Balearic Islands Etymology

The official name of the Balearic Islands in Catalan is Illes Balears, while in Spanish, they are known as the Islas Baleares.

The ancient Greeks usually adopted local names into their own language, but they called the islands Γυμνησίαι/Gymnesiai, unlike the native inhabitants of the islands, as well as the Carthaginians and Romans, who called them Βαλεαρεῖς/Baleareis.

The term “Balearic” may derive from Greek (Γυμνησίαι/Gymnesiae and Βαλλιαρεῖς/Balliareis). In Latin, it is Baleares.

Of the various theories on the origins of the two ancient Greek and Latin names for the islands—Gymnasiae and Baleares—classical sources provide two.

According to the Lycophron’s Alexandra verses, the islands were called Γυμνησίαι/Gymnesiae (γυμνός/gymnos, meaning naked in Greek) because its inhabitants were often nude, probably because of the balmy year-round climate. However, Strabo thought that Gymnesiai probably referred to the light equipment used by the Balearic troops γυμνῆται/gymnetae.

Most of the ancient Greek and Roman writers thought that the name of the people, (βαλεαρεῖς/baleareis, from βάλλω/ballo: ancient Greek meaning “to launch”) was based on their skill as slingers. However, Strabo thought the name was of Phoenician origin. He observed that it was the Phoenician word for lightly armoured soldiers, which the ancient Greeks called γυμνῆτας/gymnetas. The root bal arguably suggests a Phoenician origin; Strabo, in Volume III, Book XIV of his Geography suggests that the name comes from the Phoenician balearides.

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