The Mars of Todi Inscription: A New and Improved Interpretation

The Mars of Todi is a large bronze figure of a warrior, believed to have been made in Etruria for the Umbrian tribe and dating back to the late 5th or early 4th century BCE. It was discovered near Todi, on the slope of Montesanto, on the property of the Franciscan Convent of Montesanto. The statue is currently in the possession of the Museo Etrusco Gregoriano, which is a part of the Vatican Museums.

The statue is thought to have been an expensive offering, possibly to the Etruscan god of war, Laran, and was likely placed at a religious sanctuary. It had been buried under travertine stones, possibly as part of a ritual, and was left undisturbed until its discovery in 1835. The statue is considered one of the finest examples of “prestige” works from Etruria found in Umbria during this period and is believed to have come from a workshop in Orvieto, which was known for producing bronze sculptures.

The inscription is located on the lower part of the breastplate, and it is written in Umbrian using Etruscan characters. This marks the beginning of the epigraphic tradition in this area of Umbria. As for the meaning of the text, scolars believe that it was written by a man Celtic origin, not Etruscan. They explain this annomaly by a fact that Tuder was cosmopolitan city during the Archaic period.


The inscription is inetrpreted as “Ahal Trutitis dunum dede“, which translates to “Ahal Trutitis gave [this as a] gift“.

Questioning the commonly accepted translation

At first glance, it appears that the Mars of Todi was a votive figure placed in a temple as part of a religious ritual, and the initial interpretation of its message seems appropriate, albeit somewhat unremarkable. However, there are several important issues with this translation that need to be addressed.

To begin with, the term “Celt” is not particularly informative as it can be applied to a broad range of different groups. Additionally, it is unclear why a person of Celtic origin would choose to offer such a costly figurine in an Etruscan temple that is dedicated to Etruscan deities.

Furthermore, there do not seem to be any historical records that mention individuals named Ahal and Trutius. The names only appear in the inscription on the Mars of Todi statue. For this reason, I guess, it was convenient to label them as “Celtic”.

Lastly, the origin of the sound value “D” in the inscription “dunum dede” is unexplainable. None of the Old-Italic scripts indicate the use of this letter in this manner, and this speculation appears to be more of a hopeful assumption than a scientifically grounded approach.

Questioning a few sound values

As we saw, the official reading is:

Ahal trutius dunum dede

My reading is only changing the sound values of letters R to D and D to L:

Ahalt duti Uislu Sumlele

Translation: Daughter of Ahal (for) Usil and Semele.

The Old-Italic alphabets – No D letter, and L and O letters look the same as in the Mars of Todi inscription – no need to read them differently.

Each word explained

Ahalt duti – daughter of Achaeus. Unlike “Trutitis”, the name Acheus is well-attested.

The name “Achae” or “Achaios” appears in several ancient texts, particularly in Greek mythology and history. Here are some examples:

  • Achaeus, son of Xuthus and Creusa, grandson of Hellen, and founder of the Achaeans, a tribe in ancient Greece.
  • Achaeus, a tragic poet from Eretria who lived in the 5th century BCE.
  • Achaeus, a son of Zeus and Lamia, who became the king of Lydia.
  • Achaeus of Eretria, a Greek historian who lived in the 3rd century BCE.

The names “Achaeus” and “Achaios” are variants of the same name and refer to the same individuals in different contexts.

The word “duti” is how the word for “daughter” (dъťi) is officialy reconstructed in Proto-Slavic. I have already found this same word in another 5th century BC text – The Kjolmen inscription (see the linked article).

Uisiliu – to Usil, god of the sun and ressurection

Usil was the Etruscan god of the sun and light, and was associated with divination, prophecy, and augury. He was also sometimes depicted as a warrior or hunter, and was associated with youth and vitality.

Usil was one of the most important gods in the Etruscan pantheon, and was often depicted in Etruscan art and iconography. His name appears in several inscriptions and texts, including the Liber Linteus, a linen book written in Etruscan that was discovered in Egypt in the 19th century.

It is worth noting that the spelling of Etruscan names can vary depending on the source and language, and “Usil” is sometimes also spelled as “Usel” or “Aplu.”

Usil was typically depicted as a youthful and handsome god. In many Etruscan artworks, he is shown holding a torch or a bundle of light rays, which symbolize his role as the god of the sun and light. In some depictions, Usil is also shown holding a bow and arrow or a spear, emphasizing his associations with hunting and warfare. This is exaclty how the statue in question looks like, but the scolars assume that he was holding a patera – libation bowl (now lost). Judging by the stance of the “Mars of Todi” perhaps the missing object wasn’t a patera, but a spear or a torch?

Depictions of Christ-like Uisl in Etruscan art

Moreover, Usil was often depicted in a frontal pose, facing the viewer directly, with a serene or benevolent expression, similar to that of Jesus in Christian iconography. His image was sometimes incorporated into Etruscan funerary art and tombs, perhaps as a symbol of hope and renewal. This fits the description of the “Mars of Todi” – a face Otto Brendel decribed as a “large, empty face”.

Sumlele – (and) Semele

Sumlele is probably a reference to the ancient Thraco-Phrygian goddess Semele. Her name is a cognate with Slavic word “zemlja” meaning “Earth, ground”. Semele was also the mother of Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, and theater, who was fathered by Zeus.

It is not clear whether the Etruscans worshipped Semele directly. However, they did worship the Greek god Dionysus, who was her son. The Etruscans called Dionysus Tina, and he was a major god in their pantheon. He was associated with wine, fertility, and madness.

And indeed, the ancients often celebrated the sun and earth together. This is because they saw the sun and the earth as two interconnected forces that were essential for life.

One example is the Babylonian Akitu festival. This festival was held in the springtime to mark the beginning of the new year. During the festival, the Babylonians would make offerings to the sun god Shamash and the earth goddess Ki. They would also perform rituals to ensure a good harvest and a prosperous year.


I believe that my translation is more fitting for the following reasons:

As I understand it, the “Mars of Todi” statue does not depict a god of war, but instead represents the god of the sun. It was placed in his temple with the hope of receiving blessings from the god. It is unclear whether the daughter herself expressed this wish or if it was someone wishing her well. Additionally, it is not clear if this was a prayer for the living or for the dead, with the hope of receiving blessings in the afterlife.

My translation is based on the universally accepted sounds for the letters of the Old Italic alphabet. It does not require any leaps or assumptions, such as reading “L” as “D” or reading a reversed “N” as “N” (which is also not attested anywhere).

In my translation, I uncovered a specific purpose of the message, rather than generic like “gave gift.” This message reveals a clear purpose and motive behind commissioning such an expensive piece of artwork, with the intention of leaving it in the temple.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.