Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Mystery of the Ezerovo Ring!

A few summers back, I was in an internet café in Bucharest, killing time to avoid going back to the chaos of the refurbishing of my mother-in-law’s apartment. (In retrospect, installing an air conditioner, painting the whole apartment, installing all new windows, and replacing all the furniture was too much for one summer.)

At any rate, I stumbled on the fragments of Thracian and Dacian preserved in a few artifacts. Both languages, which may or may not be dialects of a single language, are little understood owing to the lack of but a few lines of text for linguists to study.

Creative and courageous scholars have tried to compile a description of the ancient Balkan languages from preserved place names and names of plants and animals preserved in Greek references.

 But imagine trying to reconstruct English from the names of English villages and names for foods. If our favorites such as hamburgers and pizza are any indication, such a methodology is doomed from the start.

Attempts to make sense of the scanty Thracian and Dacian inscriptions usually resort to dictionary searching and proposing fanciful translations.

I decided, in my own studies, to ignore previous work, both because I do reject the above methodology and because I did not want my ideas influenced in advance.

So I attempted what should always be done first in decipherment. I would line the text up by recurrent patterns and see if anything meaningful emerged.

If you're interested in languages or ancient history, or even just an entertaining read, check out the time-travel thriller In Saecula Saeculorum. Click to learn more.

You'll travel back to ancient Rome on a harrowing mission to save the modern world. It's the adventure of four lifetimes.


As a former intelligence officer at the National Security Agency, I had the privilege to take a week long course in which I learned the encryption techniques such as were in use up until WWII (after which the whole thing turned into computer encryption beyond pencil and paper skills). It was a fun time, encrypting and decrypting messages in various block matrices, applying frequency analysis, and eating at a cafeteria with slightly different offerings than at Fort Meade.

So I attacked the best preserved of the inscriptions, a line of text on what is known as the Ezerovo Ring. Here is the artifact, found in 1912 in a burial mound in Bulgaria:

A Romanized version of the inscription, which is in Greek letters, is as follows:
rolisteneasn / ereneatil / teanēskoa / razeadom / eantilezy / ptamiēe / raz / ēlta

Supposing that the key to the language may lie in repeated series of letters, I divided the text by the most common repetition— the five occurrences of the vowels “ea”:rolisten
easn / eren
eatil / t
eanēskoa / raz
eadom /eantilezy / ptamiēe / raz / ēlta

After I divided the text this way, I spotted that two of the repetitions bore an additional similarity to each other:eatil /eantilezy /

In the first case, “il” occurs after the vowels, with a “t” in between. In the second case, “il” also occurs, with “nt” in between.

No one who has studied a Classical language would fail to spot the significance of those letters. “t” and “nt” mark the singular and the plural of the third person verb in many ancient Indo-European languages.

If these were verb endings, then the repeated “il” could be a following subject or object to that verb.

I was particularly intrigued by the possibility that the “il” could be akin to the Latin demonstrative adjective for “that”: ille (singular) and illī (plural).

The appearance of the vowel “e” after the “il” appearing in the hypothetical plural series amounts to potential confirmation that these are indeed verb endings, since the plural in ancient Indo-European languages can be marked by an additional vowel.

If we posit that the language on this ring is more Italic in nature than the study purely of place names would have suggested, I would propose as a reading for the above forms, "May that one go" (eat il) and "May they go" (eant ile).

A forced rendering of the full text, which would resort to mere speculation of much of the inscription, will not be proposed here. (Indeed, not even 50% of the oldest Latin inscriptions, such as the Doenos Inscription [ca. 500 B.C.] can be confidently translated, though the later stage of the language is perfectly known.)

Even so, an Italic understanding of the inscription would suggest other possible recoveries. The first incidence of the /ea/ series could be read as eas, 'may you go' or even teneas 'may you hold'.

The series dom suggests a word akin to Latin domus 'house' (noted by Paul Kretschmer in "Glotta" [Zeitschrift für griechische und lateinische Sprache 7, pp. 90-91]).

I hope we someday find a long inscription somewhere in Bulgaria or Romania which will provide us with a language sample large enough to tell what Thracian and/or Dacian were really like. Until then, here’s to another summer sipping wine at a terrace in Bucharest, contemplating life in the land of the Dacians.


  1. This is fascinating! And it sounds like a lot of fun to try and decipher the language

  2. Maybe you can do some Indiana Jones-ing and find the inscription that breaks it all wide open.

  3. Interesting entry, it was nice to see a linguist go through the process of deciphering a text of which there is little prior knowledge.

  4. The answer is simple, so simple:


    Compare to present day Bulgarian:

    Rolistene i Nerenea fade down here but slain next to me you lie or
    English: Rolistene, I Nerenea Tiltea die calm near (you) my silent sleeping (husband), (me)
    who the children fed (brought up the children).

  5. it is not so simple Mr. Anonymus. What have you written it is not a language :
    Serafimov is also wrong .I know very well his work. His textt is not in Bulgarian old language.
    I could understand this text becouse I have understand that the letters have not the same value as in classical greek.It is not Greek alfabet but Trackian. you can see and you can listen this text as I have read.Listen carefully: this is the language !

  6. D-le Massey , soacră la Bucureşti , deci nevastă româncă ; în orice caz din România.....cunoscătoare bună de limbă română.
    D-ta ai intuit ceva cu EA, aşa este. EA este specific limbii române ca şi pronumele MIHE (mie).Ştii acolo la MIHE şi la PAZ PAZEA am spart eu textul.Atnci mi-am dat seama că literele nu au valorile greceşti aşa cum de ex nici literele englezeşti nu au valorile latineşti.De aceea d-ta şi alţii nu aţi reuşit să despărţiţi corect acest text; pt că extrapolaţi simplu valorile greceşti ale literelor pe un text în altă limbă. Tracii,romanii şi alţii au modificat citirea unor litere,chiar grecii antici nu le citeau toţi la fel.De ce atunci să fie folosit alfabetul clasic grec?
    Urmăreşte ,te rog, terminaţiile verbale pe textul meu şi gramatica textului.Soţia dv îl poate auzi citit de mine pe pagina mea de web. O să îţeleagă acest text antic care demonstrează clar că româna nu vine din latinâ ci este mai veche.
    I hope your wife will translate to you this text.

  7. Florin Croitoru
    then why it can be translated in bulgarian absoluttely correct and with sense at all?all of this words exist in modern day bulgarian

  8. Dear Anonymous,

    It's because you wanted it to sound like this. You may read it any way you want. Florin Croitoru read it in Romanian, and it makes perfect sense. So the criterion must be external, perhaps historical, in order to choose the right interpretation.

    Now, Romania, as we know, was the name of the Empire who conquered the ancient world, and also of the country north and south of the Lower Danube, inhabited by thracians continuously by autochtonous indo-europeans (and not Asian turkish peoples).

    Furthermore, as I understand from history books, by the time the ring was engraved, there were no Bulgarians, old or new, in Europe.

    Old Bulgarians were turkish, not thracian (indo-europeans) peoples, and they wandered in Asia, anywhere from Balkh to the Urals.

    They came in Europe with the Avaric chieftains, led by khans and khagans, only about a thousand years later than the moment the ring of Iezerovo was engraved.

    Old Bulgarians left no bloodline whatsoever, no inscriptions, no traditions, nothing, except some funeral tamgas. Names such as Asparuch khan, khan Krum and khan Ormutag are not thracian, but turkish.

    These old bulgarians attacked Constantinopolis for generations, because of the unspeakable wealth and promises of the imperial capital of Romania. They assaulted, plundered and pillaged the cities of Thracia until they were at last christened, some four hundred years after they had defeated the Lower Danube limes.

    Thracians, on the contrary, were there at any time you may wish to consider. They spoke no bulgarian, old or new. They spoke an indo-european, not a turkish language, and they continuously lived north and south of the Danube, for thousands of years, in spite of the invasion of Europe by Old Bulgarians which took place not earlier than 525 AD in consensual chronology.

    Even the royal bloodline of the czars in the later (Christened) house of Assan was Thraco-romanian. "Assanian" names are widespread north and south of Danube nowadays : Ionitza (Johannitius, Caloianul), Petru, Iovan, etc.

    I am therefore afraid that science, unlike our imagination, operates differently from the principle of "you see what you want to see".

    Otherwise, may I congratulate you on your work, which is highly commendable, erudite, and well presented, in a word great, were it not for the spurious historical premises.


  9. Check IGENIA results and then talk about lost Thracians. Thracians, Dacians, Ilirians were kin people even one "nation"

  10. Very interesting post!

    I have some questions I would like to ask you about the Thracian language. Is there a way to contact you?

  11. Hi. My name is Adrian, i am from Romania and I can truly say that te script of Ezerovo can't be readed in any current language, not even in Romanian. Most likely it is in Thracian ( or one of it's dialects - Dacian, Getic, Schytian, Misian, Ilirian, from wich the Romanian language derived ). I am a pioneer in sound symbolism studies ( now i am working on a large project, the identification of some phonosemantic morphemes in Indo European languages)and due to my knowledge of Persian language, and others Indo - Europeans languages I have an own version of the translation that something like: ROLIS TENE A SNERENE ATILTE ANES KO A RAZE A DO ME ANTILE ZUPTA MIEE RAZEL TA. in Romanian sound like this: TINE INELUL CU SMERENIE ATATIA ANI CU ZILE ALE MELE INAINTEA SUTEI MII DE ZILE ALE TALE In english : KEEP THE RING WITH DEVOTION SO MANY YEARS WITH MY DAYS BEFORE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS DAYS OF YOURS
    ROLIS - Ring. romanian Inel - ring, Rola - roll, to roll, roller
    TENE - keep. romanian Tine - keep
    A SNERENE - devotion . romanian Smerenie - devotion
    ATILTE - so many. romanian Atiatia - so many
    ANES - years. romanian Ani - years
    KO - with. romanian Cu - with
    RAZE - days. romanian zile - days, Raze - ray of sunlight. In persian language ROOZ (RUZ) mean DAY
    A DO ME - mine. romanian Ale mele - mine
    ANTILE - before. romanian Inainte - before, Latin Antes - before
    ZUPTA - hundred. romanian Suta - hundred
    MIEE - thouand. romanian mie - thousand
    RAZEL - the days. zilele - the dayz, articulated with -EL
    TA - yours. romanian Ta - your. tale - yours

  12. Smart post and so good blog
    thanks for you good information and i hope to subscribe and visit my blog Ancient Greece and more Ancient Greece Government thanks again admin