The noble name of Kalev


The article proceeds from the question „What were the members of the elite called in prehistoric Estonia?”. Since the early 20th century there have been attempts, mostly among our folklorists, to claim that they were called Kalevs, i.e. with the name of a legendary hero known from the later epics of Kalevipoeg and Kalevala. Though supporting this idea in general terms, the author of this paper argues that Kalevas a generic name for a representative of the elite was already born in the Late Bronze Age under the influence of Baltic languages. There have been numerous etymologies for the names Kalev(a) / Kalevine, but the author prefers the one saying that kalev originates in the Baltic kalvismeaning ‘smith’. Considering the available archeological material, it can be presumed that this Baltic loanword dates back to the Early Bronze Age, when fortified settlements were built both in the Baltic and Finnic areas. The findings peculiar to those settlements include locally manufactured bronze rings. Earlier, it has been suggested (L. Vaba), that Baltic loanwords include such words as vaha (‘wax’) (used at casting bronze objects) and võru (varu, vahr) (‘ring’), but no names of metals. According to the present author, however, the word varh / vahr (varu / varo / võru) could still originate the Baltic word vãris / varš referring to ‘copper’. Here one should also consider the possible influence of the Proto-Germanic stem *warºa- (Swedish vara) meaning ‘commodity’, because in the Bronze Age a ring was not only a definite amount of copper (i.e. bronze) but also a commodity of a definite value.

Possibly, the word kalevdenoted a nobleman and smith in the Early Bronze Age. When the Iron Age came by, iron was melted from local bog ore, wich meant that new smithies were built at a considerable distance from fortified settlements and the specialists working there were referred to with a different word – sepp. The kalevs, however, retained the nobleman sense of their name, even though they were not engaged in smithery any more. It was only much later, probably after the Bronze Age that the giant legends and heroic sagas about kalevs as we know them from the folklore written down in the 19th century were created.