Unlocking the Rhaetic Language: Deciphering the Sword of Verona and Other Inscriptions

In 1962, Ludowico Muscardo discovered an object south of Verona, Italy, which became known as the “Sword of Verona.” However, the original object has been lost, and the only remaining representation of it is a copy based on Muscardo’s drawings, which is currently housed in the Manischlassi-Errico museum in Verona. The object resembles a sword, but there is uncertainty whether it might have been a scepter or a similar type of object.

What’s noteworthy about the “Sword of Verona” is that it bears an inscription in an Old Italic alphabet that resembles the Venetic style. This inscription has enabled scholars to date the object back to the 5th century BC.

The “sword”, and the inscription looked like this:

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Previous translation attempts of Spada di Verona

Despite numerous attempts, the inscription on the “Sword of Verona” has never been translated successfully. One of the main challenges is that some of the individual letters used to represent certain sounds are still uncertain. Another difficulty is that we don’t have the original object and must rely on possibly erroneous interpretations based on the copy, which may not accurately reflect the original inscription.

Here are some examples that demonstrate the challenges in translating the inscription:

Alternative A (by G. Tomezzoli):

Transliteration: faniniufikuremieshitifasuvakhikvelisunes -> fanin i ufik u remieshi i itifas u vakh ik velis u nes.

Translation: War and mutilation are to the Romans and the fury is to their god Bacchus, Velis is with uS.

Alternative B (from V. Chudeenov):

Transliteration: raniniufikuremleshipivauvakhikvelisunes -> rani ni ufik u remleshi i piva u vakh ik velis unes.

Translation: The wounds are not the mutilations among the Romans; when you are drinking together with Bacchus, Veles has them (already) carried away.

Source: The Spada di Verona

Indeed, the interpretation of the inscription on the “Sword of Verona” faces challenges such as uncertain letters and word spacing. However, it is noteworthy that two attempts to translate the inscription were made based on the Slavic language. Both interpretations also tried to match the idea of an inscription that would be fitting for a sword, given the object’s shape and appearance. Despite these attempts, the exact meaning of the inscription remains unknown.

More about detail about each translation are provided in the linked article. However, I find them both unconvincing, and for two good reasons:

  1. I don’t believe that this object represents a sword. To me it looks more like a scepter, made for a ruler.
  2. If the style of writing is dated to the 5 century BC, the inscription is unlikely to contain any mentions of the Romans.

My interpretation

There is one aspect of the “Sword of Verona” inscription that everyone seems to agree on: it should be read from right to left. However, there is some disagreement over the interpretation of certain letters in the inscription. For example, G. Tomezzoli assigned the sound “F” to the first letter, which is a common interpretation of the symbol. However, this results in multiple instances of the letter “F” appearing in unusual places, which makes the inscription difficult to relate to any known language.

On the other hand, Chudeenov’s interpretation of the “Sword of Verona” inscription, which assigns the sound “R” to certain letters, seems more natural. This approach may be based on the similarity of the inscription’s letter to the Greek and Cyrillic letter “R,” which is written in a similar way to the symbol “P.” However, this interpretation creates another problem that Chudeenov did not seem to notice. The twelfth letter in the inscription (D) is commonly regarded as “R” in these scripts. Chudeenov also reads it as “R,” despite the fact that it would be illogical to have two different letters (P and D) representing the same sound.

The fact that the sound of the letter “D” is not represented in the modern interpretation of these alphabets raises a question: what if Chudeenov is correct in assigning the sound “R” to certain letters, but the twelfth letter actually represents the same sound as the letter “D” in the Latin alphabet? This idea was the starting point for my translation of the inscription on the “Sword of Verona.”

Here is the full alphabet, in which I highlighted the letters in question. Source: Wikipedia

Based on these observations, I believe that the letter “D” in the “Sword of Verona” inscription represents the missing sound of “D,” while the letter “F” should be read as “R.” This is the only alteration I made to the original interpretation. The order and reading of all other letters remains the same. In this way, I was able to derive the following text:

From right to left: raniniurikudemleshiishrasuvakhikvelisines 

I decided to break the text in the following way:

Rani Niuriku Demieshi izrasuva k Hikve Pisines 

Translation: The Queen of Noricum, Demieshi, engraved (this) for Hicavus of the Pisines (Or from Pisa).

Translation explained

Rani is a Sanskrit word, meaning “Queen” or “Princess”. Source: rani

Niuriku – This word reminds me on Noricum. Noricum was an ancient region located in modern-day Austria and parts of Slovenia and Hungary. In the 5th century BC, Noricum was inhabited by a tribe called the Norici. They were known for their metalworking skills and traded their products with neighboring peoples. During this time, Noricum was not yet a unified political entity, but rather a loose collection of tribes with their own chieftains and territories. The Norici were often in conflict with neighboring tribes, such as the Taurisci to the east and the Raeti to the south. The Greek historian Herodotus mentioned the Norici in his writings in the 5th century BC, describing them as a people skilled in the art of metalworking.

I decided to go with this translation for the following reasons:

  • The words “Rani Niuriku” seem to be in the right declination, if the meaning is “The Queen of Noricum”.
  • The inscription is officialy called Rhaetic and Venetic, and these were the neigbours of the Norici.
  • Noricum existed in the 5th century BC – the same period when this inscription was written.
  • Also in the 5th century BC, Herodotus wrote about the Norici in great detail, labeling them as one of the strongest and most influental tribes in the region.

Here are a some quotes about the Norici from the Histories of Herodotus:

  1. “The Norians are a people who dwell on the banks of the river Danube, and they are skilled in metal-working. They have mines of silver and iron, and produce the finest iron in the world.” (Herodotus, Histories, 4.49)
  2. “The Norians are the only barbarians who use four-horse chariots in their wars, and they are skilled at archery and horsemanship.” (Herodotus, Histories, 5.9)
  3. “The Norians, who inhabit the country to the north of the Alps, are a powerful and warlike people, who have always been fiercely independent. They are skilled in the arts of war and are particularly adept at using the bow and arrow.” (Histories, 4.49)
  4. “The Norians are a free and independent people, and they are proud of their freedom. They are skilled in the arts of war and have successfully resisted attempts by neighboring peoples to subdue them.” (Herodotus, Histories, 4.49)
  5. “The Norians are a people who use chariots in their battles, and are the only nation who do so among the barbarians that inhabit these parts.” (Herodotus, Histories, 5.9)
Rhaetia and Noricum

The etymology of the name Noricum is unkown. According to Wiktionary, it is so ancient that it predates the arrival of the Celts. Interestingly, deep in the steppes of Russia, there is a small village that matches the exact spelling from my reading letter-to-letter. That place is called Niurik (Нюрих). Unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, I wasn’t able to find anything about its history or etymology.

Demieshi – Finaly, Demieshi would have to be the name of the queen. The suffix -ish sounds like a deminutive, but apart from that I couldn’t make much sense out of it.

Perhaps, this could be a version of the Greek and Eastern European name Demyana. The name “Demian” is of Eastern European origin, particularly from countries like Russia, Ukraine, and other Slavic-speaking regions. It is derived from the name “Demian” or “Demyan” (Демьян in Russian, Дем’ян in Ukrainian), which itself is a variation of the name “Damian.”

The etymology of “Demian” can be traced back to the Greek name “Damianos” (Δαμιανός), which means “to tame” or “subdue.”

Izrasuva – engraved, drawn. In Old Church Slavonic “рисꙗти” (risyati) meant “to draw”. The word is derived from “резать” (rezat’) – meaning “to cut, engrave”. In modern Bulgarian – izrasuvat.

k – to, for. In Old Church Slavonic, “kh” (х) is a preposition meaning “to” or “for”. It is often used to indicate direction, purpose or goal of an action. For example:

  • Дай мне книгу k храма. (Day mne knigu kh hrama.) – Give me the book for the temple.
  • Я пошел к реке. (Ya poshel kh reke.) – I went to the river.

Hikve – a personal name.

There are many examples of this name in ancient texts. However, they are all of a later date and contain the Latin suffix -us.

Icavicus: This was a name found on an ancient Roman milestone in the region of Noricum.
This name is mentioned in “Römische Reichsstraßen zwischen Enns und Adria” by Helmut Rizzolli, published by Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften in 2007.

Icavus: This was a Celtic name found in ancient Gaul and Germania.
This name is mentioned in “The Names of the Ancients” by C.J. Suetonius Tranquillus (translated by J.C. Rolfe), published by Harvard University Press in 1914. It is also mentioned in “The Celts: A History from Earliest Times to the Present” by Bernhard Maier, published by Edinburgh University Press in 2003.

Icavensis: This was a tribe in ancient Spain that may have been related to the Icavus name mentioned above.
This tribe is mentioned in “The Celtic Encyclopedia” by Harry Mountain, published by Universal Publishers in 1998. It is also mentioned in “The Celts: A Very Short Introduction” by Barry Cunliffe, published by Oxford University Press in 2003.

For this reason, I believe that the name is a good match, and that the spacing between words must start here.

Pisines – A name of a city, or a tribe. See Picenes, or the ancient toponym Pisa, which was very common in this region.

The queen probably wrote this in the capital city. In ancient times, the main city of Noricum was Virunum. It was located in what is now Austria, about 130 km west of Radstadt. Virunum was the capital of the Noric Kingdom and an important hub for trade and commerce.

The Sword of Verona or the Scepter of Noricum?

If my understanding is accurate, this would indicate that the object in question was a scepter rather than a sword. The scepter was a symbol of royal authority and power, and giving a scepter as a gift was a way for a monarch to demonstrate favor and recognition of someone’s importance.

In many ancient cultures, the scepter was an important part of the regalia of a monarch. It was often a long, ornate staff made of precious metals and adorned with jewels, and it was carried by the king or queen as a symbol of their authority. The scepter was also sometimes used as a ceremonial weapon, and in some cultures, it was believed to have magical powers.

In addition to being carried by the king or queen, scepters were also sometimes given as gifts to other rulers, important officials, or visiting dignitaries. These scepters were often specially made and decorated to reflect the recipient’s status and importance, and they were considered valuable symbols of the relationship between the two rulers or between the ruler and the recipient.

There are many examples of ancient kings and queens giving scepters as gifts to important people. Here are a few:

  • In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs were often depicted holding a scepter called the “hekat,” which was a symbol of their power and authority. The hekat was sometimes given as a gift to other rulers or high-ranking officials.
  • In ancient Greece, the scepter was known as the “skeptron,” and it was often used in assemblies to indicate who had the floor to speak. The scepter was also sometimes used as a symbol of authority by rulers, and it was given as a gift to allies or to honor important achievements.
  • In medieval Europe, monarchs often carried a scepter as part of their regalia. The scepter was a symbol of their authority and power, and it was sometimes given as a gift to other monarchs or to high-ranking officials. For example, in the 14th century, King Edward III of England gave a scepter as a gift to the Black Prince, his son and heir.
  • In ancient China, the emperor’s scepter was called the “ruyi,” and it was a symbol of his power and authority. The ruyi was often given as a gift to important officials or as a token of recognition for exceptional service.

The fact that the gift was presented by the queen and not the king is quite intriguing and raises several questions.

Conclusion

Translating ancient texts written in an unverified alphabet is a challenging task, and it’s possible that I may have made some errors during the process. Despite this, I am confident that my translation provides the most accurate and reasonable interpretation.

It may come as a surprise that I relied on Slavic languages to translate this text. However, this is not the first, nor will it be the last article on this blog that delves into this subject matter. As I mentioned earlier in the text, I am not even the first person to propose this theory.

If accurate, my translation could provide a fascinating glimpse into the forgotten history of Noricum, revealing two names, one of which has not been previously recorded or verified.

The etymology of Verona is uncertain. The closest Slavic match would be a popular toponym Vrana, Vranje, Vranany, meaning “a place of crows”. However, in the light of everything stated so far, I find this name interestingly similar to the Noric capital of Virunum.

PART 2 – Putting the theory to the test

Example 1

There is another similar, 5th century BC Rhaetic inscription, from an ancient handle, that sounds similar to this one. It was first pubkished by Meyer in 1901. Its meaning is unknown. It reads:

taniun : lashanaule / utiku : terunies: sxaistala

This script is somewhat different, and it is labeled as the Sanzeno alphabet. However, if we change the letters in the same way as I described above, we get a different reading:

Raniun : Lashanaule / Uriku : Redunies : shaisrala

To this, I introduced one more change , and that is that the sound of the letter L, should be read as J, as these two letters are similar. The final transcription would then be:

Raniun : Yashanuale / Uriku : Redunies : shaisraya

Translation: To the queen of the Iaziges, the chieftain of the Reduni bestowed.

Each word explained:

Raniun – Once again, this word be derrived from “rani” meaning “queen, princess”. The suffix -un would match the declination, in accordance with my translation (“to the queen”).

Yashanuale – The suffix -nuale is very common in Rhaetic inscriptions, and scolars believe that it means “of, from”. As for the first part Yasha, it would designate the name of the tribe or a city-state. I am more inclined that it relates to the tribe of Iaziges, as at this point in time, the Yashi were neighbours of the Rhaetians. The Romanian city Yashi is named after the Iaziges. However, this interpretation would require for that the letter L can also be read as J (Y) in certain instances.

The Iaziges were a tribal confederation of people who lived in the region of modern-day Hungary, Romania, and Serbia during the late Iron Age and early Roman period. They are believed to have been a branch of the larger group of people known as the Sarmatians, who were nomadic Iranian-speaking tribes that lived in the Eurasian steppe. They were known for their skilled horsemanship and military prowess.

Uriku – Urik is a well-attested name. Apparently, it is derived from the Germanic name “Eurich” or “Erich,” which means “ruler” or “king.” This name was also popular in Germany and other parts of Europe during the Middle Ages. “Uriku” would mean “to Urik” – it is in the correct declination. There is a Slavic version of this name too – Yurik.

I translated this word as “chieftain” as it appears in numerous inscriptions, so it is highly unlikely that it was designating a personal name. As we will soon see, the word for the king was “rianu” from Sanskrit “raja”, which later resulted in the English word “royal”. On the other hand, the title “urik” later appears on Celtic coins as “rix”, and this word probably also has roots in Sanskrit, where “rishi” designates “accomplished and enligthened person”.

Redunies – of the Reduni.

The name “Reduni” appears in several ancient inscriptions and texts, including a Latin inscription found in Genoa that reads “MONUMENTVM VICTORIIS REDVNORVM” (“Monument to the Victories of the Reduni”). This suggests that the Reduni were a significant and important people in the region, and that they may have been involved in military conflicts and conquests.

Other ancient sources mention the Reduni as being one of several Ligurian tribes that inhabited the region during ancient times. The Ligurians were an indigenous people of Italy who inhabited the region before the arrival of the Romans, and they were known for their fierce resistance against Roman conquest and assimilation.

Overall, while the exact history and culture of the Reduni people is not well-documented, it is clear that they were an ancient tribe that inhabited the region of Liguria in northern Italy during the Iron Age and Roman period, and that they were an important and significant group in the region.

References:

  1. CIL 5, 7225: This is the quited Latin inscription found in Genoa
  2. Livy, History of Rome, 5.33-34: In his work History of Rome, he mentions the Reduni as one of several Ligurian tribes who fought against Rome in the 4th century BC.
  3. Strabo, Geography, 4.1.4: In his work Geography, he mentions the Reduni as a Ligurian tribe that lived in the region of modern-day Genoa.
  4. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 3.47: He also mentions the Reduni as a Ligurian tribe who lived near Genoa.
  5. Polybius, Histories, 2.19: In his work Histories, he mentions the Reduni as a Ligurian tribe who were allies of Carthage during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC).

shaisraya – gifted, bestowed.

“Shai” could be a variant of the Old Church Slavonic word “shai” (шай), which means “gift” or “present.” 

In Old Church Slavonic, there is a suffix “-sraya” or “-zraya” (in Cyrillic: “-зраꙗ” or “-сраꙗ”) which can be added to a noun or an adjective to form an abstract noun indicating quality or state. This suffix is similar in function to the English suffix “-ness”.

For example:

  • благословѣніе (blagoslovenie) – blessing
  • благословѣнізраꙗ (blagoslovenizraya) – blessedness

Examples 2, 3 and 4 – Introducing the king

If the female form is “rani”, as in Sanskrit, one would expect to see a term similar to “raya” or “rayan” to designate a king. And this is precisely what we see in the next inscription, engraved on a figurine of a horseman.

Official transcription: Tianusa taniun

My transcription: Rianus a Raniun (the letter A is clearly separated in the inscription) – from King to the Queen

According to scolars, this texts reads “tianusatan”.

However, with my reading we get: Rianus a ran.. – from king to queen

Here is another example, engraved on a beuatiful figurine, reminiscent of the Indian sculptures in form and style:

My translation would read: Lathudusi Rianus a ranin – From King Lathudus (or King of Lathudusi people), to the queen.

Example 5

Official transcription: *ekiesiutikutanin / metlinile

My transcription: *ekiesi uriku Ranin Merpainipe

Translation: To the chieftan of *ekiesi, (from) the queen Merpainipa.

By now, the name Urik, and “rani” – “queen” should be clearly understood. Folllowing the formula from the previous inscriptions, we can conclude that *ekiesi relates to Urik’s people. Unfortunately, the first letter is not clear, making it difficult to reconstruct the name of the tribe.

The name Merpainipa is unattested and purely speculative. However, it is possible that this was a personal name or a name of a tribe, derrived from a name of a deity. In an undeciphered Novilara inscription, there is a word Merpon, following the word “soter” – “saviour”.

It looks like this is a local version of the Greek name μέλπομαι (Melponai), attested in Homer, or Μελπόμενος (Melpómenos), which was an epithet of both Dyonissus and Athena. The root is in the word μέλπω -(melpo) meaning to sing, dance, celebrate.

Example 6 – a confirmation that “urik” means “chieftain”

This one is easy to explain. Instead of ketanuvaleutiku it should be read as “ketanuvale uriku” – to the Chieftan of Catalunians?

The Catalauni, also known as the Catalans, were an ancient people who lived in the region of modern-day Catalonia in northeastern Spain. The exact origins of the Catalauni are unclear, but they were likely a mixture of indigenous Iberian peoples and various other groups who migrated to the region over time. They also appear in Belgium, in modern-day Champagne region.

They are mentioned as Catalaunos by Eutropius in 4th c. AD. According to Wikipedia, The ethnonhym Catalauni is probably a latinized contracted form of Gaulish *Catu-uellaunoi (‘war-chiefs, chiefs-of-war’), deriving from the stem catu- (‘combat’) attached to uellauni (‘chiefs, commandants’). The name Catuvellauni, borne by a Celtic tribe of southern Britain, is thus likely related.

Example 7 – Two more Aryan words

The inscription on this beautiful horse figurine is read as Pirikanishnu. However, with my reading, it would sound Pidikanishnu, o with word spacing Pidi Kanishnu.

The word “pidi” would mean – “to the son”. For example, in the Malayalam language, which is spoken in the Indian state of Kerala, “pidi” (പിടി) can refer to a child. This word is a cognate with Latin “pedo” – “relating to children”. Cognates include the Latin puerSanskrit पुत्र (putrá, “son”), and Avestan 𐬞𐬎𐬚𐬭𐬀‎ (puθra, “son”).

The second part, Kanishna, could be a personal name. The name “Kanishka” has its origins in ancient Central Asia. It is associated with Kanishka I, a prominent ruler of the Kushan Empire, which existed from around the 1st to the 4th century CE. In the Rabatak inscription it appears as “kanēške”. See here. The exact etymology of the name is not definitively known.

However, this name sounds like a deminutive of the Slavic word for a horse. (Proto-Slavic “koňь” – konishka). In that sense, this would have been a play on words – a gift to the son whose name meant “little horse”.

These same two words – “pidoi Kanisku”, appear in the San Sosti Axe-Head inscription from Calabria, Italy. See here.

Conclusion

The Rhaetian language was a language spoken in ancient times in the region of the Alps, primarily in what is now Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. It was spoken by the Rhaetian people, who were an ancient Alpine culture that inhabited the area from at least the 5th century BC until the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC.

The Rhaetian language is poorly attested. Most of what is known about the language comes from inscriptions on stone monuments and other artifacts, as well as from references to the language in ancient Roman and Greek texts.

The Rhaetian language is believed to have been an Indo-European language, although its exact classification within the Indo-European family is unclear.

The translation of these texts was accomplished by adjusting a few sound values, which is a common approach given that scholars have not yet come to a consensus on how certain letters were pronounced in the past.

With my approach, it is now possible to read and understand many ancient inscriptions that were previously labeled as gibberish and stored in museum vaults. As a result, the history of the Slavic people will likely need to be re-evaluated and re-written.

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