The Language of the Thracians, Ivan Duridanov

III. The Thracian words


The most reliable source for the Thracian studies are these words which had been explicitly described as Thracian by the ancient authors. As probably Thracian are also regarded some words, frequently appearing in typical Thracian two-component geographical names.The total number of such words, including one word with unknown meaning from one Latin inscription, is 23. The interpretation of most of them is generally accepted, but there remain some words with unclear etymology. From the list of Thracian words were excluded those of doubtful Thracian origin, for example mandakes ‘a binder for sheaves’, attested in a Byzantine source.  W. Tomaschek (Die Alten Thraker, II, 1, p. 15), who included it among the Thracian words, remarked that it reached the Byzantines from Iranian via Armenian.

1. asa  ‘colt’s foot (Tussilago farfara)’. That was its Bessian name according to Dioskurides. It is related to the Lit. dial. asỹs ‘horse-tail, Equisetum’, Latv. aši, ašas ‘horse-tail, sedge, rush’, which are probably related to the Latv. ašs, ass ‘sharp’, Old-Bulg. ostrə, Lit. aštrùs ‘sharp’.

2. bólinthos ‘wild bull, bison’. The word is attested in Aristotle, according to whom that animal lived in the Messapian mountain, which separated the country of the Peonians from that of the Maideans (a Thracian tribe inhabiting the middle course of Struma and upper course of Mesta), and that the Peonians called it mónapos. Therefore, bolinthos was a Maidean, that is, a Thracian word. It is compared to the German Bulle ‘bull’ and is derived from the IE *bhn-ent.

3. bria ‘town’ (Strab.; Steph. Byz. under the word of Messembria). Both authors state the word was Thracian. It is often found as a second component of Thracian settlement names, for example: Messembria, Poltymbria, Sēlymbria, Skedabria, etc. The Thracian ‘bria’ is related to the Toch. A ri, B riye ‘town (a refuge on a hill)’ – from the IE *riā.

4. briza ‘spelt, rye’ (Gal. de alim. facult. 1, 13/6 p. 514. Kühn). The author (Galen) saw this plant in Thracia and in Macedonia and concluded the word was Thracian. It is very probable. There are several etymologies for this word, that of A. Fick being the most acceptable one. A. Fick relates the Thracian briza to the Old-Ind. vrihi-h, Pers. birinj, Afg. vriže ‘rice’, Greek orinda=óryza ‘rice’, from which the Bulg. oriz. There is an alternative interpretation: the Thracian bryza is related to the Lith. brizdis ‘ling’, from the stem of the verb brigzti ‘to be torn, to get unraveled’.

5. brynchós ‘guitar for the Thracians’ (Hesych.). The word is related to the Pol. brzek ‘a ringing, a tinkle’, Ukr. brjak ‘a ringing, a sound’.

6. brytos (masc.), bryton (neuter) ‘a kind of ale from barley, a beer’ (Archil. Hecat. and others), brutos (Hesych.), bryttion (Herodian.). The word was used by the Thracians, the Peonians and the Phrygians. It is related to the Anglo-Saxon brod, Old-HighGerman prod ‘broth’.

7. dinupula (sinupyla) ‘wild pumpkin’ (Pseudoap.). Opposite to the Dacian name of this plant kinuboila (Dioskur.) Pseudoapuleus noted that the Besses call it dinupula or sinupyla, the latter reconstructed from the text “Bessi nupyla” instead of “Bessi (si)nupyla”. Both names originate from the IE *k’un-ābolā, literally ‘dog’s apple’, which leads to the identical Lith. šùn-obuolas with the same meaning.

8. génton ‘meat’ (Eust. ad Odyss. XIX 28 p. 1854; ad II. XII 25; Herodian., Suid., Hesych.) from the IE *ghen-to- ‘stabbed, cut’, Old-Ind. hata’- ‘hit, killed’.

9. kalamíndar ‘plane-tree’ for the Thracian tribe of Edoni (Hesych.). Of unclear etymology.

10. kemos ‘a kind of fruit with follicles’ (Phot. Lex.). Not interpreted.

11. ktístai ‘Thracians, living in celibacy; monks’ (Strab.). There is no convincing etymology.

12. midne ‘village’, initially ‘a place of stay’. The word occurs in the Latin inscription from Rome, which speaks about a citizen of the province of Thracia and adds: Midne Potelense, stating in this way his place of origin (CIL, VI, Nr. 32567-2819). The publisher of the inscription proposed that this was the Thracian word for the Latin vicus ‘village’, which is very probable. There is an exact correspondence with the Latv. mitne ‘a place of stay, a dwelling, a shelter’ from the older *mutinē.

13. póltyn ‘a board fence, a board tower, a fortification of beams and boards’ (Etym. M.), from the IE *(s)p-tu-(n)-, compare with the Old-Icel. spjald (<*spel-to-s) ‘a board’, Anglo-Saxon speld ‘wood, log’, German spalten ‘to chop, to splinter’. The word is regarded as being Thracian because it is an element of the village name Poltym-bria, which is among the indisputably Thracian names ending in -bria.

14. rhompháia ‘a spear’, later ‘a sword’ (Plut. Aem. Paul. 18; Eust. ad II. VI 166; Hesych.). Other forms of the word are rumpia (Liv., Gell., Ascon. ad Mil.), romphea (Isid. Etym.), romphaea vel romfea (CGL 7, 212). W. Tomaschek listed the Bulg. roféja, rufja ‘a thunderbolt’ and the Alb. rrufë as derivatives of that word. It was also preserved in modern Greek as rhomphaia ‘a big broad sword’. The Thracian rhomphaia contains the IE stem *rump- in the Latin rumpo, -ere ‘to break, to tear’.

15. skálmē ‘a knife, a sword’ (Soph. y Pollux 10, 165; Marcus Anton., Hesych., Phot. Lex.). A. Fick compared this word with the Old-Icel. skolm ‘a short sword, a knife’ from the IE *skolmā, a derivative from the IE stem *skel- ‘to cut’.

16. skárke ‘a silver coin for the Thracians’ (Hesych., Phot. Lex.) A. Fick explains it as ‘a jingling coin’ from the IE *skerg- ‘to jingle’, compare the Old-Norse skark ‘a noise’, Old-Ind. kharjati ‘to creak, to crunch’ from the IE *skoeg-.

17. spínos ‘a stone which burns when water is poured on it’ (Arist.). There are no interpretations.

18. torélle ‘a refrain of lament, mourn (song)’ (Hesych.). There is no acceptable etymology.

19. zalmós ‘a hide’ (Porphyr.). It is related to the Old-Pruss. salmis ‘helm’, the Lith. sálmas;

20. zeirá, zirá ‘a type of upper garment’ (Hdt., Xen., Hesych.). There are no acceptable etymologies.

21. zelâs ‘wine’ (Choerob. 124, 11 Gaisf.), zēlas (Cobeti excerpt e cod. Marc. 489), zeilá (Phot. Lex.), zílai (Hesych.). As related to it are given the Greek chális ‘pure (not watered down) wine’, the Mac. kálithos ‘wine’ (Hesych.), the Old-Ind. hāla ‘brandy’. The Thracian zelâs can be also compared to the Lith. žalas ‘red (for cattle)’, the Latv. zals ‘bright red, brown’, the Bret. gell ‘reddish, brown’, all from the IE *g’hel- ‘to shine’. Thus for the Thracians the wine got his name from its red colour.

22. zetráia ‘a pot’ (Pollux). From the initial form *zeutraia from the IE *g’heutr- towards the IE stem *g’heu- ‘to pour’.

23. zibythides ‘the noble Thracian men and women’ (Hesych.). A. Fick explains it as a Grecized form from the Lith. žibeti (žibù) ‘to shine, to light’. He interpreted it as a participle meaning ‘splendidus, illustris, erlaucht’ and wrote it in the form zibynthides, which actually did not exist. Apart from the Greek ending -id-(es), the initial word zibut- has an exact parallel in the Lith. žibute ‘a fire, light’ and ‘something light’. But Fick was right translating the Thracian word as ‘most holy ones’.

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