Teuta, also known as *Teutana in Illyrian, was the queen regent of the Ardiaei tribe in Illyria from about 231 BC to 228/227 BC. After her husband Agron’s death in 231 BC, she became the regent for her stepson Pinnes and continued Agron’s policy of expanding in the Adriatic Sea. This led to a conflict with the Roman Republic over the effects of Illyrian piracy on regional trade.
In 229 BC, one of the Roman ambassadors was killed by Illyrian pirates, giving Rome the pretext to declare war against Teuta. She surrendered after losing the First Illyrian War in 228 BC. Ancient sources on her life are biased as they were written by Greek and Roman authors who were hostile towards Illyrians and their queen, either for political or misogynistic reasons.
In the following centuries, the Romans advanced, conquering all of the Balkans, and the traces of once-mighty Illyrian tribes slowly faded away. Nowadays, very little is know about who their language and culture.
In this article, I will try to shed some light on that matter.
A mysterious Rhaetic inscription
I have recently translated multiple Rhaetic inscriptions, and I have written a separate article about this work. One of the longer inscriptions stood out to me, because it includes the name Theutha.
The bronze fragment bears an inscription, but its intended use (as either a torque or a broken cup) and its precise date are unknown. Nevertheless, we can determine with a high degree of certainty that it dates back to the 5th-2nd century BCE, based on the style of the Rhaetic alphabet letters used in the inscription.
According to the official interpretation, the inscription reads: tevashnistesiutikuthiuthisastvilititerinasthi – and the only word that is read with some certainty is “Thiuthi”.
My interpretation of the letters
The easiest way to explain my translation would be to first break this original text into separate words that I designated, and then mark the sound values that I had changed in my reading. Note that every letter of the text stays in the same place – only the sound values change.
Original text: tevashnistesi utiku thiuthis astv ilitite risnasthi
My reading: reyashnistedi uriku thiuthis asty ilirire disnathi
To clarify, I only altered the sounds of three letters. The reason this text has never been translated before is because there is still disagreement among scholars about the original pronunciation of some letters. Those changes are:
R instead of T: In the Old Italic alphabets, the horizontal line in the letter T was written only on one side, making it similar to the Greek R (P). I tested this approach with other inscriptions and it worked. For example, words that scolars transcribe as “tani” and “taian”, I read as “rani” and “raian” – queen and king.
D instead of R: After I assigned a different letter to the R sound, I also had to change the letter that was marked as R in the original text (only one instance, in the last word). This was not a difficult task as I already tested this in other inscriptions that I had translated, and it worked. There are clearly two D letters in the original text, but only the second one was transcribed by the scolars.
Y instead of V: If you look at the original, engraved letters in the picture, the letter transcribed as V actually looks like a Phoenician Y. I decided to test this option, based on the hunch that the seafaring nation of the Adriatic peoples, that the Illyrians were, would have been very familiar and possibly influenced by the Phoenician alphabet.
My translation of the text
Besides Thiuthi, when I started to translate this text I had already known two other words.
The first of these words is uriku, meaning “to the chieftain”. For example, in another Rhaetic inscription I have found uriku catavelauni – to the chieftain of Catalauni (Detailed explanations with more examples are in the highlighted article above).
After that, I immediately recognized the second word as “Ilirire”, which designates the Illyrian people, of whom Theutha was a queen. This discovery excited me, and I wondered whether the object bearing the inscription could have belonged to Theutha herself!
Putting these three words together, I got: uriku thiuthis asty ilirire, meaning “to the chieftain of (the tribe designated by the first word) from Thiuthis of the house of Illyria (plus the last word).
Asty(a) – house. The word astya in Sanskrit means “house”.
In Hinduism, for example, the suffix “-astya” is sometimes added to the names of certain groups or lineages. Here are a few examples of names or groups that use the “-astya” suffix:
- Vasishta Gotra: “Gotra” refers to a lineage or clan, and the Vasishta Gotra is one of the most prominent and ancient lineages in Hinduism. The suffix “-astya” is sometimes added to the name of this lineage, resulting in the name “Vasishta-Astya”.
- Harita Samhita: The Harita Samhita is a text on Ayurveda (a system of traditional medicine) that is attributed to the sage Harita. In some versions of the text, the suffix “-astya” is added to Harita’s name, resulting in the name “Harita-Astya Samhita”.
- Vishvamitra-Astya: In some Hindu traditions, the sage Vishvamitra is sometimes referred to as “Vishvamitra-Astya”. The exact meaning or significance of this suffix in relation to Vishvamitra is not entirely clear.
It’s worth noting that the “-astya” suffix is not a common or productive suffix in modern language, and its usage is mostly limited to specific cultural or historical contexts in Hinduism.
This was an interesting discovery, as my other translations of the Rhaetic texts had already revealed Sanskrit words Rani a Rayan, deisgnating “queen” and “king”.
As for Theutha, her name is often translated via Germanic teutéh, meaning “people”. In other words: “of the people”.
But there is another famous Rhaetic inscription, on the helmet from Nagau, where all scolars read the word “teiva” as “god”, from the PIE root deiw. And I believe that the sound “TH” in Theuthas reflects the same change.
In other words, Theutha (also Teutana in ancient texts) could have simply meant “goddess”, or it could have been a female name of Teodan – “god given”. In this way it would be similar to modern Slavic names Bogdan and Bogdana, and their Greek versions Teodor and Teodora.
Finally, Teutana could also be a form of Tatiana, which is said to be an ancient Roman/Sabine name, but nowadays it is only popular in Slavic countries.
Reyashnistedi – the mysterious tribe
I swaped the sound of V for Y only after hours of fruitless search for “Revashnistedi” or anything that sounds even similar to that. This made me realise that one more letter of this part of the text must have been read correctly. And I realised that it must be V, as the other letters are not that questionable.
After this change, it was relatively easy to find the missing tribe: Ragusa, Ragusina and Raguxa – they are all variations of a name of an ancient republic, centered around the modern-day Dubrovnik, Croatia.
In the Greek alphabet, Ragusha would be spelled as Ραγκούσα (Ragkoúsa).
There was only one small problem: The Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos wrote that the city was likely founded in the 7th century. In other words, if we rely on that text, the city couldn’t have existed during the Teutha’s reign. But what if the text was wrong? He wrote this three centuries after it had allegedly happen.
However, there is another city of Ragusa, this time in Sicily, Italy. The earliest mention of this name is unkown, but the city is over 2,000 years old.
The etymology of Ragusa is uncertain. In recent years there have been attempts to connect it to Albanian word “rrush”, meaning grape, from hypothetical (but not attested) Proto-Albanian rāguša meaning “berry”.
All around the world, the word “horn” is used in geography to designate a place, if this place has a distinctive shape or feature that resembles a horn.
There are many place names that incorporate the word “horn” or its equivalents in other languages, such as “Horn” in Germany, “Cap de la Horn” in France, and “Cape Horn” in Chile. These names typically refer to a geographic feature such as a cape or promontory that has a shape resembling a horn.
It would be really interesting to learn when was Ragusa in Sicily named. My guess is that the name dates at least to the queen Teutha, and those times when the Illyrians were still one of the prominent naval forces in the Adriatic and Meditteranian regions. And this inscription might prove this.
The word Regashnistedi sounds like a compund word. If we imagine that the first part relates to “from Ragusha”, we get somehing like “Ragushni”, sounding very much the same to how modern Slavs would call inhabitants of Ragusha. So what is the meaning of the suffix stedi?
In Slavic languages, the “-stedi” suffix is sometimes found in surnames that indicate a person’s origin from a specific place or region. For example, the surnames “Kumstedi” and “Mukstedi” in Croatian and “Grudstedi” in Serbian may indicate that the person or their ancestors came from places called “Kum”, “Muk” and “Grud”.
“Croatian Surnames” by Franjo Racki, published in 1896, provides information on the origin and meaning of many Croatian surnames, including “Kumstedi” and “Mukstedić”. The book is available online through the Croatian State Archives website.
Dictionary of American Family Names” by Patrick Hanks, Kate Hardcastle, and Flavia Hodges, published in 2003, includes information on the origin and meaning of surnames from various cultures and languages, including Slavic surnames. The book includes a reference to “Vrbanstedić” as a Serbian surname.
If we suppose that Ragusa existed during prehistoric times, situated in the same location where it currently stands, then it would have shared a border with the Ardiaei tribe, led by Teutha. Teutha controlled the southern part of the Adriatic coast. Here we see the perfect context for the gift – a symbol of goodwill towards the neighboring chieftain!
In conclusion, the updated translation would go as follows: Regashnistedi uriku Thiuthis asty Ilirire disnathi – To the chieftain of the Ragusians, from Thiuthisa of the house of Illyria (plus the final word “disnathi”).
The last piece of the puzzle
There is only one word left to decode, and this word probably relates to Illyria, as everything that was of importance has already been said. I can’t be absoultely certain about its meaning, but the translation I found seems fitting.
The verb “дыснати” (dysnati) is a form of the adjective “дысна” (dysna), which means “bright” or “shining” in Old Church Slavonic. The verb form “дыснати” can be translated as “to shine” or “to be bright.”
In Old Church Slavonic, the word “дысна” could be used to describe the brightness of a star or the radiance of a precious stone. It was also used in a metaphorical sense to describe spiritual radiance or divine light.
The word “дысна” is related to other Slavic words with similar meanings, such as the Russian word “свет” (svet), which means “light,” “brightness,” or “radiance.” These words are all derived from the Proto-Slavic root “*dis-” meaning “to shine,” which is also related to the English word “day” and the Latin word “dies,” both of which also have meanings related to light and brightness.
Overall, “дыснати” is a verb that conveys a sense of brightness, radiance, or shining, and was commonly used in Old Church Slavonic to describe both physical and metaphorical forms of illumination.
In conclusion, the full inscription reads: To the chieftain of Ragusians, from Thiuthis, of the house of the bright (holy) Illyria.
If my interpretation is correct, this lovely message exposes an aspect of Illyria that has been forgotten for a long time. Illyria was a culturally advanced and spiritual nation, governed by the Aryan people whose language was undoubtedly Slavic.
And last, but not least, Queen Teutha wrote these words herself!