Italy, Switzerland, France (Corsica), Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Greece (island of Lemnos)
Linguistic classificationPre-Indo-European, Paleo-European, language family
Approximate area of Tyrsenian languages

Tyrsenian (also Tyrrhenian or Common Tyrrhenic),[1] named after the Tyrrhenians (Ancient Greek, Ionic: Τυρσηνοί Tyrsenoi) is a proposed extinct family of closely related ancient languages put forward by linguist Helmut Rix (1998), which consists of the Etruscan language of northern, central and south-western Italy, and eastern Corsica (France); the Raetic language of the Alps, named after the Rhaetian people; and the Lemnian language of the Aegean Sea. Camunic in northern Lombardy, between Etruscan and Raetic, may belong to the family as well, but evidence of such is limited. The Tyrsenian languages are generally considered Pre-Indo-European[2] and Paleo-European.[3][1][4][5]


See also: Etruscan language, Raetic language, Lemnian, and Camunic language

Tyrrhenian language family tree as proposed by de Simone and Marchesini (2013)[6]

In 1998 the German linguist Helmut Rix proposed that three then unclassified ancient languages belonged to a common linguistic family he called Tyrrhenian: the Etruscan language spoken in Etruria, the Rhaetic language of the southern Alps, and the Lemnian language, only attested by a small number of inscriptions from the Greek island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea.[7]

Rix's Tyrsenian family is supported by a number of linguists such as Stefan Schumacher,[8][9] Carlo De Simone,[10] Norbert Oettinger,[11] Simona Marchesini,[6] or Rex E. Wallace.[12] Common features among Etruscan, Raetic, Lemnian have been found in morphology, phonology, and syntax.[13] On the other hand, few lexical correspondences are documented, at least partly due to the scant number of Raetic and Lemnian texts and possibly also to the early date at which the languages split.[1][13]


Tyrsenian was probably a Paleo-European language family predating the arrival of Indo-European languages in Europe.[3][4][5] Helmut Rix dated the end of the Proto-Tyrsenian period to the last quarter of the 2nd millennium BC.[14] Carlo De Simone and Simona Marchesini have proposed a much earlier date, placing the Tyrsenian language split before the Bronze Age.[6][15][16] This would provide one explanation for the low number of lexical correspondences.[1]

In 2004 L. Bouke van der Meer proposed that Raetic could have split from Etruscan from around 900 BC or even earlier, at any rate no later than 700 BC since divergences are already present in the oldest Etruscan and Raetic inscriptions, such as in the grammatical voices of past tenses or in the endings of male gentilicia. From around 400 BCE, the Rhaeti became isolated from the Etruscan area by the Cisalpine Celts, thus limiting contacts between the two languages.[17] Such a late datation has not enjoyed consensus, because the split would still be too recent, and in contrast with the archaeological data, the Rhaeti in the second Iron Age being characterized by the Fritzens-Sanzeno culture, in continuity with late Bronze Age culture and early Iron Age Laugen-Melaun culture. The Raeti are not believed, archeologically, to descend from the Etruscans, as well as it is not believed plausible that the Etruscans are descended from the Rhaeti,[18] while the relationship between the Etruscan and Raetic languages is thought to date back to a remote stage of prehistory.[18]

After more than 90 years of archaeological excavations at Lemnos, nothing has been found that would support a migration from Lemnos to Etruria or to the Alps where Raetic was spoken. The indigenous inhabitants of Lemnos, also called in ancient times Sinteis, were the Sintians, a Thracian population.[19] While the results of the previous excavations indicate that the Early Iron Age inhabitants of Lemnos could be a remnant of a Mycenaean population and, in addition, the earliest attested reference to Lemnos is the Mycenaean Greek ra-mi-ni-ja, "Lemnian woman", written in Linear B syllabic script.[20][21] Scholars such as Norbert Oettinger, Michel Gras and Carlo De Simone think that Lemnian is the testimony of an Etruscan commercial settlement on the island that took place before 700 BC, not related to the Sea Peoples.[22][23][24] Alternatively, the Lemnian language could have arrived in the Aegean Sea during the Late Bronze Age, when Mycenaean rulers recruited groups of mercenaries from Sicily, Sardinia and various parts of the Italian peninsula.[25]

A 2021 archeogenetic analysis of Etruscan individuals, who lived between 800 BC and 1 BC, concluded that the Etruscans were autochthonous, and genetically similar to the Iron Age Latins, and that the Etruscan language, and therefore the other languages of the Tyrrhenian family, may be a surviving language of the ones that were widespread in Europe from at least the Neolithic period before the arrival of the Indo-European languages,[26] as already argued by German geneticist Johannes Krause who concluded that it is likely that the Etruscan language (as well as Basque, Paleo-Sardinian and Minoan) "developed on the continent in the course of the Neolithic Revolution".[27] The lack of recent Anatolian-related admixture and Iranian-related ancestry among the Etruscans, who genetically joined firmly to the European cluster, might also suggest that the presence of a handful of inscriptions found at Lemnos, in a language related to Etruscan and Raetic, "could represent population movements departing from the Italian peninsula".[26]

Strabo's (Geography V, 2) citation from Anticlides attributes a share in the foundation of Etruria to the Pelasgians of Lemnos and Imbros.[28][29] The Pelasgians are also referred to by Herodotus as settlers in Lemnos, after they were expelled from Attica by the Athenians.[30] Apollonius of Rhodes mentioned an ancient settlement of Tyrrhenians on Lemnos in his Argonautica (IV.1760), written in the third century BC, in an elaborate invented aition of Kalliste or Thera: in passing, he attributes the flight of Sintian Lemnians to the island Kalliste to "Tyrrhenian warriors" from the island of Lemnos.



Cognates common to Raetic and Etruscan are:

Etruscan Raetic Gloss
zal zal 'two'
-(a)cvil akvil 'gift'
zinace t'inaχe 'he made'
-s -s -'s     (genitive suffix)
-(i)a -a -'s     (second genitive case suffix)
-ce -ku -ed   (past active participle)

Cognates common to Etruscan and Lemnian are:

Fringe scholarship and superseded theories

Aegean language family

A larger Aegean family including Eteocretan, Minoan and Eteocypriot has been proposed by G. M. Facchetti referring to some alleged similarities between on the one hand Etruscan and Lemnian, and on the other hand languages like Minoan and Eteocretan. If these languages could be shown to be related to Etruscan and Raetic, they would constitute a pre-Indo-European language family stretching from (at the very least) the Aegean Islands and Crete across mainland Greece and the Italian Peninsula to the Alps. A proposed relation between these languages has also been made previously by Raymond A. Brown.[32] Michael Ventris, who successfully deciphered Linear B with John Chadwick, also thought there to be a relation between Etruscan and Minoan.[33] Facchetti proposes a hypothetical language family derived from Minoan in two branches. From Minoan he proposes a Proto-Tyrrhenian from which would have come the Etruscan, Lemnian and Raetic languages. James Mellaart has proposed that this language family is related to the pre-Indo-European languages of Anatolia, based upon place name analysis.[3] From another Minoan branch would have come the Eteocretan language.[34][35] T. B. Jones proposed in 1950 reading of Eteocypriot texts in Etruscan, which was refuted by most scholars but gained popularity in the former Soviet Union. In any case, a relationship between the Etruscan language and Minoan (including Eteocretan and Eteocypriot) is considered unfounded.[2]

Anatolian languages

A relation with the Anatolian languages within Indo-European has been proposed,[a][37] but is not accepted for historical, archaeological, genetic, and linguistic reasons.[22][26][38][39][40][41][42][2] If these languages are an early Indo-European stratum rather than pre-Indo-European, they would be associated with Krahe's Old European hydronymy and would date back to a Kurganization during the early Bronze Age.

Northeast Caucasian languages

A number of mainly Soviet or post-Soviet linguists, including Sergei Starostin,[43] suggested a link between the Tyrrhenian languages and the Northeast Caucasian languages in an Alarodian language family, based on claimed sound correspondences between Etruscan, Hurrian, and Northeast Caucasian languages, numerals, grammatical structures and phonologies. Most linguists, however, either doubt that the language families are related, or believe that the evidence is far from conclusive.


The language group seems to have died out around the 3rd century BC in the Aegean (by assimilation of the speakers to Greek), and as regards Etruscan around the 1st century AD in Italy (by assimilation to Latin).[44] The latest Raetic inscriptions are dated to the 1st century BC.[1]

See also


  1. ^ Steinbauer tries to relate both Etruscan and Raetic to Anatolian.[36]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Marchesini, Simona. "Raetic". Mnamon.
  2. ^ a b c Bellelli, Vincenzo; Benelli, Enrico (2018). Gli Etruschi. La scrittura. La lingua. La società [The Etruscans. Writing. The tongue. The society.] (in Italian). Rome: Carocci Editore. ISBN 978-88-430-9309-0.
  3. ^ a b c Mellaart, James (1975), "The Neolithic of the Near East" (Thames and Hudson)
  4. ^ a b Haarmann, Harald (2014). "Ethnicity and Language in the Ancient Mediterranean". In McInerney, Jeremy (ed.). A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient Mediterranean. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 17–33. doi:10.1002/9781118834312.ch2. ISBN 9781444337341.
  5. ^ a b Harding, Anthony H. (2014). "The later prehistory of Central and Northern Europe". In Renfrew, Colin; Bahn, Paul (eds.). The Cambridge World Prehistory. Vol. 3. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 1912. ISBN 978-1-107-02379-6. Italy was home to a number of languages in the Iron Age, some of them clearly Indo-European (Latin being the most obvious, although this was merely the language spoken in the Roman heartland, that is, Latium, and other languages such as Italic, Venetic or Ligurian were also present), while the centre-west and northwest were occupied by the people we call Etruscans, who spoke a language which was non-Indo-European and presumed to represent an ethnic and linguistic stratum which goes far back in time, perhaps even to the occupants of Italy prior to the spread of farming.
  6. ^ a b c De Simone & Marchesini 2013.
  7. ^ Rix 1998.
  8. ^ Schumacher 1998.
  9. ^ Schumacher 2004.
  10. ^ De Simone 2011.
  11. ^ Oettinger 2010.
  12. ^ Wallace, Rex E. (2018), "Lemnian language", Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.8222, ISBN 978-0-19-938113-5
  13. ^ a b Kluge, Sindy; Salomon, Corinna; Schumacher, Stefan (2013–2018). "Raetica". Thesaurus Inscriptionum Raeticarum. Department of Linguistics, University of Vienna. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  14. ^ Rix, Helmut (2008). "Etruscan". In Woodard, Roger D. (ed.). The Ancient Languages of Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 141–164. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511486814.010. ISBN 9780511486814.
  15. ^ Marchesini, Simona (2013). "I rapporti etrusco/retico-italici nella prima Italia alla luce dei dati linguistici: il caso della "mozione" etrusca" [Etruscan / Rhaetian-Italic relations in early Italy in the light of linguistic data: the case of the Etruscan "motion"]. Rivista storica dell'antichità (in Italian). 43. Bologna: Pàtron editore: 9–32. ISSN 0300-340X.
  16. ^ Marchesini, Simona (2019). "L'onomastica nella ricostruzione del lessico: il caso di Retico ed Etrusco" [Onomastics in the reconstruction of the lexicon: the case of Rhaetian and Etruscan]. Mélanges de l'École française de Rome: Antiquité (in Italian). 131 (1). Rome: École française de Rome: 123–136. doi:10.4000/mefra.7613. ISBN 978-2-7283-1428-7. S2CID 214398787. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  17. ^ Van der Meer 2004.
  18. ^ a b Marzatico, Franco (2019). "I Reti e i popoli delle Alpi orientali" [The Networks and peoples of the Eastern Alps]. Preistoria Alpina [Alpine prehistory] (in Italian). Vol. 49bis. Trento: MUSE-Museo delle Scienze. pp. 73–82. Se resta il fatto che la documentazione archeologica smentisce in tutta evidenza un rapporto filogenetico fra Etruschi e Reti, visti anche fenomeni di continuità come nell'ambito della produzione vascolare di boccali di tradizione Luco/Laugen (fig. 8), non è escluso che la percezione di prossimità esistenti fra la lingua e la scrittura delle due entità etniche possano avere indotto eruditi del tempo a costruite "a tavolino" un rapporto di parentela.(...) [If the fact remains that the archaeological documentation clearly denies a phylogenetic relationship between the Etruscans and the Reti, also considering phenomena of continuity as in the sphere of the vascular production of traditional Luco / Laugen mugs (fig. 8), it is not excluded that the perception of proximity existing between the language and the writing of the two ethnic entities may have induced scholars of the time to build a kinship relationship "at the table". (...)]
  19. ^ Ficuciello, Lucia (2013). Lemnos. Cultura, storia, archeologia, topografia di un'isola del nord-Egeo [Lemnos. Culture, history, archeology, topography of a north Aegean island]. Monografie della Scuola Archeologica di Atene e delle Missioni Italiane in Oriente 20, 1/1 (in Italian). Athens: Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene. pp. 68–116. ISBN 978-960-9559-03-4.
  20. ^ [1], Word study tool of ancient languages
  21. ^ Heffner, Edward H. (January 1927). "Archaeological News: Notes on Recent Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries; Other News July–December 1926". American Journal of Archaeology. 31 (1): 99–127 (123–124). doi:10.2307/497618. JSTOR 497618. S2CID 245265394.
  22. ^ a b Wallace, Rex E. (2010). "Italy, Languages of". In Gagarin, Michael (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 97–102. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195170726.001.0001. ISBN 9780195170726. Etruscan origins lie in the distant past. Despite the claim by Herodotus, who wrote that Etruscans migrated to Italy from Lydia in the eastern Mediterranean, there is no material or linguistic evidence to support this. Etruscan material culture developed in an unbroken chain from Bronze Age antecedents. As for linguistic relationships, Lydian is an Indo-European language. Lemnian, which is attested by a few inscriptions discovered near Kamania on the island of Lemnos, was a dialect of Etruscan introduced to the island by commercial adventurers. Linguistic similarities connecting Etruscan with Raetic, a language spoken in the sub-Alpine regions of northeastern Italy, further militate against the idea of eastern origins.
  23. ^ Carlo de Simone, La nuova Iscrizione ‘Tirsenica’ di Lemnos (Efestia, teatro): considerazioni generali, in Rasenna: Journal of the Center for Etruscan Studies, pp. 1–34.
  24. ^ Drews, Robert (1995). The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe of ca. 1200 B.C. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-691-04811-6.
  25. ^ De Ligt, Luuk. "An Eteocretan' inscription from Praisos and the homeland of the Sea Peoples" (PDF). talanta.nl. ALANTA XL-XLI (2008-2009), 151-172.
  26. ^ a b c Posth, Cosimo; Zaro, Valentina; Spyrou, Maria A. (24 September 2021). "The origin and legacy of the Etruscans through a 2000-year archeogenomic time transect". Science Advances. 7 (39). Washington DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science: eabi7673. Bibcode:2021SciA....7.7673P. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abi7673. PMC 8462907. PMID 34559560.
  27. ^ Krause, Johannes; Trappe, Thomas (2021) [2019]. A Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe [Die Reise unserer Gene: Eine Geschichte über uns und unsere Vorfahren]. Translated by Waight, Caroline (I ed.). New York: Random House. p. 217. ISBN 9780593229422. It's likely that Basque, Paleo-Sardinian, Minoan, and Etruscan developed on the continent in the course of the Neolithic Revolution. Sadly, the true diversity of the languages that once existed in Europe will never be known.
  28. ^ Myres, J.L. (1907), "A history of the Pelasgian theory", Journal of Hellenic Studies, London: Council of the Society: 169–225, s. 16 (Pelasgians and Tyrrhenians)
  29. ^ Strabo, Lacus Curtius (public domain translation), translated by Jones, H.L., University of Chicago, And again, Anticleides says that they (the Pelasgians) were the first to settle the regions round about Lemnos and Imbros, and indeed that some of these sailed away to Italy with Tyrrhenus the son of Atys.
  30. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, Perseus, Tufts, 6, 137.
  31. ^ a b c d Marchesini 2009.
  32. ^ Raymond A. Brown, Evidence for pre-Greek speech on Crete from Greek alphabetic sources. Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam 1985, p. 289
  33. ^ Facchetti 2001.
  34. ^ Facchetti 2002, p. 136.
  35. ^ Steinbauer 1999.
  36. ^ Palmer, Leonard R. (1965). Mycenaeans and Minoans (2nd ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  37. ^ Barker, Graeme; Rasmussen, Tom (2000). The Etruscans. The Peoples of Europe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-631-22038-1.
  38. ^ Turfa, Jean MacIntosh (2017). "The Etruscans". In Farney, Gary D.; Bradley, Gary (eds.). The Peoples of Ancient Italy. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 637–672. doi:10.1515/9781614513001. ISBN 978-1-61451-520-3.
  39. ^ De Grummond, Nancy T. (2014). "Ethnicity and the Etruscans". In McInerney, Jeremy (ed.). A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient Mediterranean. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 405–422. doi:10.1002/9781118834312. ISBN 9781444337341.
  40. ^ Shipley, Lucy (2017). "Where is home?". The Etruscans: Lost Civilizations. London: Reaktion Books. pp. 28–46. ISBN 9781780238623.
  41. ^ Penney, John H. W. (2009). "The Etruscan language and its Italic context". Etruscan by definition: the cultural, regional and personal identity of the Etruscans. Papers in honour of Sybille Haynes. London: British Museum Press. pp. 88–94. These further Anatolian connections are not very convincing, though the relationship between Etruscan and Lemnian remains secure. Before concluding that this still makes an eastern origin for Etruscan most likely, a further language with Etruscan affinities must be noted. This is Raetic, a language attested in some 200 very short inscriptions from the Alpine region to the north of Verona. Despite their brevity, a number of linguistic patterns can be recognised which point to a relationship with Etruscan."(....) The correspondences (of Etruscan) with Raetic seem entirely convincing, but it is important to note that there are differences between the languages too (for instance, the patronymic suffixes are similar but not identical), so that Raetic cannot just be seen as a form of Etruscan. As in the case of Lemnian, we have related languages belonging to the same family, so should we suppose that Proto-Tyrrhenian may have extended rather widely in prehistoric times? Certainly the introduction of Raetic into the argument, with the ensuing geographical complications, makes the notion of a straightforward migration of Etruscans from Asia Minor seem a little too simple. And it is not in the end clear that we can be sure that the Etruscans did come from outside Italy, at least in any period of which we can hope to give a historical account, whatever the romantic attractions of scenarios such as displacement in the wake of the Trojan War.
  42. ^ Starostin, Sergei; Orel, Vladimir (1989). "Etruscan and North Caucasian". In Shevoroshkin, Vitaliy (ed.). Explorations in Language Macrofamilies. Bochum Publications in Evolutionary Cultural Semiotics. Bochum.
  43. ^ Freeman, Philip. The Survival of Etruscan. p. 82


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