The ancient Sabines and Serbs: A Common Origin Revealed by an Ancient Inscription?

The Sabines were an Italic people who lived in the central Apennine Mountains of the ancient Italian Peninsula, also inhabiting Latium north of the Anio before the founding of Rome. They were known for their religious practices and beliefs, and several Roman institutions were said to have derived from them.

The most famous story about the Sabines is the Rape of the Sabine Women. According to Roman legend, Romulus, the founder of Rome, invited the Sabines to a feast and then carried off (raped) their women. This act of aggression led to a war between the Romans and the Sabines, but it was eventually resolved when the Sabine women intervened and persuaded their fathers and husbands to make peace with the Romans.

The Sabines played an important role in the early history of Rome. They helped to populate the city and to contribute to its culture and institutions.

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The Sabine language eventually died out, but the Sabines left their mark on the Roman people and on the development of Roman civilization. Based on the limited evidence that exists, the Linguist List tentatively classifies Sabine as a member of the Umbrian group of Italic languages of the Indo-European family. This means that it is closely related to the Umbrian language, which was spoken by the Umbrians, another Italic tribe who lived in central Italy.

The Sabine language is thought to have died out in the 1st century BC, as a result of the Roman conquest of Italy. However, it left its mark on the Latin language, which borrowed a number of words from Sabine. For example, the Latin word for “king” (rex) is thought to be of Sabine origin.

The Stele of Penna S. Andrea Inscription, 5th century BC

This text is inscribed on a statue that was placed on a tomb. The text reads:

hidom safinùs estùf ehelsi’t tiom po/vaisis pidaitùpas fitiasom mùfqlùm
mentistrùi nemùnef praistaft panivù meitims saf/inas tùtas trebelies titùi praistaklasa posmùi.

High resolution images of the inscription and the original article are available here.

My translation of the Stele of Penna S. Andrea Inscription

HIDOM SABINUS ESTUV – Hidom Sabine is here.
EHELSIT TIOM POFAISIS – Ehelsit made his tomb,
PIDAITÚPAS – with his daughter.
BITIASOM NÚBKLUM – Bitiasa the virgin,
MENTISTRÚÍ NEMÚNEI – Prophetess of Nemuna,
PRAISTAIT PANIFÚ – Priestes of Pan,
MEITIMS SABINAS – Sabinian maiden,
TÚTAS TREBELIES – of the Tribalian nation,
TITUI PRAISTAKLASA – of the noble priestly caste,
POSMÚI – who wrote this.

On the difference in reading of certain letters

Although most of the letters are clear, there is some disagreement about the reading of a few. I based my initial reading on the article, but after closely examining the high-resolution image, I noticed that the author made a few errors and assumptions when transcribing the letters. Here are both of the thranscriptions compared:

The differences are highlighted:

The original reading:

hidom safinùs estùf
ehelsi’t tiom povaisis
pidaitùpas
fitiasom mùfqlùm
mentistrùi nemùnef
praistaft panivù
meitims safinas
tùtas trebelies
titùi praistaklasa
posmùi.

My reading:

hidom sabinùs estùv
ehelsi’t tiom pofaisis
pidaitùpas
bitiasom nùbqlùm
mentistrùi nemùnei
praistait panifù
meitims sabinas
tùtas trebelies
titùi praistaklasa
posmùi.

In short, the text that is originally written as “sa:inus estuv”, this author reads as “safinus estuf”. However, It is hardly possible that both signs, “:” and “V” could designate the letter “F”. Therefore, I decided to keep the V in estuv, as that is how it is written. Then, I assigned B to the symbol “:”. I did this because we know them as SaBines, and not SaFines, although the original sound was probably in between: Ph. After that, I applied this to all other words that have this symbol: bitiasom, nubqlum and sabinas.

The author adds F to two other words, that were marked by a third symbol. These words are “nemunef” and “praistaft”. This simply doesn’t sound natural. On the other hand, he reads this same symbol as I in other words, so I corrected it to match the rest of the script. This is how I got “nemunei” and “praistait”.

In the word “nubqlum” it is not clear if the first letter is M or N. This is because the stone is damaged in this place. The author assumed that it is an M, but unlike “nubqlum”, the word “mubqlum” doesn’t have any meaning that I am aware of.

And finally, my letter F appears only in two instances and my reading is based on the Proto-Italic script called the “Nucerian alphabet”. See here.

The Nucerian alphabet is an old Italic alphabet that was used in the region of Campania, Italy, in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. It was used to write the Oscan language, which was spoken in Campania at the time. The Sabines were closely related to the Oscans, and their languages were very similar. In fact, some scholars believe that the Sabine language was simply a dialect of Oscan.

In this alphabet, the mysterious symbol that appears in two places in our inscription, marks the letter F.

Explanation of my translation of the Stele of Penna S. Andrea Inscription

HIDOM SABINUS ESTUV – Thidom Sabine is here.

Hidom is probably a personal name.

Sabinas is probably a family name, derived from the name of the Sabines. Alternative translation coiuld be “Hidom, the Sabine”.

The obscure word estuf is also appears on the Picene Castignano Inscription as “estufk”, (perhaps “estufe” would be a better reading). “Estuf” is the verb form of “estufar” which means “was” in Portuguese, a Latin language. In ancient Greek, ἔστων (éston) is the 3e pl. impér. de εἰμί – I am, meaning “Be”. Another alternative could be Old Church Slavonic: “ѣсть у в” (est u v) – which means “is in here”.

EHELSIT TIOM POFAISIS – Ehelsit made his tomb,

This is the most difficult line of the text. I could be wrong, but I believe that Ehelsit designates a male personal name. However, I cannot verify this, as I haven’t been able to find any equivalents.

The word “tiom” also appears in Etruscan, and it is transated as “temple, holy place”. For example, The Pyrgy tablets inscription starts with “ita tmia” – “this temple”. I believe that this word can also be related to the word “tomb”, which comes from ancient Greek τύμβος (túmbos), “a sepulchral mound, tomb, grave. See here.

Pofaisis – “to raise, errect”, from Slavic “povisiti”. See here. Perhaps a cognate to the Latin “facere” – “to do, to make”. See here.

PIDAITÚPAS – for his (noble) daughter

Pidai means “daughter, child”, a cognate with Greek “pedo”. See here. This word appears over and over in Rhaetic, Siculian, and other inscriptions, and it fits perfectly in all my translations. However, I haven’t read that anyone else translates it this way, even though I am pretty sure that this is the right translation.

The suffix -tupas could mean “his” based on the context. Alternatively, it could be derived from Latin “tuba”, which originally designated the long trumpet used in war, but had another, figurative meaning of “lofty, elevated, noble”. See here.

BITIASOM NÚBQLUM – Bitiasa the virgin.

Here, we would expect to see the name of the daughter. In nominative, it would sound like Bitiasa.

The word “nubqklum” (nubikla), is perhaps related to the Latin “nubile” – “unmarried woman, virgin”. See here.

MENTISTRÚÍ NEMÚNEI – Prophetess of Nemuna

The word Mentistrui (Mentistria) could be related to the Greek word “mantis”, which means “prophet”. Mantistria would be the female form. See here.

The word “nemunei” would probably sound like “nemuna” or “nemunas” in nominative. Nemunas is the name of a river that flows through Belarus, Lithuania and Russia. See here. Unfortunately, the etymology of this name is unknown.

However, Nemesis was a Greek goddess of fortune and retribution. Her name is derived from Greek “νέμειν” némein, meaning “to give what is due”, from Proto-Indo-European *nem- “distribute”. See here.

PRAISTAÍT PANIFÚ – Priestes of Pan

Praistat -This word is a cognate with English “priest”, here in female form. It is derrived from Ancient Greek and it appears also in Old Church Slavonic as “praista”. See here. The name of Pristina in Kosovo, Serbia, is derived from this word, as this area has long been considered a holy ground.

Moreover, the name Esuprastus, the father of the famous Boudica, of the Iceni tribe in Roman England, is sometimes translated as “the priest of Esu”. See here.

Panifu would mean “to/of Pan”. Pan is a well-attested mythological character in ancient Greek mythology, but there is no evidence that he had temples and priests. Pan means “lord” in Slavic. See here. Therefore, this can also be read as “Priestess of the Lord”.

There are numerous Slavic toponyms that have this word on their root, for example Pancevo, Serbia.

MEITIMS SAFINAS – Sabinian woman

Meitims Sabinas– This word also apperas in Siculian inscriptions. It is a cognate to English “maiden”. “Meita”, Lat-Galian word meaning “daughter, maiden”. See here.

TÚTAS TREBELIES – of the Tribalian nation,

The word Tutas can be a (PIE) stem *teutéh₁ (‘the people’, perhaps ‘the people under arms’).

Trebelies can hardly be anything else but the designation for the tribe of Triballi. See here.

The Triballi, known from the 5th century BC, were an ancient people who lived in the northern Balkans in the region of Roman Oescus up to southeastern Serbia, possibly near the territory of the Morava Valley in the late Iron Age. The Triballi lived between Thracians to the east, Illyrians the west and Celts to the north and were influenced by them. As such in contemporary sources, they are variably described as an independent, Thracian, Illyrian or Celtic tribe.

TITUI PRAISTAKLASA – of the honorable priestly caste

Titius is a well-attested Sabine family name, meaning “honorable, noble”. See here.

Praistaklasa – If prasista means “priest”, what would “prasitaklasa” be? I think that it means “caste”, which would be in accordance with other Aryan tribes that had a prietly caste. This would also be the same as Latin classis. See here.

POSMÚI – wrote this

Posmui (verb) is a cognate with Slavic “pismo”, (noun), meaning “that which is written”. See

This is a preliminary translation of an inscription that was previously illegible. It may not be perfect, but it captures the overall meaning of the inscription.

The most valuable piece of information that this inscription provides is that the Sabines may have considered themselves to be a tribe of the Triballi. Additionally, the inscription gives us insights into the structure of Sabine society, which may have had a prisetly caste.

The language of the inscription is also interesting. It is clearly Indo-European in origin, but it is not easily relatable to any modern language.

A Serbian connection?

I know this sounds strange, but there are interesting paralles that can be drawn between the Sabines and the Serbs.

First of all, it is their name. According to the linguist Julius Pokorny, the names of the Serbs and the Sabines come from the same root that means “free” (people). He believed that the Sabines migrated to Italy from the Balkans, around the 10th century BC. See the Wikipedia article on the Sabines for more info.

This is also interesting because the ancient Etruscan (and later Roman) familly name Servius is usually translated as “slave”, but in reallity it was a noble name.

Secondly, the Etruscans actually reffered to themselves as Rasi/Raske, and the first Serbian state was founded in the region called Raska. See here. This region border with Kosovo, and its biggest city – Prishtina, a name which relates to the great number of Serbian medieval monasteries. At the same time, this name sounds like the word ”priest” in this Sabine inscription.

Furthermore, the name of the founder of the first Serbian dinasty was Nemanja. The etymology of his name is unknown, and some linguistst have proposed a Germanic origin, from the word “nemaną”, meaning “to take, distribute”. See here. However, this is precisely the etymology of the name of the Greek goddess Nemesis, whose name means exactly the same: “to take, distribute”. In this Sabine inscription we may see the original, pre-Greek form of her name. (!)

And finally, we learn from this inscription that the Sabines may have considered themselves to be a part of the Triballian nation. Interestingly, in the Middle ages, it was the Serbs who were known as Triballi.

For example, Niketas Choniates (1155–1215 or-16) in his history about Emperor Ioannes Komnenos: “… Shortly after this, he campaigned against the nation of Triballians (whom someone may call Serbians as well)

Demetrios Chalkokondyles (1423–1511), referring to an Islamized Christian noble: “… This Mahmud, son of Michael, is Triballian, which means Serbian, by his mother, and Greek by his father.” The same name was used by Mehmed the Conqueror when referring to the plundering of Serbia.

Mihailo Vojislavljević succeeded as Knez of “Duklja” in 1046, or as his realm was called by contemporary Cedrenus: Triballorum ac Serborum principatum. According to George Kedrenos (fl. 1050s) and John Skylitzes (fl. 1057), he was the Prince of Triballians and Serbs.

You can read more about it on the Wikipedia article on Triballi.

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