Rhaetian language

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Native to Ancient Rhaetia
Region Eastern Alps
Era 1st millennium BC to 3rd century AD[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xrr
Glottolog raet1238[2]
Tyrsenian languages.svg

Rhaetian /ˈrʃən/ or Rhaetic (Raetic) /ˈrtɪk/ was a language spoken in the ancient region of Rhaetia in the Eastern Alps in pre-Roman and Roman times. It is documented by a limited number of short inscriptions (found through Northern Italy, Southern Germany, Eastern Switzerland, Slovenia and Western Austria)[3] in two variants of the Etruscan alphabet.

The ancient Rhaetic language is not the same as one of the modern Romance languages of the same Alpine region, known as Rhaeto-Romance, but both are sometimes referred to as "Rhaetian".


Based on its handful of surviving inscriptions, whether Rhaetic was an Indo-European language or not continues to be argued. German linguist Helmut Rix proposed that Rhaetic, along with Etruscan, was a member of a proposed Tyrrhenian language family possibly influenced by neighboring Indo-European languages[4][5] Robert Beekes also does not consider it Indo-European.[6] Scullard, on the contrary, suggests it to be an Indo-European language, with links to Illyrian and Celtic.[7] Nevertheless, most scholars now think that it is probably a Tyrrhenian language, and thus most closely related to languages such as Etruscan.


Retic culture and inscriptions

It is clear that in the centuries leading up to Roman imperial times, the Rhaetians had at least come under Etruscan influence, as the Rhaetic inscriptions are written in what appears to be a northern variant of the Etruscan alphabet. The ancient Roman sources mention the Rhaetic people as being reputedly of Etruscan origin, so there may at least have been some ethnic Etruscans who had settled in the region by that time.

In his Natural History (1st century AD), Pliny wrote about Alpine peoples:

adjoining these (the Noricans) are the Rhaeti and Vindelici. All are divided into a number of states.[a] The Rhaeti are believed to be people of Tuscan race[b] driven out by the Gauls; their leader was named Rhaetus.[8]

Pliny's comment on a leader named Rhaetus is typical of mythologized origins of ancient peoples, and not necessarily reliable. The name of the Venetic goddess Reitia has commonly been discerned in the Rhaetic finds, but the two names do not seem to be linked. The spelling as Raet- is found in inscriptions, while Rhaet- was used in Roman manuscripts; whether this Rh represents an accurate transcription of an aspirated R in Rhaetic or is an error is uncertain.

Many inscriptions are known, but most of them are only short and fairly repetitive, probably mostly votive texts. Rhaetic became extinct by the 3rd century AD, with its speakers eventually adopting Vulgar Latin in the south and Germanic in the north, and possibly Celtic prior to that.[9]

An altered variety of Raetian is "spoken" in the 2017 film Iceman by Felix Randau.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ in multas civitates divisi.
  2. ^ Tuscorum prolem (genitive case followed by accusative case), "offshoot of the Tusci."


  1. ^ Rhaetian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Raetic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ "The Raetic alphabets". 
  4. ^ Rix 1998.
  5. ^ Schumacher 1998.
  6. ^ 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."
  7. ^ Scullard, 1967 & 43.
  8. ^ Pliny, "XX", Naturalis Historia (in Latin), III, Rackham, H transl, Loeb .
  9. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 .
  10. ^ https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2017/08/bewitching-and-bewildering


  • Morandi, Alessandro (1999), "Il cippo di Castelciès nell'epigrafia retica", Studia archaeologica, Rome: Bretschneider, 103 .
  • Prosdocimi, Aldo L. (2003-4). "Sulla formazione dell'alfabeto runico. Promessa di novità documentali forse decisive". Archivio per l'Alto Adige 97–98.427–440
  • Rix, Helmut (1998), Rätisch und Etruskisch [Rhaetian & Etruscan], Vorträge und kleinere Schriften (in German) (68), Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck .
  • Schumacher, Stefan (1998), "Sprachliche Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen Rätisch und Etruskisch", Der Schlern (in German), 72: 90–114 .
  • Schumacher, Stefan (2004) [1992], Die rätischen Inschriften. Geschichte und heutiger Stand der Forschung, Sonderheft (79) (2nd ed.), Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck .
  • Scullard, HH (1967), The Etruscan Cities and Rome, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press .
  • Tóth, Brunner, Alfred Linus (2007), Raetic: An extinct Semitic language in Central Europe, The Hague: Mikes International, ISBN 978-90-8501-113-2 

External links[edit]