Abstract: Language and Literacy in Early Etruria


Poggio Civitate, an Etruscan site in central, inland Tuscany, preserves not only some of the earliest examples of inscriptions in the Etruscan language, but also a settlement that is sufficiently well preserved as to allow consideration of the specific contexts wherein inscribed objects were used. This unique site permits a glimpse not only into some of the first words in the Etruscan language written down in Central Italy, but also an appreciation of the social and political forces at work that compel the Etruscans to adopt alphabetic literacy from the Greek word and apply it to suit their own needs. Through a consideration of inscriptions alongside their archaeological context, it is possible to see how the adaptation of literacy is motivated by a desire to articulate and solidify political relationships, to bind individuals to ideas and concepts of fertility and procreation, to organize and systematize manufacturing and even sometimes to casually and whimsically place a word or name upon an object used in the service of every day life. In the adoption and adaptation of literacy, we see not a desire to pantomime the eastern sources of this technology, but rather a novel technology used to express and satisfy the wants and needs of the people of Poggio Civitate and other Etruscan communities throughout the region.