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Galatian language

Extinct4th century AD
Language codes
ISO 639-3xga
Galatia Map.png
The Roman province of Galatia

Galatian is an extinct Celtic language once spoken by the Galatians in Galatia mainly in north central lands of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) from the 3rd century BC up to at least the 4th century AD, although ancient sources suggest it was still spoken in the 6th century.[2] Galatian was likely contemporary with and closely related to the Gaulish language.



The Galatian language, based on onomastic evidence (as no texts written in Galatian have yet been discovered), seems to have closely resembled the Gaulish language of western and central Europe.[3] The language was introduced to Anatolia in the 3rd century BC, when Celtic tribes – notably the Tectosages, Trocmii, and Tolistobogii – migrated south from the Balkans. According to the Greek historian Strabo, the Tectosages of Anatolia were related to the Volcae Tectosages of Gaul; the parent tribe of both branches, the Volcae, originally lived in central Europe.

Contemporary Roman sources

Sometime between AD 48–55, the Apostle Paul wrote his Epistle to the Galatians in Greek, the medium of communication in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire. This may mean that Galatians at the time were already bilingual in Greek, as St. Jerome later reports. However, scholars are divided as to whether Paul was writing to Greek Galatians or to the Hellenized descendants of the Celtic Galatians.[4][5]

Lucian of Samosata recorded in circa AD 180 that the prophet Alexander of Abonoteichus was able to find Celtic-speaking interpreters for his oracles in Paphlagonia (immediately northeast of Galatia).[6][7]

The physician Galen of Pergamon in the late 2nd century AD complained that the commonly spoken Greek of his day was being corrupted by borrowings of foreign words from languages such as Galatian.[8][9]

In the 4th century St. Jerome (Hieronymus) wrote in a comment to Paul the Apostle's Epistle to the Galatians that "apart from the Greek language, which is spoken throughout the entire East, the Galatians have their own language, almost the same as the Treveri". The capital of the Treveri was Trier, where Jerome had settled briefly after studying in Rome.[10][11]

Survival into Early Medieval period

In the 6th century AD, Cyril of Scythopolis suggested[12] that the language was still being spoken in his own day when he related a story that a monk from Galatia was temporarily possessed by Satan and unable to speak; when he recovered from the "possession", he could respond to the questioning of others only in his native Galatian tongue.[13]


Of the language only a few glosses and brief comments in classical writers and scattered names on inscriptions survive. Altogether they add up to about 120 words, including place and personal names. Scattered vocabulary terms mentioned by Greek authors include άδάρκα (adarka), a type of plant, αδες (ades), "feet", βαρδοί (bardoi), "singing poets, bards", μάρκα (marka), "horse" and τριμαρκισία (trimarkisia), "three-horse battle group".[14][15]

Personal names

The attested Galatian personal names are similar to those found elsewhere in the ancient Celtic-speaking world. Many are compound names containing common Celtic roots such as *brog-, "country, territory" (cf. Old Irish mruig, Welsh and Breton bro; cognate with Latin margo and Gothic marka), *epo-, "horse" (Old Irish ech, Welsh eb- [in ebol "pony" and the compound ebrwydd "swift"]), *māro- (cf. Gaulish -māros, Old Irish mór, Welsh mawr, Breton meur) "great", and *rig(o)-, "king" (cf. Gaulish -rīx/-reix, Irish , Welsh rhi; cognate with Gothic -reiks, Latin rēx). Examples include:[16]

  • Άδιατόριξ (Adiatorīx)
  • Βιτοριξ (Bitorīx)
  • Βρογιμάρος (Brogimāros)
  • Κάμμα (Cāmmā)
  • Δομνείων (Domneiū)
  • Έπόνη (Eponī)
  • Ολοριξ (Olorīx)
  • Σμερτομάρα (Smertomārā)
  • Τεκτομάρος (Tectomāros)

Tribal names include Ambitouti (Old Irish imm-, Welsh am "around"; Old Irish tuath, Welsh tut, "tribe"), Ριγόσαγες (Rigosages, "King-Seekers"; cf. Irish saigid "to go towards, to seek out", Welsh haedu, verbal suffix -ha "seeking"), and Τεκτόσαγες (Tectosages, cf. the related Volcae Tectosages tribe of Gaul) "Travel-seekers" (Old Irish techt, "going, proceeding", Welsh taith, "journey, voyage").

Attested divine names include βουσσουριγίος (Bussurīgios) and Σουωλιβρογηνός (Suolibrogēnos), both identified with Greek king of the gods Zeus, and Ούινδιεινος (Uindieinos), perhaps the tutelary god of the Tolistobogiian town Ούινδια (Uindia).

Place names

Attested place names include Acitorīgiāco ("[Settlement of] Acitorīx"; compare Acitodunum in Gaul), Άρτικνιακόν (Articniācon, "[Settlement of] Articnos" ["Bear-son"]), Δρυνέμετον (Drunemeton; < Proto-Celtic *dru- "oak" and, by extension, "great"; cf. Old Irish druí, Welsh dryw [< *dru-wid-s], "druid, wise man" [literally "greatly wise"], Old Irish neimed, Welsh nyfed "holy place, [sacred] grove"), the meeting place of the Galatian tetrarchs and judges, and Ούινδια (Uindia Fair/White/Holy Place"; Old Irish finn, Welsh gwyn [masc.], gwen [fem.] "fair, white; holy").


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Galatian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Koch, John T. (2006). "Galatian language". In John T. Koch (ed.). Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia. Volume III: G—L. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 788. ISBN 1-85109-440-7. Late classical sources—if they are to be trusted—suggest that it survived at least into the 6th century AD.
  3. ^ Koch, John (ed.). Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2006, p. 788.
  4. ^ The Catholic Study Bible (2nd edition, 2011, Oxford), p. 1643.
  5. ^ The New Interpreter's Study Bible (2003, Abingdon Press), p. 2079.
  6. ^ Lucian, Alexander, 51: "He [Alexander] often gave oracles to barbarians if anyone asked a question in his [the questioner's] native tongue, whether Syrian or Celtic, as he [Alexander] easily found strangers in the city of the same origin as the questioners."
  7. ^ Freeman, Philip. The Galatian Language, Edwin Mellen, 2001, p. 10.
  8. ^ Galen, De Differentia Pulsum, 8.585: "three words from Cilicia, four from Syria, five from Galatia, and six from Athens".
  9. ^ Freeman, Philip, The Galatian Language, Edwin Mellen, 2001, pp. 10–11.
  10. ^ St. Jerome [Hieronymus], Comentarii in Epistolam ad Galatos, II:3: "Galatas excepto sermone Graeco, quo omnis oriens loquitur propriam linguam eamdem pene habere quam Treviros."
  11. ^ Freeman, Philip, The Galatian Language, Edwin Mellen, 2001, p. 11.
  12. ^ Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita S. Euthymii, 55.
  13. ^ Freeman, Philip, The Galatian Language, Edwin Mellen, 2001, pp. 11–12.
  14. ^ Freeman, Philip, The Galatian Language, Edwin Mellen, 2001, pp. 15–18.
  15. ^ Delamarre, Xavier, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental, Errance, coll. « Hespérides », 2003.
  16. ^ Freeman, Philip, The Galatian Language, Edwin Mellen, 2001, pp. 23–64.


  • Delamarre, Xavier (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental. Paris: Errance, coll. « Hespérides ». ISBN 2-87772-237-6.
  • Freeman, Philip (2001). The Galatian Language: A Comprehensive Survey of the Language of the Ancient Celts in Greco-Roman Asia Minor. Lewiston, New York: Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-7480-3.
  • Weisgerber, L. (1931). Galatische Sprachreste. In Natalicium Johannes Geffcken zum 70. Geburtstag 2. Mai 1931 gewidmet von Freunden, Kollegen und Schülern, 151–75. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.