AskDefine | Define Illyrian

Dictionary Definition

Illyrian n : a minor and almost extinct branch of the Indo-European languages; spoken along the Dalmatian coast

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. of or pertaining to Illyria or the Illyrians or the extinct Illyrian languages.

Proper noun

  1. an inhabitant of ancient Illyria
  2. the Illyrian language
  3. an inhabitant of Roman province of Illyricum (Illyro-Roman)
  4. an old term for South Slavs, especially Croats ,used in 17th-19th centuries
  5. a proposed term for Proto-Albanians

Extensive Definition

The Illyrian languages are a group of extinct Indo-European languages that were spoken in the western part of the Balkans in former times by ethnic groups identified as Illyrians: Delmatae, Pannoni, Illyrians, Autariates, Taulanti (see List of Illyrian tribes). Some sound-changes and other language features are deduced from what remains of the Illyrian languages, but because there are no examples of ancient Illyrian literature surviving (aside from the Messapian writings if they can be considered Illyrian), it is difficult to clarify its place within the Indo-European language family. Because of the uncertainty, most sources provisionally place Illyrian on its own branch of Indo-European, though its relation to other languages, ancient and modern, continues to be studied.

Language affinity

Further than belonging to the Indo-European language family, the relation of Illyrian to other ancient and modern languages is still being examined by scholars. Today, the main source of authoritative information about the Illyrian language consists of a handful of Illyrian words cited in classical sources, and numerous examples of Illyrian anthroponyms, ethnonyms, toponyms and hydronyms. A grouping of Illyrian with the Messapian language has been proposed for about a century, but remains an unproven hypothesis. The theory is based on classical sources, archaeology, as well as onomastic considerations. Messapian material culture bears a number of similarities to Illyrian material culture. Some Messapian anthroponyms have close Illyrian equivalents.The Illyrian languages are considered to be Centum dialects.
A relation to the Venetic language and Liburnian language, once spoken in northeastern Italy and Liburnia respectively, was also proposed, but this theory has been dropped now and those tribes are not considered Illyrian anymore .
Some scholars believe the modern Albanian language to be descended from Illyrian. Only a few Illyrian items have been linked to Albanian, and these remain tentative or inconclusive for the purpose of determining a close relation.

Outside influences

The Ancient Greek language would have become an important external influence on Illyrian-speakers who occupied lands adjacent to ancient Greeks. Invading Celts who settled on lands occupied by Illyrians brought the Illyrians into contact with the Celtic languages. Intensive contact may have happened in what is now Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. Because of this intensive contact, and because of conflicting classical sources, it is unclear whether some ancient tribes were Illyrian or Celtic (see for example Scordisci and Iapodes) or mixed. Thracians and Paionians also occupied lands populated by Illyrians, bringing Illyrians into contact with the Thracian language and Paionian language.
Yet it was not Greek, Celtic, Thracian, or Paionian, but Latin that would come to displace Illyrian above the Jireček line. The Romans conquered all the lands in which Illyrian was spoken, and it is quite possible that Illyrian faded early in the Common era, perhaps even before the Slavic invasion of the Balkans.

Illyrian words

Since there are no Illyrians texts, sources for identifying Illyrian words have been identified by Hans Krahe as of four kinds: inscriptions, glosses of Illyrian words in Classical texts, names— including proper names (mostly inscribed on tombstones), toponyms and river names— and Illyrian loanwords in other languages. The last category has proved particularly contentious. The names occur in sources that range over more than a millennium, including numismatic evidence, as well as posited original forms of placenames (Krahe 1955). The inscriptions, some three hundred, are largely in Messapic, an ancient (disputedly) Illyrian language spoken in parts of Apulia: Illyrian inscriptions are limited to a votive inscription on a ring found near Skutari (Krahe 1955) and perhaps a spearhead found at Kovel Only a few Illyrian words are cited in Classical sources by Roman or Greek writers, but these glosses, provided with translations, provide a core vocabulary. Only four identified with an ethnonym Illyrii or Illurioí; others must be identified by indirect means:
  • abeis, "snakes"; cf. Latin anguis, Old High Germ unc, Lith angìs, Gk óchis "snake", echis "viper", Toch auk "snake", Arm auj, Russ už, Skt áhis, Av aži
  • bagaron, "warm"; cf. Phrygian bekos "bread", Eng bake, Lat focus "hearth", Irish goba "blacksmith", Gk phōgein "to roast", Armenian bosor "red", bots "flame".
  • brisa, "husk of grapes"
  • deuádai "satyrs"; cf. Skt dhūnoti "he shakes", Gk thýein "to rage, seethe", théeion "sulfur vapor", Eng dizzy, Old English dwæs "foolish", Paeonian Dýalos "Dionysos", Latin furere "to rage", belua "wild animal", Old Irish dásacht "rage, fury", Lith dvesiù "to perish, die (animals)", Hitt tuhhai "to gasp"
  • mandos, "small horse"; cf. Alb mëz, mâz "poney", Thrac Mezēnai "divine horseman god", Mess Iuppiter Menzanas (divinity)
  • rhinos, "fog, mist"; cf. Old Alb ren, mod. Alb re, rê "cloud"
  • sabaia, sabaium, sabaius, "a type of beer"; akin to Eng sap, Lat. sapere "to taste", Skt sabar "sap, juice, nektar", Avest. višāpa "having poisonous juices", Arm ham, Greek apalós "tender, delicate", Old Church Slavonic sveptǔ "bee's honey"
  • sibina (Lat.), sibyna (Lat.), sybina (Lat.); σιβυνη (Gk.), σιβυνης (Gk.), συβινη (Gk.), ζιβυνη (Gk.): "a hunting spear", generally, "a spear", "pike"; an Illyrian word according to Festius, citing Ennius; is compared to συβηνη (Gk.), "flute case", a word found in Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusai; the word appears in the context of a barbarian speaking.
Some additional words have been extracted by linguists from toponyms, hydronyms, anthroponyms, etc.:
  • Bindus "river god"; cf. Old Irish banne "drop", Skt bindú, vindú "drops, gob, spot", possibly Lat fōns Bandusiae
  • Bosona, "Bosna river", literally "running water": IE *bheg, bhog "to run"; cf. OSl bĕžati "to flee, run", Lith bé(.)gti "to flee", Gk phébesthai "to flee", phóbos "fear", Alb boj "to drive, mate", Eng beck "brook, stream", MIr búal "flowing water", Hindi bhāg "to flee"
  • mons Bulsinus, "Büžanim hill": IE *bhl.kos; cf. Eng balk, Middle Irish blog "piece, fragment", Latin fulcrum "bedpost", Gk phálanx "trunk, log", Lith balžiena "crossbar", Serb blazína "roof beam", Skt bhuríjāu "cart arms"
  • Derbanoí, Anderva: IE *derv; cf. Eng tree, Albanian dru "wood", Old Church Slavonic drĕvo "tree", Welsh derw "oak", Gk dóry "wood, spear", drýs "oak, tree", Lith derva "pine wood", Hittite taru "tree, wood', Thracian taru "spear", Skt dru "tree, wood", daru "wood, log"
  • Dizēros, Andízētes: IE *digh; cf. Eng dough, Gk teîchos "wall", Latin fingere "to shape, mold", Old Irish com-od-ding "he builds, erects", Old Russian dĕža "kneading trough", Armenian dez "heap", Skt dehah "body, form"
  • Domator, personal name; cf. Old Irish damnaid "he binds, breaks a horse", dam "ox", Eng tame, dialectal Germ Zamer "ox not under the yoke", Alb dem "young bull", Lat domāre "to tame", domitor "tamer", Gk dámnēmi "to break in", dámalos "calf", Skt dāmyáti "he is tame; he tames"
  • Loúgeon. Strabo in his Geography mentions "a marsh called Lougeon" (which has been identified as Lake Cerknica in Slovenia) by the locals ( Illyrian and Celtic tribes), Lougeon being Strabo's rendition of the local toponym into Greek. cf. Alb lag "to wet, soak, bathe, wash" (< PA *lauga), lëgatë "pool" (< PA *leugatâ), lakshte "dew" (< PA *laugista); further akin to Lith liűgas "marsh", OSl luža "pool", Thracian Lýginos "river name"
  • Naro: IE *nor; cf. Lith nãras "diving duck", Russ norá "hole", SCr po-nor "abyss"
  • Nedinum: IE *ned; cf. Skt nadas "roarer"
  • Oseriates, "lakes"; akin to Old Church Slavonic ozero (Serb-Croat jezero), Latvian ezers, OPruss assaran, Gk Akéroun "river in the underworld"
  • lacus Pelso, "deep": IE *pels; cf. Czech pleso "deep place in a river, lake", Welsh bwlch "crack", Arm pelem "to dig"
  • Skenóbardos: IE *skeno-bhardhos; cf. Eng shine and beard
  • Tergitio, "merchant"; cf. Old Church Slavonic trĭgĭ (Serb-Croat trg) "market", Old Russian tǔrgǔ "market", Latvian tirgus
  • Teuta, Teutana: IE *teuta-, "people"; cf. Lith tauta "people", German Deutsch "German", Old English theod "people", Old Irish tuath "clan", Umbrian tota "people", Oscan touto "city", Hittite tuzzi "army"
  • Tómaros, mountain in Eastern Pindus; cf. Old Irish temel "darkness", Middle Irish teimen "dark grey", OHG demar "darkness", dinstar "dark", Lat tenebrae "darkness", temere "by chance, rashly", Skt tamas "darkness", tamsrah "dark", Old Church Slavonic tima "darkness"
  • Volcos, river name in Pannonia; cf. Old Irish folc "heavy rain, wet weather", Welsh golchi "to wash", Eng welkin "cloud", Old High Germ welk "moist", Old Church Slavonic vlaga "moisture, plant juice", vǔlgǔkǔ'' "wet"

Illyrian names


The following names derive from Illyrian or not yet connected with another language.


The following Illyrian names, most of which occur in inscriptions from the upper Neretva river valley near Konjic in Bosnia, are considered to derived from Celtic
  • Arvus
  • Belzeius
  • Cambrius
  • laritus
  • Lautus
  • Argurianus(Thracian or Celtic)
  • Ammida(questionable associations)
  • Matera(questionable associations)
  • Seneca(questionable associations)
  • Mellito(Greek & Celtic)
  • Nantia
  • Nonntio
  • Laca
  • Madusa
  • Matisa
  • Nindia
  • Poia
  • Sicu
  • Aioia
  • Andetia
  • Baeta
  • Bidna
  • Catta
  • Dussona
  • Boio
  • Bricussa
  • Iacus
  • Mallaius
  • Mascelio
  • Kabaletus
  • Litus
  • Nantanius
  • Sarnus
  • Sinus
  • Sisimbrius
  • Vepus


The following names derive from Thracian
  • Argurianus(Thracian or Celtic)
  • Auluporis
  • Auluzon
  • Bithus
  • Bessus
  • Teres
  • Celsus
  • Celsinus
  • Cocaius
  • Daizo
  • Delus
  • Dida
  • Dinentilla
  • Dizas
  • Dizo


The following names derive from Greek.
  • Agron,("Αγρά",prey or "Αγρός",wild country).
  • Mellito(Greek & Celtic),("Μελλιτόεις",like honey).
  • Thana ,("Θανατός",death).
  • Plator,("Πλατών",wide man).
  • Pleuratus ,("Πλευρά",side).
  • Cleitus the Illyrian, ("Κλείω",renowned,Renowned man).
  • Glaukias,("Γλαυκός",gleaming,Gleaming man).
  • Ceraunii,tribal exonym ,("Κεραυνιοί",Thunderbolt-men).
  • Enchelei,tribal exonym,("Εγχελείς",Eel-men).


The following names derive from Latin.
  • Bato,"to strike".
  • Dasius,latin form of a Messapic name.

Names of Gods

The following names derive from various languages and are names of Gods worshiped by the Illyrians.
  • Eia
  • Malesocus
  • Boria
  • Iria
  • Anzotica
  • Latra
  • Sentona
  • Ica
  • Bindus
  • Vidasus
  • Thana
  • Medaurus
  • Armatus


  • Crossland, R. A., Linguistic problems of the Balkan area in the late prehistoric and early classical periods. Boardman, Edwards, Hammond and Sollberger 1982, 834--849.
  • Polomé, E. C., Balkan languages (Illyrian, Thracian and Daco-Moesian). Boardman, Edwards, Hammond and Sollberger 1982, 866--888.
  • Wilkes, John, The Illyrians. Blackwell Books, 1992.


Illyrian in Tosk Albanian: Illyrische Sprache
Illyrian in Azerbaijani: Paleobalkan qrupu
Illyrian in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Ілірыйскія мовы
Illyrian in German: Illyrische Sprache
Illyrian in Estonian: Illüüria keel
Illyrian in Spanish: Lenguas ilirias
Illyrian in French: Illyrien
Illyrian in Macedonian: Илирски јазик
Illyrian in Dutch: Illyrisch
Illyrian in Japanese: イリュリア語
Illyrian in Polish: Języki ilirskie
Illyrian in Romanian: Limbile ilirice
Illyrian in Albanian: Gjuha e Ilirëve
Illyrian in Swedish: Illyriska
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