0. Introduction

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The History of Celtic Scholarship in RUSSIA AND the SOVIET UNION*

Séamus Mac Mathúna

0. Introduction
Mr Chairman, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me begin by thanking our distinguished patron, Professor Karl Horst Schmidt, for agreeing to open this inaugural conference of Societas Celto-Slavica. We are greatly honoured by his presence here today and we thank him most sincerely for his excellent introduction and kind words regarding the formation of the Society.

I thought initially it would be possible in my lecture this morning to give a brief outline of the main works and achievements of Celtic scholarship in the Slavic countries, secure in the knowledge that it would not be necessary to discuss Celtic Studies in Poland as this subject would be dealt with by Professor Piotr Stalmaszczyk in a subsequent paper. However, having gathered together a significant amount of material on Celtic Studies in various countries – Russia, Czechia,1 Bulgaria,2 Serbia,3 Croatia,4 and others – I realised that I could not do the subject justice in the time available without considerably narrowing the scope of my investigations: I decided therefore to confine myself primarily to Celtic Studies in Russia and the former Soviet Union.5 The history of Celtic scholarship in other Slavic countries will, I hope, be addressed on another occasion.

1. The Slavs and the Celts

Of all the ethnic European peoples, the Slavs are the most numerous. They reside principally in Eastern Europe, but are also found in Asia. The Slavic languages are normally divided into three main groups, as follows: East Slavic (of which the major sub-groups are Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian); West Slavic (including Lekhitic, that is, Polish and related divisions, Czech-Slovak, and Sorbian); and South Slavic (with two main divisions, namely, Bulgarian-Macedonian, and Serbo-Croatian-Slovene). While the eastern origin of Slavic is not in doubt, the assumption of an original Balto-Slavic unity still remains uncertain. As Professor Schmidt has pointed out in his address, the many correspondences between the languages may be due to a common IE inheritance or to shared forms which have resulted from having been in close proximity for an extended period of time. Moreover, the Baltic area at the beginning of the historical era was larger than it is today, much of it being later slavicised (Schmid 1976: 15). Several centuries before Christ, the proto-Slavic dialect area appears to be between the Rivers Oder and Vistula in Poland and the Dnieper in the Ukraine, north of the Carpathian Mountains. This proto-dialect area is in a kind of so-called intermediate zone. It includes the Illyrian, Thracian and Phrygian languages of the Balkans, and is bordered to the West by Germanic, Celtic and Italic, and to the East by Scythian and Tocharian.

As to some of the other surrounding peoples, the Thracians were located in Thrace which was bordered to the North by the Danubian province of Moesia and to the South by Macedonia; Thrace and Moesia occupy the territory which roughly corresponds to modern Bulgaria. The Phrygians had come from Asia via the south Russian steppes and settled in the Balkans, in proximity to the Thracians and the Illyrians; and between c. 700 BC and 200 BC, the Scythians had settled between the Dnieper and the river Don in the present-day Ukraine. Then, in the historical period, there occurred the great migration of Slavs into Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, the Pannonian plain and, in the fourth century, into the Balkans, and northward along the upper Dnieper river and the Black Sea.

The Celts appear in central Europe along the upper Danube c. 600 BC and spread thereafter to the West, East and South. In the middle of the first millennium, Celtic tribes settled along the upper Oder, thus triggering about the fourth century B.C. a new period of Celto-Slavic contacts in the Carpathians and Silesia. Archaeological evidence, such as the Podkloshevy grave culture of the middle and upper Vistula and the Oder, shows clear Celtic influences (Sedov 1998, 2002). Germanic tribes, who occupied territory adjacent to, and north of the Celts, settled on the lower Oder and Vistula. The Celts also spread into Bohemia, Pannonia, northern Italy and the Balkans. They founded, for example, at the mouth of the Save in Moesia, the town of Singidunum, known today as Belgrade. In 280 BC they invaded Macedonia and crossed thereafter into Asia, settling in Galatia. Hence, the Celts were in close contact with a number of peoples in this zone, including the Slavs.

Using linguistic and archaeological evidence, the problem of the homeland and migrations of the speakers of Proto-Slavic has been discussed by various scholars of the Slavic languages.6 And although it is difficult to determine the exact nature of the influence of one language on another in the Proto-Slavic period due to a variety of factors, such as the heterogeneous linguistic situation, a number of Slavic scholars have also taken an interest in this matter and have contributed to the question of contacts between Celtic and Slavic at this time.

For example, in the writings of classical authors – Ptolemy, Pliny and Strabo – there is mention of a people called the Venedes/Veneti or Wenden, who have been identified by many commentators as Slavs (Gołąb 1975: 321ff.), and by others, such as A. A. Shakhmatov (1864-1920) in 1911, as Celts. Shakhmatov’s article ‘Zu den ältesten slavisch-keltischen Beziehungen’ (1911) is a landmark publication on the question of connections between Celtic and Proto-Slavic in which the author argues, on the basis of toponymic data, that there were indeed early contacts between these two peoples.

Shakhmatov was a famous academician, linguist, philologist and historian of ancient cultures. From Serbia originally, he studied in Moscow under the Indo-Europeanist Filipp Fjodorowich (1848-1914), a scholar who had studied in Germany, France and England. Shakhmatov also worked closely with Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, the great linguistic scholar and founder of the Kasaner Linguistic School. His 1911 article referred to here is one of the earliest Celtic contributions by a Slavic scholar on Celtic linguistic matters of this kind. As pointed out by Professor Schmidt, however, Shakhmatov’s specific conjectures in this work have not been supported by subsequent investigators such as K. Buga (1924), O. Toporov – V. Trubachov (1962), and M. Vasmer (1953, 1971).


A. A. Shakhmatov (1864-1920)
Further work on Celto-Slavic contact phenomena has been carried out by other Russian scholars including V. A. Dybo (1961); S. B. Bernstein (1961); O. N. Trubachov (1965, 1983); V. V. Martynov (1983); V. P. Kalygin (1997, 2003); A. Falileyev (1997-98, 1999, 2001);7 V. V. Sedov (1998, 2002), and others, some of whom are mentioned later in this paper. Polish scholars who have contributed to early Celto-Slavic contact matters on linguistic, historical and toponymic subjects include J. M.

Rozwadowski (1897), M. Rudnicki (1936), T.

Lehr-Spławiński (1956a, 1956b), T. Milewski (1961), J. Kuryłowicz (1961a), Z. Gołąb (1972), and P. Stalmaszczyk & K. Witczak (1995, 2001, 2002).8 The work of the Czech scholars J. Filip (1956) and V. Machek (1963) should also be mentioned in relation to early Celto-Slavic contacts. 9

A. D. Machinsky (1974) has examined various kinds of evidence – written, archaeological and toponymic – for the penetration of Celtic tribes into the region east of the Carpathians and north of the Lower Danube. Others who have contributed to the question of early Celtic settlement in the Balkans include V. Beševliev (1967), M. A. Tikhanova (1974), M. V. Schuckin (1974), Y. B. Tsirkin (1974), O. H. Frey & M. Szabó (1991) and I. Duridanov (1997).10

Some scholars, such as Trubachov, have assumed that the centum stratum in the Slavic languages points to Celtic influence. Recent work by Piotr Stalmaszczyk and Krzysztof Witczak (1995), however, calls this hypothesis into question. They point out that spirantisation of dorso-palatal consonants was not without exceptions and that other centum languages, such as Tocharian dialects, Italic (especially Venetic) and Illyrian, could have influenced Proto-Slavic. On the other hand, they point to a loss of labial *p in conjunction with the depalatalisation of IE *k in three Slavic words as strongly suggesting Celtic influence despite the fact that linguists had not previously “been able to identify even a single Proto-Slavic word whose origin could be definitely ascribed to Celtic influence” (Stalmaszczyk & Witczak 1995: 225).

The majority of correspondences between Celtic and Slavic are clearly due to a common IE inheritance. The work of Karl Horst Schmidt, Viktor Kalygin, Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel, and Alexander Falileyev suggests, however, that a number of shared features between the language groups have developed at different chronological periods, some as a result of later language contact. In a seminal paper on the subject in 1985, and in further work in 1992 and 1996, Professor Schmidt – one of the few western Celtic scholars to have made a significant contribution to this area – adduced three items of linguistic evidence which suggest that there were contacts between Celtic and Slavic tribes in the earliest period. The features in question are: the future in *-sye-/*-syo-; the desiderative formation; and the inflected relative pronoun *yos. These items are not instanced in Italic, which suggests perhaps that there were not close contacts between the Celtic and Italic peoples at that time. These matters are discussed both by Professor Schmidt himself and by Professor Kalygin in the present volume.11

Kalygin (2003), Falileyev (1997-98, 1999, 2001), and Falileyev and G. R. Isaac (2003) have contributed a number of further lexical studies supporting this viewpoint. These studies also suggest that some of the shared lexical items, such as the words for ‘leek, onion, garlic’ – which are taken to be derived from the IE *kes- ‘scrape, comb, peel’ – may be the result of shared innovation during a period of cultural contact between Celts and Slavs before the expansion of Germanic, while others need to be accounted for in other ways. In addition, Falileyev has examined topographical data in Ptolemy’s Geography which suggest that Slavic names are typologically closer to Celtic and Daco-Thracian than to Baltic and Germanic. “This”, he suggests, “offers clues to the early historical contact zones between the relevant people” (Falileyev 2002: 83).12

In this regard it should be noted that Heinrich Wagner took the view that the central position of Celtic within the IE dialects of the first millennium BC is reflected in numerous isoglosses running between Celtic, Italian and Germanic; Celtic and Balto-Slavic; Celtic and Albanian; and even between Celtic and ancient Greek. From the point of view of linguistic geography, he believed that the earliest home of the Celts must be sought in an area west of the Thracians in modern Hungary and adjacent regions. From here they would have spread to the whole of Western Europe (Wagner 1969: 208-9, 227; repr. in Wagner 1971).

2. Introduction of Celtic Studies in the Soviet Union

While early work on Celto-Slavic contacts had a critically important impact on the development of Celtic Studies in Russia, other factors have also played a role. The translation into Russian of Die keltische Zivilisation und ihr Erbe (1961),13 the work of the eminent Czech archaeologist Jan Filip, for example, had the effect of stimulating some young scholars to find out more about the Celtic languages, as did the works of Irish authors writing in English.14 Nevertheless, the credit for introducing the discipline of Celtic Studies into the Soviet Union must go to A. A. Smirnov (1883-1962). Born in Moscow, he graduated from the Historical-Philological Faculty of St. Petersburg University in 1907.



A.A. Smirnov (1883-1962)

ollowing his Masters, he was appointed in 1911 Privat-Docent at the Department of Romance and Germanic Philology. He went to France on a two-year research trip where he studied under the distinguished Celticist and Indo-Europeanist Joseph Vendryes. During this period (1911-13), he also acted as Secretary of the Editorial Board of Revue Celtique. Smirnov also spent some time in Spain, and in Ireland, and attended lectures at the National

University of Ireland in Dublin. He taught at St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad University from 1913 until 1958. His courses included ‘An Introduction to Celtic Philology’ and ‘Celtic Literatures’, and his lectures were published as part of the University’s 1947 (2nd ed. 1959) coursebook Istoriya zapadnoevropejskoj literatury. Ranneye srednevekov’ye i Vozrozhdeniye (The History of Western European Literature. Early Medieval Ages and Renaissance). His work on Celtic includes an edition of the Medieval Irish tale Aided Muirchertach meic Erca (1915), translations of Irish sagas, Irlandskiye Sagi (1929), and a Russian translation of Lewis and Pedersen’s influential book, A Concise Comparative Celtic Grammar (1954),15 a formidable undertaking which demanded great stamina.

His Irish Sagas has stood the test of time, going into three editions, in 1929, 1933 and 1961; it was also republished, along with Icelandic sagas, in the 1974 World Library of Literature, a milestone of Russian scholarship which brings together in a unified series major works of the world’s literatures from the earliest times to the present.16 Tatyana Mikhailova (2004) has recently republished two of Smirnov’s translations of Irish sagas in Sagi ob Uladakh, namely, Compert Con Culainn and Serglige Con Culainn. Smirnov also published a number of other works in academic journals on Arthurian literature, links between Medieval Breton and Early French literature, and other Celtic matters (Smirnov 1912, 1913, 1914). After his death, one of the most distinguished Russian academicians, V. M. Zhirmunsky, published a bibliography of Smirnov’s works (Zhirmunsky 1963).

Viktoriya Nikolayeva Yartseva continued the work of Smirnov at Leningrad and, during a long and highly distinguished academic career, was responsible for the further promotion of Celtic Studies in Russia and the USSR. Having taken her doctorate in Leningrad in 1940 on ‘Razvitiye anglijskogo glagola’ (‘The Development of the English Verb’), she was appointed to a Lectureship in the Department of Germanic Languages and was simultaneously Leading Research Fellow at the Institute for Linguistics, Moscow. She travelled back and forth between the two cities a couple of times a week for many years. At a later stage in her career she moved to Moscow State University to assume the Directorship of the Department of Germanic Studies and the Headship of the Institute of Linguistics at the Academy of Sciences.17 On the basis of her outstanding contribution to scholarship in the USSR, she was elected Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Moscow.

While Professor Yartseva shared Smirnov’s interest in literary matters up to a point, she concentrated primarily on aspects of comparative and typological linguistics and on the history of the Germanic and Celtic languages. Among her works on Celtic are ‘Drevneirlandskij i drugiye kel’tskiye yazyki v sisteme indo-evropejskikh yazykov’ (‘Old Irish and other Celtic Languages in the System of the IE Languages’ = Yartseva 1940) and ‘Syntaksis infinitiva v drevneirlandskom’ (‘The Syntax of the Infinitive in Old Irish’ = Yartseva 1941), the first two scholarly papers published in the USSR which were dedicated to Celtic linguistic matters.

Professor Yartseva was responsible for initiating the publication into Russian of Smirnov’s translation of Lewis and Pedersen, to which she contributed an introduction and commentary. She also edited the Proceedings of the Symposium on the state of Celtic Studies in the Soviet Union which was held in Leningrad in 1974 and which contains articles by most of the practising Celticists of the day (Yartseva 1974). She also initiated the series of Leningrad/St. Petersburg colloquia entitled Yazyk i kul’tura kel’tov (Celtic Languages and Culture), the first of which was held in 1988 and the proceedings of which she herself edited. The series has been held on a regular basis in Leningrad/St. Petersburg since the early 1990s and amply demonstrates the vitality and growing importance of modern and contemporary Russian Celtic scholarship. Much praise must go to Dr. Alexander Falileyev, who succeeded Yartseva in organising the colloquia and editing the proceedings.18 A memorial volume in honour of Professor Yartseva, to which a number of Russian Celticists contributed, was recently published (Babenko 2000).
3. Russian Celtic Studies: Linguistics

Both A. A. Korolyov and I. V. Kryukova contributed linguistic articles to the 1980 Leningrad Symposium.

Dr I. V. Kryukova, a member of the Institute of Linguistics at the Russian Academy of Sciences, also produced an important monograph on verbal change in the Irish language, Glagol’noye slovoizmeneniye v irlandskom yazyke (Verbal Inflection in Irish = Kryukova 1987). Dr A. Falileyev (1990-91: 58) gives the following succinct description of the work:

The aim of Dr. Kryukova’s investigations is to provide a systematic analysis of the evolution of verbal inflection from Old to Modern Irish with special regard to dialect data. Several frequent irregular verbs were chosen to be analysed in terms of the inflection of Present, Future and Preterite forms. The author provides a typological interpretation of their evolution. Dr Kryukova marks archaic areas and innovative ones according to the data of the modern Irish dialects. A table of irregular verbal forms in different dialect zones is given as an appendix.

More recently, Dr Kryukova has published a work (Kryukova 1995) on Irish/English language interference and contact phenomena.




A.A. Korolyov (1946-1999)

orolyov (1946-1999) studied under Yartseva and in 1973 received his doctorate for a thesis on ‘Istoriya form mnozhestvennogo chisla imen suschestvitel’nykh v irlandskom yazyke’ (‘History of the Forms of the Plural Number of Nouns in the Irish Language’). This was, to my knowledge, the first doctoral thesis in Russia on a subject which was devoted entirely to a Celtic topic. He published extensively various philological and linguistic papers on Old Irish, Scottish Gaelic and other Celtic languages (see Korolyov 1971, 1972, 1988), including the first monograph to be published in Russia on a Celtic subject, Drevnejshiye pamyatniki irlandskogo yazyka (The Oldest Monuments

of the Irish Language, 1984).19 This work consists of an account of the earliest Irish

linguistic forms together with an in-depth analysis and discussion of the Ogam inscriptions, including a Glossary of all lexical items contained in the Ogam corpus.20 A. A. Korolyov subsequently became Professor of Comparative Linguistics at the Russian University for the Humanities, specialising in Celtic and Anatolian. He was also affiliated to the Institute of Linguistic Studies at the USSR Academy of Sciences, Moscow.

In some works, Korolyov collaborated with Viktor Pavlovich Kalygin, born in 1950, another important figure in the development of Celtic Studies in Russia, whose untimely death in December of the year 2004 has taken from us one of our most valued Russian colleagues.

He was taught and greatly influenced by various important and farsighted scholars, such as V. N. Yartseva, E. A. Makaev, and L. G. Herzenberg. As holder of an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation scholarship in 1990-92, he also carried out research work in Freiburg i. Breisgau and the Sprachwissenschafliches Institut, Bonn, where he came into close contact with Western Celtic scholars such Professors Schmidt, Herbert Pilch and Hildegard Tristram.

We should refer perhaps in the first instance to Kalygin and Korolyov’s 1989 work Vvedeniye v kel’tskuyu filologiyu (Introduction to Celtic Philology), in which Kalygin


Viktoriya Yartseva and Viktor Kalygin
Photo taken on the occasion of Yartseva’s 90th birthday.

November 1996, Moscow (?).

demonstrated his wide-ranging knowledge of the Celtic languages and their traditions in his contributions on matters such as the general characteristics of the Celtic languages, the Irish language (including Old Irish, written with Korolyov), Manx, Breton and Cornish. Korolyov also wrote the chapters on the Contintental Celtic languages, Middle and Modern Irish, the language of the Picts, and Welsh in its various stages. The work is intended as an aid to the advanced study of comparative Celtic linguistics and, as the authors point out themselves, they do not seek “to make original contributions too often or put forward viewpoints of their own, but rather to present the problems and summarise their discussions” (Kalygin & Korolyov 1989: 3-4). Be that as it may, the assessment of the authors does not do the work justice: it is demonstrably authoritative and quite comprehensive.21

Kalygin was a specialist in Early Irish poetics and he demonstrated his grasp of the subject in an important monograph which was originally published in 1986 and republished the year before his death, namely, Yazyk drevnejshej irlandskoj poezii (The Language of the Earliest Irish Poetry, 2003). It is divided into two parts: (a) The Filid and the Earliest Irish Poetic Tradition, and (b) The Languages and Style of the Genealogical Poems. The first part consists of two chapters, one on the functions of the poets and the genres of the earliest poetry, and the other on word-formation and the grammatical features of the poetry. The second part is made up of four chapters and contains a close analysis of archaic Irish genealogical poetry. It has chapters on the nature of Early Irish genealogical poetics, the phonic organisation of the poetic text, lexis and semantics, and syntax. He makes a study of opposition systems, arguing that the distinction between ‘poetic’ and ‘ordinary’ language (gnáthbélre: bélre tobaide) corresponds to the distinction between the ‘language of gods’ and ‘the language of men’.

Kalygin contributed a number of further learned papers on this subject in subsequent years, including an article on the phonic aspects of the material to Professor Tristram’s Colloquium on Metrik und Medienwechsel (Kalygin 1991), and a published lecture (Kalygin 1994) in memory of Rudolf Thurneysen, ‘Indogermanische Dichtersprache und altirische mythopoetische Tradition’. He also made important contributions to questions relating to the mythological aspects of the Early Irish and Celtic grammatical and onomastic traditions. One can only hope that his body of work will receive in the West the attention it rightly deserves.

Dr Alexander Falileyev studied at the University of Leningrad and subsequently worked there and at the Russian Academy of Sciences. He was an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation scholar at the University of Bonn in 1996-8, where he studied and worked with Professor K. H. Schmidt. He also collaborated with Professor H. L. C. Tristram at the University of Potsdam, and delivered a series of lectures on Early Welsh there in 2003. He was a School of Celtic Studies scholar at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 1999-2002 (his Walter of Henley. Anglo-Norman Texts and Welsh Translations will be published later in 2006 by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies). He has contributed a range of important etymological studies relating to Celto-Slavic contact phenomena, and has a particular scholarly interest in the linguistic situation in the Balkans and the Ukraine in the early period (see Falileyev 2003-2004, 2004, 2005, 2005a, 2005b, 2005c, 2005d). Based at the Welsh Department of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, he is presently engaged in a major AHRC research project on Celtic linguistic data from Dacia and Moesia Inferior, having previously been a Research Fellow on the Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe Project.22 Dr Falileyev has also contributed significant works of scholarship to Early and Medieval Welsh Studies as his recent work Drevnevalijskij Yazyk (The Oldest Welsh Language, Falileyev 2002) demonstrates. This work has been translated into a number of languages, including German and French.23

As can be seen up to this point, there is continuity in the Russian linguistic scholarly tradition, from F. Fjodorowich in the last third of the nineteenth century, through Shakhmatov, Smirnov and Yartseva, to the present day. Fjodorowich trained as an Indo-Europeanist in western Europe and also brought to his work the interests and methodologies of the Slavic tradition. Prior to Fjodorowich, the first reference to the Celtic languages in Russia appears to be in the landmark work by Peter Simon Pallas, commissioned by Catherine II in the late eighteenth century, Linguarum totius orbis vocabularia comparativa, 1787-89 (second edition, 1790-91).24

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