|Region||Southern Bulgaria; European Turkey, parts of the region of Macedonia (including Paeonia), parts of Northern Greece, parts of Bithynia in Anatolia. Probably also spoken in parts of Dardania and pockets or temporary pockets of Thracian speakers perhaps in southeastern Albania|
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The Thracian language // was the Indo-European language spoken in ancient times in Southeastern Europe by the Thracians, the northern neighbors of the Ancient Greeks. The Thracian language exhibits satemization: it either belonged to the Satem group of Indo-European languages or it was strongly influenced by Satem languages. The language, of which little is known from written sources was extinct by the Early Middle Ages.
The Thracian language was spoken in what is now the southern half of Bulgaria, eastern Republic of Macedonia, Northern Greece, European Turkey and in parts of Bithynia (North-Western Asiatic Turkey).
Remnants of the Thracian language
Little is known for certain about the Thracian language, since no phrase beyond a few words in length has been satisfactorily deciphered, and the sounder decipherments given for the shorter phrases may not be completely accurate. Some of the longer inscriptions may indeed be Thracian in origin but they may not reflect actual Thracian language sentences, but rather jumbles of names or magical formulas.
Enough Thracian lexical items have survived to show that Thracian was a member of the Indo-European language family and that it was a satemized language by the time it is attested. Besides the aforementioned inscriptions, Thracian is attested through anthroponyms, toponyms (toponyms includes settlements as well as mountain names/oronyms, river and lake names and other bodies of water/hydronyms), plant names, names of deities (theonyms), etc., and by a small number of words cited in Ancient Greek texts as being specifically Thracian.
Other ancient Greek lexical items were not specifically identified as Thracian by the ancient Greeks but are hypothesized by paleolinguists as being or probably being of Thracian origin. Other lexical items are hypothesized on the basis of local anthroponyms, toponyms, hydronyms, oronyms, etc. mentioned in primary sources (see also List of ancient cities in Thrace and Dacia, List of Dacian plant names) .
Below is a table showing both words cited as being Thracian in classical sources, and lexical elements that have been extracted by paleolinguists from Thracian anthroponyms, toponyms, etc. In this table the closest cognates are shown, with an emphasis on cognates in Albanian, Baltic, Slavic, Greek, and substratum and/or old-layer words in the Eastern Romance languages: Romanian, Aromanian, et cetera. See also the List of reconstructed Dacian words.
Significant cognates from any Indo-European language are listed. However, not all lexical items in Thracian are assumed to be from the Proto-Indo-European language, some non-IE lexical items in Thracian are to be expected.
|asa||A Bessian word for the Coltsfoot|
|aspios, esvas, asbe-,||"horse"||PIE *ekwo-||Sanskrit açva or áśva-, "horse", Avestan aspa, "horse", Ossetic jäfs, Prussian aswinan ‘mare milk’, Lithuanian ašvíenis ‘stallion’,ašvà, dial. ešvà ‘mare’|
|bolinthos||"wild bull"||PIE *bhel-, "to swell"||English bull, (possibly) Albanian buall "bull"|
|bria||"town, settlement"||1) after Pokorny, from PIE *wriyā. 2) Olteanu, PIE *gwer-, "heavy, strong"||1) Mycenean rijo "promontory", Bulgarian rid "promontory", Greek ríon "id", Tocharian A ri, Tocharian B rīye "town". 2) Greek barus, "heavy"|
|bríloun||"barber"||PIE *bhrī-l||Old Church Slavonic briti "to shave", Old Irish brissim "I shatter", English brine, Latin friare "to rub, crumble", Albanian brej, brêj "to gnaw", Sanskrit bhrīn.anti "they injure, hurt", Lithuanian briauna (peilio) "edge (of a knife)".|
|bríza||"emmer-wheat, rye"||1) PIE *wrīg'h 2) PIE *breg'h||1) Bulgarian brica "type of summer grain"; Sanskrit vrīhis "rice" 2) Norwegian brok "kind of grass"|
|brynchos||"a string instrument, characterized as a Thracian kithara"||PIE *bhrm.kos||Greek (Aeolian) phórmynx; Romanian broancă, "a stringed instrument"; Old Church Slavonic brękati "to make a noise", Polish brzęk "ringing, tinkle", Bulgarian brămči "a ringing sound", Russian brenčat "to play on a stringed instrument", Lithuanian braukyti (stygas) "to pluck (the strings of a musical instrument)".|
|brytos, bryton, brutos, bryttion||"a kind of ale made from barley"||PIE *bhrūto||English broth, Alb. bruz "blue, indigo", brumë "dough", Welsh brwd "brewage", Lat defrutum "must boiled down", Greek apéphrysen "to seethe, boil", Slavic vriti "to seethe, boil" vrutok "strong spring, boiling water", Sanskrit bhurati "he quivers",|
|deiza, disza, diza, dizos||"a fortified settlement"||PIE *dheigh-, "to knead clay"||Greek teichos ("wall"), Avestan daeza "wall", Slavic zidati, sozidati, (po)dizati "to build" and zid "wall", English dough Romanian "zid" (from Slavic),"wall"|
|dinupula, *sinupyla (reconstructed from a corrupted manuscript), kinoboila (Dacian)||"wild pumpkin"||Lithuanian šúnobuolas "wild pumpkin", Albanian thënukël "dogberry", Bulg. dinya, "watermelon", Polish dynia, "pumpkin"|
|embades||"boots"||Albanian: (e) mbath - wear shoe ,boots|
|génton||"meat"||PIE *gwhento "struck, cut"||Latin fendere "to strike, push", Old English gūth "combat", Alb. gjuaj, "to hunt, strike", Welsh gwannu "to stab", Greek theínein "to strike, kill", Arm ganem "I strike", Sanskrit hánti "he strikes, kills", hatyá "stabbed, killed", Hittite kuenzi "he strikes", Old Church Slavonic žętva "harvest", žęteljĭ "harvester"|
|germe||"warm"||PIE *gwher- "warm"||Greek thermos "warm", Latin formus "warm", Hindi gharam "warm or hot", Persian gærm "warm", Old Prussian gorme "heat", Alb. zjarm, pl. dial. zjerm, zjermë, zjarme "fire", Slavic gorko "warm", Lithuanian garmėti "to plunge/sink into".|
|kemos||"a kind of fruit with follicles"|
|ktistai (pl.)||"Thracians living in celibacy, monks"|
|manteia||"bramblebush, mulberry"?||Illyrian mantía, Gheg Alb. mandë, Alb. mën, man "berry, mulberry"|
|mendruta||a Moesian name for the beet or alternatively the black hellebore, Veratrum nigrum|
|mezēnai (<from which is extracted mezēna)||"horseman" (while mezēna meant "horse")||Alb. mëz ("foal, colt"), Rom. mânz ("foal, colt"), Messapian Menzana, there are other cognates also|
|para, pera, peron||"town"||Sanskrit "pura" city, Albanian pjerr "to bend, incline", Old Prussian pera "group" peroni "parish, community", Lithuanian pilis "castle".|
|rhomphaia||"a spear"; later the meaning "sword" is attested||Alb. rrufë, rrufeja "thunderbolt, dialect Bul. roféja, rufija "a thunderbolt",; Latin rumpere "to break, tear", Old English reofan "to tear, break"|
|sica||"short sword" or "knife", also cited as an Illyrian word||PIE *sek-, "to cut"||Albanian thikë (id., from earlier Albanian *sica), Latin secula "sickle", Old English sagu "saw", Armenian "şiş" "dagger", "skewer", borrowed into Old Romanian and Turkish, also into English as "shish (kebab)" "skewer(ed) roast", Polish siekać "to chop, cut", Lithuanian seikėti "to measure".|
|skálmē||"a knife, a sword"||PIE *skolmā||Old Norse skolm "short sword, knife", Albanian shkallmë "sword, kind of knife", Serbian, Bulgarian kama for dagger,.|
|skárke||"a coin"||PIE *skerg "to jingle"||Old Norse skark "noise", Sanskrit kharjati "to creak, crunch", Serbian škripa krcka "creak, crunch", šarke old Serbian word for shiny, Lithuanian skarda "tin".|
|spinos||"a stone which burns when water is poured on it"||Albanian finjë (<PAlb spinā) "soap suds, soap water", Romanian "spin", "spine", "burr"|
|titha||from Diana Germetitha ("Diana of the warm bosom")||Olteanu (et al.?) interprets this lexical element as "bosom, breasts, tit(s)"||Ancient Greek titthos, "breast, tit", West Germanic *titta (id.), Latin *titia (id.), Albanian thitha "nipples", Bulgarian "tsitsa", "breast" Romanian "ţâţă", "breast"|
|torelle||"a lament, a song of mourning"||Albanian (Gheg) torrë "foolish", "crazy".|
|zalmós, zelmis||"a hide, skin"||PIE *k'elm, *k'olm||German Helm "helmet", Alb. thelmë "rag, patch" (in sewing), Lith. šálmas, OPruss. salmis "helmet", Slavic OSl. šlĕmŭ, šlem, Skt. śárman "cover"|
|zeira, zira||"tunic, cloak" (a type of upper garment)|
|zelas||"wine"||PIE *g'hēlo||Ancient Macedonian kalithos, "wine", Sanskrit hālā "brandy", Albanian "dhallë" "sour milk", Greek khális "pure wine", Russian zel'je "a fermented or witch's brew"|
|zetraía||"a pot"||PIE *g'heutr||Grk. khútra "pipkin"|
|zibythides||"noble Thracians"||Lith. zhibut "fire, light", Serb. šibica "a lightening stick", Bul. šibam "to hit, to whip", Albanian "thupër" Ghegh. thupën "stick" .|
The proposed Thracian words in the Ancient Greek lexicon are not numerous. They include the parth- element in Parthenon ; balios ("dappled"; < PIE *bhel-, "to shine"; Pokorny also cites Illyrian as a possible source, the non-Greek origin is argued on phonological grounds), bounos, "hill, mound".
The Thracian horseman hero was an important figure in Thracian religion, mythology, and culture. Depictions of the Thracian Horseman are found in numerous archaeological remains and artifacts from Thracian regions. From the Duvanli ring and from cognates in numerous Indo-European languages, mezēna is seen to be a Thracian word for "horse", deriving from PIE *mend-. Another Thracian word for "horse" is hypothesized, but it looks certain, there is no disagreement among Thracologists: aspios, esvas, asb- (and some other variants; <PIE *ekwo , the Thracian showing a satem form similar to Sanskrit açva or áśva-, "horse", Avestan aspa, "horse", Ossetic jäfs, Prussian aswinan ‘mare milk’, Lithuanian ašvíenis ‘stallion’, ašvà, dial. ešvà ‘mare’  ), from Outaspios, Utaspios, an inscription associated with the Thracian horseman. Ut- based on the PIE root word ud- (meaning "up") and based on several Thracic items, would have meant "upon", "up", and Utaspios is theorized to have meant "On horse(back)", parallel to ancient Greek epi-hippos.
The early Indo-European languages had more than one word for horse; for example Latin had equus from PIE *ekwo- and mannus ("a pony") from another IE root, later receiving cabalus as a loanword.
In many cases in current Thracology, there is more than one etymology for a Thracian lexical item. For example, Thracian Diana Germetitha (Diana is from Latin while the epithet Germetitha is from Thracian) has two different proposed etymologies, "Diana of the warm bosom" (Olteanu; et al.?) or "Diana of the warm radiance" (Georgiev; et al.?). In other cases, etymologies for the Thracian lexical items may be sound, but some of the proposed cognates are not actually cognates, thus confusing the affinity of Thracian.
Only four Thracian inscriptions of any length have been found. One is a gold ring found in 1912 in the town of Ezerovo, Bulgaria. The ring was dated to the 5th century BC. On the ring is an inscription written in a Greek script which says:
- ΡΟΛΙΣΤΕΝΕΑΣ / NΕΡΕΝΕΑ / ΤΙΛΤΕΑΝ / ΗΣΚΟ / ΑΡΑ / ΖΕΑ / ΔΟΜΕΑΝ / ΤΙΛΕΖΥΠΤΑ / ΜΙΗ / ΕΡΑ / ΖΗΛΤΑ
The meaning of the inscription (according to Dimitar Dechev) might be 'I am Rolisteneas, a descendant of Nereneas. Tilezipta, an Arazian woman, delivered me to the ground.'
A second inscription was found in 1965 near the village of Kyolmen, Preslav district, dating to the 6th century BC. It consists of 56 letters of the Greek alphabet, probably a tomb stele inscription similar to the Phrygian ones:
- ΕΒΑΡ. ΖΕΣΑΣΝ ΗΝΕΤΕΣΑ ΙΓΕΚ. Α / ΝΒΛΑΒΑΗΓΝ / ΝΥΑΣΝΛΕΤΕΔΝΥΕΔΝΕΙΝΔΑΚΑΤΡ. Σ
- ebar. zesasn ēnetesa igek. a / nblabaēgn / nuasnletednuedneindakatr. s
A third inscription is again on a ring, found in Duvanli, Plovdiv district, next to the left hand of a skeleton. It dates to the 5th century BC. The ring has the image of a horseman with the inscription surrounding the image. It is only partly legible (16 out of the initial 21)
- ΗΥΖΙΗ.....ΔΕΛΕ / ΜΕΖΗΝΑΙ
- ēuziē.....dele / mezēnai
The meaning of the inscription is 'Horseman Eusie protect!'
These are the longest inscriptions preserved. The remaining ones are mostly single words or names on vessels and other artifacts.
A Thracian or Thraco-Dacian branch of Indo-European
The Thracian language in linguistic textbooks is usually treated either as its own branch of Indo-European, or is grouped with Dacian, together forming a Daco-Thracian branch of IE. Older textbooks often grouped it also with Illyrian or Phrygian. The belief that Thracian was close to Phrygian is no longer popular and has mostly been discarded. The Thraco-Illyrian grouping has also been called into question. Daco-Thracian or Thraco-Dacian is the main hypothesis.
Thraco-Dacian in turn has been hypothesized as forming a branch of Indo-European along with either Albanian, Baltic, or Greco-Macedonian. No definite evidence has yet been found that demonstrates that Thracian or Daco-Thracian belonged on the same branch as Albanian or Baltic or Balto-Slavic or Greco-Macedonian or Phrygian or any other IE branch. For this reason textbooks still treat Thracian as its own branch of Indo-European, or as a Daco-Thracian/Thraco-Dacian branch.
The generally accepted clades branched from the Proto-Indo-European language are, in alphabetical order, the Proto-Albanian language, Proto-Anatolian language, Proto-Armenian language, Proto-Balto-Slavic language, Proto-Celtic language, Proto-Germanic language, Proto-Greek language, Proto-Indo-Iranian language, Proto-Italic language, Proto-Slavic language, and the Proto-Tocharian language. Thracian, Dacian, Phrygian, Illyrian, Venetic, and Paeonian are fragmentarily attested and cannot be reliably categorized.
Fate of the Thracians and their language
Most of the Thracians were eventually Hellenized or Romanized, with the last remnants surviving in remote areas until the 5th century.
- Dacian language
- List of reconstructed Dacian words
- Illyrian languages
- Paeonian language
- Phrygian language
- Ancient Macedonian language
- Paleo-Balkan languages
- Proto-Indo-European language
- Proto-Albanian language
- Proto-Balto-Slavic language
- Proto-Greek language
- Thracian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
- Encyclopedia of European peoples, Carl Waldman, Catherine Mason, Infobase Publishing, 2006, ISBN 0-8160-4964-5, p. 205.
- Archaeology and language: the puzzle of Indo-European origins, Colin Renfrew, CUP Archive, 1990, ISBN 0-521-38675-6, p. 71.
- Olteanu et al.
- Duridanov, Ivan. "The Language of the Thracians". Retrieved 2007-01-14.
- Hesychios κιθάραν, Θρᾷκες
- Olteanu hypothesizes that the Thracian toponym Basibounon may contain bouno(n), a Greek word for "hill" that may also be a Thracian word
- In Old Church Slavonic is found ehu, which may be a loan from Germanic; otherwise the Slavic word for horse from ekwo- was lost, due perhaps to the lack of equestrianism among the early Slavs
- Georgiev, Olteanu et al.
- See C. Brixhe - Ancient languages of Asia Minor, Cambridge University Press, 2008
We will dismiss, at least temporarily, the idea of a Thraco-Phrygian unity. Thraco-Dacian (or Thracian and Daco-Mysian) seems to belong to the eastern (satem) group of Indo-European languages and its (their) phonetic system is far less conservative than that of Phrygian (see Brixhe and Panayotou 1994, §§3ff.)
- R.J. Crampton (1997). A Concise History of Bulgaria. Cambridge University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-521-56719-X.
- V.I. Georgiev, Introduction to the History of the Indo-European Languages, Sofia (1981).
- V.I. Georgiev, The Genesis of the Balkan Peoples, in: The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 44, No. 103 (Jul., 1966)
- I.I. Russu, Limba Traco-Dacilor / Die Sprache der Thrako-Daker, Bucharest (1967, 1969).
- Paul Kretschmer, "Glotta", in: Zeitschrift für griechische und lateinische Sprache 7, 1915.
- The Language of the Thracians, an English translation of Ivan Duridanov's 1975 essay Ezikyt na trakite
- Sorin Olteanu's Thraco-Daco-Moesian Languages Project (SoLTDM) (sources, thesaurus, textual criticism, phonetics and morphology, substratum, historical geography a.o.)
- Thracian glossary
- Palaeolexicon - Word study tool of ancient languages (including Thracian dictionary)