Old Italic scripts

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Old Italic
Marsiliana tablet.svg
An inscription from the Marsiliana tablet, around 700 BC
Script type
Directionright-to-left script, left-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
Related scripts
Parent systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Ital, 210 Edit this on Wikidata, ​Old Italic (Etruscan, Oscan, etc.)
Unicode alias
Old Italic
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Old Italic scripts are a family of similar ancient writing systems used in the Italian Peninsula between around 700 and 100 BC, for various languages spoken in that time and place.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The runic alphabets used in northern Europe are believed to have been separately derived from one of these alphabets by the 2nd century AD.[citation needed]


The Old Italic alphabets clearly derive from the Phoenician alphabet, although the precise chain of cultural transmission is unknown.[citation needed] Some scholars argue that the Etruscan alphabet was imported from the Euboean Greek colonies of Cumae and Ischia (Pithekoūsai) in the Gulf of Naples in the 8th century BC; this Euboean alphabet is also called 'Cumaean' (after Cumae), or 'Chalcidian' (after its metropolis Chalcis).[2] The Cumaean hypothesis is supported by the 1957–58 excavations of Veii by the British School at Rome, which found pieces of Greek pottery indicating that contacts between the Etruscan city of Veii and the Greek colonies of Cumae and Ischia have existed ever since the second half of the 8th century.[2] Other scholars posit a different hypothetical Western Greek alphabet that was even older than those attested to have given rise to the Etruscan letters.[2] Whatever the case, the Etruscans added the c, the q and the combination of vh or hv (for /f/) in order to spell sounds that did not exist in Ancient Greek.[3] The development and usage of their own Greek-derived alphabet arguably marked the end of the Villanovan culture and ushered in the Etruscan Orientalising period.[3]: 19 

As the Etruscans were the leading civilization of Italy in that period, it is widely accepted that they spread their alphabet across the peninsula, and the other Old Italic scripts were derived from theirs.[3] Scholars provide three reasons: Etruscans and non-Etruscans had strong contacts in the 8th and 7th centuries, surviving inscriptions from other languages appear later (after the end of the 8th century) than the earliest Etruscan ones (first amongst the Umbrians, Faliscans, Latins, and Sabines to the south, in the 6th century also in the Po Valley and amongst the Cisalpine Celtic, Venetic and Raetic tribes), and the letters used in these texts are evidently based on the Etruscan version of the Western Greek alphabet.[3] However, some of them, including the Latin alphabet, retained certain Greek letters that the Etruscans themselves dropped at a rather early stage.[citation needed]

The Old Italic alphabets were used for various different languages, which included some Indo-European ones (predominantly from the Italic branch, but also in Gaulish and probably in inscriptions interpreted as Proto-Germanic) and some non-Indo-European ones (such as Etruscan itself).[citation needed]

Alphabets related to Etruscan[edit]

The following table shows the ancient Italic scripts that are presumed[by whom?] to be related to the Etruscan alphabet. Symbols that are assumed to be correspondent are placed on the same column. Many symbols occur with two or more variant forms in the same script; only one variant is shown here. The notations [←] and [→] indicate that the shapes shown were used when writing right-to-left and left-to-right, respectively.

Warning: For the languages marked [?] the appearance of the "Letters" in the table is whatever one's browser's Unicode font shows for the corresponding code points in the Old Italic Unicode block. The same code point represents different symbol shapes in different languages; therefore, to display those glyph images properly one needs to use a Unicode font specific to that language.

Letter [←] 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
Value ʾ b g d h w z y k l m n s ʿ p q r š t
Western Greek [4] [5]
Letter [→] 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
Value a b g d e w zd h i k l m n o p s k r s t u ks
Transcription Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ϝ Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο Π Ϻ Ϙ Ρ Σ Τ Υ X Φ Ψ
Etruscan - from 7th century BC [6][7]
Marsiliana [←] 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
Archaic (to 5th c.) [←] EtruscanA-01.svg EtruscanC-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 EtruscanP-01.svg EtruscanSH-01.svg EtruscanQ-01.svg EtruscanR-03.svg EtruscanS-02.svg EtruscanT-01.svg EtruscanV-01.svg EtruscanX-01.svg EtruscanPH-01.svg EtruscanKH-01.svg EtruscanF-02.svg
Neo (4th to 1st c.)[←] 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
Value a k e v ts h th i k l m n p sh k r s t u s ph kh f
Transcription a c e v z h θ i k l m n p ś q r s t u φ χ f
Oscan - from 5th century BC [8]
Letter [←] Oscan A3.svg Oscan B1.svg Oscan C1.svg Oscan D1.svg Oscan E1.svg Oscan F2.svg Oscan Z1.svg Oscan H1.svg Oscan I1.svg Oscan K2.svg Oscan L2.svg Oscan M1.svg Oscan N1.svg OscanP-01.svg Oscan R1.svg Oscan S1.svg Oscan T2.svg Oscan U1.svg Oscan F3.svg Oscan U3.svg Oscan I2.svg
Value a b g d ɛ v ts x? i k l m n p r s t o: f o e
Transcription A B G D E V Z H I K L M N P R S T U F Ú Í
Lepontic - 7th to 5th century BC
Letter [?][→] 𐌀 𐌄 𐌅 𐌆 𐌈 𐌉 𐌊 𐌋 𐌌 𐌍 𐌏 𐌐 𐌑 𐌓 𐌔 𐌕 𐌖 𐌗
Transcription A E V Z Θ I K L M N O P Ś R S T U X
South Picene - from 6th century BC
Letter [?][→] 𐌀 𐌁 𐌂 𐌃 𐌄 𐌅 𐌇 𐌉 𐌊 𐌋 𐌌 𐌍 𐌏 𐌐 𐌒 𐌓 𐌔 𐌕 𐌖 𐌚 𐌞 𐌝 𐌟
Transcription A B G D E V H I K L M N O P Q R S T U F Ú Í *

Etruscan alphabet[edit]

Various Indo-European languages belonging to the Italic branch (Faliscan and members of the Sabellian group, including Oscan, Umbrian, and South Picene, and other Indo-European branches such as Venetic) originally used the alphabet. Faliscan, Oscan, Umbrian, North Picene, and South Picene all derive from an Etruscan form of the alphabet.[citation needed]

Alphabet of Nuceria[edit]

Segni alfabeto nucerino.PNG

The Nucerian alphabet is based on inscriptions found in southern Italy (Nocera Superiore, Sorrento, Vico Equense and other places). It is attested only between the 6th and the 5th century BC. The most important sign is the /S/, shaped like a fir tree, and possibly a derivation from the Phoenician alphabet.[citation needed]

The alphabets of Este (Venetic), Magrè and Bolzano/Bozen-Sanzeno (Raetic), Sondrio (Camunic), Lugano (Lepontic)

Missing from the above table:

Rhaetic alphabets[edit]

The alphabet of Sanzeno (also, of Bolzano), about 100 Rhaetic inscriptions.[citation needed] The alphabet of Magrè (near Schio), east Raetian inscriptions.[citation needed]

Venetic alphabet[edit]

Alphabet of Este: Similar but not identical to that of Magrè, Venetic inscriptions.[citation needed]

Camunic alphabet[edit]

Inscribed abecedarium on rock drawings in Valcamonica.[citation needed]

Latin alphabet[edit]

Duenos inscription, 6th century BC

21 of the 26 archaic Etruscan letters were adopted for Old Latin from the 7th century BC, either directly from the Cumae alphabet, or via archaic Etruscan forms, compared to the classical Etruscan alphabet retaining B, D, K, O, Q, X but dropping Θ, Ś, Φ, Ψ, and F. (Etruscan U is Latin V; Etruscan V is Latin F.)[citation needed]

𐌀 𐌁 𐌂 𐌃 𐌄 𐌅 𐌆 𐌇 𐌉 𐌊 𐌋 𐌌 𐌍 𐌏 𐌐 𐌒 𐌓 𐌔 𐌕 𐌖 𐌗

South Picene alphabet[edit]

The South Picene alphabet, known from the 6th century BC, is most like the southern Etruscan alphabet in that it uses Q for /k/ and K for /g/. ⟨.⟩ is a reduced ⟨o⟩ and ⟨:⟩ is a reduced ⟨8⟩, used for /f/.[9]


The Old Italic alphabets were unified and added to the Unicode Standard in March 2001 with the release of version 3.1. The Unicode block for Old Italic is U+10300–U+1032F without specification of a particular alphabet (i.e. the Old Italic alphabets are considered equivalent, and the font used will determine the variant).[10]

Writing direction (right-to-left, left-to-right, or boustrophedon) varies based on the language and even the time period. For simplicity most scholars use left-to-right and this is the Unicode default direction for the Old Italic block. For this reason, the glyphs in the code chart are shown with left-to-right orientation.[11]

Old Italic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1030x 𐌀 𐌁 𐌂 𐌃 𐌄 𐌅 𐌆 𐌇 𐌈 𐌉 𐌊 𐌋 𐌌 𐌍 𐌎 𐌏
U+1031x 𐌐 𐌑 𐌒 𐌓 𐌔 𐌕 𐌖 𐌗 𐌘 𐌙 𐌚 𐌛 𐌜 𐌝 𐌞 𐌟
U+1032x 𐌠 𐌡 𐌢 𐌣 𐌭 𐌮 𐌯
1.^ As of Unicode version 14.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Old Italic (PDF) (chart), Unicode.
  2. ^ a b c Banti, Luisa (1973). Etruscan Cities and Their Culture. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 193. ISBN 9780520019102. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d Wallace, Rex E. (2015). "Chapter 14: Language, Alphabet, and Linguistic Affiliation". A Companion to the Etruscans. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. p. 309. ISBN 9781118354957. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  4. ^ Adolf Kirchhoff (1877). Studien zur Geschichte des griechischen Alphabets. Berlin: Dümmler. p. 102. OL 24337090M.
  5. ^ Kirchhoff 1877, p. 168.
  6. ^ Giuliano Bonfante (1983). The Etruscan language. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 64. ISBN 0719009022. OCLC 610734784. OL 19629507M.
  7. ^ Herbert Alexander Stützer (1992). Die Etrusker und ihre Welt. Köln: DuMont. p. 12. ISBN 3770131282. LCCN 94191271. OCLC 611534598. OL 1198388M.
  8. ^ Carl Darling Buck (1904). A grammar of Oscan and Umbrian. Boston: Ginn. p. 22. OL 7118142M.
  9. ^ Stuart-Smith, Jane (2004). Phonetics and Philology: Sound Change in Italic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-925773-6.
  10. ^ The Unicode Consortium (16 May 2001), "7.10 Old Italic (new section)", Unicode Standard Annex #27, The Unicode Standard, Version 3.1.
  11. ^ Jenkins, John; Everson, Michael (16 August 1997), "E.Processing", Proposal for encoding the Etruscan script in ISO/IEC 10646

Further reading[edit]

  • Bonfante, Giuliano; Bonfante, Larissa (2002). The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-5539-3.
  • Mullen, Alex (2013). Southern Gaul and the Mediterranean: Multilingualism and Multiple Identities in the Iron Age and Roman Periods. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-02059-7.

External links[edit]