20 Sep 2009

Minoans, Greeks, the Po Valley and Arretium

Something I googled up the other day makes me start thinking again about the precise extent of Minoan trade. Clark, Prehistoric Europe - The economic basis (1966), page 186, reads:
"Although there is no direct proof that the rich copper deposits of Etruria began to be worked for the Minoan market, it is suggestive that the earliest metal equipment of Italy should show Early Minoan influence, notably in the daggers with mid-rib and rivetted tang found in cemetaries of the Remedello culture of the Po Valley and in the central Italian Rinaldoni culture."
This piece of text reinvigorates my hunch that the very reason why Etruscans, when considered to be the offshoot of peoples with like languages in Western Anatolia and surrounding islands (ie. Eteocretan, Eteocypriot, Minoan), ended up in Western Italy by the first millenium BCE was because trading routes and mining sites were in some way already established in the Po Valley, Western Italy and Sardinia during late Minoan times.

I came across this while reopening the case concerning the etymology of Arretium, a town in NE Etruria, which I can confidently say is unanalysable in the Etruscan language, despite Arretium being purportedly founded by the Etruscans themselves... but this is a slightly separate issue. For that, another quote seems interestingly apt, but in part related to my first quote above, from Voyage to the other world - The legacy of Sutton Hoo (1992), ed. by Kendall/Wells, p.31:
"By the fifth century B.C., true Celtic art was born - called by archaeologists the Early La Tène style after its type-site in Switzerland. The inspiration for this art again seems to have come through northern Italy and the Adriatic. This process is probably due to a shifting of trade routes between temperate Europe and the Mediterranean as trade from Massalia began to decline and the focus of Greek trade shifted to the Po Valley."
In other words, a historical continuity of trade between Northern Italy and Greece via the Adriatic since Minoan times. So this is in part why I'm now pursuing a hunch that Arretium could perhaps be a Greek name in the end, namely from Erythrion, a name built on the word erythros 'red' (< PIE *h₁reudʰ-) which could presumably be inspired by copper mining in the area. Interestingly, Erythrion is attested elsewhere as a personal name. The name would then also presumably pass into Old Etruscan as *Aritium with the -r- dropped to naturalize pronunciation for Etrurian ears and predictably shortened to Aritim as attested.


  1. Hello Glen!

    If I am well informed the upsilon was pronounced like the oo in "book" before 800 BC.
    Also, I can't see a reason why the Etruscans would drop the "r" after the "t", as "tr" is not rare in their language.

    As a second thought: "Etruscanizing" foreign words often gave strange results, like Prometheus becoming pruma0e

    (ZU is my nickname)

  2. Welcome, Zu.

    "If I am well informed the upsilon was pronounced like the oo in 'book' before 800 BC."

    I wasn't trying to imply that the name Arretium was born in Minoan times, only the trading in the general area of the Po. So concerning the name itself, it seems post-800 BCE anyway and what we expect here is a rounded high vowel /y/ as in French in a Greek name with Erythr-.

    Etruscan stress is placed on the first syllable, so it comes to be so in Aritim ['ɑɾɪtɪm]. A form with added -r- like *Aritrim isn't typical. According to syllabic rules, one would then have to divide it syllabically as V.CVC.CVC which seems to be unnatural for Etruscan perhaps because of the string of closed syllables here.

    Dropping the 'r' helps to conform things better to Etruscan phonotactics. Hence Aritim (V.CV.CVC). Similarly Greek Κλυταιμνάστρα is simplified to Cluθumusθa

  3. Come to think of it, another reason to simplify *Aritrim to Aritim would also be the repetitive liquid.

  4. Thanks, Glen.

    "V.CVC.CVC which seems to be unnatural for Etruscan perhaps because of the string of closed syllables here."

    Never realised this.
    And your example

    Κλυταιμνάστρα is simplified to Cluθumusθa

    is convincing.