Raetica

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Main chapters

Introduction

The term Raetic refers to some 300 inscriptions found in the Trentino and the Veneto, as well as in North and South Tyrol. These inscriptions are roughly dated between the 6th and the 1st centuries BC and are the only testimonies of a non-Indo-European language of the Alpine region.

The name Greek Rhaitoí / Latin Raeti goes back to ancient historiography, being attested in Pliny and Strabon, among others, as a designation for certain Alpine tribes. According to Livy, the language spoken by these Raeti was similar to Etruscan. In the early 19th century, Conte Benedetto Giovanelli, historian and mayor of Trento, applied the term Raetic to two inscription finds made in the Val di Cembra and Matrei am Brenner, whose language he judged to be similar to Etruscan. The corpus of relevant inscriptions has since increased considerably, and could be delimited in relation to the other script provinces of Transpadania. Archaeological research has shown that the distribution area and archaeological context of the inscriptions correlate with the area of the archaeologically defined Fritzens-Sanzeno culture. Furthermore, a genetic relationship between the language of the inscriptions and Etruscan could be determined. (For details, see Modern research on the Raeti and Raetic.)

Definitions

According to what was said above, the term Raetic can today have a number of denotations, depending on what aspect of culture one is concerned with. In the early phases of the research on Raetic and Transpadanian writing in general, inscriptions tended to be assigned to different corpora based on a mixture of epigraphic and linguistic arguments. In 1971, Prosdocimi proposed that the term Raetic should by defined exclusively epigraphically, i.e. with regard to the alphabet in which an inscription is written. Raetic would then denominate inscriptions that are neither written in the Este alphabet (Venetic), nor in the Lugano alphabet (Lepontic), nor in the Sondrio / Val Camonica alphabet (Camunic). At the same time he left open the question whether the inscriptions thus subsumed under the term Raetic were linguistically homogeneous, and made it clear that a number of script variants were used in these inscriptions. Indeed, a purely epigraphical definition is made difficult by the similarity of the Transpadanian alphabets, especially in the contact areas in the South of the Raetic area. (For details, see Script.)

In the late 1990s, Rix and – independently – Schumacher could demonstrate that the inscriptions defined as Raetic by Prosdocimi were actually documents of one homogeneous language and that this language is related to Etruscan; since then, considerable progress has been made in the analysis of this language. Therefore, it may be more useful to put linguistic parameters at the basis of the definition. While the Transpadanian alphabets or alphabet variants are often indistinguishable in absence of certain shibboleth letters, the Raetic language as a member of the Tyrsenic language family is isolated beyond the Po, being surrounded by the Indo-European languages Venetic in the Southeast and Lepontic in the West. (The linguistic affiliation of Camunic remains obscure.) (For details, see The Raetic language.)

Finally, the undisputable correlation between both epigraphically and linguistically Raetic inscriptions and the Fritzens-Sanzeno cultural horizon allow for an extension of the term Raetic to the field of archaeology. It is admissible to talk about a typically Raetic context, find type, etc. To recap, Raetic indicates primarily an ancient language of the Alpine region, documented in a small corpus of inscriptions; secondarily, it also refers to the alphabets in which these inscriptions are written, and to their archaeological/cultural context.

Scope of the corpus and database

The goal of the Thesaurus Inscriptionum Raeticarum is to make available all the material relevant for the study of the Raetic inscriptions in all their aspects. The Raetic corpus proper follows the preliminary corpus CIRCE as presented by Schumacher 2004, using the sigla groups and including all inscriptions collected there without exception to avoid mismatches with the older literature, where Schumacher’s sigla are used. (See here for details on the sigla system.) In consequence, the corpus comprises not only such inscriptions as clearly represent script in the linguistical sense and can be epigraphically or linguistically assigned to Raetic on these grounds, but also a great number of dubious or non-inscriptions from geographically/archaeologically Raetic context. While these latter cases, though very interesting in themselves, are virtually impossible to securely assign to a specific Transpadanian corpus, and do (mostly) not provide data which contributes to the knowledge of the Raetic language, the establishment of stringent rules for whether to consider an intentional mark an inscription or not has proved difficult. The principle of accepting only, but all such markings as contain shapes which can be clearly identified as letters (as listed here) has turned out to be ineffectual, as it leads to the inclusion of an unmanageable host of one-character inscriptions which are highly improbable to represent script, or even obvious ornaments of the I sI sΘ sI sI s-type. Concerning the inclusion of new inscriptions, the TIR staff has ended up making more or less informed estimations of the character of marks, while taking into account the types of marks which are already part of the core corpus. In the first instance, only a subset of the new inscriptions provided by Mancini in the LIR have been included, excluding those which consist in nothing but such characters as are filed as symbols in the TIR. A couple of markings which are probably not script have been included by virtue of a similarity with markings in the core corpus. Similarly, scratchings on Sanzeno bowls were included in the beginning, despite the lack of a single such object bearing a proper inscription, with regard to the substantial number in the core corpus (going back to the IR) and the fact that the object type is a key form of the Fritzens-Sanzeno culture – this course had to be abandoned when the sheer mass of inscribed Sanzeno bowls transpired. Furthermore, considerations of dating may be relevant, e.g. in the case of Hallstatt age bronze axes, which are too old to be relevant to Raetic writing proper. With regard to our attempt to furnish all interesting data, excluded material is collected on a special page dedicated to Non-script notational systems.

The different aspects of the term "Raetic"

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  Locations associated with "Raetic" tribes by the Ancients
  The eponymous find places of the Fritzens-Sanzeno culture
  Conte Giovanelli's first Raetic inscription finds
  Find places of inscriptions with linguistically Raetic content, written in a Raetic alphabet
  Find places of inscriptions (probably) written in a Raetic alphabet, but with unclear linguistic ascription


Bibliography

IR Alberto Mancini, "Iscrizioni retiche", Studi Etruschi 43 (1975), 249–306.
LIR Alberto Mancini, Le Iscrizioni Retiche [= Quaderni del dipartimento di linguistica, Università degli studi di Firenze Studi 8–9], Padova: Unipress 2009–10. (2 volumes)
Prosdocimi 1971 Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi, "Note di epigrafia retica", in: Wolfgang Meid, Hermann M. Ölberg, Hans Schmeja (Eds), Studien zur Namenkunde und Sprachgeographie. Festschrift für Karl Finsterwalder zum 70. Geburtstag [= Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft 16], Innsbruck: 1971, 15–46.
Rix 1998 Helmut Rix, Rätisch und Etruskisch [= Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft, Vorträge und kleinere Schriften 68], Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft 1998.
Schumacher 1998 Stefan Schumacher, "Sprachliche Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen Rätisch und Etruskisch", Der Schlern 72/2 (1998), 90–114.
Schumacher 2004 Stefan Schumacher, Die rätischen Inschriften. Geschichte und heutiger Stand der Forschung, 2nd, extended edition [= Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft, Sonderheft 121], Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachen und Literaturen der Universität Innsbruck 2004.