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The Costoboci: Ancient Slavic Warriors of the Carpathians

The Costoboci are believed to have inhabited the area around the Carpathian Mountains, which spans modern-day Romania, Ukraine, and Poland. They first appear in historical records around the 2nd century AD.

The Costoboci emerged unexpectedly, launched swift and fierce raids across the Balkans, and then vanished from the historical record, leaving a legacy of mystery and intrigue.

Cultural Identity

The cultural identity of the Costoboci is complex and multifaceted. They are often associated with the Dacians, a Thracian people known for their conflicts with the Roman Empire. Some scholars suggest that the Costoboci were either a subgroup of the Dacians or heavily influenced by them. Their material culture, including pottery and weapons, shows similarities with neighboring tribes, indicating a blend of local and foreign influences.

The Costoboci’s origins are debated, and besides Dacian – Thracian, their proposed origins are also Sarmatian – Slavic, or Germanic – Celtic, or a mix of these cultures.

However, in the 19th century, most scholars agreed on the Slavic origins:

“Costoboci, a people of Dacia, probably belonging to the Wendish stock (Schafarik, Slavische Alterthum, vol. i. p. 122). Their position has been sought in the district of Tschernigow” – (E.B.J. in Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, illustrated by numerous engravings on wood. William Smith, LLD. London, 1854). See here.

Of the same opinion was a German scolar Karl Müllenhoff, Deutsche altertumskunde. Vol. 2. Berlin, (1887).

Historical References

The Costoboci are mentioned in Ptolemy’s “Geographia,” which was published between 135-143 AD. However, one of the most significant references to the Costoboci comes from Roman historical accounts.

In 170 AD, during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Costoboci launched a series of raids into the Roman province of Moesia. These incursions were part of the larger Marcomannic Wars, a series of conflicts between the Roman Empire and various barbarian tribes. The Costoboci’s bold raids brought them into direct conflict with Rome.

Around the same time, the Costoboci crossed the Danube and launched a series of devastating raids into Greece, penetrating as far south as Eleusis near Athens, where they desecrated sacred sites, including the temple of Demeter.

Decline and Legacy

The fate of the Costoboci is not well-documented, leading to much speculation among historians. Some theories suggest that they were gradually assimilated into neighboring cultures, such as the Slavs, Goths or the Huns. Others propose that their decline was due to continued conflicts with the Roman Empire and other tribes, leading to their eventual disappearance from historical records.

The language of the Costoboci

The language of the Costoboci remains largely unknown due to the scant historical and archaeological evidence available. However, their onomastics—names recorded in ancient sources—offer some clues.

A Latin-language funerary inscription, dating from the 2nd century AD, was discovered in Rome and dedicated to Zia or Ziais the Dacian, daughter of Tiatus and wife of Pieporus, king of the Costoboci. The monument was erected by her grandsons, Natoporus and Drigisa. This inscription was first published by the Italian scholar Mariangelus Accursius in the 16th century but has since been lost.

As to why this funerary inscription was found in Rome, and not Dacia, the answer is quite simple. Zia and her grandsons were likely Roman hostages, following the common practice of the era to ensure loyalty from subjugated or allied tribes.

The text of the Roman Costoboci inscription

Translation

To the Spirits of the Dead.
(Dedicated) to ZIA
Daughter of TIATUS
the Dacian,
Wife of PIEPORUS,
Costobocan king.
NATOPORUS and DRIGISA (made this memorial)
for their most dear, well-deserving grandmother.”

In this inscription, only the names – Zia, Pieporus, Natoporus, and Drigisa – can be considered as Costobocian, while the remainder of the text is written in Latin, and therefore very clear.

So what can these personal names tell us about the Costobocian origins?

The names ZIA and TIATUS lack clear Slavic etymologies. Some scholars believe that Zia meant “mare,” relating it to the Thracian “Ziaka” and the Sanskrit “hayaka” meaning “horse,” but I think this connection is a bit of a stretch.

However, the other three names sound really Slavic.

PIEPORUS – The name Piepor is also a Slovak word for black pepper – piepor. Black pepper was a valuable commodity in ancient times, and it was common for families involved in the spice trade to adopt related names, as seen with the Piper dynasty of Montenegro.

NATOPORUS – The name Natoporus could be related to the Macedonian verb “натопори” (natopori), which in its third-singular present form means “to erect, stick out, or place ostentatiously,” suggesting a possible etymological connection to actions or qualities of prominence and visibility. Topor is also universal Slavic word for a small battle ax.

DRIGISA – The name Drigisa sounds similar to the very popular Slavic name Dragisa, which comes from the root “drag,” meaning “dear” or “beloved”. Similar names have been recorded elsewhere in this period: Drigissa in Superior Moesia and Diagiza, slave at Rome. See here.

The real homeland of the Costoboci

Ammianus Marcellinus, writing around 400 AD, placed the Costoboci between the Dniester and Danube rivers, likely northeast of Dacia, while Ptolemy’s “Geographia” suggests they inhabited northwestern or northeastern Dacia.

Now, it is a fact that Slavic tribal names are often derived from the natural landscape, such as rivers, mountains, and forests. However, in this particular region there are no traces of the toponym that sounds similar to “Costoboci”.

On the other hand, deeper in the Ukrainian territory, there is a place called Kostobobriv. And much further in Russia, there is anotehr village called Kostobobrovka. The etymology of both names means: “bridge on the river Kosta”. Following the usual Slavic logic, the tribes living in these areas would be called Kostoboci.

Although the Ukrainian toponym is closer to Dacia, it is still about 1,000 kilometers away from where modern scholars typically locate the Costoboci based on ancient sources. However, this distance is relatively small considering that the Costoboci raided Eleusis, which is at least 2,000 kilometers from northern Dacia!

Roman legions could travel from Rome to Paris, a similar distance, in just over a month. Therefore, 1,000 kilometers is not significant, especially when moving through familiar and friendly territory.

For this reason, I believe that the homeland of the Costoboci was further into what is now Ukraine and Russia, and I concur with the perspective that they were Slavs. Consequently, they likely assimilated with other Slavic tribes, which explains their disappearance from the historical record.

Slavs return

And while scholars may disagree about the true identity of the Costoboci, the fact is that just a few centuries later, it was the Slavs that came (or returned) via the same route. According to the testimony of the Syrian church historian John of Ephesus, Ecclesiastical History VI Chapter 25, in the year 577:

“In the third year after the death of Emperor Justinian and the ascension of Tiberius the Victorious to the throne, the accursed people of the Slavs appeared and attacked all of Hellas, the surroundings of Thessalonica, and all of Thrace.

They captured many cities and fortresses, ravaged, plundered, looted, and ruled the land, behaving as freely as in their own homeland. This lasted for four years while the emperor was at war with the Persians; thus, they had free rein in the land [until God drove them out]. Their plundering extended to the outermost wall; all imperial herds were taken by them as booty.

To this day, they remain in the Roman provinces without concern or fear, plundering, killing, burning; they have become rich, possessing gold and silver, herds of horses, and many weapons; they have learned to wage war better than the Romans.”

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The Calendar Conundrum, or How We Ended Up Living in a Separate Reality

Modern society often prides itself on being the pinnacle of human development, a culmination of progress and enlightenment. There is a prevailing arrogance that suggests our era, with its technological prowess and scientific advancements, represents the zenith of civilization. 

However, when examining something as fundamental as our system of keeping time, it becomes evident that we may not be as astutely aligned with the natural and cosmic orders as our ancestors were. 

The way we measure years, months, and days reveals significant gaps in our connection to the universe — a stark reminder that, in some respects, we might not be as advanced as we believe.

What Year Is It, Really?

The Gregorian calendar, currently the most widely used civil calendar, was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 as a reform to the Julian calendar. It was designed to change the date of Easter and fix discrepancies with the equinox. Yet, this calendar is just one of many throughout history, each with its own starting point and system of counting years.

Historical Calendar Variants

Serbian Medieval Calendar: Remarkably distinct and considered to be one of the oldest. According to this calendar, we are currently in the year 7533.

The most ancient record of the Serbian calendar is found on a tombstone from the Middle Ages. The Battle of Kosovo took place in 1389, but a medieval memorial for Emperor Lazar and Despot Stefan Lazarević indicates that the it happened in the year 6897.

Also, on one of the towers of the Lesser Town of the Smederevo Fortress, an inscribed stone attests to the year it was built, stating: “By the grace of Christ God the Herald, Despot Đurađ, ruler of the Serbs and the coastal areas of Zeta, this town was constructed in the summer of 6938” — equivalent to the year 1430 in the modern calendar.

In the Serbian folk calendar, years start from 5508 BC, believed to be the time of the Great Flood.

The Byzantine Calendar: Similar to Serbian, but according to this calendar we are currently around the year 7528. Another key difference is that it marks the date of creation of the world, not the Great Flood.

The Hebrew Calendar: Starting from what many consider the creation of the world, this calendar places us in the year 5784.

The Traditional Hindu Calendar: Varies regionally but often reaches back millennia beyond the common era.

The origin of many historical calendars likely stems from significant astronomical events, reflecting ancient societies’ deep engagement with the cosmos. A key example is the phenomenon of precession, where the Earth’s rotational axis slowly shifts over time. This process, which causes the position of equinoxes to change approximately every 2160 years, has historically prompted adjustments in timekeeping systems. 

Our modern Gregorian calendar, for instance, aligns its start with the last major shift when the spring equinox moved into Pisces. However, there was surely never a year “zero” to begin with, so even without all of the reforms that followed, the exact year we are currently in would still be debatable.

When exactly is the New Year?

The concept of when a new year begins varies significantly across different cultures and historical periods, highlighting the arbitrary nature of our current calendar system. While many modern societies celebrate the new year on December 31st, aligning roughly with the winter solstice when days begin to lengthen again—symbolizing the “rebirth” of the sun—this was not always the case. 

For many ancient civilizations, it was the spring equinox, not the winter solstice, that marked the beginning of the year. This time of year, when daylight starts to overtake night and new life springs forth, was seen as a more fitting symbol of new beginnings. Examples include the Babylonians and ancient Persians whose New Year, Nowruz, continues to be celebrated at the spring equinox. Furthermore, the same was true for ancient Greeks, Romans, Slavs and many other European cultures.

On the other hand, there are cultures that have their new year celebrations at entirely different times. In Thailand, the new year, known as Songkran, occurs in April. This festival is famous for its water-throwing events, which are meant to wash away bad luck and misfortune. 

Meanwhile, in Yakutia, a region in Siberia, the new year is celebrated in June during Ysyakh, marking the revival of nature and fertility with the summer solstice. 

These varied traditions illustrate that the start of a new year, far from being a fixed and universal point, is deeply intertwined with cultural interpretations of celestial and seasonal cycles.

The Misalignment of Months

Originally, the months were closely tied to the movements of Moon and the Sun through the zodiac constellations. This connection is now broken, and the best example is the modern horoscope. From my experience, most people don’t even know what is their real star sign.

Zodiac and Constellations

Most people determine their astrological sign using the star chart provided by modern astrologers, which focuses solely on calendar dates without considering the actual movement of the Sun through the constellations. 

For instance, traditional horoscope charts list me as a Gemini since I was born on June 2. However, astronomically speaking, the Sun was actually positioned in the middle of the Taurus constellation on that date. Thus, according to a calendar instituted by some Pope that disregards actual stellar alignments, I’m a Gemini. But if we consider the Sun’s true location on my birthdate, which should be the foundational aspect of astrology, I am in fact a Taurus.

In short, the zodiac signs used by many contemporary astrologers no longer correspond with the actual astronomical positions of the constellations at any point in the year. The stars continually shift due to the phenomenon of precession, and while ancient societies regularly updated their astrological practices to accommodate this, our modern “progressive” society has abandoned such alignments. But for some weird reason, modern astrologers keep using these meaningless horoscopes.

The Days Out of Sync

Historical Day Naming

In many ancient cultures, the seven days of the week were named after the seven planets known at the time.

The days of the week—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—are each named after the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, respectively. This nomenclature illustrates the ancients’ attempt to mirror the cosmos in their temporal organization, with each day influenced by its corresponding celestial body.

Monday and the Lunar calendar

Monday,  named after the moon, is a day that was historically aligned with lunar phases. In many languages, the word for ‘moon’ and ‘month’ is the same, indicating a deep, historical link between lunar cycles and monthly durations.

Ideally, the week should begin with the New Moon, positioning the Full Moon exactly two weeks later. This alignment would ensure that every Monday coincides with one of the moon’s four principal phases

However, our modern sequence of weekdays rotates in a continuous, meaningless loop, disconnected from lunar phases and the related symbolism. 

The idea of a seven-day calendar where Monday always falls on one of the four key phases of the moon (new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third quarter) is challenging to implement consistently due to the nature of the moon’s cycle.

The lunar cycle, from one new moon to the next, averages approximately 29.53 days. This period, known as a synodic month, doesn’t align neatly with the seven-day week. To have Monday always coincide with a key lunar phase, you’d have to adjust the length or the start day of the week based on the moon’s phases. However, this would mean that the week could vary in length from one cycle to the next, making it impractical for use in scheduling and most activities that rely on a consistent weekly calendar.

And yet, there’s still an old belief that Mondays are ideal for new beginnings, but from an astronomical perspective, this notion no longer makes any sense.

Ritual Significance of Mondays

In many Asian cultures, the new moon and full moon are still significant for rituals and celebrations. For instance, in the Vietnamese lunar calendar, the new moon and full moon are considered pivotal times when the veil between the spiritual and physical worlds is believed to be thinnest, facilitating communication with the ancestors. Similar lunar calendars exist all across Asia.

Conclusion: Realigning Our Calendar

The way we measure and interact with time today shows a clear drift from astronomical phenomena and historical timekeeping practices. As we continue to use a calendar system that aligns poorly with celestial events, we lose touch not only with the universe’s rhythms but also with a rich heritage of human interaction with these cycles.

Revisiting our approach to calendar might help reconnect our societal rhythms with the natural order, and perhaps even a deeper appreciation of our place within the cosmos.

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A Few Pre-Greek Words, Seen Through a Slavic Lens

The Greek language, with its rich history and enduring influence, still holds many fascinating secrets within its vocabulary. The elusive “pre-Greek substrate” is the unknown language spoken before the arrival of the Proto-Greeks. The scholars have been searching for the roots of this language for decades, and their search would usually end up in faraway Anatolia. But what if the answer has been hiding much closer, right under their noses, in the neighbouring Balkans?

Suffixes -inth & -ynth are the same as Slavic -nj (ɲ) sound)

According to modern scholars, the words ending with -inth and -ynth stubbornly resist explanation through traditional Indo-European roots, and everyone agrees that these words are pre-Greek.

However, when we look at Balkan Slavic languages, particularly South Slavic languages, a striking pattern emerges. Place names like Corinth (Greek) and Korinj (Slavic), Labyrinth (Greek) and Lovrinj (Slavic), Zakinthos (Greek) and Zakinji (Slavic) exhibit an uncanny similarity.

This isn’t just a coincidence – it suggests a deeper linguistic connection.

Here is a full list:

Ancient Greek toponym containing -inth & -ynthSlavic toponym containing -nj Comments
Corinth(Veliki & Mali) Korinj, Slovenia
Korinje stene, Montenegro
Korinjak peak, Croatia
LabyrinthLovrin, Croatia & Romania
Lovrinjac, Croatia
Lovrinici, Croatia
Lovran, Croatia etc.
ZakinthosZakinji, Croatia
BisanthVisanj, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Visanja, Serbia
SinthosSinj, Croatia
Sinjevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sinjajevina, Montenegro
Sinje, Albania
Sinja Gorica, Slovenia
TerebinthosTrebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Trebinje, Serbia
Trebinje, Albania
Perhaps related to the turpentine tree – Pistacia terebinthus.
MarathonMarinje Zemlje, Croatia
BolinthosVolinja, Croatia
Volinjak, Slovenia
Volinja, Slovenia
Bolinthos was not a toponym, but a pre-Greek name for a wild ox. The Slavic equivalent is “vol”, and it appears in some toponyms.
Ancient Greek toponym containing -inth & -ynthSlavic toponym containing -ch, -lj, -sh and -n
RadamanthusRadmanici, Bosnia and Herzegovina
ProvalinthouProvalije, Serbia & Bosnia and HerzegovinaProvalija relates to a place between two mountains, a gorge. This fits the decription of the Greek Provalinthou’s location.
OlinthosOlimje, Slovenia
SaminthosSamin, PolandNot in the Balkans but still Slavic.
LebinthisLebina, Serbia
Lebane, Serbia
Labin, Croatia
KoskynthosKoshkina, RussiaNot in the Balkans but still Slavic.
PerinthosPerucac, SerbiaFrom “per” – rock. See also Perugia, Italy,

This list shows that the pre-Greek words ending with suffixes -ynth and -inth have clear matches in the Balkans, where they usually end with -nj or -n.

Now, while it could be possible that the suffix -nj, which can be difficult to pronounce, was swapped for -inth/-ynth, the opposite is highly unlikely. In other words, the Slavic pronunciation of these words must be closer to the original.

A few more matches between Pre-Greek substrate and Slavic languages of the Balkans

There are some words that do not end with the suffixes -inth and -ynth, but are usually listed as pre-Greek. Here are a few examples:

Krēmnós, ‘edge of a trench, cliff’ – this word matches the Serbian toponym Kremna. In Slavic languages kremen designates flint, and I believe that this was the real meaning of this word. The toponyms that have this root are numerous, from the Italian Cremona to Anatolian Kremona, and they all date to the earliest of times, when flint was an essential comodity.

Speîos, ‘cave, cavern’ – This word is listed as pre-Greek, but in modern Serbo-Croatian it still has the same meaning. Spilja means “cave”. The same is true from the Anatolian mount Sipylus – an ancient holy place known for its caves.

Pergam – An ancient Grek city, in western Anatolia, near modern Bergama. First attested in the book of Illiad as The fortified citadel of Troy. A cognate with Slavic ‘berg’ – hill. Some scholars have indeed suggested an influence from an ancient Balkan language.

Polis – city, citadel – In Slavic languages “polje” means “field”. This word is shared by many Slavic toponyms. However, modern scolars would say that the Slavic word ‘polje’ is unrelated.

Thermopylae. Officialy, the etymology of this name comes from thermo-, “warm, hot”) +‎ πῠ́λη (púlē, “gates”) – because the Slavic word ‘polje’ – field is not considered by linguists. However, even the Pre-Greek word púlē – gates doesn’t have a know etumology. It is more likely that this Thermopylae means “warm field”, in other words where “an area with hot springs”. In Serbia, there are two villages called Topli Do – “warm field”, and they both lie near hot springs.

Moreover, as ‘polje’ is exclusively a Slavic word, this would mean that Thermopylae is a a calque or a loan translation from a Slavic language.

Hodós – road, path. Considered to be of Paleo-Balkan origin and a cognate with Slavic ‘hod, hodati’ – to walk.

thálassa, ‘sea‘ – In Serbo-Croatian language the word “talas” still translates as a “wave”.

Kêtos, ‘Whale’ – of Pre-Greek origin. Besides Latin ‘cetus’, appear only in all Slavic languages as ‘kit’.

Mólybdos ‘lead‘, from Mycenaean mo-ri-wo-do, from *morkʷ-io- ‘dark’, as in Lydian mariwda(ś)-k ‘the dark ones – The name of this metal is listed as Anatolian. However, the first part “mori” – also means “dark” in Slavic, while the word “wodo” is the same as the Slavic “voda”.

Eiren – In Sparta, this was the name for young people in their twenties. In Bosnia, the word “jaran” (yaran) still designates a body, pal, young man. This word could be further related to Turkic “ergen” – unmarried man, bachelor.

Tresante – In Sparta, this was a word for a coward who trembles and shakes before the battle. See here. In Serbo-Croatian “tresti se” still means “to shake, to tremble”.

Homole was an an ancient town in Thessaly, Greece. The etymology of its name is unknown. However, a quick glance at the Wikipedia shows us that there are other similar toponyms in Slavic countries, four in Czech Republic and one in Poland. There is also a mountain Homolje, located in Serbia, that Wikipedia fails to mention.

While the Greek etymology of Homole is not known, the Slavic one is very clear. It is derrived from the word homila/gomila, meaning “a lumo, heap, mound”, which is quite an appropriate name for a hill.

Thaumacia – another ancient city in Thessaly. Its name sounds like Timok river in Serbia, or Timochka krajina, the region through which it flows.

A few examples of Pre-Greek names of some mythological characters

Skylla – Homer portrays Scylla as a monstrous being, equipped with twelve flailing limbs and six elongated necks, each capped with a frightful head that boasts three layers of razor-sharp teeth. Her eerie sounds are compared to the yelping of dogs.

The etymology of the name “Scylla” (Greek: Σκύλλα) is uncertain. One suggestion is that it may derive from the Greek word “skyllo” (σκύλλω), meaning “to tear apart,” which reflects her destructive nature in mythology as she tears sailors apart when they pass her cliff. Another theory links her name to the word “skylos” (σκύλος), meaning “dog,” which could reference the dog-like heads around her waist or her fierce, animalistic nature. However, even the etymology of this word for dog is problematic, and the only cognate is Russian “skulit” – to whine, to whimper.

Pegasus – unknown etymology. Traditionally linked to the Greek word πηγή (pēgḗ), meaning “spring, fountain, or a fountain fed by a spring”. However, the word “pega” means “freckle” in Slavic, hence “a freckled horse”. In Serbian medieval poetry, the famous horse of Prince Marko is named “Sharac”, which is quite a similar meaning, especially if we consider that the “freckles” are in fact starts of the Pegasus constellation.

Semela – Originally a Thracian goddess. Her name is universally accepted to be a cognate of the Slavic “zemlja” – earth. See here.

Gaia – Another name for Mother Earth. Pre-Greek and “probably” related to γῆ () – earth. The only cognate in any language is Slavic gaj – “grove”.

Pan – The goat-horned lord of the forest. The etymology of his name is disputed, but only in Slavic languages such as Polish and Ukrainian, the word “pan” means “lord”. See here. Pannonia is an ancient name of the fertile lands in Northern Serbia.

Had – The god od the underworld, often depicted with snakes. Possibly and allusion to the Ophiuchus constellation. In Slavic languages “gad/had” means “snake”. See here.

Prometheus (meaning forethought) – This name is interesting because only in Slavic languages there is an equivalent – an ancient city of Przemyśl in Poland, as well as the Přemyslid dynasty.

Boreas – god of the north wind and storm – From Proto-Slavic ‘bura’, storm. This is still the name of the north wind in the Slavic languages of the Balkans (but it isn’t in Greek).

Deucalion – son of Prometheus. Just like the myth of the Prometheus, his story must be trully ancient as it talks about the great deluge. However, his name sounds like a toponim Duklja in Montenegro (Roman Dioclea), whch was also a Serbian state in Midlle ages. But even before the Romans, an Illyrian tribe Docleatae lived there. Interestingly, there is one more Dukla, but this one is in Poland, confirming that this toponym is not Greek, Illyrian or Roman, but Slavic.

On the side note, the Montenegrian Duklja lies high in the mountains, and not far from the Lake Skadar, which was created some time in a remote past by overflowing of the sea water. But that is a topic for another article.

Greek Sirens and the Russian Sirin bird – Most scholars believe that the word ‘sirin’ originates from a language that predates Greek. In Russian folklore, there is a mythological creature called Sirin. Both Sirin, and the original sirens in antiquity were depicted as birds with a face of a beautiful woman.

The Sirin, a creature from Russian mythology, has roots in ancient tales. Although many scholars believe that the Slavic depiction of the Sirin was shaped by Greek mythology, the existence of similar mythical creatures in Persian and Vedic traditions challenges this view. Additionally, I believe that the term ‘Sirin’ originates from a Kartvelian language, where it simply translates to ‘bird’—a reference that might be linked to the constellation Aquila. If this interpretation holds, it suggests that the Slavic pronunciation of Sirin may actually be more authentic to its original form than the Greek version.

So there you go. I wrote this short list directly from memory. I will continue updating it in the future, as there were many more interesting words that I have now forgotten.

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Plochnik – the settlement of the first European copper miners

In the Slavic-speaking parts of the Balkans, place names like “Ploche” and “Plochnik” are quite prevalent. These names come from the word “plocha,” meaning “plank” or “slab,” and typically indicate locations where flat stones are a notable feature of the landscape. While most of these stones have been shaped by natural forces, some are part of ancient megalithic structures, such as dolmens. An example of this is the Plochata dolmen in Bulgaria.

Plochink, Serbia – the earliest copper workshop in Europe

In Serbia, the toponym “Plochnik” holds particular significance, referring to an esteemed archaeological site recognized as one of the earliest locations in Europe where copper was utilized.

Plochnik is part of the Vinča culture, one of the most advanced Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in Europe, known for its remarkable achievements in arts, architecture, and early forms of writing. The artifacts found in Plochnik suggest a community skilled in the smelting and casting of metals, pointing to an early and sophisticated understanding of metallurgy.

In 2007, this archaeological site uncovered a copper workshop complete with a furnace and copper tools darting to 5,500 BCE, suggesting that the Copper Age in Europe could have begun 500 years or more earlier than previously believed.

People of Plochnik exported their copper as far as Scandinavia

A recent scientific study proved that the copper used in Early Neolithic northern artifacts in Scandinavia (circa 4,100–3,300 BC) predominantly came from ore deposits in Southeastern Europe, particularly Serbian mining areas. For Middle Neolithic artifacts (circa 3,300–2,800 BC), copper sources expanded to include the Slovak Ore Mountains, Serbian mining areas, and the Eastern Alps. By the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (circa 2,300–1,700 BC), the focus shifted to the Slovak Ore Mountains and the Alpine region.

Plochnik – a place of many slabs

It’s intriguing to note that the name “Plochnik” translates to “a place of (many) slabs”. The site, situated on a vast field next to a river, shows no traces of stone slabs. In my view, it seems more plausible that the site’s name, suggestive of “slabs,” actually refers to copper ingots.

Indeed, copper ingots have been produced at this location for thousands of years. They would have been meticulously stored beside a road, where merchants could pick them up for further distribution. For anyone passing by, the settlement of Plochnik would unmistakably be “a place with many slabs”.

The same could be said for the Croatian port of Ploche, which has been an important Illyrian port since time immemorial. More importantly, if this is indeed the case, the original language of the first European copper miners had to be Slavic.

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The Garigliano Bowl Inscription – A Tribute to Dioscuri?

The Garigliano Bowl is a small impasto bowl with a bucchero glaze, believed to have been created around 500 BC. lt was found along the river Garigliano, situated between the regions of Lazio and Campania in Italy, near the ancient city of Minturnae (modern Minturno).

The bowl bears one of the earliest known inscriptions in the Latin language, making it a crucial artifact for understanding the development and spread of Latin in ancient Italy.

The common reading of the inscription is:

A: AHUIDIES
B: NEI[- – -]PARIMEDESOMKOMMEOISSOKIOISTRIVOIADDEOMDUO

Most scholars agree that AHUIDIES is a personal name, while ESOM KOM MEOIS SOKIOIS part means “I am with my companions”. The rest is controversial.

Brent vine’s interpretation goes as follows:

Archaic Latin text: NEI PARI MED ESOM KOM MEOIS SOKIOIS TRIFOS AUDEOM DUO[M]
English translation: Do not take me! I am with my three companions (property) of the two Audii.

My Translation of the Garigliano Bowl

In my division of the text, the word NEI is not first but last and I am not the first person to propose this theory. It is clear even from a brief look at the image that the creator intended to inscribe the text in a circular pattern along the rim but ran out of space. As a result, the inscription had to be extended, and the letters NEI ended up above the initial word ‘PARI.’ Before the letters NEI, a few letters are missing, because the bowl is damaged.

My reading would therefore look like this:

A: AHUIDIES
B: PARIMEDESOMKOMMEOISSOKIOISTRIVOIADDEOMDUONEI

Translation:

AHUIDIES – OVIDIES

PARI MED – PROTECT ME
ESOM KOM MEOIS SOKIOIS – I AM WITH MY COMPANIONS

TRIVOI AD DEOM DUO(SKUR)NEI – TRIBUTE TO THE GODS DIOSCURI

Each Line Explained

AHUIDIES – OVIDIES (Ovidius)

Most scholars agree that this is a personal name. Some of the proposed variants are (AfidiusAvidiusAfiedius, AufidiusAufiediusOfdiusAlfidius). In my opinion, this are all just variants of an early, and well-attested Latin name Ovidius. See here.

PARI MED – PROTECT ME

The word MED is not problematic as it appears in many of the early Latin inscriptions, and it is a general consensus that it meant “me”.

On the other hand, I the word PARI is far more problematic. My translation is unique and I based it on the Latin word “pareo” which meant “to protect”.

ESOM KOM MEOIS SOKIOIS – I AM WITH MY COMPANIONS

ESOM: the first person singular of the verb “to be”.
KOM: Likely a preposition or adverb, resembling “cum” in Classical Latin, which means “with.”
MEOIS: A form of the possessive adjective “meus,” meaning “my” in Classical Latin, but in an archaic or dialectal form that differs from the standard.
SOKIOIS: This seems to be an early or dialectal form of “sociis,” the ablative plural of “socius,” meaning “companions” or “allies” in Classical Latin. See here.

TRIVOI AD DEOM DUO(SKUR)NEI – TRIBUTE TO THE GODS DIOSCURI

TRIVOI: My translation of this line of the text is unique for every word. I connect the word TRIVOI with later Latin “tribus, tribuo”, meaning “to grant, to bestow – tribute”.
AD: This is a Latin preposotion meaning “to, for”. See here.
DEOM: “Deom” could be a dative plural form of “deus,” meaning “god,” though the standard form would be “deis” or “diis.” 
DUOSKURNEI: I believe that the missing letters are “SKUR”. In Latin, the word would be written as “Dioscuri,” referring to Castor and Pollux.

In ancient times, the Dioscuri, also known as Castor and Pollux, were revered as protectors and helpers of humankind in various aspects. They were especially known for their role in aiding sailors and travelers. Their mythology included themes of brotherhood, loyalty, and the righting of wrongs, which resonated with many people, regardless of their social status.

Unlike some deities who were worshipped in grand temples and required elaborate rituals, the worship of the Dioscuri was more accessible. They were worshipped at crossroads, where simple shrines could be set up, and offerings could be made without the need for elaborate ceremonies. This accessibility made them particularly appealing to the lower classes, who might not have had the resources or time to participate in the more demanding aspects of state religion.

Moreover, another one of the earliest Latin inscriptions, from the same period as the Garigliano bowl is a dedication to Castor an Pollux from Lavinium. It contains the phrase “Castorei Podlouqueique / Qurois“. This inscription indicates a clear influence from Greek culture as the term “qurois” stands the Greek word “κούροις,” – “youths”, while “Podlouquei” closely resembles the Greek “Πολυδεύκης.

Additionally, this inscription is important as it denotes the period when the twin gods became part of Roman culture. Romans will worship them for over a thousand years. In the 5th-century, Pope Gelasius I who mentiones the enduring “cult of Castores,” which the people were “hesitant to abandon”.

Coincidentally, another ancient bowl bears a striking resemblance to the Garigliano bowl. It dates to the same period as the previous inscriptions, but this one is written in Etruscan. It is a dedication to Dioscuri who are mentioned as Tinas Cliniar – meaning “Heavenly Twins”, or “Sons of Tinia”.

These bowls were a popular choice for votive tributes because of the ritual known as theoxenia, which means “entertaining gods”, and was particularly associated with Castor and Pollux. In this practice, people invited these two gods to a table set with food. This invitation could take place in private homes or in communal spaces like public hearths, or similar areas overseen by the authorities.

Final thoughts

In summary, it seems that the inscription on the Garigliano Bowl is a dedication to the Dioscuri, made by someone named Ovidius, placed in a modest public sanctuary. It appears to be a plea for safeguarding him and those who journey with him.

The timing of this inscription aligns precisely with the earliest documented Latin references to the Dioscuri and the initiation of a millennium-long veneration of the Heavenly Twins. This worship even echoes in Rome’s origin story, symbolized by the twins Romulus and Remus.

The item bearing the inscription was a simple bowl, utilized for the theoxenia ritual, and probably offered by ordinary individuals, possibly soldiers or merchants.

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The Duenos Inscription Revisited

The Duenos Inscription is one of the earliest known examples of the Latin language. Discovered in Rome, this inscription dates back to the 6th century BCE, making it a critical artifact for linguists and historians studying the development of Latin and its script.

The inscription is written in the Old Latin alphabet, which slightly predates the Classical Latin alphabet most are familiar with today. The text of the Duenos Inscription is inscribed on a small pottery vessel, known as a kernos, which was often used in religious rituals.

The exact meaning of the inscription has been a subject of debate among scholars, partly because the language it uses is archaic and not fully understood. However, it is generally agreed that the text is of a ritualistic or votive nature.

My transcription the Duenos Inscription

The Wikipedia article offers some good examples of the previous attempts to translate this text. I find them quite imaginative and outdated, and I will not waste time on them here.

The inscription is usually transcribed as:

Line 1: IOVESATDEIVOSQOIMEDMITATNEITEDENDOCOSMISVIRCOSIED
Line 2: ASTEDNOISIOPETOITESIAIPAKARIVOIS
Line 3: DVENOSMEDFECEDENMANOMEINOMDVENOINEMEDMALOSTATOD

In the version I transcribed, there are only three discrepancies. For each of these, I interpreted what appears to be the letter ‘D’ as ‘R’. I made this choice for two reasons: firstly, the letters ‘D’ and ‘R’ bear a close resemblance to each other (‘D-P’). Secondly, using ‘D’ in these instances results in words that are nonsensical, whereas substituting them with ‘R’ produces coherent words.

Line 1: IOVESATDEIVOSQOIMEDMITATNEITERENDOCOSMISVIRCOSIED
Line 2: ASTERNOISIOPETOITESIAIPAKARIVOIS
Line 3: DVENOSMEDFECEDENMANOMEINOMDVENOINEMEDMALOSTATOR

My Translation of the Duenos Inscription

Now, with my spacings, the translated text looks like this:

IOVE SAT DEI
To gods Jupiter (and) Saturn, 
VOSQOI MED MITATNE ITER 
for you, I was placed on this road,
ENDO COSMIS VIRCOSIED
and for the cosmic virgins… 

ASTERNOISI OPE
…Astraea and Ops,
TOITESIAI PAKARIVOIS
by the Pacarius clan.

DVENOS MED FECEDEN MANOME
Duenos made me with his own hands
INOM DVENOI NE MED MALOSTATOR
In the name of Duenos, don’t harm me.

Each line of the text explained

IOVE SAT DEI
To gods Jupiter and Saturn,

Comment: This is a concise and clear invocation of the two main gods of the ancient Roman pantheon. “Iove” for Jupiter is good. “Sat” as an abbreviation for Saturn works, and “Dei” appropriately denotes “gods.”

VOSQOI MED MITATNE ITER
for you, I was placed on this road

Comment: “VOSQOI” for “for you” is a unique choice; traditionally, “vobis” would be used. However, in archaic Latin, “vosco” meant “and you”. “MED” (me) is clear, and most scholars agree on it. “MITATNE” is a non-classical but understandable version of “missus sum”. “ITER” (instead of “ITED”) for “road” is perfect and well-placed.

ENDO COSMIS VIRCOSIED… ASTERNOISI OPE
And for the Cosmic virgins… Astraea and Ops

Comment: “ENDO” meaning “and” appears in some other inscriptions of the period. “COSMIS” would mean “cosmic” and “VIRCOSIED” is a plural of the word “virgins” (“virginibus” would be the traditional word). Most scholars agree that VIRCO means “virgin”. However, the text breaks after the the suffix “sied” which on its own doesn’t have a meaning, therefore it probably designates plural.

The text continues in the Line 2 and the names “ASTERNOISI” and “OPE” are well-placed, and allign well with the meaning of the previous line of the text. Astraea was a COSMIC VIRGIN worshiped as a goddess of justice by the Greeks and Romans. She was identified with the Virgo constellation. Ope is Ops, the Etruscan goddess of fertility and the wife of Saturn. (Was Asternoa seen as the wife of Jupiter?)

TOITESIAI PAKARIVOIS
From the Pacarius clan

Comment: The ancient Roman family name Pacarius is well-attested. The word “TOITESIAI” is more enigmatic, but I am certain that it should be read as such, because I have seen it already in another, Rhaetic inscription. This word doesn’t have any Latin parallels, but it does appear in the Illyrian langauge. See for example, the name of the famous Illyrian queen Teuta (Illyrian: *Teutana, ‘mistress of the people, queen’; It descends from the Proto-IndoEuropean (PIE) stem *teutéh₁- (‘the people’, perhaps ‘the people under arms’). However, I believe that the word “clan”, “tribe” is a better translation. Interestingly, “clan” is precisely the meaning of the Native American Ojibwe word “totem”.

DVENOS MED FECEDEN MANOME
Duenos made me with his own hands

Comment: “DVENOS” could be a personal name, as it is usually translated, but it could also mean “lord” – see dueño (from Latin “domnus, don”). “MED” (me) works well here. “FECEDEN” as “made” is understandable; “fecit” would be the classical term. “MANOME” for “with his hands” is a creative attempt; “manibus” or “suis manibus” would align more closely with classical Latin.

INOM DVENOI NE MED MALOSTATOR
In the lord’s name, don’t harm me

Comment: “INOM” (in nomine) is apt. “DVENOI” (domini) fits well. “NE MED” (not me) is clear, though “ne” (lest) might be better suited as “non” for a direct negation. “MALOSTATOR” as “harm me”, “break me” would come from the word “malos” – “bad” and “stator” – “to stand”, although this would be just and educated guess based on the context.

Conclusion

Having reviewed numerous academic interpretations of this text, I’m confident that my translation most accurately reflects the item’s initial ceremonial intent. Unlike other translations that concentrate on the term “virgin” and construct elaborate stories around it, I propose that the text is a straightforward homage to the primary deities of the pantheon, gods and goddesses, offered by a family clan. The item was likely placed in a communal area, possibly at an intersection, which accounts for the inscription’s plea to preserve its integrity and prevent its misuse.

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A Comprehensive Translation of the Pyrgi Tablets Etruscan Inscription

The Pyrgi Tablets are one of the most significant archaeological discoveries pertaining to the ancient Etruscan civilization. Found in 1964 near the town of Pyrgi in Italy, these tablets date back to around the 5th century BCE. They hold immense historical importance because they provide one of the few bilingual texts in Etruscan and Phoenician, offering valuable insights into both languages.

The tablets were discovered at the site of an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Uni, who was assimilated with the Phoenician goddess Astarte. This discovery underscores the interactions and cultural exchanges between the Etruscans and the Phoenicians, two of the most influential civilizations in the Mediterranean during the first millennium BCE.

The Pyrgi Tablets are made of gold and inscribed with texts. The bilingual nature of these inscriptions has been instrumental in advancing the understanding of the Etruscan language, which remains only partially deciphered and is a subject of considerable academic interest. The Phoenician inscription is a dedication by the Tyrsenian (Etruscan) king Tiberie Velianas to the goddess Astarte, while the Etruscan inscriptions seem to parallel this content.

The Phoenician portion of the inscription has been largely translated with a high degree of accuracy. However, the Etruscan section often contains numerous gaps or lacks consistency. It is virtually impossible to find a full translation of the Etruscan text that is logical, natural, and consistent.

In this article, I will present my interpretation of the entire Etruscan text.

The Phoenician Inscription of the Pyrgi Tablets

Before delving into the Etruscan text, it’s essential to understand the Phoenician inscription. Similar to the Rosetta Stone, these two inscriptions must align in meaning.

The Phoencian text reads:

lrbt lʻštrt
For the Lady, for Astarte
ʼšr qdš ʼz, ʼš pʻl, wʼš ytn tbryʼ wlnš, mlk ʻl kyšry
this is the holy place, which was made, and which was placed by Tiberius Velianas, king over Kasriye
,yrḥ zbḥ šmš, bmtnʼ bbtb
during the month of the sacrifice to the Sun, as an offering in the temple
wbn tw, kʻštrt ʼrš bdy, lmlky šnt šlš ///, byrḥ krr, bym qbr ʼlm
And he built a chamber because Astarte requested this from him, year three “3” of his reign, in the month of Krr, on the day of the burial of the divinity
wšnt lmʼš ʼlm bbty šnt km h kkb m ʼl
And may the years of the statue of the deity in her temple be as numerous as the stars

My translation of the Etruscan Inscription of the Pyrgi Tablets

First plate

Ita tmia icac heramašva 
This temple and this statue
vatiexe Unial-Astres 
dedicated to Uni-Astarte
themiasa mex thuta
were built for res publica
Thebariei Velianas sal Cluvenias
by Thiberie Velianas, king of Clusium.
Turuce munistas thuvas tameresca
He gifted to this place this holy sanctuary
ilacve tulerase nac ci avil
when he had ruled for three years.
Xurvar tesiameitale ilacve Alšase 
The altars were consecrated in the month of July
nac atranes zilacal seleitala acnašvers
when the main priest of temple made the fire offerings.
Itanim heramve avil eniaca pulumxva
May the years of this statue be as numerous as the stars.

Second plate

Nac Thebarie Veliiunas thamuce cleva etanal
When Thiberie Veliiunas put offerings in the shrine
masan Tiur Unias šelace vacal
the priests of Tiur and Uni made their libations. 
tmial avilxval amuce pulumxva snuiaφ
May the temple years be as eternal as the rotating stars.

Each word explained

Virtually all Etruscan words were sourced from a single glossary that is feely available online:

Etruscan Glossary – Compilation and translations from French, Italian and Latin 
by Rick Mc Callister and Silvia Mc Callister-Castillo ©1999
See here.

There were only a few instances where I had to refer to other sources.

Below is an explanation of each line in the text, with references included. I included all related terms from the glossary, for clearer understanding, but I’ve highlighted the terms I’ve chosen for my translation.

Ita tmia icac heramašva 
This temple and this statue

ita, eta, ta “this” nominative demonstrative pronoun [am91, g/lb83, mcv] 
“istud” [am91, mc91, pa, dep] 
itan, itun, etn, tn “this” accusative demonstrative pronoun [mcv, pa]
itanim “this” [lb 299]
see ta “this” [am91, mc91, pa, dep]
see Latin istud “this” [dep]
see Russian eto “this” [dep]
see Greek to “the” [dep]
see Gothic thata “this” [dep]
see Sanskrit tah “this” [dep]
see Indo-European *to- [b/k 32, mcv 9 Feb99]

tmase “building” [az96]
tmia, timia “temple, sacred place” [az96, lb 299, mcv 8 Nov 96, g/lb83, mp68: 407, pa, dep]
“offer, offering” [am91]
“enclosure” [mc91: 73]
tmial “of the temple” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
see tam [dep]
see Greek tmé:dên, tmé:tikós [am91]
see Latin templum “temple” [mp68]

ica-c “and this” [mcv 8 Nov 96]

heramaSva, heramsva, heramue, heramve “statue” [lb 199, mc91: 73, mcv 8 Nov 96]
“proclaimed by an oracle, profatus est” [az96]

vatiexe Unial-Astres 
dedicated to Uni-Astarte

vatiexe “pledged” [az96]
“dedicated” [lb 299] 

“have been dedicated” [mcv 8 Nov 96]

uni, unei “Juno” [az96, cb, djh 95, g/lb83, mc91: 53, EM]
mother of Hercle [EM]
patroness of Perugia [EM]
uni mae celestial deity [mp68: 251]
unialastres “to Uni-Astre” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
*uni-al astre-s “of Uni, of Ishtar?” [rmcc]
unias “to Uni” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
uniiathi, unialthi “in Juno’s temple” [az96]
see un “to grant” [az96]
see Latin Juno [az96, cb, djh 95, g/lb83, mc91: 53, EM]

themiasa mex thuta
were built for res publica

tham-, thamce, thamuce “to build, found, put” [g/lb83, gg 4 Mar 99, mp68, pa]
thamce, thamuce, themiasa < tham-, them- “(has) commanded, disposed” [az96]

The term “Res publica” translates as “general public, public matter, affair”. More on res publica here.

mex “nation” [pa, dep]
“strong, great” [am91, az96]
“lord” [lb 299]
mex, mex-l “people, league, nation” [g/lb83, mp68]
mexl “territory” [g/lb85: 120]
“the greatest” [az96]
mex thuta “res publica” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
see methlum “district, territory” [g/lb83, mp68]
see zilath mexl rasnal, zilath mexlum raSneas “praetor of Etruria” [g/lb83, mp68]
mean, meian- “manificence, greatness” [az96]
*meghi-an-, *megh-an- [az96]
“Nike, Victoria (crowns others with wreath)” [g/lb83] 
“Gloria (goddess)” [az96]
*mak-, makh-, mek, -mekh- [az96]
see Latin maximus [az96]
see Latin pagus “village, district” [dep]

Thebariei Velianas sal Cluvenias
by Thiberie Velianas, king of Clusium.

If it weren’t for the Phoenician text, I would be inclined to translate this “the propher of Sol”. However, the Phoencian inscription clearly mentions the work m-l-k – “king”, and that is followed by “over Kasriye“. For this reason, I translated this as “king of Clusium”. The ancient name of Clusium stems from the Etruscan ‘cluva” – “offering”, and this ancient city was not very far from Pyrgi. The Etruscans called it Clevsin.

sal “Sol?” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
Sal “king, pontifex” [az96]

cluvenias “offerfeast ?” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
“oracle” [az96]
“precinct or enclosure (of Athena)” [htb]
clevana “seer, prophet” [az96]

Turuce munistas thuvas tameresca
He gifted to this place this holy sanctuary

tur-, tur-a, tur-e, tur-i, tur-u, tur-une, “to give, dedicate” [am91, cb, v, g/lb83, mc91, pa, dep] 
turan “given” [am91]
turu “donator, giver” [az96] 
“dedicated” [mc91]
tur-u-ce, tur-un-ke, tur-i-ce, tur-ce, tiurke “s/he gave (it), given, s/he dedicated” [am91, az96, cb, v, g/lb83, mc91, lb 299, mcv, pa] 
tur-une “cession, yielding’ [mp68: 405]
“gave” [az96]
turuce “s/he dedicated” [pa]

mun-, muni, muni-s, muni-s-ta-s, muni-cle-th, muni-cle-t, muni ule-th, muni-vle-th, mun-sle, mun-th “place, hypogeal place, tomb” [cw 43, g/lb83, mp68, pa, dep]
munistas “this place” [lb 299]

thuva, thuve “guarded place, cell” [az96]
thue, thuve “protected place” [az96]
thuvas “of this sacred place” [lb 299] 
“of his own/private” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
thval “pertaining to the priesthood” [am91]
see Italian tutrice [az96]

tamera, tameru, tamere-s-ca “chamber, tomb, chapel, arc, home” [az96] 
tam-eresca “temple building, sanctuary, arc” [az96] 
see tam [rmcc]
see tm-ia [mcv 8 Nov 96]
see Latin taberna “shop” of Etruscan origin [bm 24-25, g/lb85: 82, nv 73]
see Indo-European *dom- [mcv 8 Nov 96]
tameresca “promoter” [lb 299]

ilacve tulerase nac ci avil
when he had ruled for three years.

Virtually every translation of this text translates the word Tulerase as the name of a month. This is probably because it follows the word “ilacve” which can mean “calends” (although this is not certain). However, the name of the month Tuleras isn’t attested in any other inscription.

On the other hand, the Phoencian inscription clearly states that he had ruled for 3 years when he built the temple. Therefore, my original suggestion would be that this word is related to the Latin “tuleras”, which is a second-person singular pluperfect active indicative of ferō. One of the meanings of this word was “to lead”.

Similarly, the word “ilacve” in my opinion means “when, at that time”. I base my translation on the Latin “illo tempore”, with the same meaning. Illo is the ablative singular masculine form of “ille,” which is a demonstrative pronoun. “Illo” can be translated as “by that,” “with that,” or “in that,” depending on the context. The ablative case in Latin often denotes means or agency, and in this context, it’s typically used to indicate time.

ilacve, ilucve “on the one hand” [lb 299] 
“as well as ?” [mcv 8 Nov 96] 
“calends?” [mp68, pa]

tul “to divide, assign” [az96]
act associated with religion [mp68: 409]
*dvel [az96]
tul, tular, tularu “limit(s), border, lot, boundaries” [am91, ag 79, az96, mc91: 146/150, mcv, mp68, v, g/lb83, pa]
“established” [lb 299]
tul “to divide, share, assign” [az96]
act associated with religion [mp68: 409]
“stone, border” [dep]
“stone” [ag 79, g/lb83]
tulalu “divider” [az96]
tulerase “enclosure?” [az91?]
tuler, tulera month name [az96]

nac “as, how, so, because, then, when, why” [az96, g/lb83, lb 299, mcv, mp68, pa, dep]

ci, cis, ciS “three” [am91, cb. g/lb83, mc91, mp68]

avil “year” [cb, g/lb83, lb 90, mp 75, v, pa, dep, gzb]
“year(s)” [ag 79, mp68, rab 332]
“years; aged xxx years” [pa]
“per year” [mc91]
avils, avilS “years”
“years of age” [mc91]
avilxva, avilxval “anniversary, yearly” [g/lb83 56, mp68]
“to the year-count” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
avilxva “annual, yearly” [dep, pa]
avil + adjectival suffix -xva [dep]
avil “year” [pa, dep, gzb]
avils “year, season” [gm97]
see Lemnian aviz [mp68: 99]
see Lemnian avis [ayma@tip.nl, mp68]
see Gothic aiws “eternity” [dep]
see Latin aevus “time, eternity” [dep]
see Greek ayôn “lifetime” [dep]
see Albanese eshë “timespan” [dep]
see Old Irish aes “life, age” [dep]
see Indo-European *aiwon “lifetime” [dep]
see Nostratic *h.aju “to live” [ag 79]

Xurvar tesiameitale ilacve Alšase 
The altars were consecrated in the month of July

xurvar “Churvar (month)” [mcv]
see Phoenician KRR in Pyrgi tablets [mcv]
xurvar (plural) “fires, altars?” [az96]

teSiameitale “(were) dedicated, indicated” [az96]
teSiameitale “she favors him?” [mcv 8 Nov 96]

alS, alSa “July” [az96]
alSase “in July” [az96: 17]

nac atranes zilacal seleitala acnašvers
when the main priest of the temple made the fire offerings.

nac “as, how, so, because, then, when, why” [az96, g/lb83, lb 299, mcv, mp68, pa, dep]

athre “building” [g/lb83, mp68]
“request, provocation?” [az96]
atranes “relating to ‘building?” [g/lb83, mp68]
“of the temple” [lb 299]

atri, âtrium “atrium” [djh 61, lb 90, mp68/75] 
athre “atrium, hall” [pa, dep]
see Latin atrium [g/lb83, mp68, dep]

zilacal “of the zilac (praetor)” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
zilacei, zilac “Ruler, Queen” [az96]
zilath “(one who) governs, praetor [az96]

Seleita “instituted, ordered” [az96]
seleitala “of the goddess?” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
Seleta “(cosmic) order [az96]
*stel [az96]

acnasvers “funeral? cremation?”
“gave in possession” [lb 299]
see verse “fire” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
acasri “to be offered” [mp68: 409, pa, dep]
acazr “objects offered in the tomb, offered” [g/lb83, 85: 162; mp68, pa, dep]
probably plural form of *cas “offer” [dep]
from same root as acas [dep]
see acnasver “venerable” [az96]
acasri “to be offered” [mp68: 409, pa, dep]
acazr “objects offered in the tomb, offered” [g/lb83, 85: 162; mp68, pa, dep]
probably plural form of *cas “offer” [dep]
from same root as acas [dep]
see acnasver “venerable” [az96]

Itanim heramve avil eniaca pulumxva
May the years of this statue be as numerous as the stars.

ita, eta, ta “this” nominative demonstrative pronoun [am91, g/lb83, mcv] 
“istud” [am91, mc91, pa, dep] 
itan, itun, etn, tn “this” accusative demonstrative pronoun [mcv, pa]
itanim “this” [lb 299]
see ta “this” [am91, mc91, pa, dep]
see Latin istud “this” [dep]
see Russian eto “this” [dep]
see Greek to “the” [dep]
see Gothic thata “this” [dep]
see Sanskrit tah “this” [dep]
see Indo-European *to- [b/k 32, mcv 9 Feb99]

heramaSva, heramsva, heramue, heramve “statue” [lb 199, mc91: 73, mcv 8 Nov 96]
“proclaimed by an oracle, profatus est” [az96]
herm- “to lead, conduct” [am91]
herama “oracle” [az96]
herma, herme “Hermes; statue?” [g/lb83]
herme sacred society dedicated to Hermes [dep]
hermeri “Hermes; statue?” [g/lb83]
“to be led” [am91]
*hermi- “August” [g/lb83]
classical gloss Ermius [g/lb83] 
hermu “Hermes; statue?” [g/lb83]
“having led” [am91]
see Latin herm- “statue of Hermes” [g/lb83, mp68]
see Greek Hermes [dep]

eniaca “just-like” [az96, mcv 8 Nov 96]

pul “beautiful” [az96] 
base of pulum? [az96] 
pulpai, pulpa “shining, splendid” [az96]
pultuce, pultuxe “Pollux, Poludeúkês” [g/lb83, mc91: 45] 
“light-bearing, Lucifer (morning star)” [az96]
pulum “shining, splendid” [az96] 
pulumxva “stars, star-count” [g/lb83, ib 90, mcv 8 Nov 96, mp 68/75, pa, dep]
(that which) shines, firmament” [az96]
see pulcher “beautiful” Latin of Etruscan origin [az96. EB XXII:647]
see Latin splendor [rmcc]

Nac Thebarie Veliiunas thamuce cleva etanal
When Thiberie Veliiunas put offerings in the shrine

nac “as, how, so, because, then, when, why” [az96, g/lb83, lb 299, mcv, mp68, pa, dep]

tham-, thamce, thamuce “to build, found, put” [g/lb83, gg 4 Mar 99, mp68, pa]
thamce, thamuce, themiasa < tham-, them- “(has) commanded, disposed” [az96]

cleva “gift, offering” [g/lb83, mcv 8 Nov 96, mp68: 409]

eta “seat, post” [az96]
etanei “seat” [az96]
see Latin aedes “building, temple, house”
[az96]
etula (oblique) [az96]
*et(h)-/*it- < *sed [az96]
ethava “seat, residence, temple, foundation” [az96]
see Latin sedes “seat, residence, temple, foundation” [az96]

masan Tiur Unias šelace vacal
the priests of Tiur and Uni made their libations. 

Once again, most translations read the word “masan” as the “month” and then name it Tiur. But Tiur was a well-attested Etruscan moon goddess, and the word can also mean “seer, hierophant”. Perhaps it could be even related to the word “messiah” – the “anointed”, especially in the context of the libations that follow.

The word šelace is problematic, and I haven’t found any cognates at the time of publishing this text, but based on the context, which is quite clear, it probably meant smething like “to give, to make”. In many Rhaetic and Venetic inscriptions related to offerings, the word “šai” is present. Perhaps these are different forms of the same word.

masan, masn “Masa” a month [g/lb83, mcv 8 Nov 96, mp68, pa, dep]
masan, masn “seer, hierophant” [az96]

Tiur – Etruscan deity identified with Greek Selene and Roman Luna (goddess)

vacal, vacil, vacl “libation” [g/lb83 56, pa, dep] 
“offering?”
[mcv 8 Nov 96, mp68: 409] 
“augur” [az96]

tmial avilxval amuce pulumxva snuiaφ
May the temple years be as eternal as the rotating stars.

tmase “building” [az96]
tmia, timia “temple, sacred place” [az96, lb 299, mcv 8 Nov 96, g/lb83, mp68: 407, pa, dep]
“offer, offering” [am91]
“enclosure” [mc91: 73]
tmial “of the temple” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
see tam [dep]
see Greek tmé:dên, tmé:tikós [am91]
see Latin templum “temple” [mp68]

avil “year” [cb, g/lb83, lb 90, mp 75, v, pa, dep, gzb]
“year(s)” [ag 79, mp68, rab 332]
“years; aged xxx years” [pa]
“per year” [mc91]
avils, avilS “years”
“years of age” [mc91]
avilxva, avilxval “anniversary, yearly” [g/lb83 56, mp68]
“to the year-count” [mcv 8 Nov 96]
avilxva “annual, yearly” [dep, pa]
avil + adjectival suffix -xva [dep]
avil “year” [pa, dep, gzb]

-xva plural for things [vs/amr 189]

amuce, amuxe “continual, perpetual, eternal” [az96]

pul “beautiful” [az96] 
base of pulum? [az96] 
pulpai, pulpa “shining, splendid” [az96]
pultuce, pultuxe “Pollux, Poludeúkês” [g/lb83, mc91: 45] 
“light-bearing, Lucifer (morning star)” [az96]
pulum “shining, splendid” [az96] 
pulumxva “stars, star-count” [g/lb83, ib 90, mcv 8 Nov 96, mp 68/75, pa, dep]
(that which) shines, firmament” [az96]
see pulcher “beautiful” Latin of Etruscan origin [az96. EB XXII:647]
see Latin splendor [rmcc]

snaus “turn, course” [az96]
snua “to turn (over)” [az96]
snuiaf “run, turn” [az96]

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On the language of San Sosti Axe-Head inscription

The San Sosti Axe-Head was unearthed near the small town of San Sosti in the province of Cosenza, Calabria, southern Italy. This bronze axe-head, dating back to the 6th century BC, is rich in decorations, including a winged sphinx and intricate palmettes, reflect the high level of artistry achieved by craftsmen of that era.

However, the most intriguing element is the inscription, thought to be written in the Achaean dialect of Ancient Greek. The axe-head was likely dedicated in a religious context, as an offering to the temple.

Today, this remarkable piece of history resides in the British Museum (see it here).

According to the scholars, the text reads:

I am the sacred property of Hera-in-the-Plain:
Kyniskos the butcher dedicated me,
a tithe from his works.

However, the truth is that nobody knows why would Hera have the epithet “in the plain”, as this name was not attested anywhere else. For this translation to make sense, we are expected to imagine that it reffers to some, now lost temple that was located under the mountain, in the plain.

Also, if every butcher dedicated a tithe of his works, how many similar objects should be out there? And what about all other professions? How come we ended up with only one axe-head?

My translation of the San Sotis inscription

Unfortunately, it is not easy to find the official transcription of the text. In a few works written about this object the English translation is often quoted without the original text.

However, the text is fairly easy to read, even though the spacing between the words was not clearly indicated.

My reading looks like this:

TAS HERAS HIAROS
EMITAS EN PEDIOI KUNISKOS 
MEANETHEIFE ORTAMOS 
FERION DEKATAN

Translation:

Blessed by Hera
I deposit this for my child Kunisko
from Meanete
Ferion Dekatan

My translation explained

  • TAS HERAS: This translates to “of Hera” or “of the holy,” with “τᾶς” being a form of the definite article and “ερᾶς” an adjective meaning sacred or holy, likely referring to Hera.
  • HIAROS: from Ancient Greek ῐ̔ερός (hierós), meaning:
  • – connected with the gods, supernatural
  • – holy, sacred, consecrated
  • – under divine protection
  • “EMITAS”: I interpret this word as “deposited,” “placed,” or “bought.” This implies an action of dedication or offering, suggesting that the axe-head was deliberately placed as an offering or perhaps purchased for the purpose of dedication.
  • Moreover, I have already encountered this same word in the Sikulian inscription from Centorbi (Centuripe) inscription, 5th century BC (similar period). In my translation, a part of that inscription reads:
  • 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
  • See the full text here.
  • “EN PEDIOI”: Translated as “for a child,” it indicates that the dedication or offering of the axe-head was made on behalf of, or in relation to, a child.
  • “KUNISKOS”: A personal name, likely referring to the individual who dedicated or offered the axe-head.
  • I have already encountered this exact phrase in the Rhaetic inscriptions. The scolars read it as “pirikanisnu”, but in my translation, it simply reads “pidi kanisnu” or “for the child Kanishnu”. See the full text here.
  • “MEANETHEIFE”: I believe that this as a toponym, but the specific location or place it refers to isn’t clear. It could be the name of a sanctuary, town, or region relevant to the dedication. Considering the Rhaetic connection, a good candidate is Meano, near Trento, Italy. However, there were many similar toponyms in the ancient world, as the name seems to be derrived from the word “mediana” – “border”.
  • “ORTAMOS”: I interpret this as “originated”, based on the Latin word “ortus” – “having originated”
  • “FERION”: This could be a personal name of the person who dedicated the object.
  • “DEKATAN”: This word is obscure. I see how scolars translated it as “a tiithe” meaning “a tenth”, as the only similar sounding word is Latin “deka”. However, to my ear this would rather be a military rank of Ferion, meaning that he was in charge of ten soldiers, or it could mean “dedicated,” confirming the nature of the axe-head as a votive offering. However, these theories are hard to prove.

Conclusion

It is assumed that this object was made in the city of Sybaris, not far from San Sostis. This city was an Achaean Greek colony since the 8th century BC.

The text starts by referencing Hera, a Greek goddess, and the word “hieros,” meaning “holy” in Greek. However, the rest of the content doesn’t align much with Greek elements.

The name Kuniska, for instance, isn’t Greek; it’s likely Rhaetic. The term “emitas” is found in Silkulian. Moreover, numerous other words in the text have a resemblance to Proto-Italic rather than Greek.

So how could we clasify this language?

Firstly, this whole region in Italy is known as Calabria. It takes its name from the Balkan Illyrian tribe known as the Galabri. And while the name ‘Calabria’ first appears in Italian records in the 3rd century BC, other Illyrian and Indo-European tribes had been in the region for a much longer period. Consider, for instance, the Bruttiians (who may have also reached and named Brittain) and the Oenotrians. The name ‘Oenotrians’ translates to ‘the wine-makers,’ which may resemble the name of the Venetians.

Essentially, this region has always been marked by linguistic diversity from the earliest times of recorded history. This suggests that Achaean Greek isn’t the sole plausible language for interpreting this inscription. In this article, I’ve presented my interpretation, which, in my opinion, seems more fluid and natural.

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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.

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.

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Silk and Slavs: Linguistic Links to Ancient India

Silk, a luxurious and coveted textile, has a history that dates back over 4,000 years. Its origins can be traced to ancient China, where sericulture (silk farming) and the art of silk production were closely guarded secrets. Silk fabric became a symbol of wealth and prestige, and it played a crucial role in trade along the Silk Road, connecting East and West.

The Silk Road, a network of ancient trade routes, emerged around the 2nd century BCE, during the Han Dynasty of China. Its origins can be traced to Chinese diplomats and explorers seeking to establish connections with neighboring regions. This network of interconnected routes spanned thousands of miles, stretching from China through Central Asia, the Middle East, and into Europe. It facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, cultures, and technologies between East and West. Along the Silk Road, silk played a pivotal role, as it was among the most sought-after commodities, even though it was far from the only item traded.

Slavs and Silk

It is generally believed that the Slavic urheimat have been in Eastern Europe, covering parts of modern-day Ukraine, Belarus, and western Russia, and as such, it was not directly connected to the Silk Road. However, some modern Slavic territories, such as parts of Eastern Europe and especially the Balkans, were situated along the Silk Road trade routes.

According to the official history, the Slavic people migrated and established their presence in the Balkans during the 6th century AD. Prior to their arrival, this area had been inhabited by various other tribes, among them the Celts.

Recently, while browsing a Proto-Celtic dictionary (available here), I was surprised to see that one of the words for “beetle” was “swila”. This word sounds like a Serbian word for silk – svila. The etymology of the Slavic word is clear – it designates something that is folded, or curled, which is exactly what happens to the threads of silk, made by a silkworm.

But are the Proto-Celtic and Serbian word really connected?

The English word “silk” has a rich linguistic history. It ultimately traces its origins to the Chinese word for silk, which is “丝” (). The modern word originated from the Old English term “sioloc,” which was influenced by Latin “sericum” and Greek “σηρικός” (serikos). Both Latin and Greek terms were connected to the name of the Seres, an ancient Asian people known for their silk production.

But what is interesting is that the Slavic word for silk stems directly from the Slavic language – it is not a borrowing. Languages usually borrow words when they acquire new technology, but the Slavic word relates directly to the process of the silk manufacturing.

Origins of the Silk Production – Not Along the Silk Road

The oldest evidence of use of silk in China, comes from the ancient Sanxingdui civilisation. It is dated to the 1st millenium BC. See here. Sanxingdui is located in the province of Sichuan. It is commonly believed that the name Sichuan means “four rivers“. However, it might also be related to the silk production, as the modern Mandarin word for silk is – “丝绸” (sīchóu) – a compound word consisting of two characters:

  1. “丝” (sī): This character means “silk” or “thread.”
  2. “绸” (chóu): This character means “fabric” or “cloth.”

However, the earliest indications of silk utilization can be traced back to the Indus Valley civilization, preceding the era of Sanxingdui by a minimum of 500 years. Some ancient Roman authors, including Ptolemy, placed Serica to the north of India in their geographical writings – which is precisly where the Indus Valley civilizastion once thrived. According to Pausanias (6.22.2) the Seres were a mixture of Scythians and Indians. 

On the other hand, modern scolars usually place Serica to the east of China, in other words, near the Sichuan province.

However, the most interesting ancient account comes from Pliny:

“They also informed us … that beyond the Emodian Mountains (Himalayas) they look towards the Serve (Seres), whose acquaintance they had also made in the pursuits of commerce; that the father of Rachias (the ambassador) had frequently visited their country, and that the Serae always came to meet them on their arrival. These people, they said, exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking, having no language of their own for the purpose of communicating their thoughts.”

Nowadays, it is believed that the ethnonym Seres – the silk people, never existed. Rather, it was a name that the silk merchants used for those nations that produced silk. However, what I find really interesting in Pliny’s account is the fact that he reffers to them as Serve – which is how some modern nations still call Serbs to this day. The ethnonym Serb was once a common ethnonym for all Slavs.

Mulberry Tree – Sanskrit and Slavic cognates

The mulberry tree (Morus spp.) plays a crucial role in silk production, as it is the primary food source for silkworms (Bombyx mori), which are the caterpillars responsible for spinning silk cocoons.

And once again, the Slavic word for this tree is tut/dud – a direct cognate to the Sanskrit tUta, with similar parallel existing only in some Turkic languages.

Conclusion

In contemporary talk about the Silk Road, our attention often centers on the trade route that linked ancient China to ancient Rome (passing through the Balkans). Initially, this trade route exclusively dealt with the finished silk products. This was primarily due to the strict Chinese prohibition against exporting silkworms, punishable by the death penalty. The situation only shifted during the Byzantine era when the technology for silkworm rearing became more accessible.

By this time, the Celts were long gone from the Balkans, and therefore any Slavic influence on the Proto-Celtic would have been impossible. If there was really a connection between the words swila (beetle) and svila (silk), that is.

Nevertheless, even if we consider these words to be unrelated, it doesn’t resolve the undeniable fact that the Slavic and Sanskrit terms for the mulberry tree share a common origin. It raises intriguing questions: Could the Slavic peoples, particularly the Serbs, have encountered silk directly at its point of origin in Northern India rather than through the Silk Road? And also, is it possible that they were present in the Balkans earlier than conventionally believed and introduced this word to the Celtic inhabitants of the region?

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