There was a great cultural borrowing of ideas from Greece to Rome, and a number of Greek words ended up being borrowed to Latin. But it must have happened the other way, too, at some point. What is the earliest known word borrowed from Latin to Greek? I am not looking for cognates, but something that came from Latin to Greek.

I know there cannot be a decisive answer to "what is the first word of this kind?", but there can be good hints. The goal is to understand the earliest loans through examples, so the question could be reworded more carefully as: What are some examples of early (as early as possible) loan words from Latin to Greek, and how old are they?

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    Look what I found! Not sure how to look for earlier ones
    – Rafael
    Mar 28, 2018 at 16:38
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    @Rafael Interesting! That's certainly a good starting point. The page says that those words entered Greek language in the Byzantine era, but it's Wikipedia without citations so I'm not surprised if some are older. I assume there are loans from the centuries following Roman conquest of Greece, but I don't know how to look for them.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Mar 28, 2018 at 17:25

1 Answer 1


This may be useful: Eleanor Dickey (https://www.academia.edu/8113495/Latin_loanwords_in_Greek_A_preliminary_analysis_2012_, footnote 36, page 67) distinguishes between Latin words as foreign words, and Latin words as integrated loanwords. Her corpus of these Latin loanwords integrated into Greek is 'not yet finalized' but she claims there are 52 first attested in the second and first centuries BC.

Panagiotis Filos (https://books.google.nl/books?id=Xl8pjHVUNlgC, from page xxxix) lists many Latin loanwords, but he doesn't sort them by date. Apparently there are corpora by Hofmann and Daris that are sorted by date.

I thought Professor Dickey might be able to answer this question, as someone whose 'main current research project is a study of the influence of Latin on Greek during the Roman empire, particularly Latin loanwords that were integrated into Greek to the extent of being used by Greek speakers who did not speak Latin' (https://www.reading.ac.uk/classics/about/staff/e-dickey.aspx).

So on 4-5-'18 at 20:45 Dutch time I wrote to her (omissis salutationibus):

Do you happen to know what the single earliest known Latin loanword or mention of a Latin word in Greek is? I'm asking for the people at What is the earliest known word borrowed from Latin to Greek? (and for myself). In trying to answer this question, I came across your work(https://www.academia.edu/8113495/Latin_loanwords_in_Greek_A_preliminary_analysis_2012_). You write (in footnote 36 on page 67), that you have an unfinalized corpus of around 650 integrated loanwords, of which around 52 are first seen in the second and first centuries BC. Have you since finalized that corpus? If it's not possible to name the very earliest attestation, would you please share your list of the 52 oldest loanwords, or just the oldest few? Do you know what Daris and Hofmann consider to be the earliest Latin loanwords (according to their broader definition which apparently includes 'non-integrated' loanwords or mentions of Latin words as foreign words)? May I cite your reply in my public answer at the Latin language StackExchange?

And she answered at 23:15 (my emphasis):

This is a debated question; for example Cervenka-Ehrenstrasser thinks the earliest loan is διάριον, and Daris would no doubt agree: that is the earliest loan in the papyri, from the 2nd century BC. But the earliest one I have so far found anywhere is οὐγγία 'one-twelfth', from Latin uncia: this goes back to the 5th century BC (see LSJ). There are a couple of other very early words that could rival it chronologically, but they are not certainly from Latin: λίτρα 'pound', Ἰταλία 'Italy'. Hofmann probably has more very early words, because he includes words from all the pre-Roman languages of Italy, but he doesn't give dates and doesn't say which word he thinks is earliest.
Yes, you may cite my answer. I attach my entry for οὐγγία as it currently stands.
I am still plugging away at that corpus, which is close to finalized but not quite there yet, so it is still possible that I'll find an earlier word somewhere.

Attached was a pdf with this text:

οὐγγία, οὐγκία, οὐνκία, ὀγκία, ὀνκία, γουγκία, ὠνκία, or ὠκία (-ας, ἡ) ‘one-twelfth’ (esp. of an inheritance) is from ūncia ‘one-twelfth’. Papyri/ostraca: common including P.Oxy. 33.2679 line 8 (2nd), P.Oxy. 12.1449 line 49 (3rd), P.Lond. 5.1823 line 7 (4th), P.Gen. 4.186 line 29 (5th), P.Oxy. 44.3204 line 23 (6th). Inscriptions: common including SEG 45:1423.1 lines 1 etc. (5th/4th BC), Agora 21 Hb 3 (3rd BC), Agora 21 He 7 (1st), SEG 9:176 lines 9 etc. (2nd), IK Arykanda 122 (3rd), Agora 21 Hb 22 (4th), IGPannonia Add. p. 47,1 (5th), SEG 51:1392 line 4 (6th). Literature: very common including Epicharmus fr. 203 Kaibel (cited in Pausanias ο 3) (5th BC); Aristotle, frag. 510 (4th BC, marked as Sicilian); Dioscorides, De materia medica 1.10.2 (1st); Galen vi.451.2 Kühn (2nd); Zosimus, Περὶ καύσεως σωμάτων vol. 2 p. 181.1 (3rd/4th); Oribasius, Collectiones medicae 5.25.36 (4th); Sozomenus, Historia ecclesiastica 6.29.5 (5th); Hesychius often as part of glosses (e.g. δ 1486, δ 2352) (5/6th); Cyrillus, Vita Sabae p. 107.25 (6th); Theophilus Antecessor once in Latin script (2.14.5 uncia) and often in Greek script (e.g. 2.14.5) (6th). Post-antique: common; see LBG s.v. ὀγγία. Modern οὐγγιά ‘ounce’ (Pring 1965; Meyer 1895: 50). Notes: Enters Greek very early, via Sicily, but unlike other words with this history does seem to come from Latin and also seems to become an integrated loan in Greek of all regions. Cf. Chantraine (1968-80 s.v.), Beekes (2009 s.v.), Lejeune (1993: 2-3), Tribulato (2012: 174, 255-6), Hofmann (1989: 301-2), Daris (1991: 79), Immisch (1885: 344), Triantaphyllides (1892: 268), Frisk (1954-72: III.159), LSJ (specifically saying it’s Latin and comes via Sicilian Greek), LSJ supplement, Lampe (1961 s.v. ὀγκία).

Here are some other examples from Dickey 2012 (pages 61-66):

  • πατέλλα 'dish' < patella
  • κοχλιάριον 'spoon' < cochleare
  • ἀργεντάριον 'bank' < argentaria
  • στρικτόν and καλίγια 'types of footwear' < strictus and caliga
  • ἄρουλαν 'brazier' < arula
  • πιγκέρνης 'bar-keeper' < pincerna
  • φίβλα 'safety pin' < fibula
  • ὁ/ὀσπίτιον 'house' < hospitium
  • σουδάρια 'handkerchiefs' < sudarium
  • σιμικίνθια 'aprons' < semicinctum
  • φραγελλώσας 'having whipped' < flagellare
  • βράκας 'trousers' < bracae
  • μαρούλια 'lettuce' < amarus 'bitter'
  • κῶδιξ 'book' < codex
  • τίτλoς 'title' < titulus
  • μεμβράνα 'parchment' < membrana
  • ταβέλλα 'writing tablet, note' < tabella
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    Thank you! This is useful indeed. Could you add a couple of example words to the answer? It is hard to say decisively that some word is the earliest one of its kind, so any examples are good. (There is also the issue that links can rot and Google Books doesn't show everything to everyone, so reliance on links is a little tricky.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 4, 2018 at 18:14
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    You're welcome. I've added some examples.
    – Jasper May
    May 4, 2018 at 19:32
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    And prof. Dickey replied! According to her, it's οὐγγία from uncia, going back to the fifth (!) century BC.
    – Jasper May
    May 4, 2018 at 21:38
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    Great! Those are some nice examples, and I never imagined there would be so old loans. She would also be warmly welcome to participate on this site directly.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 4, 2018 at 22:10

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