βασιλεύς

Perseas

Senior Member
Greek
Hello,

is there an acceptable theory for the etymology of the ancient Gr. word «βασιλεύς» (king)? Some say that it derives from «βάσις» (base) & «λαός/λεώς» (people) or «βάσις» & «λᾶς» (stone): In other words the king is the base/leader of the people. My dictionary says however that this etymology is rather false, it's folk etymology. Thanks in advance.
 
  • fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    The standard Greek etymological dictionaries all state that βασιλεύς has no convincing etymology in IE, and Beekes classifies it as pre-Greek.

    But just for the sake of argument: How about it being a compound of βάσις and λαός/λεώς in the sense of “basis of the common people” or “basis of the army”? First of all, “basis” is not really the word that we expect. But in any case, from the standpoint of word-formation, “basis of the laos” ought to be *λεω-βάσις, like Mycenaean ra-wa-ke-ta, or Pindar’s λαγέτας, both for *lāw-āgetās “leader of the people”, not βασι-λεύς.

    βάσις plus λᾶς seems even less promising.
     

    mataripis

    Senior Member
    I read many times that word Vasileis means king and kingdom.For me it is really the Basis in English equivalent.but the last part leis does not mean people or leoh.it is more possible that it means light or sun from word ilios. And in my interpretation that word Vasileis of Ellinika means The light of Leader.Note that anointed leader has light of knowledge and wisdom Which are usually the basis of laws and regulations making.
     

    rushalaim

    Senior Member
    русский
    Historically, Greek hadn't have any kingdom ever, just many state-cities. Thus, Greece cannot have any "king" title. Perhaps, "Basyleus" is Italian word "vassal", when a Roman Emperor pointed a Greek vassal to rule over the Roman province Greece?
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    This word occurs already in Mycenaean Greek as qa-si-re-u, then in Greek authors from Homer onward. There is no way it could have been borrowed from Italian.
     

    rushalaim

    Senior Member
    русский
    This word occurs already in Mycenaean Greek as qa-si-re-u, then in Greek authors from Homer onward. There is no way it could have been borrowed from Italian.
    Maybe Roman "caesar" derived from Greek, and Romans took and named Greeks' gods under Roman names. But if Greeks don't know how the word "Basylious" was formed, maybe it is Romans' word? Greeks didn't name their kings as "caesars" but "vassals" of Rome, isn't it?
     

    bearded

    Senior Member
    Italian
    fdb: >> ought to be leobasis,....not basileus <<
    Is that a sure thing? Why do Greeks say ''`ippopotamôs'' and not e.g. potamippos?
     

    momai

    Senior Member
    Arabic - Syria
    Do you think Arabic basil heroic/brave man and basaalah heroism have anything to do with the Greek word, a loanword maybe?
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    fdb: >> ought to be leobasis,....not basileus <<
    Is that a sure thing? Why do Greeks say ''`ippopotamôs'' and not e.g. potamippos?

    In the overwhelming majority of Greek (and in general: Indo-European) determinative compounds the first element modifies the second (as in English “dog house” = “the house of a dog”). But there are a very small number of exceptions. These are explained as truncated two-word phrases, thus ἱππο-πόταμος or ἱππο-ποτάμις for older ἵππος ποτάμιος. I would not expect this with an old word like qa-si-re-u, βασιλεύς.
     
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    exgerman

    Senior Member
    NYC
    English but my first language was German
    fdb: >> ought to be leobasis,....not basileus <<
    Is that a sure thing? Why do Greeks say ''`ippopotamôs'' and not e.g. potamippos?
    The linking vowel in ancient Greek compounds is iota if the first component is a verb. Fdb is probably thinking of the much more common compounds where the first component is a noun or adjective and the linking vowel is omicron.

    The difficulty with finding an etymology for basileus within IE is that there is no verb baso or baseo, and that -leus cannot be a form of lawos.
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Do you think Arabic basil heroic/brave man and basaalah heroism have anything to do with the Greek word, a loanword maybe?
    I think not. Arabic basula “to be brave” belongs perhaps with basala “to ferment, to go sour”, and then with Akkadian bašālu, Aramaic b-š-l “to be ripe”, and similar words with Semitic s¹. The semantics would be “ripe” > “mature” > “brave”.
     

    apmoy70

    Senior Member
    Greek
    The linking vowel in ancient Greek compounds is iota if the first component is a verb. Fdb is probably thinking of the much more common compounds where the first component is a noun or adjective and the linking vowel is omicron.

    The difficulty with finding an etymology for basileus within IE is that there is no verb baso or baseo, and that -leus cannot be a form of lawos.
    Another problem if I may add is that even if we hypothesise that βασιλεύς was indeed from βάσις, its combinatory form should be βατ- and not βασ- (cf ἀνα-βάτης, ἐμ-βατεύω etc)
    Therefore
    VVV
    ...But in any case, from the standpoint of word-formation, “basis of the laos” ought to be *λεω-βάσις, like Mycenaean ra-wa-ke-ta, or Pindar’s λαγέτας, both for *lāw-āgetās “leader of the people”, not βασι-λεύς.

    βάσις plus λᾶς seems even less promising.
    That would be *λεω-βάτης
     

    apmoy70

    Senior Member
    Greek
    It is correct that -βατης is more common as the second component, but -βασις also occurs, as in ἀνάβασις. Both belong to the root *gʷem-, with different extensions.
    Professor, the problem is that βασιλεύς is masculine, and only feminine nouns can have as second element the noun -βάσις (eg ἀνάβασις, ἐπίβασις, μετάβασις, παράβασις) because βάσις is feminine itself, masculine compounds use -βάτης as second element
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Professor, the problem is that βασιλεύς is masculine, and only feminine nouns can have as second element the noun -βάσις (eg ἀνάβασις, ἐπίβασις, μετάβασις, παράβασις) because βάσις is feminine itself, masculine compounds use -βάτης as second element
    I see your point.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    Greek
    The standard Greek etymological dictionaries all state that βασιλεύς has no convincing etymology in IE, and Beekes classifies it as pre-Greek.
    Thank you very much. Probably Beekes is right.

    Thanks also everyone for contributing here.
     

    momai

    Senior Member
    Arabic - Syria
    I think not. Arabic basula “to be brave” belongs perhaps with basala “to ferment, to go sour”, and then with Akkadian bašālu, Aramaic b-š-l “to be ripe”, and similar words with Semitic s¹. The semantics would be “ripe” > “mature” > “brave”.
    Thank you very much @fdb for the answer.
     

    sotos

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Hello,

    is there an acceptable theory for the etymology of the ancient Gr. word «βασιλεύς» (king)? Some say that it derives from «βάσις» (base) & «λαός/λεώς» (people) or «βάσις» & «λᾶς» (stone): In other words the king is the base/leader of the people. My dictionary says however that this etymology is rather false, it's folk etymology. Thanks in advance.
    "Folk etymologies" need proper deconstruction, not discard. The "stone basis" (throne) of the mycenean kings came recently to the news, when Prof. Maggidis explained why he believes that he found a piece of the "Agamemnon's throne", i.e. a piece of a mycenean royal throne. He notes that the throne was made of a low quality local calcareous stone on purpose (while other parts of the palace were made of better stones brought from far.) It meaned to look like a projection of the basal rock into the palace and to symbolize that the king is based on the solid rock of his kingdom. The same rocky thrones have been found in Tiryns and Knossos.
    https://www.ics.forth.gr/isl/yppo_site/fokas/istorika_stoixeia/pictures/aithousa_thronou.gif

    Ο «θρόνος του Αγαμέμνονα»: Ο καθηγητής Χρ.Μαγγίδης εξηγεί (in Greek)
     

    Delvo

    Senior Member
    American English
    Historically, Greek hadn't have any kingdom ever, just many state-cities. Thus, Greece cannot have any "king" title.
    That is not right. All Indo-European cultures spent centuries in a similar situation, living in small villages or tribes rather than in nations hundreds of miles long. And they all had words such as Latin "rex". Such words simply referred to the rulers of the social units the people lived in at the time. Greek does seem to have lost its cognate for that, but only because "baslieus" took its place.

    Perhaps, "Basyleus" is Italian word "vassal", when a Roman Emperor pointed a Greek vassal to rule over the Roman province Greece?
    This word occurs already in Mycenaean Greek as qa-si-re-u, then in Greek authors from Homer onward. There is no way it could have been borrowed from Italian.
    But if Greeks don't know how the word "Basylious" was formed, maybe it is Romans' word? Greeks didn't name their kings as "caesars" but "vassals" of Rome, isn't it?
    The point about the Mycenaean form of the word and its use by Homer is that it's chronologically impossible. The Greeks had this word long before the Romans had any influence in Greece. Mycenaean Linear B writing was used before 1200 BCE. Homer wrote sometime between the late 1100s and middle 800s. The Romans didn't arrive and conquer Greece until 146. At best, Rome might have been influential enough for the Greeks to notice and import something from them slightly before the conquest, around 200 or so, but, when Greeks started using this word no less than a thousand years before that, Rome was nothing to them.

    Also, the sounds are wrong for an imported Latin word in Greek. Its oldest form, in Myceneaen, begins with a symbol (transcribed today as "qa") that represented both /kʷa/ and /gʷa/, before those initial consonant sounds shifted to /p/ and /b/ in Greek. It couldn't have gotten a /gʷ/ from Latin because Latin didn't have it. The Latin outcome of Proto-Indo-European /gʷ/ was /w/, which would have resulted in a Greek word beginning with a vowel, not [β]. (This doesn't eliminate the possibility that "basileus" and "vassal", which was pronounced "wassal" at the time, both came from the same PIE word beginning with /gʷ/.)

    Do you think Arabic basil heroic/brave man and basaalah heroism have anything to do with the Greek word, a loanword maybe?
    The oldest form starting with /gʷ/ makes it impossible for the Greek word to have been imported from a source with the initial /b/ already in place. If it's imported, the source needs to be one that would have yielded /gʷ/ before the gʷ→b shift. (This doesn't eliminate the possibility of Greek later exporting it with the /b/.)
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    (This doesn't eliminate the possibility that "basileus" and "vassal", which was pronounced "wassal" at the time, both came from the same PIE word beginning with /gʷ/.)
    Though this would not explain the -ss- in the Mediaeval Latin vassallus, or in its assumed Celtic source.

    The oldest form starting with /gʷ/ makes it impossible for the Greek word to have been imported from a source with the initial /b/ already in place. If it's imported, the source needs to be one that would have yielded /gʷ/ before the gʷ→b shift. (This doesn't eliminate the possibility of Greek later exporting it with the /b/.)
    I think that momai was asking whether Arabic bāsil could be a loan from Greek, not the other way round. In principle, this is possible, but as I argued (no. 13), it is not very likely.
     

    apmoy70

    Senior Member
    Greek
    That is not right. All Indo-European cultures spent centuries in a similar situation, living in small villages or tribes rather than in nations hundreds of miles long. And they all had words such as Latin "rex". Such words simply referred to the rulers of the social units the people lived in at the time. Greek does seem to have lost its cognate for that, but only because "baslieus" took its place...
    Actually Greek hasn't lost it, it's «κοίρανος» koí̯rānŏs it just fell out of use, it was gradually replaced by βασιλεύς. Interestingly enough, while κοίρανος is younger than βασιλεύς, the Byzantine emperor was called βασιλεύς.
    Also in the 1830's when we won our independence and formed the first modern Greek state, the Hellenic Kingdom, the king's formal epithet was the "Katharevousian" «ἄναξ» [ˈanak͡s] (masc.) which is the Homeric «ἄναξ» ắnak͡s (masc.) < Myc. wa-na-ka --> ruler, lord while hoi polloi called the king «βασιλιάς» [vasiˈʎas] which is the demotic word as it had evolved from Mediaeval Greek (pointing out the perennial cultural struggle within MoGr society, do we accept that we have more in common with Byzantium (βασιλεύς) or are we repelled by the Byzantine influence in our society, and take a giant leap of 1500 years, wiping out anything reminding us of it (ἄναξ)?)
     
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    mataripis

    Senior Member
    I know there is anakto in Greek.succesor always become the new ruler.No problem if koiranos is never used anymore but it reminds me the word Corona or Crown. Old Friars in my country used the name Basilio that sounds to me - the basis of light!
     
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