Tyrsenian languages

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Linguistic classificationproposed language family
Tyrsenian languages.svg
Approximate area of Tyrsenian languages

Tyrsenian (also Tyrrhenian), named after the Tyrrhenians (Ancient Greek, Ionic: Τυρσηνοί, Tursēnoi), is a hypothetical extinct family of closely related ancient languages proposed by Helmut Rix (1998), which consists of the Etruscan language of northern and central Italy; 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.[2]


Tyrrhenian language family tree as proposed by de Simone and Marchesini (2013)[3]

Rix assumes a date for Proto-Tyrsenian of roughly 1000 BC. Cognates common to Rhaetic and Etruscan are:

  • Etr. zal, Raet. zal, "two";
  • Etr. -(a)cvil, Raet. akvil, "gift";
  • Etr. zinace, Raet. t'inaχe, "he made".
  • a genitive suffix -s in all three languages;
  • a second genitive suffix -a in Rhaetic, -(i)a in Etruscan;
  • the past active participle -ce in Etruscan, -ku in Rhaetic.

Cognates common to Lemnian and Etruscan are:

  • dative-case suffixes *-si, and *-ale, attested on the Lemnos Stele (Hulaie-ši "for Hulaie", Φukiasi-ale "for the Phocaean") and in Etruscan inscriptions (e.g. aule-si "To Aule" on the Cippus Perusinus);
  • a past tense suffix *-a-i (Etruscan -⟨e⟩ as in ame "was" ( ← *amai); Lemnian -⟨ai⟩ as in šivai "lived").
  • Etr. avils maχs śealχisc "and aged sixty-five", Lem. aviš sialχviš "aged sixty"

Rix's Tyrsenian family has been confirmed by Stefan Schumacher,[4][5] [6][7] Norbert Oettinger,[8] Carlo De Simone [9] and Simona Marchesini.[3] Common features between Etruscan, Rhaetian, Lemnian have been found in morphology, phonology, and syntax. On the other hand, lexical correspondences are rarely documented, due to the scanty number of Rhaetian and Lemnian texts, and, above all, due to the very ancient date at which these languages split, because the split must have taken place before the Bronze Age, much earlier than was suggested by Rix.[10][11] The Tyrsenian family, or Common Tyrrhenic, in this case is often considered to be Paleo-European and to predate the arrival of Indo-European languages in southern Europe.[12]

Strabo's (Geography V, 2) citation from Anticlides attributes a share in the foundation of Etruria to the Pelasgians of Lemnos and Imbros.[13][14] The Pelasgians are also referred to by Herodotus as settlers in Lemnos, after they were expelled from Attica by the Athenians.[15] 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.[16]

Suggested relationships to other families[edit]

Aegean language family[edit]

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 (a language attested in the Aegean, widely thought to be related to Etruscan), and on the other hand some languages such as 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. 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 Anatolian languages, based upon place name analysis.[17] From another Minoan branch would have come the Eteocretan language.[18][19] 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[edit]

A relation with the Anatolian languages within Indo-European has been proposed,[a][21] but is not generally accepted (although Leonard R. Palmer did show that some Linear A inscriptions were sensible as a variant of Luwian). 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[edit]

A number of mainly Soviet or post-Soviet linguists, including Sergei Starostin,[22] suggested a link between the Tyrrhenian languages and the Northeast Caucasian languages, based on claimed sound correspondences between Etruscan, Hurrian and Northeast Caucasian languages, numerals, grammatical structures and phonologies.

Genetic studies[edit]

Only one published study has been done on ancient Etruscan DNA samples. This dataset consists of 30 mitochondrial DNA HVR1 (hypervariable region 1) partial mtDNA sequences.[23] This study concluded "that no available genetic evidence suggests an Etruscan origin outside Italy", and that "contacts between people from the Eastern Mediterranean shores and Central Italy likely date back to a remote stage of prehistory, possibly to the spread of farmers from the Near East during the Neolithic period".[23]

According to a study in 2017, the early farmers belonged predominantly to the paternal haplogroup H, which is common in Dravidian-speaking people in India, Pakistan and Romania. Haplogroup G-M201 was also found frequently.[24]


The language group would 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). Finally, Rhaetic died out in the 3rd century AD, by assimilation to Vulgar Latin, and later to Germanic in the north.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steinbauer tries to relate both Etruscan and Rhaetic to Anatolian.[20]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Etrusco-Rhaetian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Blackwell reference.
  3. ^ a b Carlo de Simone, Simona Marchesini (Eds), La lamina di Demlfeld [= Mediterranea. Quaderni annuali dell'Istituto di Studi sulle Civiltà italiche e del Mediterraneo antico del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche. Supplemento 8], Pisa – Roma: 2013 (Italian).
  4. ^ Schumacher, Stefan (1994) Studi Etruschi in Neufunde ‘raetischer’ Inschriften Vol. 59 pp. 307-320 (German)
  5. ^ Schumacher, Stefan (1994) Neue ‘raetische’ Inschriften aus dem Vinschgau in Der Schlern Vol. 68 pp. 295-298 (German)
  6. ^ Schumacher, Stefan (1999) Die Raetischen Inschriften: Gegenwärtiger Forschungsstand, spezifische Probleme und Zukunfstaussichten in I Reti / Die Räter, Atti del simposio 23-25 settembre 1993, Castello di Stenico, Trento, Archeologia delle Alpi, a cura di G. Ciurletti - F. Marzatico Archaoalp pp. 334-369 (German)
  7. ^ Schumacher, Stefan (2004) Die Raetischen Inschriften. Geschichte und heutiger Stand der Forschung Archaeolingua. Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft. (German)
  8. ^ Norbert Oettinger, Seevölker und Etrusker, 2010 (German).
  9. ^ de Simone Carlo (2009) La nuova iscrizione tirsenica di Efestia in Aglaia Archontidou, Carlo de Simone, Emanuele Greco (Eds.), Gli scavi di Efestia e la nuova iscrizione ‘tirsenica’, TRIPODES 11, 2009, pp. 3-58. Vol. 11 pp. 3-58 (Italian)
  10. ^ Simona Marchesini (translation by Melanie Rockenhaus) (2013). "Rhaetic (languages)". Mnamon - Ancient Writing Systems in the Mediterranean. Scuola Normale Superiore. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  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) CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  12. ^ Mellaart, James (1975), "The Neolithic of the Near East" (Thames and Hudson)
  13. ^ 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).
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, Perseus, Tufts, 6, 137.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Mellaart, James (1975), "The Neolithic of the Near East" (Thames and Hudson)
  18. ^ Facchetti 2001.
  19. ^ Facchetti 2002, p. 136.
  20. ^ Steinbauer 1999.
  21. ^ Palmer 1965.
  22. ^ Starostin, Sergei; Orel, Vladimir (1989). "Etruscan and North Caucasian". In Shevoroshkin, Vitaliy (ed.). Explorations in Language Macrofamilies. Bochum Publications in Evolutionary Cultural Semiotics. Bochum.
  23. ^ a b Ghirotto, Silvia; Tassi, Francesca; Fumagalli, Erica; Colonna, Vincenza; Sandionigi, Anna; Lari, Martina; Vai, Stefania; Petiti, Emmanuele; Corti, Giorgio (2013-02-06). "Origins and Evolution of the Etruscans' mtDNA". PLOS ONE. 8 (2): e55519. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...855519G. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055519. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3566088. PMID 23405165.
  24. ^ Lipson, Mark; Szécsényi-Nagy, Anna; Mallick, Swapan; Pósa, Annamária; Stégmár, Balázs; Keerl, Victoria; Rohland, Nadin; Stewardson, Kristin; Ferry, Matthew (2017-11-16). "Parallel paleogenomic transects reveal complex genetic history of early European farmers". Nature. 551 (7680): 368–372. Bibcode:2017Natur.551..368L. doi:10.1038/nature24476. ISSN 0028-0836. PMC 5973800. PMID 29144465.


  • Facchetti, Giulio M (2001), "Qualche osservazione sulla lingua minoica" [Some observations on the Minoican language], Kadmos (in Italian), 40: 1–38, doi:10.1515/kadm.2001.40.1.1.
  • ——— (2002), "Appendice sulla questione delle affinità genetiche dell'Etrusco" [Appendix on questions of the Etruscan genetic affinity], Appunti di Morfologia Etrusca (in Italian), Leo S. Olschki: 111–50, ISBN 978-88-222-5138-1.
  • Palmer, LR (1965), Mycenaeans and Minoans (2nd ed.), New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Rix, Helmut (1998), Rätisch und Etruskisch [Raetian & Etruscan] (in German), Innsbruck.
  • Steinbauer, Dieter H (1999), Neues Handbuch des Etruskischen [New handbook on Etruscan] (in German), St. Katharinen.
  • Schumacher, Stefan (1998), "Sprachliche Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen Rätisch und Etruskisch", Der Schlern (in German), 72: 90–114.
  • ——— (2004), "Die rätischen Inschriften. Geschichte und heutiger Stand der Forschung. 2. erweiterte Auflage", Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft (in German), Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachen und Literaturen der Universität Innsbruck, 121 = Archaeolingua 2.