Volodymyr Kravchuk
Judge of the Lviv Regional
Administrative Court,
Professor at the National School
of Judges of Ukraine,
Doctor of Law

UDC 340.11


The paper considers the etymology of the word "law", its relationship to justice, truth, worldview of Ukrainian ancestors. It is shown that the law is the part of the divine order, the element of the universe, which roots date back to the ancient history.

Keywords: law, fairness, truth, justice.

The first prerequisite of idea of the rule of law is understanding of law as a social phenomenon. When did it arise, where did it come from and, the most importatnt, why did it appear? Unless understanding the deep, often prehistoric roots of the word and the idea behind, any appeal for the rule of law has no sense.

Origins of words are studied by etymology. According to Wikipedia, etymology (derived from the Greek word ἐτυμολογία, etymologia, itself from ἔτυμον, etymon, meaning "true sense" and the suffix -logia, denoting "the study of") is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. By an extension, the term "etymology of [a word]" means the origin of the particular word.

In the Ukrainian language the words “law”, “truth”, “justice” (“pravo”, “pravda”, “spravedlyvist”, correspondingly) share the same root, i.e. “prav-”, and therefore represent different aspects of the same phenomenon. The law has traditionally been regarded as a special legal term used to denote a system of rules of conduct, which set down guidelines for relationships between people. But the question is whether the primary meaning of the word is not lost in such definition of the familiar legal term and whether it is grounded to base its meaning on the word “rule” which, in fact, is the derivative. The sense of a word shall be based on its root that shows the primary original meaning of the word, which carries the most significant aspects of semantic content.

What are the roots of the law?


Let us start with “justice” (“spravedlyvist”) that is the longest word associated with law and, perhaps, the most widely used in everyday life. The root of the word is “prav(e)d”, meaning “truth”. The suffix “-lyv-” indicates the ongoing condition. “S” is the prefix that unites and coordinates these two units. Thus, “S”‑“PRAVED”‑“LYVIST” means the condition of the truth, the activity by the truth, the triumph of the truth. The rule of truth? Justice is the truth in action.


The concepts of law and truth (“pravda”) are inseparably interconnected, but in modern legal vocabulary the latter term is hardly ever used. Sometimes it is replaced by the term “verity” (“istyna”), which, in fact, has slightly different meaning. Etymologically, in Ukrainian language the term is used to mark the existence of anything (“estyna”). As A. M. Bezpalenko states the word “verity” (“istyna”) can always be replaced by the word “truth” (“pravda”), while the reverse is not always possible. There is the hypero-hyponimic relation between the mentioned concepts [1]. Then, what is the truth?

The first legal code of Kievan Rus was called Ruskaya Pravda (Russian Truth / Justice of the Rus). In those days there was no classification of regulations according to their legal force and anything that defined the rules of social conduct was called the Truth. The name of the code was not accidental. In oral form these regulations had existed and had been applied long before the introduction of writing. Prince Yaroslav the Wise slightly changed them and ordered to put them down.

For the society of Kievan Rus the Truth was the embodiment of all the light forces, as opposed to the Falsehood. What is more, the Truth was the goddess of honesty, loyalty to the oath, the daughter of the Court and sister of the Falsehood. The struggle of "Truth-Falsehood", arising from the more universal conflict between good and evil, permeated through the entire worldview of ancient Ukrainians. Everything connected to the truth, including the text proclaiming it was regarded as the Truth.

The root of the word is “prav-”. The particle “-da” has the meaning “to grant”. Therefore, “PRAV-DA” is the result of granting the law.


In the Ukrainian language, “pravo” (law) is the root of many words. Its primary sense had no legal meaning. According to V. V. Vinogadov, the word acquired its social, political and legal significance not earlier than in the 16th-17th centuries [2]. In the Old Slavonic language it was synonymous to such words as “truth”, “rightness”, “justice” [3]. Therefore, no power could pass any law in favour of any person of whichever social rank, as the truth and justice can not be sold or taken, they exist by themselves, regardless of any conditions [4]. Thus, despite the fact that the word had been previously used it acquired its legal sense not long ago. It has deep roots and emerged during the early period of language formation. From the Tale of Bygone Years we know that “the four tribes who had been forced to pay tribute to the Varangians drove the Varangians back beyond the sea, refused to pay them further tribute, and set out to govern themselves. But there was no law among them, and discord ensued among them, and they began to war one against the other. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to law [po pravu]".

The need for justice, fairness, law was determinant when they decided to invite Rurik to become the Prince of Novgorod. The use of the word law (“pravo”) in the chronicle proves that in the 10th-11th centuries its sense was close to the present meaning of the word, as “judge according to law” means the same as “the rule of law”.

Then, what is the law? What did the ancient Slavs seek for? Was it the truth or anything else?

PRAV” (RIGHT meaning correct)

Ancient Ukrainians were highly religious. They gave life, lived and passed away together with the god (gods). One of the central notions relevant to understanding of the concept of the “law” in its modern sense is the notion of “prav” (“right”), which was the all-governing law introduced by Dazhbog (the main god of ancient Ukrainians). The law of “prav” was applicable to the both, the visible (the world of Light) and the invisible. The Book of Veles [6] narrating about the struggle of two opposite beginnings, in fact, reflected their relation.

Rules of “Prav” (“right”) were regarded as fundamental canons of the Universe, the frame of all human in space. Following them allowed every human soul to access the energy of the Creator, i.e. the only and inexhaustible source of power in the Universe. These Rules are simple and well-known:

  1. Love the Creator.
  2. Love thy neighbor.
  3. Honour thy father and mother.
  4. Thou shalt not kill.
  5. Thou shalt not steal.
  6. Thou shalt not tell lies.
  7. Thou shalt not covet.

Several millennia later these rules were reflected in the Bible as ten Commandments of Moses [7].

Researchers of Slavic and Russian mythology Kaisarova A., G. Glinka (19th), and M. Shediy (18th) mentioned in their books the god of justice Prono, Prove or Provo, respected by Vendian and Pomeranian Slavs, whose idol stood in the city of Altenburgh. "Provo" is the perverse of "Pravo" [8]. Relation of the ancient Ukrainian language to Sanskrit is indisputable today. It is the very language that was the clue to deciphering Sanskrit. The interesting fact is that in Sanskrit "pravyd" means "knowledge", and the syllable "prav" has the meaning "to love, to protect, the necessary, the right" [9]. Is not it the real purpose of law?

Still, the word “prav” was not the root word.


“Pravo” is the word of common Slavic origin formed with the help of suffix from the word “pra”, which came out of usage. Its primary meaning is “first”, “front”, “original”, “ancient”. The word survived and is still used as the root prefix (similarly, to prefix “pre-” in English). “Pra-” means a remote degree of affinity, precedence.

The Etymological Dictionary of the Ukrainian language states that the root “prav” (meaning direct, correct, fair) derives from the prefix “pro-” (which has the same meaning as “pra-”) [10].

The connection of “pra-” to the commencement is obvious. It is believed that the Trinity is the origin of reality. Its hierarchal unity is as follows: Creator – God – Devil. Every member of the Trinity is marked by the corresponding letter. “P” is for Creator, “R” is for God, as the name of the God Ra start with it. The devil opposes and contradicts God, and the letter of contradiction is “A”. Putting “A” in pre-position to the word contradicts it. In ancient times “PRA” meant ancestral relation to the Trinity: “pravo” (law) belonged to the creator, who was the origin of the Universe [11].

In author’s opinion this version seems to be unconvincing, as the suggested identification of gods to the letters is not clear and the evidence is missing. However, such interpretation of “PRA” explains its relation to the word “RA”, which is of particular interest.


The first association of “Ra” is the God of Sun in ancient Egypt. It turns out that according to the majority of linguists and historians the pantheon of Egyptian, and later Greek and Roman gods had ancient pagan origins. "Ra" - means the sun, or rather sunlight. The Slavic God of Sun is more than 50 thousand years old. In early times, the God was born from an egg that existed in Navi (the invisible). Worldview development of Slavic people resulted in the disappearance of Ra from the pantheon. Still, the God remained invisibly present in many words: vi-Ra (faith), Ra-dist (happiness), Ra-duha (rainbow), the meaning of all of which is associated with “light” [12].

Ra also stood for rivers. In ancient times it was the name of the river Volga, used in the historical writings of Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer, physicist from Alexandria (2nd century), and Marcellinus, the Roman historian (4th century). Deification of the largest rivers was also observed on the territory of Ukraine. The word "bug" in the name of Ukrainian rivers is the word “bog” (god) influenced by Polish. According to the Ukrainian Wikipedia, the Frenchman Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan, who created the first map of Ukraine, marked the Southern Bug as the Bog Russky. The river gained its current name by accident. In the early XX century the Russian geologist V. D. Laskaryev studied the Right-Bank Ukraine and drew attention to the existence of two rivers with the same name Bug (as it seemed to him). The West River was really named Bug, but the name of the South one was Bog. However, V. D. Laskaryev did not notice it and to distinguish between the rivers named them the Western Bug and the Southern Bug, correspondingly.

Thus, the Ra-river is the river of light. What is more, the reverse “AR (OR” means land, which was the origin of “Aryans”, “oraty” (to plow), “Oriana”.

“RA” is not the end of our research. Does the single “R” have any meaning? It is proposed to be the way the ancient people verbalized their emotions.


It turns out that the name of the god Ra in Egypt was written without the vowel letter “a”. In different sources it was written as “Ra”, “Re”, “Rh” etc. In the older version the syllable “R” is found in Sanskrit (Brahmans put “Ri” from which derives “Arius”), the language of Arian origin. The oldest attested Arian language is Vedic (Sanscrit), which is 6 000 years old.

Renowned linguist A. S. Shishkov stated that “The meaning of the word is in the root. Sometimes, due to many changes in the development of each branch only one consonant remains, still it continues to signify the same concept, which is common for all derived languages… Onomatopoetic nature of the letter “R” is of the main value” [13].

The Book of Ra is devoted to searching of sacred roots, consisting of one consonant. The main and the first such root is the root “R”, which signifies the Slavic God Ra, the God of the Sun. Therefore, the root “Ra” is the main Slavic mythologeme, which indicates his name and carrying such meaning as the sun, light, happiness, god etc [14].

The religious origin of the modern law is indisputable, which is the basis of the so called natural law school thinking. D. O. Vovk rightly pointed out that the whole history of legal studies in Europe is somehow connected with the Christian philosophy and is the history of dialectical statement of ideas put forward by the medieval Christian thought [15, p. 12]. In our opinion, the law commenced much earlier, long before Christianity, especially when we deal with the law of Ukraine, i.e. of Kievan Rus. The Ukrainian tradition of understanding of law as a divine order was interrupted, exposed to the influence of foreign cultures, but continues to live in the roots of law, which is the daughter of the God of Light and the mother of Truth and Justice.


  1. Bezpalenko A. M. Kontsepty «pravda» ta «istyna» v ukrayinskiy ta rosiyskiy movakh. // Elektronnyi resurs. Rezhym dostupu: http://www.rusnauka.com/36_NIO_2008/Philologia/39293.doc.htm
  2. Vynohradov V. V. Istoriya slov. // Elektronnyi resurs. Rezhym dostupu: http://wordhist.narod.ru/pravo.html.
  3. Synayskaya psaltyr. // Elektronnyi resurs. Rezhym dostupu: http://etymolog.ruslang.ru/vinogradov.php?id=pravo&vol=1
  4. Kyreevskyi I. V. V otvet A.S.Khomyakovu // Tsyt. za: V.Sofronov-Antomony. «Pravovoe bessoznatelnoe”: Russkaya pravovaya kartyna myra // Elektronnaya biblyoteka nauchno-obrazovatelnoy, finansovoy i khudozhestvennoy literatury // Elektronnyi resurs. Rezhym dostupu: http://bo0k.net/index.php?p=book&id=1452
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  10. Etymolohichnyi slovnyk ukrayinskoyi movy: U 7 t. / Redkol. O. S. Melnychuk (holov. red.) ta in. — K.: Nauk. dumka, 1983 - T. 4: N — P/ Uklad. : R. V. Boldyryev ta in.; Red. Tomu : V. T. Kolomiyets, V. H. Sklyarenko. — 2003. — 656 s.
  11. Prarodyna. // Elektronnyi resurs. Rezhym dostupu: http://hyperborea-center.com/info/project-prarodina.html
  12. Belyy Andrey (Buhaev N. B.). Spaset ly myr krasota? // Elektronnyi resurs. Rezhym dostupu: http://alymov-blagih.narod.ru/krasota.html.
  13. Slavyanorusskyy korneslov. Fond slavyanskoy pysmennosty i kultury. - S-Pb. - 2005. // Tsyt za Tyunyaev A. A. Ra, drevneslavyanskyy boh solntsa.// Elektronnyi resurs. Rezhym dostupu: http://www.dazzle.ru/spec/ra.shtml
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  15. Vovk D. O. Pravo i relihiya: zahalnoteoretychni problemy spivvidnoshennya: monohrafiya. / D.O.Vovk. – Kharkiv : Pravo, 2009. – 224 s.