Do the English originate in Persia?...

On the Asiatic Origin of the Anglo-Saxons.

Mr. Sharon Turner: If more important communications be not, at the present moment, occupying the attention of the Royal Society of Literature, it may not perhaps be wholly uninteresting, if I submit to its consideration a few circumstances in regard to the Asiatic origin of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, which have lately occurred to me on examining the affinities of their ancient language.

It has been stated in the [Sharon Turner's] History of the Anglo-Saxons, that the most probable derivation of this people which had been suggested, was that which deduced them from the Sakai or Sacae, who, from, the Caspian, besides branching into Bactriana on the east, had also spread westward into the most fertile part of Armenia, which, from them, as we learn from Strabo, was called Sakasina. Pliny terms the Sakai, who settled there, the Sacassani; which is so similar in sound to Saca-sunu, or the sons of the Sakai, that we are tempted to identify the two appellations. It was Goropius Becanus who first hinted this etymology: the celebrated Melanchthon adopted it; and though, as is usual on such subjects, others doubted and disputed, our Camden gave it the sanction of his decided preference. It appeared to me to be the most rational derivation which had been mentioned; and the fact that Ptolemy, writing in the second century after Strabo and Pliny, actually notices a Scythian people, who had sprung from the Sakai, by the very name of Saxones, seemed to verify the conjecture, that the appellative Saxones did originate from Saca-sunu, or the sons of the Sakai. The Romans spelt the word with a c instead of a k, and we therefore call them Sacae, with the s sound of the c. But this is only our mispronunciation of the Roman c; for we find that Cicero's name is written in the Greek authors who mention him, as Kikeroo.

The preceding derivation thus leads to the opinion, that the progenitors of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors came from Asia into Europe; and that before they made this emigration, they had dwelt in Armenia and in the regions about the Caspian. The Honourable Mr. Keppell, in his late interesting travels, visited this country, and thus notices it. After crossing the river Arras - the Araxes of Plutarch - he says: "Between this river and the Kur - the ancient Cyrus or Cyrnus - is the beautiful province of Karabaugh, formerly the country of the Sacae or Sacassani, a warlike tribe of Scythians, mentioned by Pliny and Strabo, and supposed to be the same people as our ancient ancestors the Saxons." After quitting Karabaugh, Mr. Keppell proceeded to Shirwan, the Albania of the ancients. The beautiful province of Karabaugh, between the Arras and the Kur - the ancient Araxes and Cyrnus - may therefore be considered as one of the Asiatic localisations of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. The Kur has been the late boundary of the Russian acquisitions in this district.

The late war between the Russians and the Persians has been chiefly carried on in or near the regions where the ancient Sakai or Sacassani were seated, and which appear to have begun from the south of the Kur. If the Russians make any further acquisitions in these parts, they will become possessed of the country of our Sakai ancestors. These circumstances, drawing the mind to this part of the world, led me to recollect that former antiquaries had observed a few words in the Persian language to resemble some in the Saxon. Camden mentions, that "the admirable scholar, Joseph Scaliger, has told us that fader, muder, brader, tuchter, band, and such like, are still used in the Persian language, in the same sense as we say father, mother, brother, daughter, and band." (Camden's Brit. Introd. cxxiii.)

Musing upon this intimation, it occurred to me, that if five words, so much alike as these, were found in the two languages, an attentive comparison of the Persian with the Anglo-Saxon might discover many more, if the allegation were really true, that the Saxons had come from these regions; and in that case, if any considerable number of similarities were really existing in the two languages, they would tend to confirm the belief, that the origin of our Saxon forefathers should be thus sought in Asia, and that their primeval ancestors had gradually moved from the Caspian Sea to the German Ocean. This view of the subject induced me to attempt a cursory examination, whether such resemblances could, by a general inspection, be perceived, as would satisfy the mind that the chorographical relationship was not an unfounded conjecture.

But it was obvious, that whatever the ancient identity between these languages may have been in their original state, no very great proportion of it could be expected to be visible now, because the Saxons have been separated from these regions at least 2000 years; and in their progress along the north of Asia, and through the whole breadth of the upper surface of Europe, and amid all the evils, sufferings, triumphs, and events, which must have befallen them before they reached the mouth of the Elbe; and from the new scenes and conflicts which accompanied their three centuries of depredations on the Roman empire and upon the ocean, and which afterwards, for four hundred years more, awaited them in Britain, before those works were written which display their language to us; - from all these causes, the Anglo-Saxons, in the days of Alfred, must have used a very different tongue, in the mass of its words, from that simpler and ruder one which their progenitors had conversed with in the beautiful province of Karabaugh, and on the Araxes, the Kur, and the Caspian. So, during the same lapse of time, the Persian language has ceased to be what it was in the days of Cyrus or Darius. It has become, within the last 1000 years, the most polished language of the Eastern world, and has been most exercised in clothing with select and ornate phrase the finest effusions of the Oriental genius. Modern Persian can, therefore, be scarcely less unlike the original language of those, in his war, against whom the self-confident Julian found an early grave, instead of the victorious triumph he expected, than our present English is to the Anglo-Saxon of the same period. Neither Persian nor Saxon are now what they were when the Sakai and the Persae confronted each other on their dividing rivers, and from their bordering mountains. Hence no such pervading identity could be expected as may yet be traced between the Welsh, the Bas Breton, the Irish, and the Gaelic, however originally similar.

The likeness would be also less, because the Saxons did not spring from the Persians. No one has alleged this parentage. The Sakai were the relatives only, not the children of the Persae. So far from any filial or paternal feelings existing between them, the most furious hostilities disparted the two tribes; and at one epoch, the Persians, by attacking the Sakai by surprise, nearly exterminated them. This disaster disinclined our valuable antiquary, Sheringham, from adopting this derivation of our ancestors. But as it is manifest that no attack of surprise could annihilate at that time more than the forces which were surprised, the calamity is more likely to have been a reason for the rest of the Sakai, after this weakening catastrophe, to have moved hastily out of their pleasing settlements in those parts of the world, and to have migrated westward to a safer locality. This defeat may have forced them from Armenia to other districts nearer Europe; and the war of the Romans, or of Mithridates, or similar disturbing causes, may have afterwards impelled them to proceed onward to the Vistula, and at last to seek refuge on the islands and peninsula of the western extremities of the continent.

The probability is, that all the tribes which anciently inhabited the immediately conterminous countries were, for the most part, branches of the same main parental stem. The Persae, the Sakai, and their neighbours, may be therefore considered as ramifications of the great Scythian stock - part of the audax genus of Japetus, or Japhet; and as such, although the old Persians and the Sakai would not have spoken the same language in all its words and forms, yet their respective tongues would be dialects of their family original, and therefore would have many terms in common, as we still find between the ancient Franco-theotisc and the Saxon. Of these assimilating terms, I expected that many fragments would be preserved, both in the Anglo-Saxon and in modern Persian, notwithstanding all the changing fortunes of the two nations; but that they would, from these mutations, exist and be perceptible now only as fragments.

Proceeding on this principle - that if the ancestors of the two nations did once live in vicinity to each other, although this was 2000 years ago, some indications of their neighbourhood would appear from subsisting similarities in their languages, and expecting to find these only as occasional fragments, I have compared the Anglo-Saxon with the modern Persian. The result has been, that, upon a general examination, I have found 162 Persian words which have a direct affinity with as many Anglo-Saxon terms of the same meaning; and these I beg leave to submit to the notice of the Society.

But before I attach the list of these, I will take the liberty also of mentioning, that I thought it right, after these similarities had been ascertained, to consider that two other languages, older than the modern Persian, had prevailed in that country. These were the Pehlvi and the Zend. The latter, the most ancient that we know of in those parts from actual specimens; the other, the Pehlvi, an intermediate one, in point of chronology, between the Zend and the Persian. Of both the Zend and the Pehlvi, M. Anquetil found some specimens among the ancient manuscripts which he consulted in exploring and translating the Zendavesta, or sacred book of the still subsisting worshippers of the sacred fire in those regions. Recollecting this fact, I have been led also to look into these specimens, and I have observed fifty-seven words in these fragments of the Zend language, which resemble as many in the Anglo-Saxon, and forty-three of accordant similarities between our old tongue and the Pehlvi. These one hundred and sixty-two Persian words, fifty-seven Zend, and forty-three Pehlvi, present to us two hundred and sixty-two words in the three languages that have prevailed in Persia, which have sufficient affinity with as many in the Anglo-Saxon to confirm the deduction of our earliest progenitors from these regions of ancient Asia.

That these affinities are too many to be ascribed to mere chance, there seems to be no difficulty in affirming. But on adverting to the positions suggested in my former papers, of a primeval oneness of language among mankind, and of the abruption of that into the diversities which now pervade the world, it is a reasonable question, whether these two hundred and sixty-two similarities are only remains of the primitive unity, or whether they be indications of specific subsequent relationship of two of the newer languages that were formed after the dispersion. Both the nature and the number of the analogies I have remarked satisfy my own mind that they are more truly referable to the latter than to the former cause, and therefore I will proceed to enumerate them, as corroborating testimony of our Sacassenian derivation, beginning with the Persian affinities, and then proceeding to those of the Zend and the Pehlvi.

am, I am. am, I am.
aelan, to burn. alaw, a flame of fire.
afora, a son. afa, the eldest son.
andega, an appointed term andan, a term.
abidan, to abide. abadan, an abode.
are, honour. aray, decoration.
arian, to honour. arayidan, to adorn.
ase, as. asay, like.
andget, the intellect, sense. angar, reason.
andgashtan, to think.
enge, trouble. anjam, grief.
andjugh, a sigh.
angel, a hook. angulah, a button.
ewe, water. aw, water.
earmth, misery. urman, trouble.
ende, the end. anjam, the end.
berend, fruitful. bar, fruit.
beeran, to carry. bar, a load.
brother, a brother. bradar, a brother.
barn, a barn. barn, a covered place.
bearn, a son. barna, a youth.
bedan, to offer. bedroz, a present.
balew, depraved. bulad, a malefactor.
beal, destruction. bulaghan, a calamity.
bilewite, simple. biladah, foolish.
beado, cruelty. bada, wickedness.
barbacan, a front tower. burbik, a portico.
bur, a chamber. barkh, an open room.
blessian, to bless. balistan, to bless.
blad, fruit, the blade. balidan, balandan, to grow
basing, a pallium, a chlamys.
basuian, to be clothed in purple.
baz, a habit, rich dress
bered, vexed. barat, disgusted, tired.
beard, a beard. barbar, a barber.
breost, the breast. bistan, the breast.
bysmor, infamy. bazat, a crime.
basaj, depravity.
bysgu, business. bishing, business.
bile, the beak, the bill. bull, the beak.
bio, I exist. bud, existence.
benn, a wound. bunawar, a sore.
bil, a mattock. bil, a mattock.
blowan, to flower. bilak, a flower.
bidan, to expect, to await. bidar, watching.
bidari, vigilance.
byld, firmness. bilah, firm.
bend, a bond. band, a band, a chain.
bendan, to bind. bandan, bandidan, to bind
bold, a town. balad, a city.
bolt, a house. bulud, a dwelling.
byan, to inhabit.
binland, cultivated land.
bingha, a dwelling.
beam, the sunbeam.
beamian, to beam.
bam, the morning.
sifer, pure, chaste. saf, pure.
safa, purity.
samod, together, in like manner. saehim, a partner, even.
mirran, to hinder. maraw, go not.
marang, a bar.
man, wickedness. mang, cheating, a thief.
mona, the moon. mang, the moon.
mxden, a maiden. madah, a female.
moder, mother. madar, mother.
mara, the night-mare. mar, sick.
mal, pay, reward, tribute. malwar, rich.
maldar, a rich man.
mani, many. mali, many.
morth, death. murda, dead.
morther, murder. murdan, to die.
mearc, a limit. marz, a limit.
mus, a mouse. murz, a mouse.
must, new wine. mustar, new wine.
na, not. nah, not.
naegl, a nail. nakhun, a nail.
nafel, the navel. nal; the navel.
nama, a name. nam, a name.
iiameutha, illustrious. nami, illustrious.
necca, the neck. nojat, the collar.
neow, new. no, new.
nu, now. nun, now.
nigan, nine. nuh, nine.
hol, health. hal, quiet, firmness.
hare, hoary. harid, venerable.
isa, ice. hasir, ice.
eam, I am. hayam, I am.
iuc, a yoke. yugh, a yoke.
rad, a road. rah, a road.
reste, quiet. rast, secure.
duru, a door. dar, a door.
deni, slaughter. dam, a groan, black blood
dim, obscure. damah, a cloud.
gabban, to deride. ghab, a foolish bitter expression
gaf, loquacious. guftan, speech, to relate.
cu, a cow. go, a cow.
gers, grass. gryah, grass.
gifr, greedy. guri, avarice.
faeen, fraud. faj, a lie.
sum, some. suman, a little.
reel, prosperity. salaf, luxurious.
steorra, a star. sitarah, a star.
losewest, deception. losidan, to deceive.
leogan, to tell a lie. lay, lying.
hlogun, they laughed. lagh, a jest.
lof, praise. laf, praise.
lufa, love. laheb, love.
lam, lame. lam, crooked.
lang, lame.
lippa, the lip. law, the lip.
laf, the remainder. lab, remaining.
less, the less. lash, small.
lar, learning. lur, ability.
lust, delight. lustan, to sport.
lust, luxuriousness. lashan, nice, soft.
blyd, tumult.
hlydan, to rage, to make a noise.
lud, furious altercation.
list, knowledge.
listum, skilfully.
lazir, clever.
thu, thou. to, thou.
thinan, to decline, to become thin. tanik, thin.
tinterg, torment. tang, tight.
tintregan, to torture. tangi, anguish.
tawian, to cultivate. tan, an inhabitant.
teman, to teem, to bring forth abundantly. toma, twins.
wen, hope. awanidan, to hope.
wenan, to expect. awanidan, to expect.
ysel, a spark. azar, fire.
raene, pride, glorying. awrang, power, glory.
ae, a law. aym, a law.
paeca, a deceiver. pak, vile.
paecan, to deceive. pakh, ingratitude.
paeth, a path, a footway. pay, pa, a footstep.
pal, a stake. palar, a beam of wood.
paell, colour. paludan, to besmear.
pyndan, to shut up, impound
pynding, a fettering.
paywand, a chain, a shackle
to, to. ta, to.
taer, a tear. tar, moist.
tarb, torture.
taeran, to tear. tarakidan, to split.
telan, to tell. talagh, a voice.
teiss, affliction. tasah, grief.
teisse, a stripe. tazyanah, a scourge.
tir, a lord. tir, a chief.
tir, glory. tur, a hero, bright.
siofotha, bran. sapos, bran.
seel, time. sal, a year.
seepah, age.
sul, a plough. suli, a plough.
sac, discord, quarrel. sakht, violent, stubborn.
sur, surig, sour. sirka, sirkah, vinegar.
salh, a willow. salah, a wicker-basket.
sorg, sorrow. sog, grief.
sugwar, sorrowful.
sol, solen, a shoe, a sandal. salu, a coarse shoe.
supwah, a shoe.
sole, the sole. sul , the sole.
thunar, thunder. tundar, thunder.
thunrian, to thunder. tundidan, to thunder.
tan, a bud. tundar, the bud of a leaf

It is remarkable that all, or nearly all, of the Anglo-Saxon words spelt in the Lexicon with sc, which are now used in our English phrase, are at present pronounced by us as sh, and are written with this orthography. Thus the Anglo-Saxon sceap, scyp, sco, scine, and sceam, are spoken by us as sheep, ship, shoe, shine, and shame. Whether the sh was the original sound of those words, which, by a sort of conventional orthography, were written as sc by our ancestors, to distinguish their sound of sh from the proximate one of s, or whether it became changed by one of those gradual alterations of pronunciation which occur in all languages from various causes, we cannot now decide; but the Persian has some analogous terms with the sh, instead of the sc, as:-

sea, excellent. shadbash, excellent.
seama, shame, bashfulnes. sharm, shame, bashfulness
shama, naked.
sceaming, confusion. shamidan, to be confounded
sceaphan, to shape, to put in order. shaplidan, to smooth.
sceaft, a shaft, an arrow. shaftu, a quiver.
sceaft, a point. shafar, the edge.
sceawian, to see. shuwaz, the eye.

The other resemblances which I have remarked between these two languages are:-

faegan, glad. farghan, gladness.
faeran, to go. feridan, to walk.
faroth, a journey. faraz, progress.
fyr, fire faroz, inflaming.
ferhth, the mind. farzah, wisdom, knowledge.
ferht, fear, fright. farasha, dread, trembling.

The congruities which I have perceived in the few specimens that have been published of the Zend with the Anglo-Saxon are the following:-

beran, to bear. bereete, to bear.
ba, both. betim, the second.
the, thee. te, thee.
eahta, eight. aschte, eight.
dochter, daughter. dogde, daughter.
dohte, he did. daschte, he did.
steorran, stars. staranm, stars.
frend, a friend. frem, a friend.
feder, a father. feder, a father.
mid, with. mad, with.
meder, mother. mediehe, mother.
medo, mead. medo, wine.
me, me. man, me.
metan, to measure. meete, measure.
med, a recompense. mejdem, a recompense.
maest, chief. meze, meso, great.
micle, much . mesche, much.
mecg, a man. meschio, a man.
mal more. mae, great.
na, not. noued, not.
nafel, the navel. nafo, the navel.
we, an oak. hekhte, an acorn.
hera, a lord.
heretoge, a chief.
herete, a chief.
paeth, a path. petho, a way.
purl pure. peratche, pure.
uppa, above.
upper, above.
opero, above.
threo, three. thre, three.
thrydde, the third. thretim, the third.
thu, thou. thvanin, thou.
bane, a floor, a board. baenthro, a floor, a board
rot, splendid.
rof, illustrious.
erode, illustrious.
astandan, to subsist. asteouao, existence.
beoth, they are. beouad, he is.
beo, be it. boiad, be it.
theof, a thief. teio, a great thief.
dreori, dreary. drezre, a desert
daeth, death. dajed, he is no more.
rewa, order. reso, he puts in order.
reswian, to reason. razann, intelligent.
froe, a lord. frethem, greatness.
guast, the spirit. gueie, the soul.
mxnde, he mentioned. manthre, words
midda, middle. meiao, middle.
morth, death. mrete, mortal.
merran, to mar. merekhsch, to destroy.
gear, year. yare, year.
earmth, poverty. armete, humility.
starian, to look at. astriete, he sees.
ba, both. bee, two.
singan, to say. senghan, a word.
scir, sheer, pure. srere, pure.
snid, a cut. snees, he strikes.
seon, to see. sodern, to see.
gnad, he bruised. ghnad, he strikes.
athe, easy. achiato, easy.
scina, shina, brilliant. scheeto, brilliant.

I will now only trouble the Society with the few coincidences that I have found in looking over Mr. Anquetil's short vocabulary of the Pehlvi, as he has printed it from his old manuscripts.

bonda, one bound. bandeh, a slave.
nam-cutha, famous. nameh, famous.
starian, to look at. astared, he sees.
halig, holy. halae, pure.
eahta, eight. ascht, eight.
sare, troublesome. sareh, wicked.
morth, death. marg, mortal.
a-marg, immortal.
thu, thou. tou, thou.
sex, six. sese, six.
bysmor, opprobrium. besche, wicked.
suht, languor. satoun, weak.
dom, legal judgment. din, law.
reasan, to attach. resch, a wound.
secgan, to say. sokhan, a word.
gaf, loquacious. goft, he said.
ofer, over, above. avvar, above.
dem, slaughter. damma, blood.
med, recompense. mozd, recompense.
cneou, knee. djanouh, knee.
steorran, stars. setaran, stars.
setnian, to be in ambush. sater, war.
sceacan, shakan, to shake, to pluck. schekest, he breaks.
athe, easy. asaneh, easy.
cu, cow. gao, ox or cow.
ma, more. meh, great.
bar, bare. barhene, naked.
morth, death. mourd, he dies.
mourdeh, mortal.
meder, mother. amider, mother.
nafel, the navel. naf, the navel.
na, no. na, not.
bog, a branch. barg, a leaf.
purl pure. partan, pure.
agytan, to understand. agah, understanding.
ac, an oak. akht, an acorn.
brader, brother. berour, brother.
bye, a habitation. bita, a house.
secg, a little sword.
saex, a knife.
sakina, a knife.
clypian, to call out.
cald, called.
kala, crying out.
mare, greater. mar, great.
necan, to kill. naksounan, I kill.
band, a joining. banda, a band.
raed, a road. raeh, a way.
eortha, earth. arta, earth.

From what I have seen of the three languages of ancient and modern Persia which I have inspected, I think that by a more elaborate investigation of all their analogies with the Anglo-Saxon, a greater number of satisfactory congruities might be traced. But the preceding specimens will perhaps be sufficient to support the probability of the geographical derivation of our ancestors from the vicinity of the Caspian and of Persia; and we are now too many centuries removed from the actual period of the migration, to have any stronger evidence upon it than that of warrantable inference and reasonable probability.

I have the honour to be, &c. &c. SHARON TURNER. 32, Red Lion Square, 22nd March, 1827.

N.B. - Since this letter was written, I have found several affinities of Anglo-Saxon words with others in the Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Sanscrit, Japanese, Coptic, Laplandish, Georgian, Tongo, Malay, and Susov, which are printed in the fifth edition of the Anglo-Saxon History [The History of the Anglo-Saxons]. These present a range of similitudes, amid general dissimilarity, which corroborates the principle formerly stated - of the original unity of the primeval language, and of its subsequent abruption on the compulsory dispersion of mankind. But these affinities are not, in each language, near so numerous as the preceding collections from the Persian and its cognate dialects; and therefore do not lessen the weight of the argument, that so many Persian correspondences with the Anglo-Saxon, favour the derivation of the latter nation from the ancient Sacassani, who inhabited the regions near the Kur.

By Sharon Turner (1768-1847), Esq., R.A., R.S.L. Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom. London. 1834. Vol. II. Part II. XII.

Read May 16, 1827.

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