Before the Roman era, there
were peoples and languages in the Italic Peninsula who were
inspired by a new development - writing. Phonetic writing probably
developed among long distant trader peoples, who needed writing that
actually reproduced the sound of a language so that they could create
phrasebooks in the languages of their customers. This practice is
especially well-known for the Phoenicians. A by-product of the
development of phonetic writing is that it could be put on everyday
objects to in effect make them speak. Originally it would have been as
fascinating as in recent history recorded voices being added to toys.
The long distance traders from the north, who ancient Greeks saw as
'barbarians' (literally meaning people who spoke an unintelligible
language), were probably speakers of a Finnic language, since long
distance trade was by coasts and rivers, and the northern boat-using
hunter-gatherers were preadapted to take on the role in a Europe
consisting of settled people in interiors who would not even have known
how to build proper boats. This truth suggests that major
southern terminals of north-south trade - especially amber trade for
which the Veneti were known - spoke a Finnic-like language, even if the
larger world around their southern terminus colonies spoke an
Indo-European language like Greek, Illyrian-Slavic, or early Latin.
This common sense notion motivated me to try to interpret some short
inscriptions on common everyday goods found in the Italic Peninsula
from before the expansion of Rome. Having been raised from a child in
the Estonian language, I tried to listen to the writing with the
intuition of someone with Estonian as a child, to see if I could detect
a sentence that was supported by the object. The linguistic
principle for doing so it the fact that there exists in every modern
language, a core common language that is passed from generation to
generation to children, without change. The most common language tends
to have a greater inertia than specialized language where the words are
not used often and easily displaced and changed.
The ancient Etruscans were fond of creating highly marketable objects
for the general consumer - hand mirrors, ale tankards, etc. Not all
have the novelty of writing, but the ones that do can reveal some
surprises. Of particular interest are hand-mirrors with writing
on the back. Archeology has found some with elaborate
illustrations of scenes from mythology. The names of the deities are
clearly identifiable. However, the problem with trying to interpret
those, is that it is necessary to know the mythological situation
depicted in order to confirm any hypothesis about the language. I
needed to find a sentence where the sentence was related to the nature
or use of a hand-mirror. How suitable would the translation be for the
object, for a hand-mirror. How appropriate would the sentence be, and
an appealing feature at a marketplace?
I discovered generally that the
Etruscan language was too diverged from even simple Estonian for any
result to be convincing. However there was one inscription on the back
of a mirror that employed a few of the most common words in Estonian
such as näe
! 'see!'. That word could very well be many thousands of years old and widely used in pre-Indo-European trader Europe.
The Etruscan sentence on the back of the elegant hand-mirror, converted to Roman alphabet reads:
Making a connection between viewing yourself in a mirror and seeing oneself, I immediately saw the Estonian näe!
look, stem näge-
'look, see, show' and also naer
'laugh, smile' and divided up the continuous text as follows
MIZKIT NASVEH NASVEHS NAROA
This resonates to the Estonian intuition as an extreme dialect saying
what in today's Estonian, with some valid dialectic liberties. For
is a valid alternative to mida
, and näeva
is a present participle whereas today we would use the infinitive näha
Miskit näeva? Näevas naeru
The closest literal translation into English: "Whatsit to be seeing? (In process of) seeing a smile"
Which is totally appropriate for a hand mirror! In modern Estonian idiom one would express the idea more like Mida näed? Näed naeru.
'what do you see? You see a smile' or Mida näha
? Näha naeru
. 'what is to see? To see a smile'
But as I say, Etruscan is very old, going back 3000 years or more, and
it would have deviated considerable from any language common also to
the roots of Estonian. I did not pursue Etruscan objects more, even if
I could give a couple examples of inscriptions on tankards-. Other
inscriptions would not be as obvlously suitable for the object like the
above- All we have to support our hypothesis is the nature of the
The ancient Veneti of northern Italy developed at the south end of the
amber trade route that came south from the Elbe, and descended the
Adige. The amber trade made intimate connections between the Baltic
sources of amber and the Mediterranean. Greece was one of the major
destinations. Since the amber sources were at the Baltic, and the
largest source of amber was at the southeast Baltic, it seemed that we
might find an even greater resonance between common Estonian and the
Venetic objects. Although the number of Venetic inscriptions dating
mostly to the centuries before the rise of Rome, is not great (less
than 100 complete sentences and less than 300 fragments) almost all the
inscriptions were very short sentences on object whose character and
purpose are understood and would serve both as a guide and proof for
the interpretations. Most of the Venetic objects are those found at
ancient sanctuaries or cemetaries, so the bulk of the writing are on
cremation urns, tomb markers, and items dedicated to the goddess Rhea;
so actual consumer oriented items we can dissect are not great. The
following are a few very convincing examples.
AN ELEGANT VASE
The image above, shows a very elegantly designed vase. Unlike another
vase and other objects that appear to be custom inscribed with a prayer
to a diety, etc. and the inscription is obviously added after the
object was made, this vase, like other objects that appear to have been
made repeatedly for the marketplace, incorporates the text into the
design. As we see in the image, the text goes around the neck of the
vase within a band. The image is not in colour, but we can
imagine it was attractively covered. klutiiari.s.
Archeologists have determined this was a vase, and so I set out to see
if the text was as suitably designed as the rest of the vase. We are
looking for a universal sentence, and not the typical prayer or
memorial normally inscribed on the common funerary or memorial objects.
The Padova area, where the vase was found was a major market city in
The sentence going around the neck, when converted from the Venetic alphabet to the Roman alphabet was
Ancient texts were intended to purely mimic actual speech, and so the
reader had to know the language enough to place the emphasis and
intonations in the right places. Venetic writing added dots as
additional phonetic markers where the sound departed from the normal
pure sound, such as palatalization. But ultimately the solution was to
add spaces or dots to identify words. It was begun by Etruscans and
copied in Latin. Here, because today we have rationalized
languages in terms of a sequence of words with grammatical endings, it
is useful in the analysis to break up the Venetic continuous writing
into words. This of course has to be done correctly of course, as there
are potentially many ways to divide a continuous row of letters.
In this case we could see that voto
was a separate word from its appearance in other inscriptions. That left klutiiari.s.vha.g.s.to
indication of a word boundary is grammatical endings seen repeatedly in
the inscriptions. In this case there is the first .s.
We can then reliably divide the sentence as follows:
voto klutiiari.s. vha.g.s.to
The is in other inscriptions some evidence that voto is connected to
'water' the liquid. Without an ending, it follows the pattern of the
imperative form. Next, the third word vha.g.s.to
sounds remarkably like Estonian väga
'very' and even more closely vägevasti
'strongly, energetically' Since these words are very common,
probably used a dozen times a day, they probably have the required
inertia to have survived with little change since the time of the
Venetic inscriptions. (Our linguistic methodology is to ensure
decisions are made from words in daily use, which will have been passed
down generation after generation.)
So if vha.g.s.to
is interpreted with vägevasti
then with voto
being 'water' the word seems to refer to the contents
of the wase as in 'water [the contents of the vase] strongly'. This
would not be a common word, and therefore would not have the same
inertia. Nonetheless Estonian has the word klutt
to describe a tuft of hair or something. Furthermore there is in Estonian hari
, meaning 'arrange, brush' so that klutiiari.s.
like it means 'arranged bunch' or 'cultivated bunch'. In English
there is the word 'clutch (of flowers)'. Regardless of the actual
origins and evolution of the word, it becomes clear from voto
describes the flower arrangement in the vase. It makes complete sense
that a very universal message on a vase would be 'water the flower
This result is exactly what you would expect on a marketed object where
the text is incorporated into the design and therefore it would not be
surprising if archeology might find more of the same design. A good
design is repeated over and over.
A SET OF ALE TANKARDS AT A TAVERN ALONG THE PIAVE VALLEY ROUTE
Another example, where the object apparently was found in identical
form three times, comes from the Piave River valley, which was the
major trade route from the north, after Rome became a major destination
for merchants. There were two major routes that came down to the
north end of the Adriatic - one came down the Adige, and the other one
came down the other routes from the Baltic, originating from the
southeast Baltic. Merchants/traders coming down from the
southeast Baltic would have spoken the dialect there that would have
been closer to today's Estonian. This analysis has no effect on the
analysis, but explains why the following inscription was easier to
interpret via Estonian and Finnish language intuition. The merchants
the writing was for may actually have been speaking ancient Estonian as
it was in the first century of the Roman Age. These inscriptions,
written on ale tankards, may have been deliberately inscribed to be
readable by these merchants from the north, stopping at a tavern along
the route, who were not familiar with Latin. This is a believable
deduction because in this case the text is actually written in the
Roman alphabet, even though the language is Venetic, or at least an
Estonian dialect of Venetic. (The traders were actually called Venedi
a word that originates from Venede
'people of the boats')
This is one of the very few inscriptions written in the Roman alphabet
during the Romanization period, that is in a proper Venetic
language. After the Romanization there were still outlying
areas where Venetic was the primary language.
The Roman alphabet form eliminated the Venetic phonetic dots markers,
and shows word boundaries with dots. The fact that Venetic could be
written in the Roman fashion proves that the Venetic dots are not
necessary when word boundaries are used. We can understand this if we
write this text withoutanyspaces
The Venetic alphabet approach would be analogous to adding marks to
suiggest how the actual speech is broken up as in using an apostrophe
as in with'out'a'ny'spa'ces
example. (Venetic dots were more sophisticated, in putting dots around
letters that were in one way of another palatalized, including "sh"
repesented by .s.
or a trilled r with .r.
here we need not be concerned about the character of Venetic
writing, because here we have a very long sentence written in a proper
This incription, is shown in the illustration above, as drawn by its
finder, showing on paper the object, its handle, and the manner in
which the text was written onto the object.
The inscription reads (dividing the sentence at the dots)
ENONI ONTEI APPIOI SSELBOISSELBOI ANDETIC OBOSECUPETARIS
It was engraved on a container found at Canevoi di Cadola, a
village on the Upper Piave River . The object has been lost, but
the drawing and information was preserved by canon Lucio Doglioni
from Belluno, the author of several studies of Belluno inscriptions.
Etruscanologist Elia Lattes was first to publish the drawing of the
bucket and the inscription.
This container was 30 cm long with a 15 cm handle, made of
lead, concave sides, with a handle. The finder wrote that
he had seen two other identical ones – which suggests it was part of
quite a number of identical ones, which is why I propose it was part of
a set of ale tankards in a tavern.
Besides the believability of a set of tankards at a tavern along the
Piave valley trade route, there are other indications it was an ale
tankard. The size 30cm long, and it looks like maybe 15cm across, is
too small for a bucket. Furthermore, there is no indication of any
bucket-type handle being connected from the top. The illustration
shows the separated handle with points on the end. This suggests that
the container portion had two holes drilled into it, and the points
were pushed into holes on the sides. The size of the handle -
15cm - is about right for a man's hand.
But the real evidence that this was an ale tankard among a set of such
tankards used at a tavern will come from translating the sentence.
The regular academic interpretation of this inscription by the
traditional scholarly studies of Venetic as an archaic Indo-European
language, could only get a translation by making most of the words into
proper names – a trick common to traditional analysis. For example a
translation given by Micheal Lejeune in Manuel de la Langue Venetique
was ‘Burial vault of Ennonios for (his brothers) Onts (and)
Applios (and for) himself, (all three) sons of Andetios’. Although not
absurd, it is completely empty and not only makes parts into
meaningless proper names, but assumes ideas in the brackets.. This act
of regarding pieces as meaningless proper names is unacceptable since
we know ancient names had meanings themselves (as we still see in
modern names surviving from ancient origins). Another interpretation of
the Canevoi bucket using Slovenian was done by Matej Bor, completely
ignoring the word boundaries, and is equally absurd ‘And now, drunken
as you are, have fear, have fear even of children around you, when you
travel.’ And of course, it was necessary to add a paragraph of
explanation of children being malicious to drunks, etc. While anything
is possible, it would be highly unlikely to appear on such an object.
There were three trader routes identified from dropped/lost amber -
south via the Elbe and by various rivers to the Innsbruck area and
south on the Adige River, .down the Dneiper to the Black Sea area, and
south on the Vistula transferring to the upper Oder and reaching the
Vienna area and then south to the Adriatic from the east side.
The region of the Veneti were at the southern terminus of the two
routes that came down to the Adriatic. The route from the
southeast Baltic beginning at the Vistula originally was keen to reach
the great market for amber at ancient Greece; but with the rise of the
Romans, some of the traders turned further west, and came down the
Piave, in order to reach Roman markets. (The name Piave, in Latin
Piavis, sounds remarkably like Finnic pea vee
, or pea viise
'main waterway' or 'main river-route') They are very common words
and therefore would have been perpetuated through the last couple
Scholars have never considered Finnic language, since the academic
world has never considered that the Baltic peoples who handled amber,
and were expert in boat travel, spawned professional traders and
exploitation of southern interest in northern products like amber,
furs, honey, and other exotic northern products. Having already
found some evidence of an Estonian-like language in the Venetic
inscriptions, I tackled this sentence with my Estonian intuition (this
is something one gains as a child from direct learning without the
intellectual rationalization of adult language learning.)
The most valuable aspect of this inscription is that the word
boundaries are defined, because traditionally analysts trying to find
something Latin-like or Slavic-like in the inscriptions, simply tried
to hear some words, and then divided the continuous text to suit what
they thought they heard. It would be analogous to listening to a clock
ticking and translate the sound into 'tick-tock'. The explicit
identification of words makes it impossible for a false interpretation
being created from convenient custom division to suit what the analyst
thinks they hear.
We first note the word ECUPETARIS we see often tagged at the end of
some sentences and which suggests a ‘happy journey’ concept. In
front of this word is OBOS, giving OBOSECUPETARIS. If OBOS means
'horse' as suggested by Estonian hobus
(a word that has Indo-European origins since horses were not originally
found in the north), then we see a compound word meaning 'happy
horse-journey' In the memorials with pictures of horses there was
an inscription in Venetic alphabet v.i.ug-iio.i. .u. posed-iio.i. .e.petari.s.
appears to mean ‘horses’. The singular would then be .u.pos,
looks much like the OBOS here. Such additional cross-references are important to help confirm choices.
We then notice ANDETIK We note that the word ANDET appears in other
inscriptions and a very believable meaning everywhere is ‘successes’.
Modern Estonian has the word andekas
'lucky, talented, successful'. This too is a commonly used word that
has enough inertia to have lasted since the time of the Veneti.
This enables us to view the end portion ANDETIC OBOS ECUPETARIS end portion as ‘have a successful horse-journey'.
Working backwards through the sentence we next see SSELBOISSELBOI which
is clear reduplication of SSELBOI. Such repetition suggests a
repeated action, or emphasis. If we are talking about a successful
horse journey then we want to find a word that can be associated with
It is here that the Estonian ear helps. Estonian uses reduplication in Selga, selga
‘onto the back, onto the back’ as applied to a horse.. As already discussed earlier, the presence in Venetic of the suffix -bo
- ‘side’ suggests BOI is a suffix or case ending that is based on -bo-
and partitive (vowel)-I giving the meaning ‘to the side of’. The Estonian selg
‘back’ appears to be an ancient word as it exists in Finnish as selkä
. Thus we can propose that SSELBOI is formed from SSEL- stem meaning ‘back’ and -BOI which is not exactly the same as Estonian selga, selga
but produces the same meaning. For those knowing Estonian it would be analogous to selj-poole.
In this sentence the partitive ending (v)I occurs several times. It’s
meaning is typical of the complex application of partitives in Finnic,
and appears to have the meaning ‘to, towards’ as there is a sense of
action in a direction.
Estonian has the word appi
as an Illative type of word meaning ‘to the aid’ which suits the
previous word APPIOI except other evidence suggests it is actually in
the infinitive 'to aid' rather than 'to the aid'.
ONTEI sounds like Estonian on teid
‘is your’ The ending is here to be interpreted in the Partitive.
Thus we have so far the equivalent of the Estonian on teie appi
‘is to aid’
What is ‘(in)to your aid’? Since it is a container, and may involve a
horse, how about water from the container to quench the horse’s thirst?
But this is not believable. The object, as already mentioned, is
probably an ale tankard. Thus we have to find in the word ENONI,
something connected to thirst and whatever is in the container.
With an Estonian ear, we immediately hear jänu
'thirst'. Finnish has preserved -ni
ending as a possessive pronoun meaning 'my'; hence ENONI sounds like it means 'my thirst'
If these interpretations are incorrect, then when we put it all
together, the result would sound absurd. But if correct, a sensible
sentence will appear. The result using added information from Estonian
would be in Estonian jänuni
(my thirst) on teie appi
(=teie abitsenud mind
). (have you aided) Selga, selga. (selja-poole, seljapoole)
(onto the back, onto the back) andelikkut hobus-reisi
(have a successful horse-journey)
‘My thirst you have aided. Ontotheback, ontotheback. Successful horse-journey-continuing!’
The most believable way of interpreting this, is that the drinker is
thinking this, and directing it to the tankard of ale, now empty. You,
ale, have helped me by quenching my thirst. Now it is time to continue
on, to get on the back of the horse outside, and to continue on to a
successful horse-journey. In addition to the sentence being believable
(and can be shown to have grammatical closeness to Estonian grammar)
the resulting sentence is perfectly suitable for an ale tankard in a
tavern. The sentence expresses what the drinker thinks after
having downed the ale.
In addition there was the word on the handle of the bucket, where the
first letter looks like it was a P, giving PIIS. It can be interpreted
as ‘handle’ from pidese >piise >piis
What else could a single word on the handle mean, other than
‘handle’? The handle with its pointed ends, I believe was
attached by pushing it into holes in the side of the container.
This inscription also illustrates how important it is in our
methodology to always select not just the interpretation that is
possible, but the one that is most realistic, the one that most follows
grammatical structure, and results in the most believable result.
For example, it is possible to come up with other interpretations
such as the absurd ones via Slovenian or Latin which the analysts can
argue are ‘possible’. But it is the interpretation that ‘works’
on all levels that is by the laws of probability and statistics, most
probably correct. Strange interpretations always reveal themselves to
have flaws on all levels.. For example interpreting SSELBOISSELBOI with
Estonian sel poisil sel poisil
‘of that boy, of that boy’ instead of selga, selga
‘onto the back, onto the back’ can produce a worse, even absurd, sentence.. We can tell that sel poisil
is a worse interpretation than selga
for a number of reasons. Sel poisil
breaks the SSELBOI word against suggested word boundaries, and it adds an additional -il
the end.. Thus in the direct approach the interpreter must be trying
their best and always seeking the best fit and realistic results -
closest to word boundaries, grammar, etc.. This applies to
employing other languages too. We can take modern English for example.
What can we get if we identify in the above inscription some vague
English sentence? “Anon – on the – apply – sell boy sell boy – and
ethic – oh boys – occupy taris”. If the analyst were fanatic like some
analysts can be, he could probably poetically massage this result to
get a meaning that, still absurd, formed a ‘poetic’ sentence, and then
accompanied it with a long explanation. Furthermore, it will be
impossible to find the same meaning of the same Venetic words in other
inscritpions, nor the same grammatical operation.
In a sentence – while it is possible for anyone to find a similar
sounding sentence in any language, it will be like hearing sentences in
the wind. A proper analysis of Venetic requires the full analysis of
all the inscriptions at once, with constant cross-checking of any
hypothesis. There is no shortcut. It is impossible to interpret Venetic
in a piecemeal fashion. The entire body of known inscriptions must be
analyzed at once and the results highly realistic and clear.
But our purpose here is to highlight examples of objects that appear to
have been crafted over and over in order to serve a marketplace so
that the writing on them will have a common universal saying
appropriate to the object and appearling to the customer who buys
it. These objects demonstrate that what we see today in
manufacture and marketing, already existed two thousand years ago in
the Italic Peninsula, in a languae other than the more common Latin or
How about an object used in ancient times to freshen the air inside a house?
A TINY CONTAINER WITH A ROUND BOTTOM
Among the Venetic objects with inscriptions, there are two inscribed with the same words.
In this case they are not identical objects, and therefore were made by
different craftsmen; however, these are objects that would have been
crafted many times and intended to be sold at markets. Both of them are
small containers and one can speculate what they were used for?The
following illustration shows the more elegant-looking one. Let us
interpret these objects from their appearance. What could they have
been used for?
The one illustrated here has a handle that shows holes for thumb
and forfinger. The bottom of the little pot is round, meaning it was
not set down anywhere. It was carried around and then put away. What
does this context suggest? The first thing that comes to
mind is a portable oil lamp analogous to later candle holders – to
carry around to find one’s way in the dark. But examples of such oil
lamps in other cultures suggests it should have a flat bottom to set it
Another practice involving carrying something around would be to
perfume an environment. A flat bottom is not necessary if, once the
rooms are perfumed, the task is complete, and doesn’t need to be
We all the while bear in mind the fact that the same words appear on
another small pot, which tends to suggest the object was designed for
general customers and the words were not custom-made and were most
probably a label for the object or what was inside.
Thus from studying the context we can come up with some ideas of
probable use, and from that propose some meanings. Our first next step
would be to look through all other inscriptions to see if similar words
appear. In this case we cannot find the words anywhere else other than
the second pot.
All we have determined so far is that the object was crafted, and the
words describe the object (‘small pot?’) or what was inside (‘lamp oil’
We have, thus, a general expectation. We can continue to search
evidence for more clues. As we discussed earlier, we can extend our
accumulation of clues to external languages. But it is wise to do so
only when we have already determined a rough meaning from direct
interpretation. We have done so. We expect the meaning to be likely
something connected with perfuming a home.
With that in mind, when we now look at external languages (Latin,
Etruscan, Germanic, etc) we find that in Estonian we can mimic the
Venetic with lõhnav roht
What is the probability of such closeness occurring by random chance onto two similar objects!?
AN ADVERTISEMENT ON A CONTAINER?
As our final example, we will not describe an object that would have
been manufactured over and over, since we have no idea if was. But this
is worth looking at because it has, in tiny letters on the rim of a
container, some text that appears to be blatant sales promotion.
The container is in pieces, but what is interesting here is the tiny
text incribed on the rim. What could be the purpose of this tiny
writing. Today if we see tiny text on a product, it will describe
things like manufacturer, country of manufacture, etc. But at this
early date industry and commerce were not so organized. We are speaking
of centuries before the Roman Empire. There are many possibilities,
form the crafter trying to be poetic, to recording some kind of news
connected with the object. It would seem to any archeologist that
the object itself would provide no guidance in what is written in the
However this is not entirely true. The object was found in the
Piave River valley, which means it was found along the ancient trade
route from the north. (like the tankard discussed earlier). The
container, which seems to have been of elegant design, was not a
utilitarian pail. This information does not narrow down the
possibilities much, but it may be enought to tell us if our
interpretation of the inscription can believably be explained in
The text, converted from the Venetic alphabet into small case Roman, reads as follows:
The inscription too does not provide much if anything that is repeated
in other inscriptions. But in this case, if spoken out loud, it sounds
like it is in a dialect of Estonian. To read it properly letters with
dots around them represent palatalization - which is like adding a
short "I" in front of a consonant. or a "J" (pronounced like
English "Y") or an "H" produced at the front of the mouth. This
means the first letters .e..i.k.
sounds much like a very common Estonian word ehk
, generally meaning 'in case that'.
There are grammatical endings in the text, that help us find word boundaries. At the end we see the endings -.a.i.
which appear to be in the partitive. An .s. might indicate an
inessive case, but this assumption doesnot work. We have to
simply take the plunge and produce an interpretation and then text it
for grammar and meaning.
Long story short, I found a perfect parallel with Estonian ehk gulda, ni ostad õlu, terve kannu
The meaning is 'In case (you have) gold, then you buy ale, a whole
container'. There is absolutely no rational reason it is correct
other than the circumstances of being along the trade route coming down
the Piave and originating in the Baltic, but the Estonian version
parallels the Venetic grammatically.
If we accept it is correct, then why is it written in tiny letters on a
rim? The answer is simple, if it is an ale container, the drinkers will
get very close to the rim and read it. In such a context, it could have
been in a tavern serving containers of ale to travellers seated at
tables. The tiny letters would then be an advertisement encouraging the
purchasing of whole containers of ale.
Either it is an extraordinary coincidence, or it is correct.
r t h e r S t u d i e s
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