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A structural comparison of Etruscan with the Kartvelian languages

Dan Alexe

Etruscan, the language of the people that dominated central and northern
Italy from prehistoric time until the rise of Rome, has hitherto not been entirely
deciphered. The riddle posed by the nature of the tongue of the early masters of
Rome remains a permanent irritant; the more so since the solution to this
enigma would help shed a new light on the early history of Mediterranean

The present approach focuses on a structural comparison of Etruscan with

the South-Caucasian (Kartvelian) language family. We find a complete
concordance with Kartvelian of the whole system of the attested Etruscan casual
terminations, but also an identity of their usage, which is so unusual and
complex as to exclude any explanation by coincidence. We also find a
compelling number of core cognates and the possibility of applying a
typological cross-verification: by using grammatical patterns from one of the
two compared systems one is able to predict similar patterns in the other.1

”One structural feature in language predicts another, implies its presence,

or limits its functional or distributional possibilities“.2The question whether
there is a logical predictability between two grammatical systems that present
similar traits can be answered only after a detailed investigation, primarily
involving those similarities that go beyond the statistical possibility of a mere
typological coincidence.

For the Kartvelian grammatical examples the main sources are The Indigenous Languages
of the Caucasus, A. C. Harris, Ed. (Caravan Books, Delmar, New York, 1991), vol. I,
Kartvelian Languages, but also G. Dumézil, Contes lazes, (Institut d'ethnologie, Paris, 1937)
and G. Dumézil, Récits lazes en dialecte d'Arhavi : parler de Şenköy (Presses univ. de
France, Paris, 1967), as well as my own knowledge of the languages. The Etruscan examples
are taken strictly from already published collections such as CIE (Corpus Inscriptionum
Etruscarum), TLE (Testimonia Linguae Etruscae), or from quoted authors. The transcription
for the Kartvelian languages is the one used in the ILC. For Etruscan, it is the traditional
translation, using the Latin alphabet with the addition of a few Greek letters.
J. Nichols, Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time (University of Chicago Press,
1999), p. 1.
! 2!

Here I will argue that Etruscan and the Kartvelian (South-Caucasian)

language family (Georgian, Mingrelian, Laz, and Svan) are not only
typologically similar, but possibly also genetically related. Although some
correspondences and similarities between Etruscan and Kartvelian have been
suggested by linguists such as Pauli3 and Thomsen4, one century ago, access to
scientifically presented Svan material has been scarce until the recent decades.
Secondly, comparisons have always been made in a piecemeal way, sometimes
even by bringing in supposed similarities with the other two, unrelated
Caucasian language families, the Adyghe and the Nakho-Daghestanian (both
spoken on the Northern slopes of the Caucasus mountain range). A
systematical, structural comparison of Etruscan and Kartvelian (especially
Svan) has never been performed until now.

The fact that the two language systems (Etruscan and Kartvelian) present
similarities, grammatical and lexical, that seem to suggest linguistic kinship
would have huge implications for the study of the birth of European civilisation,
since the Etruscans, the founders and rulers of Rome for centuries, passed on to
the Romans an important part of their culture and skills.

The starting point: the root herm- in the „Pyrgi tablets“.

The starting point is an analysis of the only extant bilingual inscription; the so-
called „Pyrgi tablets“. These are three golden plates that record a dedication
made around 500 BC by Θefariei Veliana, king of Caere, to the Phoenician
goddess Ashtarte. Pyrgi was the port of the southern Etruscan town of Caere.
Two of the tablets are inscribed in the Etruscan language, the third in Punic,
Phoenician from Carthage.

One of the two Etruscan golden leaves is obviously only the summary of the
main one. The text on the main one is:

ita tmia icac heram-aśva vatie-χe Unialastres θemiasa meχ θuta Θefariei
Velianas sal cluvenia-s turuce munistas θuvas tameresca ilacve tulerase nac ci
avil χurvar teśiam-eita-le ilacve alśase nac atranes zilacal sel-eita-la acnaśver-s
itanim hermave avil eniaca pulumχva

The Phoenician text is:

2 Pauli, C. E. Altitalische Forschungen. (J.A. Barth, 1885).
3 V. Thomsen, Remarques sur la parenté de la langue étrusque, in Samlede
Ahfandlinger Vol. II. (København, 1919)
! 3!


’Z ‘Š P ’L W‘Š YTN



The accepted translation of the Punic (Phoenician) text runs like this:

l-rbt l-ʻštrt,
To lady Ashtarot,
ʼšr qdš ʼz, ʼš pʻl, w-ʼš ytn tbryʼ wlnš mlk ʻl kyšryʼ.
This is the holy place, which was made, and which was given by Tiberius
Velianas king of Caere (Kyšryʼ).
b-yrḥ zbḥ šmš, b-mtnʼ b-bt, wbn tw.
In the month of the sacrifice to the Sun, as a gift in the temple, he built an
k-ʻštrt ʼrš b-dy l-mlky šnt šlš, b-yrḥ krr, b-ym qbr ʼlm
For Ashtarot raised him with her hand to reign for three years from the month of
Churvar, from the day of the burial of the divinity [onward].
w-šnt lmʼš ʼlm b-bty šnt km h kkb m ʼl.
And the years of the statue of the divinity in the temple [shall be] as many years
as the stars above.

The first step is to break the Etruscan text into seemingly logical units,
following the structure of the Phoenician inscription.

If we compare the two texts without taking into account the traditional
interpretations, which always spoke of a "quasi"-bilingual inscription, we
cannot fail to observe the repeated presence in the Etruscan text of the
root *herm-, or *heram-, that I put into bold characters in the transcription of
the text.

The first time heram- seems to correspond to the Carthaginian QDŠ, qodesh,
holy place, sacred place or construction = temple in the Phoenician text: heram-
aśva = QDŠ, qodesh.
! 4!

The second time, hermave corresponds to ’LM, the divinity.

Until now, *herm-, or *heram-, was sometimes supposed to designate Hermes,

a name supposedly borrowed by the Etruscans from the Greeks, as they did with
Hercle (Heracles), on the basis of the same circular reasoning that attributed the
same root to Hermes where it appears five times in the epitaph of Laris Pulena,
under forms such as: hermu and hermeri, but where it would rather indicate an
association with the sacred.

The massive presence of Hermes in the Laris Pulena inscription is not justified
– and neither is it in the Pyrgi tablets, given the total absence of this Greek god
Hermes in the Etruscan iconography. We can even firmly state that the name
Hermes is wholly absent from all known Etruscan inscriptions. There is no
Hermes in the Phoenician translation either. Nothing thus would justify the
interpretation of *herm- by Hermes in an inscription specifically dedicated to
Juno/Astarte. The root should have the meaning of holy, or sacred, given that it
corresponds to the Carthaginian QDŠ and ’LM. Once we understand this, we
also realise that the Pyrgi tablets are closer to a bilingual than admitted hitherto.

We also can suppose that it is the Phoenician text that is the translation of the
Etruscan one and not the other way round. First, the Phoenician text gives the
name of the city: KYŠRY‘, Caere. There was no need for that in the Etruscan
text. For its citizens, it must have simply been: the City. Thus, the syntagm
TBRY‘ WLNŠ MLK ’L KYŠRY‘ corresponds to meχ θuta Θefariei Velianas.
Melek al KYŠRY‘, king of Caere, is thus the meχ θuta. TBRY‘ WLNŠ is
Θefariei Velianas.

Another indication that the Phoenician text is the translation of the Etruscan and
not the other way round is that the Punic (Phoenician) has kept the termination
–s of the Etruscan name, which should actually have been Θefariei Veliana.

Through the name of Θefariei Veliana we can also abandon the classical theory
that supposed the absence of voiced consonants in the Etruscan language, given
their absence in writing, something that is denied by the facts (such as TBRY’
corresponding to Θefariei, and to its probable Latin rendition: Tiberius; two
foreign and unrelated languages, Phoenician and Latin, thus reproduced
Etruscan F by B in this instance). This is one of the numerous inscriptions that
let us conclude that it is the Etruscan writing system that was poor and deficient,
not the language, and that Etruscan did actually not lack the voiced stops B, D,
G, as it is usually stated. Both Latin and Phoenician would have used a P or V,
or in Latin a simple F if the Etruscan name would have contained an actual F, as
the graphic rendition Θefariei would lead us to believe.
! 5!

Assuming that meχ θuta renders MLK ’L KYŠRY‘, the king of the city, is also
made plausible by comparing θuta with the Osco-Umbrian tuta = city. We
know the Umbrian word for a city: tuta with certitude from the Eugubine Tables
and we also know it to be an Indo-European word, related with the Germanic
teuta = people. Θuta would thus simply be a borrowing into Etruscan from one
of the neighbouring Italic languages such as Umbrian.

KYŠRY‘ is simply the name of Caere (which appears thus to have been named
Caesre, which gives regularly Caere in Latin. We know maχ to be one of the
numerals from 1 to 6 that appear on an Etruscan pair of dice where instead of
dots we have the numerals written in full letters and we can safely assume for
the time being that it corresponds to the number 1 (one). In the expression meχ
θuta, it would thus be the equivalent of the Latin primus, princeps, or of the
German Fürst, etymologically: the first, as in English. Maχ [mag] would give
meχ if we assume a passage through a form with the suffix –i: maχ / mag >
mag-i > mäg = meχ. Meχ, from the numeral 1, maχ, would thus be the title of
the chief of Caere, rendered into Phoenician by melek, king.

Etruscan herm-, Kartvelian γerm- and the notion of the «sacred»

We know of a language in which we have *γerm- to denote the sacred, the

Godhead: Svanetian, an understudied language from the Kartvelian (South
Caucasian) family, which also includes Georgian and the related Laz and
Mingrelian, spoken on the shores of the Black Sea.

In the Kartvelian languages, the word for God is built on the root *γertm -, or
*γmert-, one being the metathesis of the other. We have thus for God: γmert(i)
in Georgian, γermet in the Lower Bal dialect of Svan (γerbet in Upper Bal, with
the ergative γertem), γoront(i) in Mingrelian.

We identified the notion of the sacred in Etruscan through the quasi-bilingual

golden tablets of Pyrgi where, in the longest Etruscan inscription,
heramasva, at the end of the 1st line and beginning of the 2nd, corresponds
exactly to the Punic ‘ŠR QDŠ, the ”sacred place“ (which, we saw, brings the
Pyrgi tablets closer to the status of a bilingual than was thought until now). The
Punic LRBT L’ŠTRT ‘ŠR QDŠ corresponds thus exactly to heramasva vatieχe
unialastre „this sacred place of the divine Astarte“, Unial-Astre (Uni in
Etruscan, the Latin Juno being of Etruscan origin) being in the dative:
unialastre-s. Whatever the signification of vatieχe, heram-asva is equivalent to
‘ŠR QDŠ, «the sacred place».
! 6!

In identifying herm- as the root designating the «sacred», we find a

confirmation in the epitaph of the Tarquinia priest Lar Pulena (TLE 131), where
herm- figures no less than five times, in the following expressions: caθas
hermeri; caθas paχanac alumnaθe hermu; alumnaθ pul hermu huzrnatre; again
hermu; and in the name of the month of h/e/rm/e/rier. It is obvious that such a
profusion of the root herm- in a short text describing the cursus honorum of a
priest can only be related to God and the divine. The total absence of the root
herm- from the texts containing precise names of gods, like the Piacenza bronze
liver, is easily explained by the adjectival nature of the term: herm- wasn’t the
name of a particular god, but represented the ”godhead“, a notion rendered in
Kartvelian by γerm-/γertem. (As I mentioned, Etr. herm- has traditionally been
interpreted as referring to the Greek god Hermes. This is a totally gratuitous
interpretation, passed over from a generation of scholars to another. There is no
scriptural evidence of a Hermes in all the Etruscan iconography, and the god
corresponding to the Greek Hermes is always designated by the national name:

The nominal morphology

The intriguing similarity of the Kartvelian *γerm-/*γermet- root with the

Etruscan *herm- leads us to compare the morphology and the grammatical
structure of the Kartvelian languages, especially that of Svan, with what we
know about the Etruscan morphology.

A series of remarkable correspondences become immediately apparent. First of

all, identical case terminations and the dominance in both systems of an
overused ”dative“ case. For lack of a better nomenclature, this case has been
labelled ”dative“ in Kartvelian linguistics, although its uses overlap with those
of the accusative in other linguistic structures.

As has been shown5, Etruscan is a language with no grammatical genders

or nominal classes and with no accusative construction. These two facts alone
would not suffice to allow for the inclusion of Etruscan into the Kartvelian
group, which also shares these traits. Nevertheless, a closer comparison shows
that the similarities go much further. The system of declension in Etruscan and
Svan (and Kartvelian at large) is identical in its main points, that is: the lack of
specific terminations for the nominative (except for the Georgian recent -i) -
combined with the absence of the notion of ”accusative“, the direct and indirect
!Cf. G. Bonfante, L. Bonfante, The Etruscan language: an introduction. (Manchester
University Press; New York, 2nd ed., 2002).!
! 7!

objects of a transitive verb being both indicated by the ”dative“ case-, down to
the similarity of the terminations themselves.

Like in Svan, the Etruscan plural is formed by the addition of the particle
-er, -ar. In Etruscan, as well as in Svan, there is a multiple noun declension and
case terminations of the plural are identical to those in the singular, simply
added by agglutination to the noun in the plural. In both languages, there is
ablaut of the root of the declined noun in the oblique cases.

As has been well established within Etruscan studies, the declension of a

well known term such as clan (son), known from countless funerary
inscriptions, is:

NOM clan clen-ar
GEN clan-s clen-ar-a-s
DAT clen-s clinii-ar-a-s

Similarly, in Svan, a one-syllable noun such as xäm (pig) gives:

NOM xäm xam-är
GEN xäm–iš xam-är–iš
DAT xäm-s xam-är-s

In Etruscan, as well as in all Kartvelian languages, the terminations of the

genitive and of the dative are very similar, to the point of becoming almost
identical, as in Georgian. They are, thus, in Georgian (G), Laz (LAZ),
Mingrelian (MG) and Svan (SV):

Gen. –is –š –š –iš
Dat. –s –s –s –s

The similarity of the terminations for genitive and dative in Etruscan

allows us to address the riddle of the inscription adorning a kylix discovered in
Tarquinia (Testimonia Linguae Etruscae, 156): itun turuce venel atelinas tinas
cliniiaras. The unanimously accepted translation is: ”This was offered by Venel
Atelina to the Disokouroi“ (i.e. Tina’s sons, tinas cliniiaras, Tin, or Tina, being
the supreme god), but this seems to present the same termination for both
genitive and dative. Tina (Jupiter) is in the genitive (Tina-s), while clenar/
cliniiar (cliniiar-as) in the dative. The Etruscan Tinas cliniiaras (to Tina’s
! 8!

sons), functions exactly like in Old Georgian kacisa ʒesa, or kacis ʒes, ”to the
son of man“, where kac-is(a) is in the genitive (from kaci, man), and ʒe-s(a) is
in the dative (from ʒe, son).

This could pass for mere chance, were it not for the total concordance in
the special uses of this case, which, for lack of a better term, has been
traditionally called ”dative“. By applying the grammatical pattern of the
Kartvelian languages, we immediately understand the peculiar Etruscan uses of
the dative, which could not be explained until now.

Kartvelian languages have no accusative case, using in its place what we

call the ”dative“. For Etruscan, no accusative has been postulated either
(although it is thought that traces of an ”accusative“ case are still retained by the
known personal pronouns). In Kartvelian, the direct object of a transitive verb is
expressed by what we usually call the ”dative“. The Kartvelian dative is thus, as
one linguist put it, a ”functionally heavily burdened“ case6. Thus, in
Mingrelian :

- muma arʒen-s cxen-s skua-s, the father is giving a horse to his child,
where both the direct object, and the indirect object, cxen (horse) and skua
(child), are in the dative. Or, in Svan: eǯa xo:te bo:pš-s diär-s - he (eǯa) cuts
bread for the child. Or, to give an example in Svan, in the plural:
-- lamp’räl-s at’wra:lix, they light the lamps, where the termination of
the dative is simply added to the plural: lamp’räl-s.

The Etruscan dative in the plural is formed in exactly the same way as in
lamp’räl-s: by agglutinating the same termination -s, as in the singular, after the
mark of the plural: cliniiar-a-s, to the sons.

Once the rule is understood, the morphology and syntax of Etruscan start
to become comprehensible. The Kartvelian extensive use of the dative in -s
allows us to understand the similar use and the ordering of the famous
inscription on the Florence statue known as the ”Arringatore“ (on which the
signs for ś, and s, are inverted, as was the custom of the Northern Etruscan

auleśi meteliś ve(lus) vesial clenśi

cen flereś tece sanśl tenine tuθines χisvulicś

!H. Fähnrich, Old Georgian, in The Indigenous Languages of the Caucasus, A. C. Harris,
Ed. (Caravan Books, Delmar, New York, 1991), vol. I, Kartvelian Languages, p. 188.!
! 9!

To Aule Metele, son of Vel and Vesi,

this statue (fler) was dedicated/put- sanśl tenine- by the city (tuθ).

The meaning of the above translation has been well established. We also have
the same borrowed word for the city: tuθ, as in the Pyrgi tablets: θuta, only with
inverted values for θ and t.

However, it has never been understood why the well known word fler, statue,
offering, sacrifice, should be in the dative case, flereś, since fler is the direct
object of the active verb tece (put/dedicated). But, in the Kartvelian
grammatical logic, fler/statue has to be in the dative. (cf. Georg. cers c‘ign-s, he
writes a book, c‘ign-). Later on, we will find that Kartvelian grammatical
logic explains also why the demonstrative article eca gives cen in the dative, so
that the group eca fler becomes in the dative cen flereś (see infra: Svan nom.
eǯa -dat. eč+n).

Another peculiar utilisation of the dative in Kartvelian is for the

designations of time and duration. Thus in Old Georgian, in the dative singular:
-- dγe-sa šabat-sa, on the day of Sabbath

In Mingrelian, with day and night in the dative singular:

-- sum dγa-s do sum ser-s, three days and three nights

The same occurs in Laz:

-- mažura ndγa-s, on the second day

In the same way, in Etruscan, on funeral inscriptions, the word designating the
year, avil, is always in the dative singular, with -s: XX avil-s lupu, ”he died at
the age of XX years“. The word avil (year), appearing on thousands of funerary
inscriptions, was one of the first to be interpreted with certitude; however, the
fact that it should take the termination -s of the dative has always puzzled
researchers. In Kartvelian, as we have seen, the dative case is the one used for
designations of time and duration. The identity of the termination of the dative,
-s, combined with its two special uses, for the designation of the direct object of
an active verb, and its temporal use, should exclude any explanation by chance.

Such a comparison of our two grammatical systems yields thus a whole

series of similarities. By using the mechanism of the Kartvelian languages one
can understand the formation of a certain number of vocables in Etruscan, and
vice versa. By using the Kartvelian key, we discover that Etruscan possessed
another case, undetected until now, which we can name, following the
Kartvelian tradition, ”adverbial“. The Kartvelian adverbial case, through the
adjunction to the root of –d, or -t, indicates a function, or a particular quality.
! 10!

The termination is -d, or –ad, in Georgian and Svan, -t in Mingrelian. Thus in

Old Georgian:

-- mamak’ac-ad da dedak’ac-ad kmna igini, he created them man and


-- man daswa igi mepe-d – he installed him as king (from mepe, king).

Let us now take the extremely frequent Etruscan term zilaθ, or zilat,
which has been known to designate the consul, or the Roman duumvir, and the
well identified numeral zal, ”two“, (z representing, as has already been
proposed, the affricate [ts], corresponding to the Kartvelian c and c‘). The
meaning of both terms, zal (two) and zilaθ (consul), has long been known, but
the relation between the two was never established.

By applying the mechanism of the Kartvelian adverbial case in -d or -t, we see

that Etruscan could form, from the numeral zal (2) the very frequent term zilaθ,
designating each of the members of the dual, collegial, annual leadership of a
given city, or of a function. We know that the Etruscans introduced the
institution of duumviri at Rome. It was the second Tarquinius who created the
office of the duumviri sacris faciundis7.

The Etruscan zilaθ, a very frequent terms in Etruscan epigraphy, seems

thus obviously derived from the root of the numeral zal, two, the Latin duumvir
being just a translation, an adaptation of zilaθ. The mechanism through which
zal furnishes zilaθ can be explained only through Kartvelian. One can also bring
a supplementary argument proving that the termination –θ is not organic to the
root zal-: the fact that the name of the same function of duumvir was also
rendered by zilaχ8, with the –χ termination of agents and ethnonyms, like in
Rumaχ (Roman), and Velznaχ (a native of Volsinii).

On the other hand, the common root *zal, *zel, *zil is very well attested
in Kartvelian (cal-, cel-, cil-). In verbs, it indicates the splitting in two: Sv. licel,
to be broken in two (li- is the prefix of all Svan infinitives), transitive: li-cle,
to break in two; Ge. mo-cil-eba, separation from someone; cal-k'uli, separated.
The Kartvelian root cal- also designates the member of a couple of objects, or
simply the half: cal-tvala, one-eyed; cal-k'uza, with one hump, dromedary;
calrkiani, unicorn; cal-pexa, one-legged; cal-xela, with one arm. Starting from
here: mo-cile = enemy, the one who is in front of me. Through the adverbial
!Dumézil, G. La religion romaine archaïque : avec un appendice sur la religion des
Étrusques (Payot, 1987), pp. 593-594.
!D. Briquel, Les Etrusques : peuple de la différence. (A. Colin, Paris, 1993), p 106.!
! 11!

suffix -ad, *cal- produced also in Georgian calad, alone. Precisely, the
formation of calad is exactly parallel to the one of the Etruscan zilat, which
from this perspective appears clearly as the one whom the Romans were naming
a "duumvir", a member of a pair.

(We have an exact parallel of this Etruscan-Kartvelian use of one single

root in the sense of unity, duality and half in the way in which the Indo-
European root *sem- produced on the one hand the Greek numerals ἕν and εἷς,
one, and the Latin semel, once, and on the other hand the Greek ἥµι and the
Latin semi, half.)

Another grammatical parallelism is offered by the way in which

postpositions, both in Etruscan and in Kartvelian languages, are connected to
the governed word in the dat. or gen. case. Thus, in Laz: sum tuta-š-kul - after
three months (tuta, month in gen. sing.); bozo-š-kal - with the girl (in the Atina
dialect); oputešk‘el (= towards the country, Dumézil 1937), decomposed in
opute-š-k‘el, where -š- is the gen. termination and -k‘el the postposition

Now, if we compare this Kartvelian grammatical mechanism with the

one-word dedication to Jupiter/Tin on the famous Chimera from Arezzo (TLE
643): tinścvil, we see that it is formed in exactly the same way, to be obviously
divided in tin-ś-cvil: on Tin (Jupiter) is appended the genitive termination -ś,
followed by the postposition -cvil.

Kartv. opute-š-kel (towards the country), bozo-š-kal (with the girl), sum
tuta-š-kul (after three months), and Etr. tin-ś-cvil (to Jupiter) are built in exactly
the same way.

Typological cross-verifications

If we accept that such a similarity of structural traits as we show here

cannot be simply attributed to mere chance, we must also deduct that by using
grammatical patterns from one of the two compared systems we should be able
to predict similar patterns in the other. Such would be the obligatory use of the
preposed personal pronoun in the conjugation. In the Svan conjugation, as in all
other Kartvelian languages, the category of person and the direct, as well as the
indirect, object of a transitive verb are preposed and form an integral part of the
verb: mirdi, he raises me; ǯirdi (ǯ is is Svan the result of the palatalisation of an
archaic g-), he raises you. M- and ǯ- in Svan (m- and g- in the other Kartvelian
languages) representing the 1st and 2nd personal pronouns in the singular, and
the forms being identical for direct and indirect objects, mirdi and ǯirdi can also
! 12!

translate: he raises for me and he raises for you.

Now, let us take two Etruscan dedicatory inscriptions:

-- mi titasi cver menaχe (TLE 282, on a mirror, translated tentatively ”I was

given in the name of Tita“)
-- mi qutun lemauśnaś ranazu zinake (TLE 28, ”I am the kōthōn of Lemauśna;
Ranazu made/offered (me?)“, this being the traditional interpretation)

It has always been thought that menake and zinake (elsewhere menaχe and
zinaχe; the various spellings of the guttural is due to the difference in Etrruscan
regional conventions of spelling) represent different verbs, although, given the
profusion of other verb forms whose meaning has been tentatively rendered as
”to give“, or ”to offer“ one would be justified in trying to find an alternative

In our inscriptions, following the Kartvelian pattern, menaχe and zinake

simply seem to reproduce the m- and ǯ- of a Kartvelian, m-ena-χe and z-ena-χe
(-χe is the Etruscan termination of the past). zinake would thus mean ”ranazu
made/gave (me) for you“ (ǯ-inake), while menake is the same verb with the
preposed 1st person instead of the 2nd (m-enake). We would thus have a
confirmation of the fact that the alphabet of the Etruscans was very ill adapted
to the phonetics of their language and that z was reproducing the whole series of
the palatals, as well as of the affricates. This is immediately obvious in some
graphical choices, like the spelling of the numeral huθzar, where the
combination of huθ (probably 5) and śar (10) produced [č], spelled θz.

Incidentally, hut- is the Kartvelian numeral for 5 *(five): Georgian huti.

It thus follows that z reproduces indiscriminately the two series of

affricates (c, c‘, Ʒ) and palato-alveolars (č, č‘, ǯ) of the Kartvelian languages.
We have in zal (two) the voiceless affricate of Kartv. cal-, cel-, cil-, but in other
Etruscan words z corresponds to the Kartv. ejective (glottalized) affricate c‘, as
in the root for ”book“ and ”to write“: ziχ (cf. Georg. c‘ig-ni = book, identical
with ”book“ in the epitaph of Lars Pulena (TLE 131): ancn ziχ neθśrac,
correctly interpreted traditionally as ”this holy book“ (this-book-holy), neθśrac
itself, ”holy“, being an obviously composed word that can be compared with the
old Georgian net‘ar, as in the Biblical expression ”net’-ar-i Saaba“ = ”blessed

By using the Kartvelian key, we can even tentatively decrypt the

etymology of some Etruscan terms. Thus, to stay with our inscription:
mi titasi cver menaχe (translated tentatively Tita gave me as a gift, with cver
! 13!

unexplained), we can reorder it in : mi menaχe (I was given) titasi cver (in the
name of Tita). Cver in such a formula would clearly mean “name”/”in the name
of” (Sv. gwär, instr. gwärw, ”by the name of“, Georg. gvari, name). Tita is in
the genitive, tita-s-i, with the optional euphonic vowel -i appended very
frequently to some grammatical terminations, both in Etruscan and in
Kartvelian. titasi cver is thus simply ”in the name of Tita“ mi menaχe (I was

This would make perfect sense out of a similar inscription, also on a

bronze mirror (TLE 752):

tite cale atial turce malstria cver.

Tite Cale gave (turce) this mirror (malstria) in the name of his mother (atial

cver, where ati-al, mother (ati) in the attributive genitive, is in apposition with

Also, in the religious text of the Liber Linteus, written on a mummy

wrapping preserved in a Zagreb museum, we have a succession of
administrative entities in favour of which prayers are to be addressed to the
gods. The formulae are clearly similar to those in the Umbrian language from
the Tabulae Iguvinae. The succession of administrative entities in the Liber
Linteus is: ”sacnicleri spureri meθlumeri“. The meanings of spura (= city, cf.
the Etruscan neighbourhood of Suburra in Rome) and meθlum ( = territory)
have long been identified. The logic of the succession of the invocations shows
that the remaining one, sacna, or sometimes sacnicla has to be something
inferior, in descending order, from the territory (meθlum) to the city (spura),
and down the administrative scale.

These sacnicleri that have to be blessed, coming down the ladder from
territory to city, and lower, can only be the fields, the arable fields.
The Kartvelian grammatical mechanism would offer an immediate
explanation for the formation of the word sacna, or sacnicla: qana or qona is
the ploughable field in Svan and the sister Kartv. languages. Kartvelian uses the
very frequent sa- prefix to form names of collectives, or entities; thus the
country of the Georgians, of the Kasrtvelians, is called in their own language
sa-kartvel-o, or brotherhood in Svan is said sa-mxub (from muxbe, brother), or
we can see that a word like house, sa-xl-i, is formed from an unknown root
*xel-. In Etruscan we would obtain sa-qna (in Svan, the root vowel also usually
disappears in composition, as in u-qna: unploughed) from qona, sa-qna thus
designating the totality of the fields.
! 14!

The same procedure of creating abstracts or collectives from a syncopated root

by the addition of the prefix sa- would offer, when reversed, a satisfactory
etymology to the very Kartvelian name of the house: saxli, from an
unattested root xel- : in Etruscan hel-, pl. hilar, is another name of the ”land“,
identified in the expression helu tesne rasne: terrae jus Etruriae, according to
the Latin translation. The plural hilar was also used to designate the limes, the
border of a territory, as we see on countless stone stelae. From hel, we would
get sa-hl-i (Gorgian sa-xl-i = house, where -i is just the termination of the
nominative in Georgian), in the same way in which from Kartv. qona we would
get Etr. sa-qna.

Incidentally, another Etruscan word that we know to mean territory: ceχana --

which we find, to quote just one instance, in the ”inscription of Velθur
Partunus“ (TLE 126): zilχ ceχaneri = ruler of the land -- is identical with the old
Georgian kweq’ana, as in:

kmnna γmertman cay da kweq’anay / God (γmert) made the heaven and the
earth (kweq’ana). In the Etruscan zilχ ceχaneri (ruler of the land) we find the
perfect equivalent of the old Georgian kweq’ana.

The pronominal flexion

The most striking similarities centre on the known personal pronouns.

The Etruscan personal pronouns for the 1st and 3rd persons singular are
identical with their Kartvelian correspondents: mi, and eca (eca, as it has been
shown, is actually a demonstrative, which, as in many languages, was used as
personal pronoun: he/she/it). Mi is present on hundreds of Etruscan objects in
inscriptions of the kind: ”I belong to...“. Eca has been identified thanks to
scenes like the one painted on a crate from Vulci (TLE 334), where we see
Alceste, who descended into Hell to sacrifice herself in order to free her
husband: eca ersce nac aχrum - flerθrce: “She (i.e. eca) went (ers-ce) to (nac)
the Acheron (aχrum). She sacrificed herself”. The Etruscan pronouns mi and
eca correspond exactly to the Svan mi and eǯa, as well as to the Georgian me
and ege/igi. (Historically, the Svan ǯ derives in certain conditions from g; [ega]
was certainly the actual pronunciation of the Etruscan eca, the Etruscan
alphabet making no distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants.)

But the Etruscan and Svan pronouns are also identical in their flexion.
Thus, in Svan, the dative of eǯa (Etruscan eca) is eč+n, while in Etruscan eca
becomes cen. All Etruscan demonstrative pronouns form the dative in the same
way, e.g. ita > itun, etc. (again, this case was wrongly considered until now as
an ”accusative“, a grammatical notion absent both in Etruscan and in
! 15!

Kartvelian). We have thus two identical personal pronouns out of three in the

Coming back to the Liber Linteus, we also find what could be the possessive
form of the Etruscan first person plural pronoun: ni - enaś = our,
present more than a dozen times at the end of the enumeration of those entities
for which prayers were offered: śacnicleri spureri meθlumeri enaś / ”(for) our
lands, city and country“. Enaś seems the possessive, or the genitive form, of a
first person plural pronoun ni, in the same way in which in Svan niš-ge is the
possessive of näy, we, (-ge is a mere suffix appended to all Svan possessive
pronouns). Correspondences between personal pronouns are a sure sign of
kinship between languages. As it is well established in linguistics, personal
pronouns are among the most resistant elements of any given language and they
are never subject to borrowings.

In the plural, we can thus acquire the certitude of identifying the Etruscan
pronoun for the first person, we: ni, which in Svan is na, nä, näy, according to
the dialect. Ni adorns a small series of votive objects found across Etruria and it
was considered until now to be an error of the engravers for the first person mi.
This is highly unlikely, especially in such a simple and usual word. Pallotino‘s
Testimonia Linguae Etruscae9 lists five instances of ni, and no other confusion
between an m and an n is known. The survival of votive objects carrying such
botched simple inscriptions is also unlikely, for obvious reasons of economic
and social prestige: nobody would have offered or put in a tomb such valueless
artefacts. Objects with inscriptions like ni larisa larecenas must have been part
of a set, a series, each one of them announcing: ”We belong to Lar Larce“...

To continue with the typological cross-examination, if we know with a

total certitude the pronouns mi (I) and eca (he/she/it) and have found a plausible
ni (we), together with the possessive enaś, we absolutely have to identify a sin/
sen or śin/śen for the missing 2nd person singular, because this is the form that
the 2nd person singular pronoun has in the Kartvelian languages. We actually
find, in the columns V and IX of the Liber Linteus: śin eiser śic śeuc, where śin
is clearly in apposition with the same formula used elsewhere in the text: eiser
śic śeuc, without śin. In the same way, we find śin eiser faśeiś, or śin vinum
flere neθunsl. These look like imperative sentences where śin is used alternately
in an apposition. The second formula -vinum flere neθunsl- is very clear and it
has always been translated as: ”sacrifice wine (as in a libation) to Neptune“. śin
is clearly optional and it could only be the personal pronoun singular: thou,
identical with the one in the Kartv. languages and perfectly completing the
!M. Pallottino, Testimonia linguae etruscae. (La nuova Italia, Firenze, 1968)!
! 16!

The missing ergative case

When one reviews all the similitudes that we reveal here: the known
pronouns, identity of the casual system, perfect superposition of the use of the
various cases, down to the most improbable idiosyncrasies and lexical
similitudes, one is forced to admit that we are confronted with two identical
morpho-syntactic systems, a concordance which excludes the intervention of
chance. Still, one major objection can arise: the apparent absence of an ergative
(or narrative, as it is sometimes called) case in Etruscan. Languages built on the
model of the Kartvelian can only be of the ergative type. (The ergative is the
case of the subject of transitive verbs and sometimes of intransitive actives that
stand in a form of the aorist).

At first sight, there seems to be no place in the Etruscan casual system for
a possible ”ergative“ termination, but this is because until now linguists have
not thought of Etruscan as of a functioning system, but as of an accumulation of
isolated characteristics. When one tries to identify the missing ergative
termination, one realises that, given the nature of the surviving texts, this case
could only be appended to proper names (such and such has given, offered,
made, etc.). We then see that a great number of names of donors, offerers and
makers that appear in the inscriptions bear the termination -s, a circumstance
which again has never been explained. In fact, languages such as Svan and Laz
use very often the same dative in -s to mark the actant subject of a verb in the
past where in other languages we would expect a mark of the ergative.

Thus in Svan:
eǯi-s p‘lat‘uk xočo:na - he has rolled (it) up into a cloth,
where eǯi-s is one of the forms of dative of eǯa (he, she) in the function of the
subject of a transitive verb in the past.

bepšw xa:mne lezweb-s mäydär-s - the child gave bread to the hungry ones,
where child -the actant subject- is in the dative where we would expect an

or in Laz :
nana-s ubirun skiri-ša - the mother (nana) sang to the child, with mother in the
dative: nana-s, in place of the expected ergative.

Kartvelian offers thus the only possible key for explaining the triple use
of the termination -s in dedications such as itun turuce venel atelinas tinas
! 17!

cliniiaras (”This was given by Venel Atelina to the sons of Tina/Jupiter, i.e. the
Dioscouroi), where we have atelina-s (dat.), itun (dat.) tina-s (gen.) and
cliniiara-s (dat.) exactly like we would have in Svan eǯi-s (xa:mne) lezweb-s
mäydär-s - he gave bread to the hungry ones.

Etr. -- atelina-s (turuce) itun tina-s cliniiara-s - Atelina gave to the sons of God
Sv. -- eǯi-s (xa:mne) lezweb-s mäydär-s - he gave bread to the hungry ones.

Trubetzkoy10 has also shown that in some languages it is the form of the
genitive that coincides with that of the ergative. We know that in Old Georgian,
the function of the genitive was more extended than today, and it was often
found before other endings, like those of the adverbial: Parnavaz-is-ad,
compared to the regular Parnavaz-ad. The ergative is also the only case that
presents no common, or coherent terminations across the spectrum of the
Kartvelian languages.

Other lexical correspondences / Etruscan - Svan core cognates

At the lexical level, Etruscan and Kartvelian share a number of important

isoglosses (we leave aside the personal pronouns already mentioned, and those
words, like zilaθ whose formation was explained above). At the same time, in
what concerns the lexical comparison, we have to keep in mind that the
phonetics of Svan has been profoundly dislocated before the first recorded

Father - Etr. apa, phon. [aba] - Kartv. baba

Mother - Etr. ati, phon. [adi] - Kartv. di

In both instances, the voiced quality of the Etruscan stops is hidden by

the writing, which made no distinction between voiced and voiceless. One could
object that K. baba might as well be a loanword from Turkish, but it is present
in all four K. languages, and Klimov11 accepts it as native, based on the fact that
in Georgian, under the form babua, it designates the uncle. The root for mother,
di-, still found in pure form in Svan, is reduplicated in the other languages: dida
in Mg.-Laz, deda in Georgian.

N. S. Trubetzkoy, Studies in General Linguistics and Language Structure. (Duke
University Press, London, 2001), p. 80.
Г. А. Климов, Этимологический словарь картвельских языков. (Москва, 1964), p. 47.
! 18!

Daughter, Son - Etr. seχ (daughter) - Mg. skua, Laz ski-ri, Sv. sge, ske (son)
The divergence in meaning is secundary: Klimov12 has shown that all
Kartvelian terms come from the root *-šw-, to beget, to give birth.

To write, book - Etr. ziχ-, Georg. c‘ig-ni, to write, book, has been shown

Moon, Etr. tivr :

In Old Georgian this is attested as m-tovare, m-tvare, where m- is just a
common phonetical excrescence without any etymological value (cf. G. m-gel-i,
wolf, Min. ger), the oldest attested form being thus tovare, to be compared with
the Etr. tivr. (Matth. 24, 29: m-tovare-man ara gamosces nateli tvisi, the moon
will not give its light). In Georgian and the other related languages this lexeme
also exists in shorter forms, in G. twite, ttue, tue, in ming. tuta, Laz (m)tuta.
Svan is here alone in having an aberrant form, došdul, došt’ul, about which all
that can be said is that it is a diminutive (suffix -ul).

Sun, Etr. usil (phon. [uzì:l]):

The Kartvelian forms are: G. m-ze, Inguri dialect zej, Ming. b-ža, Laz –
m-žu-a, m-žo-ra, svan miž/m+ž. This is an example of the well-known use in
Etruscan of the same letters to represent the voiceless consonants, as well as the
voiced and ejective phonemes. The letter s (s) in usil was obviously rendering
the voiced spirant [z] (the Etruscan letter z (z) being used, as we have seen, for
the affricates corresponding to the Kartvelian c and c‘). Usil appears to be a
diminutive formed with the suffix –il. The root was *-z-, which we find in the
kartvelian ze-, b-ža, m-žu-a, m-iž (the correspondence between a Georgian z and
a Svan-Mg-Laz ž is a well attested fact in the history of Kartvelian languages).
Usil, the Etruscan name of the sun, is obviously a secondary formation,
proceeding either from the adjunction of the diminutival suffix, –il, thus us-il, or
with the help of the homophone suffix –il found in Georgian in words like dum-
il-i, silence, or by a circumfix u-il. One would thus obtain u-s-il, ”the shiny“,
from a root *-s- ([-z-]), to shine, in the same way in which in Georgian, from
the root -dg-, to stand, we have a-dg-il-i, place. (Klimov13 raises a similar
hypothesis as to the form of the Kartvelian root meaning ”sun“, ”to shine“,
which he tentatively reconstructs as *mze-, allowing that m- could also be just
an excrescence, or the first part of a circular affix m-e applied to a root *-z-
meaning ”to shine“). All things considered, everything points in the direction of
usil being a diminutive. The reason for which i in usil kept its phonetic value,
Г. А. Климов, op. cit. pp 139-140.
!Г. А. Климов, op. cit. p. 134.!
! 19!

instead of closing into ? or a, as we would expect in Etruscan, which usually

had the accent on the first syllable, is furnished by the Svan phonology. In this
language, diminutives in -i:l move the accent of the word on the suffix itself,
which then has a long vowel, cf. Sv. dedber-ì:l (old woman, from the Georgian
dedaberi). It appears thus that usil should be read [uzì:l].

Young, new, Etr. husrna - Svan, γwžur or na-γwžur

This is a case in which we not only discover the exact correspondent of
an important Etruscan adjective in Svan, but we also uncover another proof that
the Etruscan writing system simply did not represent voiced consonants,
although these were perfectly present and functional in the phonetic structure of
the language. In this case, the Etruscan h (h) corresponds again to a Svan [γ]
(the modern greek γ, or to the Spanish jota), which shows that one and the same
graphic sign, h (h), was representing both the voiceless spirant [x], and its
voiced correspondent [γ], while [ž] was rendered simply by s (s, x), sometimes
z (z), or other combinations. We see this on two mirrors engraved with figures
of mythological characters representing young Mars. On both, the adolescent
Mars is called Mariś husrnana, interpreted as “Mars juvenilis” already by
Trombetti14. The epithet is husrna with a reduplicating suffix: husr-na-na. In
Svan, γwžur or na-γwžur, is the male adolescent. A brave man, the man in the
sense of vir is called γwaž-māre, pl. γwažär (māre is simply « man » in Svan,
γwaž adding a sense of young force). A brave adolescent is called: maxe-γwaž,
from maxe = new, young. The Etruscan husr-na is thus in a perfect symmetry
with the Svan na-γwžur. Reciprocally, like in a mirror, the Svan. γwaž-māre
corresponds to the Etruscan mariś-husrnana. On other inscriptions, we have the
term husiur clearly representing “sons”, male children. On those inscriptions,
[ž] was obviously rendered by the group -si-, γwžur = husiur, instead of a
simple s. The word husrna designating the adolescent, it follows thus that
huslna vinum offered for libation in the religious ritual reproduced in the Liber
Linteus can only mean “new wine”, with γwžul- for γwžur, which shows simply
a dialectal particularity. Having to represent the sounds [γ] et [ž], the Etruscans
have employed the letters at their disposal: h (H) and s (S). Mariś husrnana is
thus to be read as Maris γwžrnana.

The most likely conclusion, in front of this schematically presented

evidence, is that Etruscan and Kartvelian are genetically related. By
comparison, a language possessing a first person pronoun with the form
*eghwom and an accusative case with the termination –m, which termination,
besides being applied to the direct object (libru-m) would also serve for
!Trombetti, A. La lingua etrusca. Grammatica, testi con commento, saggi di
traduzione interlineare, lessico. (1928), p. 180.
! 20!

expressing various adverbial notions, like direction (eo Roma-m) and time
(nocte-m) would unhesitatingly –and rightly so- be accepted as Indo-European,
even if most of its vocabulary would remain inaccessible and incomprehensible.
We wouldn’t be dealing with random lexical coincidences, but with the
repetition of one and the same complex and delicate morpho-syntactical system.
A similar assumption should be made about the relationship between Etruscan
and Kartvelian. Here also, we don’t only have a perfect concordance of the very
forms of all the attested (in the case of Etruscan) casual terminations, but also
an identity of their usage, which is so unusual and complex as to exclude any
explanation by coincidence.

The identical first person pronoun mi, the complex functions of the
overburdened dative case in -s, combined with the similarity of the termination
of the dative case with the termination of the genitive case show again that
coincidence should be totally excluded. To the similarities of the grammatical
systems we can add a series of lexical correspondences –usil (sun), tivr (moon),
husar (young), herma (sacred)-, and also the fact that the etymology of some
important words (zal - zilaθ, two - duumvir) becomes clear only from the
comparison of the two linguistic systems.

Klimov15 has already suggested that Svan separated from the other
Kartvelian languages at the beginning of the second millennium a. Ch. Etruscan
is attested in writing in central Italy starting from the 7th century a. Ch. The
lack of a marked dialectal dispersion in Etruria speaks, as Helmut Rix has
pointed out16, ”for a relatively late spread of the language from a limited area“.
An archaic inscription written in a language that is clearly what could be called
an ”Etruscan dialect“ has been discovered at the end of the 19th century on the
Greek island of Lemnos (cf. inter all. Bonfante17). The path is cleared.

!G. A. Klimov, Die kaukasischen Sprachen. (Buske, Hamburg, 1969), pp. 45-46.
!H. Rix, Etruscan, in The Ancient Languages of Europe, R. Woodard, Ed. (Cambridge
University Press, 2008), p. 142.!
!G. Bonfante, L. Bonfante, The Etruscan language: an introduction. (Manchester Press;
New York, 2nd ed., 2002).