Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources


edited by: Daniele F. Maras

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Writing Systems

The Faliscans settled on the right bank of the Tiber river, in an enclave of the region that was actually Etruscan, adjoining the areas of Veii and Capena to the south and to the north the territory of Horta (today Orte) that depends culturally from the Volsinian area.

The Faliscans preserved their cultural independence even while integrating in the historical and political geography of the Etruscan world. This can be seen through archaeological records and how the Faliscan region was populated from the early Iron Age, as well as in the history of relations with Veii and Etruria, and later with Rome. Such independence is apparent in the first place as regards the language (see e.g. Strabo 5.2.9, who defines Falerii as a polis idióglōssos, “a town with its own language”).

The first problem to be dealt with about the Faliscan language is its definition vis-a-vis Latin and other languages of ancient central Italy. Although it is well acknowledged that the Faliscan language shares several identical features with Latin, some differences involve issues of morphology and even of primary lexicon.

Therefore, modern scholars can be divided into different groups, depending on whether they consider the Faliscan language as a peripheral dialect of Latin (G. Bakkum, 1999), as a related language belonging in the same taxon of Latin (B. Joseph, R. Wallace, 1991), or as a truly independent Italic language, related to Latin as well as to the Sabellian-Umbrian group (M. Mancini, 2002).

Here it is worth listing some of the main linguistic features shared by the Faliscan and Latin languages, which mark their difference from other languages of the Italic family within the western Indo-European ambit (G. Bakkum, 2009, p. 347 f.; M. Mancini, 2010, p. 260 f.):

– phonological aspects, such as the conservative outcome of the proto-Indo-European labiovelar stops (Fal. cuito, Lat. quintus);

– morphological elements, such as the endings of the genitive case in -os and -osio (Fal. euotenosio, archaic Lat. popliosio ualesiosio);

– plural endings of -o- and -a- stems borrowed from pronouns (Fal. sociai, Lat. sociae);

– voice med as accusative of the first-person singular pronoun;

– future tense in -b/f- < *-bh- (Fal. carefo, Lat. laudabo).


On the other hand, here is a list of the major differences:

– ending of the third person plural of the past tense in -ond (Fal. fifiq-o(n)d, Lat. finx-erunt);

– second-person plural pronoun (Fal. ves, Lat. vos);

– apophonic form in -a- of the past tense of verb “to do” (Fal. faced/facet, Lat. fecit);

– outcome -f- of the proto-Indo-European mediae aspiratae (middle aspirate stops) in inner position (Fal. loifirtatos, Lat. libertatis).


In addition to these features, some relevant peculiarities of the Faliscan language include a general trend to create monophthongs (e.g. Fal. efiles vs. Lat. aediles); the dropping of -r-and -s- in a weak position (before a pause: e.g. Fal. se(r)torio); the variation f/h especially in the opening position; the general trend to make voiced stops unvoiced (presumably due to an Etruscan influence: Fal pipafo vs. Lat. bibam); the presence of some proto-Indo-European linguistic relicts, not present in Classical Latin (e.g. Fal. lepe vs. Lat. vive; Fal. lecet vs. Lat. iacet).

When considering all these aspects, it is impossible—and probably unproductive—to make a definitive choice on the relevant issue. As a matter of fact, the closeness of the Faliscan language to the Latin dialects is to be considered first of all chronologically, for the progressive influence of the Etruscan language from the archaic period up to the mid-Republican period was replaced by the strong influence of the Latin of Rome from the 3rd century BCE. Furthermore, it is important to remember that the acknowledged dialects and variants of the Latin language are known only from meagre and sparse records. This is even more relevant when compared with the huge quantity and quality of the available information about the Latin of Rome, especially as regards its historical evolution towards Classical Latin. From this point of view, the alternative theories of modern scholars may have been true and adequate in different moments of the historical evolution of the Faliscan language.

Ancient Writing Systems

  1. Faliscan