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On the Trail of the Danes - In Asia

3. The Indo-Europeans

The concept of Indo-European peoples originates from the study of languages. The Englishman Thomas Young first used the term "Indo-European".

The Danish language scientist Rasmus Rask from the village of Braendekilde on Funen introduced the comparative study of languages. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, he found, that many languages had an amazing similarity with each other both in terms of grammar and individual words.

Thomas Young 1773 - 1829 Rasmus Rask 1787 - 1835

The Englishman Thomas Young 1773 - 1829 and the Dane Rasmus Rask 1787 - 1835, from Braendekilde on Funen.

This concept has led to, that the languages of the World have been grouped in families, such as the Finno-Ugric languages, Turkish languages, Arabic languages and so on. But also the family of Indo-European languages, which includes all European languages except Finnish, Hungarian, Basque and Estonian and a few others.

For example, "bear" in Russian is called "Medved", which comes from "med" and "ed". "Med" means honey. The old Danish word for a drink made of honey, "mjoed", comes from the same original common Indo-European word for honey. In Greek an intoxicating drink made of honey was called "Methuen", and the ancient Indian Sanskrit called it "Madhu".

"Ed" means "eat" in Russian, we recognize the word in Danish and English and in many other languages as "aede" or "eat". Thus a bear in Russian is called a "honey-eater".


In Russian means "videt" to "know" or "look" which is very close to latin, which states that "video", Greek "idea", Italian "vedere" Spanish "ver", German "wissen", French "voir" Old English "witan" and modern English "wise", and of course in Danish, "at vide".

Another striking example is the basic verb "is" (to be).


Or take an expression like the Danish "gaard" (yard or farm), also meaning a defined or enclosed area.


All these words and many others are very basic words that our ancestors must have uttered from the very first time they learned to speak, for thousands and thousands of years ago. They cannot be loan words, which have been imported from neighboring tribes together with new technology or similar. They must be words, spoken by the Europeans' common ancestors.

Indo-European languages are inflection languages with many grammatical genders and cases, which enables the exchange of very detailed messages about facts and feelings. Many words are similar in various Indo-European languages. Knowledge in Scandinavian is called "viden", in the ancient Indian language Sanskrit it is called "vidya", in Greek "idea", in Latin "video", in English "wisdom" and in German "wissen".

The Indo-European Languages

The Indo-European Languages.

Most people in the Middle East have rejected their original language and replaced it with Arabic, which was the language used by their god, Allah, when he revealed himself to their Prophet Muhammad. No one remembers the original Egyptian Coptic language, the original Syrian Aramaic language that Jesus spoke, or Greek, which was spoken all over in the eastern Mediterranean.

Some ethnic minorities in China have forgotten their own language and speak only Mandarin Chinese. For example, there are only a few left of the Qiang people, who have any idea about that they belong to a particular people and they have long since forgotten their language.

But historically, we must be allowed to assume, that peoples, who speak their own ancient indigenous languages, and who speak a language which they have not been forced on from outside of special political or religious reasons; their origin may be related to their language. Therefore, peoples, who speak old indigenous languages, which have many features and words in common, they may share a common origin far back in history.

Many words are very similar in the various Indo-European languages, such as "mother" and "birch".


All the Earth's continents are so arranged, that along the coasts, the countryside is generally green and fertile, while the interiors of the continents are more dry and more or less desert-like.

Big parts the African interior is occupied by the Sahara and the Kalahari deserts with dusty savannahs in between. In North America, the prairie is stretching from Canada to the desert in Nevada, Arizona and Utah. In the interior of the Eurasian continent, the steppe is extending from the Hungarian Pusta in the west to the plains of eastern Mongolia, occasionally interrupted by the real deserts and mountains.

When the Europeans came to America, the prairie was largely deserted and unpopulated. It is basically a kind of half desert, and no one could find food and survive there. The Indians lived mainly in the forests and on the border between forest and prairie.

However, the Indians got hold of some horses, which had run away from the Spaniards. This enabled them to live on the prairie. And then suddenly the development picked up amazing speed. During only a hundred years grew up a rich prairie Indian culture. Many different tribes cultivated their own traditional rituals and customs. Seen through the eyes of history, this was created with lightning speed.


This must also be, what happened on the Eurasian Steppe thousands of years ago. The old Indo-Europeans were the first to tame the horse. We assume that it happened at the Scythians somewhere in the south of now-a-days Russia at the border between the forest and the steppe around 1000 BC. Thereafter the Scythians and the Sarmatians must have taken possession of the steppe in Europe as well as in Asia in a few hundred years, just as fast as the Indians did it on the American Prairie.

Nobody knows, where the original Indo-European homeland was located, but there is no shortage of theories.

The most widespread theory, the Cuban Theory, says that it was located in the Area north of the Caspian Sea, which once was covered with forest. However, others think that it was located in southern Ukraine or in the valley of the river Danube. Further alternatives are on the Balkan Peninsula, in Scandinavia and in Anatolia of Asia Minor. The Androvno Theory says the Indo European homeland was located in present Uzbekistan. Some think that it was located far against East, in the Chinese Province of Gansu.

The spread of Indo-European languages in our time

The spread of Indo-European languages in our time.

Many Indo-European languages have common words for snow, winter, spring; for dog, horse, cow, sheep and bear but not for camel, lion, elephant or tiger. The languages have often similar words for beech, oak, pine and willow, but not for palm or banyan tree. All this indicates that the Indo-European Homeland was located in the temperate part of the world.

Also, it appears that the Huns, whom the Chinese called "Xiongnu" (also written: Hsiung-Nu), in a similar way had tamed the Asian wild horse, the Przewalski's horse, and had spread over the eastern steppes in current Mongolia and parts of North China. Russian archaeologists have excavated Xiongnu settlements as far north as Ulan Ude at the Bajkal Lake in Siberia. Like their Indo-Europeans the Xiongnu must have been split up in many different, rivaling tribes. In very much the same way as the prairie Indians were in North America were.

An Indo-European people called Yuezhi (Yuch Chi), so named by the Chinese, collided with the Huns somewhere in the modern Chinese Gansu province. The object of the fight was the green and fertile slopes of the Qilian Mountains, which forms the border between the Tibetan highlands and the Gobi desert. Along the foot of mountains runs the Silk Road.

Various theories about the Indo-European homeland

Various theories about the Indo-European homeland.

The existence of the Yuezhi people that lived between Dunhuang and the Qilian Mountains, was first mentioned in a traditional Chinese document called "Shi Ji" by the famous historian Sima Qian.

Yuezhi was armed with spears, swords and bows, they used chain-mail armor. They cut their hair at the shoulders except for the king, who had long hair, bound up with a ribbon. In Europe at the same time, the ancient royal family of the Franks, the Merovings, also had long hair. Just think of Bengtsson's novel "The Longhaired Merovings". Yuezhi lived on farming, animal husbandry and they bred horses. They burnt their dead. They liked to eat fried peacocks, and they were disposed to excessive beer drinking, according to the Chinese sources.

What amazed the Chinese most was that Yuezhi had so much hair on the body and in their face. (From "The Mummies of Urumchi" and "In Search of The Indo-Europeans")

Some researchers believe, that Gansu is the original Indo-European homeland and that Indo-Europeans have lived there "always". Others criticize them and say, that never has such a small tail wagged such a big dog.

The Kushan King Vima Kadphises The Kushan king Kanishka I. The Kushan king Vinhishka

From left to right: The Kushan King Vima Kadphises, the Kushan king Kanishka I and the Kushan king Vhishka. Notice their royal horse tail hairstyle.

Yuezhi was also described as "Hu". A modern Chinese scientist has explained, that the Han Dynasty Chinese called all people, who had deep-set eyes, big nose and full beard, as "Hu" (The Mummies of ...) Other Chinese sources report, that Yuezhi had "white" or "red-white" skin.

Today they are widely accepted as Indo-Europeans; based on the the Tocharian language, which they were supposed to speak, their bearded faces with big noses, which can be seen on the coins issued by their descendants, the Kushans, and the names, they gave to the mountain ranges, limiting the Tibetan highlands in the present Qinghai province to the east and north, Qilian and Kunlun.

A man dressed in typical Yuezhi style - about 200 AC -  Pakistan or India A Yuezhi from Gandhara.

To the left a man dressed in typical Yuezhi style - about 200 AC - Pakistan or India.
To the right a Yuezhi from Gandhara.

The language Tocharian is mainly found on documents, which the explorers in the early twentieth century brought back from Dun-Huang. It was mostly Buddhist sutras, which also are known in other languages. Therefore, the language has been relatively easy to interpret. It comes in two variants, the Tocharian A and Tocharian B. Tocharian B is connected to the area around the city of Kucha.

Generally, Tocharian A is a complete different Indo-European language than Danish. However, there are some words which strikingly remind of some corresponding Danish words.

For example, in Tocharian, "amok" means art or skills. It recalls the Danish expression "go amok", which means to throw away one's inhibitions in unrestrained artistic or violent activity.

To walk in Tocharian is "kaelk", which is exactly the same word, as in Danish for sledging on the snow in wintertime.

"So" or "always" is called "skam", and it is also used in Danish in very much the same sense. For example "hun var skam dygtig i skolen" (She was actually good in school).

"Things" or "substance" are called "wram" in Tocharian and it recalls the old Danish word "kram", such as in the phrase "Nurnberg kram" and in the word "kraemmer" that is a businessman, who deals with "kram".

"Son" is called "se" in Tocharian A and it recalls the traditional Danish surnames such as Niel-sen, Han-sen and so forth, where the "-sen" represents "son". Perhaps the final "n" in the Danish word is a kind of grammatical ending, of which there are many in Indo-European languages.

The Kushan Empire (60 - 375 AC), which was located in the area, which now is made up of Afghanistan and Pakistan, was ruled by descendants of the Yuezhi. They issued coins showing their typical Indo-European faces. They were apparently some bearded types with long noses and big eyes.

Some of the names of their kings also have the typical Indo-European -as suffix, for example, Herai-os and Kadphis-es.

However, the clash with the Huns (Xiong-Nu) at that time in Gansu became fatal for Yuezhi. Xiong-Nu killed the Yuezhi's king and made a drinking cup of his skull. The Huns settled on the slopes of the Qilian mountain slopes, and the main body of the Yuezhi retreated westward, where they later would found the Sogdian city-states and the Kushan Empire.

The Kushan Empire

The Kushan Empire.

Following their victory in Gansu in the year 176 BC, the Xiongnu's Shen-Ju (king) send a notice about his victories to the Chinese emperor: "The Great Shen-yu, by the will of God, ruler of the Hsiung-nu nation, respectfully salutes the Emperor of China. Formerly your Majesty was pleased to express your gratification on the conclusion of a treaty of peace and amity. In the same spirit the Right Sage prince bore without complaint the menacing insults of the Chinese officials on the border; till the matter assumed such dimensions, that ---, you pursued the Right Sage prince, till he was driven westward into the territories of the Yue-te. There, however, heaven favoured our cause: our officers and troops were loyal and true; our horses were strong and spirited; and by slaughter, decapitation, subjugation and pacification, our army effected the complete reduction of the Yue-te (Yuzhi); while Lou-lan, Wu-sun, Hoo-kee and the adjacent kingdoms, to the number of twenty-six in all, without exception, submitted to the Hsiung-nu; and thus all the bowmen nations are united as one family."( fra "Selections from the Han Narrative Histories", based on "The History of Chinese Relations with the Hsiung Nu", translated by Daniel C. Waugh, see link below)

The bigger part of Yuezhi, who traveled west in order to live in peace for the Huns, has been named by the Chinese as "Da Yuezhi", which means "Great Yuezhi". The remaining Yuezhi, who retreated up in the Qilian and Kunlun mountains, they called for "Xiao Yuezhi", which means "Little Yuezhi". Da Yuezhi" first settled in in the west in the Fergana Valley. Some years later they could be found north of the Oxus River, around the city of Samarkand. Even later their descendants created the Kushan Empire and the famous Gandhara culture.

Some believe, that the Chinese were inspired to the name "Da Yuezhi" because the word "Da" sounded like Yuezhi's real name for themselves in Chinese ears. Maybe the name was "Dan" meaning a tribe of indo-european origin living along a river.

In a thousand years The Huns also called Xiongnu, and the Indo-European Scythians and Sarmatians, Yuezhi, Massagetes and others ruled the Eurasian steppe. As the Indo-Europeans were the first in their part of the continent, they gave names to big natural formations such as rivers and mountains, just like the Indians were the first to give names to large natural bodies in North America.

The Peoples in the area that the Romans called Germany after Tacitus The Peoples in Gaul on the time of Cesar

To the left: The peoples in the area, which the Romans called Germania according to Tacitus.
To the right: The peoples of Gallia in the time of Cesar.

The names of the Russian rivers, Danube, Don, Dnieper and Dniester, are all developed from something with Dan. For example, the Dnjester was formerly named Danpastir, Don was called Danakvissel. The river running through Klaipeda in modern Lithuania is simply called Dana.

We have a fairly good knowledge about how the early Indo-Europeans were organized. In "The War in Gaul" of Julius Caesar he tells, how Gaul was divided between many warring peoples, such as Belgians, Helvetetians, Arvenians, Sequanians, Haduerians, Pictones, Bojes and many others.

Tacitus reports about the area, which the Romans called Germania. It was inhabited by Batavians, Cattans, Usipians, Tencterians, Frisians, Chaucians, Suebians, Batavians, Marsians, Suevians, Semnones, Langobards, Gothinians, Osians, Angles and many, many others. In the far north lived Cimbrians and Gotones ruled by powerful kings, he told.

The peoples in Scandinavia according to Jordanes The Greek states during the Peloponnesian War

To the left: The peoples in Scandinavia according to Jordanes.
To the right: The Greek states during the Peloponnesian War.

Some hundred years later Jordanes tells us about the peoples in Scandinavia. It was inhabited by Suehans, Graniers, Auganz, Ostrogoths, Raumariks and many others.

The ancient Greeks were organized in warlike city-states; each state was the traditional enemy of their neighbour-states and they fought numerous wars among each other. It was Athen, Sparta, Corinth, Lesbos, Itaka, Boetia, Corinth with many more.

The Indo-Europeans, who lived on the steppe from Hungary to Gansu, the Scythians, Alans and Sarmatians, Massagetes and most likely numerous more, whose names have never been recorded in the history, may also have been organized in numerous small kingdoms. They all had their songs and stories about their origin, their Gods, kings and heroes. But all this are all lost and forgotten by now. Strabo and Tacitus have preserved a few of their names.

Tattoos found on the body of a Scythian warrior in a permafrozen tomb from 400 BC A long-bearded scythian strings his bow

Left: Tattoos found on the body of a Scythian warrior in a permafrozen tomb from 400 BC
Right: A long-bearded scythian strings his bow

The long-bearded Scythians pictured themselves on their golden jars.
A sarmatian and his horse, from a tomb at Pazyryk 400 BC

A sarmatian and his horse, from a tomb at Pazyryk 400 BC.

The ancient Greeks described the Scythians. They had impressive full beards. They were tattooed all over the body. They took the scalps of their defeated enemies, most likely some other Scythian people, living nearby. The buried their dead in burial mounds, and they had vast amounts of gold. One of the few things known about a Scythian people is that their king was called Conan. It has caused a comic book and a film about, "Conan the Barbarian", with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the leading part.

When the Romans later sent expeditions out on the steppe, they fought against peoples named Ari and As. Before also Alexander the Great had met Ari in the eastern part of modern Iran.

Also, the Sogdians who roughly lived in what now is Uzbekistan, Yuezhi's more or less direct descendants, were divided into several rivalizing cities and states. It must be assumed, that this has been one of the main causes, why they could not resist the newly converted muslims when they attacked in 705 AC.

Schytians bring forward tributes to the Persian king  - From Persepolis 200 AC

Schytians bring forward tributes to the Persian king - From Persepolis 200 AC.

Indo-Europeans have since time immemorial organized themselves in some small manageable kingdoms, separated from each other by rivers, forests, swamps and mountains. There must have been hundreds of kingdoms, from Gaul in the West, over Germania, Scytia, Sarmatia and all the way over the steppe to Gansu.

A kingdom was situated so far to the east, that there also lived dwarfs. A princess, with a skin as white as snow, was driven out of the royal castle by her evil stepmother. She found refuge in the mountains of the seven dwarves, who earned their living as miners. (See Chapter 5. The Dwarfs were from China)

Life in such a manageable kingdom must have been something like to live in Iceland. Anywhere you can meet familiar faces, which you have seen before in one or another context. Coming to a new place, you will always find someone, who knows someone in your family, a former classmate, a former colleague, a neighbour or similar.
A Schytian warrior preserved by the permafrost near the Altai mountains in Siberia

A Schytian warrior preserved by the permafrost near the Altai mountains in Siberia.

Awareness of common descent and loyalty to their sacred royal family, have been the sentiments that made the individuals of each and every nation stick together. It was a man's greatest honour to fall in battle, and they looked down on old men, who did not die by weapons.

Thus, in the Old Norse poem Havamal, it is said:

"A coward believes he will live forever when he is hiding in the battle.
But he will not find peace in his old days."

Herodotus reports, that Solon, the famous legislator from Athens, visited Croesus, King of Lydia.

The Lydians were one of the Indo-European peoples, who lived in Asia Minor in ancient times before the Turks arrived. Kong Kroesus was known for his enormous wealth.

A page of the medieaval Icelandic document which contains Havamal Solon visits king Croesus of Lydia - painting by Honhorst from the seventeenth century

Left: A page of the medieval Icelandic document which contains Havamal.
Right: Solon visits king Croesus of Lydia - A painting by Honhorst from the seventeenth century.

Croesus asked Solon: "Well, my Athenian friend, I have heard a lot about your wisdom, and about how far you have traveled in your quest for wisdom. I can't resist my desire to ask you a question: Who is the happiest man you ever saw?"

Croesus expected, that the answer would be that he was the happiest man because he had so much gold.

But Solon refused to flatter the king. He replied: "An Athenians named Tellus"

Kroesus asked bluntly: "And what is your reason for this choice?"

"There are good reasons," said Solon, "First, his city was prosperous, and he had good sons, and he lived long enough to see grandchildren being born to each of his sons, on the other hand, he had wealth enough after our standard, and he had a glorious death. In a battle with the neighbouring state of Eleusis he fought for his people, and drove out the enemy and died as a brave man; and the Athenians awarded him with the honour of a public funeral on the very spot where he fell."

All these Indo-European peoples loathed, in general their nearest neighbours and led wars against them, very much in the same way as Danes and Swedes, French and Germans have hated and fought each other throughout history.

The Roman Cornelius Tacitus

The Roman officer and historian Cornelius Tacitus.

Tacitus described how these peoples only could win glory in battle. For example, when the neighbouring tribes at the nearest exterminated the Bructians: "Over 60,000 men fell, not for the Roman weapons of war, but what is even more delightful, in front of us, to our entertainment. (33.2) If only, therefore, so is my prayer, the barbarians, if not for their love to us, but in their hatred of each other, must continue to exist, since destiny can't bring us something, that is better luck than our enemies mutual hostility, when the fate of the Empire drives us forward."

In the classical document "Weilu" the Chinese author tells about their western neighbours: "At this time, there were 36 kingdoms. Later they divided up into more than 50. From the Jianwu period ( 25AC to 55AC) until our time, they have torn each other to pieces and destroyed each other, and now there are 20 kingdoms." So wrote the learned Chinese in the third century.

A stone man at the Ili River plain Stone men from present Mongolia

Left: A stone-man at the Ili River plain.
Right: Stone-men in present Mongolia.

On the plains at the Ili River, at the salty lake Issyk Kul and in Mongolia stand the stone men. A Russian explorer who visited them at the end of the nineteenth century commented that they could be found on the whole steppe from Silesia in southern Poland to Mongolia. They are very old, and many believe, some of them are of early Indo-European origin. A big part, however, has been erected by the Western Turks. Unfortunately, I have no picture of the stone men from Poland.

Stone men from the plain at lake Issyk Kul Stone figures from the plain at the salty lake Issyk Kul

Left: Stone men from the plain at the salty lake Issyk Kul.
Right: Stone men from the plain at the lake Issyk Kul. Notice the typical Scythian caps.

Tocharian languages - wikipedia
Glossary Tocharian
Scythian material culture - Olena Fialko - Institute of Archaeology, Kiev, Ukraine
The History of Chinese Relations with the Hsiung Nu - translatet by Daniel C. Waugh

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