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Origin of the Etruscan Alphabet

The origin of the Etruscan alphabet is an interesting evolution of a language. The first alphabet was invented by Semitic-speakers in the ancient Near East. The Canaanite and later Phoenician alphabets had only consonants, with no vowels. The Greeks derived their alphabet from the Phoenician alphabet and added vowels, thereby producing the first true alphabet. The Greeks brought a western form of the Greek alphabet to Italy, and the Etruscans acquired the alphabet from them. The Etruscans then passed their alphabet to the Romans.

As early as 740 BC Greeks from Euboa established trading posts and colonies on the Italic peninsula at Cumae and Ischia. It was likely here that the Etruscans were introduced to the Euboean Greek alphabet (also known as the Cumae Greek alphabet). They quickly adopted it for their language. Initially they used most of the Greek letters, and wrote, like Greek at the time, right to left. Over the next few hundred years the Etruscan alphabet was further adapted to their language, and ca.400 BC a cleaned up 20-letter alphabet and the standard throughout Etruria.

In short, the Etruscan alphabet evolved from the Ancient Greek alphabet. Written from right to left, the Etruscan alphabet was later absorbed into both Roman and early Germanic cultures and formed the basis for the Nordic runes used by the Vikings. In addition, the evolution of the Runic Alphabet is also often attributed to a mingling of early Teutonic rock symbols with the Etruscan alphabet. Later influenced by the Roman, or Latin, alphabet, this formed a circular development as these alphabets had themselves sprung the Etruscan alphabet. Ultimately, we find a significant quantity of characters from Elder Futhark that are similar to the original Runic Rock Symbols and resemble characters of early Etruscan and later Roman alphabets.

The letters of the Etruscan alphabet had a very characteristic and recognizable shape that they tenaciously continued to use and it was different from the Greek, Latin and other contemporary populations letters, but was identical to the one used by the Lemnos and by the Lydians, which can be recognized to be just like the Etruscan people.

The Etruscan language used "alphabetical" signs called "cunei"; it is a name that shows that before these signs they used the "cuneiform" signs, which were in common with all populations of the mesopotamic cultural area and specifically the Babylonian one. In order to distinguish the signs of the new "alphabetical" writing from the "cuneiform" ones, the Etruscans used to call it "cunei di sin", that is a Jewish God's appellative. This writing was invented around the 4.000 bc. by the Sumerian population, who lived by the Euphrates river.

Over the next few hundred years Etruscan became increasingly diluted by Latin and by the first century BC it had died out altogether, but, by this time, Etruscan had already served as the parent of most Italic alphabets, including Faliscan, Marsilianan, Messapic, Oscan, Picene (both North and South), Umbrian, Venetic, and most importantly, Latin.

etruscan alphabet image

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