The Thracian language (//) was the Indo-European language spoken in ancient times in Southeast 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 was still in use at least until the sixth century AD. In 570, Antoninus of Piacenza said that in the valleys of Mount Sinai there was a monastery in which the monks spoke Greek, Latin, Syriac, Egyptian and Bessian, the language of the Bessi, one of the most prominent Thracian tribes. The origin of the monasteries is explained in a mediaeval hagiography written by Symeon the Metaphrast 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 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, however this is one of many theories with mainstream historians supporting the Illyrian theory. Some authors like Harvey Mayer group Thracian and Dacian into a southern Baltic linguistic family.
The Thracian language was spoken in what is now Bulgaria, Romania, 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.
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 personal names, toponyms, hydronyms, phytonyms, divine names, 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 Bulgarian, 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.
There are 23 words mentioned by ancient sources considered explicitly of Thracian origin and known meaning
|asa||colt’s foot (Bessi)||Dioskurides||Lit. dial. asỹs ‘horse-tail, Equisetum’, Latv. aši, ašas ‘horse-tail, sedge, rush’, Latv. ašs, ass ‘sharp'|
|bólinthos||wild bull, bison||Aristotle||Slavic vol ("ox")|
|bria||town||Proto-Germanic burgz ("fortification")|
|briza||spelt, rye||Galen||Old-Ind. vrihi-h, Pers. birinj, Afg. vriže ‘rice’, Greek orinda=óryza ‘rice’, Bulg. oriz., Lith. brizdis ‘ling', brigzti ‘to be torn, to get unraveled’|
|brynchós||guitar||Pol. brzęk ‘a ringing, a tinkle’, Ukr. brjak ‘a ringing, a sound’|
|brytos||beer (Thracian, Paeonian and Phrygian)||many||Anglo-Saxon brod, Old High German prod ‘broth’, Proto-Slavic *vьrěti ("to boil")|
|dinupula, si/nupyla||wild melon||Pseudoapuleus||IE kunābolā, Lith. šùnobuolas ‘dog’s apple’, Bulg. dinia ("watermelon"), Serb. dinja ("cantaloupe"), Hun. dinnye ("melon")|
|génton||meat||Herodian., Suid., Hesych||Old-Ind. hata’- ‘hit, killed’|
|kemos||a kind of fruit with follicle||Phot. Lex.|
|ktístai||monks||Strabo||Proto-Slavic *čistъ ("clean, pure"), Latv. šķīsts ("pure, clean")|
|midne||village||inscription from Rome||Latv. mitne ‘a place of stay, a dwelling, a shelter'|
|póltym(bria)||board fence, a board tower||Old-Icel. spjald ‘a board’, Anglo-Saxon speld ‘wood, log’, German spalten ‘to chop, to splinter’|
|rhompháia||a spear, a sword||many||Bulg. roféja, rufja ‘a thunderbolt’, Alb. rrufë, Latin rumpo ‘to break'|
|skálmē||knife, a sword||Soph. y Pollux, Marcus Anton., Hesych., Phot. L||Old-Icel. skolm ‘a short sword, a knife’|
|skárke||silver coin||Hesych., Phot. Lex.||Old Norse skark ‘a noise'|
|spínos||a kind of stone||Arist.|
|torélle||a refrain of lament mourn song||Hesych.|
|zalmós||a hide||Porphyr.||Old Pruss. salmis ‘helm’, Lith. sálmas|
|zeirá, zirá||a type of upper garment||Hdt., Xen., Hesych.|
|zelâs||wine||many||Lith. žalas ‘rufous’, Latv. zals ‘bright red, brown’, Bret. gell ‘reddish, brown’, Greek chális ‘pure wine’, Mac. kálithos ‘wine'|
|zibythides||the noble, most holy one||Hesych.||Lith. žibeti/žibù ("to shine, to light"), Lith. žibute ("a fire, light"), Serb. šibica ("[ignitable] match")|
An additional 180 Thracian words have been reconstructed.
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", Bul. bel/bial (бял) "white" or bljaskav 'bright, shiny'; 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 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. 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
proposing the following translation
A second inscription, hitherto undeciphered, was found in 1965 near the village of Kyolmen, Veliki Preslav, dating to the sixth 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:
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)
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.
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.
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.
|Change||o > a||r > ir, ur (or)
l > il, ul (ol)
|m > im, um (om)
n > in, un (on)
|kʷ, gʷ, gʷʰ
> k, g (k), g
|ḱ, ǵ, ǵʰ
> s (p), z (d)
|p, t, k
> pʰ, tʰ, kʰ
|b, d, g
> p, t, k
|bʰ, dʰ, gʰ
> b, d, g
|sr > str||tt, dt > st|
|*r̥, *l̥||ri||ur (or), ur (ol)||al|
Note: Asterisk indicates reconstructed IE sound. M is a cover symbol for the row of voiced stops (mediae), T for unvoiced stops (tenues) and TA for aspirated stops (tenues aspiratae). ∅ indicates zero, a sound that has been lost.
|*b, *d, *g||b, d, g||p, t, k|
|*p, *t, *k||p, t, k||ph, th, kh|
|*e (after consonant)||ie||e|
Thraco-Dacian has been hypothesized as forming a branch of Indo-European along with Baltic.
For a big number of the 300 Thracian geographic names there are cognates within the Baltic toponymy, most similarities between Thracian and Balto-Slavic personal and geographic names were found, especially Baltic. According to Duridinov the "most important impression make the geographic cognates of Baltic and Thracian" "the similarity of these parallels stretching frequently on the main element and the suffix simultaneously, which makes a strong impression". According to him there are occasional similarities between Slavic and Thracian because Slavic is related to Baltic, while almost no lexical similarities within Thracian and Phrygian were found. This significant relatedness show close affinity and kinship of Thracian with Baltic. The following table shows the cognates:
Cognates of Thracian and Baltic place names
|Thracian place||Lithuanian place||Latvian place||Old Prussian place||cognates|
|Alaaiabria||Alajà||Lith. aléti ‘to be flooded’|
|Armonia||Armona, Armenà||Lith. armuõ, -eñs ‘a swamp, bog’, arma ‘the same’|
|Armula||Armuliškis||lit. arma ‘mud’|
|Arpessas||Varpe, Varputỹs, Várpapievis||Warpen, Warpunen||Latv. vārpats ‘whirlpool’, the Lith. varpýti (-pa, -pia) ‘to dig’|
|Aspynthos||Latv. apse, the Old-Pruss. abse, the Lith. apušẽ|
|Asamus||aśman- ‘stone’, Lit. ašmuo, ašmenys,|
|Vairos||Vaira||Lit. vairus ‘diverse’|
|Beres||Bẽrė, Bėrẽ, Bėr-upis, Bėrupė||Bēr-upe, Berēka||Lit. bėras, Lat. bęrs ‘brown, swarthy’|
|Bersamae||Lith. béržas, the Latv. bẽrzs, Old-Pruss. berse|
|Veleka||Velėkas||Lit. velėklės ‘place in the water’|
|Bolba bria||Balvi, Bàlvis, Bolva||Lith. Bálvis 'a lake', the Old-Pruss. Balweniken|
|Brenipara||Mesapian brendon, Lat. briedis ‘deer’|
|Calsus||Kalsi, Kalsiņš, Kals-Strauts ‘dry stream’||Lat. kalst, kaltēt ‘dry’|
|Chalastra||Lith. sravà ‘a stream’, the Latv. strava ‘stream, torrent’|
|Daphabae||Lith. dãpas ‘a flood’ , Old-Pruss. ape ‘river’|
|Dingion||Dingas, Dindze, Dingupite||Dinge||Latv. dinga ‘a plant’ and ‘fertile place’|
|Dimae||Dūmė||Dūmis||Dumen||Lit. dūmas ‘dark (for beef)’, Latv. dūms ‘dark-brown’|
|Gesia||Gesavà||Dzêsiens||Gesaw||Lat. dzēse ‘heron’|
|Ginula||Ginuļi||Ginulle||Latv. g'inis, g'inst ‘to spoil’|
|Armonia||Armona||Lit. armuo, -ens ‘quagmire’|
|Iuras||Jūra Jūrė, Jūrupis||Lit. and Lat. jūra ‘sea’|
|Kallindia||Galindo, Galinden, Galynde||Galindai, Lit. galas ‘end’|
Latv. kãpa, kãpe ‘long mountainous strip, dune, slope’, the Lith. kopà ‘sandy hill’
|Kurpisos||Kurpų kámas, Kurpulaukis||Kazūkurpe, Kurpesgrāvis, Kurpkalns||Lit. kurpti ‘to dig'|
|Kersula||Keršuliškių kaimas||Lit. keršulis ‘pigeon’|
|Knishava||Knisà||Knīsi, Knīši, Knīsukalns||Lith. knìsti ‘to dig, to rummage’|
|Lingos||Lingė, Lingenai||Lingas, Lingi, Lingasdikis||Lingwar||Lit. lengė 'valley’|
|Markellai||Markẽlis, Markelỹne||Marken||Lit. marka ‘pit’, merkti ‘dunk’|
|Meldia||Meldė, Meldínis||Meldine, Meldini||Mildio, Mildie||Zhemait. Melьdəikvirshe, Melьdəinəi, Lith. meldà, méldas ‘marsh reed’ , the Latv. meldi ‘reed’|
|Mygdonia||Mūkė||Mukas||Zhemait. river Muka, Mukja|
|Ostophos||Uõstas, Ũstas||Uostupe, Ũostup||Lit. pušynas ‘spurs forest’|
|Paisula||Paišeliai||Paissyn||Lit. paišai ‘soot’|
|Palae||Palà||Lit. palios ‘swamp'|
|Palnma||Palminỹs, Palmajos káimas||Paļmuota||Lit. palios ‘swamp'|
|Panion||Old-Pruss. pannean ‘swamp, quagmire’|
|Pannas||Panyen||Old Pruss. pannean ‘quagmire’, Gothic fani|
|Pautalia||Paũtupis||Pauteļi, Pautupīte, Pautustrauts||Pauta, Pauten||Lith. putà, pl. pùtos ‘foam, froth’, putóti ‘to foam’, the Latv. putas ‘foam’|
|Pizos||Pisa ęzęrs||Pissa, Pissen, Pisse, Pysekaym, Piselauk||Lat. pīsa ‘swamp’|
|Praizes Limne||Praustuvė||Lith. praũsti (prausiù, -siaũ) ‘to wash’, prausỹnės ‘washing’, the Latv. prauslât ‘to spray, to sprinkle’|
|Pusinon||Pusyne, Pušinė, Pušyno káimasPušinė||Lit. pušynas ‘spurs forest’, Zhemait. Pushina 'a stream', Pushine 'meadows'|
|Pupensis vicus(village)||Pupių káimas, Pupinė||Pupa||Pupkaym, Paupayn||Latinized vicus for ‘village', Lit. and Latv. pupa 'beans', kaimas 'village'(cf. Bobov Dol)|
|Purdae||Porden, Purde||Zhemait. Purdjaknisə Popelьki|
|Raimula||Raimoche||Lith. ráimas ‘motley, particoloured’|
|Rhakule||Rãkija, Rakavos káimas||Roklawken, Rocke||Lith. ràkti, rankù, rakiaũ ‘to dig out, unearth’, Latv. rakt, rùoku ‘to dig’, rakņât ‘to dig’|
|Rhamae||Rãmis, Ramùne||Rāmava||Ramio, Rammenflys||Lit. ramus ‘quiet’|
|Rhodope Mountains||Rudupe||Zhemait. Rudupja, Rudupə, Rudupi, Lith. rùdas ‘reddish, ruddy, dark yellow’, Lith. ùpė ‘river’|
|Rhusion||Russe, Russien, Rusemoter||Lith. rūsỹs (and rúsas) ‘a pit for potatoes; cellar, basement’, the Latv. rūsa ‘a pit’|
|Rumbodona||Rum̃ba, Rum̃ba, Rum̃b, Rum̃bas, Rumbai||Latv. rum̃ba ‘waterfall, river rapids’, Lith. rum̃bas, rùmbas, rumbà ‘periphery’|
|Sarte||Sar̃tė, Sartà||Sār̃te, Sārtupe||Zhemait. Sarta, Sarti, Lit. sartas ‘red (horse)’, Lat. sarts ‘ruddy’|
|Scretisca||Skretiškė||Lit. skretė ‘circle’|
|Seietovia||Sietuvà, Siẽtuvas||Zhemait. Setuva, Lit. sietuva ‘whirlpool’|
|Sekina||Šėkinė||Lith. šėkas ‘recently mowed down grass, hay’, Latv. sêks ‘the same’|
|Silta||Šiltupis||Siltie, Siltums, Siltine||Lit. šiltas ‘warm, nice’ , Latv. sìlts ‘warm’|
|Skaptopara, Skalpenos, Skaplizo||Skalbupis, Skalbýnupis, Skalbstas, Skaptotai, Skaptùtis||Lith. skãplis ‘a type of axe’, Lith. skaptúoti ‘to cut, to carve'|
|Skarsa||Skarsin, Skarsaw||Lith. sker̃sas ‘transverse, oblique, slanting’, Sker̃sė, Sker̃s-upỹs, Sker̃sravi|
|Scombros||Lith. kumbrỹs, kum̃bris ‘hill, top of a mountain; small mountain’, Latv. kum̃bris ‘hump, hunch’|
|Spindea||Spindžių káimas, Spindžiùs||Spindags||Lit. spindžius, spindis, 'clearing', Lat. spindis ‘spark’|
|Stambai||Strũobas, Struõbas||Lit. stramblys ‘cob’, Old-Pruss. strambo ‘stubble-field’|
|Strauneilon||Strūnelė, Strūnà||Lit. sr(i)ūti ‘flow’|
|Strymon||Lit. sraumuo ‘stream’|
|Strauos||Lat. strava, Lit. srava ‘course’|
|Suitula||Svite||Lit. švitulys ‘light’|
|Souras||Sūris, Sūrupė, Sūupis||Sure||Lit. sūras ‘salty’|
|Tarpodizos||Tárpija||Târpi, Tārpu pļava||Lith. tárpas ‘an interstice’ and ‘a gap, a crack’, Zhemait. Tarpu kalьne, Tarpdovdəi|
|Tarporon||Lith. tárpas ‘an interstice’|
|Tirsai||Tirza||Tirskaymen||Lith. tir̃štis ‘density, thickness’ and ‘thicket, brush-wood’|
|Tranoupara||Tranỹs||Trani, Tranava||Lit. tranas ‘hornet’|
|Trauos||Traũšupis||Lith. traũšti ‘to break, to crumble’, traušus ‘brittle’, Latv. traušs, trausls ‘brittle, fragile’|
|Tynta||Tunti, Tunte||Thuntlawken||Lit. tumtas, tuntas ‘flock'|
|Urda, Urdaus||Ùrdupis, Urdenà||Urdava||Zhemait. Urdishki, Lit. urdulys ‘mount stream’, virti ‘spring’|
|Veleka||Velėkas||Lith. velėkles ‘a place, used for washing’|
|Verzela||Vérža, Véržas||Lith. váržas ‘a basket for fish’, Latv. varza ‘dam’|
|Vevocasenus||Vàive||Woywe, Wewa, Waywe||Latin vicus|
|Zburulus||Žiburių káimas||Lit. žiburỹs ‘a fire, a light, something burning; a torch’|
|Zilmissus||Žilmà, Žilmas||Latv. zelme ‘green grass or wheat’|
|Zyakozeron||Žvakùtė||Zvakūž||Lith. žvãkė ‘a light, a candle’|
According to Skordelis, when Thracians were subjected by Alexander the Great they finally assimilated to Greek culture and became as Greek as Spartans and Athenians, although he considered the Thracian language as a form of Greek. According to Crampton (1997) most Thracians were eventually Hellenized or Romanized, with the last remnants surviving in remote areas until the 5th century. According to Marinov the Thracians were likely completely Romanized and Hellenized after the last contemporary references to them of the 6th century. This theory holds as the main factor of immediate assimilation the Christianization of the Roman Empire.
A quick extinction would intensely contrast the avoidance of Hellenization at least by Albanian and Aromanian till the present, possibly with the help of isolated mountainous areas.
Another author considers that the interior of Thrace have never been Romanized or Hellenized (Trever, 1939). This was followed also by Slavonization. According to Weithmann (1978) when the Slavs migrated, they encountered only a very superficially Romanized Thracian and Dacian population, which had not strongly identified itself with Imperial Rome, while Greek and Roman populations (mostly soldiers, officials, merchants) abandoned the land or were killed. Because Pulpudeva survived as Plovdiv in Slavic languages, not under Philippopolis, some authors suggest that Thracian was not completely obliterated in the 7th century.
The latest known use described by Symeon the Metaphrast in a biography of Saint Theodosius the Cenobiarch (423-529), where he claimed that Thracian language was spoken in a monastery, build on Mount Sinai just then, when Theodosius was there: "There were four churches belonging to it, one for each of the three several nations of which his community was chiefly composed, each speaking a different language; the fourth was for the use of such as were in a state of penance, which those that recovered from their lunatic or possessed condition before-mentioned, were put into, and detained till they had expiated their fault. The nations into which his community was divided were the Greeks, which was by far the most numerous, and consisted of all those that came from any provinces of the empire; the Armenians, with whom were joined the Arabians and Persians; and, thirdly, the Bessi, who comprehended all the northern nations below Thrace, or all who used the Runic or Sclavonian tongue. Each nation sung the first part of the mass to the end of the gospel in their own church, but after the gospel all met in the church of the Greeks, where they celebrated the essential part of the sacrifice in Greek, and communicated all together..."
Ich bin Rolisteneas, Sprößling des Nereneas; Tilezypta, Arazerin nach ihrer Heimat, hat mich der Erde übergeben (d.h. begraben).