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Etruscan language

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Subject: Etruscan civilization, Lemnian language, Caelius Vibenna, Etruscan origins, Language isolate
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Etruscan language

mechl Rasnal
Native to Ancient Etruria
Region Italian Peninsula
Extinct >AD 180[1]
Old Italic script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ett
Linguist list
Glottolog etru1241[2]

The Etruscan language ()[3] was the spoken and written language of the Etruscan civilization, in Italy, in the ancient region of Etruria (modern Tuscany plus western Umbria and northern Latium) and in parts of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna (where the Etruscans were displaced by Gauls). Etruscan influenced Latin, but was eventually completely superseded by it. The Etruscans left around 13,000 inscriptions which have been found so far, only a handful of which are of significant length, some bilingual inscriptions with texts also in Latin, Greek or Phoenician, and a few dozen loanwords, such as the name Roma (from Etruscan Ruma), but Etruscan's influence was significant.

Attested from 700 BC to AD 50, the language is not related to any living language, and has historically been referred to as an isolate, but consensus now holds that it is one of the Tyrsenian languages,[4][5][6][7] along with the Raetic language of the Alps and the Lemnian language of the Aegean island of Lemnos. Lacking large corpora or extended texts, more distant relations of that family are unclear. A connection to the Anatolian languages, or at a further remove to Proto-Indo-European, has been suggested, while Russian scholars such as Sergei Starostin[8] have suggested a link to the speculative Dené–Caucasian macrophylum. Neither of these two hypotheses has widespread support.

Grammatically, the language is agglutinating, with nouns and verbs showing suffixed inflectional endings and ablaut in some cases. Nouns show four cases, singular and plural numbers, and masculine and feminine genders. Phonologically, Etruscan appears uncomplicated, with a four-vowel system and an apparent contrast between aspirated and unaspirated stops. The language shows phonetic change over time, with the loss and then re-establishment of word-internal vowels due to the effect of Etruscan's strong word-initial stress.

Etruscan religion influenced that of the Romans and many of the few surviving Etruscan language artifacts are of votive or religious significance. Etruscan was written in an alphabet derived from the Greek alphabet; this alphabet was the source of the Latin alphabet. The Etruscan language is also believed to be the source of certain important cultural words of Western Europe such as 'military' and 'people', which do not have obvious Indo-European roots.

History of Etruscan literacy

Drawing of the inscriptions on the Liver of Piacenza, see haruspex

Etruscan literacy was widespread over the Mediterranean shores, as evidenced by about 13,000 inscriptions (dedications, epitaphs, etc.), most fairly short, but some of considerable length.[9] They date from about 700 BC.[10]

The Etruscans had a rich literature, as noted by Latin authors. However, only one book (mostly undeciphered) has survived. By AD 100, Etruscan had been replaced by Latin. Around AD 180, the Latin author Aulus Gellius mentions Etruscan alongside Gaulish in an anecdote.[11]

Only a few educated Romans with antiquarian interests, such as Varro, could read Etruscan. The last person known to have been able to read Etruscan was the Roman emperor Claudius (10 BC – AD 54), who authored a treatise in 20 volumes on the Etruscans, Tyrrenikà (now lost), and compiled a dictionary (also lost) by interviewing the last few elderly rustics who still spoke the language. Urgulanilla, the emperor's first wife, was Etruscan.[12]

Livy and Cicero were both aware that highly specialized Etruscan religious rites were codified in several sets of books written in Etruscan under the generic Latin title Etrusca Disciplina. The Libri Haruspicini dealt with divination from the entrails of the sacrificed animal, while the Libri Fulgurales expounded the art of divination by observing lightning. A third set, the Libri Rituales, might have provided a key to Etruscan civilization: its wider scope embraced Etruscan standards of social and political life, as well as ritual practices. According to the fourth-century AD Latin writer Servius, a fourth set of Etruscan books existed, dealing with animal gods, but it is unlikely that any scholar living in the fourth century AD could have read Etruscan. The single extant Etruscan book, Liber Linteus, which was written on linen, survived only because it was used as mummy wrappings.

Etruscan had some influence on Latin, as a few dozen Etruscan words and names were borrowed by the Romans, some of which remain in modern languages, such as: columna (column), voltur (vulture), tuba (trumpet), vagina (originally meaning 'sheath'), populus (people).[13]

Geographic distribution

Approximate distribution of languages in Iron Age Italy during the sixth century BC

Inscriptions have been found in north-west and west-central Italy, in the region that even now bears the name of the Etruscans, Tuscany (from Latin tuscī "Etruscans"), as well as in modern Latium north of Rome, in today's Umbria west of the Tiber, around Capua in Campania and in the Po River valley to the north of Etruria. This range may indicate a maximum Italian homeland where the language was at one time spoken.

Outside of mainland Italy[14] inscriptions have been found in Africa, Corsica, Elba, Gallia Narbonensis, Greece, the Balkans, and the Black Sea. By far the greatest concentration is in Italy.

An inscription found on Lemnos in 1886 is in an alphabet practically identical to that of Etruscan.


Isolate hypothesis

Etruscan is traditionally considered to be a language isolate. Bonfante, a leading scholar in the field, says "... it resembles no other language in Europe or elsewhere ...".[9] The ancients were aware that Etruscan was an isolate. In the first century BC, the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus stated that the Etruscan language was unlike any other.[15]

The phonology is known through the alternation of Greek and Etruscan letters in some inscriptions (for example, the Iguvine Tables), and many individual words are known through loans into or from Greek and Latin, as well as explanations of Etruscan words by ancient authors. A few concepts of word formation have been formulated (see below). Modern knowledge of the language is incomplete.

Tyrsenian family hypothesis

In 1998 Helmut Rix put forward the view that Etruscan is related to other members of what he called the "Tyrsenian language family". Rix's Tyrsenian family of languages, composed of Rhaetic and Lemnian together with Etruscan, has gained wide acceptance.[16][17][18] A few modern scholars[19] assert that the Tyrsenian languages are distantly related to the Indo-European family.

Other hypotheses

Another Aegean language which is possibly related to Etruscan is Minoan. The idea of a relation between the language of the Aegean Linear scripts was taken into consideration as the main hypothesis by Michael Ventris before he discovered that, in fact, the language behind the later Linear B script was Mycenean, a Greek dialect. Giulio Mauro Facchetti, a researcher who has dealt with both Etruscan and Minoan, put forward this hypothesis again, comparing some Minoan words of known meaning with similar Etruscan words.[20]

More recently, Robert S.P. Beekes argued that the people later known as the Lydians and Etruscans had originally lived in northwest Anatolia, with a coastline to the Sea of Marmara, whence they were driven by the Phrygians circa 1200 BC, leaving a remnant known in antiquity as the Tyrsenoi. A segment of this people moved south-west to Lydia, becoming known as the Lydians, while others sailed away to take refuge in Italy, where they became known as Etruscans.[21]

In 2006, Frederik Woudhuizen suggested that Etruscan belongs to the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European family, specifically to Luwian.[22] Woudhuizen revived a conjecture to the effect that the Tyrsenians came from Anatolia, including Lydia, whence they were driven by the Cimmerians in the early Iron Age, 750–675 BC, leaving some colonists on Lemnos. He makes a number of comparisons of Etruscan to Luwian and asserts that Etruscan is modified Luwian. He accounts for the non-Luwian features as a Mysian influence: "deviations from Luwian ... may plausibly be ascribed to the dialect of the indigenous population of Mysia."[23] According to Woudhuizen, the Etruscans were colonizing the Latins. The Etruscans brought the alphabet from Anatolia.

Both of these accounts draw on the story by Herodotus (i, 94) of the Lydian origin of the Etruscans. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (book 1) rejected this account of the people he called the Tyrrhenians, partly on the authority of Xanthus, a Lydian historian, who had no knowledge of the story, and partly on what he judged to be the different languages, laws, and religions of the two peoples.

Another proposal, currently pursued mainly by a few linguists from the former Soviet Union, suggests a relationship with Northeast Caucasian (or Daghestanian) languages.[24][25]

Various other speculative proposals have been made, all of them failing to gain wide acceptance because no significant evidence of the proposed connections has been found.

The interest in Etruscan antiquities and the mysterious Etruscan language found its modern origin in a book by a Renaissance Dominican friar, Viterbo. Annio also started to excavate Etruscan tombs, unearthing sarcophagi and inscriptions, and made a bold attempt at deciphering the Etruscan language.

Ideas of Semitic origins found supporters until the 19th-century. In 1858, the last attempt was made by Johann Gustav Stickel, Jena University: "Das Etruskische (...) als Semitische Sprache erwiesen".[26] A reviewer concluded that Stickel brought forward every possible argument which would speak for that hypothesis, but he proved the opposite of what he had attempted to do (Johannes Gildemeister in ZDMG 13, 1859, 289–304).

A Uralic connection with the Etruscan language was also proposed in the 19th century. The French orientalist Baron Carra de Vaux[27] had suggested a connection between Etruscan and Altaic languages. In 1874, the British scholar Isaac Taylor[27] brought up the idea of a genetic relationship between Etruscan and Hungarian. The Hungarian connection was recently revived by Mario Alinei, Emeritus Professor of Italian Languages at the University of Utrecht.[28] Alinei's proposal has been rejected by Etruscan experts such as Giulio M. Facchetti,[29][30] Finno-Ugric experts such as A. Marcantonio,[31][32] and by Hungarian historical linguists such as Bela Brogyanyi.[33]

In 1861, Robert Ellis proposed that Etruscan was related to Armenian, which is nowadays acknowledged as an Indo-European language.[34] Some scholars also see in Urartian art, architecture, language, and general culture traces of kinship to the Etruscans of the Italian peninsula.[35]

A relationship with Albanian was advanced by Zecharia Mayani in 1961,[36] but Albanian is known to be an Indo-European language.

The Pyrgi Tablets, an ancient bilingual text in Etruscan and Phoenician, were discovered in 1964 and have helped in the interpretation of the Etruscan language.

Writing system


The Latin script owes its existence to the Etruscan alphabet, which was adapted for Latin in the form of the Old Italic alphabet. The Etruscan alphabet[37] employs a Euboean variant[38] of the Greek alphabet using the letter digamma and was in all probability transmitted through Pithecusae and Cumae, two Euboean settlements in southern Italy. This system is ultimately derived from West Semitic scripts.

The Etruscans recognized a 26-letter alphabet, which they used in and of itself for decoration on some objects such as the "rooster ink-stand".[39] This has been termed the model alphabet.[40] They did not use four letters of it, mainly because Etruscan had no voiced stops, b, d and g, and also no o. They innovated one letter for f.[38]


Writing was from right to left except in archaic inscriptions, which occasionally used boustrophedon. An example found at Cerveteri used left to right. In the earliest inscriptions, the words are continuous. From the sixth century BC, they are separated by a dot or a colon, which symbol might also be used to separate syllables. Writing was phonetic; the letters represented the sounds and not conventional spellings. On the other hand, many inscriptions are highly abbreviated and often casually formed, so the identification of individual letters is sometimes difficult. Spelling might vary from city to city, probably reflecting differences of pronunciation.[41]

Complex consonant clusters

Speech featured a heavy stress on the first syllable of a word, causing syncopation by weakening of the remaining vowels, which then were not represented in writing: Alcsntre for Alexandros, Rasna for Rasena.[38] This speech habit is one explanation of the Etruscan "impossible consonant clusters". The resonants, however, may have been syllabic, accounting for some of the clusters (see below under Consonants). In other cases, the scribe sometimes inserted a vowel: Greek Hēraklēs became Hercle by syncopation and then was expanded to Herecele. Pallottino[42] regarded this variation in vowels as "instability in the quality of vowels" and accounted for the second phase (e.g. Herecele) as "vowel harmony, i.e., of the assimilation of vowels in neighboring syllables ...."


The writing system had two historical phases: the archaic from the seventh to fifth centuries BC, which used the early Greek alphabet, and the later from the fourth to first centuries BC, which modified some of the letters. In the later period, syncopation increased.

The alphabet went on in modified form after the language disappeared. In addition to being the source of the Roman alphabet, it has been suggested that it passed northward into Venetia and from there through Raetia into the Germanic lands, where it became the Elder Futhark alphabet, the oldest form of the runes.[43]


The Etruscan corpus is edited in the Thesaurus Linguae Etruscae (TLE).[44]

Bilingual text

The Pyrgi Tablets laminated sheets of gold with a treatise both in Etruscan and Phoenician languages in the Etruscan Museum in Rome

The Pyrgi Tablets are a bilingual text in Etruscan and Phoenician engraved on three gold leaves, one for the Phoenician and two for the Etruscan. The Etruscan language portion has 16 lines and 37 words. The date is roughly 500 BC.[45]

The tablets were found in 1964 by Massimo Pallottino during an excavation at the ancient Etruscan port of Pyrgi, now Santa Severa. Unfortunately the only new Etruscan word that could be extracted from close analysis of the tablets was the word for "three", ci.[46]

Longer texts

According to Rix and his collaborators, only two unified (though fragmentary) texts are available in Etruscan:

  • The Liber Linteus, which was later used for mummy wrappings in Egypt. Roughly 1200 words of readable text, mainly repetitious prayers, yielded about 50 lexical items.[45]
  • The Tabula Capuana (the inscribed tile from Capua) has about 300 readable words in 62 lines, dating to the fifth century BC.

Some additional longer texts are:

  • The lead foils of Punta della Vipera have[47] about 40 legible words having to do with ritual formulae. It is dated to about 500 BC.
  • The Cippus Perusinus, a stone slab (cippus) found at Perugia, contains 46 lines and 130 words.
  • The Piacenza Liver, a bronze model of a sheep's liver representing the sky, has the engraved names of the gods ruling different sections.
  • The Tabula Cortonensis, a bronze tablet from Cortona, is believed to record a legal contract, with about 200 words. Discovered in 1992, this new tablet contributed the word for "lake", tisś, but not much else.[48]

Inscriptions on monuments

Tumulus on a street at Banditaccia, the main necropolis of Caere

The main material repository of Etruscan civilization, from the modern perspective, was its tombs. Public and private buildings were dismantled and the stone reused centuries ago. The tombs are the main source of portables in collections throughout the world, provenance unknown. The Etruscans' objets d'art are of incalculable value, causing a brisk black market and equally brisk law enforcement effort, as it is against the law to remove objects from Etruscan tombs unless authorized by the Italian government.

The total number of tombs is unknown due to the magnitude of the task of catalogueing them. They are of many different types. Especially fruitful are the hypogeal or "underground" chambers or system of chambers cut into tuff and covered by a tumulus. The interior of the tomb represents a habitation of the living stocked with furniture and favorite objects. The walls may display painted murals, the predecessor of wallpaper. Tombs identified as Etruscan date from the Villanovan period to about 100 BC, when presumably the cemeteries were abandoned in favor of Roman ones.[49] Some of the major cemeteries are as follows:

  • Caere or Cerveteri, a UNESCO site.[50] Three complete necropoleis with streets and squares. Many hypogea are concealed beneath tumuli retained by walls; others are cut into cliffs. The Banditaccia necropolis contains more than 1000 tumuli. Access is through a door.[51]
  • Tarquinia, Tarquinii or Corneto, a UNESCO site:[50] Approximately 6000 graves dating from the Villanovan (9th and eighth centuries BC) distributed in necropoleis, the main one being the Monterozzi hypogea of the sixth–fourth centuries BC. About 200 painted tombs display murals of various scenes with call-outs and descriptions in Etruscan. Elaborately carved sarcophagi of marble, alabaster, and nenfro include identificatory and achievemental inscriptions. The Tomb of Orcus at the Scatolini necropolis depicts scenes of the Spurinna family with call-outs.[52]
  • Inner walls and doors of tombs and sarcophagi
  • Engraved steles (tombstones)
  • ossuaries

Inscriptions on portable objects


See Votive gifts.


A speculum is a circular or oval hand-mirror used predominantly by Etruscan women. Speculum is Latin; the Etruscan word is malena or malstria. Specula were cast in bronze as one piece or with a tang into which a wooden, bone, or ivory handle fitted. The reflecting surface was created by polishing the flat side. A higher percentage of tin in the mirror improved its ability to reflect. The other side was convex and featured intaglio or cameo scenes from mythology. The piece was generally ornate.[53]

About 2300 specula are known from collections all over the world. As they were popular plunderables, the provenance of only a minority is known. An estimated time window is 530–100 BC.[54] Most probably came from tombs.

Many bear inscriptions naming the persons depicted in the scenes, so they are often called picture bilinguals. In 1979, Massimo Pallottino, then president of the Istituto di Studi Etruschi ed Italici initiated the Committee of the Corpus Speculorum Etruscanorum, which resolved to publish all the specula and set editorial standards for doing so.

Since then, the committee has grown, acquiring local committees and representatives from most institutions owning Etruscan mirror collections. Each collection is published in its own fascicle by diverse Etruscan scholars.[55]


A cista is a bronze container of circular, ovoid, or more rarely rectangular shape used by women for the storage of sundries. They are ornate, often with feet and lids to which figurines may be attached. The internal and external surfaces bear carefully crafted scenes usually from mythology, usually intaglio, or rarely part intaglio, part cameo.

Cistae date from the Roman Republic of the fourth and third centuries BC in Etruscan contexts. They may bear various short inscriptions concerning the manufacturer or owner or subject matter. The writing may be Latin, Etruscan, or both.

Excavations at Praeneste, an Etruscan city which became Roman, turned up about 118 cistae, one of which has been termed "the Praeneste cista" or "the Ficoroni cista" by art analysts, with special reference to the one manufactured by Novios Plutius and given by Dindia Macolnia to her daughter, as the archaic Latin inscription says. All of them are more accurately termed "the Praenestine cistae".[56]

Rings and ringstones

Among the most plunderable portables from the Etruscan tombs of Etruria are the finely engraved gemstones set in patterned gold to form circular or ovoid pieces intended to go on finger rings. Of the magnitude of one centimeter, they are dated to the Etruscan floruit from the second half of the sixth to the first centuries BC. The two main theories of manufacture are native Etruscan[57] and Greek.[58]

The materials are mainly dark red carnelian, with agate and sard entering usage from the third to the first centuries BC, along with purely gold finger rings with a hollow engraved bezel setting. The engravings, mainly cameo, but sometimes intaglio, depict scarabs at first and then scenes from Greek mythology, often with heroic personages called out in Etruscan. The gold setting of the bezel bears a border design, such as cabling.


Etruscan-minted coins can be dated between 5th and 3rd centuries BC. Use of the 'Chalcidian' standard, based on the silver unit of 5.8 grams, indicates the custom, like the alphabet, came from Greece. Roman coinage later supplanted Etruscan, but the basic Roman coin, the sesterce, is believed to have been based on the 2.5-denomination Etruscan coin.[59] Etruscan coins have turned up in caches or individually in tombs and in excavations seemingly at random, and concentrated, of course, in Etruria.

Etruscan coins were in gold, silver, and bronze, the gold and silver usually having been struck on one side only. The coins often bore a denomination, sometimes a minting authority name, and a cameo motif. Gold denominations were in units of silver; silver, in units of bronze. Full or abbreviated names are mainly Pupluna (male sphinx, hippocamp, bull, snake, eagle, or other creatures which had symbolic significance.


In the tables below, conventional letters used for transliterating Etruscan are accompanied by likely pronunciation in symbols within the square brackets, followed by examples of the early Etruscan alphabet which would have corresponded to these sounds:


The Etruscan vowel system consisted of four distinct vowels. Vowels "o" and "u" appear to have not been phonetically distinguished based on the nature of the writing system, as only one symbol is used to cover both in loans from Greek (e.g. Greek κώθων kōthōn > Etruscan qutun "pitcher").

Front Central Back
Close i
Mid e
Open a


Table of consonants

Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m
Plosive p
t, d
c, k, q
Affricate z
Fricative f
Approximant l
Rhotic r

Voiced stops missing

The Etruscan consonant system primarily distinguished between aspirated and non-aspirated stops. There were no voiced stops and loanwords with them were typically devoiced, e.g. Greek thriambos was borrowed by Etruscan, becoming triumpus and triumphus in Latin.[60]

Syllabic theory

Based on standard spellings by Etruscan scribes of words without vowels or with unlikely consonant clusters (e.g. cl 'of this (gen.)' and lautn 'freeman'), it is likely that /m n l r/ were sometimes syllabic sonorants (cf. English "little", "button"). Thus cl /kl̩/ and lautn /ˈlɑwtn̩/.

Rix postulates several syllabic consonants, namely /l, r, m, n/ and palatal /lʲ, rʲ, nʲ/ as well as a labiovelar spirant /xʷ/ and some scholars such as Mauro Cristofani also view the aspirates as palatal rather than aspirated but these views are not shared by most Etruscologists. Rix supports his theories by means of variant spellings such as amφare/amφiare, larθal/larθial, aranθ/aranθiia.

Word formation

Etruscan was inflected, varying the endings of nouns, pronouns and verbs. It also had adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions, which were uninflected.


Etruscan substantives had five cases, and a singular and a plural. Not all five cases are attested for every word. Nouns merge the nominative and accusative; pronouns do not generally merge these. Gender appears in personal names (masculine and feminine) and in pronouns (animate and inanimate); otherwise, it is not marked.[61]

Unlike the Indo-European languages, Etruscan noun endings were more agglutinative, with some nouns bearing two or three agglutinated suffixes. For example, where Latin would have distinct nominative plural and dative plural endings, Etruscan would suffix the case ending to a plural marker: Latin nominative singular fili-us, "son", plural fili-i, dative plural fili-is, but Etruscan clan, clen-ar and clen-ar-aśi.[62] Moreover, Etruscan nouns could bear multiple suffixes from the case paradigm alone: that is, Etruscan exhibited Suffixaufnahme. Pallottino calls this phenomenon "morphological redetermination", which he defines as "the typical tendency ... to redetermine the syntactical function of the form by the superposition of suffices."[63] His example is Uni-al-θi, "in the sanctuary of Juno", where -al is a genitive ending and -θi a locative.

Steinbauer says of Etruscan, "there can be more than one marker ... to design a case, and ... the same marker can occur for more than one case."[64]

Nominative/accusative case
No distinction is made between nominative and accusative of nouns. Common nouns use the unmarked root. Names of males may end in -e: Hercle (Hercules), Achle (Achilles), Tite (Titus); of females, in -i, -a, or -u: Uni (Juno), Menrva (Minerva), or Zipu. Names of gods may end in -s: Fufluns, Tins; or they may be the unmarked stem ending in a vowel or consonant: Aplu (Apollo), Paχa (Bacchus), or Turan.
Genitive case
Pallottino defines two declensions based on whether the genitive ends in -s/-ś or -l.[65] In the -s group are most noun stems ending in a vowel or a consonant: fler/fler-ś, ramtha/ramtha-ś. In the second are names of females ending in i and names of males that end s, th or n: ati/ati-al, Laris/Laris-al, Arnθ/Arnθ-al. After l or r -us instead of -s appears: Vel/Vel-us. Otherwise, a vowel might be placed before the ending: Arnθ-al instead of Arnθ-l.
There is a patronymic ending: -sa or -isa, "son of", but the ordinary genitive might serve that purpose. In the genitive case, morphological redetermination becomes elaborate. Given two male names, Vel and Avle, Vel Avleś means "Vel son of Avle." This expression in the genitive become Vel-uś Avles-la. Pallottino's example of a three-suffix form is Arnθ-al-iśa-la.
Dative case
The dative ending is -si: Tita/Tita-si.[61]
Locative case
The locative ending is -θi: Tarχna/Tarχna-l-θi.[66]
Plural number
In one case, a plural is given for clan, "son", as clenar, "sons". This shows both umlaut and an ending -ar. Plurals for cases other than nominative are made by agglutinating the case ending on clenar.


Personal pronouns refer to persons; demonstrative point out: English this, that.[67]


The first-person personal pronoun has a nominative mi ("I") and an accusative mini ("me"). The coincidence of this with Indo-European forms such as English 'me' proves nothing, as many languages from around the world use a form beginning with 'm' for first person.[68] The third person has a personal form an ("he" or "she") and an inanimate in ("it"). The second person is uncertain, but some like the Bonfantes have claimed a dative singular une ("to thee") and an accusative singular un ("thee").


The demonstratives, ca and ta, are used without distinction. The nominative–accusative singular forms are: ica, eca, ca, ita, ta; the plural: cei, tei. There is a genitive singular: cla, tla, cal and plural clal. The accusative singular: can, cen, cn, ecn, etan, tn; plural cnl. Locative singular: calti, ceiθi, clθ(i), eclθi; plural caiti, ceiθi.


Though uninflected, adjectives fall into a number of types formed from nouns with a suffix:

  • quality, -u, -iu or -c: ais/ais-iu, "god/divine"; zamaθi/zamθi-c, "gold/golden"
  • possession or reference, -na, -ne, -ni: paχa/paχa-na, "Bacchus, Bacchic"; laut/laut-ni, "family/familiar" (in the sense of servant)
  • collective, -cva, -chva, -cve, -χve, -ia: sren/sren-cva: "figure/figured"; etera/etera-ia, "slave/servile"


Adverbs are unmarked: etnam, "again"; θui, "now"; θuni, "at first." Most Indo-European adverbs are formed from the oblique cases, which become unproductive and descend to fixed forms. Cases such as the ablative are therefore called "adverbial". If there is any such system in Etruscan, it is not obvious from the relatively few surviving adverbs.


Verbs had an indicative mood and an imperative mood. Tenses were present and past. The past tense had an active voice and a passive voice.

Present active

Etruscan used a verbal root with a zero suffix or -a without distinction to number or person: ar, ar-a, "he, she, we, you, they make".

Past or preterite active

Adding the suffix -(a)ce to the verb root produces a third-person singular active, which has been called variously a "past", a "preterite", a "perfect" or an "aorist". In contrast to Indo-European, this form is not marked for person. Examples: tur/tur-ce, "gives/gave"; sval/sval-ce, "lives/lived."

Past passive

The third-person past passive is formed with -che: mena/mena-ce/mena-che, "offers/offered/was offered".


Borrowings from Etruscan

Only a few hundred words of the Etruscan vocabulary are understood with some certainty. The exact count depends on whether the different forms and the expressions are included. Below is a table of some of the words grouped by topic.[69]

Some words with corresponding Latin or other Indo-European forms are likely loanwords to or from Etruscan. For example, neftś "nephew", is probably from Latin (Latin nepōs, nepōtis; this is a cognate of German Neffe, Old Norse nefi). A number of words and names for which Etruscan origin has been proposed survive in Latin.

At least one Etruscan word has an apparent Semitic origin: talitha "girl" (Aramaic; could have been transmitted by Phoenicians). The word pera "house" is a false cognate to the Coptic language per "house".[70]

In addition to words believed to have been borrowed into Etruscan from Indo-European or elsewhere, there is a corpus of words such as familia which seem to have been borrowed into Latin from the older Etruscan civilization as a superstrate influence.[71] Some of these words still have widespread currency in English and Latin-influenced languages. Other words believed to have a possible Etruscan origin include:

from arēna "arena"<harēna, "arena, sand" < archaic hasēna < Sabine fasēna, unknown Etruscan word as the basis for fas- with Etruscan ending -ēna.[72]
from autumnus "autumn." Just as Etruscan veltha, an earth god, appears as Latin Vola or Olta and is in Voltumna and Vertumnus, so the parallel construction autumnus ought to come from Etruscan autu-, related to avil, "year": *av(i)-to-m(e)nos, with loss of the l. There are some names with both l and t: avlethaium, authnal, avtle, and so on, which appear related to autu or auta in Venetic, the idea being that autumn signifies the passing of the year.[73]
from balteus, "sword belt" - the sole connection between this word and Etruscan is a statement by Marcus Terentius Varro that it was of Etruscan origin. All else is speculation.[74]
oldest form cærimonia, obscure, perhaps Etruscan.[75]
Latin, of obscure origin, perhaps Etruscan.[76]
from Latin milēs "soldier"; either from Etruscan or related to Greek homilos, "assembled crowd" (compare homily).[77]
from Middle English persone, from Old French persone, from Latin persona, "mask", probably from Etruscan phersu, "mask".[78]
from Latin satelles, meaning "bodyguard, attendant", perhaps from Etruscan satnal.[79]

Etruscan vocabulary


Much debate has been carried out about a possible [81][82] Italian linguist and glottologist Massimo Pittau has argued that "all the first ten Etruscan numerals have a congruent phonetic matching in as many Indo-European languages" and "perfectly fit within the Indo-European series", supporting the idea that the Etruscan language was of Indo-European origins.[83]

The Etruscan numbers are (G.Bonfante 2002:96):

  1. θu
  2. zal
  3. ci
  4. śa
  5. maχ
  6. huθ
  7. semϕ
  8. cezp
  9. nurϕ
  10. śar

Core vocabulary

See also


  1. ^ Etruscan at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ Helmut Rix, 1998, Rätisch und Etruskisch, Innsbruck
  5. ^ Robert S. P. Beekes, 2003, The Origin of the Etruscans, Amsterdam
  6. ^ L. B. Van der Meer, 2004, Etruscan origins: Language and Archaeology, in Bulletin antieke beschaving, Vol. 79
  7. ^ The Ancient Languages of Europe, Roger D. Woodard, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2008, "Etruscan", Helmut Rix, p 142.
  8. ^ Sergei A. Starostin & Vladimir Orel, 1989. Etruscan and North Caucasian, in Explorations in Language Macrofamilies Ed. V. Shevoroshkin, Bochum
  9. ^ a b Bonfante (1990), page 12
  10. ^ Bonfante (1990) page 10.
  11. ^ Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, Extract: ueluti Romae nobis praesentibus uetus celebratusque homo in causis, sed repentina et quasi tumultuaria doctrina praeditus, cum apud praefectum urbi uerba faceret et dicere uellet inopi quendam miseroque uictu uiuere et furfureum panem esitare uinumque eructum et feditum potare. “hic”, inquit,“eques Romanus apludam edit et flocces bibit”. aspexerunt omnes qui aderant alius alium, primo tristiores turbato et requirente uoltu quidnam illud utriusque uerbi foret: post deinde, quasi nescio quid Tusce aut Gallice dixisset, uniuersi riserunt. ‘For instance in Rome in our presence, a man experienced and celebrated as a pleader, but furnished with a sudden and, as it were, hasty education, was speaking to the Prefect of the City, and wished to say that a certain man with a poor and wretched way of life ate bread from bran and drank bad and spoiled wine. “This Roman knight”, he said, “eats apluda and drinks flocces.” All who were present looked at each other, first seriously and with an inquiring expression, wondering what the two words meant; thereupon, as if he might have said something in, I don’t know, Gaulish or Etruscan, all of them burst out laughing.’(based on BLOM 2007: 183)
  12. ^ For Urgulanilla, see Suetonius, Life of Claudius, Section 26.1; for the 20 books, same work, Section 42.2.
  13. ^ Ostler, Nicholas. Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin and the World It Created. London: HarperPress, 2009. pp. 323-325.
  14. ^ A summary of the locations of the inscriptions published in the EDP project, given below under External links, is stated in its Guide.
  15. ^ 1.30.2.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ For example, Steinbauer (1999).
  20. ^ G. M. Facchetti (2001) "Qualche osservazione sulla lingua minoica" Kadmos 40/1, p. 1–38.
  21. ^ vol. 59 (2002), pp. 206–242.Biblioteca OrientalisR.S.P. Beekes, The Origin of the Etruscans,
  22. ^
  23. ^ Page 83.
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^ Etrusco: una forma arcaica di ungherese, (2003) Bologna, Il Mulino.
  29. ^
  30. ^ G. M. Facchetti The Interpretation of Etruscan Texts and its Limits, Journal of Indo-European Studies, 33, 3/4, 2005, 359–388: says (pp. 371) ""suffice it to say that Alinei clears away all the combinatory work done on Etruscan (for grammar specially) to try to make Uralic inflections fit without ripping the seams. He completely ignores the aforesaid recent findings in phonology (and phoneme/grapheme relationships), returning to the obsolete but convenient theory that the handwriting changed and orthography was not consolidated"
  31. ^ Associated Professor of Historical Linguistics and Finno-Ugric Studies at the University of Rome "La Sapienza" [1]
  32. ^ Angela Marcantonio (2004): "Un caso di ‘fantalinguistica’. A proposito di Mario Alinei: “Etrusco: una forma arcaica di ungherese”. Studi e Saggi Linguistici XLII /173–200, where Marcantonio states that "La tesi dell’Alinei è da rigettare senza alcuna riserva" ("Alinei's thesis must be rejected without any reservation"), criticizes his methodology and the fact that he ignored the comparison with Latin and Greek words in Onomastic and institutional vocabulary. Large quotes can be read at Melinda Tamás-Tarr " SULLA SCRITTURA DEGLI ETRUSCHI «Ma è veramente una scrittura etrusca»? Cosa sappiamo degli Etruschi III" OSSERVATORIO LETTERARIO Ferrara e l’Altrove X/XI NN. 53/54 NOV.–DIC./GEN.-FEBB 2006/2007, 67–73.
  33. ^ B. Brognyanyi "Die ungarische alternative Sprachforschung und ihr ideologischer Hintergrund – Versuch einer Diagnose" Sprache & Sprachen 38 (2008), 3-15, who claims that Alinei shows a complete ignorance on Etruscan and Hungarian ("glänzt er aber durch völlige Unkenntnis des Ungarischen und Etruskischen (vgl. Alinei 2003)") and that the thesis of a relation between Hungarian and Etruscan languages deserves no attention.
  34. ^ Robert Ellis, The Armenian origin of the Etruscans, London: Parker, Son, & Bourn, 1861.
  35. ^
  36. ^ Zacharie Mayani, The Etruscans Begin to Speak, 1961, Trans. Patrick Evans, London: Souvenir Press, 1962.
  37. ^ The alphabet can also be found with alternative forms of the letters at Omniglot.
  38. ^ a b c Bonfante (1990) chapter 2.
  39. ^ Rooster ink-stand at Etruscan Art Virtual Museum.
  40. ^ Bonfantes (2002) page 55.
  41. ^ The Bonfantes (2002) page 56.
  42. ^ Page 261
  43. ^ The Bonfantes (2002), page 117 following.
  44. ^ Massimo Pallottino, Maristella Pandolfini Angeletti, Thesaurus linguae Etruscae, Volume 1 (1978); review by A. J. Pfiffig in Gnomon 52.6 (1980), 561-563. Supplements in 1984, 1991 and 1998. A 2nd revised edition by Enrico Benelli appeared in 2009; review by G. van Heems, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.01.05.
  45. ^ a b The Bonfantes (2002) page 58.
  46. ^
  47. ^ Brief description and picture at The principle discoveries with Etruscan inscriptions, article published by the Borough of Santa Marinella and the Archaeological Department of Southern Etruria of the Italian government.
  48. ^
  49. ^ Some Internet articles on the tombs in general are:
    Etruscan Tombs at
    Scientific Tomb-Robbing, article in Time, Monday, Feb. 25, 1957, displayed at
    Hot from the Tomb: The Antiquities Racket, article in Time, Monday, Mar. 26, 1973, displayed at
  50. ^ a b Refer to Etruscan Necropoleis of Cerveteri and Tarquinia, a World Heritage site.
  51. ^ Some popular Internet sites giving photographs and details of the necropolis are: Cisra (Roman Caere / Modern Cerveteri) at
    Chapter XXXIII CERVETRI.a – AGYLLA or CAERE., George Dennis at Bill Thayer's Website.
    Aerial photo and map at
  52. ^ A history of the tombs at Tarquinia and links to descriptions of the most famous ones is given at [2] on
  53. ^ For pictures and a description refer to the Etruscan Mirrors article at
  54. ^ For the dates, more pictures and descriptions, see the Hand Mirror with the Judgment of Paris article published online by the Allen Memorial Art Museum of Oberlin College.
  55. ^ Representative examples can be found in the U.S. Epigraphy Project site of Brown University: [3], [4]
  56. ^ Paggi, Maddalena. "The Praenestine Cistae" (October 2004), New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Timeline of Art History.
  57. ^ Classic Encyclopedia.
  58. ^ Beazley Archive.
  59. ^ Ancient Coins of Etruria.
  60. ^ J.H. Adams pages 163–164.
  61. ^ a b Bonfante (1990), page 20.
  62. ^ Bonfante (1990) page 19.
  63. ^ Page 263.
  64. ^ Etruscan Grammar: Summary at Steinbauer's website.
  65. ^ Page 264.
  66. ^ Pallottino page 114, Bonfante (1990) page 41.
  67. ^ The summary in this section is taken from the tables of the Bonfantes (2002) pages 91–94, which go into considerably more detail, citing examples.
  68. ^
  69. ^ The words in this table come from the Glossaries of Bonfante (1990) and Pallottino. The latter also gives a grouping by topic on pages 275 following, the last chapter of the book.
  70. ^ http:/
  71. ^ Germania Semitica, Theo Vennemann, p 123, Walter de Gruyter, 2012
  72. ^ Breyer (1993) p. 259.
  73. ^ Breyer (1993) pp 412–413.
  74. ^ Breyer (1993) pp 428–429 reports on an attempt to bring in Hittite and Gothic connecting it with a totally speculative root *-lst-.
  75. ^ "L. cærimonia "holiness, sacredness; awe; reverent rite, sacred ceremony," an obscure word, possibly of Etruscan origin, or a reference to the ancient rites performed by the Etruscan pontiffs at Caere"
  76. ^ "market (n.)", On Line Etymological Dictionary,
  77. ^ "military (adj.)", On Line Etymological Dictionary,
  78. ^ American Heritage Dictionary, New College Edition, page 978
  79. ^ "satellite (n.)", On Line Etymological Dictionary,
  80. ^ Bonfante, L.,Etruscan, University of California Press (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1990), page 22.
  81. ^ Carnoy A., La langue étrusque et ses origines, L'Antiquité Classique, 21 (1952), page 326. ([5])
  82. ^ Morandi, A., Nuovi lineamenti di lingua etrusca, Erre Emme (Roma, 1991), chapter IV.
  83. ^ Pittau, M., "I numerali Etruschi", Atti del Sodalizio Glottologico Milanese, vol. XXXV-XXXVI, 1994/1995 (1996), pages 95-105. ([6])
  84. ^ Cassius Dio Roman History 56,29,4


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  • Translated from the Italian by J. Cremona.
  • 2 vols.
  • Woudhuizen, Frederik Christiaan. April 2006. The Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples. Doctoral dissertation; Rotterdam: Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, Faculteit der Wijsbegeerte.

External links


  • Etruscan News Online, the Newsletter of the American Section of the Institute for Etruscan and Italic Studies.
  • Etruscan News back issues, Center for Ancient Studies at New York University.
  • Etruscology at Its Best, the website of Dr. Dieter H. Steinbauer, in English. Covers origins, vocabulary, grammar and place names.
  • Viteliu: The Languages of Ancient Italy at the Wayback Machine (archived December 7, 2002).
  • The Etruscan Language, the site. Links to many other Etruscan language sites.


  • TM Texts Etruscan A list of all texts in Trismegistos.
  • ETP: Etruscan Texts Project A searchable database of Etruscan texts.
  • Etruscan Inscriptions in the Royal Ontario Museum, article by Rex Wallace displayed at the site.

Lexical items

  • Etruscan Vocabulary, a vocabulary organized by topic by Dieter H. Steinbauer, in English.
  • An Etruscan Vocabulary at the Wayback Machine (archived December 13, 2002). A short, one-page glossary with numerals as well.
  • Etruscan–English Dictionary at the Wayback Machine (archived September 27, 2007). An extensive lexicon compiled from other lexicon sites. Links to the major Etruscan glossaries on the Internet are included.
  • Paleoglot: Online Etruscan-English dictionary; summary of Etruscan grammar. A searchable Etruscan-to-English dictionary applet and a summary of Etruscan grammar.
  • A Tentative Etymological Glossary of Etruscan by Arnaud Fournet.


  • Etruscan font download site with unicode information
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