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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Germanic Languages & Literatures

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

James E. Cathey

Second Advisor

Stephen J. Harris

Third Advisor

Craig R. Davis

Subject Categories

German Language and Literature | Medieval Studies


Using an interdisciplinary approach and building upon earlier work by Northcott, Green, Eggers, Schirokauer, and others, the present study presents a reappraisal of the development of the Germanic vocabulary adopted to designate the divine Lord (God or Christ) in the early stages of Christianization on the continent during the first millennium. The words used to translate Greek kyrios and Latin dominus were drawn from the sphere of Germanic social institutions and thus their adoption was influenced—and to some extent determined—by external conditions and values. In Wulfila’s fourth-century translation of the Bible into an East Germanic dialect of Gothic, the word frauja ‘lord, Lord’ connoted the “householder” (dominus or pater familias) and thus fittingly conveyed the sense of God’s and Christ’s lordship as depicted in the New Testament. This word-choice is indicative of Wulfila’s adherence to literality but also reflects the socio-cultural, religious, and historical circumstances in which he lived. The primary early medieval West Germanic title for the divine Lord was Old High German truhtīn (and its dialectal reflexes in the other West and North Germanic languages), which originally would have designated a “warlord” or “leader of a (royal) military retinue.” As a word semantically at odds with its Christian referent, it was presumably adopted for pragmatic reasons. These reasons can best be explained in the context of Germanic cultural-institutional ideology and the traditional forms of eulogistic and heroic verse in which this ideology was encoded. During the ninth and tenth century, another lord title, hērro, began permanently to displace truhtīn. As a calque on Latin senior, hērro originated in the emergent vocabulary of Merovingian Frankish feudalism. The ascension of hērro was further facilitated by the demise of the older vernacular alliterative poetic tradition (and its associated imagery) in the Carolingian period. The final part of this study assesses the status of the corresponding Old Saxon lordship terms (frōio, hērro, and drohtin) in the ninth-century alliterative gospel poem Heliand, analyzing the semantic revisions that resulted when this vocabulary was applied to the spiritual figure of Christ, depicted in a traditional heroic register.