The oldest recorded name of ancient Belgrade is Singidunum (or Singidun). Its first mention dates to the 3rd century BC. But even before that, the area was inhabited continuously – from Paleolithic cultures to Neolithic Vinca and later to Thracians and Schytians of the 6th century BC.
According to mainstream history, these later tribes were nomadic and did not have permanent settlements. So a few centuries later, when Celts first arrived on Balkans, they founded Singidunum. The poor nomads had the choice to go roam somewhere else or assimilate into the Celtic society.
This was the summary of the official version of Belgrade’s history – a few safe lines on prehistory, then a quick jump to the much safer ground of the Roman era.
On the etymology of Singidunum
In conclusion, even though on the territory of Belgrade we have material traces of all of the above-mentioned cultures, the credits for the foundation of the first settlement go to Celts. The reasoning behind this lies solely on the etymology of the name of the settlement. Apparently “dunum” means “hill” in Celtic. BUT… here is the thing… “dunum” means “hill” in Thracian too! And also, the Thracians were there first.
So what about the first part then – “Singi”? Will Celtic language be of any help? Well, actually no. I mean no theory is official yet. A few scholarly options that we have for the word “singi” are:
1. “round” (therefore round-hill)
2. a name of a Thracian tribe (therefore Thracian words, not Celtic) and even
3. sin-gui, from Gaelic “old prayer” (don’t really know what to say about this one…)
Singidunum – the lion hill
However, a quick search for similar words on Wiktionary leads to the word Singh – meaning “lion”.
This word comes from Sanskrit, the root of all IE languages, so let’s give it a shot. In this case, we get “Lion-hill”. Why does this name sound familiar? Oh yes, Singapore. It also means “lion-hill”. But wait, “pura” means “settlement, village” in Thracian. And according to Paleolexicon, we see it also in the Linear B script!
But even though Herodotus does not give us the etymology of a name Singus, only a couple of sentences later he states that in this area lions existed until the time of Xerxes:
“In these parts, there are many lions and wild oxen… The boundary of the lions’ country is the river Nestus…” – Hdt. 7,126
So, could it be that Singidunum means “lion-hill”? Are there any other toponyms like that closer than Singapore? Yes, there are. And they seem to follow the migration routes of ancient Aryans. For example, there is one called “lion’s head”, a Thracian sanctuary above the Ropotamo river on the coasts of the Black sea. There is an ancient place called “Arslan tepe” in Turkey (literally “lion-hill”). Another example is in Armenia… and then back to Asia, to the famous rock of Sigiriya. These are just a few examples…
Singh – the Vedic lion-warriors
So “lion hills” really exist, but if so, how did such an old, Sanskrit word, ended up in Balkans? There can be a very interesting reason for this. Singh is also a title of a warrior caste in India. Even today, it is extremely popular on the Indian subcontinent.
Could it be that the Aryans (who established the caste system) have something to do with Balkans? Are there any historical proofs of connections between Balkans and India? Well yes, everyone knows that Alexander the Great went as far as India, and he sure did like to portray himself as a lion. This was perhaps an allusion to the older hero, Heracles, who also roamed the steppes of Asia. But even before Alexander, Greek mythology tells us that Dionysus was the first to conquer India.
Could this explain why Balkans have the highest density of gypsies in the world? They undoubtedly come from North India, where Aryans once thrived? Are they the remainders of an ancient caste system, that was destroyed by the Roman war machine? Hard to tell, but interesting topic to think about.
Singidunum’s true location
Back to Belgrade, where is this lion hill today? Was there a lion-shaped stone of some sort on Kalemegdan fortress or was it only the name of a Celtic tribe? This is difficult to say as the landscape has drastically changed over the two and a half millennia of wars and continuous inhabitation.
However, there is one other very important hill, that could be lion-shaped with just a little imagination. The hill of Avala.
Avala hill is located 16,5 km south from Belgrade and even today stands like a Sphinx. It marks the entrance to the Belgrade area on the M1 highway, which is built on the exact route of an ancient Roman road. It was inhabited since ancient times and a few Roman mines are still visible on its slopes. In the middle ages, on top of this hill lied a Slavic fortress of Zrnov. But unfortunately in 1934. they destroyed the whole area with dynamite, in order to build a (masonic) monument to an “unknown hero”.
So what lies under the monument of Avala? Maybe we will never know. But what we do know is that on the map by Anselmo Maria Banduri (1675-1743), Belgrade and Singidunum are two different cities, Singidunum being very close to the hill of Avala.
An unknown hero, or Cyrus the Great?
But even the monument is interesting. Its purpose was to “commemorate a fallen Serbian hero”, but the inspiration behind it was a tomb of a Persian (Aryan) emperor Cyrus the Great, whose empire stretched from Balkans to the Indus river.
As for the Asian connections, there were at least five other Singapores in Asia once. They are Singapura of the Champa kingdom, Vietnam, Sing Buri in Thailand, Sangkapura, on the Bawean Island, Indonesia, Singapura – West Java, Indonesia, and Singapura, India. But besides India and Balkans, none of these countries had lions in their habitat.