Etruscan alphabet

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The Marsiliana Tablet, with an archaic form of the Etruscan Alphabet inscribed on the frame. Tablette Marsiliana.jpg
The Marsiliana Tablet, with an archaic form of the Etruscan Alphabet inscribed on the frame.

The Etruscan alphabet was the alphabet used by the Etruscans, an ancient civilization of central and northern Italy, to write their language, from about 700 BC to sometime around 100 AD.


The Etruscan alphabet derives from the Euboean alphabet used in the Greek colonies in southern Italy which belonged to the "western" ("red") type, the so-called Western Greek alphabet. Several Old Italic scripts, including the Latin alphabet, derived from it (or simultaneously with it).


The Etruscan alphabet originated as an adaptation of the Euboean alphabet used by the Euboean Greeks in their first colonies in Italy, the island of Pithekoussai and the city of Cumae in Campania. [1] In the alphabets of the West, X had the sound value [ks], Ψ stood for [kʰ]; in Etruscan: X = [s], Ψ = [kʰ] or [kχ] (Rix 202–209).

The earliest known Etruscan abecedarium is inscribed on the frame of a wax tablet in ivory, measuring 8.8×5 cm, found at Marsiliana (near Grosseto, Tuscany). It dates from about 700 BC, and lists 26 letters corresponding to contemporary forms of the Greek alphabet, including digamma, san and qoppa, but not omega which had still not been added at the time.


Phoenician model Phoenician aleph.svg Phoenician beth.svg Phoenician gimel.svg Phoenician daleth.svg Phoenician he.svg Phoenician waw.svg Phoenician zayin.svg Phoenician heth.svg Phoenician teth.svg Phoenician yodh.svg Phoenician kaph.svg Phoenician lamedh.svg Phoenician mem.svg Phoenician nun.svg Phoenician samekh.svg Phoenician ayin.svg Phoenician pe.svg Phoenician sade.svg Phoenician qoph.svg Phoenician res.svg Phoenician sin.svg Phoenician taw.svg
Western Greek Greek Alpha 03.svg Greek Beta 16.svg Greek Gamma archaic 1.svg Greek Delta 04.svg Greek Epsilon archaic.svg Greek Digamma oblique.svg Greek Zeta archaic.svg Greek Eta archaic.svg Greek Theta archaic.svg Greek Iota normal.svg Greek Kappa normal.svg Greek Lambda 09.svg Greek Mu 04.svg Greek Nu 01.svg Greek Omicron 04.svg Greek Pi archaic.svg Greek San 02.svg Greek Koppa normal.svg Greek Rho pointed.svg Greek Sigma normal.svg Greek Tau normal.svg Greek Upsilon normal.svg Greek Chi normal.svg Greek Phi archaic.svg Greek Psi straight.svg
Sound in Ancient Greek[ a ][ b ][ g ][ d ][ e ][ w ][ dz ]~[ z ]~[zd][ h ][ ][ i ][ k ][ l ][ m ][ n ][ks][ o ][ p ][ ts ]~[ s ][ k ][ r ][ s ][ t ][ u ][ ][ ][ps]
Unicode Old Italic block𐌀𐌁𐌂𐌃𐌄𐌅𐌆𐌇𐌈𐌉𐌊𐌋𐌌𐌍𐌎𐌏𐌐𐌑𐌒𐌓𐌔𐌕𐌖𐌗𐌘𐌙𐌚
Archaic Etruscan (Marsiliana tablet) EtruscanA-01.svg EtruscanB-01.svg EtruscanC-01.svg EtruscanD-01.svg EtruscanE-01.svg EtruscanF-01.svg EtruscanZ-01.svg EtruscanH-02.svg EtruscanTH-03.svg EtruscanI-01.svg EtruscanK-01.svg EtruscanL-01.svg EtruscanM-01.svg EtruscanN-01.svg Greek Xi archaic grid.svg Greek Omicron 04.svg EtruscanP-01.svg EtruscanSH-01.svg EtruscanQ-01.svg EtruscanR-01.svg Greek Sigma Z-shaped.svg EtruscanT-01.svg EtruscanV-01.svg EtruscanX-01.svg EtruscanPH-01.svg EtruscanKH-01.svg
Neo-Etruscan EtruscanA-01.svg EtruscanC-01.svg EtruscanE-01.svg EtruscanF-01.svg EtruscanZ-01.svg EtruscanH-01.svg EtruscanTH-01.svg EtruscanI-01.svg EtruscanL-01.svg EtruscanM-02.svg EtruscanN-02.svg EtruscanP-01.svg EtruscanSH-01.svg EtruscanR-04.svg EtruscanS-02.svg EtruscanT-02.svg EtruscanU-02.svg EtruscanPH-02.svg EtruscanKH-02.svg EtruscanF-02.svg
Approx. pron.akevtshthiklmnpshkrstuphkhf

The shapes of the Archaic Etruscan and Neo-Etruscan letters had a few variants, used in different places and/or in different epochs. Shown above are the glyphs from the Unicode Old Italic block, whose appearance will depend on the font used by the browser. These are oriented as they would be in lines written from left to right. Also shown are SVG images of variants shown as they would be written right to left, as in most of the actual inscriptions. [2] [3]


Small Etruscan bottle from 630 to 620 BCE with an early form of the alphabet Etruscan bucchero cock.jpg
Small Etruscan bottle from 630 to 620 BCE with an early form of the alphabet
The alphabet in the cockerel bottle Etruscan bucchero cock inscription.jpg
The alphabet in the cockerel bottle

The archaic form of the Etruscan alphabet remained practically unchanged from its origin in the 8th century BC until about 600 BC, and the direction of writing was free. From the 6th century BC, however, the alphabet evolved, adjusting to the phonology of the Etruscan language, and letters representing phonemes nonexistent in Etruscan were dropped. By 400 BC, it appears that all of Etruria was using the classical Etruscan alphabet of 20 letters, mostly written from right to left.

An additional sign 𐌚, in shape similar to the numeral 8, transcribed as F, was present in Lydian, Neo-Etruscan and in Italic alphabets of Osco-Umbrian languages such as Oscan, Umbrian, Old Sabine and South Picene (Old Volscian). [4] This sign was introduced in Etruscan around 600-550 BC and was not present in the Marsiliana tablet, the earliest example of Etruscan alphabet. If previously it was thought that the sign 𐌚 may have been an altered B or H or an ex novo creation, or even an Etruscan invention, an early Sabellian inscription suggests that it is instead an invention of speakers of a Sabellian language (Osco-Umbrian languages). [4] Its sound value was /f/ and it replaced the Etruscan digraph FH that was previously used to express that sound. Some letters were, on the other hand, falling out of use. Etruscan did not have any voiced stops, for which B, C, D were originally intended (/b/, /g/, and /d/ respectively). The B and D therefore fell out of use, and the C, which is simpler and easier to write than K, was adopted to write /k/, mostly displacing K itself. Likewise, since Etruscan had no /o/ vowel sound, O disappeared and was replaced by U. In the course of its simplification, the redundant letters showed some tendency towards a semi-syllabary: C, K and Q were predominantly used in the contexts CE, KA, QU.

This classical alphabet remained in use until the 2nd century BC when it began to be influenced by the rise of the Latin alphabet. The Romans, who did have voiced stops in their language, revived B and D for /b/ and /d/, and used C for both /k/ and /g/, until they invented a separate letter G to distinguish the two sounds. Soon after, the Etruscan language itself became extinct – so thoroughly that its vocabulary and grammar are still only partly known, in spite of more than a century of intense research.


The Etruscan alphabet apparently was the immediate ancestor for the Latin alphabet, as well as of several Old Italic scripts used in Italy before the rise of Rome, such as those used in the Oscan, Umbrian, Lepontic, Rhaetian (or Raetic), Venetic, Messapian, North and South Picene, and Camunic inscriptions.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Italic languages Subfamily of the Indo-European language family spoken by Italic peoples

The Italic languages form a branch of the Indo-European language family, whose earliest known members were spoken in the Italian Peninsula in the first millennium BC. The best known of them is Latin, the official language of ancient Rome, which conquered the other Italic peoples before the common era. The other Italic languages became extinct in the first centuries AD as their speakers were assimilated into the Roman Empire and shifted to some form of Latin. Between the third and eighth centuries AD, Vulgar Latin diversified into the Romance languages, which are the only Italic languages natively spoken today.

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Oscan language Extinct language of southern Italy

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Umbrian language

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Right-to-left script

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Archaic Greek alphabets Local variants of the ancient Greek alphabet

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  1. Benelli, Enrico (2017). "Alphabets and language". In Naso, Alessandro (ed.). Etruscology. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 245–253. ISBN   978-1934078495.
  2. Giuliano Bonfante (1983). The Etruscan language. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p.  64. ISBN   0719009022. OCLC   610734784. OL   19629507M.
  3. Herbert Alexander Stützer (1992). Die Etrusker und ihre Welt. Köln: DuMont. p.  12. ISBN   3770131282. LCCN   94191271. OCLC   611534598. OL   1198388M.
  4. 1 2 McDonald, Katherine (2015). Oscan in Southern Italy and Sicily. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 65–82. ISBN   9781107103832.