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Region Central Asia Minor
Extinct 5th century
  • Phrygian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xpg
Linguist list
Glottolog phry1239[1]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Phrygian language /ˈfrɪiən/ was the Indo-European language of the Phrygians, spoken in Asia Minor during Classical Antiquity (ca. 8th century BC to 5th century AD).

Phrygian is considered by some to have been closely related to Greek.[2][3] However, others, such as Eric P. Hamp, relate Phrygian with Italo-Celtic in a "Northwest Indo-European" group.[4] The similarity of some Phrygian words to Greek ones was observed by Plato in his Cratylus (410a).


Phrygian is attested by two corpora, one from around 800 BCE and later (Paleo-Phrygian), and then after a period of several centuries from around the beginning of the Common Era (Neo-Phrygian). The Paleo-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").

Part (about 70%) of Phrygian inscription in 'Midas City'. The inscription reads: “ΒΑΒΑ: ΜΕΜΕϜΑΙΣ: ΠΡΟΙΤΑϜΟΣ: ΚΦΙJΑΝΑϜΕJΟΣ: ΣΙΚΕΝΕΜΑΝ: ΕΔΑΕΣ” (Baba, advisor, leader from Tyana, dedicated this niche).[5]

The last mentions of the language date to the 5th century CE and it was likely extinct by the 7th century CE.[6]

Paleo-Phrygian used a Phoenician-derived script (its ties with Greek are debated), while Neo-Phrygian used the Greek script.


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.

Phrygian seems to exhibit an augment, like Greek, Indo-Iranian and Armenian, c.f. eberet, probably corresponding to PIE (Proto-Indian-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 PIE primary ending *-eti.


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

It has long been claimed that Phrygian exhibits a Lautverschiebung of stop consonants, similar to Grimm's Law in Germanic and, more to the point, sound laws found in Proto-Armenian,[7] i. e. voicing of PIE aspirates, devoicing of PIE voiced stops and aspiration of voiceless stops. This hypothesis has been rejected by Lejeune (1979) and Brixhe (1984).[8]

The hypothesis had been considered defunct throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but has been revived in the 2000s, with Woodhouse (2006) and Lubotsky (2004) arguing for evidence for at least partial shift of obstruent series, i.e. voicing of PIE aspirates (*bh > b) and devoicing of PIE voiced stops (*d > t).[9]

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


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 *bheHg-).[10] Hittite, Luwian (both also had an impact on Phrygian morphology), Galatian and Greek (which also exhibits a high amount of isoglosses with Phrygian) all had an impact on Phrygian vocabulary.[2][11]

According to Clement of Alexandria, the Phrygian word bedu (βέδυ) meaning "water" (PIE *wed) appeared in Orphic ritual.[12]

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". Possibly, tiveya is "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.[13]

Another possible theonym is bago-, attested as the accusative singular bag̣un in G-136.[14] 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".

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Phrygian". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ a b Brixhe, Cl. "Le Phrygien". In Fr. Bader (ed.), Langues indo-européennes, pp. 165-178, Paris: CNRS Editions.
  3. ^ Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-521-68496-X, p. 72. "Unquestionably, however, Phrygian is most closely linked with Greek."
  4. ^ Hamp, Eric P. (August 2013). "The Expansion of the Indo-European Languages: An Indo-Europeanist’s Evolving View". Sino-Platonic Papers 239: 8,10. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Баюн Л. С., Орёл В. Э. Язык фригийских надписей как исторический источник. In Вестник древней истории. 1988, № 1. pp. 175-177.
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Bonfante, G. "Phrygians and Armenians", American Quarterly, 1 (1946), 82- 100 (p. 88).
  8. ^ Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-521-68496-X, p. 74.
  9. ^ Lubotsky, A. "The Phrygian Zeus and the problem of „Lautverschiebung". Historische Sprachforschung, 117. 2. (2004), 229-237.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-521-68496-X, pp. 69-81.
  12. ^ Clement. Stromata, 5.8.46-47.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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 - Lejeune 1987:125.

Further reading[edit]

  • Woodhouse, Robert. "An overview of research on Phrygian from the nineteenth century to the present day". Studia Linguistica Universitatis Iagellonicae Cracoviensis, Volume 126 (2009), 167-188, DOI 10.2478/v10148-010-0013-x.

External links[edit]

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