The Feltre inscription stones

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Find circumstances, publication and classification

The inscription or inscriptions of Feltre are written on two slabs of sandstone. The early literature provides conflicting data on the find circumstances; Alberto Alpago Novello, who was involved in the restauration of the new building of the Museo Civico di Feltre, appears to be the most reliable source. He published an overview of archaeological findings in Feltre in 1963/1964, including a map, which shows both slabs A and B (no. 21, in the first part) to have been found behind (immediately north of) the Convent of San Pietro in Vincoli, later the Canossian convent. He writes that both slabs were discovered during restauration work in a tunnel system (a hypocaust; the slabs appear to have been reused as building material), at a depth of 3 m, in 1893. The find date is at variance with that given by Lattes 1901: p. 1137 in the publication of slab A's inscription. Lattes, citing from Francesco Pellegrini's letters (written in 1896), writes that slab A was found in early May of 1886, and makes no mention of slab B. Alpago Novello's information is rendered more plausible by the fact that 1893 is indeed the year in which the former Convent of San Pietro in Vincoli was restored to receive the Madri Canossiane. He stresses his conviction, based on accounts of bishop Mons. Mario Zanin and fellow historians Mario Gaggia and Antonio Vecellio, that slab B, which was only published in 1911 by Cordenons without any information beyond a drawing of the object (p. 228, n. 117 = slab B, 118 = slab A), was found together with and in the same spot as slab A. Morandi 1999: 91 took the pains to research the matter anew; the index cards consulted by him record for slab A the year 1893 "in un muro delle Canossiane", for slab B only "in Via Cornarotta". The latter, however, may be an indication not of the find spot, but of the depository, cf. Dal Zotto 1940, who states that slab B was for some time kept in a house in the Via Cornarotta (about 300 m north-west of the cathedral). Alpago Novello (p. 120) doubts this, and points out that, eventually, both slabs were brought to and preserved in the Canossian Institute in the nearby village of Fonzaso (see also Lattes 1901: 1137), but the slabs having initially been separated might serve to explain why they weren't published together. Both slabs are likely to have been installed in the Museo Civico di Feltre upon its foundation in 1903, or on the occasion of its being moved to its new seat in the Palazzo Villabruna in 1922.

The details of when and under what circumstances the slabs were found are relevant to the question of whether (or how closely) they – and the letters they bear – belong together. Generally, the two sequences are assumed to be parts of a single inscription (Buonamici, Pallottino, Rix), but seeing that they were not found in the original context, this is not a given. They were even suspected of being forgeries due to what was conceived as clearly Etruscan linguistical content in a document found this far north, and especially because of the occurrence of the Etruscan name for Jupiter tinia. This name is also documented on a column-shaped altar base bearing an inscription tinia tinscvil from ancient Volsinii, which had only been found a few years earlier (in 1880), also under the medieval cathedral (Vs 4.10 = CIE 4919; cf. also Vs 4.11 = CIE 4920 and Vs 4.13 = CIE 5168) (Morandi 1999: 91). Despite the easterly findplace (left of the river Brenta), the Feltre finds were eventually included (as one inscription) by Whatmough into the Raetic corpus (no. 243 bis) in regard of both alphabet and language. Due to the clearly Etruscoid character of the language, the inscription was used as evidence for the connection of Raetic with Etruscan, but was eventually included by Pallottino in the TLE (no. 718). Pellegrini declared it to be Etruscan in 1954: 463, and again in 1979: 132; Rix was equally convinced and filed it as Etruscan in the first edition of the ET (Pa 4.1). Based on Rix' opinion, it was not included in the Raetic corpus by Schumacher, but again by Mancini (p. 281 f., though without a siglum) for the Raetic character of its letters.


Slab A measures about 34 cm in length and 19 cm in depth. It is broken at both ends; at the end where the inscription appears to start, it is 10 cm high, tapering slightly towards the other end, which measures 9.5 cm in height. There is a space before the first letter K2 s which suggests that the inscription is complete in the beginning. Slab B, also broken at both ends, measures about 26 cm in length and 6 cm in depth. The letters are roughly aligned on the edge; after final E2 s, a space suggests the end of the inscription. At this end, the slab is 10 cm high, at the other, 9.5 cm. The surfaces of both slabs on which the characters are applied is of a different colour, a lighter layer of stone of about 2.5 cm thickness, which can be clearly discerned on both pieces. Although the height of the slabs and the presence of the lighter layer suggest them to be part of one original slab which narrowed slightly in the centre, the fact that they are of different depth makes the possibility of them having originally been one piece unlikely.

Orientation of slabs and characters

As shown in the drawings below, the letters on both slabs are aligned on what was most probably the upper edges of the slabs when they were in use. Although some of the letters are inverted, the orientation of the inscriptions can be determined with some certainty. If the inscriptions are read sinistroversely (with the characters inscribed in the upper part of the slabs), only alpha is inverted, whereas, the other way round, both nu and epsilon would be upside-down. Furthermore, an examination of the slabs by the project staff in the autumn of 2014 showed that there are remains of red paint to be seen in those parts of the lines that are closer to the edge; the paint is clearly visible on slab B, but only faint traces are left on slab A (mostly in the serifs). Since the slabs appear not to have been displayed in the open since their finding, the colouring is unlikely to be modern, but may be assumed to be original. Unfortunately, without knowing how the slabs were used, the condintion of the paint does not give a clue to how the slabs were put up: on the side of a pedestal or rostrum (see Malnati 2002: 127 f. for North Italic comparanda), the paint would be washed out of the top parts of the letters and might keep longer in the lower ridges where it collects; on an architrave, on the other hand, the elements would do greater damage to the lower parts of the letters, the upper parts being shielded by the entablature. The photographs in Mayr 1961c (taken by a Mr Facchin, presumably from the Museo Civico) show that the stones were originally put up as shown in the drawings below, while, today, both are turned over (as displayed in, and possibly as a consequence of, Pellegrini & Prosdocimi 1967: 445 f., who simply flipped the photos upside down). Our drawings show the inscriptions on slabs A and B with rough outlines of the shapes of the inscribed faces. The red colour indicates where remains of red paint can be seen, though the traces are not as pronounced as in the drawings. For photographs, please refer to the images provided in the publications listed below.

Feltre B illustration.pngFeltre A illustration.png

Letter shapes and execution

The characters, though basically similar, exhibit decided differences between slabs A and B. The letters on slab A have a consistent height of 4 cm, all reaching the edge of the slab. All recurring letters are written consistently (inverted alpha, lopsided St. Andrew's cross). All lines are equipped with neat serifs, and the punctuation marks are appropriately shaped like triangles pointing in writing direction. In contrast, the execution of the sequence on slab B must be called sloppy. The letters are taller than on slab A (5.5–5.7 cm) and none of them reaches the edge, indeed the distance grows as the inscription progresses. Serifs are only executed sporadically (or indistinctly), and final epsilon is inverted. No trace of a punctuation mark can be detected before sigma, though there is a small space available. The two sequences are either, as Mancini observes, "incise da 'mani' differenti", or at least on different occasions. If they are parts of the same inscription, the question of why the quality of craftsmanship deteriorates rather drastically remains open to conjecture – maybe the work of master and apprentice? All in all, the two sequences must be expected to belong together in some way, but are hardly fragments of one inscription (cf. Mayr 1961c and Morandi 1999: 91 f.).

Slab BSlab A
E2 sN sA2 sN sL2 sI sS d[]I saddT3d spunctuation sA2 sI sN sI saddT3d spunctuation sR sE sS dI sA2 sI sK2 s

Reading and interpretation

Rix, regarding the sequence on slab A as the beginning and the one on slab B as the end of one and the same inscription, reads Etr. ki aiser 'three gods', followed by the names of these gods, i.e. tinia 'Tinia = Jupiter', ti[ '?' (possibly 'Tiv/Tiu') and silnanz 'Silvanus'. The last name he conjectures to be spelled incorrectly, with N s instead of V s anticipating the second-to-last letter. He interprets the last letter as a form of zeta, disregarding the medial bar as being "offensichtlich" due to "Beschädigung des Steins" and arguing that a reading as epsilon could be excluded because that letter would be inverted (Rix 1998: 58, n. 83). Colonna 1997: 175 and 183 (n. 47–49), following Rix’ reading, but assuming three lines in all (kiaiser.tinia.ti | ... | [-?-]silnanz), compares kiaiser to the Venetic theonym tribusijat°, with has been analysed as containing a prefix tri- 'three', naming a trifold goddess (Pellegrini & Prosdocimi 1967: 184 ff.). For the sequence on slab B, Colonna suggests an emendation to [u]silnanz, an epithet derived from the Etruscan theonym uśil. This it taken up by Maras 2007: 111, who, discounting Colonna's hypothetical second line, considers [u]silnanz to be an epithet of ti[u(r)].

The medial bar on the final letter of the slab B sequence, while looking not quite like the other lines, is definitely intentional. It might theoretically be a secondary addition, though no motivation for such a move is evident. Considering that the sequence on slab B is unlikely to represent the end of the inscription on slab A, an emendation of the letter to zeta is not necessary to make sense of the text. silnane must not necessarily be a theonym, and remains opaque in both Etruscan and Raetic context. The presence of the Etruscan words ki, aiser and tinia, however, can hardly be contested. In a letter to Schumacher (22 March 1990), Rix concedes the possibility of Etruscan and Raetic being so similar as to have identical words and theonyms, but doubts this. Cf., however, SZ-4.1 with a numeral þal 'two' and plural morpheme -r which are identical to the Etruscan equivalents. For the evidence for Etr. ais° vel sim. see Eichner 2012: 12 ff. (on Feltre sub Beleg B, with n. 72).


As concerns palaeographical peculiarities, the inscriptions feature sigma in an orientation which is typical for the Raetic alphabets, as well as shapes of nu and rho (and maybe zeta) which are not quite typical for late Etruscan. Tau (or theta?) appears in the curious shape halfway between Etruscan tau T2 d and North Italic Θ s which is attested on the Venetic alphabet plaque Es 23 (see Script). Colonna 1997: 175 considers the script to be Raetic, but sigma for a presumably palatal sibilant in aiser (Northern Etruscan [aiʃer] according to the lariś-rule; see Eichner 2011: 76; Eichner 2012: 30 f.) and – if Rix' reading should be correct – silvans (Northern Etruscan [ʃilvans] according to the Lex Wallace; see Eichner 2011: 69–77, Eichner 2012: 24 f., n. 43; Rix 1983: 136 ff.) is in accordance with Northern Etruscan orthography.


The dating 2nd to 1st c. BC given by Meiser in the revised edition of ET (changed from the beginning of the 5th c. BC in the first edition) is far from certain. Morandi 1999: 92 and Maggiani in Gambacurta et al. 2002: 185 date the slabs/inscriptions to the 3rd to 2nd c. BC (without argumentation). A high dating (before 400) could be supported with the observation that an Etruscan inscription in Transpadania is even more surprising after the Celtic invasion and expulsion of the Etruscans; low datings, on the other hand, consider the style of the letters, especially the serifs and the form of the separators (Colonna 1997: 183, n. 46).

To conclude, the epigraphic and linguistic position of the Feltre inscriptions between Etruscan, Raetic and other local traditions cannot as this point be determined. There are, to my knowledge, no Etruscan finds otherwise from Feltre, and neither do we have any Raetic material, although Pliny calls ancient Feltre a Raetic settlement (see Ancient sources). The only other (arguably) Raetic inscription from east of the river Brenta, apart from the Slovenian helmet inscriptions, is the isolated and enigmatic Castelcies inscription.

Images of the inscriptions can be found in Lattes 1901: 1135 (drawing, only A), Cordenons 1911: 228 (no. 117 and 118, drawings), Buonamici 1927: 509 (drawings), Mayr 1961c (photos), Pellegrini & Prosdocimi 1967: 445 f. (photos), Morandi 1982: 200 (drawings), Colonna 1997: fig. 10 (photo of slab A), Morandi 1999: fig. 30 (53), LIR: 281 f. (photos and drawings), Gambacurta et al. 2002: 184 (no. 18) (photo and drawing). The two slabs may be examined at Museo Civico di Feltre (inv. no. 38), where they are on exhibition in the lapidarium on the ground floor.

Further references: Campanile 1924: 155 and fig. 3 (with incorrect dating and location of the finding), Buonamici 1927: 509 f., NRIE: 64 and 67, Morandi 1982: no. 76.


Alpago Novello 1963 Alberto Alpago Novello, "Ritrovamenti archeologici in Feltre", Archivio Storico di Belluno, Feltre e Cadore 34 (1963), 113–123.
Alpago Novello 1964 Alberto Alpago Novello, "Ritrovamenti archeologici in Feltre", Archivio Storico di Belluno, Feltre e Cadore 35 (1964), 16–22.
Buonamici 1927 Giulio Buonamici, "Rivista di epigrafia etrusca", Studi Etruschi 1 (1927), 505–522.
Campanile 1924 T. Campanile, "Feltre. Importante trovamento di epoca romana", Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità (1924), 149–157.
Colonna 1997 Giovanni Colonna, "Divinités peu connues du panthéon étrusque", in: Françoise Gaultier, Dominique Briquel (Eds), Les plus religieux des hommes. État de la recherche sur la religion étrusque. Actes du colloque international, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 17–18–19 novembre 1992, Paris: 1997.
Cordenons 1911 Federico Cordenons, Silloge delle Iscrizioni Venetiche. Con note sugli antichi alfabeti e sistemi di scrittura usata dagli Italici e dagli Etruschi, Feltre: 1911.
Dal Zotto 1940 Attilio del Zotto, "Il Colle delle Capre di Feltre preromana", Archivio Storico di Belluno, Feltre e Cadore 12 (1940), 1209–1212.
Eichner 2011 Heiner Eichner, "Anmerkungen zum Etruskischen in memoriam Helmut Rix", Alessandria 5 (2011), 67–92. (= Atti del Convegno Internazionale Le lingue dell'Italia antica in memoriam Helmut Rix)
Eichner 2012 Heiner Eichner, "Sakralterminologie und Pantheon der Etrusker aus sprachwissenschaftlicher Sicht", in: Petra Amann (Ed.), Kulte – Riten – religiöse Vorstellungen bei den Etruskern und ihr Verhältnis zu Politik und Gesellschaft. Akten der 1. Internationalen Tagung der Sektion Wien/Österreich des Istituto Nazionale di Studi Etruschi ed Italici (Wien, 4. – 6. 12, 2008) [= ÖAW Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Denkschriften 440], Wien: 2012, 17–46.
ET Helmut Rix, Gerhard Meiser (Eds), Etruskische Texte. Editio Minor [= ScriptOralia 23-24; Reihe A, Altertumswissenschaftliche Reihe 6-7], Tübingen: Gunter Narr 1991. (2 volumes)
ET 2 Gerhard Meiser, Valentina Belfiore, Sindy Kluge (Eds), Etruskische Texte. Editio minor, revised edition [= Studien zur historisch-vergleichenden Sprachwissenschaft Band 4], Hamburg: Baar 2014. (2 volumes)
Gambacurta et al. 2002 Giovanna Gambacurta, Daniela Locatelli, Luigi Malnati, Patrizia Manessi, Anna Marinetti, Giovanna Luisa Ravagnan (Eds), "Catalogo. Veneti antichi. Alfabeti e documenti", in: Giovanna Gambacurta, Daniela Locatelli, Luigi Malnati, Patrizia Manessi, Anna Marinetti, Giovanna Luisa Ravagnan (Eds), Akeo. I tempi della scrittura. Veneti antichi: alfabeti e documenti, 157–275.
Lattes 1901 Elia Lattes, "Iscrizioni inedite venete ed etrusche dell'Italia settentrionale", Rendiconti del Reale Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere 34 (Ser. II) (1901), 1131–1142.
LIR Alberto Mancini, Le Iscrizioni Retiche [= Quaderni del dipartimento di linguistica, Università degli studi di Firenze Studi 8–9], Padova: Unipress 2009–10. (2 volumes)
Malnati 2002 Luigi Malnati, "Monumenti e stele in pietra preromani in Veneto", in: Giovanna Gambacurta, Daniela Locatelli, Luigi Malnati, Patrizia Manessi, Anna Marinetti, Giovanna Luisa Ravagnan (Eds), Akeo. I tempi della scrittura. Veneti antichi: alfabeti e documenti, 127–138.
Maras 2007 Daniele F. Maras, "Divinità etrusche e iconografia greca: La connotazione sessuale delle divinità solari ed astrali", Polifemo 7 (2007), 101–116.