Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Celtic, Celtiberian

- 2nd - 1st c. B.C.

Examples of writing

Bronze plaque from Botorrita III (MLH K.1.3)

Bronze plaque from Botorrita III (MLH K.1.3)

Like two other famous bronze plaques, this spectacular bronze plaque (52 X 73 cm) discovered in 1992 comes from the Celtiberian archaeological site of Cabezo de las Minas, also called Botorrita (Zaragoza).

After a short sentence (?), it contains a very neat list of nearly 250 names in four columns. The plaque itself is complete and it is written only on one face.
Unlike the two other bronze-plaques from Botorrita – which treat juridical matters – and even if the first line of this text is still difficult to understand, according to Pierre-Yves Lambert, it could be a list of people for a lustration or a ceremony placed before a ver sacrum.

The nearly 250 names on the plaque are of both women and men. The origins are diversified: for example there are Greek names (tiokenes/Diogenes) and Latin ones (bolora/Flora) for which the graphic transcription was adapted to the Celtiberian semi-syllabary.

This exceptional document is indispensable for the knowledge of Celtiberian anthroponymy. Francisco Beltrán Lloris, for the publication of this bronze (Beltrán Lloris et al, 1996, specifically chapter II) revealed that two onomastic formations were in use:
Type A: double names: given name + family name (usual pattern in the Celtic world)
Type B: triple names: given name + family name + cognomen (formula influenced by the Roman tria nomina).
For Beltrán Lloris, the third bronze plaque from Botorrita III illustrates the transition between the use of the double-name system to the triple-name one, indicating Romanization.

Tessera hospitalis called Tessère Froehner (MLH K.0.2)

Tessera hospitalis called Tessère Froehner (MLH K.0.2)
Source: Cabinet des Médailles (Paris)

This tessera shaped like shaking hands (MLH K.0.2) is conserved in the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris. Its origin is uncertain (perhaps the province of Zaragoza, Spain). It is one of the jewels of Celtiberian epigraphy because it is a document for hospitality that mentions the full identity of a man coming from Contrebia Belaisca (Celtiberian name for Botorrita). This object was double and once the pieces were reunited, they formed a pact of hospitality between a person and/or a city.

The text reads as follows: 

lubos alisokum aualo ke(ntis) kontebias belaiskas

Its "translation" might be:

« Lubos (NP) from the Alisokum (familial group), Avalos'son (father's name) from Contrebia Belaisca (place of origin) ».

There is a close parallel with a stone found in a necropolis named Puig dels Molins (Ibiza) which has the same formula in four sections:

idionym + group name + father's name (in genitive) + abbreviation for "son" (= ke) + origo

(Example proposed by Francesca Ciurli)

Rock inscription from Peñalba de Villastar (MLH K.3.3)

Rock inscription from Peñalba de Villastar (MLH K.3.3)
Source: Jordan Colera 2004.

This inscription, also known as the "great inscription of Peñalba de Villastar" was written using the Latin alphabet in Celtiberian language on the vertical wall of the archaeological site of Peñalba (Teruel, Espagne).

It reads as follows:








Researchers do not agree about the translation; attention can be drawn to a few things only. First of all, there is an evident mention of the Celtic god Lug / Lugus (in the singular). Some elements in the locative case are introduced by eni (eniorosei); there are also uses of the enclitic conjunction -que (equiesvique) (also present in Botorrita bronze plaquqe III), the singular dative of -o stems tigino and the -u stems Luguei, as well as the genitive plural araianom. A long recap of distinct interpretations proposed for the inscription from Peñalba can be found in Jordan Colera's book (p. 375-390). 

Peñalba is one of the very few the archaeological sites where different writing systems cohabitated. Many inscriptions in the Latin alphabet and Celtiberian language coexist with fewer inscriptions in Celtiberian language and writing (occidental variant).

It is quite often difficult to date a rock inscription but in Peñalba there is a Latin verse of Virgil (Aeneid, II, 268: tempus erat quo prima quies mortalibus aegris inc[ipit]: It was the hour that brought first sleep to tired men). A later date could therefore be suggested, around the 1st c. AD, even if the inscription was found in a rather remote part of the same vertical wall. It is an indication of the wide utilisation/occupation or at least fascination for this place, even if it cannot be used to date the inscriptions there with precision.

Geometric tessera (MLH K.0.11)

Geometric tessera (MLH K.0.11)
Source: MLH IV

This piece of bronze, the origin of which is still unknown, once assembled forms a block. It is therefore difficult to understand the correct order for reading it.

According to Jürgen Untermann (MLH IV) it must be read as follws:

A1 arekorati

A2 ka : kar

B1 sekilako : amikum : mel/munos

B2 ata

C1 bistiros : lastiko

C2 ueizos

For this version, F. Burillo offers the following translation: "Tessera from the city of Arekorata. Sekilako of the Amikos, Melmo's son (ata). Bistiro (whose category/title is) ueizos, from the Lastiko". 

Nevertheless, Carlos Jórdan Cólera (2004) indicates another order for of reading: B1, B2, A1, A2, C1, C2.

The traduction would then be: "Amistad aregoratense para Segilaco, del grupo de los Amicos, hijo de Melmón (¿ata?) Pístiro, del grupo Lástico, testigo."

In both cases, there is a reference to the city of Arekorata, also known for coining money and mentioned in another bronze (from Luzaga, MLH K.6.1). As on the tessera Froehner, there is an onomastic formula.

(example proposed by Francesca Ciurli)