Lydian language

Lydian (𐤮𐤱𐤠𐤭𐤣𐤶𐤯𐤦𐤳 Śfardẽtis[citation needed] "[language] of Sardis") is an extinct Indo-European Anatolian language spoken in the region of Lydia, in western Anatolia (now in Turkey). The language is attested in graffiti and in coin legends from the late 8th century or the early 7th century to the 3rd century BC, but well-preserved inscriptions of significant length are so far limited to the 5th century and the 4th century BC, during the period of Persian domination. Thus, Lydian texts are effectively contemporaneous with those in Lycian.

Eraattested ca. 700–200 BC
Lydian alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3xld
Glottologlydi1241  Lydian[1]
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Extant Lydian texts now number slightly over 100, all but a few having been found in or near Sardis, the Lydian capital, but fewer than 30 of the inscriptions consist of more than a few words or are reasonably complete. Most of the inscriptions are on stone and are sepulchral in content, but several are decrees of one sort or another, and some half-dozen texts seem to be in verse, with a stress-based meter and vowel assonance at the end of the line. Tomb inscriptions include many epitaphs, which typically begin with the words 𐤤𐤮 𐤥𐤠𐤫𐤠𐤮 eś wãnaś ("this grave"), as well as short graffiti.

Strabo mentions that around his time (1st century BC), the Lydian language was no longer spoken in Lydia proper but was still being spoken among the multicultural population of Kibyra (now Gölhisar) in southwestern Anatolia, by the descendants of the Lydian colonists, who had founded the city.[2]


Within the Anatolian group, Lydian occupies a unique and problematic position. One reason is the still very limited evidence and understanding of the language. Another reason is a number of features that are not shared with any other Anatolian language.[3] It is still not known whether those differences represent developments peculiar to pre-Lydian or the retention in Lydian of archaic features that were lost in the other Anatolian languages.[4] Until more satisfactory knowledge becomes available, the status of Lydian within Anatolian remains a "special" one.

Writing systemEdit

The Lydian script, which is strictly alphabetic, is related to or derived from that of Greek as well as its western Anatolian neighbours, the exact relationship still remaining unclear. The direction of writing in the older texts is either from left to right or right to left. Later texts show exclusively the latter. Use of word-dividers is variable. The texts were found chiefly at the ancient capital of Sardis and include decrees and epitaphs, some of which were composed in verse; most were written during the 5th century and the 4th century BC, but a few may have been created as early as the 7th century.[5]



Lydian has seven vowels: 𐤠 a, 𐤤 e, 𐤦 i, 𐤬 o, 𐤰 u, 𐤵 ã, and 𐤶 , the last two being nasal vowels, typically before a synchronic or diachronic nasal consonant. The vowels e, o, ã, and occur only when accented. A vowel or glide y appears rarely, and probably indicates an allophone of i or e that is perhaps unstressed.

Lydian is notable for its extensive consonant clusters, which resulted from the loss of word-final short vowels, together with massive syncope; there may have been an unwritten [ə] in such sequences.


Consonants Labial Interdental Alveolar Palatal Velar/Labiovelar
Nasals 𐤪 /m/ 𐤫 /n/ 𐤸 /ɲ~ŋ/
Plosives 𐤡 /p~b/ 𐤯 /t~d/ 𐤨 /k~g/ 𐤲 /kʷ/
Affricates 𐤹 /ts~dz/ 𐤴 /tç~tʃ/
Fricatives 𐤱 /f~ɸ/ 𐤣 /θ~ð/? 𐤮 /s/ 𐤳 /ç~ʃ/
Liquids 𐤩 /l/ 𐤷 /ʎ/
Glides 𐤥 /w/ 𐤣 /j/?
Rhotics 𐤭 /r/

Voicing was likely not distinctive in Lydian. However /p t k/ are voiced before nasals and apparently before /r/. The palatal affricate and sibilant may have been palato-alveolar.

The sign 𐤣 has traditionally been transliterated <d> and interpreted as an interdental /ð/ resulting from the sound change *i̯ > ð or the lenition of Proto-Anatolian *t. However, it has recently been argued that in all contexts <d> in fact represents the palatal glide /j/, previously considered absent from Lydian.[6] An interdental <d> would stand as the only interdental sound in Lydian phonology, whereas a palatal interpretation of <d> is complemented by a full series of other palatal consonants: λ, š, ν, and τ.


Nouns and adjectives distinguish singular and plural forms and the animate and inanimate genders. Only three cases are securely attested: nominative, accusative, and dative-locative. Instead of a genitive case, Lydian used an adjectival suffix to form a possessive, which is similar to the Luwic languages. There may have been other cases that remain unknown because of the paucity of material.

Verbs in Lydian were typical of Anatolian, conjugated in the present-future and preterite tenses with three persons. Singular and plural number were not distinguished in all persons. For example, the present 3rd singular and plural fell together as -d/-t. Lydian distinguished a mediopassive voice (derived from Proto-Anatolian *-tori) with the third-person ending -tλ for consonant stems and -daλ when lenited after a stem ending in a vowel or glide.[7]


The basic word order is subject-object-verb, but constituents may be extraposed to the right of the verb. Like other Anatolian languages, Lydian features clause-initial particles with enclitic pronouns attached in a chain. It also has a number of preverbs and at least one postposition. Modifiers of a noun normally precede it.

Sample text and vocabularyEdit

A notable inscription in Lydian and Aramaic, which was among the first 34 found in the beginning of the 20th century by American excavators, provides a limited equivalent of the Rosetta Stone and permits a first penetration and solidifying understanding of the Lydian language.

The first line of the text was destroyed. The eight lines of the Lydian text are the following[citation needed]:

Text Transliteration Reconstructed Pronunciation
[𐤬]𐤭𐤠𐤷 𐤦𐤳𐤩𐤷 𐤡𐤠𐤨𐤦𐤩𐤩𐤷 𐤤𐤳𐤯 𐤪𐤭𐤰𐤣 𐤤𐤮𐤮𐤨 [𐤥𐤵𐤫𐤠𐤮]
[𐤩𐤠𐤲𐤭𐤦𐤳𐤠𐤨 𐤲𐤤𐤩𐤠𐤨 𐤨𐤰𐤣𐤨𐤦𐤯 𐤦𐤳𐤯 𐤤𐤮𐤷 𐤥𐤵𐤫[𐤠𐤷
[𐤡𐤷𐤯𐤠𐤭𐤥𐤬𐤣 𐤠𐤨𐤠𐤣 𐤪𐤠𐤫𐤤𐤩𐤦𐤣 𐤨𐤰𐤪𐤩𐤦𐤩𐤦𐤣 𐤳𐤦𐤩𐤰𐤨𐤠𐤩𐤦𐤣 𐤠𐤨𐤦𐤯 𐤫[𐤵𐤲𐤦𐤳
𐤤𐤳𐤷 𐤪𐤭𐤰𐤷 𐤡𐤰𐤨 𐤤𐤳𐤷 𐤥𐤵𐤫𐤠𐤷 𐤡𐤰𐤨 𐤤𐤳𐤸𐤠𐤸
[𐤩𐤠𐤲𐤭𐤦𐤳𐤠𐤸 𐤡𐤰𐤨𐤦𐤯 𐤨𐤰𐤣 𐤦𐤳𐤯 𐤤𐤳𐤷 𐤥𐤵𐤫𐤠𐤷 𐤡𐤷𐤯𐤠𐤭𐤥𐤬[𐤣
𐤠𐤨𐤯𐤦𐤫 𐤫𐤵𐤲𐤦𐤳 𐤲𐤤𐤩𐤷𐤨 𐤱𐤶𐤫𐤳𐤷𐤦𐤱𐤦𐤣 𐤱𐤠𐤨𐤪𐤷 𐤠𐤭𐤯𐤦𐤪𐤰𐤮
𐤦𐤡𐤮𐤦𐤪𐤳𐤦𐤳 𐤠𐤭𐤯𐤦𐤪𐤰𐤨 𐤨𐤰𐤩𐤰𐤪𐤳𐤦𐤳 𐤠𐤠𐤭𐤠𐤷 𐤡𐤦𐤭𐤠𐤷𐤨
𐤨𐤷𐤦𐤣𐤠𐤷 𐤨𐤬𐤱𐤰𐤷𐤨 𐤲𐤦𐤭𐤠𐤷 𐤲𐤤𐤩𐤷𐤨 𐤡𐤦𐤩𐤷 𐤥𐤹𐤡𐤠𐤲𐤶𐤫𐤯
[o]raλ islλ bakillλ est mrud eśśk [wãnaś]
laqrisak qelak kudkit ist esλ wãn[aλ]
bλtarwod akad manelid kumlilid silukalid akit n[ãqis]
esλ mruλ buk esλ wãnaλ buk esνaν
laqrisaν bukit kud ist esλ wãnaλ bλtarwo[d]
aktin nãqis qelλk fẽnsλifid fakmλ artimuś
ibśimsis artimuk kulumsis aaraλ biraλk
kλidaλ kofuλk qiraλ qelλk bilλ wcbaqẽnt
ɔɾaʎ içləʎ pakilləʎ eçt mɾuð essək wã:nas
lakʷɾiçak kʷelak kuθkit içt eçəʎ wã:naʎ
pʎtaɾwɔð akað manelið kumlilið çilukalið akit nãkʷiç
eçʎ mɾuʎ puk eçʎ wã:naʎ puk eçɲaɲ
lakʷɾiçaɲ pukit kuð içt eçʎ wã:naʎ pʎtaɾwɔð
aktin nãkʷiç kʷelʎək ɸẽnçʎiɸið ɸakməʎ aɾdimus
ipsimçiç aɾdimuk kulumçiç aɾaʎ piɾaʎk
kʎiðaʎ kɔɸuʎk kʷiɾaʎ kʷeləʎk piləʎ w̩tspakʷãnd

Examples of wordsEdit

𐤬𐤭𐤠 – ora – month

𐤩𐤠𐤲𐤭𐤦𐤳𐤠 – laqrisa – inscription, letters

𐤡𐤦𐤭𐤠 – bira – house

𐤲𐤦𐤭𐤠 – qira – field, ground, immovable property

Lydian words still in useEdit

Labrys (Greek: λάβρυς, lábrys) is the term for a symmetrical double-bitted axe originally from Crete in Greece, one of the oldest symbols of Greek civilization. The priests at Delphi in classical Greece were called Labryades (the men of the double axe). The term labrys "double-axe" is not found in any surviving Lydian inscription, but on the subject, Plutarch states that "the Lydians call the axe labrys" (Λυδοὶ γὰρ ‘λάβρυν’ τὸν πέλεκυν ὀνομάζουσι).[8]

Another possibly Lydian loanword may be tyrant "absolute ruler",[9] which was first used in Ancient Greek sources, without negative connotations, for the late 8th century or early 7th century BC. It is possibly derived from the native town of King Gyges of Lydia, founder of the Mermnad dynasty, which was Tyrrha in classical antiquity and is now Tire, Turkey.[10] Yet another is the element molybdenum, borrowed from Ancient Greek mólybdos, "lead", from Mycenaean Greek mo-ri-wo-do, which in Lydian was mariwda- "dark".[11] All of those loanwords confirm a strong cultural interaction between the Lydians and the Greeks since the Creto-Mycenaean era (2nd millennium BC).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Lydian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ N. P. Milner (1998). An Epigraphical Survey in the Kibyra-Olbasa Region conducted by A S Hall (Monograph). British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara.
  3. ^ Craig Melchert (2004). "Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages: Lydian p. 601-607" (PDF). Cambridge University Press. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2003-04-11.
  4. ^ Ivo Hajnal (2001). "Lydian: Late-Hittite or Neo-Luwian?" (PDF). University of Innsbruck. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Oreshko, Rostislav. "Phonetic value of Lydian letter <d> revisited and development of PIE dentals in Lydian, Wekwos 4, 2019: 191-262". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Yakubovich, Ilya. "Showing reverence in Lydian". QAZZU Warrai: Anatolian and Indo-European Studies in Honor of Kazuhiko Yoshida, Adam Alvah Catt, Ronald I. Kim and Brent Vine (Eds.), Ann Arbor: Beech Stave Press.
  8. ^ Plutarch (2005). Moralia. 4. Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt. Kessinger Publishing. p. 235. ISBN 978-1-4179-0500-3.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ Will Durant (1997). The story of civilization. 2. Simon & Schuster. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-56731-013-9.
  11. ^ Melchert, Craig. "Greek mólybdos as a Loanword from Lydian" (PDF). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 2011-04-23.


External linksEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Kearns, John Michael. "A Greek Genitive from Lydia." Glotta 72, no. 1/4 (1994): 5-14. Accessed July 12, 2020.
  • Payne, Annick, and Jorit Wintjes. "The Lydian Language." In: Lords of Asia Minor: An Introduction to the Lydians, 63-72. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016. Accessed July 11, 2020.
  • Payne, Annick, and Jorit Wintjes. "Lydian Inscriptions." In: Lords of Asia Minor: An Introduction to the Lydians, 73-86. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016. Accessed July 11, 2020.
  • Ricl, Marijana. "Current Archaeological and Epigraphic Research in the Region of Lydia". In: L'Anatolie des peuples, des cités et des cultures (IIe millénaire av. J.-C. – Ve siècle ap. J.-C.). Colloque international de Besançon - 26-27 novembre 2010. Volume 2. Approches locales et régionales. Besançon : Institut des Sciences et Techniques de l'Antiquité, 2013. pp. 189-195. (Collection « ISTA », 1277) []
  • Yakubovich, Ilya. "Lydian Etymological Notes." Historische Sprachforschung / Historical Linguistics 118 (2005): 75-91. Accessed July 11, 2020.