Thracian language

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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.
Extinct Fifth century[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 txh
Linguist list
Glottolog thra1250[2]

The Thracian language (/ˈθrɛɪʃən/) was the Indo-European language spoken in ancient times in Southeastern Europe by the Thracians, the northern neighbors of the Ancient Macedonians. 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 was still in use at least till the 6th century AD. In 570, Antoninus Placentius said that in the valleys of Mount Sinai there was a monastery in which the monks spoke Greek, Latin, Syriac, Egyptian and Bessian. The origin of the monasteries is explained in a mediaeval hagiography written by Simeon Metaphrastes, in Vita Sancti Theodosii Coenobiarchae, in which he wrote that Saint Theodosius founded on the shore of the Dead Sea a monastery with four churches, in each being spoken a different language, among which Bessian was found. The place where the monasteries were founded was called "Cutila", which may be a Thracian name. The Bessi were one of the most prominent Thracian tribes. The further fate of the Thracian language is a matter of dispute. Some authors like Schramm derived the Albanians from the Christian Bessi, or Bessians, an early Thracian people who were pushed westwards into Albania, thus making Albanian language descendant from Thracian.[3]

Geographic distribution[edit]

The Thracian language was spoken in what is now the southern half of Bulgaria,[4][5] eastern Republic of Macedonia, Northern Greece, European Turkey and in parts of Bithynia (North-Western Asiatic Turkey).

Eastern Serbia is usually considered by paleolinguists to have been a Daco-Moesian language area. Moesian (after Vladimir Georgiev et al.) is grouped with Dacian.

Remnants of the Thracian language[edit]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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.

attestation English meaning etymology cognates
alopekis "cap"
asa A Bessian word for the Coltsfoot
aspios, esvas, asbe-, "horse" PIE *h₁éḱwos Sanskrit अश्व "áśva", "horse", Avestan aspa, "horse" (Ossetic jäfs), Prussian aswinan "mare milk", Lithuanian ašvíenis "stallion", ašvà, dial. ešvà "mare" , Persian اسب "asb/asp"
bolinthos "wild bull" PIE *bʰel-, "to swell" English bull, Albanian buall "bull", (possibly) Old Church Slavonic бꙑкъ (bykŭ) "bull"
bria "town, settlement" 1) after Pokorny, from PIE *wriyeh₂

2) Olteanu, PIE *gʷer-, "heavy, strong"

1) Mycenean rijo "promontory", Proto-Slavic*rъtъ "promontory", Greek ῥίον (rhíon) "id.", Tocharian A ri, Tocharian B rīye "town"

2) Greek βαρύς (barýs), "heavy"

bríloun "barber" PIE *bʰrī-l- Proto-Slavic *briti "to shave" (Serbo-Croatian брица/brica "barber"), Old Irish brissim "I shatter", English brine, Latin friare "to rub, crumble", Albanian brej, brêj "to gnaw", Sanskrit भ्रिणाति (bhriṇāti) "he injures, hurts", Lithuanian briauna (peilio) "edge (of a knife)"
bríza "emmer-wheat, rye" 1) PIE *wrīǵʰ-

2) PIE *breǵʰ-

1) Bulgarian брица (brica) "type of summer grain"; Sanskrit व्रीहि (vrīhì) "rice"; Persian برنج (berenj) "rice"

2) Norwegian brok "kind of grass"

brynchos "a string instrument, characterized as a Thracian kithara[8]" PIE *bʰrm-kos Greek (Aeolian) φόρμυνξ (phórmynx); Old German brumme "bagpipe", brummen "to make sounds"; Lithuanian braukyti (stygas) "to pluck (the strings of a musical instrument)"; English breaking sound; Old Church Slavonic brękati "to make a noise", Bulgarian брърмчене (brămčene) "a ringing sound", Romanian broancă "a stringed instrument"
brytos, bryton, brutos, bryttion "a kind of ale made from barley" PIE *bʰrūto- English broth, Middle High German briuwen, ( English to brew), Alb. bruz "blue, indigo", brumë "dough", Welsh brwd "brewage", Latin defrutum "must boiled down", Greek απέφρυσεν (apéphrysen) "to seethe, boil", Russian брага (braga) "an alcohol drink made from malt, homemade beer "
deiza, disza, diza, dizos "a fortified settlement" PIE *dʰeigʰ-, "to knead clay" Ancient Greek τεῖχος (teîkhos) "wall", Gothic daigs, Avestan daēza "wall", Old Church Slavonic зьдъ (zĭdŭ) "wall, contruction", English dough
dinupula, *sinupyla (reconstructed from a corrupted manuscript), kinoboila (Dacian) "wild pumpkin" Lithuanian šúnobuolas "wild pumpkin", Albanian thënukël "dogberry"
embades "boots" Alb. mbath "wear shoe, boots", Old High German ambahte "office holder, person in authority", Russian backhily "boots" (?)
génton "meat" PIE *gʷʰento- "struck, cut" Latin -fendo "to hit", Old English gūth "combat", Welsh gwanu "to stab", Greek θείνειν (theínein) "to strike, kill", Old Armenian գան (gan) "beating", Sanskrit हन्ति (hanti) "he strikes, kills", Hittite kuenzi "he strikes", Old Church Slavonic жѧти (žęti) "to reap", Lithuanian ganyti "to graze, shepherd"
germe "warm" PIE *gʷʰer- "warm" Greek θέρμος (thérmos) "warm", Latin formus "warm", Sanskrit घर्म (gharmà) "heat" , Persian گرم (garm) "warm", Old Armenian ջերմ (ǰerm) "warm", Old Prussian gorme "heat", Alb. zjarm "fire", ngroh "to warm", Old Church Slavonic горѣти (gorěti) "burn"
kalamindar "Plane tree"
kemos "a kind of fruit with follicles"
ktistai (pl.) "Thracians living in celibacy, monks"
manteia "bramblebush, mulberry"? Illyrian mantía, Alb. mën (Gheg Alb. mandë)
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
para, pera, peron "town" Sanskrit पुर (pura) "town", Albanian pjerr "to bend, incline", Old Prussian pera "group" peroni "parish, community", Lithuanian pilis "castle", Ancient Greek πόλις (pόlis) "city"
rhomphaia "a spear"; later the meaning "sword" is attested Alb. rrufe, rrufeja "thunderbolt", dialect. Bul. roféja, rufija "a thunderbolt"; Latin rumpere "to break, tear", Middle High German rumpeln "noisy, jerky move", Old English reofan "to tear, break", Russian рубить (rubit') "to hack"
sica "short sword" or "knife", also cited as an Illyrian word 1) PIE *ḱei- "sharp"

2)PIE *sek-, "to cut"

1) Albanian thikë (from Proto-Albanian *tsikā) "id.", Old Armenian սուր (sur) "id."

2) Latin secula "sickle", Old English sagu "saw", Old Church Slavonic секыра (sekyra), Lithuanian seikėti "to measure"

skálmē "a knife, a sword" PIE *skolmeh₂ Old Norse skalm "short sword, knife", Albanian shkallmë "sword, kind of knife", Ancient Greek σκάλμη (skálmē)
skárke "a coin" PIE *skerg- "to jingle" Old Norse skark "noise", Sanskrit खर्जति (kharjati) "to creak, crunch", Serbian škripa krcka "creak, crunch", šarke old Serbian word for shiny, Russian skrip skriesti skripiet' skriežetat' "(to) creak, scrape, squeak, crunch", šarkan'je šarkat' "(to) shuffle", Lithuanian skarda "tin".
spinos "a stone which burns when water is poured on it" Albanian finjë (< PAlb spinā) "soap suds, soap water", Proto-Slavic *pěna (foam)
titha from Diana Germetitha ("Diana of the warm bosom") Olteanu (et al.?) interprets this lexical element as "bosom, breasts, tit(s)" Ancient Greek τίτθος (títthos) "breast, tit", West Germanic *titta "id.", Latin *titia "id.", Albanian thitha "nipples", Proto-Slavic *sisa "breast", Romanian ţâţă "id."
torelle "a lament, a song of mourning" Albanian (Gheg) torrë "foolish", "crazy", German Torheit "foolishness",Tor "a fool", Russian дурак "a fool"
zalmós, zelmis "a hide, skin" PIE *ḱelm-, *ḱolm- German Helm "helmet", Alb. thelmë (from Proto-Albanian *tselmā) "rag, patch", Lith. šálmas, OPruss. salmis "helmet", Proto-Slavic šelmъ "helmet", Skt. शर्मन् (śárman) "cover"
zeira, zira "tunic, cloak" (a type of upper garment) Old Church Slavonic риза (riza) "clothe"
zelas "wine" PIE *ǵʰēlo- Ancient Macedonian kalithos, "wine", Sanskrit हाला (hālā) "brandy", Ancient Greek χάλις (khális) "pure wine", Proto-Slavic *zelьje "potion"
zetraía "a pot" PIE *ǵʰeutr- Grk. χύτρα (khútra) "pipkin"
zibythides "noble Thracians" Lith. žibėti "to shine" žaibas "lightning", Serb. šibica "match", Polish szybki "fast", Bul. шибам (šibam) "to hit, to whip", Russian ушиб (ušib) "bruise, injury, contusion", Albanian thupër (Ghegh thupën) "stick"

The proposed Thracian words in the Ancient Greek lexicon are not numerous. They include the parth- element in Parthenon;[citation needed] 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".[9]

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 [1], 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’[10]), 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.[11]

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.


Limits of the (southern) Thracian linguistic territory according to Ivan Duridanov,1985

Ezerovo inscription[edit]

Only four Thracian inscriptions of any length have been found. The first 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 an inscription is found written in a Greek script and consisting of 8 lines, the eighth of which is located on the edge, the rim, of the rotating disk; it reads:


Dimitar Dechev (Germanised as D. Detschew) separates the words thus[12][13]



Rolisteneas Nerenea tiltean ēsko Arazea domean Tilezypta miē era zēlta

proposing the following translation

I am Rolisteneas, a descendant of Nereneas; Tilezypta, an Arazian woman, delivered me to the ground.

Kyolmen inscription[edit]

A second inscription, hitherto undeciphered, was found in 1965 near the village of Kyolmen, Preslav district, dating to the 6th century BC. Written in a Greek alphabet variant, it is possibly a tomb stele inscription similar to the Phrygian ones; Peter A. Dimitrov's transcription thereof is:[14]




Duvanli inscription[edit]

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)



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[edit]

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.[17] The Thraco-Illyrian grouping has also been called into question.[citation needed] Daco-Thracian or Thraco-Dacian is the main hypothesis.[citation needed]

Thraco-Dacian in turn has been hypothesized as forming a branch of Indo-European along with either Albanian,[citation needed] Baltic,[18] or Greco-Macedonian.[citation needed] 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, 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[edit]

Most of the Thracians were eventually Romanized, Hellenized or Slavicized, with the last remnants surviving in remote areas until the 5th century.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thracian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Thracian". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ 1994 Gottfried Schramm: A New Approach to Albanian History
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of European peoples, Carl Waldman, Catherine Mason, Infobase Publishing, 2006, ISBN 0-8160-4964-5, p. 205.
  5. ^ Archaeology and language: the puzzle of Indo-European origins, Colin Renfrew, CUP Archive, 1990, ISBN 0-521-38675-6, p. 71.
  6. ^ Olteanu et al.
  7. ^ Duridanov, Ivan. "The Language of the Thracians". Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  8. ^ Hesychius of Alexandria: "κιθάραν, Θρᾷκες"
  9. ^ Olteanu hypothesizes that the Thracian toponym Basibounon may contain bouno(n), a Greek word for "hill" that may also be a Thracian word
  10. ^ In Old Church Slavonic is found ehu, which may be a loan from Germanic[citation needed]; otherwise the Slavic word for horse from ekwo- was lost, due perhaps to the lack of equestrianism among the early Slavs[citation needed]
  11. ^ Georgiev, Olteanu et al.
  12. ^ Duridanov, Ivan (1985). Die Sprache der Thraker. Bulgarische Sammlung (in German) 5. Hieronymus Verlag. ISBN 3-88893-031-6. Ich bin Rolisteneas, Sprößling des Nereneas; Tilezypta, Arazerin nach ihrer Heimat, hat mich der Erde übergeben (d.h. begraben). 
  13. ^ Russu, Ion I. (1969). Die Sprache der Thrako-Daker (in German). Ed. Ştiinţificā. 
  14. ^ Dimitrov, Peter A. (2009). "The Kyolmen Stone Inscription". Thracian Language and Greek and Thracian Epigraphy. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-4438-1325-9. 
  15. ^ a b Written from right to left.
  16. ^ Written from left to right.
  17. ^ 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.)
  18. ^ Holst (2009):66.
  19. ^ R.J. Crampton (1997). A Concise History of Bulgaria. Cambridge University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-521-56719-X. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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).
  • J.H. Holst, "Armenische Studien", Wiesbaden (2009).

External links[edit]