Does the word “pagan” really come from the word “village”?
The Latin word pagus means “village”, while paganus means “pagan” in Latin.
Is this just a coincidence? Or is there an etymological connection between these words?
The connection between the word paganus originally meaning “villager”and the concept of “rural” emerged in pre-Christian times, namely in the Roman army, where draftees or civilians were called paganus. And of course – just as in every urbanizing society – the word thus gained the connotation of an illiterate, uncultured person.
Later, when Christianity began to spread in the Roman Empire, city dwellers were the first to convert to Christianity. There was a certain period when the urban populace was largely Christian, while in rural areas, people still primarily followed the traditional Roman religion. This led to a further shift in the meaning of the word: paganus gained the sense of pagan. According to some opinions, the already existing association of ideas within the military could have played a role as well: urban dwellers were Christ’s soldiers, while the rural population was made up of civilians.
Accordingly, the English word “pagan” comes directly from this Latin word, just as the French païen, the Italian and Spanish pagano, Serbo-Croatian poganski, Slovenian pogan, Slovak pohan and Hungarian pogány.
Modern languages have assimilated some words directly from Latin (as was the case with the Latin word angelus, which became angyal in Hungarian, or “angel” in English) or via another language:
Latin cerasium/cerisia – Slavic cresnja – Hungarian cseresznye
Latin cerasium/cerisia – Anglo-Norman cherise (mistaken as a plural) – Middle English chery
We wish you the best of luck in your research,
Judit and István
P.S. Have you found a Hungarian, Latin or German text and don’t know whether it is worth translating? We can make you an abstract from it! You can learn who wrote it and to whom, when and where it was written, as well as what it’s about, so that you can decide whether or not you want to have it translated. For details, see our webpage: http://historiatranslation.com/abstract/.
Picture from https://www.etymonline.com/word/pagan
A magyar nyelv történeti etimológiai szótára