Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.11.11

Maristella Pandolfini, Adriano Maggiani, La Tabula Cortonensis e il suo contesto storico-archeologico. Atti dell'Incontro di sudio, 22 giugno 2001. Quaderni di archaeologia etrusco-italica, 28.   Roma:  Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerch, 2002.  Pp. 101; 2 photographs and 2 facsimiles.  ISBN ISSN 99-1252096-3.  EUR 40.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Rex Wallace, University of Massachusetts Amherst (
Word count: 2324 words

1. The Tabula Cortonensis (TCo) is a bronze tablet incised on both sides. The TCo and a small number of other damaged bronze objects, all of which were discovered near Cortona, were turned over to Francesco Nicosia, the archaeological authority in the area, in October 1992 by a laborer named Ghiottini. For nearly eight years the tablet and its inscription were hidden from most of the scholarly world.1 Finally, on June 30, 1999 both tablet and inscription were presented to the public. Shortly thereafter, in February 2000, the editio princeps was published by Luciano Agostianiani and Francesco Nicosia.2

2. The TCo was written in a northern variety of the Etruscan alphabet in the late 3rd or early 2nd century BC. The text is a legal document that records a business transaction between two parties, Petru Scevas, his wife Arntlei, and two brothers, Laris and Velche, members of the Cushu family.3 The transaction appears to refer to the transfer of land, possibly an estate.

The TCo has 40 lines of text. Side A has 32 lines; side B has 8. There are 206 word-forms in toto, which makes the TCo the longest Etruscan inscription after the Liber Linteus and the Tabula Capuana. The text is divided into seven sections either by means of spacing or by means of a paragraph sign in the form of a Z. Sections I, II, V, and VII refer to aspects of the transaction, its incision on a bronze tablet, and its deposition in a secure place; sections III, IV, and VI are lists of people, some of whom were present as witnesses to the transaction and the composition of the agreement. There is no doubt that the TCo was meant to be stored in an archive because a handle was affixed to the top of the tablet so that it could be suspended.4

3. The publication of this inscription triggered a flood of scholarly activity.5 The Consiglio Nazionale di Ricerche (Roma) organized a meeting in June 2001 and invited scholars to discuss the TCo, its archaeological context, and historical background. The book reviewed here is a collection of the papers delivered at the meeting.

3.1 The papers can be organized into four groups.

(1) introduction, background and context: Adriano Maggiani, "Introduzione ai lavori" (pp. 11-15); Francesco Nicosia, "Il contesto archeologico della Tavola di Cortona" (pp. 17-25); Paolo Bruschetti, "Società e cultura a Cortona nel medio ellenismo" (pp. 27-38)

(2) epigraphic and redactional considerations: Emilio Peruzzi, "Per l'edizione della Tavola" (pp. 39-42); Francesco Roncalli, "Aspetti redazionali della Tabula Cortonensis" (pp. 43-52); Maristella Pandolfini Angeletti, "Le tavole di bronzo in Etruria" (53-64)

(3) linguistic analyses and interpretations: Adriano Maggiani, "Riflessioni sulla Tavola di Cortona" (pp. 65-75); Helmut Rix, "La secunda metà del nuovo testo di Cortona" (pp. 77-86); Giulio M. Facchetti, "La Tabula Cortonensis come documento giuridico" (pp. 87-92)

(4) onomastic analysis: Enrico Benelli, "Le formule onomastiche della Tabula Cortonensis e il valore del metronimico" (pp. 93-100)

4. Most of the papers in this collection focus on the inscription, which should be of no surprise.

4.1 Maggiani's "Introduzione" addresses the problems investigators face understanding the historical and cultural context in which the TCo was produced. The final portion of this paper looks at the documentary evidence for the families of the major players in the inscription, namely, Petru Scevas and members of the Cushu family.6

The articles by Nicosia and Bruschetti set the archaeological and historical context of the inscription. Nicosia ("Il contesto archeologico") emphasizes the fact that the story behind the discovery of the TCo, the precise location of the finds, and the reasons for judicial proceedings against Ghiottini -- the man who turned over the bronze tablet and other artifacts to authorities -- are still not particularly clear. In 1995 Ghiottini was tried for stealing the TCo despite the fact that he voluntarily turned it and other objects over to the authorities. According to Ghiottini, the TCo and other bronze objects were found in the area of Le Piagge southwest of Cortona, a claim that is demonstrably false and one that no doubt contributed to his legal problems. Nicosia suggests that the TCo may actually have been found in the district of i Vivai - il Giardino in the vicinity of excavations of what appears to be a sacred area. Bruschetti ("Società e cultura") surveys the literary and archaeological evidence for Cortona and environs during the Hellenistic period. The major episode preserved in the literary sources (Livy IX, 37) is the invasion of Hannibal and the battle of Lake Trasimeno in 217 B.C. The impact on Cortona was dramatic, both in terms of the destruction of land and property caused by the battle and by Hannibal's troops, and in terms of the depletion of economic and human resources. (Cortona is not on Livy's list of the Etruscan cities that contributed to Scipio Africanus' expedition in 205.) Archaeological evidence at Cortona for the period is spotty since most of it was destroyed by later construction. Nevertheless, B. points to some evidence for urban 'renewal' during the 2nd century (a plant for producing thermal waters, traces of an aqueduct, a cistern, and possibly reconstruction of the city wall), suggesting that Cortona may have experienced an economic upturn after the disastrous events at the end of the 3rd century.

4.2 Pandolfini Angeletti's short article ("Le tavole") is a catalogue of Etruscan inscriptions incised on bronze tablets. In addition to the TCo, there are ten inscriptions incised on tablets, all of which are damaged and fragmentary, and all of which were cut during the Hellenistic period. The only inscription of which a substantial portion survives is Ta 8.1, a bronze from Tarquinia. This text may also be a legal document, but it is impossible to say much more than that because most of the surviving text is impenetrable.7

Peruzzi's paper ("Per l'edizione") focuses on the first two letters on side A of the TCo. Most investigators assume that the punctuation separating e.t "thus, so" was incised by mistake. The spelling with final t is due to deaspiration of the final consonant. Peruzzi is not convinced. He prefers to see e.t as an abbreviation, and he points to parallels in the Roman epigraphic tradition, e.g., bf = bonum factum at the beginning of a praetor's edict from Rome. Peruzzi's suggestion is not very convincing. All word-final aspirated consonants in this inscription are deaspirated, so one would expect the adverb to be written et. Moreover, there are numerous examples of scribal infelicities, so recourse to an error in this case is not particularly disturbing.

Roncalli's contribution focuses on issues surrounding the production of the text. An interesting observation here is the fact that palaeographical differences in the forms of letters (sigma, theta, gamma) point to the work of two caelatores, the second of whom went to work at the beginning of line 27 and completed the text.

4.3 Facchetti's paper assesses the textual and lexical evidence for the claim that the TCo is a legal document.8 The papers by Maggiani and Rix are interpretations and linguistic analyses of select passages in the text. Maggiani discusses vocabulary, morphology, and syntax for sections I and II; Rix examines the final sections (V, VI, and VII) of the document.

4.4 The TCo contains three lists of names (sections III, IV, and VI). 34 persons are mentioned. Most have the standard nomenclature of a freeborn Etruscan, viz., praenomen, nomen gentile, and patronymic or metronymic. Benelli's paper focuses ultimately on the question of why some names have the metronymic rather than the patronymic. The reason is rather banal. As is well known, the inventory of Etruscan praenomina was so small that members of the same family often ended up with the same praenomen. Using the metronymic and the patronymic provided a suitable means of distinguishing family members from one another.9

5. To my mind, the papers by Maggiani ("Reflessioni") and Rix ("La seconda meta") stand out as being of exceptional quality and interest.

5.1 Maggiani begins with a discussion of the vocabulary items sparza and thuch. For sparza he proposes the meaning "tablet", and for thuch the meaning "house". Both proposals are persuasive. Thuch is found only in postpositional phrases governed by the locative postposition -th(i)/-t "in". It must then refer to a place of some sort. According to M., the meaning of this word is guaranteed by the last two words of an unedited proprietary inscription: apanal thucl "belonging to the house of the father." sparza refers to something that is stored (cesu) in the thuch. The best guess here is that this is a reference to the conservation of the tablet on which the transaction was recorded.

The discussion of sparza leads M. to an extended analysis of one of the most difficult clausulae in the TCo (section V, lines 18-19). This clausula contains a noun phrase sparzestis sazleis that is the source of much disagreement. M. analyzes these words as locatives to which ablative suffixes have been added. Nevertheless he translates the phrase as a locative: "this document was written on the tablet of bronze which was deposited in the house of the Cushu family ... ".10 This is a clever morphological interpretation, and the translation of this noun phrase as a locative fits the context, but it cannot be correct. First of all, it is not clear why a locative noun phrase would be recharacterized with ablative suffixes, especially if the phrase functioned morphosyntactically as a locative. Secondly, assuming that a locative noun phrase could be recharacterized by ablative case endings, one wonders what morphosyntactic function the ablative of a locative could possibly serve in this context? Whatever this phrase means (for more discussion, see below), it is morphologically an ablative and must be interpreted as such.

5.2 The most important section of Maggiani's article is his interpretation of the first clausula of Section 1A of the TCo (lines 1-2). M.'s analysis is as follows: et [sentential adverb] Petruis Scevas eliunts [ablatives = agent] vinac restmc [absolutives with enclitic conjunction -c = subject] cenu [u-participle = verb] tenthur sar [absolutives = extent of space phrase ?] cushuthuras larishalishvla [genitive phrase = indirect object] (Side A, lines 1-2). M. translates: "Thus both the vina and the restm, ten tenthur (acres?), were ceded by Petru Scevas to members of the Cushu family, the sons of Laris."11 The focal point for the interpretation of the passage is the meaning of the u-participle cenu, which is taken to be the predicate of the sentence and interpreted as "(were) ceded". The ablatives represent an agent phrase as per passive constructions of the farthnache type. M. departs from earlier interpretations of this passage by taking the genitives as having indirect object function, as in Etruscan votive inscriptions. Thus, M.'s interpretation of cenu as "ceded" coupled with his analysis of the genitive phrase as an indirect object yield a fundamentally different interpretation for the relationship between the participants in this contract than that assumed by other scholars. According to M., it is the brothers Cushu who are the recipients of land from Petru Scevas, not the other way round.

5.3 Rix's paper is a morphological and syntactic analysis of sections V and VII. In Rix's view these sections refer respectively to the incision of the text on the bronze, its preservation, and its deposition. Section VI is the list of those who witnessed the drafting of the document. As is always the case, Rix's analyses are presented in substantial detail, alternative analyses are carefully considered both pro and con, and what he believes to be the most reasonable analysis is measured against the archaeological and historical context.

Indeed, many of Rix's analyses are persuasive, but not all. An example of the latter is the troublesome passage in section V mentioned above, namely, Side A, lines 18-19. Here is Rix's analysis: cen zic [absolutive = subject] zichuche [past passive verb] sparzestis sazleis [ablative noun phrase] in [absolutive inanimate relative pronoun] thuchti [locative noun phrase] cushuthuras [genitive noun phrase] shuthiu [u-participle] ame [verb "to be"]. Rix translates: "This document was written by the sparzestis sazleis who was depositor in the house (?) of the Cushu brothers". Rix argues that sparzestis sazleis is an ablative noun phrase that refers to the scribe who wrote the document. Syntactically, an ablative phrase specifying agent is precisely what is needed with the passive verb zichuche "was written". However, this interpretation encounters problems. First of all, the relative pronoun in refers to inanimate antecedents, not to animate ones. Lack of agreement compels Rix to launch into a detailed discussion of possible violations of what Etruscologists now call Agostiniani's Law, namely, the grammatical rule whereby the form of the relative pronoun is determined by whether the antecedent is animate or inanimate. More problematic is Rix's analysis of the morphological constituency of sparzestis. He proposes to analyze this word as sparzes, a genitive case noun, + -tis, an ablative of the demonstrative eta, which is in agreement with the following word, sazleis. Literally, the phrase means "the scribe of the tablet." But the genitive of sparza "tablet" should be sparzas. Rix explains the unexpected quality of the ending -e as due to the influence of the underlying -i of the demonstrative, i.e., *sparzas-itis. However, there is no evidence in Etruscan for the type of sound change required by this analysis. The best interpretation, at least as far as I can see, is that the relative clause is separated from its antecedent cen zic "this document". The translation would be: "This document, which was deposited in the house (store-house?) of the Cusu brothers, was written by the sparzestis sazleis."

6. This collection of papers is an important addition to the growing body of work on the TCo. The papers in this volume, in particular those by Maggiani and by Rix, illustrate the sophistication with which it is now possible to approach the linguistic analysis of complex sentences in the longest Etruscan texts.


1.   The lapse of time between the discovery of the TCo and its publication ignited a debate among Italian scholars and authorities concerning the amount of time that should be allotted to the study of important archaeological artifacts before their presentation to the scholarly world.
2.   Agostiniani, Luciano & Francesco Nicosia. 2000. Tabula Cortonensis. Roma: "L'Erma di Bretschneider.
3.   The only dissenting voice is De Simone (for references, see footnote 5). He argues that the text describes the acta of the brotherhood of the Cushu family for their ancestors.
4.   The bronze was broken into eight pieces in antiquity. All but one piece, the lowermost left, were recovered or, perhaps better, were turned over to the authorities. Fortunately, the missing piece was inscribed only on side A and it contained a list of names, some of which can be retrieved from names incised elsewhere on the bronze.
5.   The bibliography on the inscription is as follows: De Simone, Carlo. 1998 [2000]. "La Tabula Cortonensis: Tra linguistica e storia." Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di lettere e filosofia, 3.1-122. De Simone, Carlo. 2001-2002. "Il testo etrusco della Tabula Cortonensis: un primo bilancio critico." Ocnus 9-10.69-114. De Simone, Carlo. 2002. "Su due termini della Tabula Cortonensis." Incontri Linguistici 25.77-85. Eichner, Heiner. 2001. "Etruskisch -svla auf der Bronze von Cortona," in The Complete Linguist. A collection of papers in honor of Alexis Manaster Ramer, ed. F. Cavoto. Münich, pp. 141-152. Facchetti, Giulio M. 2000. Frammenti di diritto privato etrusco. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki. Maggiani, Addriano. 2001. Dagli archivi dei Cusu. Considerazioni sulla tavola bronzea di Cortona. Rivista di Archeologia 25.94-114. Rix, Helmut. 2000. "Osservazioni preliminary ad una interpretazione dell'aes cortonense." Incontri linguistici 23.11-31. Wylin, Koen. 2002. "Forme verbali nella Tabula Cortonensis." Studi Etruschi 65-68.215-223. Zamboni, Adolfo. 2002. "Sigla del quattuorvirato nella tavola di Cortona." Athenaeum 90.431-441.
6.   The gens Cushu is known from inscriptions from Cortona (Co 1.5, Co 1.20, Co 3.5 [Etruscan inscriptions are cited from Helmut Rix. 1990. Etruskische Texte, editio minor. Texte II. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag]). Evidence for the Petru family is to be found in inscriptions from Perusia, Clusium, and the Ager Sienensis. Interestingly, the only evidence for the Petru family at Cortona is a funerary inscription, Co 1.5 (v . cushu . cr . l. apa / petrual . clan). This inscription mentions a certain Petrui, the mother of Vel Cushu. The funerary inscription of this woman is AS 1.279 (thana : petrui : cushusha). In this inscription the deceased is described as the wife of a member of the Cushu family. Thus, it is likely then that connections between these two families run deeper than those attested in the TCo.
7.   For an attempt at interpretation of Ta 8.1, see Facchetti, op. cit., footnote 5, pp. 89-94.
8.   See Facchetti, op. cit., footnote 5, pp. 59-88.
9.   For a more informative discussion of the names in the TCo see Rix, op. cit., footnote 5.
10.   I am responsible for translations from the Italian.
11.   For example, Facchetti, op. cit., pg. 65 translates cenu as "was acquired" vel sim. In his view it is Petru Scevas who acquires the vina and the restm.

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