Phrygian language

The Phrygian language (/ˈfrɪiən/) was the Indo-European language of the Phrygians, spoken in Anatolia (modern Turkey), during classical antiquity (c. 8th century BC to 5th century AD).

RegionCentral Anatolia (now Turkey)
ExtinctAfter the 5th century AD
Language codes
ISO 639-3xpg
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Plato observed that some Phrygian words resembled Greek ones.[4] Modern consensus views Phrygian to be closely related to Greek.[5][6][7][8]


Phrygian is a member of the Indo-European linguistic family, but because of the fragmentary evidence, its exact position within that family is uncertain. Phrygian shares important features with Greek and Armenian. Between the 19th and the first half of the 20th century Phrygian was mostly considered a satəm language, and thus closer to Armenian and Thracian, while today it is commonly considered to be a centum language and thus closer to Greek.[9] The reason that in the past Phrygian had the guise of a satəm language was due to two secondary processes that affected it. Namely, Phrygian merged the old labiovelar with the plain velar, and secondly, when in contact with palatal vowels /e/ and /i/, especially in initial position, some consonants became palatalized. Furthermore, Kortlandt (1988) presented common sound changes of Thracian and Armenian and their separation from Phrygian and the rest of the palaeo-Balkan languages from an early stage.[7][10]

Modern consensus views Greek as the closest relative of Phrygian, a position that is supported by Brixhe, Neumann, Matzinger, Woodhouse, Ligorio, Lubotsky, and Obrador-Cursach. Furthermore, 34 out of the 36 Phrygian isoglosses that are recorded are shared with Greek, with 22 being exclusive between them. The last 50 years of Phrygian scholarship developed a hypothesis that proposes a proto-Graeco-Phrygian stage out of which Greek and Phrygian originated, and if Phrygian was more sufficiently attested, that stage could perhaps be reconstructed.[2][3][6][7][11]

An alternative theory, suggested by Eric P. Hamp, is that Phrygian was most closely related to Italo-Celtic languages.[12][13]


The Phrygian epigraphical material is divided into two distinct subcorpora, Old Phrygian and New Phrygian, which attest different stages of the Phrygian language, are written with different alphabets and upon different materials, and have different geographical distribution.

Old Phrygian is attested in 395 inscriptions in Anatolia and beyond. They were written in the Phrygian alphabet between 800 and 330 BCE. The Corpus des inscriptions paléo-phrygiennes (CIPPh) and its supplements[14] contain most known Old Phrygian inscriptions, though a few graffiti are not included.

New Phrygian is attested in 117 funerary inscriptions, mostly curses against desecrators added after a Greek epitaph. New Phrygian was written in the Greek alphabet between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE and is restricted the western part of ancient Phrygia, in central Anatolia. Most New Phrygian inscriptions have been lost, so they are only known through the testimony of the first compilers. New Phrygian inscriptions have been cataloged by Ramsay and by Obrador-Cursach.

Some scholars identify a third division, Middle Phrygian, which is represented by a single inscription from Dokimeion. It is a Phrygian epitaph consisting of six hexametric verses written in eight lines, and dated to the end of the 4th century BCE, following the Macedonian conquest. It is considered the first Phrygian text to be inscribed with the Greek alphabet. Its phraseology has some echoes of an Old Phrygian epitaph from Bithynia, but it anticipates phonetic and spelling features found in New Phrygian. Three graffiti from Gordion, from the 4th to the 2nd centuries BCE, are ambiguous in terms of the alphabet used as well as their linguistic stage, and might also be considered Middle Phrygian.[15]

Comparison between the Old and the New Phrygian subcorpora[16]
 Features Old Phrygian New Phrygian
Number of inscriptions 395 117
Dating ca. 800-330 BCE Late 1st-3rd c. CE
Alphabet Phrygian Greek
Writing material Varied Stone
Contents Varied Funerary
Area Across Anatolia (and beyond) Only central Anatolia
Archaeological context Mainly yes Never
Preserved Mainly yes Mainly no

The last mentions of the language date to the 5th century CE, and it was likely extinct by the 7th century CE.[19]


Its structure, what can be recovered of 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.

Phrygian seems to exhibit an augment, like Greek, Indo-Iranian, and Armenian; cf. eberet, probably corresponding to Proto-Indo-European *e-bher-e-t (Greek: épʰere with loss of the final t, Sanskrit: ábharat), although comparison to examples like ios ... addaket 'who does ... to', which is not a past tense form (perhaps subjunctive), shows that -et may be from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) primary ending *-eti.


  Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Fricative s
Affricate ts dz
Approximant w l j
Trill r

It has long been claimed that Phrygian exhibits a sound change of stop consonants, similar to Grimm's Law in Germanic and, more to the point, sound laws found in Proto-Armenian;[20] i.e., voicing of PIE aspirates, devoicing of PIE voiced stops and aspiration of voiceless stops. This hypothesis was rejected by Lejeune (1979) and Brixhe (1984)[21] but revived by Lubotsky (2004) and Woodhouse (2006), who argue that there is evidence of a partial shift of obstruent series; i.e., voicing of PIE aspirates (*bh > b) and devoicing of PIE voiced stops (*d > t).[22]

The affricates ts and dz developed from velars before front vowels.[citation needed]


The Midas inscription over the cornice of the Midas monument. It reads Ates.... Midai lavagtaei vanaktei edaes ("Ates.... has dedicated [this monument) to Midas, leader of the people and ruler").[23][24][25]

Phrygian is attested fragmentarily, known only from a comparatively small corpus of inscriptions. A few hundred Phrygian words are attested; however, the meaning and etymologies of many of these remain unknown.

A famous Phrygian word is bekos, meaning 'bread'. According to Herodotus (Histories 2.2) Pharaoh Psammetichus I wanted to determine the oldest nation and establish the world's 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. It may be cognate to the English bake (PIE *bʰeh₃g-).[26] Hittite, Luwian (both also influenced Phrygian morphology), Galatian and Greek (which also exhibits a high amount of isoglosses with Phrygian) all influenced Phrygian vocabulary.[5][27]

According to Clement of Alexandria, the Phrygian word bedu (βέδυ) meaning 'water' (PIE *wed-) appeared in Orphic ritual.[28]

The Greek theonym Zeus appears in Phrygian with the stem Ti- (genitive Tios = Greek Dios, from earlier *Diwos; the nominative is unattested); perhaps with the general meaning 'god, deity'. It is possible that tiveya means 'goddess'. The shift of *d to t in Phrygian and the loss of *w before o appears to be regular. Stephanus Byzantius records that according to Demosthenes, Zeus was known as Tios in Bithynia.[29]

Another possible theonym is bago- (cf. Old Persian baga-, Proto-Slavic *bogъ "god"), attested as the accusative singular bag̣un in G-136.[30] Lejeune identified the term as *bʰagom, in the meaning 'a gift, dedication' (PIE *bʰag- 'to apportion, give a share'). But Hesychius of Alexandria mentions a Bagaios, Phrygian Zeus (Βαγαῖος Ζεὺς Φρύγιος) and interprets the name as δοτῆρ ἑάων 'giver of good things'. Mallory and Adams agree that the word Bagaios was an epithet to the Phrygian worship of Zeus that derived from the same root.[31]


Comparison with Greek, Armenian, Albanian and Indo-Iranian:[32]

Phrygian features Greek Armenian Albanian Indo-Iranian
Centum treatment + - - -
*CRh₃C > *CRōC + - - -
Loss of /s/ + + + -
Prothetic vowels + + + -
*-ih₂ > -iya + - + -
*ki̯- > s- + - - -
*-m > -n + + ? -
*M > T - + - -
Phrygian features Greek Armenian Albanian Indo-Iranian
Conditional ai + - - -
e-augment + + + +
e-demonstrative + - - -
*-eh₂-s masc. + - - -
t-enlargement + - - -
verbs in -e-yo- + - - -
verbs in -o-yo- + - - -
*-dh + - - -
*dhh₁s-ó- + - - -
*-eu̯-/*-ēu̯- + - - -
*gu̯her-mo- + + + -
*gneh₂-ik- + + - -
*h₂eu̯-to- + - + -
*h₃nh₃-mn- + + - -
*méǵh₂-s + - - -
*meh₁ + + + +
*-mh₁no- + - - -
ni(y)/νι + - - -
*-(t)or - ? - -
-toy/-τοι + - - +
  1. ^ Highlighted text indicates that borrowing cannot be totally ruled out.
Phrygian features  Greek Armenian Albanian Indo-Iranian
*bhoh₂-t-/*bheh₂-t- + - - -
*(h₁)en-mén- + - - -
hl̥h₃-ró- + - - -
kako- + - - -
ken- + + - -
*koru̯- + - - -
*mōro- + - - -
*sleh₂g- + - - -
  1. ^ Highlighted text indicates that borrowing cannot be totally ruled out.

See alsoEdit


  • Mallory, James P.; Adams, Douglas Q. (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-929668-2.
  • Obrador-Cursach, Bartomeu (2018). Lexicon of the Phrygian Inscriptions (PDF). University of Barcelona - Faculty of Philology - Department of Classical, Romance and Semitic Philology.
  • Obrador-Cursach, Bartomeu (9 April 2020). "On the place of Phrygian among the Indo-European languages". Journal of Language Relationship. 17 (3–4). doi:10.31826/jlr-2019-173-407. S2CID 215769896.
  • Woodhouse, Robert (2009). "An overview of research on Phrygian from the nineteenth century to the present day". Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis. 126 (1). ISSN 2083-4624.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Graeco-Phrygian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ a b Obrador-Cursach 2018, p. 102:Furthermore, if Phrygian were not so-poorly attested perhaps we could reconstruct a Proto-Greco-Phrygian stage of both languages.
  3. ^ a b Obrador-Cursach 2020, p. 243:With the current state of our knowledge, we can affirm that Phrygian is closely related to Greek. This is not a surprising conclusion: ancient sources and modern scholars agree that Phrygians did not live far from Greece in pre-historic times. Moreover, the last half century of scientific study of Phrygian has approached both languages and developed the hypothesis of a Proto-Greco-Phrygian language, to the detriment to other theories like Phrygio-Armenian or Thraco-Phrygian.
  4. ^ Plato, Cratylus (410a)
  5. ^ a b Brixhe, Cl. "Le Phrygien". In Fr. Bader (ed.), Langues indo-européennes, pp. 165-178, Paris: CNRS Editions.
  6. ^ a b Brixhe, Claude (2008). "Phrygian". In Woodard, Roger D (ed.). The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press. pp. 69–80. ISBN 978-0-521-68496-5. "Unquestionably, however, Phrygian is most closely linked with Greek." (p. 72).
  7. ^ a b c Woodhouse 2009, p. 171:This question is of course only just separable from the question of which languages within Indo-European are most closely related to Phrygian, which has also been hotly debated. A turning point in this debate was Kortlandt's (1988) demonstration on the basis of shared sound changes that Thraco-Armenian had separated from Phrygian and other originally Balkan languages at an early stage. The consensus has now returned to regarding Greek as the closest relative.
  8. ^ Hajnal, Ivo. "„Urgriechisch": Eine Herausforderung für die Methode der Rekonstruktion?" (PDF). Institut für Sprachwissenschaft (in German). Innsbruck, Austria: Universität Innsbruck. p. 8. Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  9. ^ Obrador-Cursach 2018, p. 101:Scholars have long debated the exact position of Phrygian in the Indo-European language family. Although this position is not a closed question because of the fragmentary nature of our current knowledge, Phrygian has many important features which show that it is somehow related to Greek and Armenian.…Indeed, between the 19th and the first half of the 20th c. BC Phrygian was mostly considered a satəm language (a feature once considered important to establishing the position of a language) and, especially after Alf Torp's study, closer to Armenian (and Thracian), whereas it is now commonly considered to be closer to Greek.…Brixhe (1968), Neumann (1988) and, through an accurate analysis, Matzinger (2005) showed the inconsistency of the Phrygo-Armenian assumption and argued that Phrygian was a language closely related to Greek.
  10. ^ Obrador-Cursach 2020, p. 234:2.1.4. Phrygian belongs to the centum group of IE languages (Ligorio and Lubotsky 2018: 1824). Together with Greek, Celtic, Italic, Germanic, Hittite and Tocharian, Phrygian merged the old palatovelars with plain velars in a first step: NPhr. (τιτ-)τετικμενος ‘condemned’ < PIE *deiḱ-; NPhr. γεγαριτμενος ‘devoted, at the mercy of’ < PIE *ǵhr̥Hit-; NPhr. γλουρεος ‘golden’ < PIE *ǵhl̥h3-ro-. However, two shifts affected this language. Phrygian merged the old labiovelar with the plain velar (the etymological and the resulting ones): OPhr. ke(y), NPhr. κε (passim) ‘and’ < PIE *ku̯e; OPhr. knais (B-07), NPhr. κ̣ναικαν ‘wife’ (16.1 = 116) < *gu̯neh2i-. Secondly, in contact with palatal vowels (/e/ and /i/, see de Lamberterie 2013: 25–26), and especially in initial position, some consonants became palatalised:PIE *ǵhes-r- ‘hand’ > OPhr. ↑iray (B-05),7NPhr. ζειρα (40.1 = 12) ‘id.’ (Hämmig 2013: 150–151). It also occurs in glosses: *ǵheu̯-mn̻ >ζευμαν ‘fount, source’ (Hesychius ζ 128). These two secondary processes, as happened in Tocharian and the Romance languages, lend Phrygian the guise of a satəm language.
  11. ^ Obrador-Cursach 2020, pp. 238-239:To the best of our current knowledge, Phrygian was closely related to Greek. This affirmation is consistent with the vision offered by Neumann (1988: 23), Brixhe (2006) and Ligorio and Lubotsky (2018: 1816) and with many observations given by ancient authors. Both languages share 34 of the 36 features considered in this paper, some of them of great significance:…The available data suggest that Phrygian and Greek coexisted broadly from pre-historic to historic times, and both belong to a common linguistic area (Brixhe 2006: 39–44).
  12. ^ Hamp, Eric P. (1976). "On Some Gaulish Names in -Ant- and Celtic Verbal Nouns". Ériu. 27: 9. ISSN 0332-0758 – via JSTOR. We have already seen that Celtic nāmant- gives an excellent cognate to Lat. amāre. Vendryes (loc. cit.) points out that ad is shared by the Northwest IE group (Celtic, Italic and Germanic) and additionally by Phrygian, citing the well known αδδακετ and αββερετ. But the agreement goes much deeper than that. The noun (from which the verb ἀδαμνεῖν must be derived) ἅδαμνα has every appearance of being a participle in -n- (perhaps -no-) of a verb ad-am-. We may then make the surprising equation: ad-nāmat(o)- < *ad-n-H amH a-to- = ἅδ-αμ-να. This agreement in detail makes a substantial addition to the Phrygian-Celtic equation that Marstrander observed (NTS ii (1929) 297) for OIr. eitech < *eti-teg-. It would appear from this that we have a slender but growing body of evidence for a close connexion between Celtic (and Italic) and Phrygian. The Phrygian evidence, now being sifted and reevaluated by Lejeune, could well bear close scrutiny in this light. It may not be too bold at this point to suggest a stronger link here with Celtic.
  13. ^ Hamp, Eric P. (August 2013). "The Expansion of the Indo-European Languages: An Indo-Europeanist's Evolving View" (PDF). Sino-Platonic Papers. 239: 10. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  14. ^ Brixhe, Lejeune, Corpus des inscriptions paléo-phrygiennes, 1984; Brixhe 2002a and 2004a
  15. ^ Obrador-Cursach 2018, p. 17-18.
  16. ^ Obrador-Cursach 2018, p. 29.
  17. ^ Баюн Л. С., Орёл В. Э. Язык фригийских надписей как исторический источник. In Вестник древней истории. 1988, № 1. pp. 175-177.
  18. ^ Orel, Vladimir Ė (1997). The language of Phrygians. Caravan Books. p. 14. ISBN 9780882060897.
  19. ^ Swain, Simon; Adams, J. Maxwell; Janse, Mark (2002). Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Word. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. pp. 246–266. ISBN 0-19-924506-1.
  20. ^ Bonfante, G. "Phrygians and Armenians", Armenian Quarterly, 1 (1946), 82- 100 (p. 88).
  21. ^ Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-521-68496-X, p. 74.
  22. ^ Lubotsky, A. "The Phrygian Zeus and the problem of „Lautverschiebung". Historische Sprachforschung, 117. 2. (2004), 229-237.
  23. ^ Woodard, Roger D. (2008). The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press. p. 78. ISBN 9781139469333.
  24. ^ Roller, Lynn E. (1999). In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele. University of California Press. p. 69. ISBN 9780520210240.
  25. ^ Corpus of Phrygian Inscriptions
  26. ^ The etymology is defended in O. Panagl & B. Kowal, "Zur etymologischen Darstellung von Restsprachen", in: A. Bammesberger (ed.), Das etymologische Wörterbuch, Regensburg 1983, pp. 186–187. It is contested in Benjamin W. Fortson, Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction. Blackwell, 2004. ISBN 1-4051-0316-7, p. 409.
  27. ^ Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-521-68496-X, pp. 69–81.
  28. ^ Clement. Stromata, 5.8.46–47.
  29. ^ On Phrygian ti- see Heubeck 1987, Lubotsky 1989a, Lubotsky 1998c, Brixhe 1997: 42ff. On the passage by Stephanus Byzantius, Haas 1966: 67, Lubotsky 1989a:85 (Δημοσθένης δ’ἐν Βιθυνιακοῖς φησι κτιστὴν τῆς πόλεως γενέσθαι Πάταρον ἑλόντα Παφλαγονίαν, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τιμᾶν τὸν Δία Τίον προσαγορεῦσαι.) Witczak 1992-3: 265ff. assumes a Bithynian origin for the Phrygian god.
  30. ^ However also read as bapun; "Un très court retour vertical prolonge le trait horizontal du Γ. S'il n'était accidentel nous aurions [...] un p assez semblable à celui de G-135." Brixhe and Lejeune 1987: 125.
  31. ^ Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 274.
  32. ^ Obrador-Cursach 2020, pp. 234-238.

Further readingEdit

  • Brixhe, Claude. "Du paléo- au néo-phrygien". In: Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 137ᵉ année, N. 2, 1993. pp. 323-344. doi:10.3406/crai.1993.15216
  • Lamberterie, Charles de. "Grec, phrygien, arménien: des anciens aux modernes". In: Journal des savants, 2013, n°. 1. pp. 3-69. doi:10.3406/jds.2013.6300
  • Lejeune, Michel. "Notes paléo-phrygiennes". In: Revue des Études Anciennes. Tome 71, 1969, n°3-4. pp. 287-300. doi:10.3406/rea.1969.3842
  • Obrador-Cursach, Bartomeu (2020). The Phrygian Language. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-41998-8.
  • Orsat Ligorio & Alexander Lubotsky. “Phrygian”, in Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics. Vol. 3. Eds. Jared Klein, Brian Joseph, & Matthias Fritz. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2018, pp. 1816–31.

External linksEdit