Thracian language

Spoken in Bulgaria south of the Haemus mountains; European Turkey, parts of the region of Macedonia (including Paeonia, though Paeonian itself may not have been Thracian), parts of Northeastern Greece, parts of Bithynia in Asiatic Turkey. Probably also spoken in parts of Dardania and pockets or temporary pockets of Thracian speakers perhaps in southeastern Albania
Extinct Fifth century
Language family
  • Thracian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 txh

Indo-European topics

Albanian · Armenian · Baltic
Celtic · Germanic · Greek
Indo-Iranian (Indo-Aryan, Iranian)
Italic · Slavic  

extinct: Anatolian · Paleo-Balkan (Dacian,
Phrygian, Thracian· Tocharian

Vocabulary · Phonology · Sound laws · Ablaut · Root · Noun · Verb
Europe: Balts · Slavs · Albanians · Italics · Celts · Germanic peoples · Greeks · Paleo-Balkans (Illyrians · Thracians · Dacians·

Asia: Anatolians (Hittites, Luwians)  · Armenians  · Indo-Iranians (Iranians · Indo-Aryans)  · Tocharians  

Homeland · Society · Religion
Abashevo culture · Afanasevo culture · Andronovo culture · Baden culture · Beaker culture · Catacomb culture · Cernavodă culture · Chasséen culture · Chernoles culture · Corded Ware culture · Cucuteni-Trypillian culture · Dnieper-Donets culture · Gumelniţa-Karanovo culture · Gushi culture · Karasuk culture · Kemi Oba culture · Khvalynsk culture · Kura-Araxes culture · Lusatian culture · Maykop culture · Middle Dnieper culture · Narva culture · Novotitorovka culture · Poltavka culture · Potapovka culture · Samara culture · Seroglazovo culture · Sredny Stog culture · Srubna culture · Terramare culture · Usatovo culture · Vučedol culture · Yamna culture

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.


Geographic distribution

Excluding Dacian (either because it may have been a distinct Thracic language, or because, as some linguists hypothesize, it was a different branch of Indo-European) [1] the Thracian language was spoken in what is now the southern half of Bulgaria,[2][3] 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

Little is known for certain about the Thracian language, since no phrase beyond several 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.[4] 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.[5] 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 *ekwo- Sanskrit açva or áśva-, "horse", Avestan aspa, "horse", Ossetic jäfs, Prussian aswinan ‘mare milk’, Lituanian ašvíenis ‘stallion’,ašvà, dial. ešvà ‘mare’
bolinthos "wild bull" PIE *bhel-, "to swell" English 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"
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[6]" 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"
brytos, bryton, brutos, bryttion "a kind of ale made from barley" PIE *bhrūto English broth, 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", English dough romanian "zid","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"
génton "meat" PIE *gwhento "struck, cut" Latin fendere "to strike, push", Old English gūth "combat", 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", Hindi gharam, "warm or hot", Persian gærm, "warm", Old Prussian gorme, "heat", Alb. zjarm, pl. dial. zjerm, zjermë, zjarme, "fire"
kalamindar "Plane tree"
kemos "a kind of fruit with follicles"
ktistai (pl.) "Thracians living in celibacy, monks"
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, Old Prussian pera "group" peroni "parish, community"
rhomphaia "a spear"; later the meaning "sword" is attested dialect Bul. roféja, rufija "a thunderbolt", Alb. rrufë; 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" Old Romanian "şiş", "dagger"
skálmē "a knife, a sword" PIE *skolmā Old Norse skolm "short sword, 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
spinos "a stone which burns when water is poured on it" 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"
zalmós, zelmis "a hide, skin" PIE *k'elm, *k'olm German Helm "helmet", Lith. šálmas, OPruss. salmis "helmet", OSl. šlĕmŭ, Skt. śárman "cover"
zeira, zira "tunic, cloak" (a type of upper garment)
zelas "wine" PIE *g'hēlo Ancient Macedonian kalithos, "wine", Sanskrit hālā "brandy", 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" .

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".[7]

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’, Lituanian ašvíenis ‘stallion’, ašvà, dial. ešvà ‘mare’ [8] ), 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.[9]

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
The golden ring from Ezerovo.

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:


The meaning of the inscription is not known, and it bears no resemblance to any known language.

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:

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)

ēuziē.....dele / mezēnai

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.[10] The Thraco-Illyrian grouping has also been called into question, but remains as one of the main hypotheses[citation needed]. Daco-Thracian or Thraco-Dacian is the main hypothesis[citation needed].

Thracian/Daco-Thracian/Thraco-Dacian in turn has been hypothesized as forming a branch of Indo-European along with either Albanian[citation needed] or Baltic[citation needed] or Balto-Slavic[citation needed] 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 subfamilies (clades) that 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.

Thracian sound-changes from PIE and Thracian phonology

The 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.[11]

See also


  1. ^ History and myth in Romanian consciousness, Lucian Boia, Central European University Press, 2001, ISBN 9639116971, pp. 104-105.
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of European peoples, Carl Waldman, Catherine Mason, Infobase Publishing, 2006, ISBN 0816049645, p. 205.
  3. ^ Archaeology and language: the puzzle of Indo-European origins, Colin Renfrew, CUP Archive, 1990, ISBN 0521386756, p. 71.
  4. ^ Olteanu et al.
  5. ^ Duridanov, Ivan. "The Language of the Thracians". Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  6. ^ Hesychios κιθάραν, Θρᾷκες
  7. ^ Olteanu hypothesizes that the Thracian toponym Basibounon may contain bouno(n), a Greek word for "hill" that may also be a Thracian word
  8. ^ 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]
  9. ^ Georgiev, Olteanu et al.
  10. ^ 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.)
  11. ^ R.J. Crampton (1997). A Concise History of Bulgaria. Cambridge University Press. pp. 4. ISBN 0-521-56719-X. 

Further reading

  • 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.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Thracian language —       language spoken by the inhabitants of Thrace primarily in pre Greek and early Greek times. Generally assumed to be an Indo European language, Thracian is known from proper names, glosses in Greek writings, and a small number of inscriptions …   Universalium

  • Thracian clothing — refers to types of clothing worn mainly by Thracians, Dacians[1] but also by some Greeks.[2] Its best literal descriptions are given by Herodotus and Xenophon in his Anabasis.[1] Depictions are found in a great number of Greek vases and there are …   Wikipedia

  • Thracian — [thrā′shən] adj. of Thrace or its people or culture n. 1. a person born or living in Thrace 2. the extinct language of ancient Thrace, generally assumed to belong to the Indo European language family …   English World dictionary

  • Thracian — noun Date: 1565 1. a native or inhabitant of Thrace 2. the Indo European language of the ancient Thracians see Indo European languages table • Thracian adjective …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Thracian dialect — The Thracian dialect is a dialect of the Bulgarian language, member of the Rup or Southeastern Bulgarian dialects. The present range of the dialect includes the regions of Haskovo, Parvomay, Elhovo, Harmanli, Svilengrad, Topolovgrad and… …   Wikipedia

  • Thracian — Thra•cian [[t]ˈθreɪ ʃən[/t]] adj. 1) geg peo of or pertaining to Thrace, its inhabitants, or their language 2) geg peo a native or inhabitant of Thrace 3) peo an Indo European language of ancient Thrace • Etymology: 1560–70; < L Thrāci(us) of… …   From formal English to slang

  • Thracian — /thray sheuhn/, adj. 1. of or pertaining to Thrace or its inhabitants. n. 2. a native or inhabitant of Thrace. 3. an Indo European language of ancient Thrace. [1560 70; < L Thraci(us) of Thrace ( < Gk Thráikios, equiv. to Thráik(e) THRACE + ios… …   Universalium

  • Thracian — ISO 639 3 Code : txh ISO 639 2/B Code : ISO 639 2/T Code : ISO 639 1 Code : Scope : Individual Language Type : Ancient …   Names of Languages ISO 639-3

  • Thracian — n. person from Thrace; member of the people who lived in Thrace n. language spoken by the ancient Thracians of Thrace …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Thracian — /ˈθreɪʃən/ (say thrayshuhn) adjective 1. of or relating to Thrace or its inhabitants. –noun 2. a native or inhabitant of Thrace. 3. the language of ancient Thrace …   Australian English dictionary

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