The Etruscan language (/ɪˈtrʌskən/) was the spoken and written language of the Etruscan civilization, in Italy, in the ancient region of Etruria (modern Tuscany plus western Umbria and northern Latium) and in parts of Corsica, Campania, Veneto, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. Etruscan influenced Latin, but was eventually completely superseded by it. The Etruscans left around 13,000 inscriptions which have been found so far, only a small minority of which are of significant length; some bilingual inscriptions with texts also in Latin, Greek, or Phoenician; and a few dozen loanwords, such as the name Roma, but Etruscan's influence was significant. Attested from 700 BC to AD 50, the relation of Etruscan to other languages has been a source of long-running speculation and study, with it being referred to at times as an isolate, one of the Tyrsenian languages, and a number of other less well-known possibilities.
Nouns show four cases, singular and plural numbers, and masculine and feminine genders.
Phonologically, Etruscan appears uncomplicated, with a four-vowel system and an apparent contrast between aspirated and unaspirated stops. The language shows phonetic change over time, with the loss and then re-establishment of word-internal vowels due to the effect of Etruscan's strong word-initial stress.
Etruscan religion influenced that of the Romans, and many of the few surviving Etruscan language artifacts are of votive or religious significance. Etruscan was written in an alphabet derived from the Greek alphabet; this alphabet was the source of the Latin alphabet. The Etruscan language is also believed to be the source of certain important cultural words of Western Europe such as 'military' and 'people', which do not have obvious Indo-European roots.
The Cippus Perusinus, a stone tablet bearing 46 lines of incised Etruscan text, one of the longest extant Etruscan inscriptions. 3rd or 2nd century BC.
|Native to||Ancient Etruria|
|Old Italic script|
Etruscan literacy was widespread over the Mediterranean shores, as evidenced by about 13,000 inscriptions (dedications, epitaphs, etc.), most fairly short, but some of considerable length. They date from about 700 BC.
The Etruscans had a rich literature, as noted by Latin authors. Livy and Cicero were both aware that highly specialized Etruscan religious rites were codified in several sets of books written in Etruscan under the generic Latin title Etrusca Disciplina. The Libri Haruspicini dealt with divination from the entrails of the sacrificed animal, while the Libri Fulgurales expounded the art of divination by observing lightning. A third set, the Libri Rituales, might have provided a key to Etruscan civilization: its wider scope embraced Etruscan standards of social and political life, as well as ritual practices. According to the 4th century Latin writer Maurus Servius Honoratus, a fourth set of Etruscan books existed; dealing with animal gods, but it is unlikely that any scholar living in that era could have read Etruscan. However, only one book (as opposed to inscription), the Liber Linteus, survived, and only because the linen on which it was written was used as mummy wrappings. By AD 100, Etruscan had been replaced by Latin. Around 180, the Latin author Aulus Gellius mentions Etruscan alongside the Gaulish language in an anecdote.
At the time of its extinction, only a few educated Romans with antiquarian interests, such as Marcus Terentius Varro, could read Etruscan. The last person known to have been able to read Etruscan was the Roman emperor Claudius (10 BC – AD 54), who authored a treatise in 20 volumes on the Etruscans, called Tyrrenikà (now lost), and compiled a dictionary (also lost) by interviewing the last few elderly rustics who still spoke the language. Plautia Urgulanilla, the emperor's first wife, was Etruscan.
Etruscan had some influence on Latin, as a few dozen Etruscan words and names were borrowed by the Romans, some of which remain in modern languages, among which possibly columna "column", voltur "vulture", tuba "trumpet", vagina "sheath", populus "people".
Inscriptions have been found in north-west and west-central Italy, in the region that even now bears the name of the Etruscan civilization, Tuscany (from Latin tuscī "Etruscans"), as well as in modern Latium north of Rome, in today's Umbria west of the Tiber, in Campania and in the Po Valley to the north of Etruria. This range may indicate a maximum Italian homeland where the language was at one time spoken.
An inscription found on Lemnos in 1886 is in an alphabet similar to that used to write the Etruscan language and the older Phrygian inscriptions, all derived from Euboean scripts (Western Greek alphabet, alphabets of Asia Minor). Several scholars believe that the Lemnian language could have arrived in the Aegean Sea during the Late Bronze Age, when Mycenaean rulers recruited groups of mercenaries from Sicily, Sardinia and various parts of the Italian peninsula.
The phonology of Etruscan is known through the alternation of Greek and Etruscan letters in some inscriptions (for example, the Iguvine Tablets), and many individual words are known through loans into or from Greek and Latin, as well as explanations of Etruscan words by ancient authors. A few concepts of word formation have been formulated (see below). Modern knowledge of the language is incomplete.
In 1998, Helmut Rix put forward the view that Etruscan is related to other members of what he called the "Tyrsenian language family". Rix's Tyrsenian family of languages—composed of Rhaetian, anciently spoken in the eastern Alps, and Lemnian, together with Etruscan—has gained acceptance among scholars. Rix's Tyrsenian family has been confirmed by Stefan Schumacher,  Norbert Oettinger, Carlo De Simone  and Simona Marchesini. Common features between Etruscan, Rhaetian, Lemnian have been found in morphology, phonology, and syntax. On the other hand, lexical correspondences are rarely documented, due to the scanty number of Rhaetian and Lemnian texts, and, above all, due to the very ancient date at which these languages split, because the split must have taken place before the Bronze Age. Tyrsenian family, or Common Tyrrhenic, in this case is often considered to be Paleo-European and to predate the arrival of Indo-European languages in southern Europe.
It has been proposed to possibly be part of a wider Paleo-European "Aegean" language family, which would also include Minoan, Eteocretan (possibly descended from Minoan) and Eteocypriot. This has been proposed by G. M. Facchetti, and supported by S. Yatsemirsky, referring to some similarities between Etruscan and Lemnian on one hand, and Minoan and Eteocretan on the other. It has also been proposed that this language family is related to the pre-Indo-European languages of Anatolia, based upon place name analysis.
Etruscan was traditionally considered to be a language isolate. In the first century BC, the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus stated that the Etruscan language was unlike any other. Giuliano Bonfante, a leading scholar in the field, argued in 1990 that "it resembles no other language in Europe or elsewhere".
The interest in Etruscan antiquities and the Etruscan language found its modern origin in a book by a Renaissance Dominican friar, Annio da Viterbo, a cabalist and orientalist now remembered mainly for literary forgeries. In 1498, Annio published his antiquarian miscellany titled Antiquitatum variarum (in 17 volumes) where he put together a theory in which both the Hebrew and Etruscan languages were said to originate from a single source, the "Aramaic" spoken by Noah and his descendants, founders of the Etruscan city, Viterbo. Annio also started to excavate Etruscan tombs, unearthing sarcophagi and inscriptions, and made a bold attempt at deciphering the Etruscan language.
The 19th century saw numerous attempts to reclassify Etruscan. Ideas of Semitic origins found supporters until this time. In 1858, the last attempt was made by Johann Gustav Stickel, Jena University in his Das Etruskische […] als semitische Sprache erwiesen. A reviewer concluded that Stickel brought forward every possible argument which would speak for that hypothesis, but he proved the opposite of what he had attempted to do. In 1861, Robert Ellis proposed that Etruscan was related to Armenian, which is nowadays acknowledged as an Indo-European language. Exactly 100 years later, a relationship with Albanian was to be advanced by Zecharia Mayani, but Albanian is also known to be an Indo-European language.
Several theories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries connected Etruscan to Uralic or even Altaic languages. In 1874, the British scholar Isaac Taylor brought up the idea of a genetic relationship between Etruscan and Hungarian, of which also Jules Martha would approve in his exhaustive study La langue étrusque (1913). In 1911, the French orientalist Baron Carra de Vaux suggested a connection between Etruscan and the Altaic languages. The Hungarian connection was recently revived by Mario Alinei, Emeritus Professor of Italian Languages at the University of Utrecht. Alinei's proposal has been rejected by Etruscan experts such as Giulio M. Facchetti, Finno-Ugric experts such as Angela Marcantonio, and by Hungarian historical linguists such as Bela Brogyanyi.
The idea of a relation between the language of the Minoan Linear A scripts was taken into consideration as the main hypothesis by Michael Ventris before he discovered that, in fact, the language behind the later Linear B script was Mycenean, a Greek dialect. Giulio Mauro Facchetti, a researcher who has dealt with both Etruscan and Minoan, put forward this hypothesis again in 2001, comparing some Minoan words of known meaning with similar Etruscan words.
Others have suggested that Tyrsenian languages may yet be distantly related to early Indo-European languages, such as those of the Anatolian branch. More recently, Robert S. P. Beekes argued in 2002 that the people later known as the Lydians and Etruscans had originally lived in northwest Anatolia, with a coastline to the Sea of Marmara, whence they were driven by the Phrygians circa 1200 BC, leaving a remnant known in antiquity as the Tyrsenoi. A segment of this people moved south-west to Lydia, becoming known as the Lydians, while others sailed away to take refuge in Italy, where they became known as Etruscans. This account draws on the well-known story by Herodotus (I, 94) of the Lydian origin of the Etruscans or Tyrrhenians, famously rejected Dionysius of Halicarnassus (book I), partly on the authority of Xanthus, a Lydian historian, who had no knowledge of the story, and partly on what he judged to be the different languages, laws, and religions of the two peoples.
In 2006, Frederik Woudhuizen went further on Herodotus' traces, suggesting that Etruscan belongs to the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European family, specifically to Luwian. Woudhuizen revived a conjecture to the effect that the Tyrsenians came from Anatolia, including Lydia, whence they were driven by the Cimmerians in the early Iron Age, 750–675 BC, leaving some colonists on Lemnos. He makes a number of comparisons of Etruscan to Luwian and asserts that Etruscan is modified Luwian. He accounts for the non-Luwian features as a Mysian influence: "deviations from Luwian [...] may plausibly be ascribed to the dialect of the indigenous population of Mysia." According to Woudhuizen, the Etruscans were initially colonizing the Latins, bringing the alphabet from Anatolia.
The Latin script owes its existence to the Etruscan alphabet, which was adapted for Latin in the form of the Old Italic script. The Etruscan alphabet employs a Euboean variant of the Greek alphabet using the letter digamma and was in all probability transmitted through Pithecusae and Cumae, two Euboean settlements in southern Italy. This system is ultimately derived from West Semitic scripts.
The Etruscans recognized a 26-letter alphabet, which makes an early appearance incised for decoration on a small bucchero terracotta lidded vase in the shape of a cockerel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca 650–600 BC. The full complement of 26 has been termed the model alphabet. The Etruscans did not use four letters of it, mainly because Etruscan did not have the voiced stops b, d and g; and also no o. They innovated one letter for f.
Writing was from right to left except in archaic inscriptions, which occasionally used boustrophedon. An example found at Cerveteri used left to right. In the earliest inscriptions, the words are continuous. From the sixth century BC, they are separated by a dot or a colon, which symbol might also be used to separate syllables. Writing was phonetic; the letters represented the sounds and not conventional spellings. On the other hand, many inscriptions are highly abbreviated and often casually formed, so the identification of individual letters is sometimes difficult. Spelling might vary from city to city, probably reflecting differences of pronunciation.
Speech featured a heavy stress on the first syllable of a word, causing syncopation by weakening of the remaining vowels, which then were not represented in writing: Alcsntre for Alexandros, Rasna for Rasena. This speech habit is one explanation of the Etruscan "impossible consonant clusters". The resonants, however, may have been syllabic, accounting for some of the clusters (see below under Consonants). In other cases, the scribe sometimes inserted a vowel: Greek Hēraklēs became Hercle by syncopation and then was expanded to Herecele. Pallottino regarded this variation in vowels as "instability in the quality of vowels" and accounted for the second phase (e.g. Herecele) as "vowel harmony, i.e., of the assimilation of vowels in neighboring syllables ...."
The writing system had two historical phases: the archaic from the seventh to fifth centuries BC, which used the early Greek alphabet, and the later from the fourth to first centuries BC, which modified some of the letters. In the later period, syncopation increased.
The alphabet went on in modified form after the language disappeared. In addition to being the source of the Roman alphabet, it has been suggested that it passed northward into Veneto and from there through Raetia into the Germanic lands, where it became the Elder Futhark alphabet, the oldest form of the runes.
The Etruscan corpus is edited in the Thesaurus Linguae Etruscae (TLE).
The Pyrgi Tablets are a bilingual text in Etruscan and Phoenician engraved on three gold leaves, one for the Phoenician and two for the Etruscan. The Etruscan language portion has 16 lines and 37 words. The date is roughly 500 BC.
The tablets were found in 1964 by Massimo Pallottino during an excavation at the ancient Etruscan port of Pyrgi, now Santa Severa. The only new Etruscan word that could be extracted from close analysis of the tablets was the word for "three", ci.
According to Rix and his collaborators, only two unified (though fragmentary) texts are available in Etruscan:
Some additional longer texts are:
The main material repository of Etruscan civilization, from the modern perspective, is its tombs, all other public and private buildings having been dismantled and the stone reused centuries ago. The tombs are the main source of Etruscan portables, provenance unknown, in collections throughout the world. Their incalculable value has created a brisk black market in Etruscan objets d'art – and equally brisk law enforcement effort, as it is illegal to remove any objects from Etruscan tombs without authorization from the Italian government.
The magnitude of the task involved in cataloguing them means that the total number of tombs is unknown. They are of many types. Especially plentiful are the hypogeal or "underground" chambers or system of chambers cut into tuff and covered by a tumulus. The interior of these tombs represents a habitation of the living stocked with furniture and favorite objects. The walls may display painted murals, the predecessor of wallpaper. Tombs identified as Etruscan date from the Villanovan period to about 100 BC, when presumably the cemeteries were abandoned in favor of Roman ones. Some of the major cemeteries are as follows:
See Votive gifts.
A speculum is a circular or oval hand-mirror used predominantly by Etruscan women. Speculum is Latin; the Etruscan word is malena or malstria. Specula were cast in bronze as one piece or with a tang into which a wooden, bone, or ivory handle fitted. The reflecting surface was created by polishing the flat side. A higher percentage of tin in the mirror improved its ability to reflect. The other side was convex and featured intaglio or cameo scenes from mythology. The piece was generally ornate.
About 2,300 specula are known from collections all over the world. As they were popular plunderables, the provenance of only a minority is known. An estimated time window is 530–100 BC. Most probably came from tombs.
Many bear inscriptions naming the persons depicted in the scenes, so they are often called picture bilinguals. In 1979, Massimo Pallottino, then president of the Istituto di Studi Etruschi ed Italici initiated the Committee of the Corpus Speculorum Etruscanorum, which resolved to publish all the specula and set editorial standards for doing so.
Since then, the committee has grown, acquiring local committees and representatives from most institutions owning Etruscan mirror collections. Each collection is published in its own fascicle by diverse Etruscan scholars.
A cista is a bronze container of circular, ovoid, or more rarely rectangular shape used by women for the storage of sundries. They are ornate, often with feet and lids to which figurines may be attached. The internal and external surfaces bear carefully crafted scenes usually from mythology, usually intaglio, or rarely part intaglio, part cameo.
Cistae date from the Roman Republic of the fourth and third centuries BC in Etruscan contexts. They may bear various short inscriptions concerning the manufacturer or owner or subject matter. The writing may be Latin, Etruscan, or both. Excavations at Praeneste, an Etruscan city which became Roman, turned up about 118 cistae, one of which has been termed "the Praeneste cista" or "the Ficoroni cista" by art analysts, with special reference to the one manufactured by Novios Plutius and given by Dindia Macolnia to her daughter, as the archaic Latin inscription says. All of them are more accurately termed "the Praenestine cistae".
Among the most plunderable portables from the Etruscan tombs of Etruria are the finely engraved gemstones set in patterned gold to form circular or ovoid pieces intended to go on finger rings. Of the magnitude of one centimeter, they are dated to the Etruscan floruit from the second half of the sixth to the first centuries BC. The two main theories of manufacture are native Etruscan and Greek. The materials are mainly dark red carnelian, with agate and sard entering usage from the third to the first centuries BC, along with purely gold finger rings with a hollow engraved bezel setting. The engravings, mainly cameo, but sometimes intaglio, depict scarabs at first and then scenes from Greek mythology, often with heroic personages called out in Etruscan. The gold setting of the bezel bears a border design, such as cabling.
Etruscan-minted coins can be dated between 5th and 3rd centuries BC. Use of the 'Chalcidian' standard, based on the silver unit of 5.8 grams, indicates that this custom, like the alphabet, came from Greece. Roman coinage later supplanted Etruscan, but the basic Roman coin, the sesterce, is believed to have been based on the 2.5-denomination Etruscan coin. Etruscan coins have turned up in caches or individually in tombs and in excavations seemingly at random, and concentrated, of course, in Etruria.
Etruscan coins were in gold, silver, and bronze, the gold and silver usually having been struck on one side only. The coins often bore a denomination, sometimes a minting authority name, and a cameo motif. Gold denominations were in units of silver; silver, in units of bronze. Full or abbreviated names are mainly Pupluna (Populonia), Vatl or Veltuna (Vetulonia), Velathri (Volaterrae), Velzu or Velznani (Volsinii) and Cha for Chamars (Camars). Insignia are mainly heads of mythological characters or depictions of mythological beasts arranged in a symbolic motif: Apollo, Zeus, Culsans, Athena, Hermes, griffin, gorgon, male sphinx, hippocamp, bull, snake, eagle, or other creatures which had symbolic significance.
In the tables below, conventional letters used for transliterating Etruscan are accompanied by likely pronunciation in IPA symbols within the square brackets, followed by examples of the early Etruscan alphabet which would have corresponded to these sounds:
The Etruscan vowel system consisted of four distinct vowels. Vowels "o" and "u" appear to have not been phonetically distinguished based on the nature of the writing system, as only one symbol is used to cover both in loans from Greek (e.g. Greek κώθων kōthōn > Etruscan qutun "pitcher").
|c, k, q
The Etruscan consonant system primarily distinguished between aspirated and non-aspirated stops. There were no voiced stops and loanwords with them were typically devoiced, e.g. Greek thriambos was borrowed by Etruscan, becoming triumpus and triumphus in Latin.
Based on standard spellings by Etruscan scribes of words without vowels or with unlikely consonant clusters (e.g. cl 'of this (gen.)' and lautn 'freeman'), it is likely that /m n l r/ were sometimes syllabic sonorants (cf. English "little", "button"). Thus cl /kl̩/ and lautn /ˈlɑwtn̩/.
Rix postulates several syllabic consonants, namely /l, r, m, n/ and palatal /lʲ, rʲ, nʲ/ as well as a labiovelar spirant /xʷ/ and some scholars such as Mauro Cristofani also view the aspirates as palatal rather than aspirated but these views are not shared by most Etruscologists. Rix supports his theories by means of variant spellings such as amφare/amφiare, larθal/larθial, aranθ/aranθiia.
Etruscan was inflected, varying the endings of nouns, pronouns and verbs. It also had adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions, which were uninflected.
Etruscan substantives had five cases, and a singular and a plural. Not all five cases are attested for every word. Nouns merge the nominative and accusative; pronouns do not generally merge these. Gender appears in personal names (masculine and feminine) and in pronouns (animate and inanimate); otherwise, it is not marked.
Unlike the Indo-European languages, Etruscan noun endings were more agglutinative, with some nouns bearing two or three agglutinated suffixes. For example, where Latin would have distinct nominative plural and dative plural endings, Etruscan would suffix the case ending to a plural marker: Latin nominative singular fili-us, "son", plural fili-i, dative plural fili-is, but Etruscan clan, clen-ar and clen-ar-aśi. Moreover, Etruscan nouns could bear multiple suffixes from the case paradigm alone: that is, Etruscan exhibited Suffixaufnahme. Pallottino calls this phenomenon "morphological redetermination", which he defines as "the typical tendency ... to redetermine the syntactical function of the form by the superposition of suffices." His example is Uni-al-θi, "in the sanctuary of Juno", where -al is a genitive ending and -θi a locative.
Steinbauer says of Etruscan, "there can be more than one marker ... to design a case, and ... the same marker can occur for more than one case."
Personal pronouns refer to persons; demonstrative pronouns point out: English this, that, there.
The first-person personal pronoun has a nominative mi ("I") and an accusative mini ("me"). The third person has a personal form an ("he" or "she") and an inanimate in ("it"). The second person is uncertain, but some like the Bonfantes have claimed a dative singular une ("to thee") and an accusative singular un ("thee").
The demonstratives, ca and ta, are used without distinction. The nominative–accusative singular forms are: ica, eca, ca, ita, ta; the plural: cei, tei. There is a genitive singular: cla, tla, cal and plural clal. The accusative singular: can, cen, cn, ecn, etan, tn; plural cnl. Locative singular: calti, ceiθi, clθ(i), eclθi; plural caiti, ceiθi.
Though uninflected, adjectives fall into a number of types formed from nouns with a suffix:
Adverbs are unmarked: etnam, "again"; θui, "now"; θuni, "at first." Most Indo-European adverbs are formed from the oblique cases, which become unproductive and descend to fixed forms. Cases such as the ablative are therefore called "adverbial". If there is any such system in Etruscan, it is not obvious from the relatively few surviving adverbs.
Etruscan used a verbal root with a zero suffix or -a without distinction to number or person: ar, ar-a, "he, she, we, you, they make".
Adding the suffix -(a)ce to the verb root produces a third-person singular active, which has been called variously a "past", a "preterite", a "perfect" or an "aorist". In contrast to Indo-European, this form is not marked for person. Examples: tur/tur-ce, "gives/gave"; sval/sval-ce, "lives/lived."
The third-person past passive is formed with -che: mena/mena-ce/mena-che, "offers/offered/was offered".
Only a few hundred words of the Etruscan vocabulary are understood with some certainty. The exact count depends on whether the different forms and the expressions are included. Below is a table of some of the words grouped by topic.
Some words with corresponding Latin or other Indo-European forms are likely loanwords to or from Etruscan. For example, neftś "nephew", is probably from Latin (Latin nepōs, nepōtis; this is a cognate of German Neffe, Old Norse nefi). A number of words and names for which Etruscan origin has been proposed survive in Latin.
At least one Etruscan word has an apparent Semitic origin: talitha "girl" (Aramaic; could have been transmitted by Phoenicians). The word pera "house" is a false cognate to the Coptic per "house".
In addition to words believed to have been borrowed into Etruscan from Indo-European or elsewhere, there is a corpus of words such as familia which seem to have been borrowed into Latin from the older Etruscan civilization as a superstrate influence. Some of these words still have widespread currency in English and Latin-influenced languages. Other words believed to have a possible Etruscan origin include:
Much debate has been carried out about a possible Indo-European origin of the Etruscan cardinals. In the words of Larissa Bonfante (1990), "What these numerals show, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is the non-Indo-European nature of the Etruscan language". Conversely, other scholars, including Francisco R. Adrados, Albert Carnoy, Marcello Durante, Vladimir Georgiev, Alessando Morandi and Massimo Pittau, have proposed a close phonetic proximity of the first ten Etruscan numerals to the corresponding numerals in other Indo-European languages. Italian linguist and glottologist Massimo Pittau has argued that "all the first ten Etruscan numerals have a congruent phonetic matching in as many Indo-European languages" and "perfectly fit within the Indo-European series", supporting the idea that the Etruscan language was of Indo-European origins.
The Etruscan numbers are (G. Bonfante 2002:96):
although it is unclear which of śa and huθ meant "four" and "six" respectively.