Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources


- 5th century BC

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

  • Introduction
  • Index
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Attic black glazed kylix from the necropolis of Monte d'Oro di Montelepre, 5th cent.B.C., inscribed in the Elymian language (IAS n. 319): αταιτυκαιεμι

Elymian is the name of an ancient language found in the northwestern area of Sicily, known to be the area of settlement of the Elymians (Ἔλυμοι is the word used by Ancient Greeks to designate these βάρβαροι dwelling in Sicily, cf. Thuc. VI, 2.3 and 6; Dion. Hal. I, 53.1). The texts found in this area form a quantitatively reduced corpus from the geographical area of Segesta and Eryx, two of the most important cities of this non-Hellenic ethnos according to Greek and Roman historiography.

Not only are the chronology and the nature of this corpus extremely limited, but the texts themselves are brief, mostly incomplete and highly formulaic. Specifically, the Elymian language is documented by inscriptions which may be dated back to the fifth century B.C. and which exclusively belong to two types of texts: votive vase inscriptions - mostly coming from Segesta but also from Monte d’Oro di Montelepre, Monte Castellazzo di Poggioreale and Entella - and coin legends struck by the mints of Segesta and Eryx.

The language used to engrave the vase inscriptions and to write the coin markings belongs to the Indo-European family, and in most of the academic world today this language is considered part of the Italic group instead of Anatolian.

The alphabet used to express this indigenous language derived from an archaic Greek model. This was a cultural choice, since it shows on a linguistic level how closely Greeks and local peoples interacted, but also the spreading process of acculturation that even in the north of Sicily involved both peoples from sixth century B.C. Among the Greek-speaking components of this area, the community of Selinunte seems the most likely to have offered a pattern for an alphabetical system to the Elymians, allowing them to write their native language with some adaptations due to its phonetic-phonological peculiarities.

For reasons of conciseness, the bibliography in this section lists the most essential linguistic and epigraphic contributions from 1977, i.e., from the year of publication of the monograph by L. Agostiniani, Iscrizioni anelleniche di Sicilia, I. Le iscrizioni elime (Firenze, Olschki, from now on IAS), which lists all publications prior to 1977 in a detailed way at pp. XV-XX.

For historical and cultural contributions, see G. Libertini, in Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, XIII, Roma 1932, p. 807, s.v. Elimi; J. Bovio Marconi,"El problema de los Elimos a la luz de los descubrimientos recientes", in Ampurias, XII, 1950, pp. 79-90; G.K. Galinski, in Enciclopedia Virgiliana, II, Roma 1985, pp. 198-199, s.v. Elimi; G. Nenci, "Per una definizione dell'area elima", in G. Nenci et alii (eds.), "Gli Elimi e l'area elima fino all'inizio della prima guerra punica. Atti del Seminario di Studi, Palermo - Contessa Entellina, 25-28 maggio 1989", in Archivio Storico Siciliano, s. IV, XIV-XV, 1988-1989, pp. 21-26; Id., "L'etnico Ἔλυμοι e il ruolo del panico nell'alimentazione antica", in ASNSP, s. III, XIX, 1989, pp. 1255-1265; Id., in Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, append. V, Roma 1992, pp. 82-83 s.v. Elimi; V. Tusa, "Aspetti storico-archeologici di alcuni centri della Sicilia occidentale", in Kokalos III, 1957, pp. 79-83; Id., "L'irradiazione della civiltà greca nella Sicilia occidentale", in Kokalos VIII, 1962, pp. 153-166; Id., "Problemi presenti e futuri dell'archeologia nella Sicilia occidentale", in Rivista dell'Istituto di Archeologia e Storia dell'Arte, XIII-XIV, 1966, p. 207-220; Id., "La questione degli Elimi alla luce degli ultimi rinvenimenti archeologici", in Atti e Memorie del I Congresso Internazionale di Miceneologia, III, Roma 1968-1969, pp. 1097-1120; Id., "Segesta e la questine degli Elimi", in Sicilia Archeologica, VI, 1969, pp. 5-10; Id., "La problematica storico-archeologica", in S. Tusa - R. Vento (eds.), Gli Elimi, Trapani 1989, pp. 17-42; S. De Vido, Gli Elimi. Storie di contatti e di rappresentazioni, Pisa 1997; Ead., "Gli Elimi", in P. Anello et alii (eds.), Ethne e religioni nella Sicilia antica. Atti del Convegno (Palermo, 6-7 December 2000), Roma 2006, pp. 147-179, as well as the entries: Segesta, Erice, Rocca d'Entella in G. Nenci - G. Vallet (eds), Bibliografia Topografica della Colonizzazione Greca in Italia e nelle isole tirreniche, Pisa - Roma. Also see the acts of the ‘Congressi Internazionali di Studi sulla Sicilia antica’ (published in the journal Kokalos) and those of the 'Giornate Internazionali di Studi sull'Area elima' organized by the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa from 1991, after the experience with the 'Seminario di Studi' in 1989 dedicated to "Gli Elimi e l'area elima fino all'inizio della prima guerra punica".

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The Elymian corpus

The Elymian language is found in only two kinds of written texts that cannot be ascribed either to the Attic dialect or to the variety of Greek language spoken by the Greek inhabitants of northwestern Sicily: coin legends, from coins struck in Segesta and Eryx, and inscriptions written on pottery found mainly in Segesta but more recently also in other Elymian sites such as Montelpre (Monte d’Oro necropolis), Monte Castellazzo di Poggioreale and Entella (necropolis A). The scarce variation in types of texts, exiguous quantities of documentary evidence and the highly formulaic nature of the Elymian inscriptions, which are mostly brief and incomplete, combine to cause the exegetic problems typical of a fragmentary language (Restsprache).

i) Coin legends

Segestan pottery inscriptions have been found and analysed only since the 1960s, but coin legends have been known of since the 19th century. This kind of inscription, found in both epigraphic and museum collections, was the first to be studied analytically both from the numismatic (such as in the works by F. Imhoof-Blumer, B.V. Head, A. Holm) and the linguistic points of view. Linguistically, the contributions of K.F. Kinch, "Die Sprache der sicilischen Elymer" published in the Zeitschrift für Numismatik, XVI, 1888 (pp. 187-207), and by R.S. Conway, J. Whatmough, S.E. Johnson with their The Prae-Italic Dialects of Italy (London 1933, vol. II.3, pp. 431-500) are fundamental. In this first phase of research, the important monograph by U. Schmoll, Die vorgriechischen Sprachen Siziliens (Wiesbaden 1958) needs to be mentioned as well.

In the Elymian area, Segesta and Eryx were the only two urban communities which signaled their political, cultural and linguistic background through coin emissions as well, with legends showing the coins belonged to the communities (in the case of Eryx, the coin legend adopted is even Punic). On the contrary, Entella - which is known to be an Elymian centre in later historiography - employed a Hellenic mintage without any differences from the rest of Sicily, and its coin legends are written only in Greek.

In the Elymian area, Segesta was not only the most relevant centre, but also the most open to new cultural stimuli and innovations; thanks to its influence the mint of Eryx underwent a great development. The adoption of the Elymian language for minting coins was an ongoing process through all of the 5th century B.C., starting from 490-480 B.C., even if the largest number of specimina already studied came from Segesta instead of Eryx.

The Elymian coin legends (both written right-to-left and left-to-right) show some linguistic variants, involving the choice of language(s) on one hand (Elymian legends, bilingual legends in Greek and Elymian each on one side of the coin, purely Greek legends), and on the other hand morphosyntactic and formulaic matters. Concerning these latter aspects, the use of the verb εμι “I am” is a discrimen in the analysis of the materials, because it was a peculiarity of the coin legends and vase inscriptions from Segesta, where it had the same textual function of the Greek εἰμί in expressing the idea of possession. Another relevant point is the employment of different morphological forms in the inflection of the ethnonym for Segesta.

This ethnonym underwent a phonetic variation (ΣEΓEΣTA-/ΣAΓEΣTA-; ΙΡΥK(A)-/EΡΥK(A)-) and it often occurred in the shortened forms ΣE, ΣEΓE, ΣEΓEΣT, ΙΡΥ. It consists of an indigenous suffix -(α)ζι-, which underwent some allomorphic variations in -αζι- and -ζι- according to different syntagmatic contexts. The suffix had the same function of -αιο- and -ινο- in EΓEΣTAIŌN and EΡΥKINŌN (cf. also ENTEΛΛINŌN), found both in the bilingual coin legends and in the Greek ones from Segesta and Eryx (see L. Agostiniani, IAS, pp. 124-128 for a more detailed analysis on divergent interpretations, such as that given by R. Arena, "Σεγεσταζιβ", in Archivio Glottologico Italiano, XLIV, 1959, pp. 17-37; see also L. Agostiniani 1992, pp. 144-145, and S. Hurter, Die Didrachmenprägung von Segesta mit einem Anhang der Hybriden, Teilstücke und Tetradrachmen sowie mit einem Überblick über die Bronzeprägung, Biel 2008 for both the Elymian and/or the Greek legends on Segestan didrachma; for -aio- see also Meiser 2012).

As far as the suffix -(α)ζι is concerned, many hypotheses on its etymon have been formulated: according to K.F. Kinch (Die Sprache der sicilischen Elymer, cit., pp. 191-194) and to U. Schmoll (Die vorgriechischen Sprachen Siziliens, cit., pp. 17-18; Id., "Die Elymer und ihre Sprache", in Die Sprache, VII, 1961, p. 116; Id., "Neues zu den protosizilischen Inschriften", in Glotta, XLVI.1, 1968, p. 194+), it is derived from the Indo-European suffix *-askii̯o- from which derive Armenian -açi and Lycian -azi as well. According to M. Durante ("Sulla lingua degli Elimi", in Kokalos, VI, 1961, pp. 85-86), the suffix -(α)ζι is derived from the suffix *-āsio, which corresponds to Latin –ārius and to Osco-Umbrian āsio. According to Peruzzi (1988-1989) and Biondi (1997, pp. 147-148) the ending -(α)ζι could correspond to the suffix -āti- forming many ethnonyms found in the Ligurian area.

The full picture of variants (“quadro di varianti significative”) constructed by L. Agostiniani for Elymian coins (see IAS, p. 126), includes the legends ιρυκαζιβ and ιρυκαζιιβ for Eryx, and the legends σεγεσταζια, σεγεσταζιβ, σεγεσταζιβεμι, σεγεσταζιε, [----]σταζιον for Segesta. Indeed, the number of linguistic variants can even be reduced since on one hand, the legend -ŌN occurs only once and it can be considered as the plural genitive ending -ων of the Greek ethnonym (and integrated as [εγε]στα{ζ}ιον, see IAS, pp. 128-143; Agostiniani 1989-1990, pp. 347-350, 356-357; Id., 1992, pp. 133-134). On the other hand, the legend with the ethnonym in -E is considered to be a mistake made by the engraver, who probably misinterpreted this symbol with an angled <Β> : in this way -E would not be regarded as a nominal ending belonging to the Elymian language system. Nevertheless, a recent analysis of the Segestan didrachma-types (see S. Hurter, Die Didrachmenprägung von Segesta, cit. 2008, pp. 37, 101 nos. 180, 181) revealed other occurrences of the Segestan legend ending in -E and this may suggest that σεγεσταζιε is not simply an isolated mistake made by the engraver, but an indigenous morpheme, perhaps the same recognizable on a graffito from Segesta (IAS no. 224: α̩ι̩̩ε̩̩̩).

In any case, with the exception of the Greek ending -ŌN and of -E (whose grammatical status remains sub iudice), three different formulaic variants can be recognised definitely: the ethnonym in -αζιβ (σεγεσταζιβ, ιρυκαζι(ι)β), the ethnonym in -αζια (σεγεσταζια) and the ethnonym in-αζιβ followed by the verb εμι “I am” (σεγεσταζιβεμι). As a result, after the identification of -(α)ζι- as a derivational morpheme, in these variants it is possible to isolate two endings (which are -β and -α respectively) and an entire word, i.e. the first singular person  εμι. of the verb “to be”.
In Σε/αγεσταζια the ending -α is considered a singular nominative morpheme and it is the same occurring on the local vase inscriptions (see section ii. Vase inscriptions). Therefore the morpheme would express that the coin belonged to the community of Segesta by deriving an adjective from the singular feminine nominative inflection of the toponym. Even though this happens rarely, it is similar to a process in ancient Greek and in Sicilian Greek  (see IAS, pp. 142-143).
As far as -β is concerned, it occurred not only on the coins of Segesta and Eryx but also in the inscriptions (surely in IAS no. 277, and probably in IAS no. 323.a l.1 as well). After U. Schmoll, L. Agostiniani regards -β as being a morpheme with a plural dative function, derived from the Indo-European *-bhi, carrying an instrumental significance, with the loss of its final vowel and with the value of a labial fricative contoid (presumably /f/ o /Φ/) for the sound written <Β>. Nevertheless many other interpretations have been carried out: M. Lejeune and then L. Dubois, (see the section Alphabet and phonetic values) suppose that <Β> should be interpreted as representing a vocoid, since it may be the palatalized allophone of /a/, expressing a functional variant of the singular nominative -α. Peruzzi (1988-1989) and then Biondi (1997) support the hypothesis that it is a semivowel and they consider -β as the plural genitive ending in which the nasal final contoid has been dropped.
According to L. Agostiniani, in Elymian coin legends the plural dative ending -β showed that the coin belonged to the community of the Elymians and it indicates the need of underlining a cultural difference proudly. This semantic content, in the Greek legends (both in the monolingual and in the Greek-Elymian bilingual ones - EΓEΣTAIŌN, EΡΥKINŌN), was expressed through the use of the plural genitive, even if there are very few examples of the association between the plural genitive and the verb “to be” in the Hellenic tradition. Furthermore L. Agostiniani affirms that the plural dative ending -β corresponds with the singular -αι (and with its isofunctional variant -ααι), which is often linked to (probably) onomastic themes in the inscriptions of Grotta Vanella and in those of other Elymian sites. In these inscriptions, this ending did not express a dedication (in the sense that the vase was offered to the deity for X), but a possession, similarly to -β in the coin legends (see section ii. Vase inscriptions), Consequently a realignment of the case system is thought to have taken place in the Elymian language: the dative is likely to have been preferred to the Greek genitive in order to convey the idea of possession. To sum up, the ending –αι, corresponding to Indo-European *-ai, would cover the same textual function as the genitive in the Greek inscriptions. Even the employment of the ending -β together with the verb εμι would represent an extension of the Greek made by the Elymian language, which associated these two components in a different way than the Greek model, since this latter does not contemplate the use of εἰμί on the coin legends.
Furthermore, the three variants occurring in the Elymian coin legends, i.e. -αζιβ, -αζια and -αζιβ + εμι, did not appear regularly across time.
With regard to the most accredited studies, -β is the most ancient and recurring form of the ethnonym; it marks the beginning of the Segestan coin production and it lingers on during the decade of 490-480 B.C. until the end of the century, when this local language disappeared. Thanks to the role of medium played by Segesta, this coin type arrived to the mint of Eryx (whose most ancient coins had Greek legends) which led to the legend ιρυκαζι(ι)β, the only Elymian note for the city. On the contrary, Segesta, in the first phase of the coin mintage - starting from the years 465/460 B.C. - is the only community whose ethnonym in -αζιβ is associated to the verb εμι (e.g. σεγεσταζιβεμι). Similarly, exclusively in Segesta the legends with the ethnonym in -αζια appear during the last decade of the fifth century B.C. and they linger on until the end of the process of minting in the Elymian language. Some bilingual coin specimina coming from Segesta and Eryx can be dated back to the fifth century B.C.: on each side of the coin the legend is written in two different languages, i.e. Greek and Elymian.

II) Vase inscriptions

The Elymian inscriptions were incised after firing onto black painted vases with a left-to-right writing. The vases were generally imported from the Attic peninsula, but there are some samples coming from the Ionic and the local area. They can be dated back to a period of time between the first decades and the second half of 5th century B.C.

The great majority of these inscribed samples come from the Segestan site of Grotta Vanella, as the cave on the northeastern side of Monte Barbaro over which the urban centre lay from the Archaic age is called. Close to Grotta Vanella, there is a wide deposit of vase debris poured from on high along the slope of the mountain. This debris is made of vase fragments and architectural elements belonging to ancient structures that can be traced from many different areas of Segesta. This site has been excavated starting from the end of the 1950s and again during the 1970s.

Unfortunately it is not possible to trace the origins and chronological termini of this debris. The scarcity of fragments dateable to the beginning of 4th century B.C. makes it impossible to decide either if during this period the site was definitely abandoned after a long and intense activity, or if the debris is the product of the process of Hellenic urbanization of Segesta instead (on this theme see J. de la Genière, "Una divinità femminile sull'Acropoli di Segesta?", in Kokalos, XXII-XXIII, 1976-1977, pp. 680-688; Ead., "Ségeste et l'hellénisme", in MEFRA, XC.1, 1978, pp. 33-49; Ead., "Entre Grecs et non-Grecs en Italie du Sud et Sicile", in VV.AA., Forme di contatto e processi di trasformazione nelle società antiche. Atti del Convegno di Cortona, 24-30 maggio 1981, Pisa - Roma 1983, pp. 257-272; Ead., "Alla ricerca di Segesta arcaica", in ASNSP, s. III, XVIII.2, 1988, pp. 287-316; Ead., "Ségeste, Grotta Vanella", in Atti delle Seconde Giornate Internazionali di Studi sull'Area elima (Gibellina, 22-26 ottobre 1994), Pisa 1997, pp. 1029-1038).

It may be worth pointing out that all the inscribed materials of Grotta Vanella cannot be regarded as linguistically homogeneous. Most of them were inscribed on black-painted vases coming from the Attic peninsula, but the question cannot be dealt with simplistically. Further analyses are required in order to decide whether to attribute the epigraphs to the Attic dialect, which is thought to be the most likely for the inscriptions with commercial acronyms (either alphabetical or non-alphabetic, numeral or non-numeral).

Similarly, it is necessary to distinguish the Attic inscriptions both from the “Greek inscriptions”, which involve commercial marks as well - due to the presence in the Segestan sanctuary of Greek speakers who are also Segestan inhabitants (merchants, skilled workers of the Segestan mint or building hands and so on) - and from the non-Hellenic inscriptions, which are strictly Elymian. The question is extremely complex because of two different factors: firstly, as Thucydides shows (VI, 6.2), there were mixed marriages between the inhabitants of Segesta and Selinunte and many of them lived in Segesta in order to engage in commercial, architectural and minting activities; secondly the Greek inscriptions can be referred both to Greek speakers attending religious ceremonies in the city of Segesta and to people actually living in the city. In any case, the non-Hellenic inscriptions represent the scarcest component in the linguistic corpus actually known, but thanks to their peculiarity they are extremely useful in tracing back some linguistic structures of the Elymian language with a high degree of certainty (as far as the concept of attributive pertinence-"pertinenza attributiva" is concerned, see IAS, pp. 89-101; previously see L. Agostiniani, "Per una definizione del materiale epigrafico anellenico di Sicilia", in Studi Etruschi, s. III, XLI, 1973, pp. 388-395 and Id., "Criteri per una classificazione dei segni analfabetici nella ceramica segestana", ivi, pp. 396-409).

Even though the epigraphic material of Grotta Vanella is extremely fragmentary and scarce, some vase forms have been identified in this site. They are primarily kylikes, lekythoi, skyphoi, i.e. small cups, kraters but also lamps. The inscriptions are collocated on different parts of the pottery: cup interiors and exteriors, foot, lip, handle, internal and external bottom are the most frequent points chosen for the inscriptions (see IAS, pp. 6-8). Because of the narrowness of the writing area and the nature of the vase surface, the inscriptions are not regularly aligned but distributed on different levels. In very few cases the vessels present two different inscriptions on two different parts, as in IAS nos. 29, 87, 323. a and .b, or in IAS nos. 272, 318 and *371, in which the signs are both on the internal and external surface.

Very few Elymian vase inscriptions have been found in the areas close to Segesta: according to the studies carried out until the 1970s, only one sample has been found in the Doric temple area (IAS no. 320); some other ceramic fragments have been discovered in some other unspecified areas (as in IAS no. 47). Except from Segesta, only the necropolis of Monte d’Oro di Montelepre (in the settlement of 'Manico di Quarara') has given birth to two full inscriptions, as can be seen in IAS no. 319 and no. 283.

This corpus of pottery inscriptions was published during the 1960s and 1970s by V. Tusa, and appeared primarily in Kokalos. (VI, 1960; XII, 1966; XIII, 1967; XIV-XV, 1968-1969; XVI, 1970). During the same decades, it was studied by many linguists, such as G. Alessio ("Fortune della grecità linguistica in Sicilia", in "Atti del I Congresso Internazionale di Studi sulla Sicilia antica", in Kokalos X-XI, 1964-1965, pp. 301-310; "Fortune della grecità linguistica in Sicilia I. Il sostrato", Palermo 1970), R. Ambrosini, ("Italica o anatolica la lingua dei graffiti di Segesta?", in Studi e Saggi Linguistici VIII, 1968, pp. 160-172; "Problemi e ipotesi sulla lingua dei graffiti di Segesta", in Rendiconti dell'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei s. VIII, XXV, 1970, pp. 461-474; "A proposito di una recente pubblicazione sulla lingua dei graffiti di Segesta", in Studi e Saggi Linguistici X, 1970, pp. 232-237), R. Arena ("Σεγεσταζιβ", in Archivio Glottologico Italiano XLIV, 1959, pp. 17-37), M. Lejeune, ("La langue élyme d'après les graffites de Ségeste (Ve siècle)", in "Comptes Rendus des Séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres" CXIII.2, 1969, pp. 237-242; "Notes de linguistique italique, XXV. Observations sur l'épigraphie élyme", in "Revue des Etudes Latines" XLVII, 1969, pp. 133-183; "A propos, encore, des graffites de Ségeste", in Studi e Saggi Linguistici XI, 1971, pp. 223-227; "L'investigation des parlers indigènes de Sicile", in "Atti del III Congresso Internazionale di Studi sulla Sicilia antica" in Kokalos XVIII-XIX, 1972-1973, pp. 296-307), O. Parlangèli ("Osservazioni sulla lingua dei graffiti segestani", in Kokalos XIII, 1967, pp. 19-29), U. Schmoll (besides those already mentioned,  "Zu den vorgriechischen Keramikinschriften von Segesta", in Kokalos VI, 1961, pp. 67-79; "Zu den vorgriechischen Inschriften Siziliens und Süditaliens", in Kokalos XL.1, 1962, pp. 54-62), and in the aforementioned contributions by K.F. Kinch and M. Durante.

The monograph by L. Agostiniani,  Iscrizioni anelleniche di Sicilia. I. Le iscrizioni elime (IAS, 1977), represents a systematic guide for the corpus, since it analyses linguistically the graphic, phonetic-phonological and morphological properties of the Elymian language by deriving them from the texts known at that time (including the coin legends). Furthermore, it offers a systematic collection of inscriptions, which are divided into four categories based on “external evidence criteria” (IAS, p. 8): non-interpretable signs (IAS nos. 1-3), decorative elements (IAS nos. 4-6), marks, abbreviations, numerals etc. (IAS nos. 7-143) and inscriptions (IAS nos. 144-323). This first catalogue is composed of 328 documents, which can be read on 323 ceramic vases, and there is one more group of inscriptions found in the excavations during the years 1974-1975 at Grotta Vanella (see V. Tusa, "Frammenti di ceramica con graffiti da Segesta (VI)", in Kokalos, XXI, 1975, pp. 214-225) and IAS at the numbers *324-*347 (marks, abbreviations, numerals and similar) and *348-*371 (inscriptions).

Starting from the 1980s, after the publications of IAS, the corpus has increased, with some more units coming not only from the Segestan area, but also from different centres in the whole Elymian area, e.g. Monte Castellazzo di Poggioreale (in the Segestan hinterland), and Entella. The most recent texts (both from the point of view of discovery and publication) are about 20 units and they can be divided into two sets: the first one is represented by marks, abbreviations, numerals etc., and the second one by inscriptions. Other texts are still unpublished. Luciano Agostiniani is working on the second volume of Iscrizioni anelleniche di Sicilia, in which all these epigraphic materials will be collected.

According to IAS, all these newly found inscriptions can be grouped together and labelled as Elymian since they do not present any Hellenic properties, and they can be considered homogeneous from many points of view: the dating, the type of lettering and the direction of writing, phonographic and morphological aspects and formulaic schemes. They are all vase inscriptions, most of them coming from the area of Grotta Vanella and mostly published. Precisely, the published ones can be traced to the area of Grotta Vanella (see Camerata Scovazzo 1989; Agostiniani 1992; Biondi 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998) but also to the suburban sanctuary of Contrada Mango, beneath the southeastern buttresses of Monte Barbaro (see Tusa 1980-1981, pp. 850-851), and to the area 4129 (see Biondi 2000), to the oriental side of the summa cavea (sample A) of the Segestan theatre (but for this one the attribution to Elymian or to Greek is uncertain and still open to interpretations, as it can be seen in D'Andria 1997, pp. 442-443 no. 3; Biondi 2000). Monte Castellazzo di Poggioreale and Entella (necropolis A) are very important centres for the discovery of pottery objects (see Falsone 1988-1989; Calascibetta 1990 for Monte Castellazzo and see Biondi 1992, 1993 no. 10, for Entella). Finally, it is not easy to establish the linguistic attribution of a fragment found in Monte Iato (see H.P. Isler, Monte Iato: scavi 1995-1997, in Terze Giornate Internazionali di Studi sull'Area elima, Gibellina - Contessa Entellina, 23-26 ottobre 1997, Pisa - Gibellina, 2000, II, pp. 715-729, plate CXLIII, 1-2).

The entire current corpus of ceramic inscriptions allows the identification of some recurrent endings.

The inscriptions present an ending in -α(α)ι which can occur both alone (e.g. IAS no. 305: ḥαλενιαι; no. 278: ]ιλααι) or associated to the verb εμι (e.g. IAS no. 319: αταιτυκαι εμι; no. 306: ]λενααι εμ[) also in the most recently found vase inscriptions (such as in ατιιαι εμι from Grotta Vanella). In the ending -αι, whose -ααι would be an isofunctional variant, the local ending of the Indo-European dative case *-ai has been recognized, which in the local language performs the same function of the Greek genitive; therefore from the point of view of the linguistic function, -α(α)ι would correspond to the -β ending employed on the coins of Segesta and Eryx in the plural dative case (see section i. Coin legends). In accordance with another hypothesis, -αι (with the variants -ααι and -α) could be a singular genitive ending expressing the idea of possession following the main scheme in the Italic area (see Biondi).

Both in the legend σεγεσταζια and in the pottery inscriptions, an -α singular nominative morpheme can be identified. In the case of pottery inscriptions -α is often associated to εμι, as in IAS 292: ]ιονα εμ[; no. 313: ]δουhενα εμι[), but it can occur without this verb as well (e.g. IAS no. 320: δ̩̩οϝ̩ενα μυτααι). In this case, the -α morpheme seems to specify a common noun instead of a proper noun: the Elymian sequence δουhενα (in IAS no. 313, together with the other variants taken from the inscriptions) should be read as an example of a name if it is related to the Indo-European root *dō/*dōu “gift” (see IAS, pp. 156-159, also for the different interpretations given). An -α ending has been found even in some non-Hellenic sequences of Segesta which were found after the year of publication of IAS: ]ορτακα in ]ορτακα εμι (from Grotta Vanella) and maybe the more rare ]α εμ[ι (see Biondi 2000) are two examples of this, and they probably express an anthroponym. Conversely, for the -α ending found in these sequences, L. Agostiniani supposes that it could be either the local singular nominative ending or a Greek singular genitive used to express a local onomastic theme.
The analysis of the inscriptions paves the way to an hypothesis in support of the existence of endings such as -οι and –ει (e.g. in IAS no. 275: ατροι and no. 253 ατει?[)), in which O. Parlangèli, R. Ambrosini and M. Lejeune posited dative singular morphemes deriving respectively from an -o, -i and a consonant theme and with the same function of the -αι morpheme. Moreover, it is uncertain that these are absolute endings of a word and this lays the foundations for the hypothesis of their belonging to Greek words instead of to Elymian ones (see IAS, pp. 159-160).

As far as the -ι ending is concerned, that linguists such as U. Schmoll, M. Durante, G. Alessio, M Lejeune supposed could represent a genitive ending with the -o (and *-io) theme,  it is not possible to refer it to the Elymian language because of the contexts in which it occurs. L. Agostiniani (see IAS, pp.160-162), following the hypothesis by R.Ambrosini, supposed that ιμι could be a verbal form in *-mi which is a variant of εμι “(I) am” because of the alternation e-/i- that can be found for the name Erice in the Hellenic (Ερυκ-) and Elymian (Ιρυκ-) linguistic traditions.

On the contrary, a -ρ ending (cf. IAS nos. 186, 251, 288, 316) can be identified more surely as a singular nominative morpheme associated to different themes such as -αρ, -ερ, -ιρ (see IAS, pp. 163-165). Referring to the sequence ανκδερ in the inscription IAS no. 288, M. Lejeune ("Notes de linguistique italique, XXV. Observations sur l'épigraphie élyme", in Revue des Etudes Latines XLVII, 1969, pp. 164-165) suggests a comparison with the (unfound) Libyan form *NKDR: as a matter of fact the Segestan inscription would be the graphic realisation of this form expressed through the Elymian alphabet and adapted to the phonetics and morphology of the indigenous language.

For the endings -β and -ε, see section i. Coin legends.

Alphabet and phonetic values

The adoption of the Greek alphabet for indigenous texts is a cultural option and it expresses the Elymians’ willingness to share Hellenic textual-linguistic models. In this sense, the employment of an archaic Hellenic alphabet for public and private documents (respectively the coins of Segesta and Eryx and the vase inscriptions) by the Elymian communities demonstrates how far Greek acculturation had permeated northwestern Sicily since the 6th century B.C. As seen before, the breadth and the prominence of this phenomenon is widely demonstrated in many fields of the material and cultural life of these centers and in particular of Segesta.

The choice of the Greek alphabet by the Elymian ethnos is to be considered part of that process of political, cultural and commercial exchange with the Greek poleis of Sicily. Among these, Selinunte is undoubtedly the city that provided the pattern for the alphabet used in the indigenous documents.

On one hand, the importance of Selinunte in this field cannot be reduced by the fact that some inscriptions present alphabets outside the Segestan model, leading researchers to suppose that the sanctuary was attended by Greeks not belonging to the community of Selinunte. The evidence of a closed heta (which can represent /h/) and of an arrow-type alpha (in a sequence of a probable anthroponymic origin and linguistically Greek, such as IAS no. *256), both graphic models found in the inscriptions of eastern or central Sicily, seems to prove this idea. On the other hand, some ‘foreign’ patterns, i.e. not belonging to the area of Selinunte, have to be taken into account for the development of this alphabet.

Nevertheless, between the 6th and the 7th century Selinunte was the most relevant city in promoting the process of Hellenisation of the area of Segesta and its impulse was even stronger than that of the other cities of Greek Sicily. It is no wonder that Selinunte had a strong influence even on the alphabet used to write the Elymian inscriptions: and this is only the linguistic reflection of that wider cultural debt which Segesta owes to Selinunte. Needless to say, on this point many specialists do agree, as can be seen in IAS, pp. 107-122; Agostiniani 1988-1989, pp. 353-359; 2000; 2006 (but differently M. Lejeune, "Notes de linguistique italique, XXV. Observations sur l'épigraphie élyme", in Revue de Etudes Latines, XLVII, 1969, pp. 148-159).

The similarities and - sometimes - the formal identity between the characters of the Elymian alphabet and those of Selinunte prove this hypothesis, as can be seen in sigma and rho in their respective variants, which are exactly the same in Segesta, Eryx and Selinunte (see IAS, pp. 118-122; but most of all Agostiniani 1988-1989, pp. 353-354). Even if it cannot be proven, it is supposed that those letters express phonetic values of Elymian which are identical or fairly similar to those of Greek despite some special cases.

From this perspective, the presence of a beta shaped as simbolo is extremely important. It does not appear in the coin legends but in the vase inscriptions. It also occurred in Selinunte where it was used to note /b/ (where it probably has its roots in Megara). Because of the correspondence between  simboloοτυλ- found in the Elymian inscriptions and the onomastic theme BOTUL-, which has been documented also in the great defixio of Selinunte, simbolo is unanimously thought to be the graphic realization of /b/ in Segesta. It coexisted here with a normal beta (which is angled and canonical in the Hellenic and non-Hellenic epigraphy of archaic Sicily) and it recurred in the ending -β of the ethnonym on the coin legends of both Segesta and Eryx.

The attribution of a phonetic value to this sign has been fiercely debated by linguists and a meeting point has not been found yet: both a vocalic and a consonant value have been attached to the /beta/ of the ‘normal’ and Panhellenic <Β> type.

Many scholars such as G. Alessio, R. Ambrosini, R. Arena, M. Durante and M. Lejeune suppose a vocalic sound for this sign. In particular, M. Lejeune suggests that the ‘angled’ beta is the graphic realization of a palatalized allophone of /a/ because of the presence of an antecedent (semi)consonant. The basis for this interpretation is the observation that in an inscription (IAS no. 233.a) would be substituted with alpha and that in the legend of Eryx ιρυκαζιιβ <ιι> would represent [ij]; consequently, -β would recur in a syntagmatic context which allows a vowel but absolutely not a consonant (see M. Lejeune, Notes de linguistique italique, XXXV. Observations sur l'épigraphie élyme cit., 1969); more precisely, in this context <Β> would express a palatalized allophone of /a/, due to the precedent palatal semiconsonant.

M. Lejeune supposes as well that in the coin legends of Segesta the -α, -ε and -β endings represent the same functional unit, i.e. the -α feminine singular nominative. On a posterior occasion (see Lejeune 1988-1989, p. 342) the scholar theorizes that the palatalization of /a/ in [æ] would occur in a closed vocalic context, created by the presence of the vowels /i/ and /u/. On the basis of the phonetic value attributed to this sign on a stele of 6th century B.C. probably coming from Selinunte, L. Dubois (2009) has recently reconsidered M. Lejeune’s hypothesis and stated that in that period the alphabet of Selinunte provided for an epsilon shaped as a Panhellenic <Β> and for a beta shaped as a reversed simbolo.

On the contrary, L. Agostiniani is in favour of attributing a consonant value to the ‘normal’ beta of Segesta, which he recognizes as a labial fricative contoid, such as /Φ/ or /f/. He is strongly convinced that this characteristic is an indication for the analogy between the Elymian language and the Italic group of the Indo-European family (IAS, pp. 139-142; Agostiniani 1988-1989, pp. 364-366; 1992, pp. 144-145). In many parts of his contributions (after IAS, pp. 115-120, see Agostiniani 1984-1985, pp. 117-210; 1988-1989, pp. 356-359; 1992, pp. 134-136) Agostiniani argued that -ε should be excluded by the case endings because it is considered as a mistake made by the scribe (see above). For these reasons, from the point of view of functions, the -β ending cannot be compared to -α and consequently -β and -α are two independent morphemes and not the graphic representations of the same morphological unit. As far as the legend of Eryx is concerned, ιρυκαζιιβ, Agostiniani argues that <ιι> can be the realization of [ji] as well, and as a consequence a following consonant can be accepted into the hypothesis. Moreover, in his opinion there is no palatalisation of the sound written <Β>. The Segestan sequence ]τοκυβε[ (IAS no. 297) would represent the proof of this: as a matter of fact, <Β> follows a velar consonant. In his considerations, the same consonant value would also be possible in the hypothesis of a segmentation of the inscription ]τοκυβ ε[ which pertains to Elymian, not Greek.

As far as the coexistence of two different types of beta is concerned (the one shaped simbolo and the ‘Panhellenic’ one, which does not belong to the system of Selinunte and which is used to mark a consonant), L. Agostiniani has given two different explanations. For the first explanation (see IAS, pp. 117-118) the coexistence of two different kinds of beta would reflect the greatness of the cultural tradition of Sicily, which employs /b/ in a different way from Selinunte. From this perspective the representation of a plosive voiced bilabial (according with a non-Selinuntine model) would tend to outclass the Segestan use of the same sign to express /b/ (a use that certainly was specific and particular). For the second and more recent interpretation (see Agostiniani 1988-1989, pp. 358-359; 1992, pp. 135-136, 1999, pp. 6-7), the scholar supposes that the ‘normal’ beta represents a labial consonant which is different from /b/ and which is unknown to the Hellenophone component. Its presence in the Elymian alphabet is to be referred to an impulse for rearranging the phonographic system to a non-Hellenic background. According to this hypothesis, the Panhellenic beta, which is unknown to the pattern of Selinunte and which has probably been imported from an archaic alphabet of Sicily, would have been used to represent graphically an indigenous sound that the Greek alphabet could not reproduce. As Agostiniani writes, it is used to represent “something like a /β/ or a /φ/ or an /f/, that is, allegedly, a fricative labial consonant” (cf. Agostiniani 1988-1989, p. 359).

Differently, S. Marchesini has more recently (1998; 2012) proposed a periodization for the alphabet of Segesta. According to her proposal, two phases can be identified: the most ancient one started from the second half of the 6th century B.C. and the most recent one from the beginning of the 5th century. Moreover, in the vase inscriptions she considers the occurrence of  simbolo a writing lapsus (which is even more frequent in the asymmetric graphemes such as simbolo) and she attributed the value of plosive bilabial voiced contoids to this symbol.

Elymian inscriptions include the signs for the aspirate occlusive sounds, i.e. phi, theta and khi, which are absent from the alphabets used in the non-Hellenic communities living in eastern Sicily. This situation is extremely relevant for the attribution of phonetic values in spite of the diversity traceable among the different Hellenic alphabets. The Elymian corpus substantiates with evidence also the signs simbolo and simbolo, which is known to be part of the suffix -αζι- from the coin legends for which the value of fricative or dental affricate has been proposed. (cf. IAS, pp. 120-122).

For the rest, the signs used in the inscriptions correspond to those known for the alphabet of Selinunte as well, and this corroborates the hypothesis that they are employed to represent sounds which are equal or similar to the Greek model used in Selinunte.

As far as the typology and the occurrences of the alphabetical signs together with their variants is concerned, see IAS, pp. 112-114, from which the table proposed in the Symbols section has been taken.