Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.07.20 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.07.20

Riccardo Massarelli, I testi etruschi su piombo. Biblioteca di studi etruschi, 53.   Pisa; Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2014.  Pp. 320.  ISBN 9788862275712.  €585.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by L. Bouke van der Meer, Leiden University (

Massarelli’s carefully edited, sensible and well written book is dedicated to Etruscan inscriptions on lead artefacts. It is a reworked version of his doctoral dissertation, which he defended at the Università degli Studi di Perugia in 2010. It consists of six parts: the introduction, the plaque of Magliano, the Santa Marinella plaque, defixiones (curse tablets), texts of juridical-economic character, minor texts, and conclusions. Some documents are illustrated by excellent drawings in the text. The bibliographical references are followed by flawless indices and black and white plates of sharp quality.

Massarelli presents graphic and epigraphic analyses, and all readings of the inscriptions (since their discovery, word for word, in tables); he summarizes painstakingly and critically all scholarly comments on these texts, even those from the 19th century, lists or chooses the best proposals, often the most recent ones by around twenty modern specialists,1 and, if these are not convincing, he tentatively presents new interpretations, which are mainly based on the so-called combinatory method (comparison of similar word forms in all inscriptions). He uses the spelling system and grammar of H. Rix.2 He correctly rejects the idea that all the texts on objects of lead had a magic character. Lead was an easily accessible, cheap material, used for different purposes.

Chapter two, a large part of the book, deals with the inscription on the Magliano plaque, one of the longest Etruscan texts (not studied after ca. 1940!), written in spirals on two sides of an oval disk (8 cm in diameter). Its original context and function are unknown. The graphic forms suggest a date in the fifth century BC (35), in my opinion after ca. 470 in view of the syncopated word form lacθ since the Tabula Capuana still mentions laχuθ and laχθ. Fortunately, the Magliano text is complete. Lexical segmentations on side B, however, are problematic when punctuation is missing (32; cf. 242-243). The textual analysis consists of a word by word commentary and an attempt to reconstruct syntactic structures. Side A has a clear structure. The three sections start respectively with the name of a god or gods written in the genitivus dedicatorius: cauθas, aiseras, and mariśl menitla (‘of > for Cautha’; ‘for Aiser’ (‘Gods’); ‘for Maris Menita’ (Maris the ‘Maker’?); 89). The underside B starts by mentioning god names in the nominative: mlaχ θanra calusc (‘Good/beautiful Thanr-like (goddess) and Calus’; 96-99).

Massarelli presents interesting new hypotheses, of which a few examples follow. A, section 1, reads: (cauθas) tuθiu ... neśl man (a syntactical relation interrupted by eight lexical units), and B, line 1, seems to recapitulate: (‘so; in this way’) tuθiu neśl man. Massarelli rejects a relationship between tuθiu and the Italic word to(ú)ta/tuta, which derives from Indo-European *teutā (‘community’), but he interprets tuθiu as a verbal adjective meaning ‘belonging to the action *tuθ-.’ Its subject is neśl man (‘of the cemetery (?) man).3 In that case tuθiu is a preterite passive participle so that cauθas tuθiu ... neśl man probably means: ‘to Cautha (has been) dedicated the monument of the cemetery (?)’. The nominative man is followed by the word form murinaśie, which would be the locative of *murinaśia. However, the word form may be the adjective of Murina, a well known nomen gentilicium. In that case man murina-śie (‘monument, that of Murina’) is the grave of a family.4 Unfortunately, Massarelli does not pay attention to the functions of Cautha, whose name may mean ‘girl’ (43). Inscriptions from the southern sanctuary at Pyrgi suggest that she may be compared with the Greek Underworld goddess Korè (‘girl’) /Persephone and her partner Śuri with Soranus /Hades.5 As for the latter name, the author interprets śuriseisteis in B, line 1, as the ablative of *śuris-ta (‘by this śuris’; 103-107), interpreting -eis as ablative ending of the nominatives śuris and -ta (‘this’), therefore strongly rejecting the idea that the nominative śuris is the name of a god who is often compared with (Apollo) Soranus (root: Sor-) /Dispater /Hades. G. Colonna, however, now reconstructs: śuris eisteis (‘by Śuri, god (eis)’, that (teis) > ‘by that god Śuri’).6

Massarelli does not evaluate the meaning and function of the whole text. In my opinion, Cautha, Thanr, Calus, Śuri and Lur are associated with ritual, funerary practices and the Underworld. In addition, the words *neś and man(im) are only present in funerary inscriptions. The author should not have confused Lur (in lurca (lur-ca) and lursθ (lur-s-θ: ‘in (the area) of Lur’)) with *Lusa, who is mentioned twice as lusl (genitive) on the Bronze Liver of Piacenza (101 n. 2; 110; 162).7

Chapter three discusses seven fragments of two non-joining sheets with inscriptions on both sides found at the bottom of a pit in the sanctuary (probably of Menerva) in Punta della Vipera at Santa Marinella near Cerveteri. They are dated to ca. 500 BC. The extremely incomplete texts have punctuation. They may contain the content of a sors, an oracular lot, which was preserved as an archive piece (245). Massarelli’s analysis is satisfying except for the translation of ]helucu (helu-cu) as ‘being appropriated’ (160-161) since an inscription on a recently discovered statue base from Lemnos mentions heloke (helo-ke), which must mean ‘has/have erected’.8 Chapter four is devoted to defixiones: five from tombs at Volterra, one from a tomb at Monte Pitti (near Populonia), and a problematic one from an unclear context at Ardea (Latium; 213-214), all dated to the third century BC (179). Like Greek curse tablets, they are mainly lists of names of persons who were to be cursed. The words θapicun θapintas mentioned in the curse tablet from Monte Pitti probably mean ‘curse after having cursed!’ (205-213). Massarelli interprets the two statuettes of lead (IV-III BC) found in a tomb at Sovana, representing a nude man and a nude woman with their arms bound on their backs, as belonging to a subclass of defixiones (217). The inscriptions on both statuettes only mention the first and family names of the victims. The (forged?) text of a fragmentary plaque from Poggio Gaiella is probably not a defixio.

As for juridical-economic texts (treated in chapter five), the author deals with the famous plaque of Pech Maho, on the Mediterranean coast of France, which can be dated between ca. 475 and 450 BC. The upper side shows a fragmentary Etruscan letter, possibly written in *Matalia (Marseille), and the underside a longer Greek commercial text, which was added at a later date. Since both texts mention the word ‘third (part of an amount of money?)’(Etr. kisnee (cf. ci: ‘three’; Gr. tritèn), the Etruscan text may also mention a contract or deal.

Chapter six, on ‘Minor Texts’, discusses a sors from Arezzo reading: suriś (as said, a nominative according to Massarelli, 231), a sors from Punta della Vipera, and one from Vulci; plaques from tombs at Perugia listing only onomastic formulas; and missile bullets, which mention mostly names of owners.

As for the contents of the larger texts Massarelli’s conclusions are rather meagre because of the unknown or uncertain meanings of most words. His up to date morphosyntactic analyses, however, are precise and exemplary. They will stimulate further research. The book will certainly interest scholars and students of Etruscan language, archaeology and religion, as well as classicists and linguists. Unfortunately, it is bizarrely expensive.


1.   Current specialists of Etruscan language quoted by Massarelli are, in alphabetical order: I.-X. Adiego, L. Agostiniani (Massarelli’s dissertation director), G. Bagnasco Gianni, V. Belfiore, E. Benelli, G. Colonna, C. de Simone, H. Eichner, G. M. Facchetti, G. Giannecchini, A. Maggiani, D. Maras, A. Morandi, P. Poccetti, D. H. Steinbauer, G. van Heems, R. Wallace and K. Wylin.
2.   H. Rix, Etruscan, in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages, edited by R. D. Woodard, Cambridge 2002, 943-966.
3.   The author does not mention Pfiffig’s interpretation of man and manim (‘monument’) as a synonym for śuθi (‘tomb’). See A.J.Pfiffig, Etruskische Bauinschriften. Wien 1972, 9-11.
4.   For -sie, see G. Colonna, Studi Etruschi 73, 2007 [2009], 127.
5.   G. Colonna, Sacred Architecture and the Religion of the Etruscans, in The Religion of the Etruscans, edited by N. T. de Grummond and E. Simon, Austin 2006, 139-140, 149-151.
6.   G. Colonna, Ancora su Śur /Śuri, Studi Etruschi 75, 2009 [2012], 10-15. See also C. de Simone, Il teonimo etrusco šuri-: riflessioni ad alta voce, Mediterranea 9, 2012, 107-132.
7.   For a comparison of congruences and differences between the independently written analyses of Massarelli and the reviewer, see L. B. van der Meer, The Lead Plaque of Magliano, in Interpretando l’antico. Scritti di archeologia offerti a Maria Bonghi Jovino I (Quaderni di Acme 134), 2012, 323-341 (also online
8.   C. de Simone, La nuova iscrizione tirsenica di Efestia, Tripodes 11, 2009, 3-58. H. Eichner (personal communication) interprets heloke as a passive preterite of the third person in view of the presence of possible ablatives. Verb endings in -ke in Raetic inscriptions also may be active or passive.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010