The Ezerovo ring inscription is an ancient Thracian inscription found on a gold ring in the village of Ezerovo, Bulgaria. The inscription is written in a combination of Greek and Thracian and is believed to date back to the 5th-4th centuries BCE.
The inscription on the Ezerovo ring reads:
(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.
I decide to try to make my own translation as I still haven’t seen anything that seems convincing enough.
- 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, or vows. Also, the rings and the inscriptions are usually made for the living, not for the dead.
My interpretation of the Ezerovo ring inscription
Original text: ΡΟΛΙΣΤΕΝΕΑΣΝ
With my spacing: ΡΟΛΙΣTΕΝΕΑ ΣΝ
Transliteration: Rolistenea sn
Translation: Rolisteneasin – (a personal name meaning “Son of Rolisten”)
The name Rolisten sounds very similar to Borysthenes – A Scythian deity and an ancient name of the Dnipro river.
“ΣΝ“, sounds like a common Indo-European word for “son”, or 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. This simply means that 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 on the vase. In fact, this was probably just a mark of property, made by its Thracian owner ESMO. And to make sure that some other ESMO won’t claim it, he added his fathers name too. This would be an equivalent of modern last names, and quite similar to the Irish title MAC, meaning “son of”.
In the Balkans for example, Vukasin is a Slavic personal name, which in fact means “son of Vuk” (wolf). The name Rolisteneasin probably follows the same logic, as all of the letters are of the same size and without visible spacings that are noticeable further in text.
Original: ΕTHΕΝΕΑΤΙΛ-ΤΕAΝΗΣ (TEAΝΗΣ is from line 3)
With my spacing: ΕTHΕΝΕΑ ΤΙΛTEAΝΗΣ
Transliteration: Ethenea Tilteanes
Translation: Of the nation of Tilatei
Everyone reads this word ERENATIL, but I believe that the second letter is not R but a Greek Theta, as this is how it looks like in some Old Italic scripts.
The word ethenea would therefore be the same as Greek ethnos – ἔθνος – meaning: nation, tribe, band, kin.
As for the name of the tribe, it can be none other than the Tracian tribe Tilatei (Τιλαταῖοι).
The Tilatei were mentioned by Thucydides in the 5th century BC. Their territory lies in the near viscinity to Ezerovo:
“On the side toward the Triballians, who also are independent, the boundary is formed by the Trerians and Tilataians. These peoples live to the north of mount Skombros and extend toward the west as far as the Oskios [Iskar] river. This river has its source in the same mountains as the Nestus [Masta] and the Hebros [Maritza], an uninhabited and very large mountain range adjacent to the Rhodope mountain.”
With my spacing:K
Explanation: K is a short form of κατά, which meant “for”. Kκα τὸν νόμον IG 5(2).16 (Arcadia) ; κα τῶννυ ib. 262 ; κα τοὺς νόμους SIG 2860.9 (Delph., ii BC), etc. ; κα τὰ τῆς συγκλήτου δόγματα SIG 705.12 (ibid.) κα τὰ δόξαντα… τῇ βουλῇ Inscr.Magn. 179.33 (ii AD) ; also in compds., cf. καβαίνων, etc. Cypr., = κάς, Inscr.Cypr. 135.5 H., Schwyzer 683.8.
Compare with modern Slavic ka, k’.
Line 4. part 1
Original text: ΟΑ-PA (continued from line 3) VΕΑ
With my spacing: OARA VEA
Transliteration: oara Veya
Translation: Wife Veya
In Ancient Greek, ὄαρ ὄαρος, ἡ, means wife.
Feya, is a well-attested female name, but it seems that there are no Greek equivalents for Vea. However, both ancient Etruscans and Romans had a similar name, in the form of Veia, Veii.
Note: Most scolars would read this Zea, with a Z instead of a V. However, this sort of reading creates problems in all three instances where this letter appears. There are simply not many ancient Greek words that have letter Z.
At first, I decided to go with an “F”, as the shape remids me on Old Italic scripts where “F” is marked as two dots “:”. However, in the end I decided to go with a “V”, as these two sounds and letters are often interchangable in ancient scripts.
Line 4. part 2
Original text: ΔΟΜΕΑΝΤΙΛΕBU.
With my spacing: ΔΟΜΕ ΑΝΤΙΛΕBU
Transliteration: dome Antilevu
Translation: from the house of Antilevu
Based on the context and similarities to other ancient languages, “dome” could be derived from the Thracian root word “dom-“, meaning “house” or “family”. Antileon is a well-attested personal name. It is also a name of a famous mythological character. As for the meaning, one group of scolars translates it as “against-lion”, while the other opts for “lion-like”. In this context, V is a better sound value than Z, as “lev” is a Indo-European word for a lion.
Lines 5. & 6.
Original text: ΠΤΑΜΙΗΕ ΡΑB
With my spacing: ΠΤΑΜΙ ΗΕΡΑB
Transliteration: P(o)tami Herav
Translation: Sacred rivers
The second part HERAV could relate to goddess Hera, who was often invoked in wedding vows to bless a marriage. Potami Herav would mean Hera’s river. However, it is more likely that PTAMI “p(o)tam(o)i” means “rivers”, and so ΠΤΑΜOΙ HEPAB would mean “sacred rivers”.
In the Greek wedding ceremony, the couple often drank from a cup of water, which was poured from a vase called a “loutrophoros” that was filled with water from a sacred river, usually the River Cephissus or River Ilissus in Athens. This ritual symbolized the purification of the couple before their marriage and the union of their lives.
In Thracian wedding customs, the couple would also visit a nearby river or spring to collect water, which they would then use to wash each other’s hands and faces. This ritual symbolized the cleansing of the couple before their union and the fertility of the land that the river represented.
Sacred rivers were believed to symbolize the couple’s union and the fertility of the land. Furthermore, they were related to marriage vows. The river Styx was considered sacred and was believed to be a boundary between the mortal and divine realms. It was also associated with oaths and promises, as it was believed that anyone who swore an oath by the river would be bound to it forever.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 1, Chapter 19
- Theokritos, Idylls, 18: The Bride Adorned
The side of the ring
Original text: ΗΛΤΑ
With my spacing: ΗΛΤΑ
Transliteration: HLTA (or Yelta/Yalta)
Translation: Artist’s name
My final translation of the Ezero ring inscription would read as follows:
ΡΟΛΙΣΤΕΝΕΑΣΝ ΕTHΕΝΕΑ ΤΙΛΤΕΑΝΗΣ Κ ΟΑΡΑ BΕΑ ΔΟΜΕ ΑNΤΙΛΕBU
(From the) Son of Rolisten, of the tribe of Tilatei, to the wife Vea, from the house of Antileos.
(Blessed by) Sacred rivers.
(Made by) ΗΛΤΑ
Appendix – More on the mysterios message “Potami Herav”
There is an ancient Rhaetic inscripton that reads “Pithamne Helanu”. This incription dates to the similar period as the Ezerovo ring, but it is written in the North Italic script. The proposed translation is “Pithamne, son of Hela”.
However, as I’ve already written a few articles on the Rhaetic script, I disagree about the reading of the letter representing the sound L. In my opinion, this sound should be read as R, as I already explained in those articles.
In this particular case, the reading would be “Pithamne Heranu” which sound similar to “Potami Herav”.