On the Wolf Symbolism integral to Indo-European Warrior Tradition – An Excerpt From Speidel’s “Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan’s Column to Icelandic Sagas”

“Of all wild animals, wolves are closest to man in social instincts. They respect rank, delight in each other’s company, and are so dedicated to the pack that the Hittite king Hattusilis told his assembly, “May your clan be one, like that of the wolves!” As dogs they are eager and faithful beyond words. Wild wolves have even suckled and raised human children. No other animal engages man’s feelings so strongly. It has rightly been said that what links men who love wolves with those who loathe them is the intensity of their feelings.

Wolf-warriors are the best-documented Indo-European warrior style, originating long before and lasting long after the Indo-European dispersal. They are found far more often than bear-, boar-, buck-, marten-, horse- or any other animal-warriors. In the second millennium BC, when our sources begin to flow, wolf-warriors are already well attested. A Hittite army leader bore the name Lupakku (“Wolf”), and since Indo-European animal names bespoke strength and luck, he very likely was a wolf-warrior. Likewise the name of the Hittite Luvians means “Wolf-People”: Hittite texts call them LU-MESH UR-BARRA, “Men-Dog-Outside.”

Vedic India too had skin-clad wolf-warriors: Rudra, with his wolves Bhava and Śarva and with a warband of eleven long-haired Rudriyas, haunted the woods. Other early wolfwarriors are the mairyo youths of ancient Iran: as a warrior band they were called “wolves” and fought in a frenzy, though it is not known whether they wore wolfskins. Scythians also fought as wolf-warriors, some of their youths being “valiant dogs.”

Mycenaeans very likely had wolf-warriors. A painted krater from Tiryns of about 1200 BC shows four warriors on foot, two before a chariot and two behind it. All four are armed with small round shields and javelins much like Egyptian Shardana chariot runners of the time. “The pointed crests on their heads,” it is said, “may represent a cap-helmet of some kind”; the tails between their legs are very likely tails of an animal skin. The men have been taken for tiger-warriors, but there were no tigers in ancient Greece. Indo-European parallels and Homeric wolf-sympathy suggest that they are wolf-warriors. If so, wolf-warriors may have played a role in the chariot-based Indo-European expansion of the mid-second millennium BC. Chariot crews needed runners beside them to capture or Ancient Germanic warriors finish off enemy charioteers. Fleet-footed young wolf-warriors could have played this tactical role. Some Mycenaeans seem to have had wolf-names.

Homer too tells of wolf-warriors. He sees heroes such as Hector, Diomedes, and Achilles as at times overcome by fighting madness; that is, in the throes of “wolfishness,” a state akin to berserk recklessness. Speed, stealth, and fighting madness characterized Greek wolf-warriors, but Achilles’ captains flaunted wolfishness also as a leadership quality:

Hungry as wolves that rend and bolt raw flesh, hearts filled with battle-frenzy that never dies—off on the cliffs, ripping apart some big antlered stag they gorge on the kill till all their jaws drip red with blood, then down in a pack they lope to a pooling, dark spring, their lean sharp tongues lapping the water’s surface, belching bloody meat, but the fury, never shaken, builds inside their chests though their glutted bellies burst—so wild the Myrmidon captains…

In Sparta, warrior training was the work of Lykurgos, the “Wolf-Worker.” Lykurgos laid down a law that for a year (the “Krypteia”) young warriors must hide and live outside society, fending for themselves as naked, lone wolves. Elsewhere in Greece, Apollo the Wolf-God presided over the training of young warriors.

Indo-European tribesmen brought the wolf-warrior style to Italy as well as Greece. Vergil says that the warriors who founded Praeneste wore wolf-hoods and fought with the left foot bare—a sign of skill, toughness, and recklessness. The Hirpi Sorani wolfwarriors from north of Rome, like later berserks, could not be hurt by fire: very likely they fought in a trance of ecstacy that made them woundproof.

The wolf-warriors of Romulus founded Rome, and centuries later in the battles against Hannibal the legions still had in their ranks velites, young men who fought in the forefront and wore wolfskins. As the sight of a wolf was an omen of victory to later Germanic warriors, so it was to early Romans: when a wolf ran through their battle line at Sentinum in 295 BC, Roman warriors welcomed it with shouts as the winning wolf of Mars. By the time of Marius, however, Rome had lost her wolf-warriors.

Among Celts in Gaul, wolves, and dogs bred from wolves, enthralled warriors. Celtic names like Cunopennus, Cunocennus, and Cunobarrus all mean “dog-head” or “wolfhead”; that is, men who fought with dog or wolf-skins over their heads. Very likely they looked like the Germanic wolf-warriors portrayed on Trajan’s Column”

~Excerpt from Chapter 1 Wolves from “Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan’s Column to Icelandic Sagas by Michael P. Speidel

One thought on “On the Wolf Symbolism integral to Indo-European Warrior Tradition – An Excerpt From Speidel’s “Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan’s Column to Icelandic Sagas”

  1. Pingback: On the Wolf Symbolism integral to Indo-European Warrior Tradition – An Excerpt From Speidel’s “Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan’s Column to Icelandic Sagas” – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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