Tyrsenian languages

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France (Corsica), Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Greece (island of Lemnos)
Linguistic classification Pre-Indo-European, Paleo-European, proposed language family
Glottolog None
Tyrsenian languages.svg
Approximate area of Tyrsenian languages

Tyrsenian (also Tyrrhenian or Common Tyrrhenic), [1] named after the Tyrrhenians (Ancient Greek, Ionic: Τυρσηνοί, Tursēnoi), is a proposed extinct family of closely related ancient languages put forward by linguist Helmut Rix (1998), which consists of the Etruscan language of northern, central and south-western Italy, and eastern Corsica (France); the Rhaetic language of the Alps, named after the Rhaetian people; and the Lemnian language of the Aegean Sea. Camunic in northern Lombardy, in between Etruscan and Rhaetic, may belong here too, but the material is very scant. The Tyrsenian languages are generally considered Pre-Indo-European (Paleo-European). [2] [1] [3]



Tyrrhenian language family tree as proposed by de Simone and Marchesini (2013) Common Tyrrhenic model.svg
Tyrrhenian language family tree as proposed by de Simone and Marchesini (2013)

In 1998 the German linguist Helmut Rix proposed that three then unclassified ancient languages belonged to a common linguistic family he called 'Tyrrhenian': the Etruscan language spoken in Etruria, the Rhaetic language of the southern Alps, and the Lemnian language, only attested by a small number of inscriptions from the Greek island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea. [5]

Rix's Tyrsenian family is supported by a number of linguists such as Stefan Schumacher, [6] [7] Carlo De Simone, [8] Norbert Oettinger, [9] Simona Marchesini, [4] or Rex E. Wallace. [10] Common features among Etruscan, Rhaetic, Lemnian have been found in morphology, phonology, and syntax. [11] On the other hand, few lexical correspondences are documented, at least partly due to the scanty number of Rhaetic and Lemnian texts and possibly to the early date at which the languages split. [1] [12]


Tyrsenian was probably a Paleo-European language family predating the arrival of Indo-European languages in southern Europe. [2]

Helmut Rix dated the end of the Proto-Tyrsenian period to the last quarter of the 2nd millennium BC. [13] Carlo De Simone and Simona Marchesini have proposed a much earlier date, placing the Tyrsenian language split before the Bronze Age. [4] [14] [15] This would provide one explanation for the low number of lexical correspondences. [1] According to L. Bouke van der Meer, Rhaetic could have split from Etruscan from around 900 BCE or even earlier, at any rate no later than 700 BCE since divergences are already present in the oldest Etruscan and Rhaetic inscriptions, such as in the grammatical voices of past tenses or in the endings of male gentilicia. From aound 600 BCE, the Rhaeti became isolated from the Etruscan area, probably by the Cisalpine Celts, thus limiting contacts between the two languages. [16]

Strabo's (Geography V, 2) citation from Anticlides attributes a share in the foundation of Etruria to the Pelasgians of Lemnos and Imbros. [17] [18] The Pelasgians are also referred to by Herodotus as settlers in Lemnos, after they were expelled from Attica by the Athenians. [19] Apollonius of Rhodes mentioned an ancient settlement of Tyrrhenians on Lemnos in his Argonautica (IV.1760), written in the third century BC, in an elaborate invented aition of Kalliste or Thera (modern Santorini): in passing, he attributes the flight of "Sintian" Lemnians to the island Kalliste to "Tyrrhenian warriors" from the island of Lemnos.

Alternatively, the Lemnian language could have arrived in the Aegean Sea during the Late Bronze Age, when Mycenaean rulers recruited groups of mercenaries from Sicily, Sardinia and various parts of the Italian peninsula. [20]



Cognates common to Rhaetic and Etruscan are:

EtruscanRhaeticEnglish approximant
zinacet'inaχe"he made"
-s-s"-'s"    (genitive suffix)
-(i)a-a"-'s"    (second genitive case suffix)
-ce-ku"-ed"   (past active participle)

Cognates common to Etruscan and Lemnian are:

Suggested relationships to other families

Aegean language family

A larger Aegean family including Eteocretan, Minoan and Eteocypriot has been proposed by G. M. Facchetti, and is supported by S. Yatsemirsky, referring to some alleged similarities between on the one hand Etruscan and Lemnian, and on the other hand languages like Minoan and Eteocretan. If these languages could be shown to be related to Etruscan and Rhaetic, they would constitute a pre-Indo-European language family stretching from (at the very least) the Aegean islands and Crete across mainland Greece and the Italian peninsula to the Alps. A proposed relation between these languages has also been made previously by Raymond A. Brown. [22] Michael Ventris, who successfully deciphered Linear B with John Chadwick, also thought there to be a relation between Etruscan and Minoan. [23] Facchetti proposes a hypothetical language family derived from Minoan in two branches. From Minoan he proposes a Proto-Tyrrhenian from which would have come the Etruscan, Lemnian and Rhaetic languages. James Mellaart has proposed that this language family is related to the pre-Indo-European languages of Anatolia, based upon place name analysis. [24] From another Minoan branch would have come the Eteocretan language. [25] [26] T. B. Jones proposed in 1950 reading of Eteocypriot texts in Etruscan, which was refuted by most scholars but gained popularity in the former Soviet Union.

Anatolian languages

A relation with the Anatolian languages within Indo-European has been proposed, [lower-alpha 1] [28] but is not accepted. [29] If these languages are an early Indo-European stratum rather than pre-Indo-European, they would be associated with Krahe's Old European hydronymy and would date back to a Kurganization during the early Bronze Age.

Northeast Caucasian languages

A number of mainly Soviet or post-Soviet linguists, including Sergei Starostin, [30] suggested a link between the Tyrrhenian languages and the Northeast Caucasian languages in an Alarodian language family, based on claimed sound correspondences between Etruscan, Hurrian, and Northeast Caucasian languages, numerals, grammatical structures and phonologies. Most linguists, however, either doubt that the language families are related, or believe that the evidence is far from conclusive.


The language group seems to have died out around the 3rd century BC in the Aegean (by assimilation of the speakers to Greek), and as regards Etruscan around the 1st century AD in Italy (by assimilation to Latin).[ citation needed ] The latest Rhaetic inscriptions are dated to the 1st century BC. [1]

See also


  1. Steinbauer tries to relate both Etruscan and Rhaetic to Anatolian. [27]

Related Research Articles

Etruscan language Extinct language of ancient Italy

Etruscan was the language of the Etruscan civilization, in Italy, in the ancient region of Etruria. Etruscan influenced Latin but eventually was completely superseded by it. The Etruscans left around 13,000 inscriptions that have been found so far, only a small minority of which are of significant length; some bilingual inscriptions with texts also in Latin, Greek, or Phoenician; and a few dozen loanwords. Attested from 700 BC to AD 50, the relation of Etruscan to other languages has been a source of long-running speculation and study, with its being referred to at times as an isolate, one of the Tyrsenian languages, and a number of other less well-known theories.

Linear A Writing system of the Minoans

Linear A is a writing system that was used by the Minoans (Cretans) from 1800 to 1450 BCE to write the hypothesized Minoan language. Linear A was the primary script used in palace and religious writings of the Minoan civilization. It was discovered by archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. It was succeeded by Linear B, which was used by the Mycenaeans to write an early form of Greek. No texts in Linear A have been deciphered.

Etruscan civilization Pre-Roman civilization of ancient Italy

The Etruscan civilization of ancient Italy covered a territory, at its greatest extent, of roughly what is now Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio, as well as parts of what are now the Po Valley, Emilia-Romagna, south-eastern Lombardy, southern Veneto, and Campania.

The Old Italic scripts are a number of similar ancient writing systems used in the Italian Peninsula between about 700 and 100 BC, for various languages spoken in that time and place. The most notable member is the Etruscan alphabet, which was the immediate ancestor of the Latin alphabet currently used by English and many other languages of the world. The runic alphabets used in northern Europe are believed to have been separately derived from one of these alphabets by the 2nd century AD.

Pelasgians Ethnic group

The name Pelasgians was used by classical Greek writers to refer either to the ancestors of the Greeks, or to all the inhabitants of Greece before the emergence or arrival of the Greeks. In general, "Pelasgian" has come to mean more broadly all the indigenous inhabitants of the Aegean Sea region and their cultures, "a hold-all term for any ancient, primitive and presumably indigenous people in the Greek world".

The Camunic language is an extinct language that was spoken in the 1st millennium BC in the Valcamonica and the Valtellina in Northern Italy, both of the Central Alps. The language is sparsely attested to an extent that makes any classification attempt uncertain - even the discussion, if it should be considered a pre–Indo-European or an Indo-European language, has remained indecisive. Among several suggestions, it has been hypothesized that Camunic is related to the Raetic language or to the Celtic languages.

The Tyrrhenians or Tyrsenians were a non-Greek people.

Rhaetic Extinct ancient language of the Eastern Alps

Rhaetic or Raetic, also known as Rhaetian, was a language spoken in the ancient region of Rhaetia in the Eastern Alps in pre-Roman and Roman times. It is documented by around 280 texts dated from the 5th up until the 1st century BC, which were found through Northern Italy, Southern Germany, Eastern Switzerland, Slovenia and Western Austria, in two variants of the Old Italic scripts.

Eteocretan language Language

Eteocretan is the pre-Greek language attested in a few alphabetic inscriptions of ancient Crete.

Lemnian language Ancient language spoken in Lemnos

The Lemnian language was spoken on the island of Lemnos in the second half of the 6th century BC. It is mainly attested by an inscription found on a funerary stele, termed the Lemnos stele, discovered in 1885 near Kaminia. Fragments of inscriptions on local pottery show that it was spoken there by a community. In 2009, a newly discovered inscription was reported from the site of Hephaistia, the principal ancient city of Lemnos. Lemnian is largely accepted as being closely related to Etruscan. After the Athenians conquered the island in the latter half of the 6th century BC, Lemnian was replaced by Attic Greek.

Minoan language language of ancient Minoans written in Cretan hieroglyphs and Linear A syllabary

The Minoan language is the language of the ancient Minoan civilization of Crete written in the Cretan hieroglyphs and later in the Linear A syllabary. As the Cretan hieroglyphs are undeciphered and Linear A only partly deciphered, the Minoan language is unknown and unclassified: indeed, with the existing evidence, it is impossible to be certain that the two scripts record the same language, or even that a single language is recorded in each.

Eteocypriot language Language

Eteocypriot was a pre-Indo-European language spoken in Iron Age Cyprus. The name means "true" or "original Cypriot" parallel to Eteocretan, both of which names are used by modern scholarship to mean the pre-Greek languages of those places. Eteocypriot was written in the Cypriot syllabary, a syllabic script derived from Linear A. The language was under pressure from Arcadocypriot Greek from about the 10th century BC and finally became extinct in about the 4th century BC.

The Pre-Greek substrate consists of the unknown language(s) spoken in prehistoric Greece before the coming of the Proto-Greek language in the area during the Bronze Age. It is possible that Greek acquired some thousand words and proper names from such a language(s), because some of its vocabulary cannot be satisfactorily explained as deriving from Proto-Greek and a Proto-Indo-European reconstruction is almost impossible for such terms.

Etruscan history

Etruscan history is the written record of Etruscan civilization compiled mainly by Greek and Roman authors. Apart from their inscriptions, from which information mainly of a sociological character can be extracted, the Etruscans left no surviving history of their own, nor is there any mention in the Roman authors that any was ever written. Remnants of Etruscan writings are almost exclusively concerned with religion.

Pre-Celtic Period of prehistory in parts of Europe and Anatolia

The pre-Celtic period in the prehistory of Central Europe and Western Europe occurred before the expansion of the Celts or their culture in Iron Age Europe and Anatolia, but after the emergence of the Proto-Celtic language and cultures. The area involved is that of the maximum extent of the Celtic languages in about the mid 1st century BC. The extent to which Celtic language, culture and genetics coincided and interacted during this period remains very uncertain and controversial.

Pre-Indo-European languages Languages of Europe and South Asia before the arrival of Indo-European languages

The Pre-Indo-European languages are any of several ancient languages, not necessarily related to one another, that existed in Prehistoric Europe and South Asia before the arrival of speakers of Indo-European languages. The oldest Indo-European language texts date from the 19th century BC in Kültepe, now in Turkey, and while estimates vary widely, the spoken Indo-European languages are believed to have developed at the latest by the 3rd millennium BC. Thus, the Pre-Indo-European languages must have developed earlier than or, in some cases, alongside the Indo-European languages that ultimately displaced them.

Etruscan origins

In antiquity, several theses were elaborated on the origin of the Etruscans that can be summarized into three main hypotheses. The first is the autochthonous development in situ out of the Villanovan culture, as claimed by the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus who described the Etruscans as indigenous people who had always lived in Etruria. The second is a migration from the Aegean sea, as claimed by two Greek historians: Herodotus, who described them as a group of immigrants from Lydia in Anatolia, and Hellanicus of Lesbos who claimed that the Tyrrhenians were the Pelasgians originally from Thessaly, Greece, who entered Italy at the head of the Adriatic sea. The third hypotheses was reported by Livy and Pliny the Elder, and puts the Etruscans in the context of the Rhaetian people to the north and other populations living in the Alps.

The Paleo-European languages, or Old European languages, are the mostly unknown languages that were spoken in Europe prior to the spread of the Indo-European and Uralic families caused by the Bronze Age invasion from the Eurasian steppe of pastoralists whose descendant languages dominate the continent today. Today, the vast majority of European populations speak Indo-European languages, but until the Bronze Age it was the opposite with Paleo-European languages of non-Indo-European affiliation dominating the linguistic landscape of Europe.

Carlo De Simone is an Italian linguist, specializing in Ancient Greek and Latin texts and Etruscan epigraphs. He is best known for his research into Etruscan, Lemnian and Rhaetian languages.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Marchesini, Simona. "Raetic". Mnamon.
  2. 1 2 Mellaart, James (1975), "The Neolithic of the Near East" (Thames and Hudson)
  3. Robert S.P. Beekes, Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: an introduction, 2nd ed. 2011:26: "It seems improbable that Rhaetic (spoken from Lake Garda to the Inn valley) is Indo-European, as it appears to contain Etruscan elements."
  4. 1 2 3 De Simone & Marchesini 2013.
  5. Rix 1998.
  6. Schumacher 1998.
  7. Schumacher 2004.
  8. De Simone 2011.
  9. Oettinger 2010.
  10. Wallace, Rex E. (2018), "Lemnian language", Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.8222, ISBN   978-0-19-938113-5
  11. Kluge Sindy, Salomon Corinna, Schumacher Stefan (2013–2018). "Raetica". Thesaurus Inscriptionum Raeticarum. Department of Linguistics, University of Vienna. Retrieved 26 July 2018.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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  13. Rix, Helmut (2008). "Etruscan". In Woodard, Roger D. (ed.). The Ancient Languages of Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 141–164. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511486814.010. ISBN   9780511486814.
  14. Marchesini, Simona (2013). "I rapporti etrusco/retico-italici nella prima Italia alla luce dei dati linguistici: il caso della "mozione" etrusca". Rivista storica dell'antichità (in Italian). Bologna: Pàtron editore. 43: 9–32. ISSN   0300-340X.
  15. Marchesini, Simona (2019). "L'onomastica nella ricostruzione del lessico: il caso di Retico ed Etrusco". Mélanges de l'École française de Rome - Antiquité (in Italian). Rome: École française de Rome. 131 (1): 123–136. doi:10.4000/mefra.7613. ISBN   978-2-7283-1428-7 . Retrieved January 31, 2020.
  16. Van der Meer 2004.
  17. Myres, JL (1907), "A history of the Pelasgian theory", Journal of Hellenic Studies, London : Published by the Council of the Society: 169–225, s. 16 (Pelasgians and Tyrrhenians).
  18. Strabo, Lacus Curtius (public domain translation), Jones, HL transl., U Chicago, And again, Anticleides says that they (the Pelasgians) were the first to settle the regions round about Lemnos and Imbros, and indeed that some of these sailed away to Italy with Tyrrhenus the son of Atys.
  19. Herodotus, The Histories, Perseus, Tufts, 6, 137.
  20. De Ligt, Luuk. "An Eteocretan' inscription from Praisos and the homeland of the Sea Peoples" (PDF). talanta.nl. ALANTA XL-XLI (2008-2009), 151-172.
  21. 1 2 3 4 Marchesini 2009.
  22. Raymond A. Brown, Evidence for pre-Greek speech on Crete from Greek alphabetic sources. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam 1985, p. 289
  23. Mellaart, James (1975), "The Neolithic of the Near East" (Thames and Hudson)
  24. Facchetti 2001.
  25. Facchetti 2002, p. 136.
  26. Steinbauer 1999.
  27. Palmer 1965.
  28. Penney, John H. W. (2009). "The Etruscan language and its Italic context". Etruscan by definition: the cultural, regional and personal identity of the Etruscans. Papers in honour of Sybille Haynes. London: British Museum Press. pp. 88–94. These further Anatolian connections are not very convincing, though the relationship between Etruscan and Lemnian remains secure. Before concluding that this still makes an eastern origin for Etruscan most likely, a further language with Etruscan affinities must be noted. This is Raetic, a language attested in some 200 very short inscriptions from the Alpine region to the north of Verona. Despite their brevity, a number of linguistic patterns can be recognised which point to a relationship with Etruscan."(....) The correspondences (of Etruscan) with Raetic seem entirely convincing, but it is important to note that there are differences between the languages too (for instance, the patronymic suffixes are similar but not identical), so that Raetic cannot just be seen as a form of Etruscan. As in the case of Lemnian, we have related languages belonging to the same family, so should we suppose that Proto-Tyrrhenian may have extended rather widely in prehistoric times? Certainly the introduction of Raetic into the argument, with the ensuing geographical complications, makes the notion of a straightforward migration of Etruscans from Asia Minor seem a little too simple. And it is not in the end clear that we can be sure that the Etruscans did come from outside Italy, at least in any period of which we can hope to give a historical account, whatever the romantic attractions of scenarios such as displacement in the wake of the Trojan War.
  29. Starostin, Sergei; Orel, Vladimir (1989). "Etruscan and North Caucasian". In Shevoroshkin, Vitaliy (ed.). Explorations in Language Macrofamilies. Bochum Publications in Evolutionary Cultural Semiotics. Bochum.