Gothiscanzia), i.e. "Gothic trenches". And supposedly the name was gradually transformed into Danzig, apparently through an intermediate form of Gdańsk, preserved in the Polish language. Arrival of Goths from Scandinavia is contradicted by place names data, according to which the Goths came to Pomerania from the banks of the Neman and Pripyat Rivers.

On the other hand, Goth. rauþs "red" strikingly resembles Fin. ruotsi, which supposedly comes from Old Sw. rōþs, etymologically connected with a verb meaning "to row" [HÄKKINEN KAISA. 2007, 1073]. The Finns call the Swedes by this word, which could have meant "rowers" and linguists derive the word Rus' from it. However, the name of the Swedes could only occur if the Finns themselves were not engaged in rowing and did not even have their own word to signify such an occupation, what is highly doubtful. Realizing this, Häkkinen gives an explanation of the Finnish name of the Swedes through the name of a small area in Sweden that does not look convincing. Most likely the Goths called the red-bearded Swedes "red", and from them the word came to the Finns at a time when the Goths could be neighbors of both the Finns and Swedes. Thus, the facts about staying of the Goths in Scandinavia are available. Obviously there was a communication between Scandinavia and Pomerania, and some part of Goths could stay there for a permanent or temporary settlement, and then go back. The name of the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea speaks of this. However, archaeological sources also did not agree with the written information that caused long discussions (BIRBRAUER. 1995: 32). Goths' habitat is associated with Wielbark culture on the territory of which the Gothic place names have been found (see. the map below).



Left: Gothic place names in the Gdansk area. Right: Sites of Wielbark culture in the B1 phase (BIRBRAUER F. 1995, 34. Fig. 4, according: WOŁĄGIEWICZ R. 1986. Stan badań nad okresem rzymskim na Pomorzu).

Goths appear in the Northern Black Sea region in the 2nd century. AD and they play a major role in creating the Chernyakhov culture, whose early monuments are in the regions of Western Ukraine (BARAN V.D. 1985: 47). A strip of Wielbark sites also goes there (see the map below), what suggests the development of Chernyakhiv culture on its basis. However, despite the fact that the Wielbark sites or elements of this culture stand out among Chernyakhiv ones in all regions, the complete transformation of the Wielbark culture into Chernyakhiv one is questioned (ibid 1985, 74). Archaeologists cannot agree on whether the features of pottery, common to the Wielbark and Chernyakhov cultures, are the main ethnic trait (VAKULENKO L.V. 2002: 18).



The area of archaeological cultures of the second quarter of the 1st century AD.

Legend: 1 – Chernyakhiv, 2 – Kyiv, 3 – Wielbark, 4 – Carpathian Tumuli culture (BARAN V.L. 1985: 46, Fig. 8).


One can agree that the formation of Chernyakhiv culture was influenced by various factors, but it should be noted that the role of the Slavs in this process is overestimated from the false assumption that they lived in the Lower Dnieper before the Goths. One can speak more confidently about the Alanian influence, since the Alans were also one of the Germanic tribes. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that the carriers of both the Chernyakhiv and Wielbark cultures were mainly the Goths, even without much attention to the similarity of the potery of these cultures.