From Thesaurus Inscriptionum Raeticarum
Jump to navigationJump to search
Customary name: tau

Variants and attestation

Transliteration Sinistroverse Dextroverse
  Glyph Number Glyph Number
T T.png 7 Td.png 7
T2 T2.png 1 T2d.png 1
T3 T3.png 30 T3d.png 1
T4 T4.png 8 T4d.png 1

The shape T s/T2 s is the "traditional" graphic variant of Tau, appearing in Etruscan, Venetic and Lepontic script. In Raetic script, T s/T2 s was demonstrably used in Magrè, San Giorgio di Valpolicella, and in the Alpine petrographs of Steinberg, Achenkirch and Unterammergau; apart from these subcorpora, only the isolated inscription WE-4 has Tau in this form.

In TIR, T3 s is argued to be a variant of Tau rather than Pi. The traditional reading goes back to the very earliest finds in the 19th century: T3 s was first read /p/ by Conestabile in his publication of BZ-4 (teva'snicheriupikutiutivachvilipiperisnati, p. 41). The character is transcribed as (Indo-European) /d/ in Sulzer's publication of SZ-16 (p. 308), but Fabretti in the CII preferred /p/ in both SZ-16 and BZ-4 (No.s 23 and 60; with reference to Sulzer's dental p. 133). Already in 1874, Corssen explicitly mentioned Pi turned against writing direction as a similarity between the two inscriptions. Alphabet tables which display T3 s as Pi are found in AIF I: 55 and Pellegrini 1959; the most important work is Prosdocimi 1971: 33.

A Pi with its bar pointing backwards would be unexpected in a system which shows the Magrè alphabet to be closer to the Venetic group (P s, L s, U s), while the Sanzeno alphabet has common ground with Western Transpadania (P2 s, L2 s, U2 s). The turning of Pi would to a certain extent be redundant, i.e. not enforced by the graphical development of any other character. It might be compared with that of Alpha A s and Sigma S s, which, in their typically Raetic, and especially Sanzeno-forms, also have an orientation different from that usual in the related alphabets. At any rate, there are no parallels for such a consistent turning among the characters which, like T3 s, consist of a vertical hasta and lateral bar(s) (E s, V s, K s, L s, M s, N s, R s) – neither in the Raetic alphabets, nor, to our knowledge, in any of the related alphabets. The Etruscan E cortonensis addE1d s, for example, was not turned randomly, but denotes a phonologically different vowel in direct opposition to addE1 s.

On P2 s being the normal form of Pi in the Sanzeno alphabet, see P. Not a single one of the forms containing T3 s in Sanzeno context has a parallel from Magrè context which could demonstrate that the phoneme written with that letter is /p/ or any other labial sound. Only ṣ́up̣riṣ (BZ-12) and vepelie (SZ-11) would offer themselves for comparison with Venetic/Etruscan: the Etruscan PN śupri (ET Vt 4.5, and Venetic vebele·i (Es 67) / Etruscan vepele (Sp 0.4). Furthermore, under the assumption that T3 s = Pi, Tau would be missing from the Sanzeno alphabet, while Phi and Khi are quite common.

The only two Sanzeno alphabet inscriptions with "traditional" T d are CE-1.4 (as part of a periphrastic spelling trinaχe for þinaχe) and NO-17. A third candidate is VR-6, if it is judged to be written in the Sanzeno alphabet. In all three cases, the bar rises in writing direction, as it does in T3 s. This orientation is intuitively wrong and indeed less frequent in the cases of Tau in Magrè context, and of other letters with hastae and central bars (Heta, Zeta), but we may here compare the typical orientation of Alpha A d, exclusive in the Sanzeno alphabet. Conceivably, a variant of Tau with rising bar was preferred for being more clearly distinguishable from single-bar Pi P2 s, permitting a further development T dT3 s.

The identification of T3 s as Tau also resolves the hitherto problematic reading of the letter T4 s. T4 s was first discussed by Marstrander 1927, who identified it in SL-1 and VR-3 and judged it to write a dental. Mancini 1975: 256 (note 17) compared the respective letters in SL-1, VR-1 and the newly published NO-13, and mentioned similar graphic forms in "alcune iscrizioni di Serso" (= SR-4 and SR-6, first published in 1965). He originally assumed that the characters in the Serso documents did not have a graphematical function. After Marinetti 1987: 139 f. (note 14) stressed their relevance, Mancini 1991: 82 ff. determined T4 s to be a "notazione specifica di un phonema dentale" (84); see also Mancini 1999: 311 ff. He concluded the letter to be another variant of the Raetic special character writing a dental affricate. This theory was pursued by Schumacher 2004, who used the Serso inscriptions and NO-13 to show that terisna must have a dental anlaut (see SR-9, NO-13). While both cases are epigraphically too difficult to carry the burden of proof, a possible Etruscan etymology for terisna supports a reading with an anlauting dental (see the word page). Furthermore, VR-1 may like NO-13 attest to a combined dental character.

As can be seen, the identification as a character for a dental depended upon the word terisna. The fact that there is a form A3 dN sS sI sR sE3 sT3 s, then read perisna, attested on BZ-4 was only acknowledged by Marstrander 1927 (who drew the consequences, see the inscription page) and Morandi 2000: 70, who also pointed to BZ-4, and again expounded on the problem on the occasion of his publication of BZ-26 ]N sS sI sR sE sT3 s (Lunz & Morandi 2003: 245 ff.). On the other hand, the words utiku and taniun were generally read upiku and paniun, as they were amply attested with T3 s, while the attestations with T4 s were recognised only recently. U2 sK3 sI sT4 sU2 s on NO-3 was first mentioned by Schumacher 2004: 308. Schürr 2003 detected T4 s in HU-7, and opted to identify it in all its occurrences as a "Kümmerform" of Phi, which, though not ultimately correct, it at least consistent. T4 s in VR-3 is, mainly due to its unusual form, generally read as Phi; only Mancini gives an alternative reading with a dental (special character variant).

Separating the attestations of T4 s accordingly, i.e. a dental character in the attestations of terisna vs. Phi with a small head in the attestations of upiku/uφiku and paniun/†φaniun, is not only methodologically unsound.

  • The distinction would not be graphically justifiable. The standard form of T4 s is a hasta with a little dot-shaped head. Divergent forms occur in VR-3 (utiku, taniun) and – for obvious technical reasons – in SL-1 (terisna).
  • utiku is attested with Theta uθiku in PA-1, which would have to be regarded as either a grave scribal error, or another word.
  • Equally, the attestations of terisna with T3 s would have to be implausibly explained as writer's mistakes.
  • NO-3, which has standard Phi Φ3 s next to T4 s, forbids the identification of the two letters.

The graphical similarity of T4 s and Φ3 s is fortuitious.

To summarise, T4 s is – so far – attested in eight inscriptions (HU-7, VR-1, VR-3, SR-4, SR-6, NO-3, NO-13, SL-1). Thirteen sequences which can be identified as words contain the letter; these thirteen tokens represent eight types: tanin(i) (2x), terisna (3x), tinesuna, hiratasuva, θulte, metlainile, φelturiesi, utiku (3x). T4 s is filed as Tau in TIR due to its being used in complementary distribution to T3 s (or any other graphical variant of Tau): They never appear in the same inscription, and evidently correspond to each other in the writing of the words utiku, taniun and terisna. It may be observed that T4 s tends to appear in inscriptions on objects with a high dating: HU-7 situla (third quarter of the 6th c.) and VR-3 spit (6th c.–3rd c.) are isolated finds from the South, VR-1 is dated to the 5th c.–4th c. NO-13 (middle of the 6th c.–middle of the 5th c.) is the oldest document from the Sanzeno area. The latter can be compared in form and content with SL-1 (possibly as old as the second half of the 5th c.) and the Serso inscriptions. With regard to HU-7, it is unlikely that T4 s is the Serso local variant of Tau which has sporadically found its way into some isolated inscriptions beyond, despite the fact that the Serso antler pieces are the only subcorpus in which T4 s is used, all other testimonies being in some way one-offs. Orthographical inference with Serso may be suggested for NO-3, the only one of the inscriptions with T4 s evidently written in the Sanzeno alphabet.

It is, however, not clear that T4 s is a graphical variant of Tau. The development of Tau addT1 s to T4 s in the Old Sabellic alphabet of the South Picene inscriptions can be cited as a parallel (both forms are attested, see Marinetti 1985: 55 and the tables 59 f.). While this graphical development is systematic in Old Sabellic (Zeta Z3 saddZ3 s, Omikron addO1 saddO6 s, addF1 s /f/ → addF2 s), it would be isolated in Raetic. None of the other peculiarities of Raetic script can be compared to those of Old Sabellic. An alternative derivation was proposed by Marstrander 1927: 20 ff. In regard to the formal similaritiy of SL-1 and SL-2.3 (find area, support, place of application, execution, letter forms) he assumed that the two inscriptions are written in the same alphabet, maybe even by the same hand, and hence that T4 s (executed as addT5 s) and the "dumbbell" character addZ3 s (executed as addZ5 s) are meant to represent the same letter. He judged addZ5 s/addZ3 s to be the primary form, i.e. a variant of Venetic Zeta used to write /d/. As mentioned above, such a development is also documented in Old Sabellic. T4 s would then be a simplified version of addZ3 s, writing /d/ as Zeta does in Este – possibly the sporadic evidence for secondary interference from the cultural centre that must have been the Reitia sanctuary. Note, however, that the assumed primary form addZ3 s is attested only once (exept maybe Z3 s in *Od 7b, see Prosdocimi 1988: 303 ff., but also Eska & Wallace 1999: 123 f. (note 10)). Also, in light of the neat parallel addT1 sT4 s the detour via Zeta rather inelegantly violates the principle of parsimony.


AIF I Carl Pauli, Altitalische Forschungen. Band 1: Die Inschriften nordetruskischen Alphabets, Leipzig: 1885.
CII Ariodante Fabretti, Corpus inscriptionum italicarum, Torino: 1867. (2 volumes)
Conestabile 1863 Giancarlo Conestabile, Second spicilegium de quelques monuments écrits ou épigraphes des Étrusques. Musées de Londres, de Berlin, de Manheim, de La Haye, de Paris, de Pérouse (Italie), Paris: Librairie Académique - Didier et Cie 1863.
Corssen 1874 Wilhelm Paul Corssen, Ueber die Sprache der Etrusker. Band 1, Leipzig: 1874.
Eska & Wallace 1999 Joseph F. Eska, Rex T. Wallace, "The linguistic milieu of *Oderzo 7", Historische Sprachforschung 112 (1999), 122–136.
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)
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)
Lunz & Morandi 2003 Reimo Lunz, Alessandro Morandi, "Un frammento di elmo di bronzo con iscrizione retica da Settequerce – Siebeneich", Archeologia Classica LIV (2003), 341–349.
Mancini 1991 Alberto Mancini, "Iscrizioni retiche e iscrizioni camune. Due ambiti a confronto", Quaderni del Dipartimento di Linguistica - Università di Firenze 2 (1991 [1992]), 77–113.
Mancini 1999 Alberto Mancini, "Iscrizioni retiche: aspetti epigrafici", in: Gianni Ciurletti, Franco Marzatico, I Reti / Die Räter [= Archeologia delle Alpi 5], Trento: Artigianelli 1999. (2 volumes), 297–333.
Marinetti 1985 Anna Marinetti, Le iscrizioni sudpicene I: Testi [= Lingue e iscrizioni dell'Italia antica 5], Firenze: 1985.
Marinetti 1987 Anna Marinetti, "L'iscrizione retica (PID 247) da Ca' dei Cavri (Verona)", in: Alessandra Aspes (Ed.), Prima della Storia. Inediti di 10 anni di ricerche a Verona, Verona: Museo Civico di Storia Naturale 1987, 131–140.
Marstrander 1927 Carl Johan Sverdrup Marstrander, "Remarques sur les inscriptions des casques en bronze de Negau et de Watsch", Avhandlinger utgitt av Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi i Oslo. Hist.-filos. klasse 1926/2 (1927), 1–26.