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Attidian is the name given to a language documented in a single inscription on a bronze situla found at Attiggio (ancient Attidium) in Italy (not far from Gubbio, where the famous Iguvine Tables were found) in 1932. The inscription consists of one seven-word sentence; fortunately, it is a bilingual, giving the same sentence also in Latin.

The inscription

The inscription is in Latin script on a bronze situla dated to the 1st century BC, which apparently was a votive gift to the goddess Juno. The full text of the inscription is:


The meaning of the Latin text is clear: 'Hercules Lafanius gave me to you, Juno the Starmaker.' The first person pronoun refers to the object carrying the inscription, as usual in ancient Italy. The Attidian version obviously begins with the same name in a somewhat altered form, Hirculua Lafanianua, and the rest appears to be parallel to the Latin version and is assumed to have the same meaning.


As usual with such inscriptions, we can never be sure how it was pronounced, but it is certainly reasonable to assume that the letters had the same values as in Latin; <z> probably represents some kind of voiced sibilant or affricate. It is not certain whether the groups <va> and <ia> in the names are to be read as /wa/, /ja/ or as bisyllabic /ua/, /ia/, though. The spelling allows for both possibilities.

The Attidian inscription long resisted interpretation. Antoniadi (1937) assumed it to be Etruscan, but that interpretation was shattered by Corto (1947) as well as most other reviewers. The language bears no obvious similarity to Etruscan, which of course is itself too poorly known to be of much help. Other authors, such as Giovannese-Smith (1951) and Blanchetti (1960), attempted to show that the inscription was in a Sabellic (Oscan-Umbrian) language, with little success.

The breakthrough was made by Kellermann (1964), who proposed that the inscription was in a hitherto unknown Hesperic language. Edemin (1970) even assumed that it was in a Middle Albic dialect and the situla deposited by an Elf; however, Wilkes (1972) and Hornberger (1973) convincingly showed that the inscription is in a Mediterranean Hesperic rather than an Albic language. This article in general follows Kellermann's analysis.

The starting point of the analysis is the name Hirculua Lafanianua with which the inscription begins. Clearly, Hirculua is an adaptation of the well-known Latin name Hercules, itself via Etruscan Hercle adapted from Greek Ηρακλης. The name was modified at the end, apparently to make it fit into the nominal morphology of the language. Also, the /e/ in Hercules was changed into /i/, apparently because Attidian lacked /e/; probably, /o/ was also absent, and Attidian had only the three vowels /a i u/ found in the text - a conservative Hesperic trait. We see a suffix -ua which resembles the well-known Hesperic masculine gender marker *-wa underlying, for instance, the Old Albic masculine ending -o. The same suffix is found in the second part of the name, Lafanianua, where it follows an element -ian, which could be connected to Hesperic *jan- 'child', an element used for the formation of patronymics in many Hesperic languages.

The second name in the inscription, the name of the goddess the situla was offered, is given as IVNO STELLIFEX, i.e. 'Juno the Starmaker', in the Latin version. Obviously, the Attidian counterpart is Silbias Isazarias. Here we see a final -s in both words, which will be discussed below; it is preceded by an element -ia, which corresponds to the Hesperic feminine gender marker *-ja. The name Silbia is apparently a cognate of Old Albic Silbe, the name of a goddess that is worshipped as the "mother of the stars" and could be considered the Old Albic equivalent of Juno; in one of the songs collected by Mørdindo of Brisembara, she bears the epithet Isidire 'Starmaker', to which Isazaria (if < *Isa-djar-ja) appears to be cognate, and 'Starmaker' is the meaning of the epithet in the Latin version!

As for the ending -s, this ending marked the genitive in Proto-Hesperic, but in the Mediterranean branch of the family, it acquired the meaning of a topic marker and vocative case; the latter is evidently its function in the inscription.

Now everything falls into its place. The remaining three words of the inscription, man daraf fal, thus mean 'gave me to you'. The Proto-Hesperic word for 'me' (objective case) is *mam; in Continental West Hesperic, final */m/ gave /n/, so we get exactly the form man found in the inscription. The dative of the second-person singular pronoun is *t‘an in Proto-Hesperic, but in Continental West Hesperic, the originally partitive ending *-l acquired the meaning of a dative ending after the original dative had fallen together with the accusative by the aforementioned sound change. A dative *t‘al could have become fal in Attidian (probably via a form *θal). Finally, the verb form daraf seems to date back to Proto-Hesperic *dar- 'to give'; the origin and exact meaning of the ending -af, however, remains unclear. Rübenkönig (1989) assumes it to be in origin a past participle in *-at‘, as it is found in other Mediterranean Hesperic languages.


© 2010 Jörg Rhiemeier
Last update: 2010-10-11