Inscriptions have been found in north-west and west-central Italy, in the region that even now bears the name of the Etruscans, Tuscany (from Latin tuscī "Etruscans"), as well as in today's Latium north of Rome, in today's Umbria west of the Tiber, around Capua in Campania and in the Po valley to the north of Etruria. Presumably this range is a maximum Italian homeland where the language was at one time spoken.
Outside of Italy inscriptions have been found in Africa, Corsica, Elba, Gallia Narbonensis, Greece, the Balkans and the Black Sea. By far the greatest concentration is in Italy.
A Etruscan inscription found on Lemnos in 1886, which is in an alphabet practically identical.
The majority consensus is that Etruscan is related only to other members of what is called the Tyrsenian language family which in itself is isolate, that is, unrelated to other language groups by any known relationship. Since Rix (1998) it is widely accepted that Tyrsenian is composed of Rhaetic and Lemnian together with Etruscan.
In the 1st century BC the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus stated that the Etruscan language was unlike any other.
The Etruscan language has been difficult to analyze, which is attributable to its being an isolate. The phonology is known through the alternation of Greek and Etruscan letters in some inscriptions (for example, the Iguvine Tables), 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). Knowledge of the language is incomplete.
Speculators nevertheless continue to compare known languages to Etruscan searching for a pattern match. Speculative decipherments utilize partial pattern matches. The key follows the formula: "Etruscan is really a form of X" where X is the known language or language group. None of these have found general academic credibility.
The interest in Etruscan antiquities and the mysterious Etruscan language found its modern origin in a book by a Dominican monk, Annio da Viterbo, called "il Pastura", the cabalist and orientalist who guided Pinturicchio's allegorical frescoes for Pope Alexander VI's Vatican apartments. In 1498 Annio published his antiquarian miscellany titled Antiquitatum variarum (in 17 volumes) where he put together a fantastic 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 Etruscan Viterbo. Annio also started to excavate Etruscan tombs, unearthing sarcophagi and inscriptions, and made a bold attempt at deciphering the Etruscan language.
A recent (2003) study by linguist Mario Alinei has proposed the idea that Etruscan may have been an archaic form of Hungarian. Alinei's theory is based on similarities between certain words (magistrature names), agglutination, vowel harmony, construction of personal pronouns when used together with prepositions, etc. This theory has not been widely accepted in academic circles, and it has been rejected by practically all specialists of Uralic comparative linguistics. Critics accuse Alinei's work of being the product of mass comparison, a methodology that is not accepted by comparative linguists.
In 1861 Robert Ellis proposed that Etruscan was related to Armenian, assert that the Tyrsenian family is distantly related to the Indo-European family. Proponents of this hypothesis put together similarities of phonetics, vocabulary and syntax that they see.
Frederik Woudhuizen has developed a theory that the Tyrsenians came from Anatolia, including Lydia, when they were driven out 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 Luvian and asserts that Etruscan is modified Luvian. He accounts for the non-Luvian 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 colonizing the Latins and the Villanovan and all preceding cultures were Indo-European. The Etruscans brought the alphabet from Anatolia. Dionysius of Halicarnassus was right for his time, but the Iron Age inhabitants of Lydia were Luvian.
Etruscan words have been successfully explained from the resources of the Armenian, the Albanian, and the Rhaeto-Romansch languages.
The Latin alphabet that is used in English owes its existence to the Etruscan writing system, which was adapted for Latin in the form of the Old Italic alphabet. The Etruscan alphabet
Writing was from right to left except in archaic inscriptions, which might use boustrophedon. A local variant at Cerveteri used left to right. In the earliest inscriptions the words are continuous; from the 6th century they are separated by a dot or a colon, which might also 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 that the identification of many individual letters is in doubt among specialists. 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. 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, 7th to 5th century BC, which used the early Greek alphabet, and the later, 4th to 1st century 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 Venetic and from there through Raetia into the Germanic lands, where it became the Futhark, a system of runes.
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 is in 16 lines, 37 words. The date is roughly 500 BC.
According to Rix and his collaborators only two unified (though fragmentary) texts are available in Etruscan:
Some additional longer texts are:
The Liber Linteus used for mummy wrappings (now at Zagreb, Croatia). Roughly 1200 words of readable text, mainly repetitious prayers yielding about 50 lexical items. about 40 legible words having to do with ritual fomulae. Dated to about 500 BC.
The Cippus Perusinus, a stone slab (cippus) found at Perugia. Contains 46 lines, 130 words.
The Tabula Cortonensis, a bronze tablet from Cortona recording a legal contract. About 200 words.
The Piacenza Liver, a bronze model of a sheep's liver representing the sky, with the engraved names of the gods ruling different sections. Longer texts
The main material repository of Etruscan civilization is or was its tombs. Public and private buildings were dismantled and the stone reused centuries ago. The tombs remain as they were except for the ravages of time and the activities of plunderers. More tombs continue to be found regularly.
The tombs are the main source of portables in collections throughout the world, provenience unknown. The Etruscans lived well and valued art. Their objets d'art are of incalculable value, causing a brisk black market and equally brisk law enforcement effort. It is against the law to remove objects from Etruscan tombs unless authorized by the Italian government.
The total number of tombs is unknown due to the magnitide of the task of cataloging them. They are of many different types. Especially fruitful are the hypogeal or "underground" chamber or system of chambers cut into tufa and covered by a tumulus. The interior of the tomb represents a habitation of the living stocked with furniture and favorite objects. The walls may display painted murals, the predecessor of wallpaper. Tombs are identified as Etruscan dating form the Villanovan period to about 100 BC, when presumably the cemeteries were abandoned in favor of Roman ones.
Inner walls and doors of tombs and sarcophagi.
Engraved steles (tombstones)
ossuaries Inscriptions on monuments
Inscriptions on portable objects
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 fit. 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.
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, rarely part intaglio, part cameo.
Cistae date from the Roman Republic of the 4th and 3rd 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 turned 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 2nd half of the 6th to the 1st centuries BC. The two main theories of manufacture are native Etruscan
The materials are mainly dark red cornelian with agate and sard coming in from the 3rd to the 1st centuries BC along with purely gold finger rings of a hollow engraved bezel. 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.
Rings and ringstones
Etruscan-minted coins date ca. 500-200 BC. Use of the Euboïc-Syracusan standard, based on the silver litra of 13.5 grams maximum, indicates the custom, like the alphabet, came from Greece. Roman coinage 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, 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 coin bore a denomination, 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, Janus, Athena, Hermes, griffin, gorgon, sphinx, hippocamp, bull, snake, eagle, etc.
A book of gold sheets bound with gold rings went on display in May 2003 at the National History Museum in Sofia, Bulgaria. It consists of six bound sheets of 24-carat (100%) gold, with low-reliefs of a horseman, a mermaid, a harp and soldiers, with text. It was claimed to have been discovered about 1940 in a tomb uncovered during digging for a canal along the Strouma river in south-western Bulgaria, kept secretly and anonymously donated by its 87-year-old owner, living in Macedonia.
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 where only one symbol is used to cover both in loans from Greek (e.g. Greek κώθων kōthōn > Etruscan qutun "pitcher").
Table of consonants
The Etruscan consonant system primarily distinguished between aspirated and non-aspirated stops. Voiced stops such as English "b", "d" or "g" were non-distinct from [p], [t] and [k], respectively. When words were borrowed that had voiced stops, the stops were unvoiced: Greek thriambos to Latin triumpus and triumphus through Etruscan.
Voiced stops missing
Based on standard spellings by Etruscan scribes that appear otherwise to lack vowels or that have strings of clusters that as they occur seem phonetically impossible to pronounce, as seen in words like cl "of this (gen.)" and lautn "freeman", it is likely that "m", "n", "l" and "r" were sometimes written for syllabic resonants. Thus cl /kl̩/ and lautn /'lɑwtn̩/.
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, a singular and a plural. All five cases are not attested for every word. Nouns merge the nominative and accusative; pronouns do not generally. Gender appears in personal names (masculine and feminine) and in pronouns (animate, or either masculine and feminine, and inanimate or neuter); otherwise, it is not marked.
Personal pronouns refer to persons; demonstrative point out: English this, that.
The first person personal pronoun has a nominative mi ("I") and an accusative mini ("me"). The second person has a dative singular une ("to thee"), an accusative singular un ("thee") and an accusative plural unu ("you"). The third person has a personal form an ("he" or "she") and an inanimate in ("it").
The demonstratives are ca and ta 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, ceithi, clth(i), eclthi; plural caiti, ceithi.
Though uninflected, adjectives fall into a number of types formed from nouns with a suffix:
quality, -u, -iu or -c: ais/ais-iu, "god/divine"; zamathi/zamthi-c, "gold/golden."
possession or reference, -na, -ne, -ni: pacha/pacha-na, "Bacchus, Bacchic"; laut/laut-ni, "family/familiar" (in the sense of servant)
collective, -cva, -chva, -cve, -chve, -ia: sren/sren-cva: "figure/figured"; etera/etera-ia, "slave/servile" Adjectives
Adverbs are unmarked: etnam, "again"; thui, "now"; thuni, "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.
Verbs had an indicative mood and an imperative mood. Tenses were present and past. The past tense had an Active voice and a Passive voice.
Etruscan uses a verbal root with a zero suffix or -a without distinction to number or person: ar, ar-a, "he, she, we, you, they make."
The -ce or -ke suffix to the root produces a third person singular active, which has been called variously a "past", a "preterite" or an "aorist." In contrast to Indo-European, this form is not marked for aspect, nor are the roots, apparently, distinguished for their aspect; they are simply actions that went on in the past. Examples: tur/tur-ce, "gives/gave"; sval/sval-ce, "lives/lived."
Past or preterite active
The third person past passive is formed with -che: mena/mena-ce/mena-che, "offers/offered/was offered."
See the list of Etruscan words and list of words of Etruscan origin at Wiktionary, the free dictionary and Wikipedia's sibling project
The Etruscan vocabulary is now a few hundred words known with some certainty. The exact count depends on whether the different forms and the expressions are included. The Wiktionary list referenced above is in alphabetic order. Below is a table of some of the words grouped by topic.
What these numerals show, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is the non-Indo-European nature of the Etruscan language. Basic words like numbers and names of relationships are often similar in the Indo-European languages, for they derive from the same root.
(2003) Bilingualism and the Latin Language. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521817714. Available for preview on Google Books.
Bonfante, Giuliano; Bonfante, Larissa (2002). The Etruscan Language: an Introduction. Manchester: University of Manchester Press. ISBN 0-7190-5540-7. Preview available on Google Books.
Bonfante, Larissa (1990). Etruscan. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07118-2. Preview available at Google Books.
Mario Alinei (2003). Etrusco: una forma arcaica di ungherese. Bologna: Le edizioni del Mulino.
Cristofani, Mauro; et al (1984). Gli Etruschi: una nuova immagine. Firenze, Giunti Martello.
Cristofani, Mauro (1979). The Etruscans: A New Investigation (Echoes of the ancient world). Orbis Pub. ISBN 0-85613-259-4.
Pallottino, Massimo (1955). The Etruscans. Penguin Books. Translated from the Italian by J. Cremona.
Rix, Helmut (1991). Etruskische Texte. G. Narr. ISBN 3-8233-4240-1. 2 vols.
Steinbauer, Dieter H. (1999). Neues Handbuch des Etruskischen. Scripta Mercaturae. ISBN 3-89590-080-X.
Woudhuizen, Frederik Christiaan. April 2006. The Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples. Doctoral dissertation; Rotterdam: Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, Faculteit der Wijsbegeerte. Bibliography
Corpus Inscriptionum Etruscarum
- Liber Linteus — An Etruscan linen book that ended as mummy wraps in Egypt.
Tabula Cortonensis — An Etruscan inscription.
Cippus perusinus — An Etruscan inscription.
Pyrgi Tablets — Bilingual Etruscan-Phoenician golden leaves.
List of English words of Etruscan origin
List of Spanish words of Etruscan origin
Tyrsenian languages See also
An Etruscan Vocabulary at web.archive.org. A short, one-page glossary with numerals as well.
Etruscan Vocabulary, a vocabulary organized by topic at etruskisch.de, in English.
Etruscan-English Dictionary at iolairweb.co.uk. An extensive lexicon compiled from other lexicon sites. Links to the major Etruscan glossaries on the Internet are included.