Lydian language

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Region Lydia
Ethnicity Lydians
Era attested ca. 700–200 BC Possibly evolved into Tyrsenian languages[1]
Lydian alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xld
Glottolog lydi1241  Lydian[2]
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Lydian is an extinct Indo-European language spoken in the region of Lydia, in western Anatolia (now in Turkey). It is an Anatolian language.

Within the Anatolian group, however, Lydian occupies a unique and problematic position. One reason is the still-very-limited evidence and understanding of the language. Another reason is a number of features that are not shared with any other Anatolian language.[3] It is still not known whether those differences represent developments peculiar to pre-Lydian or the retention in Lydian of archaic features that were lost in the other Anatolian languages.[4] Until more satisfactory knowledge becomes available, the status of Lydian within Anatolian remains a "special" one.

The language is attested in graffiti and in coin legends from the late-8th-century or the early-7th-century to the 3rd century BC, but well-preserved inscriptions of significant length are so far limited to the 5th century and the 4th century BC, during the period of Persian domination. Thus, Lydian texts are effectively contemporaneous with those in Lycian.

Extant Lydian texts now number slightly over 100, all but a few having been found in or near Sardis, the Lydian capital, but fewer than 30 of the inscriptions consist of more than a few words or are reasonably complete. Most of the inscriptions are on stone and are sepulchral in content, but several are decrees of one sort or another, and some half-dozen texts seem to be in verse, with a stress-based meter and vowel assonance at the end of the line. Tomb inscriptions include many epitaphs, which typically begin with the words eś wãnaś ("this grave"), as well as short graffiti.

Strabo mentions that around his time (1st century BC), the Lydian language had become extinct in Lydia proper but was still being spoken among the multicultural population of Kibyra (now Gölhisar) in southwestern Anatolia, by the descendants of the Lydian colonists, who had founded the city.[5]

Writing system[edit]

The Lydian script, which is strictly alphabetic, is related to or derived from that of Greek as well as its western Anatolian neighbours, the exact relationship still remaining unclear. The direction of writing in the older texts is either from left to right or right to left. Later texts show exclusively the latter. Use of word-dividers is variable. The texts were found chiefly at the ancient capital of Sardis and include decrees and epitaphs, some of which were composed in verse; most were written during the 5th century and the 4th century BC, but a few may have been created as early as the 7th century.[6]



Lydian has seven vowels: a, e, i, o, u, ã and . The last two are both a nasal vowel before a nasal consonant. In the case of ã, it is an. The difference between ã and is debatable, as does not seem to have been a nasal [e]. Also, e, o, ã, and occur only accented, and y is used rarely, when it indicates an allophone of i or e that is perhaps unstressed.

Lydian is notable for its extensive consonant clusters, which resulted from the loss of word-final short vowels, together with massive syncope; there may have been an unwritten [ə] in such sequences.


Consonants Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar/Labiovelar
Nasals m n ɲ~ŋ?
Plosives p (b)1 t (d)1 ts~tʃ? dz~dʒ? k (g)1
Fricatives f v s z~ð? ʃ~ç?
Liquids, Glides l r ʎ
  1. /p t k/ are voiced before nasals and apparently before /r/.


Nouns and adjectives distinguish singular and plural forms and the animate and inanimate genders. Only three cases are securely attested: nominative, accusative and dative-locative. There may have been other cases that remain unknown because of the paucity of material.


The basic word order is subject-object-verb, but constituents may be extraposed to the right of the verb.

Lydian has at least one postposition. Modifiers of a noun normally precede it.

Sample text and vocabulary[edit]

A notable inscription in Lydian and Aramaic, which was among the first 34 found in the beginning of the 20th century by American excavators, provides a limited equivalent of the Rosetta Stone and permits a first penetration and solidifying understanding of the Lydian language.

The first line of the text was destroyed. The eight lines of the Lydian text are the following:

Text Transliteration
𐤨𐤮𐤮𐤤 𐤣𐤰𐤭𐤪 𐤯𐤳𐤤 𐤷𐤩𐤩𐤦𐤨𐤠𐤡 𐤷𐤩𐤳𐤦 𐤷𐤠𐤭[𐤬] [𐤮𐤠𐤫𐤵𐤥]
𐤫𐤵𐤥 𐤷𐤳𐤤 𐤯𐤳𐤦 𐤯𐤦𐤨𐤣𐤰𐤨 𐤨𐤠𐤩𐤤𐤲 𐤨𐤠𐤳𐤦𐤭𐤲𐤠𐤩[𐤷𐤠]
𐤫 𐤯𐤦𐤨𐤠 𐤣𐤦𐤩𐤠𐤨𐤰𐤩𐤦𐤳 𐤣𐤦𐤩𐤦𐤩𐤪𐤰𐤨 𐤣𐤦𐤩𐤤𐤫𐤠𐤪 𐤠𐤣𐤠𐤨 𐤣𐤬𐤥𐤭𐤠𐤯𐤷𐤡[𐤳𐤦𐤲𐤵]
𐤸𐤠𐤸𐤳𐤤 𐤨𐤰𐤡 𐤷𐤠𐤫𐤵𐤥 𐤷𐤳𐤤 𐤷𐤰𐤭𐤪 𐤷𐤳𐤤
𐤬𐤥𐤭𐤠𐤯𐤷𐤡 𐤷𐤠𐤫𐤵𐤥 𐤷𐤳𐤤 𐤯𐤳𐤦 𐤣𐤰𐤨 𐤯𐤦𐤨𐤰𐤡 𐤸𐤨𐤠𐤳𐤦𐤭𐤦𐤲𐤠𐤩[𐤣]
𐤮𐤰𐤪𐤦𐤯𐤭𐤠 𐤷𐤪𐤨𐤠𐤱 𐤣𐤦𐤱𐤦𐤷𐤳𐤫𐤶𐤱 𐤨𐤷𐤩𐤤𐤲 𐤳𐤦𐤲𐤵𐤫 𐤫𐤦𐤯𐤨𐤠
𐤨𐤷𐤠𐤭𐤦𐤡 𐤷𐤠𐤭𐤠𐤠 𐤳𐤦𐤳𐤪𐤰𐤩𐤰𐤨 𐤨𐤰𐤪𐤦𐤯𐤭𐤠 𐤳𐤦𐤳𐤪𐤦𐤮𐤡𐤦
𐤯𐤫𐤶𐤲𐤠𐤡𐤹𐤥 𐤷𐤩𐤦𐤡 𐤨𐤷𐤩𐤤𐤲 𐤷𐤠𐤭𐤦𐤲 𐤨𐤷𐤰𐤱𐤬𐤨 𐤷𐤠𐤣𐤦𐤷𐤨
[o]raλ islλ bakillλ est mrud eśśk [wãnaś]
laqrisak qelak kudkit ist esλ wãn[aλ]
bλtarwod akad manelid kumlilid silukalid akit n[ãqis]
esλ mruλ buk esλ wãnaλ buk esνaν
laqirisaν bukit kud ist esλ wãnaλ bλtarwo[d]
aktin nãqis qelλk fẽnsλifid fakmλ artimuś
ibśimsis artimuk kulumsis aaraλ biraλk
kλidaλ kofuλk qiraλ qelλk bilλ wcbaqẽnt

Examples of words[edit]

𐤠𐤭𐤬 EtruscanA-01.svgEtruscanR-01.svgEtruscanO-01.svg - Ora - Month

𐤠𐤳𐤦𐤭𐤲𐤠𐤩 EtruscanA-01.svgEtruscanZ-01.svgEtruscanI-01.svgEtruscanR-01.svgPhoenicianT-01.pngEtruscanA-01.svgEtruscanP-01.svg - Laqrisa - Wall

𐤠𐤭𐤦𐤡 EtruscanA-01.svgEtruscanR-01.svgEtruscanI-01.svgEtruscanB-01.png - - Bira - House

𐤠𐤭𐤦𐤲 EtruscanA-01.svgEtruscanR-01.svgEtruscanI-01.svgPhoenicianT-01.png - Qira - Field, Ground, Immovable Property

Lydian words still in use[edit]

Labrys (Greek: λάβρυς, lábrys) is the term for a symmetrical double-bitted axe originally from Crete in Greece, one of the oldest symbols of Greek civilization. The priests at Delphi in classical Greece were called Labryades (the men of the double axe). The term labrys "double-axe" is not found in any Lydian surviving inscription but on the subject, Plutarch states that "the Lydians call the axe labrys" (Λυδοὶ γὰρ ‘λάβρυν’ τὸν πέλεκυν ὀνομάζουσι).[7]

Another possibly-Lydian loanword may be tyrant "absolute ruler",[8] which was first used in Ancient Greek sources, without negative connotations, for the late 8th century or early 7th century BC. It is possibly derived from the native town of King Gyges of Lydia, founder of the Mermnad dynasty, which was Tyrrha in classical antiquity and is now Tire, Turkey.[9] Yet another is the element molybdenum, borrowed from Ancient Greek mólybdos, "lead", from Mycenaean Greek mo-ri-wo-do, which in Lydian was mariwda- "dark".[10] All of those loanwords confirm a strong cultural interaction between the Lydians and the Greeks since the Creto-Mycenaean era (2nd millennium BC).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lydian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Lydian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Craig Melchert (2004). "Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages: Lydian p. 601-607" (PDF). Cambridge University Press. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2003-04-11. 
  4. ^ Ivo Hajnal (2001). "Lydian: Late-Hittite or Neo-Luwian?" (PDF). University of Innsbruck. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04. 
  5. ^ N. P. Milner (1998). An Epigraphical Survey in the Kibyra-Olbasa Region conducted by A S Hall (Monograph). British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Plutarch - Frank Cole Babbitt (2005). Moralia ISBN 978-1-4179-0500-3, Volume 4, p. 235. Kessinger Publishing. 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Will Durant - Ariel Durant ISBN 978-1-56731-013-9 (1997). The story of civilization, Volume 2, pp. 122. Simon & Schuster. 
  10. ^ Melchert, Craig. "Greek mólybdos as a Loanword from Lydian" (PDF). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 


External links[edit]