Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Celtic, Celtiberian

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

edited by: Coline Ruiz Darasse (translation revised by Melanie Rockenhaus)

  • Introduction
  • Further information

Tessera hospitalis, called Tessera Froehner

The Celtiberians occupied the northern plateau of Central Meseta in the Iberian peninsula during the second Iron age.

Celtiberian is the language they spoke; their presence is attested as early as the 4th c. BC but the language is attested epigraphically only from the 2nd c. BC. It seemed to be spoken and written homogeneously but only in limited areas.

After a great deal of contact with the Iberian populations, the Celtiberians began using their writing.

 This gave birth to two distinct scripts: the  oriental and occidental Celtiberian writing systems. They can be distinguished by the nasal notations of /n/ and /m/:

• the Botorrita (oriental) variant  uses the Iberian n sign for /n/ and the Iberian m for /m/.

• the Luzaga (occidental) variant uses the Iberian m for /n/ and an accentuated Iberian (ḿ) for /m/.


Some Celtiberian inscriptions are also written using the Latin alphabet.

One of the originalities of Celtiberian epigraphy is the use of a semi-syllabic writing system to transcribe an Indo-European language that it was unsuitable for.

In 2005, a palaeographic study by Joan Ferrer i Jané, based on a hypothesis by Joan Maluquer de Motes in the 1960s, revealed that some variations in written signs (with or without diacritical signs) were in fact ways to indicate distinct points of voicing. This distinct notation is called dual system

In Celtiberian studies, by comparing two tesserae hospitales ( one from Tarvodurum CT-2A [written in Latin] and another one from Uxama K.23.2, shaped like a wild boar [Celtiberian writing]), this dual system was also identified (Jordan Colera, 2005). These two texts only diverged by one syllable (read bo or ta).

The utilization of the dual system by Celtiberians gives an indication of the period they borrowed their script from their Iberian neighbours, in the 3rd c. BC, due to contacts with the Edetani.

Go to the online resources.

Online resources