The ancestors of the Indo-European peoples looked up into the sky and saw a father, a cosmic patriarch with authority over the realm of daylight. Many
The ancestors of the Indo-European peoples looked up into the sky and saw a father, a cosmic patriarch with authority over the realm of daylight. Many Indo-European pantheons contain gods associated with sky that have pre-eminence among the other gods. The Greeks had Zeus. The Romans had Jupiter. In Hinduism, Dyaus originally had a similar role to Zeus. Scholars have used these deities to attempt to reconstruct the original sky god of proto-Indo-European religion, Dyeus.
Who Were the First Indo-Europeans?
Understanding the reconstruction of the original Indo-European sky god requires some understanding of the culture that worshiped him. This requires a quick review of proto-Indo-European (PIE) culture.
Proto-Indo-European society is mostly known through comparative linguistics. Linguists have looked at Indo-European languages including Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit to reconstruct the primordial language from which all other Indo-European languages are derived.
Jupiter, Ancient Roman sky deity, and Thetis. ( Public Domain )
Nature of the PIE Constructed Language
This language is just a useful theoretical construct to help linguists and prehistorians understand the development of Indo-European languages. Linguists have taken words and concepts that are found in all or most Indo-European languages and have used those to construct a theoretical proto-Indo-European language. This is based on the assumption that PIE would contain at least the linguistic features common to all Indo-European languages that descended from it. It is unlikely that anyone actually ever spoke the exact language that scholars have created to study PIE language and culture.
What Language Reveals about PIE Culture and Society
The language is still useful since it tells us what types of words were probably in PIE. For example, most Indo-European languages have similar words for sheep. This probably means that the proto-Indo-European language had a word for sheep. This has social and cultural implications. A word for sheep makes it likely that PIE society was familiar with the animal and may have raised domestic sheep.
Flock of sheep. ( Public Domain )
PIE Society Based on Language Reconstruction
There is a lot of controversy and uncertainty regarding the proto-Indo-European language and society. Even the original homeland of the first Indo-Europeans is contested. The Pontic-Caspian steppe and Anatolia, modern-day Turkey, have both been suggested as possible homelands for the Indo-European language family and its original speakers.
Based on archaeology and linguistic reconstruction, many scholars believe that proto-Indo-European society was situated in the Pontic-Caspian steppe between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, or in Anatolia. Reconstruction of the PIE language suggests that they lived in wattle and daub structures with possible fortifications and that they raised sheep, goats, and cattle. They probably also farmed wheat and barley, among other crops. Many archaeologists associate them with the Kurgan archaeological culture found near the shores of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
Dyeus Pater and Proto Indo European Religion
In the same way that PIE language is constructed through comparative linguistics, Dyeus has been reconstructed through comparative religion and mythology. Reconstruction of PIE religion is probably one of the more uncertain topics since it is difficult to corroborate with other methods of historical reconstruction such as archaeology.
One common theme in Indo-European mythologies, such as Greek mythology, Norse mythology, and Hindu mythology, is the presence of a powerful sky god or sky father. The name Dyeus comes from a PIE root word meaning ‘to shine’, which suggests a strong connection with day light and the daytime sky.
Evolution of Dyeus Pater in Different Indo-European Traditions
The sky father also gained characteristics of a sun god in the case of the Anatolian Tiwaz. Among Germanic cultures, Dyeus appears to have become or to have been replaced by Tyr, a god of war. The transformation of Dyeus in these traditions stands in contrast to the evolution of Dyeus in the Latin, Greek, and Indo-Aryan traditions, where Dyeus maintained his primary role as a sky god.
The Norse god Týr, here identified with Mars. ( Public Domain )
Another interesting trend is that while Zeus is still a particular deity with his own lore and mythology, his cognates tend to be abstract and distant figures. Jupiter and Dyaus, for example, have very few surviving myths associated with them. Although it is possible that there was originally an elaborate mythology and that these myths have been lost, it may also be that the sky father was originally simply a primordial sky deity like Ouranos who didn’t play a major role in the lives of his worshipers.
He may have originally just served as a personification of the sky and only gained traits more relevant to the everyday lives of humans, such as weather and later warfare. In this case, the Roman and Indo-Aryan incarnation of Dyeus would be closer to the original while the Greek and Norse understandings would have diverged from the original PIE beliefs about Dyeus.
The Roman god Jupiter (shown here on a cameo) is a form of Dyeus. (shako/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Dyeus and Proto-Indo-European Mythology
In Hinduism, there is one epic where the sky god Dyaus is punished by being forced to incarnate as a human and live a full human life. The role played by human incarnations of Hindu gods is similar to the role of the sons of gods in Greek mythology. Although Zeus was never incarnated as a human for the length of a human lifetime, he did have many sons. The divine offspring of Zeus and the human incarnations of Dyaus may share common descent with a story about the original PIE Dyeus.
Today, worship of the old Indo-European gods has been largely abandoned. The exceptions include Hinduism, which is derived from the same proto-Indo-European source as ancient Greek and Roman religions, and recent neopagan groups attempting to reconstruct the ancestral polytheistic religions of Ancient Greece, Rome, Scandinavia, and eastern Europe. Dyeus does still have implications today, however.
It is likely that Dyeus was considered a supreme deity and ruler over the gods, since most of his cognates have this role. This is a precursor to the type of devotion given to a deity that eventually led to the exclusive devotion to one God seen in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is possible that Dyeus Pater at the beginning of the age of polytheism may have represented one of the first steps toward monotheism.
‘God the Father’ (1510-1517) by Cima de Conegliano. ( Public Domain )
Top Image: ‘God the Father’ (1510-1520) by Ludovico Mazzolino. Source: Public Domain
By Caleb Strom
Allen, Nick. 2004. Dyaus and Bhïṣma, Zeus and Sarpedon [Towards a history of the Indo-
European and sky god]. GAIA. Revue interdisciplinaire sur la Grèce ancienne.
Fortson IV, Benjamin W. 2011. Indo-European language and culture: An introduction.
Wiley & Sons.
Gamkrelidze, Thomas V., and Vjaceslav V. Ivanov. 2010. Indo-European and the Indo-
Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and Proto-
Culture. Part I: The Text. Part II: Bibliography, Indexes. Walter de Gruyter, 2010.
Gray, Russell D., and Quentin D. Atkinson. 2003. Language-tree divergence times support
the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin. Nature.
Noyer, Rolf. N.D. Proto-Indo-European Language and Society . Available at:
Pulgram, Ernst. 1959. Proto-Indo-European reality and reconstruction. Language
Strom, Caleb. 2018. Neo-Romans Revive Classical Worship Ceremonies at New Iuppiter
Perunus Temple. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-europe/iuppiter-perunus-temple-revival-020631
Strom, Caleb. 2018. Return of the Ancient Gods: The Resurgence of Paganism. Available at:
Watkins, Calvert. N.D. Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans Available at: