Mnamon

Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Venetic

- 6th century B.C. – 1st century B.C.

edited by: Laura Montagnaro (translation revised by Melanie Rockenhaus)


  • Introduction
  • Index
  • Further information


Stone slab with funerary inscription from Padua. Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Veneto.


The Venetic alphabet is an Etruscan alphabet with areal and chronological varieties; moreover there are unitary and constant characteristics such as scriptio continua, indifference to the writing versus (writing indistinctly from left to right or from right to left) and to the writing ductus (spiral, boustrophedon, etc.).

In ancient Italy the case of Venetic records is remarkable: it is, in fact, possible to derive data about the teaching and learning of writing (methods and processes) not only from the ‘functional inscriptions’ of the Venetic corpus, but also from the writing tablets that have been founds at Este (‘Baratella’ area) and at Vicenza (only one record). These writing tablets were used as ex votum and were offered to the gods.
(see Styluses and writing tablets; Syllabic punctuation: use and usage rules).

The study of the ‘functional inscriptions’ and the writing tablets allows scholars to highlight two different phases for the arrival of writing from Etruria to the Venetic area.

Only a few inscriptions derive from the first writing phase (beginning of 6th century B.C. – end of 6th century B.C.); during this period the North Etruscan alphabet (from the area of Chiusi) was used in a fairly uniform way across sites.
(see The 1st writing phase: beginning of 6th century B.C. – end of 6th century B.C.)).

In the second writing phase (end 6th century B.C. – beginning 1st century B.C.) there are a great number of Venetic texts; during this phase a South-Etruscan alphabet (from the areas of Cere or Veii) was used, differentiated in distinct paleo-Venetic sites. We can determine discrete alphabetic varieties from different geographical areas: the varieties of Este, of Padua, of Vicenza etc. The most important feature of this second phase is the syllabic punctuation, used in the processes of teaching/learning and remaining as a residue in the writing practice.
(see The 2nd writing phase: end of 6th century B.C. – beginning of 1st century B.C.)).


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Online resources


Index

Styluses and writing tablets

In the sanctuary of the goddess Reitia at Este a votive deposit was found which proved to be very important in understanding the teaching/learning processes of writing in ancient Veneto and, more generally, in ancient Italy. Two kinds of documents are of particular interest:

- WRITING STYLUSES. These square-section bronze styluses have a pointed end to write with, and a flat end to smooth the waxed surface of the writing tablets. The measures of the largest styluses (about 13-26 cm) suggest they are not models manufactured and used as ex votum, but rather are styluses effectively used to write.
A large number of styluses found in the deposit have alphabetic signs on the sides; a few styluses (about 25 of these) also have a votive inscription.

- WRITING TABLETS. These are rectangular bronze tablets (about 20 x 15/16 cm), sometimes with a handle at one end; these votive objects are reproductions of the writing tablets used for teaching and learning writing, which were probably made of perishable materials, for example, wood. The tablets found in the deposit of Reitia carry a votive inscription demonstrating the sanctuary was a writing center and shows the role played by writing in the practices of the cult.
Only five/six are not fragmentary: the study of these objects allows the reconstruction of the processes of teaching and learning writing in the ancient Venetic area. On the surface of the writing tablets there are different sections, some of which are inserted in a grid that divides the area into 5 rows of 16 boxes. The grid allows the separation of the different signs and at the same time the alphabetic signs are often traced on the line of the box in which they are inserted.

These are the sections of the writing tablets:

LIST OF CONSONANTS.
A list of fifteen consonants in alphabetical order: the sixteenth box may be empty or may hold a letter which can vary. This is one of the elements that ensure an Etruscan source for the material model of the tablets. In fact the Etruscan alphabetic model, basis of the Venetic alphabet in its second phase, has the sign 8 for [f]; this sign is not present in the Venetic alphabet, which instead uses the digraph <vh> to represent the same sound.

v z h θ
k l m n p ś
r s t φ χ  



LIST OF VOWELS.
.
A list of the five vowels repeated sixteen times: written from top to bottom is the sequence AKEO. Scholars had interpreted it as a word but instead it is the sequence of five vowels. The reason for the misunderstanding is the compression of [i] and [u] in the same box of the grid. The sign for the vowel [i] is written on the line of the grid and the sign for [u] is horizontal and parallel to the writing. Graphically the two vowels form a trace similar to the sign for [k]: I + < = K.
. The correct reading is not AKEO, but rather the sequence of the five vowels a, i, u, e, o. This is another element that ensures an Etruscan source for the model of the tablets: in fact the Etruscan alphabet has only four vowels because the sign for [o] is not used.

a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
i
u
e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

LIST OF CONSONANT + CONSONANT (LIQUID OR NASAL) ‘C + R/L/N’.
A list of forms consisting of consonant + consonant, liquid [r], [l] or nasal [n]: in this list there are also the digraph for [f] and for the Indo-European labiovelar [kw].

vhr zr θr kr mr pr śr sr tr φr χr
vhn zn θn kn mn pn śn sn tn φn χn
vhl zl θl kl ml pl śl sl tl φl χl
vh

kv






Only one of the writing tablets of the goddess Reitia (G.B. Pellegrini – A.L. Prosdocimi, La lingua venetica, Padova 1967; Es 23) has an ALPHABETIC LIST with the signs for the vowels and the signs for the consonants, all punctuated according to the syllabic punctuation (see Syllabic punctuation: use and usage rules).

VOTIVE INSCRIPTION.
Votive inscriptions are found only in the ex votum tablets. The structure of the inscriptions is in the form of a ‘speaking object’; there are a 1st person pronoun in the accusative case: mego (‘me’), a preterit verb: donasto (‘donated’), the name of the agent of the votive action in the nominative case and the mention of the theonyms in the dative case. In some cases there is the form vdan in the accusative case (three times on writing tablets, three times on styluses and one time on a little bronze plaque) in the position usually occupied by the 1st person pronoun mego. From lexical and phonetic points of view the form is unusual: before the consonant for [d] the Venetic language requires a vowel [u]; also from the graphic point of view the form is a sequence of two non- punctuated consonants (see Syllabic punctuation: use and usage rules). The form vdan is also found on writing tablets and styluses, so it is not possible to refer it to a specific object. The term vdan (graphically vza.n.) is instead probably the lexicalisation of the first two elements of the alphabetic list (without vowels) with an a-stem, thus most likely a form like the Latin abecedarium (< a + b + c + a derivative suffix). The role of writing in the cult of the goddess Reitia at Este is again confirmed by this lexical form as the nature of the object offered is pertinent to the sphere of writing.




Syllabic punctuation: use and usage rules

Syllabic punctuation is a feature of Venetic writing, in particular of the 2nd writing phase (see The 2nd writing phase: end 6th century B.C. – beginning 1st century B.C.) but originally it was used in the South-Etruscan writing that was used in the processes of writing teaching/learning and it remains in the practice of writing. It is possible to know how syllabic punctuation worked not only through ‘functional’ inscriptions, but also through the writing tablets donated as ex votum (see Styluses and writing tablets).

For the Venetic language the writing teaching and learning processes preferred syllabics, not single phonics; and this probably was the reason for the transition, at the end of 6th century B.C. – beginning of 5th century B.C., to a new writing phase with the adoption of a South-Etruscan alphabet from Cere or Veii and the syllabic punctuation.

The information from Venetic inscriptions of the 2nd writing phase permits understanding of the basic principle of the syllabic punctuation: it is necessary to point out all the graphemes which are considered ‘singly’: e.g. consonants not followed by vowels (e.g. vda.n.); vowels after another vowel (e.g. Re.i.tia.i.); initial syllable vowels (e.g. .e.go). In other words, all graphemes not part of a syllable CV = consonant + vowel or CCV = consonant + consonant (liquid [l]/[r] or nasal [n]) + vowel are punctuated. The digraph [vh] for [f] and [kv] for the Indo-European labiovelar [kw] are not punctuated.

The structure of writing tablets permits the creation of all the graphemes which do not need punctuation (see Styluses and writing tablets) from the LIST OF CONSONANTS it is possible to create, with single vowels, all CV syllables: e.g. va, vi, vu, ve, vo; za, ze, zi, zu, zo; […]; ma, me, mi, mu, mo; […]; sa, se, si, su, so;etc; from the LIST OF CONSONANT + CONSONANT (LIQUID OR NASAL) = C + R/L/N it is possible to create, with single vowels, all possible CCV syllables: e.g. vhra, vhri, vhru, vhre, vhro; vhna, etc.; […]; sra, sri, sru, sre, sro; sna, etc. None of these syllables require syllabic punctuation. This feature is used in Venetic writing from the end of 6th century B.C./beginning of 5th century B.C. until the Romanization process: in several Latin inscriptions referring to the transitional phase it is still possible to identify the punctuation of the syllables.   


The 1st writing phase: beginning of 6th century B.C. – end of 6th century B.C

For the first writing phase an alphabetical list is not available as it is for the 2nd phase (on a writing tablet from Este - G.B. Pellegrini – A.L. Prosdocimi, La lingua venetica, Padova 1967; Es 23). Furthermore, there are few inscriptions related to this phase and there are graphic signs not directly documented.

The 1st writing phase alphabet has a North-Etruscan matrix (Chiusi) used during the 6th century B.C. in the same form throughout the Venetic area. Four documents concern this phase: a votive inscription on a kantharos from Este (Scolo di Lozzo), probably the most ancient record of the Venetic language; a funeral inscription on a stone from Este (Morlongo); a votive inscription from Altino (Fornace) and an inscription from Padua, probably a funeral inscription (Cartura). The texts of these inscriptions are longer and less ‘formulaic’ than the more recent texts related to the 2nd writing phase.

The 1st writing phase alphabet does not use syllabic punctuation; the dental stops are written as T for the sound [t], as X for [d].

Two inscriptions, from Altino and Este, use an alphabet from the 1st writing phase and, at the same time, the syllabic punctuation: these documents pertain to a transitional period from the 1st to the 2nd writing phase, dated approximately to the end of 6th century B.C. - beginning of 5th century B.C.


The 2nd writing phase: end of 6th century B.C. – beginning of 1st century B.C.

Most of the Venetic inscriptions are related to this phase. The 2nd writing phase alphabet has a South-Etruscan matrix (Veii or Cere) and geographical varieties, different for the annotation of dental stops [t] and [d].

At Este for the sound [d] the T sign was used, subsequently replaced by the Etruscan sign z; for the sound [t] the X sign was conserved. In Padua the T sign was conserved for [d], subsequently changed to X; for [t] the sign like a ‘circle theta’ from the Etruscan model was introduced. In Vicenza the 1st writing phase annotation for dental stops was conserved: T = [d] / X = [t].

We can also distinguish differences for the annotation of the vowel [a]: e.g. it has a form like a ‘flag’ in Este; a ‘rounded’ form in Padua and an ‘opened’ form in the Northeastern settlements (Altino, Cadore etc.).

The alphabet used at Lagole di Calalzo (Belluno) shows some innovations: a new sign for [ś] and a sign like a ‘hook’ for the [p], potentially a homograph of the sign for [l]; the sign for semi-vowel [j] consists in the sequence of I and < = I<.