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Reading in transliteration: priś
Reading in original script: Ś2 sI sR5 sP s

Object: JU·1 Montmorot (bowl)
Position: inside, wall
Orientation: 270°
Direction of writing: sinistroverse
Script: prob. North Italic script (Lepontic alphabet)
Letter height: 2.4 cm0.945 in <br />
Number of letters: 4
Number of words: 1
Number of lines: 1
Workmanship: scratched after firing
Condition: complete, damaged

Archaeological culture: Hallstatt D [from object]
Date of inscription: mid-6th century BC

Type: unknown
Language: Celtic
Meaning: unknown

Alternative sigla: none

Sources: Verger 2001: 272–284



First published in Verger 1998.

Images in Verger 1998: 622, fig. 3 (photo = Verger 2001: tav. XXXVIc) and 623, fig. 4 (drawings = Verger 2001: 271, fig. 3 = Kaenel 2000: 153, fig. 3), Maras 2014: 77, fig. 1.4 (drawing).

The inscription on the three adjacent fragments was only identified by Verger in 1998, after they had been reassembled in 1997 (Verger 1998: 270, n. 19). It is written on the inside of the bowl, starting 0.2 cm above the foot and running vertically upwards. All four letters are essentially complete, only the lower ends of the hastae of all letters except iota are missing. The reading is unambiguous. (Verger 2001: 272 f. with detailed description of the letters.)

The commonly given dating of the inscription to the late 7th to early 6th century is suggested by Verger 1998: 624 f. (2001: 275–284) based on palaeography. Verger compares archaic Etruscan documents from North-Western Italy (Fs 1.2–3, 0.1–4, Li 2.4, as well as VA·3), which are dated to this time frame, in terms of general style and ductus. While superficial similarities like the length of hastae are hardly sufficient to demonstrate a connection, the presence of rho with a small pocket, which is archaic and rarely attested by the second half of the 6th century, does point towards a high dating to at least the mid-6th century. Verger 2001: 281–284 puts the Etruscan comparanda and the Montmorot inscription in the context of the spread of Etuscan literacy northwards, arguing that the latter is evidence for the use of the archaic Etruscan alphabet to write Celtic before it took on the characteristics of the Lepontic alphabet. This implies that the inscription is part of the Lepontic writing tradition proper and documents a "Proto-Lepontic" state of affairs. This is not unlikey insofar as contacts between the area of Montmorot and the Golasecca culture are reflected in the archaeological finds of the late Hallstatt phase. Yet the forms of rho and san are not those of the later Lepontic alphabet; it cannot be excluded that the inscription represents an isolated attempt to write a Celtic text with the Etruscan alphabet with no direct connection to Lepontic literacy. While the question may be moot in terms of letter forms – Ś2 s and R5 s are of course ultimately the predecessors of Lepontic Ś s and R3 s – it is pertinent to the issue of orthography. The use of sibilants in the Lepontic alphabet is notable for following the Southern Etruscan rather than the Northern Etruscan pattern: san in Northern Etruscan inscriptions denotes /s/, while, in the Lepontic alphabet, sigma denotes /s/ at least since the mid-6th century (NO·1), while san at least since the late 6th century (CO·48, VA·6) is relegated to the spelling of other phonemes/clusters (see Ś and North Italic Script). Thus, if the orthography is Etruscan, san denotes /s/, but if it is "proto-Lepontic", it is something else (the second Etruscan sibilant /ś/ ([ʃ]) not existing in Celtic). Similarly (but less conclusively, as the use of pi for /b/ is fairly obvious), if the orthography is Etruscan, pi can only represent Celtic /p/; if it represents Celtic /b/, the orthography is Lepontic. Considering that a Celtic reading pris has little to recommend it in terms of analysis and etymology, the inscription is likely to be written in a Proto-Lepontic alphabet, but doubts remain.

Consequently, it is not clear whether the interpretation of the sound value of san in the inscription can be based on that in Lepontic. The letter's Celtic application is not obvious, and different uses were found for it in the Lepontic alphabet (see Ś). Verger 1998: 626 (2001: 285–288) opts for [ksi̯], comparing aśouni (late 2nd/1st c. BC) and naśom. The latter is probably a misreading; Stifter 2010: 371 (sub C) adds another approximate (and uncertain) example amaśilu (~100 BC). The even more doubtful option that san can denote a cluster velar+s (without palatalisation) is discussed ibid., p. 371 f. (sub E). Whether san can indeed represent a velar-sibilant cluster in the Lepontic alphabet is uncertain. In the oldest Lepontic attestations (CO·48, VA·6), san is used for (a) sound(s) associated with tau gallicum (etymological dental-dental clusters). See the word page for considerations about possible etymologies for both readings. Pi can theoretically represent Celtic /b/ or /p/ (< /k/), but all feasible etymologies indicate /b/. A personal name is altogether the most likely interpretation, even if the etymology is uncertain.

As pointed out by Verger 2001: 288, the form may be from the local Gaulish dialect as well as from a Cisalpine Celtic language (Lepontic). Montmorot lies in an area which in Roman times is inhabited by the Sequani. See ibid., p. 288–312 for graffiti from early Gaul and considerations about the archaeological and historical context of the document.

Verger 1998: 622–624, 627 (2001: 272 f., 287) also identifies two faint scratches forming the shape P d on the outside of the bowl (fig. 4), but it is not clear whether they are the remains of another inscription or even intentional.

See also Markey & Mees 2004: 85, Markey 2006: 164, Maras 2014: 76.

Corinna Salomon