After flourishing for several millennia on the Balkan peninsula, the Thracian language ceased to exist somewhere around the 5th century AD. Thracian was without any doubt an Indo-European language. But scholars are still indecisive when it comes to its heritage in terms of modern languages. Today there are two main theories, one links it with the Albanian language, and the other with Balto-Slavic languages.
Now, one of the main reasons for this debate is a fact that we have only a handful of Thracian inscriptions longer than a few words. And one of the longest and clearest of these is the Ezerovo ring inscription. Discovered in 1912 in a burial mound, this golden ring dates to the 5th century BC.
The Ezerovo ring and its inscription
Luckily, the text is easy to read, and it goes as follows:
(this last word is not visible in the picture above, as the text continues on the side of the ring, but all of the sources that deal with the inscription have it)
A few translations of the Ezerovo ring inscription
During the past years, I have seen more than a dozen different translations of this text. I realized that the only thing that is sure is that there is no consensus about what it says. Besides the fact that there is very little material in Thracian to start with, another problem is that the words in the inscription are not clearly separated. This leaves a lot of space for different interpretations.
In order to better illustrate this I will give you a few of the most popular translations up to date:
Translation by Mr. Dimitar Dechev:
Rolisteneas Nerenea tiltean ēsko Arazea domean Tilezypta miē era zēlta
“I am Rolisteneas, a descendant of Nereneas; Tilezypta, an Arazian woman, delivered me to the ground.”
Translation by Vl. Georgiev:
Rolistene, as Nerenea Tiltea nesko arazea do mean tilezyptam, ie eraz elta
“Rolistene (=You, Rolisten), I, Nerenea Tiltea, die peaceful next to [you] my dear deceased,
[I] who nourished (brough up) the children.”
It seems that both of the above-quoted authors believe that the purpose of the ring was to accompany the deceased into the underworld. In the following translation by Małgorzata Rządkiewicz we see a different, romantic approach:
“Rolistos, husband of Nea, to you (Nea) give your adornments For you I (Nea) alone wrote it (these words)
The list of such attempts goes on and on. Each author separates the words according to his own beliefs and intuition.
Most common problems with the traditional approach
I still haven’t seen a translation that seemed convincing enough, and that is because:
- If we compare the other similar ring-inscriptions of this period, written in ancient Greek, Egyptian and Latin, languages we can understand, we see that in most of the cases the rings were either used as seals, (obviously not the case here), or they were used for protection, with inscriptions being some sort of magical formulas.
- If the purpose of the ring was magical protection, it would also mean that the ring is made for the living, not for the dead.
- A typical “protection formula” would have to contain the name of the owner, the word “ring” or “amulet”, and perhaps a name of a deity.
- Even though the words have (almost) no spacings, one would expect that there are no unnecessary breaks and transitions to another raw, except when the scribe had no more space to work with.
Opting for the Balto-Slavic theory in relation to the Thracian language, I came up with the following proposal.
My interpretation of the Ezerovo ring inscription
Original text: ΡΟΛΙΣΤΕΝΕΑΣΝ
With my spacing: ΡΟΛΙΣΤ ΕΝΕΑ ΣΝ
Transliteration: Rolist, enea sn
Translation: Rolist, the 9th son
Virtually everyone seems to agree that the first word is a variation of the name that starts with “Rolist”. I decided to make a break earlier because “enea” was a personal name in Ancient Greece. It meant “9th born”, “9th child” Source
As for the “ΣΝ”, it could easily be a common Indo-European word for “son” as in English, or “sin” in Balto-Slavic. I am also saying this because the other famous Thracian inscription from the Kjolmen begins with: EBAR ZEΣAΣN, which scholars translate as “Ebar, son of Zesa” Source
The reason that the vowel is not present between S and N could be the lack of letter that describes Slavic sound “Ь “.
Take for example this oil flask, hosted in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The inscription clearly reads ESMO SN KOSM. However, scholars chose to add the word SN to the first word. They ended up with the reading ESNOS KOSN and concluded that the text is meaningless (?). You can see the full description here.
However, both ESMO and KOSM are well-attested personal names. In this case, the inscription is not meaningless, even though it clearly has no connection to the mythological scene of the birth of the Dionysus that is depicted. In fact, this is just a mark of property, by its Thracian owner ESMO. And to make sure that some other ESMO won’t claim it, he added his fathers name too – the equivalent of our last name, or even better, Irish MAC title, meaning “son of”.
In the Balkans for example, Vukasin is a Slavic personal name, which in fact means “son of Vuka” (wolf).
With my spacing: ΕΡΕΝ Ε ΑΤΙΛ
Transliteration: Eren e Atil
Translation: (of) Eren and Atil
These could be the personal names of the parents of Rolist. Both of the names sound Scythian.
Original: ΤΕΑΝΗΣΚΟΑ + ΡΑ from line 4
With my spacing: ΤΕ ΑΝΗΣ ΚΟ ΑΡΑ
Transliteration: Te anYs ko ara (Y as in “yes”)
Translation: This ring as protection (prayer)
Line no. 4 begins with “RA” which seems like a leftover from the previous line. Now, the most dramatic innovation that I made here is to assume that the value of a letter H is “Y”. I did this inspired by the works of other authors who assumed that this letter was an undetermined vocal in Thracian. One such example:
Two Phonological Curiosities of the Thracian Language, Krzysztof Tomasz, full text here
I read this word HE as a Russian E (pronounced YE) and gave a value of Y to H. Indeed, “Y” and “H” were interchangeable in many Indo-European languages.
Assuming that this unknown vocal was “Y” allowed me to get the word “anys” – quite similar to “anus” which meant “ring” in Latin, as we see in the example below, taken from the Wiktionary. If I am right about this, it would mean that again the Slavic soft sign is missing, and that the pronunciation was very similar to modern French l’anneau – ring.
Analyzing the rest of the words, I came with the possible solution for ARA – as “protection” preserving the original context of the sentence. The following examples are in ancient Greek, Latin and Proto-Indo-European, all taken from Paleolexicon:
As we can see, the original sense of the PIE word ARA was something supernatural, an altar, a prayer, a curse. This is why I allowed for the sense of (supernatural) protection.
Once I had these two words in place I simply read the rest in Slavic – TE, as “this” (Taj, To in Slavic) and KO which literary means AS – therefore “this ring as protection”
Alternatively, TE can be read as Indo-European “You”, present in Slavic, Etruscan and Latin. In this case, the meaning would be just slightly altered – “you, ring, as a protection” in a sense of talking to the ring directly, as to a magical, living force.
Original text: ΖΕΑΔΟΜ
With my spacing: ΖΕ ΑΔΟΜ
Transliteration: Ze Adom
Translation: Took Adom
Adom sounds as another personal name, while ZE could be translated via Slavic, for example Serbian “uze”, Bulgarian “ze”.
Original text: ΕΑΝΤΙΛΕΖΥ + Π from the line 6
With my spacing: Ε ΑΝΤΙΛΕΖΥΠ
Transliteration: E antilezup
Translation: and against evil speech
According to Paleolexicon, the word “antileus” means “to speak against, gainsay, contradict”. The word in our inscription is a much closer match without the “P” in the end, but I decided to add it here as I could not make any sense with it in the next line (that could be wrong though). In any case, the word “anti” – against something is clearly readable, and this word with this precise meaning is listed in all the Thracian dictionaries.
Alternatively, line 6 begins with PTA, relating to the important Thracian goddess, IPTA.
Original text: ΤΑΜΙΗΕ
With my spacing: ΤΑ ΜΙ ΗΕ
Transliteration: Ta mi ye
Translation: That is my
Read in Slavic, “Ta mi ye” would mean “That is my”, for example: “To mi ye” in Serbian. Compare with the Latin “mihi” – to me.
Lines 7 and 8:
Original text: ΡΑΖ + ΗΛΤΑ
With my spacing: ΡΑΖΗΛΤΑ
This word could be cognate with Latin “resilio” from which the words “result” and “resilience” are derived in English.
The full text of the Ezerovo inscription
The full translation of the Ezero ring inscription would read as follows:
ΡΟΛΙΣΤ ΕΝΕΑ ΣΝ ΕΡΕΝ Ε ΑΤΙΛ ΤΕ ΑΝΗΣ ΚΟ ΑΡΑ ΖΕ ΑΔΟΜ
Ε ΑΝΤΙΛΕΖΥΠ ΤΑ ΜΙ ΗΕ ΡΑΖΗΛΤΑ
(To) Rolist, the 9th son of Eren and Atil, this ring as protection took Adom
and against evil speech that is my resilience.
So there you go, this is just my take on the subject. The main points are the magical purpose of the ring and the Balto-Slavic language as a base. Of course, I could be wrong about this, but to me, this transliteration sounds just how one would imagine the language of the 5th century BC Balkans to sound – a mixture of pre-Greek and a language that came with the Sarmatian tribes from the steppes – a language that could be related to Balto-Slavic.
It is beyond any doubt that Thracian shares many cognates with Slavic languages. Many examples can even be seen in the Wikipedia article from the beginning of this article. Perhaps in the near future, I will write another article about it.