Messapian language

Region Apulian region of Italy
Era attested 6th to 1st century BCE[1]
  • Messapian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 cms
Linguist list
Glottolog mess1244[2]

Messapian (/mɛˈsæpiən, mə-, -ˈs-/; also known as Messapic) is an extinct Indo-European language of southeastern Italy, once spoken in the region of Apulia. It was spoken by the three Iapygian tribes of the region: the Messapians, the Dauni and the Peucetii.

The language has been preserved in about 300 inscriptions dating from the 6th to the 1st century BCE.

Messapian may have been related to the Illyrian language.

Messapian became extinct after the Roman Republic conquered the region of Apulia and assimilated the inhabitants.


Few, if any, Messapic inscriptions have been definitely deciphered.

From the Vaste inscription (Corpus Inscriptionum Messapicarum 149), a passage that probably consists mostly of personal names:

klohi zis thotoria marta pido vastei basta veinan aran in daranthoa vasti staboos xohedonas daxtassi vaanetos inthi trigonoxo a staboos xohetthihi dazimaihi beiliihi inthi rexxorixoa kazareihi xohetthihi toeihithi dazohonnihi inthi vastima daxtas kratheheihi inthi ardannoa poxxonnihi a imarnaihi

For this other Messapic inscription (Grotta della Poesia, Melendugno, Lecce):

klauhi Zis
Dekias Artahias
Thautouri andirahho
daus apistathi vinaihi
Hear Zeus,
Dekias Artahias
to the infernal Thaotor
set up (the rest untranslated)

Here, klauhi probably means "hear" (< PIE *kleu-, "to hear"); Zis has been interpreted as the Messapic Zeus; Dekias is a first name (compare Latin Decius); Artahias is a patronym or nomen gentile with the Messapic genitive -as suffix; Thautori is inferred to be an infernal god because of its placement next to what appears to be an adjective, andirahho (perhaps from PIE *ndher-, "under"). It is similar to Tartarus, a classical Greek name for the realm of Hades.

Another Messapic inscription from Galatina is dated to the 2nd century BC:

klohi zis avithos thotorridas ana aprodita apa ogrebis

The separation of the last two elements is uncertain (apa, ogrebis, as shown here). Klohi (as klauhi in the preceding inscription) probably means "listen, hear". Zis may be the Messapic Zeus, as in the preceding inscription. Aprodita is a loanword from Greek Aphrodite. Avithos Thotorridas is a Messapic anthroponym, showing a personal name plus patronymic or nomen gentile in the genitive (-as). It may be related to "Thautori", mentioned in the Vaste inscription.

The Messapian language is preserved in a scanty group of perhaps fifty inscriptions, of which only a few contain more than proper names, and in a few glosses in ancient writers collected by Mommsen (Unteritalische Dialekte, p. 70). Unluckily very few originals of the inscriptions are now in existence, though some few remain in the museum at Taranto. The only satisfactory transcripts are those given by:

  1. Mommsen (loc. cit.)
  2. John P Droop in the Annual of the British School at Athens (1905–1906), xli. 137, who includes, for purposes of comparison, as the reader should be warned, some specimens of the 'unfortunately numerous class of forged inscriptions.

A large number of the inscriptions collected by Gamurrini in the appendices to Fabretti's Corpus inscriptionum italicarum are forgeries, and the text of the rest is negligently reported. It is therefore safest to rely on the texts collected by Mommsen, cumbered though they are by the various readings given to him by various authorities. Despite these difficulties, however, some facts of considerable importance have been established.

Messapian script

The inscriptions, so far as it is safe to judge from the copies of the older finds and from Droop's facsimiles of the newer, are all in the Tarentine-Ionic alphabet. Dates were probably within the range of 400-150 BC; the two most important inscriptions—those of Brindisi and Vaste may be assigned, provisionally, to the 3rd century BC. Mommsen's first attempt at dealing with the inscriptions and the language attained solid, if not very numerous, results, chief of which were the genitival character of the endings -aihi and -ihi; and the conjunctional value of inthi (loc. cit. 79-84 sg(1).

Since 1850 little progress has been made. The Norwegian scholar Alf Torp (1853–1916) in Indogermanische Forschungen (1895), V, 195, deals fully with the two inscriptions just mentioned, and practically sums up all that is either certain or probable in the conjectures of his predecessors. Hardly more than a few words can be said to have been separated and translated with certainty--kalatoras (masc. gen. sing.) "of a herald" (written upon a herald's staff that was once in the Naples Museum); aran (acc: sing. fem.) "arable land"; mazzes, "greater" (neut. acc. sing.), the first two syllables of the Latin maiestas; while tepise (3rd sing. aorist indic.) "placed" or "offered"; and forms corresponding to the article (ta = Greek to) seem also probable.

The proper names in the inscriptions show the regular Italic system of gentile nomen preceded by a personal praenomen; and that some inscriptions show the interesting feature that appears in the Tables of Heraclea of a crest or coat of arms, such as a triangle or an anchor, peculiar to particular families. The same reappears in the Iovilae of Capua and Cumae.

Messapian words

Messapian lexical item Proposed cognates
Bréntion (from Messapian bréndon, bréntion) (Brindisi, Italy)

Brindisi: Brin - Brinë (Horn in Albanian); Disi – Dashi (Ram, Aries in Albanian) Swedish brinde "elk", Latvian briêdis "deer", Lithuanian briedis, "elk", Old Prussian braydis, "elk",[3] Thracian Brendike (which was a Thracian toponym located just east of Dikaia) Albanian bri, brî (pl. brirë, brinë) "horn; antler" [< late Proto-Albanian *brina < earlier *brena].[4] The Messapian word is glossed early as "deer", then narrowed in meaning to a deer's head (cf. Strabo caput cervi), then possibly by metonymy to its antlers in early Albanian, and by extension any excrescence, thus modern "horn".

Menzana cf. Albanian mëz "colt"[5]
penkaheh Torp identifies this as the Messapian word for the number "five", from PIE *penkwe-, "five" (Lithuanian penki - five), (Albanian pesë - five)
apa = "from" Alb. pa (PA < apa) "without", Greek apó, Sanskrit ápa[6]
bilia = "daughter" Latin filia, Albanian bijë, older dialect bilë[6]
ma = "not" Greek , Sanskrit , Albanian ma, me ,mos


For a discussion of the important ethnological question of the origin of the Messapians see:

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

See also


  1. Messapian at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Messapic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Orel, Vladimir. Albanian Etymological Dictionary. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1998.
  4. Orel, Vladimir. A Concise Historical Grammar of the Albanian Language: Reconstruction of Proto-Albanian. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2000.
  5. Verhandlungen des Zweiten Internationalen Dialektologenkongresses: Marburg/Lahn, 5.-10. September 1965, Volume 3 Issues 3-4 of Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik Verhandlungen Des Zweiten Internationalen Dialektologenkongresses: Marburg/Lahn, 5.-10. September 1965, Ludwig Erich Schmitt Author Ludwig Erich Schmitt Publisher F. Steiner, 1968 p. 85
  6. 1 2 W. B. Lockwood, A Panorama of Indo-European languages, Hutchinson, 1972, p. 185
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