Call for contributions (International multidisciplinary miscellany): Rhaeti&Co. New Multidisciplinary Data on the Tyrrhenian-Etruscan Question

Rhaeti & Co

Online Round Table, 24th September 2021

As a consequence, in the last 30 years, of the identification of a new Language belonging to the Tyrsenic linguistic family, the Rhaetic, and as a result of the focus given in several publications (Rix 1998; de Simone 2009; de Simone Marchesini 2013) to the three languages of this linguistic family, renewed interest and re-analysis of the relationships among the peoples of central, northern Italy and northern Aegean has arisen.

Three non-indo-European languages are related to the Tyrsenic linguistic family: namely Etruscan, Rhaetic and the language known from the inscriptions in the island of Lemnos. The three languages are strictly related, presenting features of a mutual relative/chronological relationship. Etruscan and Lemnian present more similarities than Etruscan and Rhaetic. Rhaetic accounts for a more archaic phase in comparison with Etruscan. The three languages share common linguistic traits at a phonological, morphological and onomastic level. The lexicon shows more correspondences between Etruscan and Lemnian than between Rhaetic and Etruscan.

The three languages are differently represented in the records, as Etruscan is attested from the 7th to the 1st c. BC by ca. 11.000 inscriptions, Rhaetic from the end of the 7th to the 2nd c. BC by circa 350 inscriptions and Lemnian from a few inscriptions dated to the 6th c. BC, among which the well-known Stele of Lemnos.

The anthroponymy has surprisingly recorded common roots between Rhaetic and Etruscan (Marchesini 2020), thus presenting fossilised traces of a common lexicon reflected in personal names since, notoriously, almost all personal names find their origin (synchronically) in the lexicon.

Etruscan presents features of innovation in respect to Rhaetic: in the name system, in the introduction of the “Motion-suffix” – i.e. creating feminine personal names from the masculine ones – and, in the 5th c., the phonological and stress-related feature of the syncope of the post tonic syllables, which allows dividing Etruscan linguistic records into two main phases: archaic (7th-5th) and recent (4th-1st BC).

Some literary sources (Titus Livius, Plinius the Older, Pompeius Trogus) establish a genealogical connection between Rhaetians and Etruscans, arguing that the Rhaeti were Etruscans retired to the Alps following their head Raeto as the Celts spread into the Po Valley. Livius (V, 33,5 and 11) further describes a similarity in the two languages, even if the two people substantially differ in other aspects. Only the language’s sound (sonus linguae) was preserved, even if not clean (nec eum incorruptum).

A relative chronology and a linguistic “Stammbaum” of the three branches of the Tyrsenic family has been recently proposed by Marchesini (2013). If we consider the linguistic ‘distance’ among the three languages, it seems that a first split must have interested Etruscan and Rhaetic in prehistoric times, while a second one must have later concerned the separation of Lemnian and Etruscan.

The evidence mentioned above requires re-reading all the several disciplines’ data so far and concerns the so-called “Etruscan ethnogenesis”. As Etruscans represent a considerable ‘ethnic’ entity within the European proto- and historical scenario framework, their ethnogenesis involves the relationship with the other peoples present in Italy and the sequence of their establishment in the Italian Peninsula.

The ‘when’ and ‘how’ of the spreading of the Tyrsenic family involves considerations at a large scale in the reconstruction of the Paleo-Europe. This is all the more true, as different disciplines have produced different outputs sofar. Population genetics, Archaeology, History and Linguistics offer partial or questioned solutions, while the conspicuous literature published on this topic reveals a timeless interest in the argument.

The recent aDNA results obtained about mobility and genetic input into Europe from Anatolian/Levantine areas in the Early Neolithic and the steppes around 3000 BCE have brought again into discussion the timing and ways of the spread of Indoeuropean languages. Indeed, aDNA research in Central Mediterranean Europe has not been wide enough to provide clear evidence so far, whether the impact of the Steppe-derived aDNA was here so intense as in Central and Northern Europe. There are hints that a complex interaction of communities related to the Mediterranean and steppe-derived ancestry brought to the historical age communities, whose written languages are known to us.

Any discussion of aDNA and languages should also consider the interrelations with the material culture and the continuity of socio-cultural phenomena, and therefore involve archaeologists. Even if material culture is not the same as people, genetic shift is not the same as population replacement, and language is not the same as community descent, all these factors have to be appropriately considered for a correct understanding of the past history of human communities. In the case of Rhaeto-Etruscan-Lemnian (Tyrsenic) languages, continuity and discontinuity of material culture and social aspects and genetic composition of populations should be therefore part of the discussion, each one in terms of its own methodological and theoretical basics.

A group of Italian Linguists, Archaeologists and Geneticists would like to share their opinions on this emerging new framework with colleagues, geneticists, historians and other archaeologists and linguists. The discussion will be held in the form of a Round Table on 24 September 2021 in videoconferencing. After a short contribution and statement of each involved participant on the topic, a more general discussion on the possible strategies of further investigations will follow.

The Organising Committee

Simona Marchesini (L), Alessandro Vanzetti (A), Luca Zaghetto (A)

In cooperation with the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Dipartimento di Studi letterari, filosofici e di storia dell’Arte.

Invited lectures:

Enrico Benelli, CNR (A)

David Caramelli & Cosimo Post, University of Florence (G)

Gian Franco Chiai, Freie Universität Berlin and Northeast University of Changun (H)

Ivo Hajnal, University of Innsbruck (L)

Kristian Kristiansen, University of Göteborg (A)

Franco Marzatico, Soprintendenza dei Beni Culturali della Provincia di Trento (A)

Elvira Migliario, Università di Trento (H)

Mara Migliavacca, University of Verona (A)

Paolo Poccetti, Unversity of Rome Tor Vergata (L)


Alteritas, Sapienza Università di Roma, Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”.

The publication of the multidisciplinary miscellany based on the conference papers is underway. The work will be published as an open access e-book with ISBN, double-blind evaluation and DOI.

Call for papers