Iurii Mosenkis


Were there Egyptian loans in the Proto-Slavic world view?


The absence of the investigated words in Baltic as well as the absence of the bird of prey images in the pre-Scythian cultures of the Northern Pontic points to another interpretation of these similarities. Thus, all suggested Egyptian loans in Slavic are highly dubious. The most probable Egyptian loan in Slavic, *sokolŭ, might be really of Turkic origin (similarly, *Rarogŭ is likely Iranian): the Turks were presented among Asiatic components of the Scythians (Turkoi, corrupted Iurkoi, mentioned in the Northern Pontic by ancient authors). The falcon was a cult bird among the Turks[i]  as well as among the Scythians.

 Keywords: Egyptian mythology, Proto-Slavic language, the North Pontic in the Bronze Age time  


  1. Proto-Slavic *sokolŭ ‘falcon’: Egyptian Sokar / Sokal ‘falcon god’ or Turkic soŋqur ‘falcon’?

Proto-Slavic *sokolŭ ‘falcon’ has no certain etymology. However, the bird is the main deity in Ukrainian cosmogonic folk songs and incantations. The falcon is the most frequently mentioned animal in the Tale of Igor’s campaign.

Arabic sakr (aqr) ‘hunting falcon’ is a source of similar forms in the Romance languages and German, but not in Slavic. Turkic soŋqur, šuŋqar ‘falcon’, Burushaski ṣuqū́r ‘sparrow’, Proto-West Chadic *ǯigʷal- ‘griffon-vulture’ are distant parallels, but they are not sources of the Slavic forms.

In contrast, Egyptian Sokar or Socal (r/l are not different in Egyptian) ‘falcon god’, related to the underworld, is very similar to the Slavic mythical name and image[ii]. According to traditional hypothesis, the name of Saqqara necropolis (known from the First Dynasty) was named after this god.

Among other ‘animalistic’ names of the earliest Egyptian pharaohs, only the name of Falcon is repeated thrice during Dynasties 00–0: Falcon I and II (Dynasty 00, Naqada IIIa1, 2, before 3200 BCE) and Double Falcon (Dynasty 0, Naqada IIIb1, after 3200 BCE)[iii]. Serekhs (heraldic crests) of Double Falcon were found not only in the Lower Egypt but also in the Upper Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula, and in southern Israel.



Sign of Double Falcon[iv]

The Usatove (Russian: Usatovo) culture of the southwest Ukraine, indirectly contacted with Egypt (maritime trade?), might be a source of presented Slavic-Egyptian parallel. But the relation of Sokar with the cult of the dead points rather to the Catacomb culture, which burial rites were close to Egyptian ones. Solar cult (but no images of falcon) is known in both Usatove and Catacomb cultures. Moreover, the name of city Sokal’ in western Ukraine (which link with falcon is recorded from mid-XVI century whereas the hunting on falcons was prohibited here from early XV century)[v].    

Thus, if the images (pictures or figurines) of falcon are totally absent in Europe before the Scythian time[vi], we must prefer Turkic soŋqur as a source of Slavic word.       


  1. Proto-Slavic *Rarogŭ ‘fiery falcon’: Egyptian Ra-Herachti ‘falcon-headed solar god’ or Iranian Verethragna ‘falcon god’?

Proto-Slavic[vii] *Rarogŭ was fiery falcon in Slavic mythology (Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Croatian; West Slavic ‘falcon’) who might be related not only to Avestan solar falcon Vərəϑraγna[viii] (images of birds of prey appeared in Ukraine only in Scythian time)[ix] but, very hypothetically, also to the Egyptian god: Ra-Herachti (Egyptian rˁ-r-Ȝhty, Rˁ.w-r.w-3.tj) is a syncretic falcon-headed god of the rising sun (Re + Horus the falcon as a light god), worshipped from the 25 c. BCE (Five Dynasty).  

Phonetic form of the Egyptian name is closer to the Slavic one in comparison to Iranian, but why images of the birds of prey appeared in the North Pontic so late? 


  1. Proto-Slavic rano ‘early’ and East Slavic raduga ‘rainbow’: Egyptian Ra ‘sun god’?

Proto-Slavic *rano ‘early’ (Polish also ‘morning’) is a word without etymology[x]. The suffix -no is typical for Slavic adverbs, thus ra- may be a root.   

Egyptian Ra (Rc, Coptic , Greek Ῥα) ‘Sun (as a god)’ was a supreme Egyptian god from the 25 c. BCE (Fifth Dynasty). The Catacomb culture of southeast Ukraine (2800–2200 BCE), which had Egypt-related artifacts, flourished in that time.  

East Slavic raduga ‘rainbow’ is traditionally compared with names of rainbow, meaning ‘joyful’. However, in other languages the name of rainbow means ‘arc’: Latin arcus pluvius, cf. English rainbow, German Regenbogen. Can it be *ra-dǫga ‘solar arc’ (the second root is akin to Lithuanian dangus ‘heaven’); cf. Proto-Slavic *dǫga ‘arc’ and ‘rainbow’?  

Can we compare both the aforementioned Slavic words with the name of the Egyptian sun god?  


  1. Proto-Slavic dialectal irii ‘paradise’: Egyptian Iaru / Ialu ‘paradise’?

Old Rus’ irii (early XII century) ‘southern warm land[xi], paradise’ (parallels in East Slavic, Polish and Czech), ‘place when birds and snakes (considered souls)[xii] hibernated’ has no etymology[xiii], despite many proposed versions.         

Egyptian Iaru / Ialu means ‘reeds’ (Sekhet-Iaru ‘reed fields’, i. e. paradise) might be a source of both Greek Ἠλύσιον πεδίον ‘Elysian Fields’ (ēlu- < *ialu?)[xiv] and East Slavic irii (r/l are not different in Egyptian). The Egyptian origin of Greek Elisium, especially in Orphic religion, was mentioned by Diodorus[xv]. Ancient Greeks also knew that many European birds, e. g. Scythian cranes, hibernated in the north of Africa (Egypt)[xvi]. The Egyptian name of the otherworld might be accepted by the Catacomb people whose burial rite had similarities with the Egyptian one.     


  1. Egyptian-based sacral formula in the Ukrainian folk song?

Three Ukrainian words with possible Egyptian parallels, sokil ‘falcon’ (< Proto-Slavic), rano ‘early’ (Proto-Slavic), and vyrij ‘paradise’ (< irii, attested in the Kyivan Rus period) are present in the same sentence from the Ukrainian folk song:

Зажурився соколонько: // Бiдна моя да голівонька, // Що я рано з вир'ю вийшов[xvii]

‘Falcon is sad: // oh, my poor head, // I came out of the paradise so early’  

This formula might be traced to unattested pre-Slavic substrate language (of the Catacomb culture?). It is noteworthy that Ra was frequently depicted as falcon-headed.    



Falcon-headed Ra (Louvre Museum)[xviii]


  1. Proto-Slavic *bata, *batja ‘father, *leader’: Egyptian by.ty ‘king of the Lower Egypt’ or Illyrian *bat- ‘leader’?

Proto-Slavic *bata, *batja ‘father’ (also ‘elder brother’ in Bulgarian, Slovak > Hungarian) has no certain etymology. V. Polák interpreted it as a substrate Balkan word. Romanian baci ‘a head of shepherds’ might be a pre-Romanian substrate form[xix].  

Two anti-Roman Illyrian leaders (first century ACE), Bato the Daesitiate (Dalmatia) and Bato the Breucan (Pannonia) had the same name (title?)[xx].

Lybian Βάττος means ‘king’ (Herodotus 4.155), and the first king of the Battiad dynasty had double name Βάττος Ἀριστοτέλης (‘king Aristotle’). Four persons among nine kings of Cyrene had the name (title?) of Battus.  

The Lybian title might be related to Egyptian by.ty ‘king of the Lower Egypt’, a cognate of Proto-Central Chadic *bay- ‘chief’. Bata in the Tale of two brothers is possible folktale incarnation of several pharaohs of late 13 c. BCE.    

Possibly, pre-Slavic word (initially a title?) was accepted before the 32nd century BCE when the Lower Egypt (ruled by chief bearing the old Egyptian-Lybian-Chadic title), i. e. in the period of the Usatove culture (about 3600–2900 BCE). However, the absence of the word in Baltic (whereas the Baltic-Slavic unity could exist long after the aforementioned time) is significant, and so the source of the word might be Illyrian (*bat- ‘leader’, Pannonia might be possible place of contacts, see above) or Indo-Iranian (*pati- ‘lord’). In turn, the Illyrian word might be hypothetically traced to very old contacts with North Africa.  

Thus, the Slavic word might be of Illyrian or Iranian (rather than Egyptian) origin, whereas the Illyrian term might be of North African origin.       


  1. Proto-Slavic *běsŭ ‘devil’: Egyptian god Bes or Indo-European?

Proto-Slavic *běsŭ ‘*householder’(?) was a pre-Christian mythical image (a kind of divine person?) which later accepted the meaning ‘devil’. The word has Indo-European etymology[xxi], but its cognates are different semantically. Could this Slavic word be influenced by a foreign source? Does the Egyptian god Bes might be hypothetically compared with it if not only the name but an iconography of Bes (ugly bearded dwarf) strongly resembleS the Slavic deity?[xxii] Slavic housegod (Ukrainian domovyk, Russian domovoi) is also similar. Bes ‘was beloved for centuries not only in Egypt but also across the Mediterranean, and ultimately helped to shape the appearance of the Christian Devil’[xxiii].      

Egyptian Bes (Greek Βησᾶς, Βήσας), possibly from Nubian besa ‘cat’[xxiv], was an Ancient Egyptian deity, worshipped as a protector of households from the beginning of Old Kingdom. His feminine form, Bast, was a cat-goddess, house-protector, known in Lower Egypt (as a goddess of warfare!) before the unification of the northern and southern Egyptian states and cultures. Bes and Bast (Bastet) were related to the well-known Egyptian cat cult.   


Egyptian Bes[xxv]


Egyptian Bes was a trickster god who caused laughter which warded off misfortune[xxvi]. The Egyptian image was demonized during the Christianization, and the similar process might occur in Slavic folk religion.

An old meaning of this Slavic word might be ‘pre-Christian priest’; Ukrainian біситися, біснуватися ‘to rave, rave about’ might initially mean ‘ritual dance of the priest’ who was under the influence of sacral plant (cf. Ukrainian plant names бісина, бісдерево)[xxvii].  

Thus, Slavic *běsŭ (whose name has reliable Indo-European phonetic correspondences) might be of Indo-European origin and secondarily influenced by the name and image of the Egyptian trickster god, possibly in the Hellenistic-Roman time.   


Discussion and conclusion  

Four possible waves of the Egyptian influence on the North Pontic might be suggested.

Firstly, Egyptian complex of solar beliefs and related names might be accepted by precursors of the Slavic peoples (pre-Slavic substrate) during the time of the (late/post-Cucuteni-Trypillia) Usatove culture (3500–2900 BCE) which had relations with Egypt and contrasted, in its solar cult reflected by cromlechs, with lunar cult of previous Cucuteni-Trypillia culture. Proto-Slavic *bata, *batja ‘father’ and *sokolŭ ‘falcon’ might be accepted about 3200 BCE by the Usatove culture (in which area Egyptian finds are found[xxviii]). In that time pharaohs of Lower Egypt bore the title, similar to *bata , *batja, and Sokal ‘falcon’ was a popular pharaoh’s name.       

Secondly, Proto-Slavic *ra-no ‘early’ and East Slavic *ra-dǫga ‘rainbow, *solar arc’ could be loaned by the Catacomb cultures (2800–2200 BCE) when Ra became the supreme Egyptian god about the 25 century BCE. East Slavic irii ‘paradise’, related to the image of the underworld, might be traced to the same time because catacomb as a form of tomb resembles Egyptian mastabah, used before pyramids. The Catacomb cultures worshipped the sun and were linked with Egypt in their burial rite and weight units; the Egyptian finds were known in these cultures[xxix].         

Thirdly, the Sabatynivka culture (XVII–XII centuries BCE, a descendant of the Multi-Rolled Ware culture which was a successor of the Catacomb) took part in the wars between the Sea Peoples and Egypt. Herodotus’ mention of pharaoh Sesostris’ campaign in Scythia is interpreted as the war with the Sea Peoples[xxx].

Lastly, the image of Bes might be accepted by Proto-Slavs from his figurines in the North Pontic of Hellenistic-Roman period. Perhaps, some other aforementioned images and names might appear in Proto-Slavic during this late time.     

However, the absence of the investigated words in Baltic as well as the absence of the bird of prey images in the pre-Scythian cultures of the Northern Pontic points to another interpretation of these similarities. Thus, all suggested Egyptian loans in Slavic are highly dubious. The most probable Egyptian loan in Slavic, *sokolŭ, might be really of Turkic origin (similarly, *Rarogŭ is likely Iranian): the Turks were presented among Asiatic components of the Scythians (Turkoi, corrupted Iurkoi, mentioned in the Northern Pontic by ancient authors). The falcon was a cult bird among the Turks[xxxi] as well as among the Scythians.  



[i] Симаков Г. Н. Культ хищных птиц у народов Средней Азии и Казахстана: На примере соколиной охоты: Диссертация (СПб. 2000).   

[ii] It might also be a common proto-human word, cf. Amerind (Penutian, Hokan, Macro-Panoan) *sokal ‘hawk’: J. H. Greenberg, M. Ruhlen. An Amerind etymological dictionary (Stanford 2007), p. 113, http://www.merrittruhlen.com/files/AED5.pdf    

[iii] http://xoomer.virgilio.it/francescoraf/hesyra/dynasty00.htm ; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_Falcon  

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pharaohs#Early_Dynastic:_Upper_Egypt  

[v] Alternative hypotheses on the origin of the city name see: Вашків І. Сокаль і Прибужжя, http://www.sokal.lviv.ua/history-i_vashkiv_iii.html  

[vi] M. Yu. Videiko, pers. comm.  

[vii] Иванов В. В., Топоров В. Н. Рарог, Мифологический словарь (Москва, 1991), с. 465; V. Machek: Трубачев О. Н. Из славяно-иранских лексических отношений, Этимология 1965. – М., 1967. – С. 64.

[viii] Machek, V. Slav. rarogъ «Würgfalke» und sein mythologischer Zusammenhang, Linguistica Slovaca, 1941, t. 3; Jakobson, R.. IV. Svarogъ and his Iranian prototype. Slavic gods of Iranian background, in: Jakobson, R. Selected writings. Vol. VII: Contributions to comparative mythology. Ed. by Stephen Rudy. With a pref. by Linda R. Waugh. — Berlin; New York; Amsterdam: «Mouton», «Walter de Gruyter», 1985. P. 26–28; Трубачев О. Н. Труды по этимологии: Слово. История. Культура (Москва 2000), т. 2, с. 85–92 (Lithuanian vanagas ‘hawk’ also considered Iranian, cf. Avestan vārəgan-). Greek ἱέραξ ‘hawk, falcon’ might be of the same Iranian origin.  

[ix] M. Yu. Videiko, pers. comm.  

[x] Фасмер М. Этимологический… – Т. 3. – С. 442.

[xi] Филин Ф. П. Лексика русского литературного языка древнекиевской эпохи (по материалам летописей). – Л., 1949. – С. 256–257.

[xii] Левкиевская Е. Е. Как устроен загробный мир, Мифы русского народа. — М.: Астрель, Аст, 2000.

[xiii] Булаховський Л. А. Питання походження української мови. – К., 1956. – С. 84; Филин Ф. П. Происхождение русского, украинского и белорусского языков. – М., 1972. – С. 529–530; Етимологічний... – Т. 1. – С. 380.

[xiv] Cf. also Chechen-Ingush El ‘paradise’: Мифологический... – С. 206; Мосенкіс Ю. Л. Чеченська міфологія і порівняльно-історичне мовознавство, Мова та історія. – К., 1996. – Вип. 21. – С. 14. Sumerian-Akkadian-Hurrian Arale, Aralli ‘happy land, otherworld’: Дьяконов И. М. К вопросу о символе Халди, Древний Восток. – Ереван, 1983. – Вып 4. – С. 194. 

[xv] Book 1.  

[xvi] Шталь И. В. Эпические предания древней Греции: Гераномахия. – М., 1989. – С. 39–40 (refs).

[xvii] Песни села Андреевки Нежинского уезда. Собрал и к печати подготовил В. В. Данилов, Сборник Историко-филологического общества при Институте князя Безбородко в Нежине (Киев 1904), т. V, с. 50.  

[xviii] https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A0%D0%B0  

[xix] Paliga, S. p. 37–38, https://www.academia.edu/6458557/Etymological_Lexicon_of_the_Indigenous_Thracian_Elements_in_Romanian  

[xx] I include these names acc. to S. V. Koncha’s recommendation (pers. comm.). In contrast, Georgian batoni ‘lord, master’ must be excluded from the comparison because it is derived from earlier form patroni of clear Latin origin.

[xxi] ЭССЯ, т. 2, с. 88–91. 

[xxii] See about possible Egyptian influence, e. g.: Мирончиков Л. Т. Словарь славянской мифологии: Происхождение славянской мифологии и этноса. 2-е изд., с доп. и уточн. – Минск: Харвест, 2004. – С. 36.

[xxiii] Sooke, A. How Egyptian god Bes gave the Christian Devil his looks, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20130619-how-the-devil-got-his-looks  

[xxiv] Cf. English puss and possibly Proto-Slavic pĭsŭ ‘dog’ without commonly accepted etymology. About the latter see below.    

[xxv] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bes_(%C3%A4gyptische_Mythologie) See also: https://www.ancient.eu/Bes/       

[xxvi] Дьяконов И. М. Архаические мифы Востока и Запада. – М.: Наука, 1990. – С. 95, 208.

[xxvii] Лозко Г. Українське язичництво. – К., 1994. – С. 50–51; Жайворонок В. В. Знаки української етнокультури. – К., 2006. – С. 40.

[xxviii] Иванова С. В. Природные ресурсы и экономика древних обществ, Stratum plus 2010, No. 2, p. 58.  

[xxix] Пустовалов С. Ж. Деякі близькосхідні елементи в ідеології катакомбного населення Північного Причорномор’я, Археологія 1993, № 1, с. 24, 27–31, http://www.vgosau.kiev.ua/a/Archaeology_1993_01.pdf      

[xxx] Ільків М. В. Взаємозв’язки населення Південно-Східної Європи зі Східним Середземномор’ям у ІІ тисячолітті до н.е.: Автореф. дис. ... канд. іст. наук (Чернівці, 2010), с. 15.

[xxxi] Симаков Г. Н. Культ хищных птиц у народов Средней Азии и Казахстана: На примере соколиной охоты: Диссертация (СПб. 2000).