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The Thracian language was the Indo-European language spoken in ancient times by the Thracians in South-Eastern Europe.

Geographic distribution

Thracian language was spoken in substantial numbers in what is now most of Bulgariamarker, eastern Serbiamarker, eastern Republic of Macedoniamarker, Northern Greece, European Turkey and in parts of Bithynia (North-Western Asiatic Turkey).
Limits of the Thracian linguistic territory according to Ivan Duridanov,1985
Including Dacian-Getian it was spoken in Romaniamarker, the region of Dobrudja, north - eastern Serbiamarker, the Republic of Moldovamarker, western-central Ukrainemarker, and eastern Hungarymarker and eastern Slovakiamarker as well. Many Bulgarian Thracologists tend to consider Dacian and Thracian as distinct languages descending from an immediate common ancestor and group them together as Daco-Thracian or Thraco-Dacian.


As an extinct language with only a few short inscriptions attributed to it (see below), there is little known about the Thracian language, but a number of features are agreed upon. Some Thracian words can be found cited in ancient texts (the list below excludes Dacian plant names which however are often included). In addition there are many words and probable words extracted from anthroponyms, toponyms, hydronyms, oronyms and other lexical elements found in the primary sources (see also List of ancient Thracian cities):

attestation English meaning etymology cognates
alopekis "cap"
asa A Bessian word for the Coltsfoot Lithuanian dial. asỹs "horse-tail," Latvian. aši, ašas "horse-tail, sedge, rush," rel. to Latv. ašs, ass "sharp", , Lith aštrùs "sharp" Serb oštro "sharp", Mac ostro "sharp"
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" IE *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 "guitar" PIE *bhrm.kos Greek (Aeolian) phórmynx; Romanian broancă, "a stringed instrument"; Old Church Slavonic brękati "to make a noise", Polish brzęk "ringing, tinkle", Bulgarian brumchi "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", Alb. brumë "dough", dialectal Romanian brut "bread" (from which standard Romanian brutar "baker" is derived)
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"
dinupula, *sinupyla (reconstructed from ms.), kinoboila (Dacian) "wild pumpkin" Lithuanian šúnobuolas wild pumpkin, Albanian thënukël dogberry, Bulg. dinya, "watermelon"
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", Farsi(Pers.) gærm, "warm"
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
para, pera, peron "town" Old Prussian pera "group" peroni "parish, community"
rhomphaia "a spear"; later the meaning "sword" is attested dialect Bul. roféya, rufia "a thunderbolt", Alb. rrufë; Latin rumpere "to break, tear", Old English reofan "to tear, break"
skálmē "a knife, a sword" PIE *skolmā Old Norse skolm "short sword, knife"
skárke "a coin" PIE *skerg "to jingle" Old Norse skark "noise", Sanskrit kharjati "to creak, crunch"
spinos "a stone which burns when water is poured on it"
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", Macedonian, Tsitska "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 Old Church Slavonic kalithos, "wine", Sanskrit hālā "brandy", Greek khális "pure wine", Russian zelye "a fermented or witch's brew"
zetraía "a pot" PIE *g'heutr Grk. khútra "pipkin"
zibythides "noble Thracians" Lith. zhibut "fire, light", Serb. shibytsa "a lightening stick", Bul. shibam "to hit, to whip" .

Other lexical elements are found in inscriptions (most of them written with Greek script) on buildings, coins, and other artifacts (see inscriptions below).Another source for the Thracian vocabulary are words of unknown or disputed etymology found in Bulgarian (see Bulgarian lexis) as well as Romanian (see Eastern Romance substratum). Albanian is sometimes regarded as a descendant of Dacian or Thracian, or as a descendant of Illyrian with a Daco-Thracic admixture; thus the Albanian lexis is another source.

Thracian words in the Ancient Greek lexicon are also proposed. Greek lexical elements may derive from Thracian, such as balios ("dappled"; PIE *bhel-, "to shine"; Pokorny also cites Illyrian as a possible source), bounos, "hill, mound", etc.


The golden ring from Ezerovo.
Only four Thracian inscriptions have been found. One is a gold ring found in 1912 in the town of Ezerovo, Bulgariamarker. 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. Thracologists such as Vladimir I. Georgiev and Dechev have proposed various translations for the inscription but these are just guesses.

A second inscription was found in 1965 near the village of Kyolmen, Preslavmarker 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, Plovdivmarker 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

ΜΕΖΗΝΑΙ likely corresponds to Menzana, the Messapian "horse deity" to which horses were sacrificed, compared also to Albanian , "pony" (preserved into Romanian as "colt"), derived either from PIE "virile" or PIE "to suckle".

These are the longest inscriptions preserved. The remaining ones are mostly single words or names on vessels and other artifacts. In addition, Thracian lexical elements have been drawn from inscriptions in Greek or Latin.

In a Latin inscription from Romemarker discussing a citizen from the Roman province of Thracia, the phrase is found; this is interpreted as indicating the Thracian's place of origin, midne being seen as the Thracian equivalent of Latin , "village". If this is correct, the Thracian word has a close cognate (Latv. , "a dwelling") in Latvian, a Baltic language.


The classification of the Thracian language has long been a matter of contention and uncertainty, and there are widely varying hypotheses regarding the position of Thracian among the Paleo-Balkan languages. It is not contested however that Thracian was an Indo-European language which had acquired satem characteristics by the time it is attested.


Most of the Thracians were eventually Hellenized (in the province of Thrace) or Romanized (in Moesia, Dacia, etc.), with the last remnants surviving in remote areas until the 5th century. Some Thracian tribes have probably been Slavicized, after the Slavic re-settlements to the south of the Danube river and eventually merged with the invading Bulgarian and Serbian peoples.

See also


  1. Eastern Michigan University. The Linguist List, "The Thracian Language" (October 20, 2008). "An ancient language of Southern Balkans, belonging to the Satem group of Indo-European. This language is the most likely ancestor of modern Albanian (which is also a Satem language), though the evidence is scanty. 1st Millennium BC - 500 AD."
  2. Ilija Casule even links Thracian and Phrygian with the Burushaski language, a language isolate spoken in northern Pakistan.

Further reading

  • 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.
  • Keith Massey, "Further Evidence for an "Italic" Substratum in Romanian," in Philologie im Netz 43/2008, pp. 11-16.

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