Tyrsenian languages

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France (Corsica), Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Greece (island of Lemnos)
Linguistic classificationPre-Indo-European, Paleo-European, proposed language family
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)[4]

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][13][14] Helmut Rix dated the end of the Proto-Tyrsenian period to the last quarter of the 2nd millennium BC.[15] Carlo De Simone and Simona Marchesini have proposed a much earlier date, placing the Tyrsenian language split before the Bronze Age.[4][16][17] This would provide one explanation for the low number of lexical correspondences.[1]

In 2004 L. Bouke van der Meer proposed that Rhaetic could have split from Etruscan from around 900 BC or even earlier, at any rate no later than 700 BC 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 around 400 BCE, the Rhaeti became isolated from the Etruscan area by the Cisalpine Celts, thus limiting contacts between the two languages.[18] Such a late datation has not enjoyed much consensus, because the split would still be too recent, and in contrast with the archaeological data, the Rhaeti in the second Iron Age being characterized by the Fritzens-Sanzeno culture, in continuity with late Bronze Age culture and early Iron Age Laugen-Melaun culture. The Raeti are not believed, archeologically, to descend from the Etruscans, as well as it is not believed plausible that the Etruscans are descended from the Rhaeti.[19]

After more than 90 years of archaeological excavations at Lemnos, nothing has been found that would support a migration from Lemnos to Etruria or to the Alps where Rhaetic was spoken. The indigenous inhabitants of Lemnos, also called in ancient times Sinteis, were the Sintians, a Thracian population.[20] Scholars such as Norbert Oettinger, Michel Gras and Carlo De Simone think that Lemnian is the testimony of an Etruscan commercial settlement on the island that took place before 700 BC, not related to the Sea Peoples.[21][22][23] 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.[24]

Strabo's (Geography V, 2) citation from Anticlides attributes a share in the foundation of Etruria to the Pelasgians of Lemnos and Imbros.[25][26] The Pelasgians are also referred to by Herodotus as settlers in Lemnos, after they were expelled from Attica by the Athenians.[27] 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.


  • Etruscan: 13,000 inscriptions, the overwhelming majority of which have been found in Italy; the oldest Etruscan inscription dates back to the 8th century BC, and the most recent one is dated to the 1st century AD.[28]
  • Rhaetic: 300 inscriptions, the overwhelming majority of which have found in the Central Alps; the oldest Rhaetic inscription dates back to the 6th century BC.[28][1]
  • Lemnian: 2 inscriptions plus a small number of extremely fragmentary inscriptions; the oldest Lemnian inscription dates back to the late 6th century BC.[28]
  • Camunic: maybe related to Rhaetic, about 170 inscriptions found in the Central Alps; the oldest Camunic inscriptions dates back to the 5th century BC.[28]


Cognates common to Rhaetic and Etruscan are:

Etruscan Rhaetic English approximant
zal zal 'two'
-(a)cvil akvil 'gift'
zinace t'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:

  • shared dative-case suffixes *-si, and *-ale
    • attested as aule-si Etruscan 'to Aule' on the Cippus Perusinus inscriptions
    • attested as Hulaie-ši Lemnian 'for Hulaie', Φukiasi-ale 'for the Phocaean' on the Lemnos Stele
  • a past tense suffix *-a-i
    • -⟨e⟩ as in ame 'was' ( ← *amai) in Etruscan
    • -⟨ai⟩ as in šivai 'lived' in Lemnian
  • two cognate words describing ages
    • avils maχs śealχisc Etruscan 'and aged sixty-five'
    • aviš sialχviš Lemnian 'aged sixty'

Fringe scholarship and superseded theories[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, 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.[29] Michael Ventris, who successfully deciphered Linear B with John Chadwick, also thought there to be a relation between Etruscan and Minoan.[30] 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.[2] From another Minoan branch would have come the Eteocretan language.[31][32] 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][34] but is not accepted.[35] 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,[36] 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[edit]


  1. ^ Steinbauer tries to relate both Etruscan and Rhaetic to Anatolian.[33]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Marchesini, Simona. "Raetic". Mnamon.
  2. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c 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)
  12. ^ 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)
  13. ^ Haarmann, Harald (2014). "Ethnicity and Language in the Ancient Mediterranean". In McInerney, Jeremy (ed.). A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient Mediterranean. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 17–33. doi:10.1002/9781118834312.ch2. ISBN 9781444337341.
  14. ^ Harding, Anthony H. (2014). "The later prehistory of Central and Northern Europe". In Renfrew, Colin; Bahn, Paul (eds.). The Cambridge World Prehistory. 3. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 1912. ISBN 978-1-107-02379-6. Italy was home to a number of languages in the Iron Age, some of them clearly Indo-European (Latin being the most obvious, although this was merely the language spoken in the Roman heartland, that is, Latium, and other languages such as Italic, Venetic or Ligurian were also present), while the centre-west and northwest were occupied by the people we call Etruscans, who spoke a language which was non-Indo-European and presumed to represent an ethnic and linguistic stratum which goes far back in time, perhaps even to the occupants of Italy prior to the spread of farming.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Van der Meer 2004.
  19. ^ Marzatico, Franco (2019). "I Reti e i popoli delle Alpi orientali". Preistoria Alpina (in Italian). 49bis. Trento: MUSE-Museo delle Scienze. pp. 73–82. Se resta il fatto che la documentazione archeologica smentisce in tutta evidenza un rapporto filogenetico fra Etruschi e Reti, visti anche fenomeni di continuità come nell’ambito della produzione vascolare di boccali di tradizione Luco/Laugen (fig. 8), non è escluso che la percezione di prossimità esistenti fra la lingua e la scrittura delle due entità etniche possano avere indotto eruditi del tempo a costruite “a tavolino” un rapporto di parentela.(...)
  20. ^ Ficuciello, Lucia (2013). Lemnos. Cultura, storia, archeologia, topografia di un'isola del nord-Egeo. Monografie della Scuola Archeologica di Atene e delle Missioni Italiane in Oriente 20, 1/1 (in Italian). Athens: Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene. pp. 68–116. ISBN 978-960-9559-03-4.
  21. ^ Wallace, Rex E. (2010). "Italy, Languages of". In Gagarin, Michael (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 97–102. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195170726.001.0001. ISBN 9780195170726. Etruscan origins lie in the distant past. Despite the claim by Herodotus, who wrote that Etruscans migrated to Italy from Lydia in the eastern Mediterranean, there is no material or linguistic evidence to support this. Etruscan material culture developed in an unbroken chain from Bronze Age antecedents. As for linguistic relationships, Lydian is an Indo-European language. Lemnian, which is attested by a few inscriptions discovered near Kamania on the island of Lemnos, was a dialect of Etruscan introduced to the island by commercial adventurers. Linguistic similarities connecting Etruscan with Raetic, a language spoken in the sub-Alpine regions of northeastern Italy, further militate against the idea of eastern origins.
  22. ^ Carlo de Simone, La nuova Iscrizione ‘Tirsenica’ di Lemnos (Efestia, teatro): considerazioni generali, in Rasenna: Journal of the Center for Etruscan Studies, pp. 1–34.
  23. ^ Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe of ca. 1200 B.C, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 59, ISBN 978-0-691-04811-6.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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).
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, Perseus, Tufts, 6, 137.
  28. ^ a b c d Marchesini 2009.
  29. ^ Raymond A. Brown, Evidence for pre-Greek speech on Crete from Greek alphabetic sources. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam 1985, p. 289
  30. ^ Facchetti 2001.
  31. ^ Facchetti 2002, p. 136.
  32. ^ Steinbauer 1999.
  33. ^ Palmer 1965.
  34. ^ 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.
  35. ^ Starostin, Sergei; Orel, Vladimir (1989). "Etruscan and North Caucasian". In Shevoroshkin, Vitaliy (ed.). Explorations in Language Macrofamilies. Bochum Publications in Evolutionary Cultural Semiotics. Bochum.


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