Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Bran Vran

We know that Celts from the Balkans went to Asia minor and formed Galatia. What most people don't know is that maps of Celtic Europe are seriously out of date, and that Celts lived permanently and for a long time much further down south covering the whole territory of Serbia. Strabo in his book on Getae says:
The Amphilochians are Epirotae, as also are those nations who inhabit a rugged country situated above and close to the Illyrian mountains, the Molotti, Athamanes, Aethiceas, Tymphaei, Orestae Paroraei, and Atintanes, some of whom approach nearer to Macedonia, others to the Ionian Gulf. It is said that Orestes possessed the territory Orestias at the time of his flight, after the murder of his mother, and left the country bearing his name, where also he had built a city called Orestic Argos. With these people are intermixed Illyrian nations, some of whom are situated on the southern part of the mountainous district, and others above the Ionian Gulf. For above Epidamnus and Apollonia, as far as the Ceraunian mountains, live the Bulliones, Taulantii, Parthini, and Brygi...
Somewhere near are the silver mines of Damnstium. 
 ...The Molotti also were Epirotae, and were subjects of Pyrrhus Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, and of his descendants who were Thessalians. The rest were governed by native princes. Some tribes were continually endeavouring to obtain the mastery over the others, but all were finally defeated by the Macedonians, except a few situated above the Ionian Gulf. They gave the name of Upper Macedonia to the country about Lyncestis, Pelagonia, Orestias, and Elimia. Later writers called it Macedonia the Free, and some extend the name of Macedonia to all the country as far as Corcyra, at the same time assigning as their reasons, the mode of cutting their hair, their language, the use of the chlamys, and similar things in which they resemble the Macedonians; some of them, however, speak two languages. On the dissolution of the Macedonia empire, they fell under the power of the Romans.
Damnstium has been found near town of Vranje in southern Serbia, 10 miles from where i come from and where people still use "Celtic" crosses. 

Strabo never mentions Celts, he Talks about Ilyrians, but the archeological finds show Celtic, Maceodian and Greek presence living together in the same locality.

Here is amended map of "Celtic" lands:

Here is amended map of "La Tene" lands:

The city of Damnstium has had at least three thousand inhabitants, and the town covered four or five acres. Since 2001. when the archaeological excavations began, only six or seven per cent of the surface had been explored....The site is unique because of the fact that we have an ancient material that has been developed in the Greek workshops, we have authentic material that is done here in the workshops based on the Greek model, and we have a material that is typical of Scordisci. In the Central Balkan area has not provided Greek material so far north or Scordici material so far south. You can read about the archaeological locality Damnstium here

So Celts, led by Brennus, went from Balkans to Asia minor and formed Galatia. What is not widely known is that names Brennus, Brennos are another evidence of a very old and strong link between the Slavs and Celts. Let me show you what i mean.
Brennus (or Brennos) is the name of two Gaulish chieftains famous in ancient history:
Brennus (4th century BC), chieftain of the Senones, a Gallic tribe originating from the modern areas of France known as Seine-et-Marne, Loiret, and Yonne; in 387 BC, in the Battle of the Allia, he led an army of Cisalpine Gauls in their attack on Rome.
Brennus (3rd century BC), one of the leaders of the army of Gauls who invaded Macedon and central Greece and defeated the assembled Greeks at Thermopylae.
The recurrence of the name Brennus makes it possible that it was a title rather than a proper name. Some 19th century scholars connected the name with the modern Welsh word "breenhín", and Irish words "branán, braine, braineach" meaning "a prince, a chief, leader". There is also an Irish name "Bran" with the same meaning. As early as the 12th century AD, authors such as Geoffrey of Monmouth (in his Historia Regum Britanniae were connecting the name Brennus with the Welsh personal name Bran (spelt Vran, Uran, Fran in old Welsh) meaning "Crow".
There is a very interesting story about roman military commander Marcus Valerius Corvus Calenus
Marcus Valerius Corvus Calenus (c. 370 – c. 270 BC) was an important military commander and politician from the early-to-middle period of the Roman Republic. A member of the Patrician gens Valeria, Valerius first came to prominence in 349 BC when he served as a Military tribune under the consul Lucius Furius Camillus who was on campaign against the Gauls of northern Italy. According to legend, prior to one battle a gigantic Gallic warrior challenged any Roman to single combat, and Valerius, who asked for and gained the consul’s permission, accepted. As they approached each other, a raven settled on Valerius’ helmet and it distracted the enemy's attention by flying at his face, allowing Valerius to kill the enemy Gaul. The two armies then fought, resulting in the Gallic forces being comprehensively routed, and ending in a decisive Roman victory. As a reward for his courage, Valerius was apparently given a gift of ten oxen and a golden crown, and he was eventually given the agnomen Corvus, which is the Latin term for a raven.
It is very interesting that Galls actually used helmets with raven totems standing on top of them. 

Celtic helm with raven totem, from Satu Mare (Romania)

In  Breton word Bran means Raven and Crow. There is also word marcʼhvran which means raven.

In Welsh, word frân mean crow and word gigfran means raven. Fran is in old Welsh also spelt Bran, Vran and Uran.

In Irish, word bran means raven.

In Serbian we have these two words:

Bran - defend, protect, be a barrier
Vran - black, Crow

In Bulgarian Vrana means both crow and raven.

Here are the Bran (defend) and Vran (crow, black) word clusters from Serbian:


Bran, brani - defend, protect, be a barrier
Braniti - defend, protect, watch over. From bran(i) + ti = defend + you
Brana - dam, wall, fence, defence, barrier, defender
Branik - border, fence, defence
Branan, Branjan, Branjanj, Branitelj - Defender. This is the exact equivalent of the
Welsh word "breenhín", and the Irish word "branán".
Zabraniti - to dam, to forbid, to put the wall or fence around something
Zabran - holly forest in which religious ceremonies are held and in which it is forbidden to cut trees, anything walled. In Serbia in even today fields are not walled, but marked with standing stones. In the past, only sacred places were walled, fenced off.

Derived personal names:

Brana, Branča - both male and female name meaning defender
Branko - male name meaning defender or defend it, in which case it was given to children to protect them from evil. From bran(i) + go = defend + it, him
Branislav, Branislava - male and female names meaning defender of faith. From bran(i) + slav = defend + faith
Branimir - male name meaning defender of peace. From bran(i) + mir = defend + peace
Branivoj - male name meaning defender soldier, border guard. From bran(i) + voj = defend + soldier
Branibor - male name meaning defender of god. From bran(i) + bor = defend + god
Branan, branjan, branjanj - defender, protector, maintainer. The name of fire part in Serbian Triglav Sun-Thunder-Fire triade. The equivalent of Brahma from Vedic Trimurti. The fire was in the prehistory the protector of human race, from both wild animals and cold. From Bran(i) + on = defend + he.

Toponyms: Branič, Brangović, Brankovina, Brančić, Braničevo, Branešci, Branetići, Branica, Branik, Branovo, Branoslavci...

Mountains: Branište, Branojevac,  Branova glava (Bran's head)


Vran - Black.

Crows are black. They are one of very few completely black things in nature in Europe. So it is natural that association was made between black and crow. This is why in Serbian Vran means both crow and black. Of all the languages in which we find Bran, Vran, Varan, Varun word for crow, only Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Czech and Polish have vran, vron as a word for black as well. This is a potential sign of how old this word is and which language it comes from.

Vrana - Crow, Black bird
Gavran - Raven, Black bird that talks. Govor + vran = govvran = gavran. You can see ravens talk here and here.
Linguist Derek Bickerton, building on the work of Bernd Heinrich, has recently argued that ravens are one of only four known animals (the others being bees, ants, and humans) who have demonstrated displacement, the capacity to communicate about objects or events that are distant in space or time from the communication. Young, unmated Common Ravens roost together at night, but usually forage alone during the day. However, when one discovers a large carcass guarded by a pair of adult ravens, he will return to the roost and communicate his find. The next day, a flock of young ravens will fly to the carcass, and chase off the adults. Bickerton argues that the advent of linguistic displacement was perhaps the most important event in the evolution of human language, and that ravens are the only other vertebrate to share this with humans.
Vranac - Black horse
Vranja - black sheep
Vrana kosa, Vrane oči - black hair, black eyes

Surnames derived from Vran: Vran, Vrana, Vraneš, Vranješević

Place names derived from Vran: Vrana, Vranje, Vranovci, Vranić, Vranče, Vrančići, Vraneši, Vraneštica, Vraneši, Vranište, Vranpotok, Vranjače, Vranjevići, Vranke...

Mountains: Vran, Vranica, Vranji Vrh, Vranj, Vranjevina, Vrana Stena, Gavran, Vranjača, Vranija...

We can see from the spelling of word for crow in Breton, Welsh, Irish and Serbian (Bran, Vran, Fran, Uran) that B, F, V, W (which later turned to U) are basically interchangeable sounds which depend on accent and dialect.

The name of Gaulish leader Brennus, Brennos could therefore be a personal name derived from a word "bran" meaning to defend: Brannas = bran + nas = defends + us = our defender.

Irish word for chief "branán, braine, braineach" as well as the Welsh word for chief "breenhín" are all derived from "bran" meaning to defend. The main role of a tribal chief was to defend its people. It is the same with Irish Surnames O'Branáin, O'Branagáin, O'Brannie.

Words "bran" meaning to defend and "vran" meaning crow, black are actually related and are both derived from the sound that crows make. The sound that crow makes is something that sounds like craaw, graaw, wraaw, raaw. 

I believe that people originally used characteristic sounds of animals as their names and that onomatopoeic animal names are some of the oldest words in human languages. The number of preserved onomatopoeic animal names in one language tells us how conservative and how old the language is. I talk about language development here

Early people needed to be able to communicate and tell other people that they see or hear a particular animal. This ability to communicate a presence of a particular animal, was extremely important for hunter gatherers. They needed to coordinate their actions and either escape or defend themselves from predators, or attack and kill pray for food. 
But at that stage in the language development there were no words, no grammar, no language that could be used to describe the animal and draw other people's attention to it.

How would you tell other people from your group that you see an animal without an ability to describe it using complex language? The easiest way is to use the characteristic animal sound. Everyone in the group shared common experience and they all saw and heard the same animals before. So the link between the animal sound and the animal already existed in their brains. If they heard a animal making its characteristic sound, the picture of the animal would pop into their mind and they would "recognise" what animal was making that sound. Imitating the sound of the animal would have the same effect. 

For instance, if you see a crow, and if you want to say to the other members of the group: Look there is a crow! How are you going to do it if there is no word for a crow? Even if you decide to invent word "crow", you have no way of explaining to the others what crow is, because there is no language yet. But everyone from your group have seen a crow, and have heard a crow. So if you imitate the sound of a crow, everyone knows what you are talking about. So "craaw, graaw, wraa, raa" conveys the message: "look there is a crow" perfectly and simply. Later on people invented other words for crows, but that was much later when they had a language as means to associate these "crow" words with "crow" meaning. 

Why do we have so many similar but different words for crow in European languages, like Vran, Bran, Crow, hræfn, crú, corvus, κόραξ (kórax)? Because different people hear the same thing differently and are able to reproduce it differently. You can read more about language development and how it is dependant on our ability to hear and reproduce sounds here. If members of one family hear "craaw" while watching crows, and one of them points at the crows and says "craaw", everyone from that family will know from then on that "craaw" means crow.  Members of another family hear "wraa" while watching crows, and one of them points at the crows and says "wraa, vraa", everyone from that family will know from then on that "wraa, vraa" means crow.  Later on, as language develops, you get Vra + On = vra + it, he = vran = the thing that says vra...Or you just continue using Craa (Crow) as the name of the bird. It is interesting that Raven is an onomatopoeic name as well, as characteristic sound of the ravens is "raw". 

The important thing to understand about how animal names were created from animal sounds is that the name only needs to "sound like" the animal sounds. The imitation of the animal sound (the name) and the actual animal sound are not and can not be identical, because the animal sounds are built in such a way that human sound apparatus can't replicate them completely. But humans can produce something that "sounds like" the animal they are trying to imitate, describe. As long as human imitation of a particular animal sound is clearly different from other human made sounds imitating other animal sounds, it will clearly and uniquely identify the animal in question to other humans.

In this video you can hear the sound of crows.

You can hear that it sounds like a mixture of "craaw, graaw, wraa, raa" sounds. So any of these sounds will pretty well describe a crow.

But how is this related to "bran" meaning to defend? For that we have to look at how crows live. Crows are very social and live in family groups of between 2 to 15 birds, averaging 4 birds. A group of crows is called a “murder”. Pecking orders are evident as in all animals. Crows are territorial and are avid defenders of the same. They operate from central positions called roosts where they gather just before dark after returning from feeding on normal flight paths called flyways. Why they roost together is not, conclusively, known but it is thought for communal protection from predators. Winter roosts are communal and hold the largest numbers. The crow, with raven is probably the most intelligent bird and probably second most intelligent species after humans. It is the only other species which is known to develop and use complex tool sets to achieve its goals. 
Crow is well known for its ability to detect trouble and danger. Crows quickly learn that a moving car is no danger, but will rapidly flee if the driver stops and gets out. In areas where they are constantly hunted, they learn the difference between a hunter with a gun and a farmer with farming implements. Crows use a system of guards that observe and sound warnings to all other crows in the area. These sentinels guard fields of feeding crows. They also send scouts in advance of feeding forays to check for danger.  Crows are extremely territorial and will protect their colony against any potential predators. They are the only bird known to attack hawks and eagles and even people. So crows (vran, bran) have guards (bran) which defend (bran) the colony. People probably quickly noticed that crows use g(r)a, g(r)a sound as warning signal to alert everyone that someone or something dangerous is coming. So people probably started associating the sound "G(r)a" with the meaning "I see him, it, something, danger is coming". Every time Crows sounded "G(r)a", people started looking around to see what kind of danger is approaching. I believe that people quickly started using the same sound to warn each other about the incoming danger. The link between the sound and the meaning already existed and all people had to do was to imitate the sound "G(r)a" to trigger the meaning of "I see danger".  "G(r)a" very quickly becomes "Ga" as "r" gets swallowed. So we end up with "Ga" = "I see danger". What is interesting is that in Serbian "GA" means "I see him, it, that" and is used as a pointing sound accompanied with the pointing outstretched hand meaning "vidim ga = I see it, him". How old is this word?

Let me conclude this post.

Gaulish chieftains from fourth and third century BC have names whose clear etymology is preserved in Serbian. Breton, Welsh, Irish, Lithuanian and Slavic languages are the only ones which share "vran" as a word for raven and crow, but only Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Polish languages use Vran, Vron as a word for black. Slavic languages are the only ones which have preserved the old word Bran meaning to defend, protect.

And the title and the name these Gaulish chieftains had was Brannos, Brannus, Bran nas = defends us, our defender. How is this possible? 

Detail from the Gundestrup Cauldron which was made in the Balkans

I believe that there is a very strong link Between Slavic and Celtic languages and cultures which has been so far overlooked.


  1. Absolutely fascinating material and thanks!

    The V is a very ancient lexeme, suggesting great antiquity to these peoples and their habitation of these lands. It can indicate a valley, a mountain overlooking a valley, a place that spreads out like a high plateau, a parting of waters, etc.

  2. Has there been any research into a pre-Latin common language in Europe?

    Perhaps before Latin made its way to the north, the whole of northern, western and eastern Europe had a precursor language, which today is preserved in Slavic dialects (a very ancient language it seems).

    It also seems that Slavic has a lot of similarities with the eastern Sanskrit...

    1. Yes, the Indo European and proto Indo European languages.

  3. I first discovered your blog from a post on Facebook. Since then while doing my own research based in little hunches I get I have been coming across your blog again and again. Great blog! I very much enjoy reading it and was happy to follow my own curiosity about a possible connection between the word/name Bran in Celtic languages and the name for Bran Castle in Romania and have it lead me, once again, to your blog.

  4. Also there is Dinas Bran in northern Wales, an old castle on an Iron-age and maybe even bronze age hilltop devoted to "place of Bran" in Welsh. It is mobbed by crows at all times. And of course the old Welsh legend of Bran the Blessed or Bendegeit Vran/Bran in the Maginogion involves Bran as a protective power for the isle of Pritain (Britain), indeed just his head protects the isle! Even more weirdly, there is a tradition that it is buried beneath the Tower of London and its crows. There is a more modern legend that if the crows of the Tower ever die, so will go the nation. How intertwined these all are! Thank you so much for your work.

  5. Bran has a wider European etymology as modern Baron OE Beorn