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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
April, 1912, pp379‑385

The text is in the public domain:
Sten Konow died in 1948.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p379  Goths in Ancient India

By Sten Konow

The oldest instances of the use of the word yavana, yona, in India were discussed by the late Professor Weber in his paper on the Greeks in India.1 He maintained that the Indians adopted this denomination of the Greeks from the Persians. He also remarked that the name was then later on transferred to the Indo-Scythian successors of the Greeks in North-Western India, and, further, to the Parthians, Persians, and Arabs. There can be no doubt that the word was in later times commonly used to denote the Musalmāns, and sometimes also, in a more general way, as synonymous with mleccha.2 On the other hand its original meaning was certainly 'a Greek'. That is the case in the Aśoka inscriptions, in the Besnagar column inscription, and in some of the Nasik and Karle epigraphs. In the Nasik inscription of the nineteenth year of Siri-Puḷumāyi Vāsiṭhīputa (EI, 8.60) we find the yavanas mentioned together with sakas and palhavas, and it is just possible that the word here denotes some Indo-Scythian tribe and not exactly the Greeks. In the Junāgaḍh inscription of Rudradāman of the year 72, i.e. probably of A.D. 150,3 we hear of a yavana 'king' (rājan) Tuśāspha, who was governor of Kāthiāvāḍ under the emperor Aśoka. The name Tuśāspha cannot be Greek, but must be Iranian. Still he is called a yavana. This shows that in the second century A.D., the name yavana was not restricted to the Greeks.

 p380  The word yavana also occurs in three Junnar inscriptions which must be assigned to the second century.4 One of them, Burgess-Indraji No. 7, does not give any further indication of what can be meant by the name. The two remaining ones both mention some yavanas who are further characterized as gatas. The first of them, Burgess-Indraji No. 5, runs: —

yavanasa Irilasa gatāna deyadhama be poḍhiyo.

"Gift of two cisterns by the yavana Irila of the gatas."

The second, Burgess-Indraji No. 33, reads: —

yavaṇasa Ciṭasa gatāna bhojaṇamaṭapo deyadhama saghe.

"Gift of a refectory to the community by the yavana Ciṭa of the gatas."

The names Irila and Ciṭa and the word gata do not occur in other inscriptions, and they have not been satisfactorily explained. Professor Lüders thinks that gata represents a Sanskrit garta.5 The only thing which is certain is that the two yavanas are characterized as belonging to the gatas.

Junnar played a rôle of considerable importance under the Western Kṣatrapas. According to Dr. Bhandarkar,6 it was the capital of Nahapāna. There cannot then be any objection to explaining the word yavana, yavaṇa in the Junnar inscriptions as a name of other foreign tribes than the Greek, just as in the case of in the Rudradāman inscription. Intimately denote any of those tribes which formed the following of the Kṣatrapas.

The name of the yavana of No. 5 is Irila, and this word leads me to think that the gata‑yavanas were in reality Goths. Irila is the regular Gothic form of a well-known Germanic name. It is found in Runic inscriptions from  p381 By and Veblunganes in Norway, Kragehul in Denmark, and Lindholm and Varnum in Sweden as Erila, Eirila.7 The word is essentially identical with Anglo-Saxon eorl, English earl, Old Norse jarl, Old Saxon erl, and it is further connected with the ethnic name eruli, heruli. There are also several names in Germanic languages which contain the base erla.

The name Ciṭa of the gata of the Junnar inscription No. 33 can also be explained as a Gothic name. In an old Runic inscription from Tjurkö in Sweden occurs a name Helda. The Gothic form of this word would be Hild‑. The initial h must have had a sound similar to the modern German ch in the Gothic language of the second century, and it is quite conceivable that an Indian would have tried to mark this sound by the palatal c. An ld would probably become lt, lṭ, as is commonly the case in modern vernaculars. Dr. Grierson has been good enough to inform me that, at the present day, the English ld becomes, in some mouths lṭ, and in other mouths l‑ḍ. In the latter case the two letters are separated as if in different syllables. If a Gothic name Hilda were adopted in the form Cilta or Cilṭa, the result in a Prakrit dialect would be Ciṭa or Ciṭṭa, both of which would be written Ciṭa. It is therefore quite possible that Ciṭa is an attempt at reproducing the sounds of a Gothic name Hild‑.

Both Irila and Ciṭa are characterized as gatas, and this latter word is the regular Indian form corresponding to Latin goti, the Goths.

The oldest indigenous forms of the name of the Goths, which occur in the inscription on the gold ring from Pietroassa,8 gutaniowihailag, and in the words gut‑þiudai, in the Gothic people, in the fragment of a Gothic  p382 calendar preserved in the Codex Ambrosianus A of Wulfila, contain an u and not an o in the first syllable. The Gothic language differs from other Germanic tongues in retaining an old u in such cases where the following syllable contains an a or an o. The Goths must accordingly have called themselves gutans or gutōs and not gotans or gotōs.9 It is, however, remarkable that their ethnic name has been adopted in so many foreign languages in forms which seem to presuppose an original gotans or gotōs. The o of Anglo-Saxon gotan, Old Norse gotar, does not, it is true, private anything, because it can be explained as due to the laws prevailing in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse respectively. The state of affairs is different, however, when we turn to the forms which the name of the Goths assumed in Latin and Greek.

The oldest classical authority who mentions the Goths is Pliny. He mentions the guttones among the five Germanic nations who, according to him, lived on the shores of the Baltic (IV.99). In another passage, XXXVII.35, he reproduces a statement made by Pytheas from Marseilles, about a tribe which lived near the Frische Haff and traded in amber. The name of the tribe has been handed down in the manuscripts in the forms guiones, gutones, guttones, and gotones, and should probably be read guttones, though the famous German scholar Müllenhoff was of opinion that we should correct into teutones. Guttones or gutones represent the old Gothic gutans. The same is the case with the Greek form Γύθωνες of Ptolemy (III.V.20). Most classical authors, however, use forms containing an o in the first syllable. Thus Tacitus calls the Goths gotones (Annals, II.62) or gothones (Germania, 43), both of which forms apparently reproduce a Gothic gotans. The commonest forms are Latin goti, Greek Γότθοι. The latter is probably the base of Slavonic gotthi, which already occurs in the Legend of  p383 St. Konstantinos (lived ninth century). Goti and Γότθοι seem to reproduce a Gothic gotōs.

Forms such as gotans, gotōs would not be possible in the Gothic of Wulfila. The usual classical forms must, therefore, either belong to other Gothic dialects in which the u in the name of the nation had become o, or they must have come to the classical peoples indirectly through some other Germanic tribe, or they might be an inaccurate rendering of the Gothic word. If I am right in identifying the gatas of the Junnar inscriptions with the Goths, the only theory which will suit the facts is, I think, that the various forms goti, Γότθοι, gata have all been taken from some Gothic dialect which agreed with most Germanic tongues in changing an old u to o when an a or o occurred in the following syllable. For the Indians have always been keen observers of sounds, and would not easily confound an o and an u, and those who wrote the word gata in the Junnar inscriptions can only have heard the original denomination from the mouth of these gatas themselves.

Now we know next to nothing about Gothic dialects. The Goths, the Gepides, the Vandals, the Burgunds, the Herules, and the Rugians form a source group of Teutonic tribes, and the Goths who began to push southwards about the middle of the second century were certainly not an unmixed tribe. According to Richard Löwe,10 the Goths of the Crimea were properly Herules, and their dialect in later times presents some peculiar features. One of these is of interest in the present connexion, viz. the substitution of o for u before an a or o; compare boga, bow. There is no reason for doubting that this change is old in the dialect, and we would then have a Gothic language of the kind needed in order to explain the forms Latin goti, Greek Γότθοι, Indian gata.

To sum up, it will be seen that the word gata, which  p384 has hitherto remained unexplained, exactly corresponds to Latin goti, and that we know of a Gothic dialect in which the name of the Goths must have contained an o in the base. The two names Irila and Ciṭa, moreover, seem to be the Gothic forms of two well-known Teutonic names. Both Irila and Ciṭa are called yavanas, and this denomination was not, in the second century, restricted to the Greeks. Finally, it seems impossible to explain the words gata, Irila, and Ciṭa in any other way. Taken together, all these points make it highly probable that Irila and Ciṭa were two Goths, who had found their way to India and entered the service of the Western Kṣatraps.

It is more difficult to see whence these Goths can have come to India. We know from Ptolemy that about the middle of the second century the Goths were still dwelling on the banks of the Vistula. Their southward movement is generally believed to have had some connexion with the war against the Markomanni (166‑80 A.D.), and it is often stated that they did not archaic the Black Sea before the beginning of the third century. Irila and Ciṭa could not, in that case, well have come from that neighbourhood. Their home must have been the north, either the country on the Vistula, or Scandinavia, or the Danish isles. Jordanes (ch. 4) tells us that the Goths had come ex Scandza insula, and the Herules who are mentioned as the old inhabitants of Southern Scandinavia, Denmark, and the Danish isles have certainly been their near kindred. The names Irila and Ciṭa, however, can hardly hail from any of these countries, because the old northern forms of these names contain an e and not an i in the first syllable. It therefore seems necessary to infer that Irila and Ciṭa had come from the country where Ptolemy locates the Goths, viz. the banks of the Vistula. In this connexion the statement of Pliny, that the Goths traded in amber, if we adopt the reading guttonibus in XXXVII.35, is of some interest. It might be conceived that Irila and  p385 Ciṭa had left their home as traders in amber, that they had proceeded to Rome, and thence to Asia, where they were attracted by the fame of the riches of India. The desire to see foreign countries and to accumulate fame and wealth probably urged them to leave their home, just as we find it to have been the case with the Vikings in later times. Archaeologists, however, state that there are some indications that the Goths have been settled on the Black Sea at a much earlier date than is usually assumed. In that case the appearance of Goths in Ancient India is more easily explained. It has already been remarked that the word gata seems to represent a form which is in accordance with the rules prevailing in the dialect of the Goths of the Crimea, and the most likely assumption is perhaps that Irila and Ciṭa originally came from that neighbourhood.

The Author's Notes:

1 "Die Griechen in Indien": Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1890, pp901 ff.

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2 Compare Kielhorn, Epigraphia Indica, vol. IV, p246.

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3 Epi. Ind., vol. VIII, pp36 ff.

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4 See Burgess & Bhagwanlal Indraji, Inscriptions from the Cave-temples of Western India, Bombay, 1881, pp41 ff.

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5 List of Brahmi Inscriptions, Epi. Ind., vol. X, appendix, Nos. 1154, 1182.

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6 Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, vol. I, pt. II, p160.

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7 See Sophus Bugge, Norges Indskrifter med de ældre Runer, [vol. I], pp100 ff., 195 ff.; Kristiania, 1893‑95.

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8 See Rudolf Henning, Die Deutschen Runendenkmäler; Strassburg, 1889, pp27 ff.

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9 It seems as if the oldest form was an u‑base and not an a‑base.

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10 Die Reste der Germanen am schwarzen Meere, Halle, 1896, pp111 ff.

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