Pre-Roman Languages of Spain and Portugal, after Cólera 2004: 16

Celtiberian

Celtiberian inscription from Palenzuela on a bronze in the shape of a dove, after Cólera 2004: 243
‘Celtiberian’ is the name given by modern scholars to an ancient Celtic language once spoken in Spain. We do not know what the speakers of the language at the time actually called it. This language is known from inscriptions and onomastic material (place-names, personal names, etc.). There are approximately 1,000 known Celtiberian words (Cólera 2004: 41). The surviving Celtiberian inscriptions date from the second and first centuries BCE (Cólera 2004: 39). These inscriptions derive primarily from a specific region of the Iberian Peninsula, covering much of Northeastern Spain, and corresponding to the territory once occupied by several ancient Celtic city-state (1) cultures, including the Arevaci, Belli, Titti, Lusones, Berones, Pelendones, and Carpetani (Cólera 2004: 39; 2007: 749). Celtiberian inscriptions from outlying regions, such as the Balearic island of Ibiza, or Gruissan in southern France, are also known, however (Cólera 2004: 40). The Celtiberian language was written either in the Roman alphabet, or, more commonly, in one of the varieties of Celtiberian script. The Celtiberian script is based on one of the indigenous writing systems of the Iberians, the Celts’ non-Indo-European neighbors in Spain. The Roman alphabet may of course be traced to the Romans, who were occupied with conquering the peninsula for some two centuries, following the conclusion of the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE). Earlier, Greeks and Phoenicians also had colonial interests in the Iberian Peninsula, but neither of their writing systems were employed by the local Celts. Celtiberian is a fragmentarily attested language rather than a fully known language, but it is understood well enough to give us a tantalizing glimpse into the linguistic situation in ancient Celtic Spain, and a considerable scholarly literature has grown up devoted to its study.

The upper reaches of the Duero River today; formerly the heartland of literate Celtiberia
Spain and Portugal together of course form what is called the Iberian Peninsula, but it should be noted that the term ‘Celtiberian’ is not simply shorthand for ‘Celtic in the Iberian Peninsula’. Celtiberian refers specifically to the language of the region of Northeastern Spain where ‘Celtiberian’ inscriptions are found. Outside of this area, one or more Celtic languages were clearly spoken to one degree or another across most of the Iberian Peninsula, but they are not necessarily identical to what modern scholars call the ‘Celtiberian language’. For instance, we may point to place names of a clearly Celtic nature found far outside the area of the Celtiberian inscriptions, as well as to the Lusitanian language known from a few Roman-alphabet inscriptions, whose status as a Celtic or non-Celtic language remains undecided.

Manuel Gómez-Moreno Martínez (1870-1970), the decipherer of the Celtiberian script
The Celtiberian language is in a sense a relatively recent discovery. The Celtiberian script was deciphered by Gómez-Moreno in 1922 (see Gómez-Moreno 1922), and it was not until 1946 that A. Tovar demonstrated that some of the inscriptions written in that script were in fact linguistically Celtic (see Tovar 1946). The story of the decipherment of Celtiberian is an interesting one comparable to the decoding of Egyptian hieroglyphics by Champollion in 1824. Celtiberian is significant because, along with Gaulish, it is one of the best-attested ancient Celtic languages, and also because it furnishes us with the longest continuous specimen of ancient Celtic running text, on the bronze tablet known as ‘Botorrita I’ (Meid 1994: 7). Celtiberian texts also furnish various insights into the social structure, religion and life of the local population.

Sample Grammar

Celtiberian bronze plaque from Torrijo del Campo, after Cólera 2007: 847
The following chart shows the case-endings for masculine o-stems and feminine a-stems, after Cólera 2004: 124-7. These are comparable to the so-called ‘second declension’ and ‘first declension’ familiar to students of ancient Greek. A question mark indicates that there is uncertainty regarding the ending, and a blank space indicates that the ending for a particular case remains unknown or unidentified.

o-stems a-stems
Singular
Nominative-os-a
Genitive-o-as
Dative-ui-ai ?
Accusitive-om ?-am
Ablative-uz-az
Locative-ei-ai ?
Plural
Nominative-oi
Genitive-um-aum ?
Dative-ubos
Accusative-us ?-as ?
Ablative-ubos
Locative

Celtiberian Sample Vocabulary

Celtiberian inscription on a bronze in the shape of a hand, after Cólera 2007: 842
Bear in mind that the Celtiberian script was often ambiguous as to the voicing or unvoicing of occlusives, i.e., k and t sometimes represented g and d, respectively. Also remember, regarding words taken from Roman-alphabet inscriptions, that in ancient times the Roman letter V was pronounced as a /w/ or /u/.

viros – man (Cólera 2004: 66)
veramos – highest (Cólera 2004: 66)
tuateres – daughters (Cólera 2004: 171)
kentis – son (Cólera 2004: 170-1)
eni – in (Cólera 2004: 160)
entara – between (Cólera 2004: 160)
es – out (Cólera 2004: 161)
-kue – and (Cólera 2004: 161)
uta – and (Cólera 2004: 161)
ambi – around (Cólera 2004: 161)

Examples of Celtiberian Personal Names

It is worth pointing out that occasionally one finds in a Celtiberian inscription a personal name of foreign origin, e.g. Markos from Latin Marcus, or Tokiosar, which is of Iberian provenance (Villar 1995: 21).

Masculine

Aualos
Fragment of funerary sculpture from Clunia showing a warrior and a bull, bearing a Celtiberian inscription, after Cólera 2004: 234
Karbelos
Melmanios
Retukenos
Sekilos
Babos
Kalos
Mezugenos
Tekos
Terkinos
Tirtanos

Feminine

Aia
Aba
Ana
Akuia
Elkua
Elazuna
Keka
Koitina
Munika
Saluta
Stena
Sura
Ultia

Sample Texts

BB I, after Meid 1994: 12

Tirikantam berkunetakam tokoitozkue zarnikiozkue zua kombalkez nelitom

These are the first few word of the inscription ‘Botorrita I’, or BB I for short. The tablet on which they are written was discovered in the course of excavations conducted by Beltrán in 1970 at the ruins of the ancient town of Contrebia Belaisca, near the modern town of Botorrita. Beltrán initially supposed the inscription was in the Iberian language, but subsequent analysis by linguists showed that it was in fact Celtiberian (Eska 1989: 4). Careful analysis and restoration has resulted in the resolution of almost all doubt regarding the reading of the characters (Meid 1994: 11). Understanding the words, is, however, another matter. Most interpretations have taken the text of Botorrita I to be a religious or legal document. Wolfgang Meid (1994: 17) has put forward the following translation for the selection quoted above:

Regarding the hilly land of the gods Sarnicios and Tokoit-, the following is decreed as not permitted.

Compare this, however, to the translation given by Joseph Eska (1989: 16):

[regarding the] … boundary structure, thus the senators of [the towns] *Tocoitom and *Sarnicios (have agreed/decided): (it is) not permitted …

‘Senators’ and political organizations known as ‘senates’ are a commonly attested feature of Gaulish and Celtiberian societies (see, e.g., Costa 1898; Caesar, De Bello Gallico 2.5, 3.16, 5.54, 7.32) in both literary and epigraphic sources. The wording of our text may be a sign of Roman influence, since, inasmuch as it can be understood, Botorrita I bears some phrasal similarity to Roman laws promulgated in Spain, including the Lex Ursonensis, the Lex Malacitana, the Lex Tarentina, and the Lex Irnitana (Eska 1989: 13-16).

BB III, Column 2, lines 9-21, with "akuia alaskum memunos" marked out
Our next sample text is an example of a name-formula, from the inscription Botorrita III (Cólera 2004: 167):

akuia alaskum memunos

“Akuia, from the kin-group of the Alaskoi, daughter of Memu”

Or more literally, “Memu's Akuia, of the Alaskoi”

Various other ways of indicating a person’s name are known from the inscriptions of the peninsula (sometimes one’s town of origin is part of the formula, for instance). Indeed, quite a number of personal names are found in the native writings of the Celtiberians. The Botorrita III inscription (BB III) contains 220 personal names, for instance. This gives us good evidence for naming practices and for how people identified themselves (e.g., as part of a kin-group). Interestingly, some matronymic formulae are known, where people are identified by their mother rather than their father, e.g. korkos kutokum kekas, “Korkos, of the Kutokoi, son of Keka”.

A coin issued by the Celtiberian city of Segontia (A.77)
For our final sample text we will take an exceptionally brief specimen (one word, actually). Celtiberian coins were typically engraved with the name of the issuing city in the ablative case. In early Indo-European languages such as Celtiberian, the ablative case is used (among other things) to indicate place of origin. Therefore, putting the ablative suffix at the end of a word is roughly the equivalent in English of placing the preposition ‘from’ in front of a word. E.g., in Sanskrit, the phrase asato mā sad gamaya, ‘lead me from falsehood to reality,’ the word asato is in the ablative case, and signifies ‘from falsehood’. Thus, we have the Celtiberian coin legend (A.77; Untermann 1975b: 223):

sekotiaz

“From [the town of] Segontia”

Unfortunately, we do not have time to go into the interpretation of some of the more interesting Celtiberian texts, such as the ‘hospitality pacts’ or the great rock inscription of Peñalba de Villastar, but the above examples may serve as a basic introduction.

Endnotes

A Celtiberian gravestone from Ibiza, after Cólera 2007: 843
(1) These socio-political groups, often referred to misleadingly as ‘tribes’ in populist literature or by sloppy scholars, are generally acknowledged by scholars specializing in the study of Celtiberian social structure to have developed into true states or city-states prior to the period from which the Celtiberian inscriptions as well as the majority of our historical records originate (see e.g., Burillo Mozota 1999: 120; Almagro-Gorbea and Lorrio 2004: 94).

References and further reading

Celtiberian

Almagro-Gorbea, M and Lorrio, A. J.
2004 ‘War and Society in the Celtiberian World,’ e-Keltoi 6: 73-112. http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/celtic/ekeltoi/volumes/vol6/6_2/gorbea_lorrio_6_2.pdf (accessed 12 June 2007)

Anderson, J. M.
1988 Ancient Languages of the Hispanic Peninsula. Lanham: University Press of America.

Bammesberger, A.
1999 Der Anfang der Botorrita-Inschrift. In S. Zimmer et al. (eds.), Akten des Zweiten Deutschen Keltologen-Symposiums (Bonn, 2.-4. April 1997). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Burillo Mozota, F.
1999 Etnias, ciudades y estados en la Celtiberia. In F. Villar and F. Beltrán (eds.), Pueblos, lenguas y escrituras en la Hispania prerromana. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 109-40.

Cólera, Carlos Jordán
The great rock inscription of Peñalba de Villastar (written in the Roman alphabet), after Meid 1994: 30

2004 Celtibérico (Monografías de Folología Griega – 16 [sic!]). Zaragoza: Departamento de Ciencias de la Antigüedad, Universidad de Zaragoza.

Cólera, Carlos Jordán
2007 'Celtiberian,' e-Keltoi6: 749-850. http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/celtic/ekeltoi/volumes/vol6/6_17/jordan_6_17.pdf (accessed 26 June 2007)

Costa, J.
1898 Colectivismo agrario en España. Madrid: San Francisco de Sales.

Eska, J. F.
1989 Towards an Interpretation of the Hispano-Celtic Inscription of Botorrita. Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft.

Eska, J. F.
1991 ‘The Demonstrative Stem *isto- in Continental Celtic,’ Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 44: 70-3.

De Hoz, J.
1988 Hispano-Celtic and Celtiberian. In G. W. MacLennan (ed.), Proceedings of the First North American Congress of Celtic Studies. Ottawa: Chair of Celtic Studies, University of Ottawa; pages 191-208.

García Alonso, J. L.
Reconstruction of a Celtiberian inscription on one of a pair of interlocking hands, after Cólera 2004: 256

2000 On the Celticity of the Duero Plateau: Place-Names in Ptolemy. In D. N. Parsons and P. Sims-Williams (eds.), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe. Aberystwyth: CMCS; pages 39-54.
[Comments: Treats place-names both within and outside of the area of the Celtiberian inscriptions]

Gómez-Moreno Martínez, M.
1922 ‘De epigrafía ibérica: el plomo de Alcoy,’ Revista de Filología Española 9: 34-66.

Hoenigswald, H. M.
1990 Celtiberi: A Note. In A. T. E. Matonis and D. F. Melia (eds.), Celtic Language, Celtic Culture: A Festschrift for Eric P. Hamp. Van Nuys: Ford and Bailie; pages 13-15.

Meid, W.
1994 Celtiberian Inscriptions. Budapest: Archaeolingua Alapítvány.

Meid, W.
1995 Celtiberian uameiśTe. In J. F. Eska et al. (eds), Hispano-Gallo-Brittonica. Cardiff: University of Wales Press; pages 123-5.

Meid, W.
1996 Kleinere keltiberische Sprachdenkmäler. Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft.

Meid, W.
Celtiberian inscription on a bronze in the shape of a bear, from Monreal de Ariza, after Cólera 2004: 242

2001 The Grammatical and Semantic Interpretation of Celtiberian Texts. Methodological Considerations. In F. Villar and M. P. Fernández Álvarez (eds.), Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 495-500.

Rubio Orecilla
2001 Las formaciones secundarias en -ko- del celtibérico. In F. Villar and M. P. Fernández Álvarez (eds.), Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 581-94.

Schmidt, K. H.
2001 The Contribution of Celtiberian to the Reconstruction of Common Celtic: Installment II. In F. Villar and M. P. Fernández Álvarez (eds.), Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 595-612.

Tovar, A.
1946 ‘Las inscripciones ibéricas y la lengua de los celtíberos,’ Boletín de la Real Acadmia Española 25: 7-42.

Untermann, J. (ed.)
1975a Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum: vol. 1 part 1. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag.

Untermann, J. (ed.)
Celtiberian inscription from Luzaga, after Cólera 2007: 846

1975b Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum: vol. 1 part 2. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag.

Untermann, J.
2001 Die vorrömischen Sprachen der iberischen Halbinsel. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Villar, F.
1991 ‘Le locative celtibérique et le caractère tardif de la langue celtique dans l’inscription de Peñalba de Villastar,’ Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie 44: 56-66.

Villar, F.
1995a El hidrónimo prerromano Tamusia, moderno Tamuja. In J. F. Eska et al. (eds), Hispano-Gallo-Brittonica. Cardiff: University of Wales Press; pages 260-77.

Villar, F.
1995b A New Interpretation of Celtiberian Grammar. Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft.

Villar, F.
2001 Indoeuropeos y no Indoeuropeos en la Península Ibérica. In F. Villar and M. P. Fernández Álvarez (eds.), Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 257-83.

Celtic Speech in Illiterate Areas of the Iberian Peninsula

De Hoz, J.
2000 From Ptolemy to the Ethnic and Linguistic Reality: The Case of South-Western Spain and Portugal. In D. N. Parsons and P. Sims-Williams (eds.), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe. Aberystwyth: CMCS; pages 17-28.

García Alonso, J. L.
2001 Las lenguas prerromanas en el territorio de los vetones a partir de la toponimia. In F. Villar and M. P. Fernández Álvarez (eds.), Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 389-406.

Luján, E. R.
2000 Ptolemy’s Callaecia and the Language(s) of the Callaeci. In D. N. Parsons and P. Sims-Williams (eds.), Ptolemy: Towards a Linguistic Atlas of the Earliest Celtic Place-Names of Europe. Aberystwyth: CMCS; pages 55-72.

Luján, E. R.
2001 La onomástica de los Celtici de la Bética. In F. Villar and M. P. Fernández Álvarez (eds.), Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 471-82.

Moralejo, J. J.
2001 Hidronimia galaica prerromana. In F. Villar and M. P. Fernández Álvarez (eds.), Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 501-10.

Ramírez Sádaba, J. L.
2001 Onomástica indígena en la Baeturia Celtica. In F. Villar and M. P. Fernández Álvarez (eds.), Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca; pages 227-40.

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