Pyrgi Tablets

The tablets

The Pyrgi Tablets, found in a 1964 excavation of a sanctuary of ancient Pyrgi on the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy (today the town of Santa Severa), are three golden leaves that record a dedication made around 500 BC by Thefarie Velianas, king of Caere, to the Phoenician goddess ʻAshtaret. Pyrgi was the port of the southern Etruscan town of Caere. Two of the tablets are inscribed in the Etruscan language, the third in Phoenician.[1]

These writings are important in providing both a bilingual text that allows researchers to use knowledge of Phoenician to interpret Etruscan, and evidence of Phoenician or Punic influence in the Western Mediterranean. They may relate to Polybius's report (Hist. 3,22) of an ancient and almost unintelligible treaty between the Romans and the Carthaginians, which he dated to the consulships of L. Iunius Brutus and L. Tarquinius Collatinus (509 BC).

The tablets are now held at the National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia, Rome.

Phoenician text

l-rbt l-ʻštrt,
To lady Ashtarot,
ʼšr qdš ʼz, ʼš pʻl, w-ʼš ytn tbryʼ wlnš mlk ʻl kyšryʼ. ( kyšry= KAYSERI)
This is the holy place, which was made, and which was given by Tiberius Velianas who reigns over the Caerites.
b-yrḥ zbḥ šmš, b-mtnʼ b-bt, wbn tw.
During the month of the sacrifice to the Sun, as a gift in the temple, he built an aedicula.
k-ʻštrt ʼrš b-dy l-mlky šnt šlš, b-yrḥ krr, b-ym qbr ʼlm
For Ashtarot raised him with Her hand to reign for three years from the month of Churvar, from the day of the burial of the divinity [onward].
w-šnt lmʼš ʼlm b-bty šnt km h kkb m ʼl.
And the years of the statue of the divinity in the temple [shall be] as many years as the stars above.[2]

The Phoenician text has long been known to be in a Semitic, more specifically Canaanite language (very closely related to Hebrew, and also relatively close to Aramaic and Ugaritic); hence there was no need for it to be "deciphered." And while the inscription can certainly be read, certain passages are philologically uncertain on account of perceived complications of syntax and the vocabulary employed in the inscription, and as such they have become the source of debate among both Semiticists and Classicists.[3]

Supplementary to the Pyrgi Tablets are inscriptions on vessels found in the sanctuary at Pyrgi:

unial: div) patera, or plate V TLE 877
unial:(div) patera, or plate V REE 40 n54
  • ]starte/s/ ?] cve[r (]starte/ / in REE) (div?)
fragment vasis, or vessel IV REE 56 n31
mi :"s'uris : cava'th'as,(div)patera, or plate V REE 64 n36.
]xcava'th'as 2]a emini[(div) Greek kylix, V REE 56 n24[4]

Phoenician vocabulary

ʼlm, divinity [Semitic *ʼil- "god"]
ʼrš, to raise
ʼš, which, who, that [rel.pron]
ʼšr, place
ʼz, this [ ha-dha? ]
ʻl, over, above [Semitic *ʻal-]
ʻštrt, Astarte [Semitic *ʻaṯtar-]
b-, in, at, with, on [Semitic *bi-]
bt, house, temple [Semitic *bayt-]
kkb, star [Semitic *kabkab-] [hakkawkabīm/hakkawkabūm = the-stars]
k-, for, since [Semitic *ki-]
km, like, as [ka-ma]
krr, Churvar [calendar month] [cf. Etruscan Χurvar]
kyšryʼ, Caerites [a people]
l-, to, for [Semitic *la-]
lmʼš, statue
mlk, to rule, to reign [Semitic *mlk]
mtnʼ, gift [Semitic *ntn 'to give']
pʻl, to make, to do [Semitic *pʻl]
qbr, burial
qdš, holy
rbt, lady [cf. Akkadian rābu "grand, large"] [rabbu , female: rabbatu ]
šlš, three [Semitic *ṯalāṯ-]
šmš, sun [Semitic *šamš-[5]]
šnt, year [šanot "years" - from: šanāt]
tw, aedicula [taw]
w-, and [Semitic *wa-]
bn, to build [ bny ] [wayyiben = [and] he built]
yd, hand
ym, day [Semitic *yawm-]
yrḥ, month [Semitic *warḥu-] [Canaanite: yarhu]
ytn, to give [Semitic *[y]-ntn] [ya-ntin[u]] he-gives / hebrew: yittēn
zbḥ, sacrifice

Etruscan text

First plate:
ita tmia icac he
ramašva vatieχe
unial astres θemia
sa meχ θuta Θefa
riei velianas sal
cluvenias turu
ce munis tas θuvas
tameresca ilacve
tul erase nac ci avi
l χurvar, tešiameit
ale ilacve alšase
nac atranes zilac
al, sel eita la acnašv
ers itanim heram
ve avil eniaca pulum χva.
This temple and these statues are dedicated to Uni-Astre, built by the clanspeople.
Tiberius Velianas the pleasing aedicula has given.
munistas θuvas tameresca ilacve tulerase.
That burial of his own by these priests with idols was encircled.
nac ci avil χurvar, tešiameitale, ilacve alšase.
For three years [in the month of] Churvar, with Her burnt offerings, with idols [it was] buried.
nac atranes zilacal, seleitala acnašvers.
During the reign of the chief, in Her hand [he] would be brought forth (ie: Uni-Astre gave him authority to rule).
itanim heram ve, avile niaca pulum χva.
And with these Hermes idols, the year(s) shall endure as the stars.
Second plate:
nac θe farie vel
iiunas θ amuce
cleva etu nal masan tiur, unias
šelace v
acal tmial a
vil χ val amuce pulum χva snuiaφ.


When Tiberius Velianas had built the statue of the sanctuary [in] the month of Masan, Uni was pleased.
vacal tmial avilχval amuce pulumχva snuiaφ.
The votives of the temple yearly have been as numerous as the stars.

Etruscan vocabulary

*acna(s), to bring forth (acnaš-ver-s '[he] would be brought forth')
[perhaps -u, passive + -er-, purposive, common in the LLZ, had combined to form a passive optative in -ver- 'would be']
Note huśur maχ acnanas, arce. "Having brought forth (ie: given birth to) five children, [she] raised [them]" (TLE 887)
*alš, to bury (alš-as-e 'buried')
*am, to be (am-uc-e 'has been, had been')
an zilaθ amce mecl Rasnal. "He had been a chief of the Etruscan people." (ET Ta 7.59)
astre, Phoenician goddess of fertility, associated with Uni (astre-s 'of Astre') [Phoenician ‘štrt ← *‘aṯtarṯ]
*atran, reign, rulership
avil, year (avilχva-l 'of the years, yearly')
ca, this (ca 'this', ica-c 'and this')
ci, three
*cluvenia, aedicula (cluvenia-s 'of the aedicula')
xurvar, month [Phoenician krr *kurar]
*en, to last, endure (en-iac-a 'shall endure')
śacnicleri cilθl, śpureri, meθlumeric, enaś. "By way of these sacred objects of the sanctuary, by the city and by the people, [it] endures" (LLZ, col 9, lines 12-13)
*etan, sanctuary (etan-al 'of the sanctuary')
*heram(aš), Hermes idol (heramv-e 'with the Hermes idols', heramašva 'Hermes idols')
*ila, idol (*ilacva 'idols', ilacv-e 'with idols')
meχ, people
muni, burial, plot of land (muni-s 'of the burial')
nac, when, during, while
*pulum, star (pulum-χva 'stars', pulun-za 'little star')
fulumχva (Cippus perusinus, lateral, lines 29-30)
pulunza ipal sacnina tinia tei aθemeiś caś… "…the little star for which the sacred Tinia of the sky…" (CIE 6310)
sal, pleasing
*sel, hand (sel-ei 'with the hand')
*snuia, many (snuia-φ "as many")
śnuiu-φ "as many" (LLZ, col 6, lines 1,2,4)
*šel, to please (šel-ac-e 'has pleased') [cf. sal]
ta, that (ita 'that', 'and with that', ta-s 'of that', tala 'her', tal-e 'with her')
tešiam, burnt offerings (tešiam-ei 'with burnt offerings')
Śucic firin tesim. "And incense was burned as a burnt offering" (LLZ, col 7, lines 9-10)
tmia, temple (tmia-l 'of the temple')
*tuler, to encircle (tuler-as-e 'encircled') [cf. tul 'border, boundary']
tur, to give (tur-uc-e 'has given')
*θem, to build (θem-iasa 'built', θam-uc-e 'has built')
θefariei, Tiberius [Roman male name]
θuta, clan, nation (compare Celto-Germanic cognates *Tuatha, *Theod, *Diot). Compare Icelandic: þjóð (nom), þjóð (acc), þjóðu (dat), þjóðar (gen).
θuva, oneself, (θuva-s 'one's own') [cf. θu 'one, single']
θuker akil tuś thuveś. "Thuker completed his own tomb." (TLE 672)
uni, Etruscan mother goddess of fertility (uni-al 'of Uni') [cf. Latin Iūno]
vacal, votive offering
celi suθ vacl θesnin "Upon the earth of the tomb a votive offering was dedicated." (LLZ, col 5, lines 15-16)
*vat, to dedicate (vat-ieχ-e 'to be dedicated')
velianas, Velianas [family name].
zilaχ, chief (zilac-al 'of the chief')
svalasi, zilaχnuce. "[While] living, [he] had been chief." (TLE 173)
zilaχnce avil xi. "[He] had been chief eleven years." (REE 40, n75)


  1. The specific dialect has been called "Mediterranean Phoenician" by Philip C. Schmitz, "The Phoenician Text from the Etruscan Sanctuary at Pyrgi" Journal of the American Oriental Society 115.4 (October - December 1995), pp. 559-575. Full bibliography of Pyrgi and the tablets
  2. Transcription from Hildegard Temporini, Joseph Vogt, Wolfgang Haase. 1972. Aufsteig und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, vol. 2, part 25. P.201. Also, along with the original Phoenician letters, in Haarmann, Harald. 1996. Early Civilization and Literacy in Europe: An Inquiry into Cultural Continuity in the Mediterranean World. P.355
  3. For the most recent analysis of the inscription and summary of the various scholarly interpretations, see Schmitz, P. 1995 "The Phoenician Text from the Etruscan Sanctuary at Pyrgi." Journal of the American Oriental Society 15:559-575.
  4. Source for the Pyrgi inscriptions :
  5. The Patterning of Root Morphemes in Semitic. 1990. In: On language: selected writings of Joseph H. Greenberg. Ed. Keith M. Denning and Suzanne Kemmer. P.379


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