In Ptolemy's Geography, two people are mentioned by the name of Thamyditai (6.7.4, pg 402 of this book) and Oaditae (6.7.21, pg 406 of this book)

Here's the scanned mention of Thamyditaienter image description here

Here's the scanned mention of Oaditaeenter image description here

My question is, since -tai seems to be common to both, what does it signify?

Edit: The original names of these two people in their native tongues are Thamud and 'Aad

3 Answers 3


Ptolemy’s Thamyditai are almost certainly the Thamūd mentioned in the Qur’an and also in epigraphic material. It is a Greek derivative with the suffix -ītēs, plural -ītai. Whether his Oaditai are the Qur’anic ʻĀd is however debatable. If they are the same name the initial O of the Greek form will require explanation.

  • 1
    In fairness—and this is not particularly convincing evidence, I admit—the Greeks must have seen some resemblance between /o/ and ayin, since they used the latter's letter to represent the former in their alphabet.
    – Draconis
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 19:58
  • (Regardless, I agree, Aditai seems more likely.)
    – Draconis
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 19:59
  • 2
    @Draconis. We are talking about events from very different periods (the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet in hoary antiquity and the transcription of foreign place names in the Hellenistic period). I cannot think of any instances of the representation of 'ayin by O.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 20:57
  • True, that's why it's not particularly convincing
    – Draconis
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 21:17

It seems like those ethnicons belong to Semitic people and the Greek plural -ai has been added to them. So if the native name of a single person was Thamidit, the Hellenized plural in Greek would be Thamiditai. Alternatevely, a -it- suffix has been added to a native name Thamid-, which is sometimes used as an agent suffix, origin, ethnicons etc.

There are Greek ethnicons which have similar ending. For example Πενταπολῖται (Pentapolitai) which is a composite word from pente 'five' and polis 'city'. The word for citizen in Greek is πολίτης where the suffix is actually -itēs and the plural is πολίται with a suffix -ιται.

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    Actually, the names are Thamud and Aad in their native Arabic. That would perhaps make -itai, a suffix, right?
    – Daud
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 7:23
  • 1
    @Daud Yes! -it- to be precise and then depending whether it is singular or plural it is going to be -ίτης or -ίται respectively.
    – Midas
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 7:48
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    And @Daud that Greek -it- suffix, indicating that someone is from a town or place, has some usage in English; e.g. suburbanite. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 10:03
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    In short: the Greek suffix is not -tai, but -ītēs, plural -ītai.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 9:53

As the other replies mention, the suffix here is -ῑ́της -ī́tēs (-ῑ́ται -ī́tai in the nominative plural), a back formation from πολῑ́της polī́tēs "citizen". It's commonly used to translate the Semitic nisbah suffix -ī common in gentilics

There is another source of Greek gentilics ending in -ται (less relevant to these specific names), which is from a Scytho-Sarmatian plural suffix (cf Ossetian, the only surviving Scytho-Sarmatian language's plural suffix -тӕ -tӕ). This is conventionally Romanised as -tae though (presumably by analogy to Latin 1st declension feminines) and can be seen in the names of the Getae, Massagetae, Thyssagetae, Tyragetae, Sarmatae (Sarmatians), and possibly Skolotoi (the endonym of the Royal Scythians)

  • But Ptolemy specifically locates the Oaditai in Northern Arabia. Scytho-Sarmatian is thus not relevant, at least not for these.
    – fdb
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 11:43
  • agreed. That's why I said "less relevant to these specific names". The second paragraph was addressing the more general question as in the title of Greek gentilics ending in -tai
    – Tristan
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 13:08
  • that is fair enough.
    – fdb
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 14:06

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