Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources

Celtic, gaulish

- 4th c. B.C. - 1st c. A.D.

edited by: Coline Ruiz Darasse

  • Introduction
  • Index
  • Further information

Gaulish calendar of Coligny (Ain). Gallo-Latin writing.

Gaulish language is attested in many inscriptions written in three different writing systems:

- the Etruscan alphabet, which led to Gallo-Etruscan writing. It was found in Northern Italy, on the south side of the River Po. These inscriptions should not be confused with the Lepontic inscriptions ;

- the Greek alphabet, more precisely Phocean, which led to Gallo-Greek writing. It was found mainly in Southern Gaul, in the Rhône River delta; 

- the Latin alphabet, leading to Gallo-Latin writing. These inscriptions came from central Gaul.  

For each one of these writing systems, it would be inappropriate to say that people talked Gallo-Etruscan, or Gallo-Greek or Gallo-Latin. These are only writing systems and not languages. The speech is always Gaulish, a Continental Celtic language, most probably with dialectal variants, that are by now difficult to determine due to the fragmentary documentation of these inscriptions.

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Online resources



Chronology: 4th-2nd c. BC

There are half a dozen inscriptions in Cisalpine Gaul. Gallo-Etruscan inscriptions are concentrated around the city of Lugano (for this reason, it is sometimes called the "Lugano alphabet"), in Northern Italy. 

This must be distinguished from the Lepontic epigraphy. The Gallo-Etruscan inscriptions are Gaulish written in an alphabet that does not distinguish voiced and voiceless stops.

Nasals before stops are very often missing. There are two types of sibilants.

In the Gallo-Etruscan corpus, two of the three stone inscriptions are bilingual Gaulish-Latin (Todi and Vercelli), and these inscriptions can be dated to at least the second part of the 3rd c. BC.


Chronology: end of the 3rd-1st BC.

The Gallo-Greek inscriptions are concentrated around Marseilles (but none was found in Marseilles) and in the the Rhône River delta

The oldest ones have been found in Gallia Narbonensis. Atila's gravestone, (2nd quarter of the 2nd C. BC), erected after the cremated body was buried in Marduel (Sernhac, Gard) is, according to Michel Py, the oldest Gallo-Greek sepulchral inscription known in Gaul.

The most recent inscriptions were found in east-central France and are datable from the 1st c. AD.

The corpus is mainly composed of inscriptions on ceramics (more than two hundred fragments), but also funeral stones (around 70 items known) and ten or so inscriptions on various supports.


Chronology: 1st c. AD

The Gallo-Latin alphabet was the result of an adaptation of the Latin alphabet to the Gaulish language. It was mostly used just after Caesar's conquest of Gaul. The evidence is rather limited in time and is mainly found in Northern and Central Gaul

A few letters have been borrowed from Gallo-Greek, attested in the Rhône River valley.

There are very few Gallo-Latin inscriptions on stone.  The Coligny calendar is important, but most of the documentation is on instrumentum. Artefacts from everyday life (pottery, spring scales, spinning wheels, pots, spoons, etc.) bear modest inscriptions, fragmentary and quite often uncouth. Pierre-Yves Lambert suggests that it was a humble and "popular" epigraphy.