Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Lycian (5th-1st cent. B.C.)

edited by: Giulia Torri (translation revised by Melanie Rockenhaus)

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Writing Systems
  • Further information

Lycian was a language spoken between the middle and the end of the first millennium BC in Lycia, a region that stretched along the southwestern coast of Asia Minor. The name of the region is of Greek origin. The inhabitants called themselves Trmmili and called their region Trmmisa.
It was an Indo-European language. It is now certain that Lycian and Luwian, a language of the second millennium BC, were related and represent a subgroup of the Indo-European language family Anatolia.The two dialects would have formed from an original Proto-Luwian that developed along a route different from that of the other of Anatolian dialects, Hittite, Lydian and Palaic. The similarity between Lycian and Luwian seems to depend on their sharing some isoglosses of southwestern Anatolia.
Lycian is divided into two dialects called Lycian A and B (Milyan). There are only two documents of this latter, both in verse and apparently with archaic features when compared to Lycian A. The relationship with the latter is under discussion but at the moment it seems that these two dialects cannot be distinguished by mere chronological differences.
As for Lycian A, about 200 inscriptions are preserved in writing from left to right. The majority of these are funerary but there are also some public inscriptions. Lycian is also preserved on numerous coin legends, some of them with writing from right to left. A short inscription was found in Egypt.

There are a number of bilingual inscriptions in Lycian and Greek showing a strong relationship between the two cultures. Bilinguals include a dozen epitaphs, dedicaces, cultural texts  and a tax provision. The trilingual inscription from Lētōon - in Lycian, Greek and Aramaic - is very important for the decipherment of Lycian. The inscription is on a stele found in 1973 during the archaeological excavations of a sacred area at Xanthos. The inscription contains a decree of the Satrap Pixodaros issued in fourth century BC (probably 337 BC) concerning the worship of two deities, the "King of Kaunos" and Arkesimas. Another important finding is the obelisk of Xanthos written in Lycian (both A and B) and Greek (TAM E 44). The inscription contains a long description of military events accompanied by an epigram in Greek. The monument is therefore not a true bilingual but rather a collection of compositions in different languages, related to the same topic but each formally different.

There are also some epitaphs and dedicatory monuments that preserve both versions in Lycian and Greek. These inscriptions and especially the inscription of Letoon, as well as the features that this language shares with the Luwian of the second millennium BC, have produced important results in understanding Lycian. All the same, it still cannot be considered a completely deciphered language

Ancient Writing Systems

  1. Lycian

Further information

  1. Bibliography