Etruscan numerals

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Etruscan numerals were used by the ancient Etruscans. The system was adapted from the Greek Attic numerals and formed the inspiration for the later Roman numerals.

Etruscan Arabic Symbol *
θu 1 Etruscan Numeral 1.svg
maχ 5 Etruscan Numeral 5.svg
śar 10 Etruscan Numeral 10.svg
muvalχ 50 Etruscan Numeral 50.svg
? 100 Etruscan Numeral 100.svg or C

There is very little surviving evidence of these numerals. Examples are known of the symbols for larger numbers, but it is unknown which symbol represents which number.

Thanks to the numbers written out on the Tuscania dice, there is agreement about the fact that zal, ci, huθ and śa are the numbers up to 6 (besides 1 and 5). The assignment depended on the answer to the question whether the numbers on opposite faces on Etruscan dice add up to seven, like nowadays. Some dice found did not show this proposed pattern.

An interesting aspect of the Etruscan numeral system is that some numbers, as in the Roman system, are represented as partial subtractions. So "17" is not written *semφ-śar as users of the Hindu-Arabic numerals might reason. We instead find <ci-em zaθrum> — literally, "three away from twenty". The numbers 17, 18 and 19 are all written in this way.

The general consensus[edit]

The general agreement among Etruscologists nowadays is the following (except about which of huθ and śa were "four" or "six", which has always been under discussion; see below the new results):

Etruscan Arabic
θu 1
zal 2
ci 3
huθ 4
maχ 5
śa 6
semφ 7
*cezp 8
nurφ 9
śar 10
*θuśar 11
*zalśar 12
*ciśar 13
huθzar 14
*maχśar 15
*śaśar 16
ciem zaθrum 17
eslem zaθrum 18
θunem zaθrum 19
zaθrum 20
cealχ 30
*huθalχ 40
muvalχ 50
śealχ 60
semφalχ 70
cezpalχ 80
*nurφalχ 90

In October 2011, Artioli and colleagues presented evidence from 93 Etruscan dice "allowing the firm attribution of the numeral 6 to the graphical value huth and 4 to sa".[1]

In 2006, S. A. Yatsemirsky presented evidence that zar = śar meant ‘12’ (cf. zal ‘2’ and zaθrum ‘20’) while halχ meant ‘10’. According to his interpretation the attested form huθzar was used for ‘sixteen’, not ‘fourteen’, assuming huθ meant four.[2]

The words for 17, 18, and 19 may have influenced Latin duodeviginti (18) and undeviginti (19), literally "two-from-twenty" and "one-from-twenty" (with Etruscan -(n)em apparently meaning "from"). Both these forms of 18 and 19 have disappeared from modern Romance languages.

The numbers show no sign of Indo-European origin.

Confer, however: Etr. semφ and Eng. seven, Russ. sem'.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Artioli, G., Nociti, V., Angelini, I., "Gambling with Etruscan Dice: a Tale of Numbers and Letters", Archaeometry, Vol. 53, Issue 5, October 2011, pages 1031–1043 (Abstract).
  2. ^ Etruscan numerals: problems and results of research (PDF), S. A. Yatsemirsky

External links[edit]