Phrygian language

Phrygian language

Infobox Language
name = Phrygian
region = Central Asia Minor
extinct = Fifth century
familycolor = Indo-European
The Phrygian language was the Indo-European language of the Phrygians, a people from Thrace who later migrated to Asia Minor.


Phrygian is attested by two corpora, one from around 800 BC and later (Paleo-Phrygian), and then after a period of several centuries from around the beginning of the Common Era (Neo-Phrygian). The Palaeo-Phrygian corpus is further divided (geographically) into inscriptions of Midas-city (M, W), Gordion, Central (C), Bithynia (B), Pteria (P), Tyana (T), Daskyleion (Dask), Bayindir (Bay), and "various" (Dd, "documents divers"). The Mysian inscriptions seem to be in a separate dialect (in an alphabet with an additional letter, "Mysian s").

It survived at least into the sixth century AD. [Peter Charanis, "Ethnic Changes in the Byzantine Empire in the Seventh Century", "Dumbarton Oaks Papers" 13:23 (1959) [ at JSTOR] ]

We can reconstruct some words with the help of some inscriptions written with a script similar to the Greek.


Ancient historians and myths sometimes did associate Phrygian with Thracian and maybe even the Armenian, on grounds of classical sources. Herodotus recorded the Macedonian account that Phrygians emigrated into Asia Minor from Thrace (7.73). Later in the text (7.73), Herodotus states that the Armenians were colonists of the Phrygians, still considered the same in the time of Xerxes I. The earliest mention of Phrygian in Greek sources, in the "Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite", depicts it as different from Trojan: in the hymn, Aphrodite, disguising herself as a mortal to seduce the Trojan prince Anchises, tells him

Of Trojan, unfortunately, nothing is known.


The Phrygian language was most likely close to Thracian, Armenian and Greek. In most cases the Phrygian language used an alphabet originating with the Phoenicians. The available inscriptions in the Phrygian language have not yet been translated. Inscriptions which used a script close to the Greek, have been translated, and some of the Phrygian vocabulary identified. [ [ Encyclopedia of the Orient - Phrygia] ]


Its structure, what can be recovered from it, was typically Indo-European, with nouns declined for case (at least four), gender (three) and number (singular and plural), while the verbs are conjugated for tense, voice, mood, person and number. No single word is attested in all its inflectional forms.

Many words in Phrygian are very similar to the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). Phrygian seems to exhibit an augment, like Greek and Armenian, c.f. "eberet", probably corresponding to PIE "*e-bher-e-t" (Greek "epheret").


A sizable body of Phrygian words are theoretically known; however, the meaning and etymologies and even correct forms of many Phrygian words (mostly extracted from inscriptions) are still being debated.

A famous Phrygian word is "bekos", meaning "bread" . According to Herodotus ("Histories" 2.9) Pharaoh Psammetichus I wanted to establish the original language. For this purpose, he ordered two children to be reared by a shepherd, forbidding him to let them hear a single word, and charging him to report the children's first utterance. After two years, the shepherd reported that on entering their chamber, the children came up to him, extending their hands, calling "bekos". Upon enquiry, the pharaoh discovered that this was the Phrygian word for "wheat bread", after which the Egyptians conceded that the Phrygian nation was older than theirs. The word "bekos" is also attested several times in Palaeo-Phrygian inscriptions on funerary stelae. Many modern scholars suggest that it is cognate to English "bake" (PIE *"bheHg-"). [and to Albanian "buke".The etymology is defended in O. Panagl & B. Kowal, "Zur etymologischen Darstellung von Restsprachen", in: A. Bammesberger (ed.), "Das etymologische Wörterbuch", Regensburg 1983, 186-7. It is contested in Benjamin W. Fortson, "Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction", Blackwell, 2004. ISBN 1405103167. p. 409.]

Acccording to Clement of Alexandria, the Phrygian word "bedu" (Polytonic|βέδυ) meaning "water" (PIE *"wed") appeared in Orphic ritual. [Clement, "Stromata" 5.8.46-47] In the same source (quoting one Neanthus of Cyzicus), the Macedonians are said to have worshipped a god called Bedu, which they interpreted as "air".

Other Phrygian words include:

*anar, 'husband', from PIE "*ner-" 'man';::cf. Gk: "anēr (Polytonic|ἀνήρ)" "man, husband", Alb: "njeri" "man, person", Kur: "nēr (nêr)" "male".
*attagos, 'goat';::cf. Arm: "tik" "leather skin", Ger: "Ziege" "she-goat", Alb: "dhi" "she-goat", Wakhi "tiγ" "goat call", Ishkashmi "dec" "goatskin bag".
*Bagaios, "Zeus", from PIE *"bheh2gos" "apportioner";::cf. Avestan "baga" "good fortune, share", Skt "bhága" "the apportioner", Toch A "pāk" "share, part", Toch B "pāke" "share, part".
*balaios, 'large, fast', from PIE "*bel-" 'strong';::cognate to Gk: "belteros (Polytonic|βέλτερος)" "better", Rus: "bol'šój" "large, great", Welsh: "balch" "proud", Kur: "balaz (belez)" "fast"
*belte, 'swamp', from PIE *"bhel-", 'to gleam';::cognate to Gk: "baltos (Polytonic|βάλτος)" "swamp", Alb: "baltë" (silt, mud), Rom: baltă, Bulg: "блато (blato) /'blatɔ/" (Old Bulg: "балто (balto) /'balta/") "swamp",Rus: "болото (boloto) /bə'lotɔ/" "swamp", Lith: "baltas" "white", Rus: "бледный (bledny) /'blednəj/" and Bulg "бледен (bleden) /bledən/" "pale".
*brater, 'brother', from PIE "*bhrater-", 'brother';::cognate to Gk: "phrātēr (Polytonic|φρατήρ)" "clansman, kin", Per: "bratar", 'brother',Rus and Bulg: "brat" "brother", Kur: "bra/bradar (bbra/brader)" "brother".
*daket, 'does, causes', PIE "*dhe-k-", 'to set, put';::cognate to Lat: "facere" "to do, make", Gk: "tithenai (Polytonic|τιθέναι)" "to put, place, set" Kur: "dakat" (dekat/dikit) "does, causes"
*germe, 'warm', PIE "*gwher-", 'warm';::cognate to Gk: "thermos" (Polytonic|θερμός) "warm", Kur: "germ" "warm" , Per: "garm" "warm", Arm: "ĵerm" "warm", Alb: "zjarm" "warm".
*kakon, 'harm, ill', PIE "*kaka-", 'harm';::cf. Gk: "kakós (Polytonic|κακός)" "bad", Alb: "keq" "bad, evil", Lith: "keñti" "to be evil".
*knoumane, 'grave', maybe from PIE "*knu-", 'to scratch';::cognate to Gk: "knaō (Polytonic|κνάω)" "to scratch", OHG: "hnuo" "notch, groove", "nuoen" "to smooth out with a scraper", Lith: "knisti" "to dig".
*manka, 'stela'.
*mater, 'mother', from PIE "*mater-", 'mother';::cf. Gk: "mētēr (Polytonic|μήτηρ)" "mother", Per: "madar" "mother", Alb: "motër" "sister" Kur: "ma/mê" "mother/female"
*meka, 'great', from PIE "*meg-", 'great';::Gk: "megas" "great"; , Arm "metz" "great"; , Kur: "mezn (mezin)" "great"
*zamelon, 'slave', PIE "*dhghom-", 'earth';::Gk: "chamēlos (Polytonic|χαμηλός)" "adj. on the ground, low", Srb/Cro: "zèmlja" and Bulg: "zèmya"/"zèmlishte" "earth/land", Lat: "humilis" "low".


ee also

*Paleo Balkan languages
*Ancient Macedonian language
*Thracian language
*Greek language
*Armenian language
*Alphabets of Asia Minor

External links

* [ Corpus of Phrygian inscriptions]
* [ Lubotsky's Phrygian Etymological Database (incomplete)]
* [ Phrygian language]
* [ Translation of Phrygian scripts]

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