Proto-Indo-European society

Proto-Indo-European society

The society of the Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) existed during the Bronze Age (roughly fifth to fourth millennium BC), and has been reconstructed through analyses of modern Indo-European societies as well as archaeological evidence. PIE society was most likely patrilineal, and probably semi-nomadic, relying on animal husbandry.

ocietal structure

The native name with which these people referred to themselves as a linguistic community, or as an ethnic unity of related tribes cannot be reconstructed with certainty.

There is evidence for sacral kingship, suggesting the tribal chief at the same time assumed the role of high priest. Many Indo-European societies still show signs of an earlier threefold division of a clerical class, a warrior class and a class of farmers or husbandmen. Such a division was suggested for the Proto-Indo-European society by Georges Dumézil.

If there was a separate class of warriors, it probably consisted of single young men. They would have followed a separate warrior code unacceptable in the society outside their peer-group. Traces of initiation rites in several Indo-European societies suggest that this group identified itself with wolves or dogs (see Berserker, Werewolf, Wild Hunt).

The people were organized in settlements ("*weiunicode|ḱs"; English "-wick" "village"), probably each with its chief ("*unicode|H₃unicode|ǵs"). These settlements or villages were further divided in households ("*domos"), each headed by a patriarch ("*dems-potis"; Greek "despotes", Sanskrit "dampati").


Technologically, reconstruction suggests a culture of the Bronze Age: Words for Bronze can be reconstructed ("*unicode|H₂éyos") from Germanic, Italic and Indo-Iranian, while no word for Iron can be dated to the proto-language. Gold and Silver were known.

An "*unicode|n̥sis" was a bladed weapon, originally a dagger of Bronze or in earliest times of bone. An "*ik'mos" was a spear or similar pointed weapon. Words for axe are "*unicode|H₂éunicode|gʷsiunicode|H₂" (Germanic, Greek, Italic) and "*péleunicode|ḱus" (Greek, Indo-Iranian); these could have been either of stone or of bronze.

The wheel ("*unicode|kʷéunicode|kʷlos" or "*rótunicode|H₂eunicode|H₂") was known, certainly for ox-drawn carts. Horse-drawn chariots developed after the breakup of the proto-language, originating with the Proto-Indo-Iranians around 2000 BC.

Judging by the vocabulary, techniques of weaving, plaiting, tying knots etc. were important and well-developed and used for textile production as well as for baskets, fences, walls etc. Weaving and binding also had a strong magical connotation, and magic is often expressed by such metaphors.Fact|date=July 2008 The bodies of the deceased seem to have been literally tied to their graves to prevent their return.Fact|date=July 2008


Proto-Indo-European society depended on animal husbandry.
Cattle ("*unicode|gʷōus") were the most important animals to them, and a man's wealth would be measured by the number of cows he owned. Sheep ("*unicode|H₃ówis") and goats ("*unicode|gʰáidos") were also kept, presumably by the less wealthy. Agriculture and catching fish ("*písunicode|ḱos") were also practiced.

The domestication of the horse (see Tarpan) may have been an innovation of this people and is sometimes invoked as a factor contributing to their rapid expansion.

Ritual and sacrifice

They practiced a polytheistic religion centered on sacrificial rites, probably administered by a class of priests or shamans.

Animals were slaughtered ("*unicode|gʰʷunicode|n̥tós") and dedicated to the gods ("*déiwos") in the hope of winning their favour. The king as the high priest would have been the central figure in establishing favourable relations with the other world.

The Kurgan hypothesis suggests burials in barrows or tomb chambers. Important leaders would have been buried with their belongings, and possibly also with members of their household or wives (sati). The practice of human sacrifice is inferred from the Luhansk sacrificial site.


The use of two-word compound words for personal names, typically but not always ascribing some noble or heroic feat to their bearer, is so common in Indo-European languages that it seems certainly inherited. These names are often of the class of compound words that in Sanskrit are called "bahuvrihi" compounds.

They are found in the Celtic region ("Dumnorix": "king of the world"; " Kennedy": "ugly head"), in Indo-Aryan languages ("Asvaghosa": "tamer of horses"); in Greek ("Socrates": "good ruler", "Hipparchus" : "horse master"; "Cleopatra": "from famous lineage") in Slavic languages ("Vladimir": "great ruler"); in the Germanic languages ("Alfred": "elf-counsel"; "Godiva": "gift of God").

Patronymics such as "Gustafson" ("son of Gustav"), "MacDonald" ("son of Donald") are also frequently encountered in Indo-European languages.


Only small fragments of Proto-Indo-European poetry may be recovered. What survives of their poetry are stock phrases of two or three words, like "undying fame" ("*ḱléwos n̥dʰgʷʰitom") and "immortal gods", that are found in diverse ancient sources. These seem to have been standard building blocks for song lyrics.

Inferring chiefly from the Vedas, there would have been sacrificial hymns, creation myths (such as myths of a world tree), and hero tales (the slaying of a serpent or a dragon, "*unicode|kʷunicode|r̥mis" by a heroic man or god).

Probably of the greatest importance to the Indo-Europeans themselves were songs extolling great deeds by heroic warriors. In addition to perpetuating their glory ("*unicode|ḱléwos"), such songs would also temper the warriors' behavior, since each needed to consider whether his "undying fame" would be honorable or shameful. See also "bard", "fili", "skald", "rhapsode".


Some words connected with PIE world-view:

*"*PIE|gʰosti-" concerned mutual obligations between people and between worshipers and gods, and from which "guest" and "host" are derived.
*"*PIE|h₁r̥-tu-", "PIE|h₁r̥-to-", "fitting, right, ordered", also "right time, ritually correct", related to the order of the world (Avestan "asha", Vedic "rta-", "rtu-")


*Stüber, Karin, 'Die Stellung der Frau: Spuren indogermanischer Gesellschaftsordnung in der Sprache' in: Schärer, K. (ed.) "Spuren lesen", Chronos (2007), ISBN 978-3-0340-0879-2, pp. 97–115.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Proto-Indo-European language — PIE redirects here. For other uses, see PIE (disambiguation). Indo European topics Indo European languages (list) Albanian · Armenian · Baltic Celtic · Germanic · Greek Indo Ira …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Indo-European religion — The chariot, as a symbol of social rank and military strength but also mythologically as the sun chariot (Trundholm sun chariot pictured, Nordic Bronze Age, ca. 160 …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Indo-Europeans — The Proto Indo Europeans (PIE) were the speakers of the Proto Indo European language, who likely lived around 4000 BC, during the Copper Age and the Bronze Age, or possibly earlier, during the Neolithic or Paleolithic eras. Knowledge of them… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Indo-Européens — Les Proto Indo Européens (PIE) sont, selon la thèse la plus communément admise, un peuple ancien locuteur de l indo européen qui aurait diffusé sa langue, sa culture, ses codes et ses croyances à la quasi totalité des peuples d Europe actuelle… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Indo-European languages — Indo European redirects here. For other uses, see Indo European (disambiguation). See also: List of Indo European languages Indo European Geographic distribution: Before the 16th century, Europe, and South, Central and Southwest Asia; today… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Indo-Iranian religion — means the religion of the Indo Iranian peoples prior to the earliest Vedic (Indo Aryan) and Zoroastrian (Iranic) scriptures. These share a common inheritance of concepts including the universal force *rta (Vedic rta, Avestan asha), the sacred… …   Wikipedia

  • Indo-European languages — Family of languages with the greatest number of speakers, spoken in most of Europe and areas of European settlement and in much of southwestern and southern Asia. They are descended from a single unrecorded language believed to have been spoken… …   Universalium

  • Religion proto-indo-européenne — La religion proto indo européenne désigne la religion jadis supposément partagée par l ensemble de peuples proto indo européens. Les anthropologues pensent pouvoir la reconstituer en comparant les religions modernes. C est à cela que s est… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Indo-Européens — Les Indo Européens sont un ensemble de peuples d Eurasie (Albanais, Arméniens, Baltes, Celtes, Germains, Grecs, Indiens, Iraniens, Kurdes, Latins, Scythes, Slaves) qui parlent des langues issues d’une ancienne langue appelée indo européen commun… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Proto-Germanic language — Proto Germanic Spoken in Northern Europe Extinct evolved into Proto Norse, Gothic, Frankish and Ingvaeonic by the 4th century Language family Indo European …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.