The Lemnian Stele Inscription – an Unusual Blend of Ancient Greek and Proto-Slavic

The Lemnian language was an ancient language spoken on the island of Lemnos in the northern Aegean Sea during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. It is considered an insular language and is known from a limited number of inscriptions found on the island.

The script used for writing Lemnian is similar to the Greek alphabet, but the language itself is not fully understood and remains largely untranslated. Scholars have made various attempts to decipher the Lemnian inscriptions, but due to the limited amount of material and the lack of related languages, the exact nature of the language and its linguistic affiliations remain uncertain.

In this article, I will provide a translation that combines elements from both ancient Greek and Proto-Slavic languages.


Different Readings of the Lemnos Stele Inscription

The Lemnos stele inscription is relatively straightforward to decipher, as scholars have determined most of the sound values by comparing it with other scripts from the same time period. However, the presence of a minor groove in the stone caused by 2,500 years of weathering has the potential to significantly alter a letter. Additionally, a few letters have become less distinct over time. These small variations have caused considerable differences in readings of certain words.

Here are just two examples. The first one is from the Wikipedia article on Lemnos stele:

Inscription A


Inscription B


And the second one is from the book “Lemnian language” by Rex E. Wallace, available here.

Inscription A

holaie⋮s ⋮ naφoθš‎ ⋮ siasi:
mara⋮s ⋮ mav
š‎ialχ‎vei⋮s ⋮ avi⋮s⋮
evišθ‎o ⋮ seronaiθ‎
vanalaš‎ial ⋮ seronaiθ‎ ⋮ morinail
aker : tarvasio

Inscription B

holaiesi : φ‎okiaš‎iale : seronaiθ‎ : evišθ‎o : toverona[
]rom : haralio : sivai : eptesio : arai : tis : φ‎oke
sivai : avis : š‎ialχ‎vis : marasm : avis : aomai

My reading and translation of the Lemnos Stele Inscription

Considering that the interpretation of the letters and the gaps between words is not “set in stone”, I have developed a unique interpretation while making minimal changes to the original text. Here is my proposed reading, and translation:

Inscription A

Horaiez na Φoθ(u)siani – Heroes of Phocis
Marasm Av(is) – first personal name and the last name
Sialgveiz Avis – second personal name and the last name
Evisθo Zeronaiθ – third personal name and the last name
Vanalasial Zeronaim – fourth personal name and the last name

orizail aker – carved (this) stone
tavarsio Zivai – for their friend Zhiva (a personal name of the deceased)

Inscription B

Horaiezi Φukiasiale – Heroes of Phocis
Zerunaiθ Evisθo – a personal name
toveronarom Haralio Zivai – for their friend Haralio Ziva (a personal name and the last name of the deceased)
ep tesioaraitis Φoke – from the four Phocians
Zivai – to Ziva
Avis Sialgviz Marašm Avisa – from… (repeated list of names)
O mai – For ever

Explanation of my translation of the Lemnos Stele Inscription


Horaiez na Φoθ(u)siani – Heroes of Phocis – Phocis was an ancient region in central Greece, situated to the northwest of Boeotia and north of the Gulf of Corinth. It was known for its rugged terrain and was home to several important cities in antiquity, including Delphi. In this text, the words Φoθ(u)siani, Φukiasiale, and Φoke probably mean “Phocians”.

However, while the two other instances – Φukiasiale, and Φoke are clearly readable and universaly accepted, my reading of Φoθ(u)siani is unique. I assumed that there is a missing letter between Φoθ and siani, and upon a closer inspection of the original image, I believe that I can see it. Secondly, most authors read the last part “siasi”, but that is because they see it as a separate word, and not a suffix. In this context, only -siani could make sense, and indeed, the two letters Z and N would be easilly confused even in the modern script, if they are slightly rotated.

Before the word Phocians, the word “na” could only designate “of, from”, the meaning it has in Slavic. See here.

As for the remaining word Holaiez, I changed it to Horaiez, because there are no words in any Indo-European language that start with holai-. After I inspected the image further, I realized that what everyone sees as Г (L) is probably a faded Р (R).

The word Horaiez would then mean “heroes”, from Greek ἥρως. See here.

Four personal names:

Marasm Av(is)
Sialgveiz Avis
Evisθo Zeronaiθ

Vanalasial Zeronaim

The only change that I made here is to read Av after the first name as Avis. I believe that this is the correct reading for three good reasons. Firstly, the second name, Sailgveiz is also followed by the word Avis. Secondly, even the name Marasm is followed by the word Avis in the following lines of the text. And thirdly, the family prenom Avis is well-attested in Etruscan and Sikel inscriptions.

Additionaly, the name Marasm sounds like the Greek city of Marousi or Maroussi, which is of the more recent date, but named after an ancient name of goddess Artemis – Amarysia. The same goes for the name Zeronaith which sounds like the Greek city Ziria, and perhaps even Girone. Perhaps then, these names could also signify the place of b.

orizail aker – carved (this) stone

In this context, we encounter the fourth name, succeeded by the term “orizail.” This term bears a striking resemblance to the Slavic word “rizati,” signifying “to carve,” specifically in its past tense form, “orizal.” – “he carved”. See here.

The word “aker” – meaning “stone” appears also in Sikel inscriptions, and this is how most scolars translate it. It has the same origin as the Greek word “akros”, ἄκρος – meaning “pointed, sharp”. See here.

In this particular context, the name Acropolis likely denoted a “stone city,” which stood in contrast to the prevalent wooden and mud constructions that encompassed it. This interpretation differs from the more common translation of “high city,” which is derived from this same word – “akros,” which signifies “pointed.”

tavarsio Zivaifor their friend Zhiva

The word tavarsio can only be translated via Slavic “tovariščь”, meaning “friend, comrade, companion”. See here.
The same goes for the Greek word “taverna”, which means “inn, tavern, shop”, of unkown etymology. The original meaning was probably “a place for socializing”. The variations of the word “taverna” appear in other Old-Italic inscriptions, but scolars translate them as “priest”, as it is usually followed by a personal name.

Zivai is obviously a perosnal name. The names Ziva, Zivorad and Zivota are well-attested in Slavic countries. They are derived from the word “zivot” meaning “life”. See here.

Inscription B

Horaiezi Φukiasiale – Heroes of Phocis (same as before)
Zerunaiθ Evisθo – one personal name repeated
toveronarom Haralio Zivai – for their friend Haralio Ziva
– same, but with added last name of the deceased.

ep tesioaraitis Φoke – from the four Phocians

The word “ep” is a cognate with the Greek “apo” – “from”. See here.
The word “tesioraites” is a cognate with the Greek “tesoares” – “four”. See here. Also, it mirrors in Slavic “chetvorice” – “four”, masculin, plural. See here.

Zivai – to Ziva
Avis Sialgviz Marašm Avisa – from… (repeated list of names)

O mai – For ever

This meaning is more obscure, but the word “mai” means “ever” in (archaic) Italian. See here.


The inscription on the Lemnos stele appears to combine elements of both ancient Greek and a form of Proto-Slavic language. While the Slavic words present are limited, they undoubtedly belong to the Slavic linguistic group.

However, I won’t delve into the details of how this unusual combination came about in this article. There are numerous articles on this website that, like puzzles, gradually form a clearer picture.


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