Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources


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

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Writing Systems

Phrygians were present in Central Anatolia from the 8th century BC, although it is still not certain when they settled in the region. The theory that they caused the fall of Hittite Empire is no longer taken into consideration, as this had already happened when Phrygians re-inhabited the site of Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittite Kingdom.

During the 11th century BC, Tigratpileser II tells the story of a battle against the Muški population. Later Sargon II of Assyria (8th cent. BC) quotes Mida, king of Muški. This is the name of the king of the Phrygians of the same period, successor of his father Gordion, on the Phrygian throne from 738 to 696 BC. The word Muški could thus be the name given to the Phrygians by the Assyrians, or at least a part of this ethnicity. It is therefore possible that the Phrygians were already settled in Anatolia at the end of the 2nd millennium BC. According to Herodotus (VII 73), Strabo (VII 3.2 e XII 8.3) and Plinius the Elder (V.XLI 145), the Phrygians originated from the Balkan Peninsula.

Herodotus describes how they lived alongside the Macedonians and tells how these latter called them Brugoi, Briges, Brukes. The Phrygians are mentioned in the Iliad as allies of the Trojans, even if they did not take part in the war (Iliad 2.862-3). There is the narration of a visit of the king Priam to the Phrygian camp in the area of the river Sangarios, and his aid to the Phrygians against an attack of the Amazons (Iliad 3184-9), in the place where the city of Gordion was discovered, populated by Phrygians during the first millennium BC.

The Phrygians spoke an Indo-European language that shared some isoglosses with the languages of Anatolia: for example, the final -s of the third person singular of the verbal preterit, and the exit -r of verbs in the passive voice (which is not exclusively Anatolian). At the same time it is different from contemporary and previous Anatolian languages. There are some similarities due to the influence of Anatolian languages, including Hittite and Luwian, especially in naming. These are merely due to the coexistence of the populations on the Anatolian territory. The similarities are more significant with Greek and it is therefore assumed that these languages were not merely geographically near each other but rather belonged to a common Proto-Indo-European subgroup.

Brixhe, considering the title given to Midas on his funerary monument (M-01a) interprets the words lavagtaei and vanaktei (dative) as similar to the Mycenaean lawagetas and wanax, an indigenous development and thus the result of a common heritage (Brixhe 1990 73- 75).

The vastness of the area in which Phrygian was spoken is shown by the spread of the inscriptions that were found in central Anatolia (the City of Midas, Pteria, Gordion), in Bithynia, Galatia and Cappadocia.

The Phrygian language is still not well understood. There is an exception represented by the curse in late Phrygian ios ni semoun kakoun addaket etittetikmenos eitou corresponding to a Greek formula with the meaning “Let him who harms this burial chamber be cursed!”

Ancient Writing Systems

  1. Phrygian