Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Jorma Kaimio, The South Etruscan Cippus Inscriptions (SECI). Acta instituti Romani Finlandiae, 44. Rome: Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, 2017. Pp. 328. ISBN 9788871407814. €40,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Rex Wallace, University of Massachusetts Amherst (

Version at BMCR home site

Jorma Kaimio's The South Etruscan Cippus Inscriptions (SECI) is a comprehensive study of the Etruscan and Latin inscriptions incised on funerary cippi recovered from the settlements of Caere, Tarquinia, Tuscania, Volsinii veteres and novi, and Vulci.1 SECI completes the author's work initiated by the publication of the inscribed cippi housed in the Museo Nazionale di Tarquinia (Kaimio 2010).

The book is organized into three sections: (1) an introduction, (2) a series of commentaries on the inscriptions from each of the five communities just mentioned, and (3) a catalogue of inscriptions. The book concludes with bibliography, indices, and concordances.

The commentary covers the typology of the cippi, paleography, names and their onomastic structures, and an assortment of issues pertaining to spelling and language. Each catalogue entry includes: (i) a transcription of the inscription, (ii) references to earlier publications, (iii) the find-spot of the cippus if known, (iv) the morphology and dimensions of the cippus, (v) the size of the letterforms if known, (vi) brief notes on paleography and troublesome readings, and finally, whenever criteria are available, (vii) the date. Drawings and photographs accompany a handful of entries. Unfortunately, the photographs are not as useful to the reader as they might have been, even if one acknowledges the difficulties of photographing inscriptions on volcanic stone.

In the introduction Kaimio describes the limits and the limitations of his investigation. The catalogue is restricted to epitaphs incised on funerary cippi made of volcanic stone (nenfro, peperino, macco). Each community, with the exception of Tarquinia and Tuscania, developed its own distinctive forms and, in the case of Caere, the distinction was extended to the gender of the deceased (cippi in the form of a house represented females; those in the form of a column represented males). Most cippi were less than 2 feet high and the field for incising text was cramped. Hence their inscriptions were short and abbreviations common; content consisted in large part of the names of the deceased plus filiation, although there were notable exceptions (for which, see below). The letters were typically less than 2 inches high, but letters less than an inch in height were not uncommon. For the most part, the cippi were designed to be free-standing and were placed at the entrances of tombs, presumably for literate members of the family to read. The cippus and the content of the epitaph were commissioned by members of the deceased's family. The texts were generally inscribed by professional carvers, but the letters on some cippi were so poorly made that one suspects they were incised by a member of the deceased's family.

Despite the fact that space for incising the epitaphs was at a premium, regional differences did exist. The epitaphs from Tarquinia and Tuscania, both Etruscan and Latin, frequently indicated the age of the deceased, e.g., sentes . l(arθ) . σ(eθres) . svalce | avil . XXX, "Larth Sentes, (son of) Shetre, lived for 30 years." (K301).1 This inscription, K301, illustrates another feature of Etruscan funerary inscriptions from this area: the deceased's gentilicium was highlighted by being placed in initial position in the onomastic phrase. The Etruscan cippus inscriptions from Caere adopted a Latin-style patronymic; it was expressed by the praenomen of the father and the word for "son" (clan) or "daughter" (seχ), both generally abbreviated. Roughly a third of the Etruscan epitaphs (13 of 37) on the cippi from Vulci were incised with a nominal sentence of the eca σuθi type, e.g., eca σuθi : θanχvilus : maσnial, "This (is) the tomb (lit. 'resting place') of Thankhvil Mashni." (K994).

The views on orthography and language embraced by Kaimio are generally uncontroversial, but a few items merit a note. (a) The author lists the Latin spelling <ei> under the label "diphthong" (pg. 26) and cites the verb ueixit as an example. But Latin uiuo 'live' did not have a diphthong as its root vowel; it had a long ī (from earlier *ih3). The digraph <ei> was used to spell long ī in the second half of the 2nd century BCE. (b) The Latin phrase otuma femna (K95) is not discussed in the commentary even though it is one of the few features in the Latin inscriptions characteristic of sub-elite varieties of the language. (c)The spelling of word-final /s/ by means of the letter <z> at Volsinii is treated by Kaimio (pp. 20, 87) as evidence that this sound became voiced in this regional variety of Etruscan in the 3rd century BCE. However, the author does not inform the reader that this view is controversial, that the change is restricted (according to the view of Van Heems 2003) to contexts in which the next word begins with /w/, /r/, or /l/, and that the evidence amounts to a grand total of four forms. (d) Kaimio asserts (pg. 51) that the sign for the palatal sibilant in the Etruscan of Caere is an "upright four-bar sade," not a four-bar sigma. This is a minority view and one that has, as far as I know, never been persuasively argued. I refer the reader to Cristofani 1978: 11–14 for the standard view.

In the discussion of the cippus inscriptions from Caere, Kaimio notes that the nominative form of the Etruscan enclitic article, which should have the phonological form /(i)ʃa/, is sometimes spelled by means of the letter <s> (= /s/). He concludes that the signs <s> and <σ> are often "mixed together in spelling" (pg. 51) and that the "opposition between the phonemes realized as <s> and <σ> cannot have been clear any longer at the time of the cippi of Caere" (pg. 54). The data suggest otherwise.2

Apart from a few typos,3 a couple of errors,4 and a few formatting glitches,5 the book is free of mistakes. Patches of non-native English phraseology have escaped the copy-editor—if there was one—, but they do not impede understanding. The most unfortunate blemish is that the header for the catalogue of inscriptions of Caere appears also as the header for the catalogue of Volsinii.

Kaimio claims that the results of his study are modest, but those presented in SECI are significant on several fronts. The investigation adds 22 unpublished inscriptions to the corpus and improves the readings of an additional 200 inscriptions. The author's detailed examination of the letter forms on the Etruscan inscriptions reveals that the degree of variation within the workshops of southern Etruria that produced the cippus inscriptions was even greater than previously recognized. This complicates efforts to improve the typology of recent Etruscan alphabets initiated by the pioneering work of Maggiani (1990). I also wish to emphasize the significance of the author's discussion of the evidence for dating; he has succeeded in placing many of the inscribed objects within a chronological window of 50 to 25 years. Finally, the book opens the door to more in depth studies of the social history of these communities, along the lines of that offered by Torelli (2012) for Tarquinia.

SECI is a valuable addition to the library of books on Etruscan and Latin epigraphy. The catalogue of inscriptions is superbly edited. For scholars interested in the Romanization of Etruria, the commentary on the social aspects of the texts is a must read.6


1.   The transcription of the Etruscan sibilants /s/ and /ʃ/ requires a comment. Kaimio uses the system codified by Helmut Rix in the first edition of Etruskische Texte (1991), by which s = /s/ and σ = /ʃ/. For the most part, this system, representing as it does the orthographic system of southern Etruscan inscriptions, is adequate for this publication. However, in those words in which 3-bar sigma may represent /ʃ/, e.g., larisalisa, transcription by s fails to represent phonology.
2.   The only morpheme in which the letter <s> replaces the letter <σ> at Caere is the nominative of the enclitic article; there are no morphemes in which the letter <σ> replaces the letter <s>. Moreover, the replacement of <σ> by <s> is restricted to the following forms: larisalisa (K635), larθalisa (K463), (l)arθalisa (K636), and [lar]θialisa (K643) in the cippi, and clavtiesa in a dipinto in the Tomba della Tegola Dipinta (Cr 1.157). (Inscription Cr 1.157 is cited from Meiser 2014.) Other articulated forms have the expected spelling <σ>: vel[θur]uσa (K469); marc<e>σa (K562), marceσa (K773); ]ụσa (K617); larceσa (K685); ]σa[ (K781); and hermeσa (K789). Furthermore, if one looks beyond the cippus inscriptions, the evidence points to the maintenance of a phonemic distinction between /s/ and /ʃ/ at Caere. The following words had an underlying /ʃ/ and the palatal sibilant was consistently spelled by <σ>: σuθina "of the tomb", 14x; σuθi "tomb", 2x, σeθrna "Shetrna", 1x; and σuri "Suri (divinity)", 4x. Words and suffixes that had underlying /s/, e.g., the s-genitive ending and the name laris, are consistently spelled by means of <s>. Given that the spelling of the sibilants is consistently kept apart in words and suffixes, there must be another reason for the spelling <s> in the nominative of the enclitic article in the words laris, larθ, and clavtie. This topic requires additional investigation, but one possibility comes to mind: a phonological change whereby /ʃ/ was de-palatalized when a high palatal vowel /i/ (or sonorant /j/, if clavtiesa represented /klawtjesa/) appeared in the preceding syllable.
3.   Pg. 30 'inscription' ⟶ 'inscriptions'; pg. 48, 'canot' ⟶ 'cannot'; pg. 62, 'continueing' ⟶ 'continuing'; pg. 226, final line of inscription 631, ':' ⟶ '.'.
4.   Pg. 24, replace 'five' with 'four'; pg. 293, the bibliographic entry Hadas-Lebel 1998 is missing its pagination.
5.   Pg. 272, inscription 926 is improperly indented; pg. 292, the bibliographic entry Benelli 1994 is tacked on at the end of Agostiniani 2006.
6.  References:

Cristofani, Mauro. 1978. "Rapporto sulla diffusione della scrittura nell'Italia antica." Scrittura e Civiltà 2: 5–33.
Kaimio, Jorma. 2010. The Cippus Inscriptios of Museo Nazionale di Tarquinia. Roma: Bretschneider.
Maggiani, Adriano. 1990. "Alfabeti etruschi di età hellenistica." Annali della Fondazione per il Museo Claudio Faina 4: 177–217.
Meiser, Gerhard. 2014. Etruskische Texte II, editio minor, 2 vols. Hamburg: Baar-Verlag.
Rix, Helmut. 1991. Etruskische Texte, editio minor, 2 vols. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
Torelli, Mario. 2012. "Colonia Tarquiniis Lege Sempronia Deducta (Lib. Col. P. 219, 1 L). Dati epigrapfici e archeologici per una colonia graccana a Tarquinia." In C. Chiaramonte Treré, G. Bagnasco Gianni, e F. Chiesa (eds.), Interpretando l'antico. Scritti di archeologia offerti a Maria Bonghi Jovino, pp. 343–385. Milano: Cisalpino.
Van Heems, Gilles. 2003. "[s]/[z] (à Volsinies)." Studi Etruschi 69: 193–219.

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