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The term "Raetic" refers to a few hundred inscriptions found mainly in the Trentino and in South and North Tyrol, as well as sporadically in the Veneto, in Graubünden, and in Slovenia. These inscriptions, written with North Italic alphabets, are roughly dated between the 6th and the 1st centuries BC, and are the only documents of the Raetic language, a non-Indo-European language of the Alpine region.

The name Latin raeti / Greek ῥαιτοί goes back to ancient historiography, being attested as a designation for certain Alpine tribes (see Ancient sources). According to Livy, the language spoken by these raeti was similar to Etruscan. In the early 19th century, Conte Benedetto Giovanelli, historian and mayor of Trento, applied the term "Raetic" to two inscription finds made in the Val di Cembra and Matrei am Brenner, whose language he judged to be similar to Etruscan (see Modern research on Raetic). This was a bit of a wild guess, but turned out to hit the right thing. The corpus of relevant inscriptions has since increased considerably (see Raetic epigraphy). It could be delimited in relation to the other script provinces of Northern Italy (see Script) and associated through its distribution area and find types with the archaeologically defined Fritzens-Sanzeno culture (see Archaeology in the Raetic area). The genetic relationship between the language of the inscriptions and Etruscan could be determined; together with Lemnian in the Aegean, Raetic and Etruscan forming the Tyrsenian language family (see The Raetic language).

Definitions and terminology

In the early phases of the research on Raetic and North Italic writing in general, inscriptions tended to be assigned to different corpora based on a mixture of epigraphic and linguistic arguments. In 1971, Prosdocimi proposed that the term "Raetic" should by defined exclusively epigraphically, i.e. with regard to the alphabet in which an inscription is written: the elusive "Raetic" should denominate inscriptions that are neither written in the Este alphabet (Venetic), nor in the Lugano alphabet (Lepontic), nor in the Sondrio alphabet (Camunic), all better identifiable. At the same time he left open the question whether the inscriptions thus subsumed under the term "Raetic" were linguistically homogeneous, and made it clear that a number of script variants were used in these inscriptions.

In the late 1990s, Rix and Schumacher demonstrated that the inscriptions commonly referred to as "Raetic" are in fact documents of one homogeneous language. This development made it more useful to put linguistic parameters at the basis of the definition. The Raetic language as a member of the Tyrsenian language family is isolated beyond the Po, being surrounded by the Indo-European languages Venetic in the south-east and Lepontic and Cisalpine Gaulish in the west. (The linguistic affiliation of Camunic remains obscure.) The alphabets which are associated with the Raetic epigraphic corpus, on the other hand, remain comparatively fuzzy entities. While we can identify features that are specifically "Raetic", there are no clear borders to the neighbouring alphabets; the North Italic alphabets are indistinguishable in absence of certain shibboleth letters. Regarding the archaeological aspect, the association of epigraphically and linguistically Raetic inscriptions with the archaeological Fritzens-Sanzeno culture is clear, but it is not a one-to-one-correlation which would allow for a clear-cut archaeological definition of "Raetic".

Today, the term "Raetic" is primarily defined linguistically: "Raetic inscriptions" are those which encode the Raetic language. On this basis, the term can be extended – with care – to areas where we find features which are significantly associated with the linguistically Raetic corpus of inscriptions. The "Raetic alphabets" are the alphabets typically used to write these inscriptions. "Raetic contexts" or "Raetic find types" refer to features of material culture which are common in the Raetic corpus.

Despite the overall surprisingly good fit between the various aspects of "Raeticity", these admissible extensions of the term must not mislead us to assume a one-to-one correspondence between the speakers of the Tyrsenian language we call "Raetic" and any archaeological groups, writers partaking of certain alphabetic traditions, and the uncertainly defined raeti as seen through the eyes of the classical authors. The origin of the ancient ethnonym is unknown; it may well be an exonym. We do not know whether or inhowfar "the Raetians" considered themselves to be an ethnos, and, if they or some of them did, whether such a community/communities was/were based on language, history, area of settlement, elements of material culture, or cult.

Some scholars use a form with initial rh ("Rhaetic", "Rhaetian", vel sim.) to refer to the language and epigraphic corpus, reflecting the Greek sources for the ethnonym. We do not know the name's etymology, but considering that the Latin form is almost certainly primary, the variant with simple r should in our opinion be preferred.

Scope of the corpus and database

The goal of Thesaurus Inscriptionum Raeticarum is to make available all the material relevant for the study of the Raetic inscriptions in all their aspects. The Raetic corpus proper follows the preliminary corpus CIRCE as presented by Schumacher 1992/2004, using the sigla groups and including all inscriptions collected there without exception to avoid mismatches with the older literature, where Schumacher’s sigla are used. (See Property:sigla group for details on the sigla system.)

In consequence, the corpus comprises not only such inscriptions as clearly represent script in the linguistical sense and can be linguistically or at least epigraphically identified as Raetic, but also a great number of dubious inscriptoids from geographically/archaeologically Raetic context. While these latter cases, though very interesting in themselves, are virtually impossible to securely assign to a specific North Italic corpus, and do (mostly) not provide data which contribute to the understanding of the Raetic language, the establishment of stringent rules for whether to consider an intentional mark an inscription or not has proved difficult. The principle of accepting only, but all such marks as contain shapes which can be clearly identified as letters (as listed on Category:Character) has turned out to be ineffectual, as it leads to the inclusion of an unmanageable host of one-character inscriptions which are highly improbable to represent script, or even obvious ornaments of the I sI sΘ sI sI s-type.

Regarding the inclusion of new inscriptions, the TIR staff has ended up making more or less informed estimations of the character of marks, while taking into account the types of marks which are already part of the established core corpus. In the first instance, only a subset of the new inscriptions provided by Mancini in LIR have been included, excluding those which consist in nothing but such characters as are filed as symbols in TIR. A handful of marks which are probably not script have been included by virtue of a similarity with marks in the core corpus (e.g., WE-7, VN-19). Similarly, scratchings on Sanzeno bowls were included in the beginning (e.g., SZ-85, SZ-86), despite the lack of a single such object bearing a proper inscription, with regard to the substantial number in the core corpus (going back to Mancini's IR) and the fact that the object type is a key form of the Fritzens-Sanzeno culture – this course had to be abandoned when the sheer mass of inscribed Sanzeno bowls transpired. Furthermore, considerations of dating may be relevant, e.g., in the case of Hallstatt age bronze axes, which are too old to be relevant to Raetic writing proper – though one had managed to creep into the corpus via PID, none of the many more specimens with marks were included. With regard to our attempt to furnish all interesting data, excluded material is collected together with the non- and para-script material in the corpus on Non-script notational systems.

The different aspects of the term "Raetic"

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  Locations associated with "Raetic" tribes by the Ancients
  The eponymous find places of the Fritzens-Sanzeno culture
  Conte Giovanelli's first Raetic inscription finds
  Find places of inscriptions with linguistically Raetic content, written in a Raetic alphabet
  Find places of inscriptions (probably) written in a Raetic alphabet, but with unclear linguistic ascription


IR Alberto Mancini, "Iscrizioni retiche", Studi Etruschi 43 (1975), 249–306.
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)