Thracian Ezerovo ring inscription
After flourishing for several millennia on the Balkan peninsula, 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 that links it with Albanian language, and the other which links it to Balto-Slavic languages. You can read more about it here:
Now, one of the main reasons for this debate is a fact that only a handful of inscriptions longer than a few words had ever been discovered. And one of the longest and clearest of these is the Ezerovo ring inscription.
Discovered in 1912 in a burial mound in modern Bulgaria, this ring made of gold has been dated to the 5th century BC.
Ezerovo ring, one of the longest inscriptions in Thracian language ever discovered
Luckily for us, letters are quite easy to read, and the text goes as follows:
ΗΛΤΑ (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)
During the past years, I have seen more than a dozen different translations of this text, and I realized that the only thing that is sure is that there is still no consensus about what it says. Besides the fact that there is very little material in Thracian to start with, another problem that we can see just from the picture above, is that the words in the inscription are not clearly separated, thus leaving a lot of space for many 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:
ΡΟΛΙΣΤΕΝΕΑΣ NΕΡΕΝΕΑ ΤΙΛΤΕΑΝ ΗΣΚΟ ΑΡΑΖΕΑ ΔΟΜΕΑΝ ΤΙΛΕΖΥΠΤΑ ΜΙΗ ΕΡΑ ΖΗΛΤΑ
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:
ΡΟΛΙΣΤΕΝΕ ΑΣ NΕΡΕΝΕΑ ΤΙΛΤΕΑ ΝΗΣΚΟ ΑΡΑΖΕΑ ΔΟ ΜΕΑΝ ΤΙΛΕΖΥΠΤΑΜ ΙΗ ΕΡΑΖ ΗΛΤΑ
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 deceased into the underworld. In the following translation by Małgorzata Rządkiewicz we see a different, romantic approach:
ΡΟΛΙΣΤΕ ΝΕΑΣ NΕΡΕ ΝΕΑ ΤΙΛ ΤΕΑ ΝΗΣΚΟΑ ΡΑΖΕΑ ΔΟΜ ΕΑΝ ΤΙΛ ΕΖΥΠΤΑ ΜΙΗ ΕΡΑΖΗΛ ΤΑ
“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, with each author separating the words according to his own beliefs and intuition. However, I still haven’t seen a translation that seemed convincing enough, and that is for the following reasons:
- If we compare the other similar ring-inscriptions of this period, written in ancient Greek, Egyptian and later Latin, which we can understand, we see that in most of the cases the rings were either used as seals, as it is obviously not the case here, either they were used for protection, with inscriptions being some sort of magical formulas.
- If the purpose of the ring was a 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.
Having all this in mind, and opting for the Balto-Slavic theory in relation with the Thracian language, I came up with the following proposal:
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, meaning “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 has been translated as “Ebar, son of Zesa” Source
The reason that the vowel is not present between S and N could be explained by the lack of letter that describes Slavic sound “Ь “.
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 the line 4
With my spacing: ΤΕ ΑΝΗΣ ΚΟ ΑΡΑ
Transliteration: Te anYs ko ara (Y as in “yes”)
Translation: This ring as a protection (prayer)
Line no. 4 begins with “RA” which seems as a leftover from the previous line. Now, the most dramatic innovation that I made here is to assume that a value of a letter H is to be read as “Y”. I did this inspired by 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 illustrated in this 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 a 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” meant “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 a cognate with Latin “resilio” from which the words “result” and “resilience” are derived in English.
In this case, our 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 a protection took Adom
and against evil speech that is my resilience.
So there you go, this is just my take on the subject, taking into account the possible magical purpose of this ring and a 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 what would later become a classical Greek and another 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, and many examples can even be seen on the Wikipedia article about highlighted at the beginning of this article), but perhaps in the near future I will also write one article about it on this blog.