30 Aug 2010

Did the Etruscans ever speak of fair Padua?

Latest input from a commenter on the exact entry-point of the early Etrusco-Rhaetic into Italy has led me to contemplate all things Padua, an old city with a rich past located in the plains north of the Po River. By doing a quick google search on the city, one profits from some of the most paradisaic pictures one could ever behold. I'm instantly overcome with an overwhelming yearn to escape there some day and never return!

But back to reality, a simple question pops to mind in relation to the Etruscans I obsess over each day: What was Padua in Etruscan? A check in my database revealed an embarrassing blank. An embarrassing blank because the Romans knew the city well under the name Patavium. Citizens boast that it's one of the oldest cities in Italy and it was historically the most prominent of the Veneti people who lived in this region. Surely the Etruscans knew of this city and had their own name for it. So I must remedy my ignorance somehow.

Without any direct attestation of this city in any Etruscan inscription I know of, I decided to get clever by searching through my database for any last names reasonably similar to this Latin name Patavium, the reason being that there are many other Etruscan family names referring to the historical ethnicity of the people who sported them, eg. Umrina, literally 'Umbria' or 'of the Umbri' (cf. Latin name Umbricianus).

While the search-strings pat* yielded zilch, I stubbornly expanded my quest with pet*. Eureka. Now I saw a single name precisely fitting the criteria of my quest: Petui. Could this name mean 'Paduan' or '(s)he of Patavium' perchance?

In the process, I noticed that I'd incorrectly labeled this name in my online dictionary as a female praenomen (apologies!) but my recent scouring has given me confidence that this is in fact a gentilicium since it's attested in many inscriptions including CIE 3666, 3667, 3672 and 3675. Massimo Tarabella confirms that it is indeed a family name on page 372 of Prosopographia etrusca, Volume 1 (2004) where he delves into the history of the name under the heading Petui. Disappointingly, little insight is found and there is no mention of Patavium as I would have desired. However, the author fails also to reflect on one of its attested genitive forms, Petevis, which is found in CIE 3673 and which directly motivates an earlier form *Petavie with the restored second syllable.

Given these newly uncovered facts, I think I'm going in the right direction with this. As such the cityname could be expected to be *Petau and its surrounding region, *Petavina, following standard Etruscan naming practices for regions and cities paralleling the example of Capeva 'Capua' & Capevana 'Campania'. I might just dare to take it up a notch and suggest that the name is indeed Venetic, as would be expected afterall, and that the Venetic name was pronounced *Pataviom, literally meaning 'The open (land)' from a hypothetical adjective *patavos 'open, wide, vast' (cf. Lat. pateo, patulus < PIE *peth₂- 'to be spread out'). Such a meaning would be more than apt for a city lying in flatlands adjacent to the Adriatic Sea.

One final thought, this family name seems to surface mostly in the city of Perusia (ie. modern Perugia) which lies several miles due south of Patavium. Perhaps is it possible that with the constant threat of Celtic invasion, some Paduans had migrated southward for a greater feeling of safety? Alas, to every mystery solved, more questions rear their ugly heads! Not even noble Heracles could tame this enticing Hydra.


  1. As always, very interesting. Have you tried a similar linguistic search for the other major city of the Veneti, Ateste (it. Este), which is located farther to the west?

    The Adige river was called Athesis in Latin, so there might be some connection between the two names, although Ateste is some distance from the Athesis (about 40 km).

    This makes we wonder - Ateste, Athesis; Patavium, Padus - whether there might be a connection between Patavium and Padus, the Latin name for the Po river. But Padua is about 70 km from the Po.

  2. Since there are so many historical citynames in Italy (not to mention that there are so many other topics to explore relating to the Etruscan language), I'm going through this slowly, one by one. I haven't yet contemplated the name Athesis but I suppose there's no time like the present. The Greek version of the name with gamma in place of Latin -s- is interesting.

    As for Padus (adj. Padānus 'of the Po'), a Celtic proto-form *Po-Dānu, literally "Po river", seems available. However, Patavium has no trace of an /n/ and as you say, it's miles away from the river.