Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources


edited by: Simona Marchesini (translation revised by Melanie Rockenhaus)

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Writing Systems
  • Further information

Together with Etruscan and the language of the Island of Lemnos (in Northern Aegaeis, “Tyrsenic”), the Rhaetic language belongs to a non Indo-European language family called Common Tyrrhenic, identified in 1998 by H. Rix, confirmed in 1999 by S. Schumacher and recently outlined by de Simone 2009, de Simone, Marchesini 2013 and Marchesini 2014. Common features of the three languages have been observed in phonology, morphology and syntax. Lexical correspondences are rarely attested, due not only to the limited number of well-conserved Rhaetic and Tyrsenic texts, but also to the very early date at which the languages split. According to archaeological and linguistic data, the split must have taken place prehistorically, certainly before the Bronze Age.

Phonologically, the Rhaetic language did not contain the vowel /o/ and consequently had only one phoneme for velar vowels; there were also no voiced plosive consonants. The spirant consonants were indicated with two different graphemes: a three-stroke sigma and tsade (or san [M]). These traits were shared with the Etruscan and with the Tyrsenic language. Another feature was the agglutination of the morphemes, characteristic of the Common Tyrrhenic language group in contrast to the Indo-European language family, which is notoriously inflectional.

At a morphosyntactic level, shared traits have been observed within the Common Tyrrhenic language family. These included the casus absolutus (no desinence) instead of the nominative/accusative, the -s genitive, two forms of “pertinentive” (similar to dative) in -si e in -alu and an ablative in -s with the palatalization of the preceding vowel (as in *Kleimun-ta-is > Kleimunteis, proper name).

The verb system featured a praeteritum in -ke and a verbal adjective/verbal name in -ku.

The name system in Rhaetic is characterized by a formula consisting of a praenomen and a second name, which is most probably a patronymic. The second name is different for males and females; the first had a -nu suffix, and the second -na. Rhaetic does not seem to have used the so-called “motion” suffix -i, used in Etruscan to form female names if added to male name stems (Marchesini 2013).

Lexical correspondences include the deictic pronominal adverb ka (probably “here” (see Etruscan eca/eta, ica/ita). Other lexical correspondences are at the moment sub iudice, as for example [e]luku, a term which H. Rix compared with the Etruscan ilucu from the Tabula Capuana, or zal, similar to the Etruscan zal “two”. The word simboloinake (where the first grapheme, a “staircase” sign, probably corresponded to an aspirated dental /th/) has been compared with the Etruscan word zinake/zinace “to offer”, even if in this case the meaning does not seem to coincide in both languages.

Ancient Writing Systems

  1. Raetic

Further information

  1. Bibliography