These days it is hard to believe that people in ancient times were consumed by religion. Each single conduct had its own religious meaning. Daily chores were soaked with rituals. Nothing stayed without it as ancient tribes lived in a world of fear of massive number of unexplained events and unforeseen nature phenomena, for instance: a simple river flooding could be interpreted as a sign from beyond. An Ancient Norse protected their households from lightning strikes by gathering acorns since the oak was the symbol of Thor. Other societies were also extremely superstitious. The Ancient Romans believed that both animate and inanimate objects were hosts to numina (divine presence). Therefore, it is quite obvious that also between Tigris and Euphrates rivers people’s lives were revolving around pantheon of gods.
Naming the days of week after gods was a common trend in the ancient world. It started in Mesopotamia where Babylonian astrologers believed that the seven celestial bodies (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Sun and the Moon) had a great impact on people’s lives. This idea travelled with Alexander the Great to Greece and Rome and then adopted by Teutonic tribes. Naturally, each single nation replaced the names of foreign gods with their own. Let’s take a look how it has evolved to this day:
The days of the week with Mesopotamian deities which were forced out with a little more familiar ones.
- Shamash (Sunday) was “the solar deity, [which] exercised the power of light over darkness and evil” (source: www.britannica.com). In Roman society the deity was replaced with dies Solis (the day of the Sun) and then amongst Teutonic tribes with Sun. According to ODE (Online Dictionary of Etymology): from “Old English sunne “sun” from Proto-Germanic *sunnon”.
- Sin (Monday) was “the god of the moon” (source: www.britannica.com), replaced in Rome with Lunæ and then by Teutonic tribes with Monday. As pointed out by the ODE: “Old English mondæg, monandæg “Monday,” literally “the day of the Moon” Old Norse manandagr, German Montag”. As you can see solar and lunar deities were replaced with the same concepts but the rest of the days not quite as much.
- Nebo (Tuesday) “patron of the art of writing and a god of vegetation” (source: www.britannica.com) was replaced in Rome with Martis and then amongst Teutonic tribes with “Tiw’s Day“. As indicated by the ODE: “Old English tiwesdæg, from Tiwes, genitive of Tiw “Tiu,” from Proto-Germanic *Tiwaz “god of the sky,” the original supreme deity of ancient Germanic mythology, differentiated specifically as Tiu – an ancient Germanic god of war.”
- Ishtar (Wednesday) “goddess of war and physical love” (source: www.britannica.com) was replaced in Rome with Mercurii and then amongst Teutonic tribes with “Woden’s day“. As evidenced by the ODE: “Old English wodnesdæg”. According to dictionary.com: “Woden or Wodan was the chief god of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, identified with the Scandinavian Odin.”
- Nergal(Thursday) “the god of scorched earth and war” (source: www.britannica.com) was replaced in Rome with Jovis and then amongst Teutonic tribes with “Thor’s Day“. According to ODE: “Old English þurresdæg, a contraction (perhaps influenced by Old Norse þorsdagr) of þunresdæg.”
- Marduk(Friday) “the god of thunderstorms” (source: www.britannica.com) was replaced in Rome with Veneris and then amongst Teutonic tribes with “Freya’s Day“. As ODE informs: “Old English frigedæg “Frigga’s day”, from Frige, genitive of Frig.”
- Ninurta (Saturday) “Ninurta was the farmer’s version of the god of the thunder and rainstorms of the spring. He was also the power in the floods of spring and was god of the plow and of plowing” (source: www.britannica.com) replaced in Rome with Saturni and then amongst Teutonic tribes with “Saturn’s Day“. According to ODE: “Old English sæterdæg, sæternesdæg.”
If you are interested in origin and evolution of other words or concepts, please visit Online Etymology Dictionary . Some of etymologies can be quite funny or dirty 😉 Try out “orchid”, “alcohol” or “cretin”. Have fun!