In my previous post, I discussed the hypothetical Helleno-Uralic immaterial culture. In this post, I will now discuss the foundations of the Helleno-Uralic material culture: The methods of physical exchange between the ancient Greek and Uralic peoples.

Once again, I partly draw on the the reconstruction of the Proto-Uralic material culture by Ante Aikio in his paper Proto-Uralic (p. 47), as an outline for which objects can be considered relevant to the reconstruction of the Helleno-Uralic contact period.

The Helleno-Uralic material culture, as I reconstruct it, was relevant to the settlement of Hellenic colonists along the northern Black Sea during the Archaic period of ancient Greece. This expansion relied on nautical transportation between the Greek homeland and what is today southern Ukraine and southwest Russia. As such, the Helleno-Uralic material culture centered on ships. During this contact period, ships would have been used for travel along the river systems of northeast Europe: Especially the Dnieper and Don rivers, at the mouths of which were founded the Hellenic settlements of Olbia and Tanais*, respectively. In addition, through the use of portages, travel might have been made possible to neighboring rivers. This will be discussed in detail in an upcoming post on the dating and locating of Helleno-Uralic contact.

For now, I will focus on the lexical reconstruction of the Helleno-Uralic ship, its accessories; and other terms I find relevant to the traveling material culture (but not the traded materials themselves, which I will discuss in a later post). I will address one term found in Aikio’s material reconstruction (*tukta = *dugātā́), as well as my own additions pertaining to specifically Helleno-Uralic contact. These terms are not representative of all the material culture(s) of the period, but represent the catalyst for the development and continuation of exchange between the Hellenic and Uralic peoples.

*Tanais was not founded until the Hellenistic period of ancient Greece, which postdates the beginning of Helleno-Uralic contact. However, Greeks were present in the locale of the Tanais settlement since the 7th century BCE (cf. Taganrog settlement). In addition, the major and relatively nearby Archaic settlement of Pantikapaion had already been established in the 7th century BCE.


boat (FV), ark (He.)
Fi. venho, NSa. vanas, Er. venč / венч << PFV **venos* <?> He. vē̃nos / βῆνος (“= κιβωτός“)

The Uralic languages have inherited various terms for ‘boat’ from the IE languages. Jorma Koivulehto describes PFV *veneš < PIE/PreII/Early PII *wen-(e/o-) (cf. PII *wán- ‘tree, wood’ > Sanskrit vána / वन – with PFV *veneš being “… so far, the only case on the strength of which an old deverbal suffix -eš has been posited…”. I do not have an opinion on the validity of U *-eš; but I rather reconstruct an original PFV *venos < IE *-os (eg: He. -os / -ος), based on HS aídalos and pā̃ros (PS *-ës < He. -ος), and Fi. venho, from which I reconstruct venho < PF *venoh < PFV **venos (cf. Fi. venhe < PF *veneh). The provenance of He. βῆνος is unclear, but it can not be directly inherited from PIE *wen-, as He. would not reflex β- from PIE *w-: So its consideration as a loan is more likely. Loaning from II (i.e. Scythian) does not explain well the presence of He. -ē̃-, unless it were an Attic-Ionic development from an original Doric *βᾶνος. This is perhaps a worthwhile consideration in light of HU *dugātā́; but re: Uralic, PFV *ven- shows a stronger correspondence, which rather suggests U > H loaning, regardless of the ultimate origin of the PFV term. However, given the morphology of the term (*-os), U < H loaning can not be ruled out – in which case the appropriate HFV reconstruction might rather include initial v͔- (representative of a previous /b/).

*My reconstruction of PFV **venos is incomplete due to 1. Lack of clarity on the Moksha reflex (Koivulehto provides Mo. venəš, while Neahttadigisánit provides venež / венеж; and 2. The perceived irregularity of Er. venč, where venaz might be expected (cf. HEr. kʰówos, kǐ́rios): Perhaps the Er. phonology relates to the partial FS process of -nVs>-ns/h(V), as seen in Kildin Sa. vens, Ter Sa. vâns, and Fi. venho/e.

skápʰos ~ skápʰē
boat (Mansi); ship, light boat, skiff (He.)
Mansi xāp / ха̄п <? He. skápʰos / σκάφος ~ skápʰē / σκάφη < skáptō / σκάπτω < ?

This proposal assumes s- loss due to Uralic restrictions on initial consonant clusters. PFU *k > Man. χ is regular (cf. PFU *konɜ (*kana) >> Man. χanəl / ханул). On these grounds, He. >(>) Man. loaning seems reasonable; but FEE describes potential loaning of the He. verb σκάπτω from a European substratum: So a conclusion would be premature.

pulk, small sled pulled by a person or animal (PS); small boat towed after a ship (He. [as ἐφολκίς])
PS *pulkke < He. epʰolkḗ / ἐφολκή? ‘tension, pull, dragging, towing’ <1 PIE *selk-

PS *pulkke appears to align phonologically with He. ἐφολκή, but semantically with ἐφολκίς. Perhaps *pulkke was a unique nominalization of fem. adj. ἐφολκή < ἐφολκός > Fi. polku (cf. polkea << He. *ἐφολκέω [*= ἐφέλκω ‘to drag or trail after one’] < επί ‘upon’ + ὁλκέω ‘to pull, haul [esp. a ship]’).

There is a discussion that needs to take place re: initial e- loss – as well as PF *-edak vs. He. -έω (there are a variety of situations where F and H terms and morphemes are phonologically identical with the exception of *-d- between two vowels) – but I will save this discussion for Phonology.

crossbar or seat in a boat (PU); rowing bench in a ship (He.)
PU *tukta < He. *dugātā́ / *δυγατά ~ zdugētḗ / ζυγητή <1? PIE *yugóm ‘yoke’

The semantics, as found in Hsch., rely on “= κλεὶς”: ‘bar, bolt, rowing bench in a ship’. It is easy to assume this meaning applied, because the more basic He. form zdugón / ζυγόν likewise meant ‘crossbar, thwarts/benches joining the opposite sides of a ship (in pl. ζυγά)’. As for the phonetics, the He. form is somewhat ambiguous: PU *-a parallels Dor. -ά – further justified in an expected Dor. δ- for Att./Ion. ζ- (cf. δυγός ~ ζυγός) – although a Dor. form of ζυγητή is not attested, requiring my own reconstruction as HU *dugātā́. However, Ko. sti̮k ‘crossbar’ shows s-, not found in other U reflexes. This is explained as “secondary”, which I neither agree nor disagree with. If it is secondary, He. d- > PU *t- could be attributed – if rather primary, He zd- > PU *(s)t- could also be suitable. Re. medial -ā- loss in Uralic, a comparison is drawn with HFS tʰy̌́gatēr > Early PS *tüktär. This does not explain HU *-gāt- > PU *-kt- >> Sa. -tk- in totko: But since PU *tukta >> Sa. totko has already been reconstructed, I do not attempt to resolve this.

mḗlē ~ mḗlǣ?
paddle, rudder (PU); probe, specillum (He.)
PFP *melä <> He. mḗlē / μήλη < ?

The overall vowel correspondence is unclear, as the reconstruction mḗlǣ would imply that α>η occurred asymmetrically (if μήλη < *μα-λα). Alternatively, FP > He. loaning is not ruled out, given the unknown etymology of He. μήλη. Re. semantic distance: Compare the shape of the specillum.

bottom (of a vessel)
PFP *puntɜ-ksɜ ~ PU *puntaksi > PMa. *pŭndaš ~ (Pre)PMa. **pŭndakS? > He. púndaks / πύνδαξ < ?
Con. “Germanic loanword mediated through a northern Balkan language” (Mihaylova 2016, p. 312), as would be evidenced by H Púdna / Πύδνα (a place in Macedonia; see Kretschmer 1933, pp. 115-119). However, FEE describes this proposal (along with several others) as unconvincing. I am also unconvinced, due to the lack of both evidence and need for H -dn- > -nd-; or PreH -dn- > H -nd- metathesis (see below).

If PU *puntaksi < PII b(ʰ)udʰna- continues to be accepted without objection (Holopainen 2019, p. 194), then He. πύνδαξ, of PreH origin, bears closer affinity to U than II in three regards: p-, -nd/t-, and -k-:

p-: Α “convincing” explanation has not been made for He. π- vs. φ- (FEE), which could rather be derived from a U *p- without phonological issue.

-nd/t-: He. presents -tn- (πότνια), -tʰ- (ἔθνος), and -dn- (ὕδνον – from PreH): So internal metathesis from an II or Pre-Greek loan would be unnecessary. This does not, however, explain -nd- < PU *-nt-, where instead PMa. *pŭndaš agrees with He. -nd-.

-k-: Neither -ks nor -Hs are present in PII *bʰudʰnás, leaving open the comparison of the denominative PU suffix *-ksɜ (UUE p. 117) with He. -(α)ξ, although this comparison is made strictly on a phonological vs. morphological basis, since “-ks(V)” has not yet been demonstrated as a HU suffix; and He. -αξ is a suffix found in both IE and PreH etymologies (eg: IE κόραξ and μεῖραξ, PreH λάβραξ and σκύλαξ). However, in light of the Ma. variant pŭntakš (UEW #1512), I posit (Pre)PMa. **pŭndakS, which would phonologically parallel He. púndaks, and imply a PMa. ~ PrePMa. > He. loan. Based on this, I reconstruct HMa. púndaks ~ *púndakS with the meaning ‘bottom (of a vessel)’, where “vessel” could refer to a container, sled, or possibly ship (cf. Ma. pundaš / пундаш “кленча, тер пундаш” = ‘bottom of a bottle, sled’ [MED]).

Based on this information, I reconstruct HMa. púndaks ~ púndakS with the meaning ‘bottom (of a vessel)’, where “vessel” could refer to a container, sled, or possibly ship.

handle (Fi.); handle, handle of an oar, oar (He.)
PF kahva <? He. kṓpā (cf. kṓpē / κώπη) << PIE *kóh₂p-eh₂

The exact reasoning behind the phonological shifts is uncertain. He. -ṓ- > PF *-a- vs. He. ō̃ > PF *-oo- may be due to the acute vs. circumflex accentuation. The original reconstruction of F *-h- is reminiscent of PIE *-h₂-: Perhaps this laryngeal was still pronounced in archaic Greek; or perhaps it was a F innovation (cf. Fi. kahvi < Swe. kaffe). He. -p- > F -v- is regular.

laĩf͔os ~ laíf͔ē ~ laĩf͔a ~ laív͔a
ship (Fi.); sail (He.)
PF *laiva > He. laĩf͔os / λαῖφος ~ laíf͔ē / λαίφη ~ laĩf͔a / λαῖφα ~ laív͔a / λαίβα < ?

The definition of He. λαίβα as τρίβων ‘worn garment, threadbare cloak’ may relate to λαῖφος/λαίφη ‘shabby, tattered garment; piece of cloth or canvas, sail’ (modern He. λαίφος means ‘small sail’); and is also defined as ἀσπίς ‘shield’, as with laĩpʰa / λαῖφα (and pl. acc. λαίας). The etymological connection between these terms is unknown; but all are defined as “Pre-Greek” due to the phonetic variations. Since PF *laiva has a clear etymology with regular phonology, it is suitable to consider the various He. terms as the result of PF > H loaning. The semantic discrepancy of Fi. ‘ship’ with He. ‘sail’ and ‘shield’ is unresolved; I speculate that the He. terms may have originally described the Finnic sails and vessels – perhaps in a pejorative manner. He. λαῖφος is attested in Homer’s Odyssey with the meaning ‘ragged cloth, poor garment’, with the meaning ‘sail’ found in other Archaic poetry: So it is unclear which meaning was original. The phonetic ambiguity of HF -f͔- ~ -v͔-, along with the the semantic variation between terms, makes this proposal uncertain. The HU value f͔ suggests a later loan, but these terms were present since the Archaic period, which is synchronous with initial contact: So it may rather be that He. pʰ / φ was the closest phonetic approximation (along with b / β for PF *v) that was available at the time and place of loaning.

askérā ~ askérē ~ áskaros?
step (PU); shoe (He.)
PU *aśke-lɜ ~ *aśkili ~ *aćkali- <> He. ἀσκέρα ~ ἀσκέρη ~ ἄσκαρος? < ?

The direction of loaning is unclear due to ambiguity of the PU suffix *-li; but PU has a more basal verb root *aśke ~ *aćka- ‘to step’. He. ἀσκέρα ‘winter shoe with fur lining’ has been compared with ἄσκαρος ‘type of shoe’, compared with askós / ἀσκός ‘bag made of animal skin’, compared with askéō / ἀσκέω ‘to work on, form, exercise, train’ – which are all of Pre-Greek or unknown etymologies. Also compare Fi. askare ‘chore’, of unknown etymology. The discrepancy *-śk- vs. *-ćk- is reminiscent of He. páskos / πάσκος <? PF *paska < PU *paćka ~ *pućka. This might strengthen the argument for a H < U loan.


The type(s) of boat(s) used is unclear; but it is inferred that, due to its description as an ‘ark’, the vē̃nos boat was flat-bottomed: This description is suitable to a boat used for river travel, as it would prevent its púndaks from running aground on the riverbeds – as well as on the shallow depths of the Sea of Azov. Perhaps long-distance travelers would have embarked and disembarked the vē̃nos in one of the colonies of the Bosporus, such as Pantikapaion or Phanagoria (or Olbia if on the Dnieper). From there, the vē̃nos would have been rowed north up the river(s) of Scythia during ice-free months. The rowers of the vē̃nos would have sat upon the *dugātā́, and rowed their mḗlē in unison. Sails were probably not a major feature of this boat.

The skápʰos appears to be (in the Helleno-Uralic world) a Ugric phenomenon, which might attest nautical travel along rivers better suited to small vessels, in an area outside the more central Helleno-Finno-Volgaic(-Permic) zone. This will be discussed more in an upcoming post.

The pʰolkḗ might have been a barge towed by the vē̃nos; or alternatively, a sled pulled over land and ice by some means – perhaps the primary form of winter travel, perhaps on the same frozen rivers as would have been traveled by the vē̃nos when ice-free. It would be contextually related to the pʰolkós as the path itself, showing tracks of the pʰolkḗ.

The askérā may have been a winter shoe that was suitable to wear in the cold weather of the northern contact zones. It is unclear what roles the kṓpā and laĩf͔os would have played in Helleno-Uralic contact. If they are tenable proposals, they would appear confined to Helleno-Finnic contact.

One thought on “Vē̃nos: Resailing the Finngreek Ship

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