The World of the Huns. Chapter IX. Language
O. Maenchen-Helfen

9. Kamos and medos  —  Strava  —  Cucurun

A.  and 

"In the villages," wrote Priscus (EL 13111-15), "we were supplied with food — millet instead of corn — and medos as the natives call it. The attendants who followed us received millet and a drink of barley, which the barbarians call ."


As is known from Julius Africanus' Embroideries and Diocletian's Edictum de Pretiis, [444] the Pannonians drank kamos (kamum) long before Attila. The word is Indo-European. [445] Vámbéry's Turkish etymology kamos = qymyz, followed by Dieterich, [446] Parker, [447] and, for a while, Altheim, [448] is to be rejected, -os is the Greek ending, kam- is not qymyz, and qymyz is a drink made of milk, not of barley. Medos, too, is Indo-European, either Germanic [449] or Illyric. [450]


"When the Huns had mourned him [Attila] with such lamentations, a strava, as they call it, was celebrated over his tomb with great revelling" (Getica 258).
Jacob Grimm [451] drew attention to Lactantius Placidus' scholion on Statius: "Pile of hostile spoils: from the spoils of enemies was heaped up the pyre for dead kings. This rite of burial is said to be observed even today by the barbarians, who call the piles 'strabae' in their own language" (exuviarum hostilium moles: Exuviis enim hostium exstruebatur regibus mortuis pyra, quern ritum sepulturae hodieque barbari servare dicuntur, quae strabas dicunt lingua sua), (Thebais XII, 64). The passage would be of great importance if it actually were written in the fourth century, the date of the scholion. However, quae strabas dicunt lingua sua is a marginal note which slipped into the text, penned by a man who knew his Jordanes. [452]

The initial consonant cluster precludes the Turkish etymology offered by B. von Arnim. [453] Grimm reconstructed from Gothic straujan, "to strew," *stravida, das auf dem Hügel errichtete, aufgestellte gerüste, eine streu, wenn man will ein bette (lectisternium). Since then this etymology has been


repeated [454] so often that to doubt it is by now almost a sacrilege. How exactly "to strew" acquired the meaning "funeral feast" — for that is the meaning of strava, not Streu or Bett — remained obscure. Starting with "to strew" some authors arrived at "funeral feast" via "to heap > pyre > "to make a bed for the dead"; others associated strewing with strewing sacrificial gifts for the dead > honoring the dead > funeral. They would have found a way to connect straujan with strava even if it should have meant coffin, tombstone, or quarreling heirs. Actually, no Germanic language exists in which a word derived from "to strew" means cena funeraria.

There remains the Slavic etymology. Le festin qui suivait la tryzna [455] s'appellait piruŭ ou strava. Strava est slave; le mot est employé de nos jours encore au sens de "nourriture," et on le trouve dans les documents vieux-tchèques et vieux-polonais de XIVe et XVe siècles avec la signification spécial de "banquet funèbre." [456] Vasmer and Schwarz [457] objected to this etymology in that in Jordanes' time the word for "food" must have been sutrava and therefore could not have been rendered as Strava. This cannot be taken seriously. Should Priscus have written s° traba? Besides, Popović proved, [458] to my mind convincingly, that the form strava could have existed side by side with sutrava. [459] Occasionally and under special circumstances foreign words were borrowed for an old, native burial custom. [460] But it is most unlikely that the Huns turned to Slavs for a term to designate what was doubtless a Hunnic custom. One of Priscus' or Jordanes' informants seems to have been a Slav. Knowing neither Hunnic nor Slavic, Priscus or Jordanes could have taken strava for a Hunnic word. [461]



Hubschmid takes Middle Greek , Middle Latin cucarum, and Old English cocer, "quiver," to be a loanword from Hunnish. [462] He adduces numerous similar sounding Mongolian and Turkish words for leather bottle, bow, and container, though none which means "quiver." Hubschmid finds this in no way surprising for, as he asserts, after the beginning of the nineteenth century quivers were no longer used. He is mistaken. Not only is sadaq still the common Turkish word for quiver, as it has been for centuries, the Kirghiz shot whith bows and arrows until the 1870's and in the Altai guns displaced the bow only about 1890, in some remote valleys even later. In 1929, I saw Tuvans carry bows and quivers full of arrows at ceremonial shooting contests. If cocer and so forth were of Altaic origin, it would be Avaric rather than Hunnish.

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444. Thesaurus linguae latinae s.v. camum; Bulletin Du Gange 11, 1937, 39.

445. Holder, 1896, 1, 728; Ernest Schwarz, Mitteilungen des österreichischen Instituts für Geschichtsforschung 43, 1929, 210; J. Harmatta, AAH 2, 1952, 343.

446. Byzantinische Quellen zur Länder und Völkerkunde 2 (Leipzig, 1912), 139.

447. A Thousand Years of the Tartars (London, 1924) 136.

448. 1951, 209, n. 20 (and Altheim and Stiehl 1953, 85 f.), vigorously rejected my objections to this etymology. In Geschichte 4, 59, Altheim dropped it.

449. M. Vasmer, Zeitschr. f. slav. Philologie 2, 1925, 540.

450. Cf. B. Zástěrová in Vznik počatku slovanů 5 (Prague, 1966), 40. The Turkish word for liquor ex milio el aqua was boza, J. Németh, Abh. Ak. Wiss. 1958, 4; 1959, 17.

451. Kleine Schriften 3, 135.

452. Cf. R. Landi, "Strava," Bulletin Du Gange 5, 1950, 50-51; Woestijne 1950, 149-169.

453. Arnim 1936, 100-109. H. Jacobsohn (Anz. f. DA 42, 1923, 88) thought strava might be Scythian.

454. E.g., Leicher 1927, 10-19; E. Roth, "Gotisch Strawa, Gerüst, Paradebett," Annales Acad. Scient. Fennicae, ser. B, 84, 1954, 37-52; W. Pfeifer, "Germanisch Straujan," PBB 82, 1960, 132-145.

455. La tryzna n'était pas un simple festin, mais line fête de caractère dramatique, dont un combat formait l'épisode principale.

456. Niederle 1926, 53.

457. M. Vasmer, Zeilschr. f. slav. Philologie 2, 1925, 540; Ernest Schwarz 1929, 210.

458. Sbornik Radova vizantoloshkog instituta 7, 1961, 197-226.

459. The Slavic etymology, first suggested by Kotliarevskiĭ (1863, 37-42), has been accepted by Nehring (1917, 17) and Trautmann (1944, 23). Later scholars turned Mommsen's conjecture (Jordanes, index p. 198) that the Slavs borrowed strava from the Goths, into a proved fact. See, e.g., A. Walde-Hoffmann, Lateinisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Heidelberg, 1952), s.v. strava.

460. Ossetic du, do (Markwart 1929, 81; Abaev 1958, 373) is Turkish dog ("in their [i.e., the Turks'] language the funeral customs are called ," Menander, EL 207).

461. Contrary to Altheim's emphatic statement (Altheim and Stiehl 1953, 48), strava has nothing to do with the Bulgarian  in a Byzantine compilation of the tenth century (BNJb 5, 1926, 15, 370). On Slavic zdravica meaning "to your health", see I. Duĭchev, Byzantinoslavica 12, 1951, 92, n. 76. In Marco Polo, it occurs as stravitsa.

462. Essais de philologie moderne (Paris, 1951), 189-199; Schläuche und Fässer (Bern, 1955), 113-125. Dutch koker became kokor in Russian (Slovar' sovremmennogo russkogo literalurnogo iazyka 5, 1132).