Explore / Articles


Etruscan writing

Etruscan differed from the other languages of ancient Italy (and from Greek and Celtic) in that it was not one of the Indo-European family of languages. The only language known to be similar to Etruscan survives in a few inscriptions from the Aegean area. However, these are of later date than the first Etruscan inscriptions known from Italy, and are probably remnants of other pre-Indo-European languages once spoken in the Aegean.

It is not known how long Etruscan had been spoken when it began to be written around 700 BC. The Etruscans based their alphabet on that learned from the Greeks, most probably at the large Euboean trading colony of Pithekoussai (Latin Cuma, modern Ischia), which was near to Etruria. Pithekoussai was settled in about 760 BC and was the oldest Greek colony in the west. The Greeks had previously learned the alphabet from the Phoenicians. The Etruscans, like the early Greeks, wrote from right to left.

By the time Etruscan had become a dead language it was no longer copied by scribes. The scarcity of long texts has hindered the study of the language and Etruscan literature, written on perishable materials, has long since disappeared. However, about 13,000 inscriptions survive on a variety of objects. These texts are readable but not always understood.

Shop Online

Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99

Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99