Lost in Time: Could Slavic Have Been the Lingua Franca of the Mediterranean? Unveiling Clues in Ancient Siculian Inscriptions

The Sicels were an ancient tribe that inhabited parts of what is now Sicily, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. They are believed to have migrated to Sicily during the Iron Age, around the 12th century BCE. The Sicels were one of the three main indigenous peoples of Sicily, alongside the Sicans and the Elymians. Sicily is named after them.

It is plausible that during the Iron Age, the Sicels and the Sicani might have comprised an Illyrian group who, similar to the Messapians, established their presence among an indigenous, non-Indo-European (“Mediterranean”) population. Ancient writers like Thucydides were knowledgeable about the accounts suggesting that the Sicels had a previous presence in Central Italy, including areas to the east and north of Rome.

The possibility of an Illyrian connection is supported by historical indications. For instance, in the 2nd century BC, Ptolemy’s “Geography” mentions “Siculotae” in Illyricum, along with the “Sardiotae,” who might have given their name to Sardinia.

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shreden-migrations-shekelsh-peleset-sea-peoples
shreden-migrations-shekelsh-peleset-sea-peoples

Many scolars connect the name of Sicels with that of the Shekelesh from the Egyptian records (and Sardiotae with the Sherden). The initial mention of the Shekelesh in Egyptian historical documents occurs in relation to the military campaigns led by Pharaoh Merneptah in what is now modern Libya. This account is recorded on the Great Karnak Inscription and dates to the later years of the 13th century BCE.

The Shekelesh have been equated with the Shikalayu (Hittite: 𒅆𒅗𒆷𒅀𒌋 ši-ka-la-ia/u-u) as well, a term mentioned by Hittite king Šuppiluliuma II in a communication to the governor of Ugarit. According to Šuppiluliuma, the Shikalayu were described as people who resided or lived on ships.

Siculian – the language of the Sikel

The limited knowledge about the Sicel language comes from explanations provided by ancient authors and a scant number of inscriptions, not all of which can be definitively attributed to the Sicels. It is believed that the Sicels only adopted writing under the influence of Greek settlers, suggesting that they did not use a written form of communication until encountering Greek colonists.

The prevailing consensus is that the language spoken by the Sicels belonged to the Indo-European family, a notion that aligns with their Illyrian heritage. In this article, I will contend that this language was in fact Proto-Slavic.

Example 1 – Centorbi (Centuripe) inscription, 5th century BC

One of the longest inscriptions in Siculian language comes from the wine-carrier from Centrobi, and is dated to the 5th century BC. The text forms a spiral, without a clear word separation. In general, the letters are easy to read, as they share many similarities with the wider corpus of Old-Italic sripts.

Here is the official rendering of the text:

And here is one possible reading of the letters. See here.

nunustentimímarustainamíemitomestiduromnanepos-

duromíemitomestivelíomnedemponitantomeredesviinobrtome

With the proposed word separation, it would look like this:

nunus ˌ teṇti ˌ mím ˌ arustainam ˌ íemitom ˌ esti ˌ durom ˌ nanepos ˌ durom ˌ íemitom ˌ esti ˌ velíom ˌ ned ˌ emponitantom ˌ eredes ˌ vịino ˌ brtome

However, the text remains undeciphered.

My reading and translation of the Centorbi (Centuripe) inscription

Nunus – a personal name
gentimíma Rustaina – from the tribe of Russians
Mí emito meiti – I buy for myself a maiden
Durom na Nepos  – Durom of Nepos (a personal name of a girl and her father)
Duromí emito – Duromi I buy
mesti Veliomne – in the city of Velia
Demponi Tantomere – (dowry) deposited by Tantomere
Des vino vatome – (in) this wine-carrier.

Explanation of my translation of the Centorbi (Centuripe) inscription

Nunus – a personal name

There are other inscriptions that feature the name Nunus, and scholars who studied this text commonly interpret it as a personal name. This name bears a resemblance to the Sabine name Numa, which is interesting given the potential presence of the Sikel people in northern Italy.

gentimima Rustaina from the tribe of Russians

Genti is a Latin word that means “tribe, clan” See here. This word is common in the inscriptions of Northern Italy from the same period, and it is expected after a personal name. The second part –mima is just a suffix.

The word “Rustaima” sounds exactly like the Czech and Latvian name for the Russians – Rusthina. See here.

Mí emito meiti I buy for myself a maiden

The word “mi” doesn’t need an explanation, as it has similar meaning in all Indo-European languages, including Slavic where it means “for myself”.

Emito” could be a first-person singular of the Latin word “emo” meaning “I buy, I purchase, I acquire”. In Old Church Slavonic there is a word with the same meaning “imo”. See here for both of these words. This word also appears in the San Sosti Axe-Head inscription. See here.

Meiti” is the same word as “meita”, Lat-Galian word meaning “daughter, maiden”. The English word “maiden” has the same origin. See here. This word appears also in Picene inscriptions as “Meitims Safinas” – “Sabinian maiden”. See here.

Durom na NeposDurom of Nepos (a personal name of a girl and her father)

In this context, Durom must be the name of the girl, while Nepos is the name of her father, or her clan. Slavic word “na” can mean both “from” (her father) and “of” (her people). I believe that the first option is more plausable.

Duromí emitoDuromi I buy

This is already explained above.

mesti Veliomne – in the city of Velia

In Old Church Slavonic, the word “mesti” is a locative of the word “mesto”, meaning “place, location, town, settlement.” See here.

Veliomne probably refers to the ancient town on Velia. See here.

Demponi Tantomere – (dowry) deposited by Tantomere

The word demponi is probably a cognate with Latin “depono” – meaning “I deposit, lay, set, entrust..” Here it is in a third-person singular.

Tantomere is a name of the person who purchased the bride in the name of Nunus. This name sounds very Slavic, as there are numerous examples of Slavic names ending with –mir, which can mean both “world” and “peace”.

Des vino vatome – (in) this wine-jar.

This phrase probably means that the coins used for the dowry were stored in this wine carrier.

The word “des” has the same meaning with English “this”, which in Old English was “þēs”. See here. A Slavic cognate would be a word “zdes” – “here”. See here.

The word “vino” doesn’t really need an explanation.

Vatome is a cognate with Proto-Germanic “vat” – “vessel”. See here. –ome is just a suffix.

Example 2 – Amphora from Montagna di Marzo (late 6th–early 5th century BCE)

This is the second longest inscription in Siculian language. Unfortunately, besides the transcriptions from the Wikipedia article (here) and one more online publication, I couldn’t find any images of the amphora itself. This made it much harder to decipher it, but I think I got the hang of it in the end.

The text goes as follows:

ταμυρααβεσακεδϙοιαϝεσευρυμακεςαγεπιποκεδλυτιμβε
λεϝοπομανατεσεμαιδαρνακειβυρειταμομιαετιυρελα

Or according to Wikipedia:

tamuraabesakedqoiaves ˌ eurumakes ˌ agepipokedḷutimbe
levopomanatesemaidarnakei- buṛeitaṃomịaetiurela

My Reading and Translation of Amphora from Montagna di Marzo inscription

Tamura Aves a kerkoi – Tamura Aves to her daughter
Aves Eurumakes –
Aves Eurumakes
Agepi pokedlutim –
Beloved runaway
ve Levo –
in Levo
pomanatese mai –
remember (me) always
Dar na ke ivurei –
Gift in this amphora
ta momia e ti udela –
your mom made for you.

Explanatiom of my Translation of Amphora from Montagna di Marzo inscription

Tamura Aves a kerkoi – Tamura Aves to her daughter

The name Tamura is attested in other inscriptions. It sounds similar to Tamara, which is a very popular name in Slavic countries.

The family name Aves appears also in the Lemnos stele, which I also translated through Slavic in the previous article. See here.

A kerkoi – to her daughter. “Kerka” means “daughter” in South-Slavic languages. See here.

Aves Eurumakes – Aves Eurumakes – the name of her daughter is Eurumakes.

Agepi pokedlutim – Beloved runaway

Agepi comes from the Greek “agape” meaning “love”. See here.

The word pokedlutim is more obscure. It sounds like Slavic verb “pokidat”, meanig “to leave, to quit, to forsake…” See here. It is difficult to assign any other meaning without the image of the inscription.

Ve Levo – in Levo

Ve means “in” many Slavic languages, e.g. in Macedonian. It is derrived from Slavic with the same meaning. See here.

Leva is a small town in Sicily, not far from the place where this amphora was discovered. It doesn’t have a designated page on the internet, but it can be found on Google maps. Leva is also a Slavi toponym. The ancient name of Levice, Slovakia, was Leva. See here. This name is derived from the Slavic word “lev” – lion.

Pomanatese mai – remember (me) always

Pomanatese sounds like a plural of the word “pomenuti” – remember. See here.

Mai sounds like Latin word “ever”. This word also appears at the end of the Lemnos inscription. See here.

Dar na ke ivurei – Gift in this amphora

The word “dar” is a common Indo-European word and it means “gift” in many languages, including all Slavic languages. See here.

Na meaning “in, of, from” is already explained above.

Ke is a cognate with Latin “que”, Italian “che” meaning “this, that”. See here.

Ivurei is a cognate with Middle English “ewer”, meaning “pitcher”, originaly aquer – water-carrier. See here. The word “amphora” has the same origin.

ta momia e ti udela – your mom made for you.

In Slavic languages, “Ta” menas “Your” (nearby, feminine) See here.

Momia here simply means “Mom” In Slavic “mama” – “mom”, and “moma” – “maiden”.

E (pronounced “ye”) means “is” in many Slavic languages. See here.

Ti means “you” in all Slavic languages. Here it would mean “for you”. See here.

Udela is a cognate with the Slavic verb “udelat”, meaning “to make”. See here.

Example 3 – Inscription from Stele from Sciri Sottano (c. 600 BC)

This is a much shorter inscription, and fortunately the images are available, as the stone is damaged and a few letters are missing.

The inscription goes as follows:

ΝΕΝΔΑΣ Π̣Υ̣[—-]Σ ΤΕΒΕΓ ΠΡΑΑΡΕΙ ΕΝ ΒΟ[.]ΡΕΝΑΙ ϜΙΔΕ ΠΑΓΟΣΤΙΚΕ ΑΙΤΕ[–]ΛΥΒΕ
nendas ˌ puṛẹṇọṣ ˌ tebeg ˌ praarei ˌ en ˌ bo?renai ˌ vide ˌ pagostike ˌ aite?ṇ?ụbe.

My Translation and Reading of the Stele from Sciri Sottano Inscription

ΝΕΝΔΑΣ Π̣Υ̣**ΣT ΕΒΕΓ ΠΡΑ ΑΡΕΙΕΝΒΟ IΡΕΝΑΙ ΠΙΔΕ ΠΑΓΟΣΤΙ ΚΕΑΙΤΕ**ΥΒΕ

nendaz pu**st eveg pra areienvo irenai pide pagostike aite**uve

Nendaz – a personal name
pu(VAI)st eveg – raised this
pra Areienvo – for Areien
Irenai pide – child of Irena
Pagostike Aite**uve – From the rural township of Aite**uve

Explanation of my Translation of the Stele from Sciri Sottano Inscription

Nendaz is a well-attested personal name, found in other partial inscriptions. It is noteworthy that there is a toponym with a same name Switzerland. See here. In the proximity of Nendaz city there are other toponyms that start with nend-. Some scolars believe that this word is derived from “nemeton” – “sacred grove”, but I have my doubts about this theory.


pu(VAI)st eveg – raised this

The first word is missing the middle letters. However, I believe that the missing letters are VAI, and that the word was PUVAIST, or even more likely POVAIST. The verb “povisiti” in Old Church Slavocnic means “raised, errected”.

Perhaps the same word appears on the Sabinian stele from Penna S. Andrea. There, it reads POVAISIS.

The word “eveg” sound similar to Slavic “ovog” – “this”. See here.
Pra meant “for” in Proto-Slavic. See here.

Areien is clearly a personal name, and so is Irena. The name Irena is still very popular in Slavic countires.

Pide is a cognate to Greek “pedo” – child. I’ve seen this word in Rhaetic, Messapian and Picene inscriptions, and yet, scolars never interpret it like this.

Pagostike Aite**uve – From the rural township of Aite**uve
In both Greek and Latin, “pagos” meant “rural area, countryside”. See here.

As for its name, without the missing letters, it is anyone’s best guess. In any case, the message from this tombstone inscription is still very clear.

Example 4 – Block of sandstone from Mendolito (late 6th century BCE)

This is another short funerary inscription. The text reads as follows:

ΙΑΜ ΑΚΑΡΑΜ ΕΠΟΠΑΣ ΚΑΑΓΙΙΕΣ ΓΕΠΕΔ ΤΟΥΤΟ FΕΡΕΓΑΙ ΕΣΗΕΙΚΑΔ[.] ΑΛΑ

My reading and translation of the Block of sandstone from Mendolito (late 6th century BCE)

ΙΑΜ AKAΡAM E ΠΟΡ IΑSΚΑ ΑΓΙΙΕΣ ΓΕΠΕΔ ΤΟΥΤΟΠΕΡΕΓ AIES HEΚΑ D**ΑLΑ

IAM AKARAM – This stone
E POR IASKA AGIES – is for Iaska Agies
GEPED TEUTOBEREG – people of Teutobereg
AIES HEKA D**ALA – Aies this (wrote?)

Explanation of my translation of the Block of sandstone from Mendolito (late 6th century BCE)

IAM AKARAM – This stone

The word IAM is a cognate to Slavic “” (pronounced Y, as in “yellow”), meaning “this”. See here.

I already explained the word AKARAM in the article on the Lemnos stele. In that inscription, it is written as AKER. Here, -am is just a suffix. This word has the same origin as the Greek word “akros”, ἄκρος – meaning “pointed, sharp”. See here.

In this particular context, the name Acropolis likely denoted a “stone city,” which stood in contrast to the prevalent wooden and mud constructions that encompassed it. This interpretation differs from the more common translation of “high city,” which is derived from this same word – “akros,” which signifies “pointed.”

E POR IASKA AGIES – is for Iaska Agies

The words E POR – “is for” are already explained above. The name IASKA sounds Slavic. However, a better match would be ASKA, which is well-attested. In this case the first part could be read as “epori”, meaning “rasied” in ancient Greek. See here. This is hard to verify without the meaning of the last word in the text, as it changes the context of the whole message.

GEPED TEUTOBEREG – people of Teutobereg

The word GEPED sound like the name of an ancient group of people, known as Gepidi. They lived between what is now Hungaria, Romania and Serbia. Most scolars assume that they were of Germanic origin. Unfortunately, the meaning of their name is unknown. Jordanes, a 6th-century historian, wrote in his book Getica that the name “Gepids” comes from the Gothic word “gepanta,” which means “sluggish” or “stolid.” The Slavic equivalent for this “Gothic” word is “gepati”.

However, I believe that this is just a folk etymology. Many ancient tribes had a name that simply meant “people”, so this is how I translated it here. Alternatively, it could also mean “from the tribe of Gepids in the region of Teutobereg” For Gepids, see here.

And finally, I’ve seen many dubious interpretations of the word TEUTOPEREG. I really doubt that it can relate to anything but TEUTOBURG FOREST. The Teutoburg Forest is a range of low, forested hills in the German states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. It is famous for the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which took place in 9 AD between an alliance of Germanic peoples and three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus.

Naturally, this toponym is considered as Germanic, but it should be noted that “bereg” is also a Slavic word for a hill, while the name Teuta is first attested in the Illyrian language of the Adriatic region.

AIES HEKA D**ALA – Aies this (wrote?)

This part is hard to translate without the last word. AIES could be a personal name. HEKA could be a form of Latin haec – “this, for”. See here.

Conclusion

The Siculian inscriptions are written in a Slavic language with Greek and Latin influences. This is expected, as Sicily was a diverse cultural melting pot in the 6th century BC.

Moreover, the Lemnos stele inscription is written in a language that is very similar to the language of the Siculian inscriptions. The name “Avis” and words like “aker” and “mai” mirror in these texts. This suggests that the Lemnian language is not an isolate, as most scholars believe. The similarities between the Lemnian and Siculian inscriptions suggest that they are written in the same language. At the same time, similarities also exist with the Picene, Messapian, Sabean, Etruscan, Venetic in Rhaetic language, all of which were influenced by Illyrians to some extent.

This language was spoken and spread by the people who were skilled seafarers, who as the Hittites would say “lived on their ships”. The Egyptians called them “sea peoples”, and for the Greeks they were the Pelasgians, which means the same thing (from “pelagos” – “sea”).

In reality, they were a large mass of people, often having different regional names for themselves. Apart from Siculi, which is derived from the word Scythians, they were also known as Illyrians, Thracians and Venetians, amgonst many others. The name of Phoenicians was originally just a corrupted form of Venetians, although there was surely a strong Semithic influence in their ranks in the recorded history.

And while this may sound like science fiction to those who studied Slavic history from the western books, it is worth noting that all Slavic medieval historians agreed that Slavs inhabited the Meditteranean and Adriatic region long before the Greeks and Romans. See my article here.

Finally, we have a proof for those claims.

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