The Crimean Gothic

Crimean Gothic was a Gothic dialect spoken by the Crimean Goths in some isolated locations in Crimea until the late 18th century.[2] The existence of a Germanic dialect in the Crimea is attested in a number of sources from the 9th century to the 18th century. However, only a single source provides any details of the language itself: a letter by the Flemish ambassador Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, dated 1562 and first published in 1589, gives a list of some eighty words and a song supposedly in the language.

Busbecq’s information is problematic in a number of ways: his informants were not unimpeachable (one was a Greek speaker who knew Crimean Gothic as a second language, the other a Goth who had abandoned his native language in favour of Greek); there is the possibility that Busbecq’s transcription was influenced by his own language (a Flemish dialect of Dutch); there are undoubted misprints in the printed text, which is the only source.

Nonetheless, much of the vocabulary cited by Busbecq is unmistakably Germanic and was recognised by him as such (Note: In the (Biblical) Gothic examples, medial -gg- represents the sound /ŋg/, a feature of Classical Greek orthography adopted by Ulfilas):

wiki 1

Busbecq mentions a definite article, which he records as either tho or the (which may be either a gender difference, or an allophonic pronunciation much as with English “the”, which is pronounced either /ðə/ or /ðiː/), and possibly attesting to Crimean Gothic’s having retained /θ/ or /ð/ like English, at least in some positions.

Identification and classification

While the initial identification of this language as “Gothic” probably rests on ethnological rather than linguistic grounds — that is, the speakers were identified as Goths therefore the language must be Gothic — it shares a number of distinctive phonological developments with the Gothic of Ulfilas’s Bible. For example, the word ada “egg” shows the typical Gothic “sharpening” of Proto-Germanic *-jj- into -ddj- (as in Ulfilian Gothic iddja “went” from PGmc. *ijjē), being from Proto-Germanic *ajja-.

There are also examples of features preserved in Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic but which have undergone changes in West and North Germanic. For example, both Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic preserve Germanic /z/ as a sibilant, while it became /r/ in all other Germanic dialects. Crimean Gothic and Biblical Gothic both preserve the medial -d- in Proto-Germanic *fedwōr (stem *fedur-) “four”, attested as fyder in the former and fidwōr in the latter. This -d- is lost in all North and West Germanic languages, which have forms descending from *fewōr or *feur; Old English fēower, Old Saxon fiuwar, Old High German fior, Old Norse fjórir.

However, there are problems in assuming that Crimean Gothic represents simply a later stage in the development of the Gothic attested in Ulfilas’ Bible. Some innovations in Biblical Gothic are not found in Crimean Gothic, for example:

Crimean Gothic preserves Germanic /e/, whereas in Biblical Gothic it has become /i/, e.g. Crimean Gothic reghen, suuester, Biblical Gothic rign, swistar

Crimean Gothic preserves Germanic /u/ before /r/ whereas Biblical Gothic has /au/, e.g. Crimean Gothic vvurt, Biblical Gothic waurþi.

However, there are also similarities with developments in West Germanic, such as the change of /þ/ to a stop seen in Crimean Gothic tria (cf. Biblical Gothic þriu). Several historical accounts mention the similarity to Low German and the intelligibility of Crimean Gothic to German speakers, with the Dutch-speaking Busbecq’s account being by far the most important.

There are two alternative solutions: that Crimean Gothic presents a separate branch of East Germanic, distinct from Ulfilas’ Gothic; or that Crimean Gothic is descended from the dialect of West Germanic settlers who migrated to the Crimea in the early Middle Ages and whose language was subsequently influenced by Gothic.

Both of these were first suggested in the 19th century and are most recently argued by Stearns and Grønvik, respectively. While there is no consensus on a definitive solution to this problem, it is accepted that Crimean Gothic is not a descendant of Biblical Gothic.

The song quoted by Busbecq is less obviously Germanic and has proved impossible to interpret definitively. There is no consensus as to whether it is in fact Crimean Gothic.

Other sources of Crimean Gothic

Until 2015, the only non-Busbecqian additions to this very small corpus are two potentially Crimean Gothic terms from other sources: the first is a proper name, Harfidel, found in a Hebrew inscription on a grave stone dating from the 5th century AD; the second word, razn (“house”), may have lived on as a loan word meaning “roof lath” in the Crimean Tatar language.[3]

In 2015, five Crimean Gothic inscriptions were found by Andrey Vinogradov, a Russian Historian, on stone plates excavated in Mangup in 1938, and deciphered by Vinogradov and Maksim Korobov.[4][5] The inscriptions were made in the second half of the 9th century or in the first half of the 10th century. One of them is a fragment of a psalm.

One inscription says: †FAHILPSKAḶ[..]ṢÞ[.]WS[..], this is reconstructed as:

f(rauj)a hilp skalkis þein[is]

[i]o(h)anja (?)… weinag[ardjin- (?)]

ja[h] frawaur(h)t[is (?)]

Which is a translation in Gothic of a byzantian formula.[5]

Goths in Crimea

The Crimean Goths were Gothic Tribes which lived in Crimea, lived in and ran the Theodoro principality, and may have lasted well into the 18th 19th century. Though some Linguists insist that the Crimean Gothic Lanaguage may have survived as a very private ‘hausprach’ as late as 1945!

For a long time in Europe there were rumours of a Germanic Kingdom in the east. Some had even heard that it was the last Gothic Kingdom.The first report of the Crimean Goths was written by Constantine the Philosopher, who went to Crimea in 850 to preach the gospel to the Khazars. He lists “Goths” as people who read and praised the Christian God “in their own language” In the 15th Century there appears one romantic report by the explorer Joachimus Cureus’ in which claims that during a voyage in the Black Sea, his ship was forced ashore by storms. There, to his surprise, he found a man singing a song in which he used “German words” When Joachimus asked him where he was from, he answered “That his home was nearby and that his people were goths “

Hearsay evidence of this sort existed for a long time, until, In 1562, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq met two Crimean Goths in Constantinople, there, he recorded over 100 words in Crimean Gothic, and the first lines of a song which he sadly never translated. But feel free to give it a go…

Vvara vvara ingdolou

Seu te gira Galtzou

Hoemisclep dorbiza ea.

The entire online dictionary can be found here it’s quite fun to read through. Many of the words and phrases seem very similar to German; “Knauen Tag” for “Guten Tag”, “Ich Malthata” for “I say that..” or “Ies Vvarthata” for “He made that” These words, sadly, make up the only corpus of Crimean Gothic words ever complied. Even though other explorers went there and recorded more, In 1690, Kampfer stated

“The language spoke in the Peninsula Crimea, or Taurica Chersonesus, in Asia, still retains many German words, brought thither, as is suppos’d by a colony of Goths, who went to settle there about 850 years after the Deluge. The late Mr.Busbeq, who had been Imperial Ambassador at the Ottoman Port, collected and publish’d a great number of these words in his fourth letter; and in my own travels through that Country I took note of many more”

Anyway I will jump forward a bit. Their capital city; Mangup was completely destroyed by the Ottoman Empire in their invasion of Crimea, by a massive artillery bombardment – it also suffered an Earthquake in which many of the last inhabitants were expected to have fled. The last ever reference to the Goths in Crimea was in 1780, by Archbishop of Mohilev; Stanislas Sestrencewicz de bohusz who visited Crimea at the end of the 18th Century, and noted the existence of people whose language and customs differed greatly from their neighbors and who he concluded must be “Goths”. In the 1900s however, the explorer Brovonius climbed up the mountains to Mangup, to try and find evidence of some Goths, but claims that all he could find were Tartars and Greeks in the ruins of what was once a city.

In the late 1880s, Russian Linguist and Ethnologist V.E. Vozgrin was convinced that some small communities of Goths must have still existed in regions in the Crimea. He, unfortunately, was unable to find the Linguistic data he was after but found peoples who were “Considerably taller” and had “alien cultural traditions” to those people around them. He concluded that the Goths interbred with the Crimean Tartars and converted to Islam. In “The Crimean Tatars: the diaspora experience and the forging of a nation” By Brian Glyn Williams they quote Vozgrin as saying; ‘In all probability their decendents are the particular tartars of a series of small villages in the Crimea, who are sharply deliniated from the inhabitants of neighboring villages by their tall height and other features characteristic of Scandinavians’

It is clear that the Goths had begun to speak Tartar and Crimean Greek from long before the arrival of Busbeque thus they may well have integrated into the wider population, as later visitors to Mangup were unable to discover “any trace” of Gothic peoples.

Cultural Landscape of “Cave Towns” of the Crimean Gothia


Mangup-Kale: N44 35 32 E33 48 01

Eski-Kermen: N44 36 35 E33 44 22

Crimean Gothia appeared as a specific polity in the 3rd-4th centuries AD as a result of the Gothic tribes’ migration to the northern Black Sea area. In the 6th cen­tury, the Goths and the Alans became phoideratoi (allies) of the Byzantine Empire and therefore numerous fortresses and fortified settlements were built in the mountainous Crimean area to protect the local population and the Empire’s northern frontiers. During the complicated historical events of the 13th-14th centuries, an autonomous principality of Theodoro appeared in this area. This principality is considered to be the legal successor of the Crimean Gothia. The most important medieval settlements of the Crimean Gothia have acquired a specific naming, that of “cave towns”, due to their specific nature. Today we know about 10 sites of this type that look like monadnocks covered by the remains of the urban buildings and numerous cave constructions that sit on the tops and slopes of the plateaux they occupy. Among the numerous settlements situated in the area there are two – Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen, which are the largest in size and the most outstanding in value for the Crimean Gothia, the land with deep historical roots and unique natural landscapes.

Hence the object “Cultural Landscape of ‘Cave Towns’ of the Crimean Gothia” is a serial one and belongs to the mixed type of nominations (that have cultural and natural heritage characteristics). The object consists of the sites that are unique remains of the mediaeval settlements located on the slopes and plateaux of the two natural monadnocks, Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen. Composed of bryozoan limestone and located at a distance of 5 km from each other within the Outer Ridge of the Crimean Mountains, these monadnocks have been announced as natural sites because of their picturesqueness supported by the cuesta landscape that surrounds them. The importance of the sites is significantly enforced by the historical name of “cave towns” that they bear and which appeared as a result of hundreds of man-made caves carved by humans at the slopes and plateaux. The object has also the archaeological value because of the numerous cave constructions and ground-based buildings from the Mediaeval Period that are still planted in the area. The results of the archaeological research show that Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen were the main centres around which the mediaeval Crimean Gothia polity and then the Theodoro Principality – formations that played an outstanding role in the contact zone of the Byzantine civilization and the barbarian world, have been formed.

Mangup-Kale is a rocky plateau of irregular form covering the area about 90 hectares, which is limited by rocky precipices up to 60 m high and steep sides on every side that are more than 100 m high. The territory of the plateau and slopes of Mangup-Kale does not have modern buildings, but it is partly covered by bushes and mixed forest.

Man-made caves of defensive, religious, and administrative purpose are grouped at the top of rocky precipices in the central and eastern areas of the plateau. There are also isolated groups of caves related to the mediaeval monasteries that are situated at the foot of the cliffs on the southern and northern side of the monadnock. The total number of ancient cave constructions within the limits of Mangup-Kale exceeds 100. There are also the remains of the mediaeval ground-based buildings (fortifications, basements of residential houses, and churches) located in the northern part of the plateau’s top as well as in the ravines’ mouths. The top eastern area of the plateau is occupied by the remains of the citadel castle of the 14th-15th centuries.

The first settlements in Mangup-Kale that date back to the Aeneolithic Period appeared in the area at least 5000 thousand years ago. Later on, in the Bronze and Early Iron Age, the place functioned as a temporary refuge. However, a permanent settlement appeared on the plateau as early as the second half of the 3rd century AD, when the first Goths migrated to the Crimea. From this moment on, there started the formation of the administrative centre of the Crimean Gothia polity, which established federative relations with the Byzantine Empire. A mighty fortress was constructed on the Mangup plateau in the 6th century with the help of Byzantine architects. Since the 6th century the settlement atop Mangup-Kale started acquiring the characteristics of the capital of the “Crimean Gothia” polity which it had fully gained by the end of the 9th century. Then, due to the expansion of the Khazars, the city got into a temporary decline period which lasted until the end of the 13th century and caused the reversed changes in Mangup-Kale that again turned it into a small settlement. Its fast development started after the invasions of Mongol khan Nogai in the late 13th century, and it became the capital of the independent princedom of the Theodoro that in the 14th-15th centuries had the entire south-western part of the Crimean peninsula in its possession. In 1475 the principality was destroyed as a result of the Theodoro capital siege exercised by the Ottoman army. The settlement in Mangup-Kale then gradually declined, so did the life on the plateau. Though the final glimpses of life in this area were fixed only in the 18th century.

Eski-Kermen is a rocky plateau that stretches from north to south, covers the area of about 9 hectares, and is encircled by the rocky precipices almost 30 meters high. The territory of the plateau and slopes of Eski-Kermen are free of modern buildings, though they are partially covered by bushes and mixed forest.

The groups of caves of defensive, religious, and administrative purpose stretch along the whole perimeter of the plateau rocky precipices. There are also numerous man-made caves, which served as the cellars in the mediaeval houses. They are scattered all over the top of the plateau too. The total number of the ancient rocky caves in the Eski-Kermen plateau is more than 300. There is a unique siege well among them and a few cave churches that keep the remains of the 13th-14th century frescoes. There are also the archaeological remains of the mediaeval ground-based buildings, such as fortifications, basements and walls of the residential houses and churches, including the remains of the great basilica located on top of the plateau.

Eski-Kermen was first inhabited in the 6th century AD when Byzantine emperors ordered a mighty fortress to be constructed there for a garrison of the Goths, phoideratoi (allies) of the Empire. Although the fortress of Eski-Kermen was initially subordinated to Mangup-Kale, later on, after the Khazarian expansion, it became the capital of the Crimean Gothia. Eski-Kermen was a flourishing town with dense and complicated system of urban planning. In the end of the 13th century it was ruined by the Mongol khan Nogai army. Eski-Kermen has never revived as a capital city since then, instead turned into a small settlement of religious interest. The settlement was finally abandoned in the late 15th century because of the Ottoman conquest of the northern Black Sea area.

Today the object named “Cultural Landscape of ‘Cave Towns’ of the Crimean Gothia” is managed by the Crimean Republic Institution of Bakhchisaray Historical and Cultural Preserve. It is among the most famous and popular tourist sites in the Crimea. The history of archaeological investigations and conservation works of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen is almost a century long, and the monuments are now open to tourists.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

“Cave Towns” of the Crimean Gothia is a unique phenomenon in the history and culture of the northern Black Sea area and a remarkable monument well-known in the world. The value of the object is defined not only by its complicated historical component (and the fact that in the Middle Ages it has become the part of the Crimean Gothia polity formation, development of the Theodoro principality, establishing federal relations with the Byzantine empire as well as struggling against the Khazars, khan Nogai’s Mongols, the Genoese and the Ottomans) but also by a specific space planning that the Crimean Gothia had. The peculiarity of the latter was explained by the skilful combination of the numerous rocky caves gouged by the local population into the natural and picturesque massif landscape. All this showed the appearance of a specific cultural tradition of constructing urban and castle type fortifications that with time developed as a specific mark of the Crimean Gothia polity in the south-western Crimea.

Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen urban settlements are known as the biggest and the most exciting examples of the “cave towns” in the Crimean Gothia, since they functioned through the centuries as administrative centres (the capitals) of different polities in this area. Numerous wars have ruined most of the ground-based structures of the settlements so today only the archaeological site of them has been preserved untouched for the last 500 years.

Criterion (iii): The settlements of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen are unique examples of the ancient urban assembles that have original systems of ground-based and underground fortifications as well as specific town planning system which reflects cultural traditions of the Gothic phoideratoi (allies) who populated a contact zone between the Byzantine empire and the Barbaricum.

Criterion (v):The settlements of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen are outstanding ex­amples of human-environmental interaction, since they were created, with maximum use of natural conditions of mountainous landscape, atop plateaux of isolated monad­nocks. Natural environment was supplied with various man-made caves used as ap­proach roads, defences, religious edifices, and administrative structures.

Criterion (vi):The settlements of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen were in the centre of nu­merous events of regional and all-European importance from the Great Migration Pe­riod to the Ottoman conquest. Particularly, these settlements were directly connected with the Gothic invasions in the middle of the 3rd century A.D., administrative reforms in the Byzantine empire’s northern province in the 6th century, anti-Khazar rebellion in the late 7th century led by the St. John of Gothia, the establishment of the Theodoro principality and its fall in the late 15th century.

Criterion (vii): Cultural landscape of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen could be attributed to the sites of extraordinary natural beauty that have survived being surrounded by the untouched area of various natural monuments of the Outer Range of the Crimean Mountains. The aesthetic value of the object is enforced by the organic combination of extraordinary picturesque mountainous landscapes, fantastic formations of natural limestone and a great number of man-made caves that are well seen amidst vertical cliffs.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The settlements of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen as integral parts of the ob­ject “Cultural Landscape of the ‘Cave Towns’ of Crimean Gothia” are entirely authentic and sound sites of archaeology and cultural landscape. These settlements envelop archaeological monuments of ancient urban planning, numerous complexes of man-made caves and natural landscape of mountainous cliffs. All these elements form the environmental framework of this object.

Archaeological site of the remains of the middle-aged urban building and planning includes archaeological layers and ruins of ground-based buildings, which have survived almost “in one piece” on top and at the foot of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen plateaux. The whole area of both settlements keeps the remains of the ancient fortified constructions (such as walls of the residential premises, administrative and religiously oriented ground-based buildings) some of them, like citadel of Mangup-Kale, being 5 metre high. The state of preservation of these monuments allows the researchers to reconstruct the type and features of architecture and urban planning of the ground-based spaces at that time, fulfil conservation and restoration of the ancient ruins making them museum exhibits.

Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen caved complexes, examples of man-made medieval monumental architecture, continue keeping their authentic condition and archaeological status. Archaeologists who have partly excavated the caves have left their material structure untouched. Most of these complexes, with the exception of some that have been ruined by natural erosion, have not experienced any huge damage. Moreover, wall-painting fragments of the Late Byzantine period can still be seen in some of the ancient settlements’ man-made caves. Special conservation efforts have been applied to conserve the frescoes that help them keep in their present state.

Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen settlements that sit atop natural rocky monadnocks are free of any modern buildings and have not underwent any visibly seen ruination. Their harmonious combination with the sites of ancient constructions is the background of the integrally preserved and authentic cultural landscape of the “cave towns” of the Crimean Gothia.

Comparison with other similar properties

The World Heritage List includes several objects comparable with the “Cultural Landscape of ‘Cave Towns’ of the Crimean Gothia.” Among the sites combining picturesque natural cliffs and numerous man-made caves there are:

  • “Petra” (Jordan, 1985, comparable criteria – i, iii, iv);
  • “Gӧreme National Park and the Cave Structures of Cappadocia” (Turky, 1985, comparable criteria – i, iii, v, vii);
  • “Meteora” (Grece, 1988, comparable criteria – i, ii, iv, v, vii);
  • “Cultural Landscape and Archeological Remains in Bamyan Valley” (Afghanistan, 2003, comparable criteria – i, ii, iii, iv, vi).

Special emphasis has to be given to the fact that apart from the monuments of Cappadocia all other objects on the above-mentioned list (such as, ancient tombs, Christian and Buddhist monasteries) have mostly been used for the religious purposes. This explains their specific architectural look and planning style. Although the sites of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen incorporate monastic complexes and urban churches, they compose only a small part of the vast majority of the ancient architectural forms and therefore could be called exceptional.

Moreover, a great part of the Cappadocian monuments, mediaeval underground fortifications, were concentrated mainly at the foot of the cliffs to play the role of the ancient type storehouse or refuge. On the contrary, the Crimean defensive caves were casemates and guardhouses located in the upper parts of the cliffs and precipices. The use of man-made caves as defensive constructions was a specific feature of the Crimean cave towns rather than a distinct aspect of the Byzantine fortifications.

Generally, man-made Crimean caves are second in number after the Cappadocians but their “interior design” and authentic look are better preserved than those of the Gӧreme National Park because they have not been later used or reconstructed.

It is also worth mentioning that none of the world sites analogous to the Crimean include well preserved archaeological types of ancient urban buildings. Apart from cave casemates, the group of Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen monuments includes various kinds of unique cellars found nowhere else in the world. Those in Eski-Kermen are carved into the bedrock to form an underground part of numerous urban houses in these settlements.

An important aspect of this comparative analysis is the historical background of the above-mentioned objects. In contrast to the sites of Cappadocia and Meteora, the Crimean medieval monuments represent ancient settlements that had not only regional but larger scale influence.

According to the experts’ point of view, the range of events that happened in the Crimean region (establishing the Crimean Gothia and Theodoro principalities, federal relations with the Moldavian princedom and the Genose, the siege of Mangup and St. John of Gothia’s anti-Khazar rebellion) make Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen sites extremely important for the formation of the All-European history.

Besides, one would no doubt mention the significance of the landscape that reinforcing harmonious combination of the natural rocky cliffs with man-made cave constructions adds to the beauty of the Crimean Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen “cave towns” and improves their visual panorama. occupy dominant positions within picturesque landscape, so their size and beauty are comparable with those of Meteora, though the latter does not have archaeological sites of large settlements and numerous cave constructions.

Finally, it is worth admitting that Mangup-Kale and Eski-Kermen are not the only Crimean “cave towns”. More sites of analogous history and nature (such as, Tepe-Kermen, Kyz-Kermen, Kachi-Kal’yon), located within the limits of the Outer Ridge of the Crimean Mountains and objectively regarded as those that need further thorough archaeological research and safeguarding measures, could be in future added to the existing nomination widening and enriching it.

Is the Z63 group the vistula gothic and crimean gothic as stated by KN in march 2012?

The geographic distribution of I1-Z63 is much too wide (England, the Low Countries and West Germany…) to be exclusively Gothic. That’s why I did not label it. But I agree that the Goths most probably carried Z63 lineages because this subclade is found in Central and Eastern Europe (especially Poland and Ukraine) as well as in Iberia and South Italy. I would expect to find it also in the southern Balkans (around Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria). So far its absence from the Maghreb is another argument in favour of the Goths, since it was only the Vandals (and the non-Germanic Alans) who invaded North Africa.


The main counter argument against a Gothic origin of Z63 is its low incidence in Sweden, where the Goths supposedly originated. I would rather believe that Saxons from North Germany integrated the Gothic tribe before they migrated to Poland and Ukraine. That would explain everything.