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Rhaetian language

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Rhaetian language

Native to Ancient Raetia
Region Eastern Alps
Era 1st millennium BC to 3rd century AD[1]
uncertain, perhaps Tyrsenian
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xrr
Linguist list

Raetic (also Rhaetic, Rhaetian) is an ancient language spoken in the ancient region of Raetia in the Eastern Alps in pre-Roman and Roman times. It is documented by a limited number of short inscriptions (found through Northern Italy and Western Austria) in two variants of the Etruscan alphabet. Its linguistic categorization is not clearly established, and it presents a confusing mixture of what appear to be Etruscan, Indo-European, and uncertain other elements.

The ancient Raetic language is not the same as one of the modern Romance languages of the same Alpine region, known as Rhaeto-Romance—although both are sometimes referred to as "Rhaetian".


The most credible theories are that Raetic was:

  • a member—along with Etruscan—of a proposed Tyrrhenian language family, possibly influenced by neighboring Indo-European languages. Several recent works support this theory.[2]
  • an Indo-European language, with links to Illyrian and Celtic[3]
  • a language isolate, later influenced by Etruscan


Retic culture and inscriptions

It is clear that in the centuries leading up to Roman imperial times, the Raetians had at least come under Etruscan influence, as the Raetic inscriptions are written in what appears to be a northern variant of the Etruscan alphabet. The ancient Roman sources mention the Raetic people as being reputedly of Etruscan origin, so there may at least have been some ethnic Etruscans who had settled in the region by that time.

In his Natural History (1st century AD), Pliny wrote about Alpine peoples:

adjoining these (the Noricans) are the Raeti and Vindelici. All are divided into a number of states.[4] The Raeti are believed to be people of Tuscan race[5] driven out by the Gauls; their leader was named Raetus.[6]

Pliny's comment on a leader named Raetus is typical of mythologized origins of ancient peoples, and not necessarily reliable. The name of the Venetic goddess Reitia has commonly been discerned in the Raetic finds, but the two names do not seem to be linked. The spelling as Raet- is found in inscriptions, while Rhaet- was used in Roman manuscripts; whether this Rh represents an accurate transcription of an aspirated R in Raetic or is an error is uncertain.

Many inscriptions are known, but most of them are only short and fairly repetitive, probably mostly votive texts. Raetic became extinct by the 3rd century AD, with its speakers adopting Vulgar Latin in the south and Germanic in the north, and possibly Celtic prior to that.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Raetic at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Rix 1998, Schumacher 1998
  3. ^ Scullard, 43.
  4. ^ in multas civitates divisi.
  5. ^ Tuscorum prolem (genitive case followed by accusative case), "offshoot of the Tusci."
  6. ^ Book III Section XX. The translation is H. Rackham's in the Loeb edition.
  7. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911


  • Morandi, Alessandro. (1999). "Il cippo di Castelciès nell’epigrafia retica" (Studia archaeologica, 103). Rome: Bretschneider
  • Prosdocimi, Aldo L. (2003-4). "Sulla formazione dell'alfabeto runico. Promessa di novità documentali forse decisive". Archivio per l'Alto Adige 97-98.427-440
  • Rix, Helmut. (1998). Rätisch und Etruskisch (Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft; Vorträge und kleinere Schriften, 68). Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck.
  • Schumacher, Stefan. (1992). Die rätischen Inschriften. Geschichte und heutiger Stand der Forschung (Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft; Sonderheft, 79). Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck, 2nd ed. 2004.
  • Schumacher, Stefan. (1998). "Sprachliche Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen Rätisch und Etruskisch". Der Schlern 72.90-114.
  • Scullard, H. H. The Etruscan Cities and Rome. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967.
  • Tóth, Alfréd; Brunner, Linus. (2007): "RAETIC An extinct Semitic language in Central Europe.". The Hague: Mikes International. ISBN 978-90-8501-113-2

External links

  • Raetic inscriptions Adolfo Zavaroni.
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