On the Adriatic Veneti, their language and origins

The Adriatic Veneti were an Indo-European people who inhabited northeastern Italy along the 1st millennium BC. Their language is evidenced in approximately 300 short inscriptions dating from the 6th to 1st centuries BC. Although it shares some similarities with Latin, it also has some affinities with other Indo-European languages.

The Adriatic Veneti were skilled farmers and traders. They exported grain, wine, and horses that were renowned for their speed. They were also skilled shipbuilders and seafarers.

People with the same name – the Veneti, lived in France and around the Vistula River in Poland. It is not clear if these three groups of people were related. One theory is that they all descended from a common Indo-European ancestor group.

Advertisment

Trimusicates – A Mysterious Venetic Deity?

Many Venetic inscriptions make reference to a deity named Trimusicates. In fact, this seems to be one of the most common names in their dedications. However, at the time of writing this article, it is a virtually impossible to find any information about this particular deity.

Here are a few examples from the book “Venetic Inscriptions” by Donald O’Brian. See here.

a. 5 Inscribed on a situla (bucket shaped vessel). 
ke.l.lo.s. ossoko.s. doto dono.m. trumusicate.i.
“Kellos Ossokos gave (as)-a-gift to-Trumusicates”

Ca. 6 Votive inscription on a sheet. 
].i.ion.ko.s tona.s./toś a.i.nat. trumus.iiat. per. vo/.l.te.r.kon. vo.n.ta.r.
“…ionkos gave to-the-Healer Trumusicates for the-fulfilment of-a-vow”

Ca. 14 Votive inscirption on a sheet
ke.l.lo.s. pi.t./ta.m.mn.iko.s. tole.r trum/usicate.i. dono.m. // da
“Kellos Pitamnikos brought/gave/offered a-gift to-Trumusicates”

Ca 15AB Inscribed on the handle of a bowl. 
A) hutto.s. aplisikos. tri śikos.toler. / B) [tru]musicate.i. dono.m.
“Huttos Aplisikos Triśikos gave/brought/offered a-gift to-Trumusicates”

Ca. 16 Inscribed on the handle of a bowl. 
huttos e.s[–]os [t]ole.r. / trumusicatei donom
“Huttos Es…os gave/brought/offered a-gift to-Trumusicates”

The list goes on, with more than ten similar inscriptions listed in this book alone. All of these inscriptions are votive offerings to what seems to be a mysterious deity. However, there might be a more logical explanation, and the only real mystery is how it could have been overlooked by all these scolars who worked on the inscriptions.

Trimusicates – The Three Muses, and their Thracian origins

In Greek mythology, the Muses are often associated with inspiration in various forms of art, literature, and learning. While the traditional belief is that there were nine Muses, it’s interesting to note that in many earlier accounts they were considered as three: Melete, Mneme, and Aoide. These three Muses represented practice, memory, and song, respectively.

Over time, their number expanded to nine, with each Muse presiding over different domains of creativity, such as epic poetry, history, music, and astronomy. However, the three muses were still worshiped in Delphi, and many ancient authors believed that they had Thracian origin. Some of those authors were Pausanias, Varo, and Diodorus Siculus.

The ancients venerated the Muses, not through grand temples, but through intimate rituals woven into the landscape. Honeyed libations graced sacred springs, lyre melodies mingled with whispering pines, and invocations like Hesiod’s “Sing of the Muses” sought divine inspiration.

Beyond poetic invocations, sacrifices and festivals like the Museia celebrated artistic expression, while the Muses’ influence permeated even secular spheres like education and oracles. Thus, worship of the Muses wasn’t mere celestial flattery, but a vibrant recognition of the divine spark at the heart of human creativity.

Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising to see so many Venetic dedications to the Muses. What is suprising, is that this would mean that they believed in the three original muses, long after the ancient Greeks have increased their number to nine. What could that tell us of their “Indo-European” origins?

A Slavic connection?

The first Venetic inscription that we will examine was inscribed on a bronze cup. This sinistroverse script is dubbed Es 120 in Prosdocimi’s 1988 catalogue and MLV 123 in Lejeune’s 1974 work. Dividing the continuous flow of letters yields the enigmatic phrase “alkomno metlon śikos enogenes vilkenis horvionte donasan.”

My translation:

Alkomno Metlons i Kosenogenes Vilkenis, Horvionte donasan.

“Alcmene from Metalon (Metulum?) and Ksenogenes from Vilkena, for Horvio brought it.”

Explanation:

Alkomno – a variant od Alcman or Alcmene (personal names, see here and here)
Metlon – a toponym, perhaps from the word “metal”? (see Greek μέταλλον). The word “metalui” is also attested in Leptonic, which is another North Italic script. However, scholars translate this word as a personal name, not a toponym, even though we are dealing with a single word inscription, without any context. See here.
In my opinion, both words could be related to Metulum – a famous Illyrian city destroyed by Romans in 35 BC (modern day Cakovec, Croatia – see here)
Kosengoenes – Xenogenes is a well-attested Greek name derived from the words “xenos” (guest, stranger) and “genos” (birth, race, kind). It can be interpreted as “foreigner born” or “of alien origin.”
Vilkena – another toponym, and it is also attesed in a few other Venetic inscriptions (the meaning is perhaps “a place with many wolves”). Vьlkъ is a proto-Slavic word for a wolf. Some other Illyrian toponyms, such as Ulcinj in Montenegro (ancient Oulkinion) are said to come from the same word. The same might be true even for the Etruscan Vulci (and the god Vulkan).
Horvionte – for Horvio, a personal name (compare it with the Croatian name “Hrvoje”).
Donasan – “they gave”, 3rd plural sigmatic past (most scholars agree on this translation, but they don’t mention that the closest equivalent in modern languages is Slavic “donesen” with the same meaning. See here.)

The second isncription is known as the “Cartura stone” Es122. It is a round, flat stone with an inscription that reads:

ego vhontei ersiniioi vineti()karis vivoi oliiale()kve murtuvoi atisteit.

My translation:

Ego vhontei Ersiniioi Vinetikaris, vivoi Oliialekve murtuvoi Atisteit.

“I was made for Ersinia, the Venetian, who lived in Oliosi and died in Ateste.”

Explanation:

Ego – I, Latin
Vhontei – fontei – “to make, to cast to the ground, to prostrate” (see Latin “fundo”, and French “font”)
Ersiniioi – Ersinia, a female personal name
Vinetikaris – The Venetian
Vivoi – who lived – See Latin vivo – from Proto-Italic *gʷīwō, from Proto-Indo-European *gʷíh₃weti (“to live”). Cognate with Proto-Slavic (and modern Slavic) zhivo, zhiveti and Sanskritजीवति (jīvati). Note that the Slavic word is the same as the Sanskrit one, and without a doubt closer to the older, original PIE pronunciuation, than the Latin one.
Oliale – a toponym, perhaps similar to modern Oliosi, in Veneto, Italy (a place where oil is made)
kve – a suffix meaning “and”, just like the Latin “que”.
murtuvoi – died – Corresponds to Proto-Italic *mortwos, from Proto-Indo-European *mr̥twós*mr̥tós(“dead, mortal”) Cognate with Sanskrit मृत (mṛtá), Old Church Slavonic мрътвъ (mrŭtvŭ). Note that the “V” sound disappeared in Latin very early on – ie. “Mortwos” became “mortuus”, but it remained in Slavic languages until the present day.
Atesteit – “in Ateste”. Ateste was the original, ancient name of modern Este, Veneto, where this incription was found. I’ve read numerous translation attempts of this inscription, and I am really surprised that none of the scholars seem to have made this connection. (?)

In any case, what we see here is a language that couldn’t be classified as Latin, but at the same time, it could also not be classified as Slavic. However, the enigmatic “Indo-European” component that the scolars often mention, could really be best described as Slavic. The same is true of many Venetian toponyms, of which the most famous is Trieste. It’s ancient name was Tregeste, from Slavic *tъrgъ – marketplace. The same root is in the name of another Venetian city – Oderzo, whose ancient name was Opi-tergium.

On the Venetian origins

While direct linguistic connections between Venetian and Illyrian languages are not extensively documented, some modern scholars have posited potential links based on historical interactions and geographical proximity. The Venetian language, a Romance language spoken in the Veneto region of Italy, has likely been influenced by various neighboring languages, including some that belonged to the Illyrian language family spoken in parts of the Balkans.

However, ancient authors like Strabo and Pliny the Elder allude to the connection between the Veneti and Paphlagonia, suggesting that the Veneti originated from or had ties to this Anatolian region. They claimed that the Veneti and Eneti relate to the same group of people who resided in Paphlagonia and neighboring areas, hinting at a potential migration or historical association between these regions.

Indeed, there were three tribes of Eneti known in antiquity: those who lived in Paphlagonia, those who lived in Illyria, and those who lived in North Italy.

According to some ancient accounts, including those by writers like Virgil in his epic poem “The Aeneid,” the migration of the Eneti to Venetia occurred after the fall of Troy. Legend has it that after the Trojan War, a group of Trojans, including the Eneti led by Antenor, left their homeland and embarked on a journey that eventually led them to settle in various regions, including areas in the Adriatic region, potentially contributing to the founding or settlement of Venetia.

Furthermore, the connection between the Eneti and the Thracians is hinted at in some ancient texts, suggesting potential interactions or associations between these groups. These claims would also explain my translation of Trimusicates as the three muses, as the belief in three muses originated in ancient Thrace.

And finally, the region of Paphlagonia is still full of toponyms that mirror in the Balkans and the Adriatic region, meaning that the ancient authors might have been right about this connection. Indeed, the IE dative in *-ei, meaning “to, for”, that we saw in the word “vhontei” above, was also present in the Phrygian language, e.g. “mater-ei, pater-ei, vanakt-ei”. The Phrygians also had their origins in the Balkans.

To summarize, the Venetians probably migrated to Italy already in the Bronze age. They were very closey related to the Illyrians and the Thracians, and their roots were probably in the Balkans. Upon arriving to Italy, they mixed with the local population, that ancient authors call Euganei, which is probably another name for Ingauni, a Celtic tribe. Later on, their language was additionaly influenced by Latin (and vice-versa – they might have influenced the Latin language). And even though in the later centuries, their names sounded disctinctively Greek, the underlining layer of their language was always Thraco-Illyrian, and it’s closest modern equivalent can be found in the Slavic languages.

Advertisment

Leave a Reply

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