Raetic epigraphy

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This page provides information about Raetic inscription groups combining archaeological, epigraphic and linguistic aspects. It only covers language-encoding inscriptions; see Non-script notational systems for types of non- and para-script marks in the Raetic corpus.

Rock inscriptions

dir pun lig S2 d L4 d K3 d
ST-1 - - - - -
ST-2 - - - - -
ST-3 - - - - -
ST-4 x -   -  
ST-5 x x x x x
ST-6 x x x x x
ST-8 x - x   x
AK-1.1     - -  
AK-1.2       -  
AK-1.6     - -  
AK-1.7       -  
AK-1.10     x   -
AK-1.11 x (x) x (x) -
AK-1.17 - (x) x    
AK-1.19       -  
AK-1.21       -  
AK-2.1 (x)   x    
AK-2.2 x   x    
UG-1.1 - - x   -
UG-1.2 - - -    

Petrographs from the Raetic area and displaying linguistically Raetic features have been found (so far) only in the very north, viz. in the Northern Limestone Alps. The Schneidjoch in the Rofan mountains (one inscribed wall) and the site of the Achenkirch inscriptions (min. two walls) are located close to each other in the Achensee region (Nordtirol); the Unterammergau inscriptions (min. three walls) are found in the Ammertal in southern Bavaria. Not all of the inscriptions registered in TIR are epigraphically or linguistically utilisable – of some, only faint traces can be seen, many are doubtful, a few are most probably not Raetic or even script.

Among the utilisable petrographs, two groups emerge under both epigraphic and linguistic aspects:
1. Inscriptions ending in -nu-ale which contain (where sufficiently well preserved) two-part name formulae in the pertinentive case. They are usually sinistroverse, feature standard (Venetoid) letter forms, and are generally inconspicuous: ST-1, ST-2, ST-3, AK-1.1, AK-1.2, AK-1.6, AK-1.7, AK-1.19, AK-1.21.
2. Inscriptions of unclear linguistic content which show, besides some standard Venetoid letter forms, certain unusual epigraphic features (to varying extent): dextroverse orientation, the punctuation of suffixes, ligatures, and peculiar letter forms (four-stroke sigma S2 d, lambda with the bar extending from the middle of the hasta L4 d or L3 d, kappa K3 d with bars which do not touch in the middle). Of these inscriptions, ST-5 (the only sinistroverse one), ST-6 and AK-1.11 are particularly similar in structure; AK-1.17 as well as the fragmentary AK-1.10, AK-2.1 and AK-2.2 may be grouped alongside.

For a detailed itemisation see the table on the right. A cross marks the presence of a feature, a dash its demonstrable absence; an empty field indicates that the relevant datum is not available for the inscription. The inscriptions ST-4 and ST-8 do not fit in smoothly with either group; the use of zeta associates ST-4 with type 1, the presence of four-stroke sigma puts ST-8 closer to type 2. The testimonies from Unterammergau are hard to compare with those from Nordtirol due to their shortness, but both the two utilisable inscriptions are dextroverse; UG-1.1 features S2 d, while UG-1.2 has standard sigma S s.

The inscriptions of the first group (type 1) are written in the Magrè alphabet (see Script), with the typically Raetic orientation of sigma, but "traditional" North Italic alpha with the bar slanting down in writing direction. ST-2 may feature typical Inntal pi P3 s; ST-2 and ST-3 may show influence of Este orthography in the use of zeta for a lenis. As concerns the second group (type 2), the position of ST-6 in relation to ST-3 indicates that this type is younger; the epigraphic peculiarities cannot at this point be collectively classified. The forms of upsilon and tau are also those of the Magrè alphabet. A specific affinity with the Venetic sphere is indicated by lambda L4 d, which occurs in the votive inscriptions of the Venetic sanctuaries of Auronzo and Calalzo (Làgole) di Cadore in the upper Piave/Ansiei valley, but this is the only similarity with that subcorpus. The presence of unambiguously Venetic heta H4 s in ST-5 is very uncertain. Punctuation of suffixes, if that is what it is (see Script), rather than syllabic punctuation is not known from Venetic. The ligatures with inverted, retrograde nu (and maybe mu) stand isolated as well. None of the Raetic petrographs show any particular affinity to the only rock inscriptions in the Venetic corpus, those from Würmlach in the Gailtal (Gt 13–23). Four-stroke sigma is not a Venetic feature; in the Raetic corpus, it otherwise only occurs in PU-1, which shares the use of zeta for a stop with the type-1 petrographs.

Apart from FP-1 from the Fern pass and the somewhat doubtful and epigraphically Camunic AV-1, the rock inscriptions are the only documents of Raetic from beyond the Inntal. Any propositions concerning the ultimate function of these inscriptions and the identity and purpose of the writers must at this point remain speculative. Considering that the names in type-1 inscriptions appear in the case appropriate for votive inscriptions, we may assume that the petrographs are dedicatory in nature, even though it remains unclear what was actually sacrificed. No finds were made in the vicinity of the rock walls, even where archaeological excavations were made (see ST rock). Repeated references to springs (von Sydow for Steinberg, Mandl for Achenkirch) hint at the widespread notion that the petrographs are connected with sanctuaries by springs, but this is far from certain. Should one or more of the sites have been sanctuaries, material donations must have been intentionally removed – numerous potsherds with marks and bones were found in the spring sanctuary at Telfes in the Stubaital (Sydow 1989: 70). We may also consider the possibility that the inscriptions themselves constitute the sacrifice, in that the record of the name serves as verification of the visit (but would this warrant the pertinentive case?). It must be remembered, though, that inscriptions on large, stationary objects are by no means always connected with cultic acts – not today, and not in antiquity. This is effectively shown by the younger graffiti on our rock walls, which include large numbers of initials and dates, some inscribed roughly, some with great care, serifs and cartouches. They are documents of the human desire to leave a mark. If the rocks/cave simply served as shelters, any Iron Age wanderer waiting out the rain might have started doodling.

This leads to questions concerning provenance and class of the writers. Since we do not know who could write in Raetic society (see above on the Sanzeno bronze votives), we cannot make statements about what types of people we expect to have the ability to inscribe their names on Alpine rock walls. Could Kastrie and his sons at Steinberg have been local shepherds or farmers? If this seems unlikely and we prefer to think of literate travellers from the south, we have to ask about the location of the petrograph sites in relation to pre-Roman routes of transit across the Alps. That sanctuaries in Nordtirol were visited by foreigners who also left inscribed votives is demonstrated by inscriptions from the Demlfeld, whence come not only the Sanzeno-alphabet IT-5, but also a Venetic inscription (*It 5). A connection of cult places with inscription finds with routes of transit can be made likely for the Pillerhöhe and the Fern pass. The petrograph sites in Nordtirol, however, are rather remote, and associated with routes which can hardly have been of more than local importance. This is also true of the Roman graffiti found at 1400 m a.s.l. in the Tegernsee region in Bavaria, dated to the 1st–3rd century AD (Wedenig 2000: 129 f.) The Unterammergau site, on the other hand, lies close to the likely course of the Brenner route between Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Augsburg.

Stone slabs

Inscriptions on helmets

Inscribed helmets which are associated with Raetic come from four different contexts: from Vače and the Ženjak helmet hoard in Slovenia, from a hoard from Jenesien near Bozen, and from Sanzeno.