Liburnian language

Native to Southwestern Croatia
Region Northwestern Balkans
Ethnicity Liburnians
Extinct Late Antiquity
  • (unclassified)

    • Liburnian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xli
Linguist list
Glottolog None

The Liburnian language is an extinct language which was spoken by the ancient Liburnians, who occupied Liburnia in classical times. Classification of the Liburnian language is not clearly established; it is reckoned as an Indo-European language with significant proportion of the Pre-Indo-European elements from wider area of the ancient Mediterranean.


No writings in Liburnian are known. The only Liburnian linguistic remains are Liburnian toponyms and some family and personal names in Liburnia, in Latinized form from the 1st century AD. Smaller differences found in the archaeological material of narrower regions in Liburnia are in a certain measure reflected also in these scarce linguistic remains. This caused many speculations about their language.

Studying onomastics of Roman province of Dalmatia, Géza Alföldy has concluded that the Liburni and Histri belonged to the Venetic language area.[1][2] In particular, some Liburnian anthroponyms show strong Venetic affinities, a few similar names and common roots, such as Vols-, Volt-, and Host- (< PIE *ghos-ti-, "stranger, guest, host"). Liburnian and Venetic names sometimes also share suffixes in common, such as -icus and -ocus.

Jürgen Untermann was focused more to Liburnian onomastics and has linked only Liburnians at the eastern Istrian coast to Veneti; he has defined three groups of names: one in northern Liburnia structurally similar to those of Histri and Veneti; another linked to the Dalmatae, Iapodes and other Illyrians in the Liburnian mainland in the south of their territory; and a third group of names common throughout all Liburnian territory without any relations to their neighborhood.[3][4]

Names of local deities also had different regional distributions, while toponyms, in both structure and form, show more diversity and wider dispersion, like Pre-Indo-European (Mediterranean), Indo-European and local features, according to R. Katičić, who has included Liburnian toponyms into study and have stated that they had been separate entirety, ethnically and by language.[5] S. Čače has noted that appurtenance of the Liburnian language to the North-Adriatic area rather than to Iapodes and Dalmatae is hard to prove due to scarce remains.[6] The Liburnians were essentially different from Histri and Veneti, culturally and ethnically, seen especially in burial tradition, by which they were the closest to Dalmatae. Liburnian language developed on the Indo-European basis, but strong traditions were dragged from the Pre-Indo-European times, which is especially noticed in their social relations, undoubtly related to their separate cultural development, territorial isolation and ethnical integration and features.[7][8][9]

Except toponym Liburnum in Liguria, which caused some thinkings of Liburnian name being related to Asian MinorEtruscan heritage as an older Mediterranean language area,[10][11] other toponomastic and onomastic congruences are found between Liburnia (and some other regions of Roman Illyricum) and Asian Minor provinces of Lydia, Caria, Pisidia, Isauria, Pamphylia, Lycaonia and Cilicia, especially between Liburnia and Lycia, followed by similarities in elements of social organization, such as matriarchate and ginecocracy (gynaikokratia) and numerical organization of territory, the latter in Adriatic region and nearby recorded also in Etruria, Messapia and southern Italy.[12] Toponomastic and onomastic relations to Asia Minor could also refer to possible Liburnian presence in movings of the Sea Peoples.[13]

Features shared by Liburnian and other ancient languages have been found in rare Liburnian language remains, names and toponyms recorded during the Iron Age and in the beginning of Common Era, which have shown insufficient for any more precise linguistic classification, except development on the Indo-European basis with significant transition of the Pre-Indo-European elements.

The Liburnians were conquered by the Romans in 35 BC, but despite Romanization, especially in the larger cities, Liburnians retained their traditions to the 4th century BC, as attested by the archaeology.[14] The Liburnian language eventually was replaced by Latin, undergoing language death probably during Late Antiquity.



The single name plus patronymic formula common among Illyrians is rare among Liburnians. In a region where the Roman three-name formula (praenomen, nomen gentile, cognomen: Caius Julius Caesar) spread at an early date, a native two-name formula appears in several variants. Personal name plus family name is found in southern Liburnia, while personal name plus family name plus patronymic is found throughout the Liburnian area, for example: Avita Suioca Vesclevesis, Velsouna Suioca Vesclevesis f(ilia), Avita Aquillia L(uci) f(ilia), Volsouna Oplica Pl(a)etoris f(ilia), Vendo Verica Triti f(ilius).

Approximate distribution of languages in Iron Age Italy during the sixth century BC.

The majority of the preceding names are unknown among the eastern and southern neighbors of the Liburnians (Dalmatae, etc.), yet many have Venetic complements. The following names are judged to be exclusively Liburnian, yet one (Buzetius) is also attested among the neighboring Iapodes to the north and northeast:


See also


  1. Géza Alföldy, Die Namensgebung der Urbevölkerung in der römischen Provinz Dalmatien. Beiträge zur Namenforschung 15, 1964
  2. G. Alföldy, Die Personennamen im römischen Dalmatien, Heidelberg, 1969
  3. J. Untermann, Die venetischen Personennamen, Wiesbaden, 1961
  4. J. Untermann, Venetisches in Dalmatien, GCBI 5, 1970
  5. R. Katičić, Ancient languages of the Balkans, Trends in linguistics 4, 5, The Hague and Paris, 1976
  6. S. Čače, Liburnija u razdoblju od 4. do 1. st. prije nove ere, Zadar, 1985, 101-120
  7. D. Rendić-Miočević, Onomastičke studije s područja Liburna, Zbornik Instituta za historijske nauke u Zadru 1, 1955
  8. M. Suić, Zapadne granice Ilira u svijetlu historijskih izvora, Simpozijum, 1966
  9. Š. Batović, Liburnska kultura, Matica Hrvatska i Arheološki muzej Zadar, Zadar, 2005, UDK: 904 (398 Liburnija), ISBN 953-6419-50-5, pages 65, 66
  10. M. Fluss, Liburni, PWRE. Bd. V, 583
  11. M. Jokl in Ebert, Reallex. der Vorgeschichte, VI, 46-47
  12. M. Zaninović, On some relations between Anatolia and Dalmatia, Proceedings of the Xth International Congress of Classical Studies, Ankara-Izmir, 20-30, Sept. 1973, Ankara 1978, 81-93
  13. M. Zaninović, Liburnia Militaris, Opusc. Archeol. 13, 43-67 (1988), UDK 904.930.2(497.13) »65«, page 48
  14. M. Zaninović, Liburnia Militaris, Opusc. Archeol. 13, 43–67 (1988), UDK 904.930.2(497.13) »65«, page 59


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