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|Region||Apulian region of Italy|
|Era||attested 6th to 1st century BCE|
Few, if any, Messapic inscriptions have been definitely deciphered.
From the Vaste inscription (Corpus Inscriptionum Messapicarum 149), a passage that probably consists mostly of personal names:
Here, klauhi probably means "hear" (< PIE *kleu-, "to hear"); Zis has been interpreted as the Messapic Zeus; Dekias is a first name (compare Latin Decius); Artahias is a patronym or nomen gentile with the Messapic genitive -as suffix; Thautori is inferred to be an infernal god because of its placement next to what appears to be an adjective, andirahho (perhaps from PIE *ndher-, "under"). It is similar to Tartarus, a classical Greek name for the realm of Hades.
Another Messapic inscription from Galatina is dated to the 2nd century BC:
The separation of the last two elements is uncertain (apa, ogrebis, as shown here). Klohi (as klauhi in the preceding inscription) probably means "listen, hear". Zis may be the Messapic Zeus, as in the preceding inscription. Aprodita is a loanword from Greek Aphrodite. Avithos Thotorridas is a Messapic anthroponym, showing a personal name plus patronymic or nomen gentile in the genitive (-as). It may be related to "Thautori", mentioned in the Vaste inscription.
The Messapian language is preserved in a scanty group of perhaps fifty inscriptions, of which only a few contain more than proper names, and in a few glosses in ancient writers collected by Mommsen (Unteritalische Dialekte, p. 70). Unluckily very few originals of the inscriptions are now in existence, though some few remain in the museum at Taranto. The only satisfactory transcripts are those given by:
A large number of the inscriptions collected by Gamurrini in the appendices to Fabretti's Corpus inscriptionum italicarum are forgeries, and the text of the rest is negligently reported. It is therefore safest to rely on the texts collected by Mommsen, encumbered though they are by the various readings given to him by various authorities. Despite these difficulties, however, some facts of considerable importance have been established.
The inscriptions, so far as it is safe to judge from the copies of the older finds and from Droop's facsimiles of the newer, are all in the Tarentine-Ionic alphabet. Dates were probably within the range of 400-150 BC; the two most important inscriptions—those of Brindisi and Vaste may be assigned, provisionally, to the 3rd century BC. Mommsen's first attempt at dealing with the inscriptions and the language attained solid, if not very numerous, results, chief of which were the genitival character of the endings -aihi and -ihi; and the conjunctional value of inthi (loc. cit. 79-84 sg(1).
Since 1850 little progress has been made. The Norwegian scholar Alf Torp (1853–1916) in Indogermanische Forschungen (1895), V, 195, deals fully with the two inscriptions just mentioned, and practically sums up all that is either certain or probable in the conjectures of his predecessors. Hardly more than a few words can be said to have been separated and translated with certainty--kalatoras (masc. gen. sing.) "of a herald" (written upon a herald's staff that was once in the Naples Museum); aran (acc: sing. fem.) "arable land"; mazzes, "greater" (neut. acc. sing.), the first two syllables of the Latin maiestas; while tepise (3rd sing. aorist indic.) "placed" or "offered"; and forms corresponding to the article (ta = Greek to) seem also probable.
The proper names in the inscriptions show the regular Italic system of gentile nomen preceded by a personal praenomen; and that some inscriptions show the interesting feature that appears in the Tables of Heraclea of a crest or coat of arms, such as a triangle or an anchor, peculiar to particular families. The same reappears in the Iovilae of Capua and Cumae.
|Messapian lexical item||Proposed cognates|
|Bréntion (from Messapian bréndon, bréntion) (Brindisi, Italy)||
Swedish brinde ("elk"), Latvian briêdis ("deer"), Lithuanian briedis, ("elk"), Old Prussian braydis, ("elk"), Thracian Brendike  (which was a Thracian toponym located just east of Dikaia) Albanian bri, brî - pl. brirë, brinë ("horn"; "antler") [< late Proto-Albanian *brina < earlier *brena ]. The Messapian word is glossed early as "deer", then narrowed in meaning to a deer's head (cf. Strabo caput cervi), then possibly by metonymy to its antlers in early Albanian, and by extension and excrescence, thus modern "horn".
|Menzana||cf. Albanian mëz - meza ("colt")|
|penkaheh||Torp identifies this as the Messapian word for the number "five", from PIE *penkwe-, "five" (Lithuanian penki (five), (Albanian pesë (five)|
|apa = "from"||Alb. Gheg dialect pi (PI < apa) ("from") or pa (PA < apa) ("without"), Greek apó, Sanskrit ápa|
|bilia = "daughter"||Latin filia, Albanian bijë - "bija" ("daughter") older dialect bilë - "bila" ("daughter")|
|ma = "not"||Greek mē, Sanskrit mā, Albanian ma, me, mos|
For a discussion of the important ethnological question of the origin of the Messapians see: