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The River-Names of Europe   By: (1817-1898)

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Transcriber's Note:

Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note. Greek text has been transliterated and is shown between {braces}. Diacritical marks are represented as follows:

[)x] letter x with upper breve. [=x] letter x with upper macron. [oe] oe ligature.









The object of the present work is to arrange and explain the names of European Rivers on a more comprehensive principle than has hitherto been attempted in England, or, to the best of my belief, in Germany.

I am conscious that, like every other work of the same sort, it must necessarily, and without thereby impugning its general system, be subject to correction in many points of detail. And in particular, that some of its opinions might be modified or altered by a more exact knowledge of the characteristics of the various rivers than can possibly in all cases come within the scope of individual research.

Among the writers to whom I am most indebted is Ernst Förstemann, who, in the second volume of his Altdeutsches Namenbuch, (the first consisting of the names of persons), has collected, explained, and where possible, identified, the ancient names of places in Germany. The dates affixed to most of the German rivers are taken from this work, and refer to the earliest mention of the name in charters or elsewhere.

I also refer here, because I find that I have not, as usual, given the titles elsewhere, to Mr. R. S. Charnock's "Local Etymology," and to the work of Gluck, entitled "Die bei C. Julius Cæsar vorkommende Keltische namen."




The first wave of Asian immigration that swept over Europe gave names to the great features of nature, such as the rivers, long before the wandering tribes that composed it settled down into fixed habitations, and gave names to their dwellings and their lands. The names thus given at the outset may be taken therefore to contain some of the most ancient forms of the Indo European speech. And once given, they have in many, if not in most cases remained to the present day, for nothing affords such strong resistance to change as the name of a river. The smaller streams, variously called in England and Scotland brooks, becks, or burns, whose course extended but for a few miles, and whose shores were portioned out among but a few settlers, readily yielded up their ancient names at the bidding of their new masters. But the river that flowed past, coming they knew not whence, and going they knew not whither upon whose shores might be hundreds of settlers as well as themselves, and all as much entitled to give it a name as they was naturally, as a matter of common convenience, allowed to retain its original appellation.

Nevertheless, it might happen that a river such as the Danube, which runs more than a thousand miles as the crow flies being divided between two great and perfectly distinct races, might, as it passed through the two different countries, be called by two different names. So we find that while in its upper part it was called the Danube, in its lower part it was known as the Ister the former, says Zeuss ( Die Deutschen ), being its Celtic, and the latter its Thracian name. So the Saone also was anciently known both as the Arar and the Sauconna the latter, according to Zeuss, being its Celtic name. And Latham, ( Tacitus , Germania ,) makes a similar suggestion respecting the Rhine "It is not likely that the Batavians of Holland, and the Helvetians of Switzerland, gave the same name to the very different parts of their common river... Continue reading book >>

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