Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Celtic, writing systems

- 4th c. B.C. - 1st c. A.D.

Examples of writing

Gallo-Etruscan: bilingual inscription from Todi

Gallo-Etruscan: bilingual inscription from Todi

This stone (RIG II.1, E-5) was found in 1839 in Umbria (Central Italy), unlike the other Gallo-Etruscan documents which were mostly found around Lake Lugano (Northern Italy). It is most likely a funeral stone made by a Gaulish family (or a group) able to write, which then moved southwards in the 2nd c. B.C..

The inscription presents on each face (A, B), for the same deceased, a bilingual epitaph, first written in Latin using the Latin alphabet then in Gaulish using the Gallo-Etruscan alphabet. 

Face A 



(La tombe) d'Ategnatos fils de Drutos, c'est son frère le plus jeune, Coisis fils de Drutos, qui l'a établie et élevée. (translation P.-Y. Lambert)



Coisis, fils de Drutos, a érigé le tombeau d'Ategnatos, fils de Drutos. (translation P.-Y. Lambert)

Face B 



(La tombe) d'Ategnatos fils de Drutos, c'est son frère le plus jeune, Coisis fils de Drutos, qui l'a établie et élevée. (translation P.-Y. Lambert) (=the same as face A)



Coisis, fils de Drutos, a établi la tombe d'Ategnatos, fils de Drutos. (translation P.-Y. Lambert)

Gallo-Greek: Stone from Collias, Ekilios' dedication

Gallo-Greek: Stone from Collias, Ekilios' dedication

This inscription found before 1869 was written on a tough chalky pillar, nearly square (23 x 20-24 cm) and 1.29 m high.  It dates from the middle of the 1st c. BC (RIG. I, G-183=RIIG GAR-04-01). 

The inscription contains nine lines of a text written in the Gallo-Greek alphabet. It is a dedication, by Ekilios, son of Rumos (or Riumos), to the Mother-Goddesses, who are referenced using the adjective andoounnabo (dative plural)

εκιλιο/c ρ[?]ουμαυ[ι]οc αν/δοουν/ναβο δ/[?]δ βρατο/[υ] δεκαν/τεν

Ekilios, Romanos'son, gave the tithe/the ex-voto to the Ondines (?) (translation: X. Delamarre). 

This dedication with the formula δεδε βρατουδεκαντεν is also found a couple of times in Gallo-Greek inscriptions (an overview of this topic can be found in Mullen 2013). The ex-voto is dedicated to the "divinities of the spring below" (Delamarre 2001, 42, sv. Andounna).

Many inscriptions in Gaulish will be available on the RIIG (Recueil informatisé des inscriptions gauloises) website from summer 2022.



Celtiberian: The first Botorrita Bronze plaque

Celtiberian: The first Botorrita Bronze plaque

This rectangular bronze plaque (40 x 10 cm) is one of the four Palaeohispanic inscriptions found in Contrebia Belaisca (Botorrita, Zaragoza province, Spain); it was excavated in 1970. It contains writing on its two faces in oriental Celtiberian script. 

Face A features a juridical or a legislative text, coming from a local council or senate (tirikantam cf. Gaulish: tricantia, assembly). This interpretation comes from the repetition of ne... litom... neque litom cf. litus est in Latin. The second bronze from Botorrita (written in Latin using the Latin alphabet, also called "tabula Contrebiensis", CIL I2, 2951a) which represents the judgement in front of five magistrates of a conflict between two cities – Salduie et Alaun – about the construction of an aqueduct, is a particularly enlightening element for comparison.  

Face B seems to be a list of persons (magistrates ?) whose "function" is systematically bintis. It is also possible that this term is to be read as kentis, the onomastic formula for "son of". This list is a valuable document for the study of Celtiberian onomastics, as is also the third Bronze from Botorrita.


Transcription of Botorrita I: 


A.1. tirikantam bercunetacam tocoitoscue sarnicio cue sua combalcez nelitom
A.2. necue [u]ertaunei litom necue taunei litom necue masnai tizaunei litom soz aucu
A.3. arestaio tamai uta oscues stena uerzoniti silabur sleitom conscilitom cabizeti
A.4. cantom sancilistara otanaum tocoitei eni: uta oscuez boustomue coruinomue
A.5. macasiamue ailamue ambitiseti camanom usabituz ozas sues sailo custa bizetuz iom
A.6. asecati ambitincounei stena es uertai entara tiris matus tinbituz neito tiricantam
A.7. eni onsatuz iomui listas titas zizonti somui iom arznas bionti iom custaicos
A.8. arznas cuati ias ozias uertatosue temeiue robiseti saum tecametinas tatuz somei
A.9. enitouzei iste ancios iste esancios uze areitena sarniciei acainacubos
A.10. nebintor tocoitei ios ur antiomue auzeti aratimue tecametam tatuz iom tocoitoscue
A.11. sarniciocue aiuizas combalcores aleites iste icues ruzimuz abulu ubocum
B.1. lubos counesicum melnunos bintis letontu litocum
B.2. abulos bintis melmu barauzanco lesunos bintis
B.3. letontu ubocum turo bintis lubinaz aiu bercanticum
B.4. abulos bintis tirtu aiancum abulos bintis abulu louzocum
B.5. uzeisunos bintis acainaz letontu uicanocum suostuno/s
B.6. bintis tirtanos statulicum lesunos bintis nouantutaz
B.7. letontu aiancum melmunos bintis useizu aiancum tauro [bin]/tis
B.8. abulu aiancum tauro bintis letontu leticum abulos bintis
B.9. [ ]ucontaz letontu esocum abulos bintis

On the Hesperia website, you will find all the inscriptions in Celtiberian language and script (as well as in Latin alphabet) published to date. The full text of the Botorrita bronze is available here.

Lepontic : Inscription from Prestino

Lepontic : Inscription from Prestino

This engraved stone lintel (approx. dimensions 18 x 380 x 33 cm) was found in 1966 during an emergency excavation near Como (Northern Italy). It is conserved now in the Paolo Giovio Civic Museum (inventory number: 8777).


It is dated to the end of the 6th and more probably of the beginning of the 5th c. BC,  according to archaeological and epigraphical data. 

The inscription itself, very neat, is written using the Lepontic alphabet (also called "from Lugano"). Indeed, the place where the inscription was found is located about 40 km southeast of Lugano. 

It is one of the very few inscriptions which ensures the presence of Celtic populations in Italy long before 4th c. BC. 

It can be read from right to left as follows: 


U sT4 sE sT4 sseparator3 sŚ6 sE sT4 sI sS2 sseparator3 sS2 dO sP sE sN sO sU sI sR sA24 sseparator3 sS2 dO sP sO sI sU sA24 sI sT4 sL sV sU sseparator3 sU sΘ3 sE sL sA24 sI sL sP sseparator3 sS2 sI sZ5 sO sK4 sO sM sA24 sV sU s

uvamokozis : plialeθu : uvltiauiopos : ariuonepos : siteś : tetu

The specialists have noted the use of foreign signs (V, Z and θ). The triple points are also of interest.

This inscription is in a rather common SVO grammatical structure. It is possible to see in uvamokozis : plialeθu the dedicant's name (in nominative), then the addressee (in dative: uvltiauiopos: ariuonepos) and an object (sites) representing perhaps the inscription itself (in accusative), and then a verb in the third person singular (tetu).

J. Eska believes that the IE labial fricative can be found in the syntagm uvamo-kozis  (to be understood as uφamo - kotsis < * up-ṃmo-ghostis  “having supreme guests”). 

Nevertheless, at this time, the Cisalpine Celtic corpus does not allow a precise understanding of the linguistic elements in this inscription.

Gallo-Latin, instrumentum : Lezoux

Gallo-Latin, instrumentum : Lezoux
Source: RIG II.2 p.180

Lezoux (Puy de Dôme, France) is a major archaeological site and was a center of ceramics in the 1st c. AD. A hundred Gallo-Roman kilns and more than a thousand Gaulish names have been discovered here. This inscription, found in 1974, (RIG II, 1, L-67) is written in cursive Latin alphabet.  

e[soieuri rigani rosmertiac

I have (or he has) given this to the Queen and to Rosmerta


I have (or he has) given this to the Queen of the festivities in honour of Rosmerta (translation: P.-Y. Lambert)

The reconstructed form e[so] seems to be a neutral demonstrative. The verb ieuri is an equivalent for the Gallo-Greek ειωρου, perhaps here in the 3rd person singular. Rigani is the dative form for "queen", known in other Indo-European languages. The form Rosmerti-ac was thought to be an i-dative coordinated to Rigani with an enclitic particle (-ac). Nevertheless, P.-Y. Lambert (2003) proposed another hypothesis. It could be the apocope of a plural genitive Rosmertiacon, derived in -akō-. Its meaning would then be : "festivities in honour of Rosmerta”. Rosmerta is a divinity of prosperity and abundance, often presented as Mercury's wife. Her cult was widespread in Gaul.