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Barbarian Europe

Ingaevones, Herminones, and Istaevones

by Edward Dawson, 29 April 2022

Tacitus recorded the inhabitants of Germania, noting that they comprised three groups or supertribes, known as the Ingaevones (or Ingvaeones, according to Pliny), Herminones, and Istvaeones.

As an aside, it would seem that Pliny had it right, a point which will be discussed later.

These three groups of Germanics were said to descend from the three sons of Mannus (meaning 'man', from the proto-Indo-European (PIE) word, 'man', literally referring to a man). Mannus in turn was the son of Tuisto (meaning 'god', from the PIE 'deiwaz'). The older name Tuisto evolved into Tiw amongst the Anglo-Saxons, and Tyr amongst the Norse.

Pliny also names these three groups, but adds two more: the Bastarnae and Vandili (Vandals) who occupied lands to the east of the other three. These latter two were evidently later immigrants from Scandinavia, and for the purposes of this article they shall be ignored. Tacitus also made no mention of any tribes in Scandinavia itself. The Bastarnae may have been adopted into the Hermiones. [1]

Germanic groups

Instead all of the Germanic tribes were clustered as follows:

  • Ingaevones, in the north, which included the Cimbri, Teutoni, Saxoni, Angli, and Chauci
  • Istaevones, in the west of Germania, which included the Frisii, and Batavi in the north-west, and Sicambri and Alemanni further south
  • Hermiones, which included the Suevi confederation, Hermunduri, Catti, and Cherusci


'In their ancient songs, 15 which are their only records or annals, they celebrate the god Tuisto, 16 sprung from the earth, and his son Mannus, as the fathers and founders of their race. To Mannus they ascribe three sons, from whose names 17 the people bordering on the ocean are called Ingaevones; those inhabiting the central parts, Herminones; the rest, Istaevones. Some, 18 however, assuming the licence of antiquity, affirm that there were more descendants of the god, from whom more appellations were derived; as those of the Marsi, 19 Gambrivii, 20 Suevi, 21 and Vandali; 22 and that these are the genuine and original names. 23 That of Germany, on the other hand, they assert to be a modern addition; 24 for that the people who first crossed the Rhine, and expelled the Gauls, and are now called Tungri, were then named Germans; which appellation of a particular tribe, not of a whole people, gradually prevailed; so that the title of Germans, first assumed by the victors in order to excite terror, was afterwards adopted by the nation in general.'

Pliny (iv 14), embraces a middle opinion between these, mentioning five capital tribes. These are the Vindili, to whom belong the Burgundiones, Varini, Carini, and Guttones; the Ingaevones, including the Cimbri, Teutoni, and Chauci; the Istaevones, near the Rhine, part of whom are the midland Cimbri; the Hermiones, containing the Suevi, Hermunduri, Catti, and Cherusci; and the Peucini and Bastarnae, bordering upon the Dacians (see map link in 'related links').

Added to these three names by classical writers is the '-es' suffix. This is a Latin plural suffix. In the same manner, the '-on' suffix is a Germanic 'definite article' (ie. 'the'), which is used to indicate a plurality as a single grouping. As for the Istaevones, Pliny was correct, while Tacitus was in error. The word element 'vae' (pronounced 'way') means a path or travel route to follow, but also is extended to mean customs and principles to follow.

Therefore the base names are: Ing, Hermin, and Ist.

Map of European Tribes
This map shows the locations of European tribes around the first centuries BC and AD, including all known Germanic tribes (click or tap on map to view at an intermediate size)

[1] There is a map available via a popular but not fully reliable 'wiki' website which shows the five Germanic divisions. This does not match the description given by Tacitus. There is another map which shows ancient Germania which was published in 1849 by Harper & Brothers, New York, which is better but which still doesn't match Tacitus.


At first glance Hermin looks easy to interpret. It initially appears to be a Roman misspelling of the familiar name, Herman. The first part, 'her-', means an army, while 'man' means 'man', so Herman means 'army man' or, more elegantly, soldier. With the '-on' plural/definite article suffix this becomes 'the soldiers'.

But a deeper investigation belies this, as its descendants are Old Norse 'Jǫrmun', Anglo-Saxon 'Eormen', and Old Saxon 'Irmin'. This deity name is the familiar Vedic deity, Aryaman, one of the Asura.

'Asura' is cognate with Anglo-Saxon 'Os', and Old Norse Aesir or Æsir, the name of the tribe of the Norse gods themselves! (See Tribal Warfare of the Gods in Scandinavia for a more in-depth examination of Æsir and the Norse gods). Suddenly an intriguing possibility opens up. What if all three of these names are Indo-Aryan (Indo-Iranian) asura names?


The roman 'v' is pronounced as a 'w', so the name would originally have been pronounced as 'Ingaew'. But there's a problem with that name: it doesn't flow properly off the tongue.

Considering the fact that in the Old English poem, Beowulf, this tribal name shows up as the Ingwine (pronounced 'ing-vin-eh'), and the Norse given name is Yngvi, the older form of the name must be corrected to 'Ingvae' or 'Ingwae' as indicated above.

So it would be Ingwae (Ingway) or Ingwaeo, recorded as Ingo, Inguio, Ingui, and Ingi in Icelandic. In Gothic it is spelled 'iggws', with the 'n' missing and the nominative suffix reduced to an 's'.

So what does the name mean?

The Asynjur of Norse mythology
The equally fierce and hard-fighting Asynjur were the female equivalent of their male Æsir counterparts in Norse mythology, all of whom formed the principle gods of the Norse pantheon (click or tap on image to view full sized)

It is found as the name of one of the runes. And it appears either to be the name of a god - perhaps Freyr - or Freyr is an epithet of the god. The latter is favoured here. The main possibilities which come to mind are 'ing', 'eng', and 'ang'. Despite some opinions, the normal definition of 'ing' as showing descent is rejected here; it is a suffix which should not be extended.

Nothing seems to be available for 'eng'. That leaves 'ang'. The definitions for this which produce a 'narrow place' or 'bend' are not useful. No one names a deity that. But another possibility is a root from which we get words for anger and terrible, and this certainly could be a deity name in a warrior culture. [2]

If what has been outlined above for Hermin is correct, then this opens up the possibility that 'ing' underwent a similar change to the initial vowel. Since it appears that the 'a' of Aryaman changed to the 'i' of Irmin, then it can be accepted that the 'i' of Ing can be changed back to an 'a'. This yields Ang, and that word is found in Old Iranian, aka Avestan.

The online dictionary of most common Avesta words (see sidebar links) provides this word: 'anghu', meaning 'life, being, spirit, existence, the world ['ahm'], people of the world'.


There was a small kingdom of the Ists mentioned around AD 500. [3]

The name 'Istvaeones' sheds its suffixes in the same manner as does Ingvaeones. The base name would be Istvae, pronounced Istwae or, in Norse style, Ystvi. There is visible similarity to the Old Prussian ist and istwei, meaning 'to eat'.

This makes little sense; these are Germans not Slavs, and who names someone 'eater'? But, if this is purely legendary, then the German words which are derived from the same root can be compared: 'eoten', meaning 'giant', and the older 'eteninne', meaning 'witch'. The implication here may be a 'people eater', ie. a cannibal, or figuratively a demon who 'eats up men'.

Did the Germans borrow a Baltic name? This seems doubtful. A simpler possibility is some extended meaning of the verb 'to be', 'ist'. But that doesn't work as a man's name; is it a deity name?

Given the etymology of Hermin, the likelihood that this may be an Indo-Aryan Asura name must be considered. Its exact correspondence to the Germanic verb 'to be' immediately points to a Vedic deity and the divine principle of 'truth as what is', 'Rta'.

The Avestan language form, aša/arta, not only appears to be equivalent to the English verb 'to be', if we also assume the 'a' to 'i' change then we have English 'is' and 'art' (an older form of 'are'). The Vedic equivalent to this is Rta. The Vedic deity which is most closely associated with Rta is probably Varuna, referred to as Uranus by the Romans, Ouranos by the Greeks, and Taranis by the Celts, from which the name Thor may possibly be derived.

Rta is a principle, not a person, but deification of this principle would be a rather normal thing for Indo-Europeans to do.

Map of Scandinavia c.AD 100
Early Germanic peoples in Scandinavia were clustered for the most part along the coasts of southern Scandinavia, and only began to expand inland from the third century AD or so (click or tap on map to view full sized)

[2] A detailed discussion about the use of this in a tribal name is available on the page covering the Angrivarii tribe.
Odin of Asgard

Odin (or Woden in older source material) was the ruler of the 'gods' of Asgard, ie. the king of a band of warrior heroes called the As or Os, with As-gard the name of their main stronghold

[3] See the Widsith List of minor German kingdoms around AD 500.


Did a group of ancient Iranian nomads travel north from a location around the Black Sea or Caspian Sea and establish themselves among other Indo-Europeans in Denmark or southern Sweden, hybridising their languages to form proto-Germanic?

Or was there a small group which was absorbed by the proto-Germanics in Scandinavia whose priests transmitted these names?

In either case it appears to have been some sort of cult. What supports it most strongly is the 'three sons' of Mannus appearing to be priests of Rte. And that particular realisation falls in line with the original meaning of the word 'god' and its cognates: a magician.

In ancient times priests were always magicians. To an extent this assertion goes against conventional wisdom to break new ground. But it takes a background which most academics who are working in this field do not have: one which includes fifty years as a spiritual student, and an ability to recognise the original source of priests when it becomes apparent.

Years of research has been yielding clues to show that the cult called of Rte was prevalent across Indo-European steppe culture.

'Truth as what is' appears to be the focus of the cult. The verbs 'to be' are used as personal names, tribal names, and regional names; today's name for the Far East's main landmass is derived from one of these verbs. It's Asia (see sidebar link for the origins of this name).

In Avestan there is more along these lines:

  • aŋhuš, noun; nominative singular masculine 'existence, life'
  • ašā - noun; instrumental singular neuter 'truth'
  • aŋhaṯ verb; third person singular present subjunctive active 'be, become'
  • ašāṯ noun; ablative singular neuter 'truth'.

Even more, the initial 'a' of 'asa' became the 'i' of 'is', with the same a > i shift.

All of this means that we get 'ingvae' to mean 'life', 'istvae to mean 'truth', and 'hermin/ermin' to mean 'aryaman', ie. 'man of truth'. The cult of Rte survives today as Zoroastrianism and the various Hindu yogas.


Main Sources

Cornelius Tacitus - The Germany and the Agricola of Tacitus, Project Gutenberg

Cranberry Letters, The - Pre-Proto-Germanic, International Affairs, Language Policy, and History

Pokorny, J - Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, online database which updates Pokorny's Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch

Pokorny's Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch

Dictionary of most common AVESTA words

Reference 1

Root / lemma: u̯eik-1
English meaning: to choose, filter
German meaning: 'aussondern'
Material: Old Indian vinákti, vivékti, vevekti 'sondert, siebt, sichtet', particle viktá-; Kaus. vecáyati; av. ava-vaēk- 'ausscheiden, aussuchen'; from the meaning 'to gottesdienstlichen Zwecken aussondern' entspringt die of 'Weihens', wherefore here lat. victima 'sacrificial animal, sacrifice, oblation', being based on auf einemi-or u-stem, *vikti-s respectively *viktu-s 'Weihung'; got. weihs 'holy', as. wīh- ds., ahd. wīh, wīhi ds., compare mhd. (ze) wīhen nahten, from which nhd. Weihnachten; aisl. vē- n. 'Heiligtum, temple', as. wīh m. 'temple', ags. wēoh, wīg m. 'Götterbild'; derived Vb. got. weihan, altisl. vīgja, as. wīhian, afries. wīa, wīga, ahd. wīhen 'weihen'; with intensive germination germ. *wik-kan- 'magician': ags. wicca m. ds., wicce 'Zauberin' (engl. witch); md. wicken 'conjure, perform magic', wicker 'magician, Wahrsager'; without gemination: ags. wigol 'zum Wahrsagen gehörig', wiglian 'wahrsagen', mnd. wickelen; eine variant *u̯eig- (ö) in umbr. eveietu 'electum' (*ek-u̯eigētumö)

References: WP. II 232, WH. II 782;
See also: relationship to u̯eik-, u̯eigh- 'bend' etc is not ausgeschlossen.
Page(s): 1128

Reference 2

Root / lemma: u̯eik-2
English meaning: force, energy (victory, battle, etc)
German meaning: 'energische, especially feindselige Kraftöußerung'
Material: Lat. vincō, -ere, vīci, victum 'die Oberhand gewinnen, win, triumph; defeat, conquer', pervicāx 'hartnöckig, steadfast', osk. vincter 'convincitur';

air. fichid 'fights', dīḫfich- 'punish, curse', fīch m. 'discord, rage, fury', feuchuir 'stern' (*u̯íkaris), feuchrae 'austereness, severeness' (unclear is das ch in acymr. guich[i]r 'wild'), fecht (*u̯iktā) 'campaign = acymr. guith, cymr. gwyth 'rage, fury', abret. uueith- in PN; gall. VN auf -vices (abrit. Ordo-vices 'Hammerkömpfer'), PN Victo-valos etc.; with full grade Vēcti-rīx, Vēco-rīx = air. PN Fīachrai, Gen. Fīachrach (Ogam VECREC);

got. weihan 'fight', wigana Dat. Sg. 'fight, struggle, war, fight'; ags. ahd. wīgan (ahd. only in particlewīgant, wīhant, gawigan 'decrepitus', irwigan, confectus, 'abgekömpft') 'fight, quarrel', mhd. anwīgen 'assail'; mhd. wīhen 'schwöchen', nhd. dial. sich weihen = 'sich weigern', anweihen 'anfechten'; aorist- present aisl. vega, vá 'fight, slay', ahd. ubarwehan 'öberwinden' (with falschem consonant), mhd. widerwehen 'with blanken Waffen kömpfen'; aisl. vēla (*vīhalian) 'sort, order, arrange, sich with etwas abgeben'; aisl. vīg, as. wīg, mnd. afr. wīch, ahd. wīc, wīg etc 'fight, struggle', aisl. Adj. vīgr 'kampftöchtig', got. zero grade waihjō f. 'war, fight, fight, struggle'; o-grade in germ. *waigō- f. 'power', therefrom derived as. wēgian, ags. wǣgan, ahd. weigen etc. 'belöstigen, torment, smite', norw. veiga 'swing'; ein ro-Adj. is ahd. weigar 'sich widersetzend, stout, proud', mndl. weiger, wēger 'widerwillig', therefrom ahd. weigarōn etc. 'sich weigern';

lit. veikiù, veĩkti 'somewhat make, work', apveikiù 'bezwinge', pérveikiu 'bewöltige', véikus 'fast, rapid, hurried', veiklùs 'tötig, geschöftig', viẽkas 'power, life', vỹkis m. 'life(digkeit)', vikrùs 'alert, awake, smart'; lett. vèikt 'align' etc; veĩklis 'hurtig, fit, healthy', vīkt 'thrive';

Old Church Slavic věkъ m. 'power, Lebensalter', čech. russ. věk ds.; perhaps here also lat. vix 'barely, with genauer need', as 'alle Kraft zusammennehmend'.

References: WP. I 232 f., WH. II 791 f., Trautmann 339, Vasmer 1, 179.
Page(s): 1128-1129



Text copyright © Edward Dawson. Maps copyright © P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.