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Name Origin. Phrygian derives from the Greek word 'Phryges', the name of a people who must have called themselves 'Bruges'.

Overview. Phrygian was an Indo-European language spoken in central Anatolia (modern Turkey) by  populations who had migrated from the Balkans. Its heyday was during the Phrygian kingdom at the beginning of the first millennium BCE, though most inscriptions in the language are from later periods. Due to the limited nature of its documentation, Phrygian is not completely understood yet.

Classification. Phrygian is definitely an Indo-European language but its exact place within the family rest to be determined. It has a number of similarities with Greek.

Distribution. It was spoken in the central Anatolian Peninsula in, and around, the city of Gordion, the capital of the Phrygian kingdom.

Status. Extinct. Attested between 800-400 BCE.


Periods. Phrygian is documented in two chronological periods separated by four hundred years without any surviving documents in the intervening centuries:

  1. 800-400 BCE. Paleo-Phrygian. From the end of the Phrygian kingdom through the Cimmerian invasion, followed by Lydian and Persian domination, until the Macedonian conquest.

  1. 400-1 BCE. Middle Phrygian is hypothetical as it is not attested anywhere, except, perhaps, by a single inscription.

  1. 1-400 CE. Neo-Phrygian belongs to the period after the Macedonian conquest and Hellenization followed by the settlement of the Celtic-speaking Galatians.

Main Documents

  1. Paleo-Phrygian is present in more than three-hundred documents of varied nature (cultic, seals, graffiti, etc) most of which come from the city of Gordion.

  1. Neo-Phrygian is attested by a corpus of over one-hundred epitaphs, many of them bilingual (Greek-Neo-Phrygian).


Vowels (9). Phrygian had 5 short and 4 long vowels as well as several diphthongs.


Consonants (15). Phrygian had a typical repertoire of Indo-European consonants.



Paleo-Phrygian was written with an alphabetic script, similar to the Archaic Greek scripts, consisting of 22 or 23 letters. Some inscriptions were oriented from left to right, others from right to left, and still others were boustrophedon. Neo-Phrygian was written with the Greek alphabet.


  1. Nominal. Phrygian nouns were inflected for case, gender and number.

  1. case: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative. Besides these four cases, attested in the inscriptions, others are possible.

  1. gender: masculine, feminine, neuter.

  1. number: singular, plural.

  1. pronouns: demonstrative, reflexive, relative and indefinite are attested.

  1. Verbal. Phrygian verbs were marked for tense, mood, voice, person and number.

  1. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p, 2p, 3p.

  1. tense: present, future, preterite. To form the preterite a prefix ('the augment') was used like in Greek, Armenian an Indo-Iranian languages.

  1. voice: active, middle.

  1. moodindicative, imperative, subjunctive, optative.


Word order was Subject-Verb. Syntactical relations were indicated by the noun-case system and by the use of prepositions.


Phrygian borrowed mostly from Greek. The impact of neighboring Anatolian languages was, apparently, quite small and the same can be said of that of the Celtic Galatians who invaded the peninsula around 280 BCE.

Basic Vocabulary

mother: matar

wife: bonekos

king: balen

priest: alu

water: akala

bread: bekos

city: gordum

battle: garman

assembly: dumos

warm: germe

great: meka

good: vaso

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -The Language of Phrygians. Description and Analysis. V. E. Orel. Caravan Books (1997).

  2. -'Phrygian'. C. Brixhe. In The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor, 69-80. R. D. Woodward (ed). Cambridge University Press (2008).

  3. -Anatolia. Land, Men and Gods in Asia Minor. S. Mitchell. Oxford University Press (1993).

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