12 Aug 2011

Overseeing in Ancient Anatolia

A particular Etruscan word currently haunts my mental processes, zil 'to oversee'. It's the verbal base of the participle zilaθ 'supervised' and the noun zilχ 'supervision'. I have some quams against the comparatively exaggerated values given by Larissa and Giuliano Bonfante that would have zilaθ mapped to English 'magistrate' and zilχ equivalent to 'magistracy'. For zilci Larthal Cusuś, which they translate as 'in the magistracy of Larth Cusu', I read less fanfare into it: 'Under the supervision of Larth Cusu'.

As with every morpheme I've entered into my database so far, I ask myself: What's the etymology of this verb zil 'to oversee'? Where does it come from? If inherited from Proto-Cyprian, a form *zila would be indicated for the 2nd millennium BCE. If Proto-Cyprian is also to be located in Cyprus and Western Turkey (including Lydia, as Herodotus had himself prescribed for the ancestors of the Etruscans), it strongly appears as though interaction with the Hattic language, cradled once upon a time in central Turkey, would not just be likely but inevitable.

This is why it's curious that we should find a Hattic word zilat being given the meaning of 'seat' or 'throne'. The Hattic word for 'to sit' is already known to be nifas though. It builds the name Hanfasuit 'She of the throne' (ha- 'down (?)' + -nifas 'to sit' + -it [feminine marker]), an epithet of a goddess that was borrowed into Hittite as Halmasuit. So what morphemes then compose zilat? An understandable hunch enters my head: Could Hattic have had a related verb stem *-zil meaning 'to oversee'? Is this a possible piece of evidence in favour of Hattic-Cyprian language contact?

If so, the proof remains unsatisfying and paltry. I naturally need further evidence to build a stronger case.


  1. Hello, I am "passive" reader of your blog (added to my RSS feeds about two months ago).

    This was published today in an Italian newspaper, I figure it might interest you: http://roma.repubblica.it/cronaca/2011/08/13/news/etruschi-20393492/

    And in particular:

    Durante la campagna di scavo del 2010 sono stati scoperti, in questo ambiente, i resti di un rarissimo intonaco in gesso alabastrino, secondo una modalità nota nel Vicino-Oriente (Cipro, Egitto, area siro-palestinese). Si tratta di un esempio di rivestimento murario, finora sconosciuto in Italia, presumibilmente realizzato da maestranze specializzate provenienti dal Levante mediterraneo. Ma le sorprese non sono finite: in alcuni punti sono emerse tracce di decorazioni dipinte rappresentate, allo stato attuale, da una larga fascia rossa che doveva svilupparsi sui tre lati dell'ingresso, al di sotto e al di sopra della quale si individuano delle raffigurazioni di probabile significato religioso.


  2. Thanks for the news link, Tiago!

    The ties between the Etruscans and the rest of the Mediterranean during the 1st millennium BCE shouldn't come as a big "sorprese" to any of us. The Etruscans were a very open people with an extensive trading system with North Africans, Greeks, Celts, Egyptians, and those in the Near East. As such, they absorbed foreign ideas and customs very easily.

    What I really want to understand though is the Pre-Etruscan language (ie. Proto-Cyprian) in the previous millennium before they had ever set foot in Italy, when the ancestors of these Etruscans were still located in Lydia.

    The links between Cyprian-speaking Lydians and their surrounding environment in Asia Minor were probably never fully cut when they had migrated to Italy, nor had this Lydian population ceased to exist once the Etruscans emmigrated. So Etruscans in general must have felt an ethnolinguistic connection with the Near East and had maintained relations with their ethnic cousins well into the 1st millennium BCE.