The Fomorians (Old Irish: Fomoire, Modern Irish: Fomhóraigh) are a supernatural race in Irish mythology. They are often portrayed as hostile and monstrous beings who come from the sea or underground. Later, they were portrayed as giants and sea raiders. They are enemies of Ireland’s first settlers and opponents of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the other supernatural race in Irish mythology. Regarding the etymology of the name Wikipedia states:
“The first part is now generally agreed to be the Old Irish fo, meaning under, below, lower, beneath, nether, etc. The meaning of the second part is unclear. One suggestion is that it comes from the Old Irish mur (sea), and that the name thus means something like “the undersea ones”. This was the interpretation offered by some medieval Irish writers.”
But some Irish authors believe that the original name of Fomorians was actually Pomorians. The reason for this change is that in Germanic languages the original Indo-European sound “P” at the beginning of the word has been exchanged for the sound “F”. Some other examples are: pater-father, pyr-fire, pesces-fish, por-for…
The Fomorians = The Pomorians
If we apply the same logic to Fomorians, we get the name that sounds very close to the Slavic tribe of Pomeranians, or Pomorians. In the case of the Slavic tribe, the etymology is not debatable at all (in Slavic language). It means simply “sea people”, or more precisely “people living next to the sea”, something that is very true for Fomorians of Irish mythology.
The Pomeranians (German: Pomoranen; Kashubian: Pòmòrzónie; Polish: Pomorzanie) were a group of West Slavic tribes who lived along the shore of the Baltic Sea between the mouths of the Oder and Vistula Rivers (the latter Farther Pomerania and Pomerelia). Pomeranians were highly skillful seaman with strong naval force in more recent history – from early middle ages onwards. The name Pomerania comes from Slavic “po more”, which means Land at the Sea, and this typically Slavic toponym can be seen in many Slavic countries, for example in Bulgaria where on the coast of the Black Sea we have cities Pomorie and Primorsko with the same etymology. In the case of the former city, Pomorie, it is interesting to point out that even the ancient Greek name was just a “translation”. The city was known as Anchialos to Greeks (Greek: Αγχίαλος), deriving from Ancient Greek “anchi-” (“near, close to”) and “als-” (either “salt” or a poetic and uncommon word for “sea”.)
However, according to the mainstream history, Slavs had settled this Baltic region only in the 6th century AD, coming from the east, while according to the Irish mythology Fomorians were the first settlers of Ireland, and had settled there right after the flood. They were already present at the time of arrival of Partholón, traditionally considered to be around 2680. BC. I have already shown in other texts on Polabian Slavs that the dating of their arrival to Europe is highly questionable. So let us just assume that these two tribes could be really related in some way. What other conclusions could be drawn from it?
As we can see on the map above, another Slavic tribe, neighbors of the Pomeranians were Sorbs. Isn’t it interesting that one of the most famous Fomorian giants of Irish mythology was called Searbhán? Also, these Sorbs are historically known as Lusatian Sorbs, as the region that they inhabited was named Lusatia, coming from the Slavic word “lug”, meaning “swamp”, but Lug was also the name of one of the most important gods of Irish pantheon, whose mother was Ethniu of the Fomorian tribe. There are also many other strange toponyms that mirror between modern day Serbia and Ireland, such Hill of Tara in Ireland and Tara mountain in Serbia, or Boyne river in Ireland and Bojana river in Montenegro, Iber river in Ireland on the map of Ptolemy and Ibar river in Serbia, but these connections are nowadays considered to be of a later date and related to Celtic expansion.
As curious as these etymologies can be, they don’t really mean much without some kind of confirmation in archaeology and genetics. Genetic samples of early settlers of Ireland do exist, and according to the book I have – “The origins of the Irish” by J.P. Mallory, in terms of Ydna, the pre-farming communities were the bearers of R1a, R1a1, R1b3, IJK, PN3, N3 I1a, I1b2 and I1c.
Nowadays R1a and R1a1 are considered to be Balto-Slavic, which is certainly what Pomeranians were, even though we still can’t be 100% sure that we are dealing with the same people in the case of prehistorical Ireland. However, genetics proves that haplogroup R1a arrived in this part of the world several millennia before R1b, which is now present in almost 80% of the Irish.
As for the archaeological record, if we start from the 3rd millennium BC, when these migrations have presumably happened according to medieval Irish myths, we see that the dominant culture was the Bellbeaker culture (2800 – 1800 BC). On the following map we see the spread of its influence – note that one of the Central European “hotspots” falls precisely in Pomerania area and continues further down in modern Slavic lands.
The influence of Bellbeaker culture, Wikipedia
The arrival of the Bellbeaker culture, marks the end of Neolithic period and beginning of the Bronze age. It is also very interesting to note that another hotspot of this culture was Sardinia (and Sicily) – the island that bears the name of Shardani – “sea people”. According to the Lebor Gabála, Partholón came from Greece via Sicily and Iberia. The fact that their presumed arrival is off just for few hundred years in terms of the appearance of the Bellbeaker culture maybe tells us that we should not regard this story as the pure mythology.
Moreover, even the name of Tuatha dé Danan has already been connected to another tribe of the “sea peoples” – the Denyen, while in the Genealogies from Rawlinson we see that one of the early ancestors of the Fomorians was Philist, a name very reminiscent on Pelest, from whom the Philistines originated.
Rawlinson B 502, Section 26, page 330:
“Bress m. Elathan m. Delbáeth m. Deirgthind m. Ochtaich m. Sithchind m. Molaich m. Lárgluind m. Ciarraill m. Fóesaim m. Meircill m. Leccduib m. Iachtaich m. Libuirnn m. Lathairn m. Soairtt m. Sibuirt m. Siuccat m. Stairnn m. Saltait m. Cair m. h-Iphit m. Philist m. Fuith m. Caim m. Nóe m. Laméch”.
In short, it seems that there could be some grounds in relating the arrival of Bronze age to Ireland with the arrival of the sea peoples. I will write a separate article for each of the sea people tribes, but for now let us say that they were certainly not a homogeneous group. Even the Old Testament tells us that the Denyen and Pelest were on the opposite sides in those days, so why the same could not be valid for Ireland?
The term “sea peoples” is derived from ancient Egyptian. We don’t really know if Egyptians simply coined this word for groups of people that appeared from the sea, or this was only the translation of the name that these people gave to themselves. In the second case, the term Pomoriani would be quite appropriate. Moreover, on the coasts of Adriatic sea, in the 9th and 10th century there was a Serbian tribe of Narentines, also known as Primorjani (next to the sea) and “Marjani” (literately “sea people”) They were also highly skillful seaman and pirates, just like their relatives from Baltic Pomerania. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:
“A strange republic of Serbian pirates arose at the mouth of the Narenta. In the 10th century description of Dalmatia by Constantine Porphyrogenitus (De Administrando Imperio, pp. 29-37), this region is called Pagania, from the fact that its inhabitants had only accepted Christianity about 890, or 250 years later than the other Slavs. These Pagani, or Narentani defeated a Venetian fleet in 887, and for more than a century exacted tribute from Venice itself. In 998 they were finally crushed by the doge Pietro Orseolo II., who assumed the title duke of Dalmatia, though without prejudice to Byzantine suzerainty.”
Whether we can relate these typical Slavic ethnonyms “Pomorjan” and “Marjan” to the “sea peoples” of the Egyptians remains disputable, but these are probably the only examples of litteral translation in any period of history. As for the Fomorians, I believe that we have a stronger case to relate them to Pomeranians, but you can judge for yourself. In the following articles I will present some other original ideas of identities and origin of each tribe of sea peoples so stay tuned!