Koch InterpretingTartessianasCeltic

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Koch Interpreting Tartessian as Celtic

Transcript of Koch InterpretingTartessianasCeltic


    INTERPRETING TARTESSIAN AS CELTIC Some Evidence and Implications

    John T. Koch



    1 May 2008

    Prefatory Notes


    The idea that Tartessianthe name now often given the written language used in the south-west of Iberian Peninsula in the mid 1st millennium BC is partly or wholly Celtic is not new. Interpreting several strings of letters in the inscriptions as Celtic names, Correa (1989 and especially 1992) proposed that Tartessian was a Celtic language. Thus, we could simply add Tartessian as another ancient Celtic language to the established list: Lepontic, Celtiberian, Gaulish, Galatian, Primitive Irish, and British. Until now, however, no one to my knowledge has unreservedly agreed with this conclusion, and Correa himself has since revised his views and now regards the language as unclassified. Untermann in Ellis Evanss festschrift (1995) and in his imposing Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum 4 (1997) recognized the likelihood of several Indo-European and specifically Celtic elements in the Tartessian inscriptions, though viewing the language as a whole as still undeciphered. In a lucid and densely informative survey, Villar (2004) has suggested the possibility that the Tartessian inscriptions contain items of ein frhes Gallisch within a non-Celtic and probably non-Indo-European matrix language. Villar makes the important pointbroadly consistent with the findings herethat the Celtic in the Tartessian inscriptions, like the Celtic theonyms found in Latin inscriptions of Galicia dating to the Roman period, shows some linguistic features more akin to what is found in Gaulish than in Celtiberian. Jordn Clera (2007, 751) provides a chart classifying the pre-Roman languages of the Hispanic Peninsula in which the South-west Language or Tartessian is listed cautiously as Indo-European macrofamily? Celtic family?

    On the other hand, Rodrguez Ramos (2002) forcefully concludes that the SudlusitanianTartessian inscriptions are definitely neither Celtic nor Anatolian,

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    and probably also not Indo-European. Isaac (2004) calls Tartessian as equally non-Indo-European as Basque. Mallory (1989) classes Tartessian as non-Indo-European; however, in view of the rapid and recent developments in the study of the ancient languages of Portugal and Spain in general and the analysis of the Tartessian alphabet in particular, this assessment must be attributed to a fundamentally earlier, and poorer, stage of knowledge of this language. I am unaware of any attempt to show that Tartessian belongs to any specific family of non-Indo-European languages, though Iberian, Berber, and Basque would be obvious candidates on geographic grounds, as would a Semitic relative of Phoenician and Punic.

    Methods and a few Tentative conclusions

    The present paper is not the outcome of a long-term, in-depth study that the subject clearly deserves. The aim of the exercise was simply to see how much of the corpus of the 81 Tartessian inscriptions (as listed by Correa 1993) and the proper names from the region of Tartessos dating back to the mid 1st millennium BC might suggest comparanda within the earlier Celtic languages: the ancient Celtic languages listed above, as well as Old Irish, Old Breton, Old and Middle Welsh. What I have generally not done is to seek out Indo-European words not attested in any (other) Celtic language and then run these through the requisite sound changes to see how these Indo-European preforms might have appeared in an ancient Celtic language, assuming that the root had once existed in Celtic, but had then either simply died out in all branches except Tartessian, or somehow otherwise failed to be attested in all other Celtic languages. This procedure was not determined by an ethos of methodological purismthough etymological interpretations based solely on evidence from other branches of Indo-European are sometimes less persuasivebut rather due to constraints of time, as well as the very real limits of my own expertise as a Celtic scholar rather than a working Indo-Europeanist with an extensive internalized repertory of Avestan, Hittite, and what have you, under his belt. The one glaring exception to this limitation of methodology was demanded by the most often repeated of the formulaic words of the Tartessian inscriptions: narkee eKRan (J.1.1, J.7.8, J.26.1, J.27.1, J.57.1) narkeeii (J.1.3), na]rkeeo-io* *oioeKR[ (J.16.2), narkeetii i0eKRan(J.56.1); narkeenii (J.2.1), n[arkee]enii (J.6.1), narkeeni (J.1.2, J.7.2), narkeentii i0neKRan (J.12.1, J.16.1, J.17.2, J.18.1, J.19.2), [n]arkeentii (J.1.5), na]rkeentii[ (J.4.3), narkeenii (J.2.1), n(a)rkeenii iineKRn (J.11.1), n]arkeenii W]aR&eW66(J.11.3), nar]keenii (J.19.1), narkeeni[ ineKRan (J.21.1), narrkee:n:|n|eKrRan (J.23.1). On the face of it, the forms appear, as Untermann has remarked (1995), to be inflected as an Indo-European verb, but no obviously Celtic root immediately comes to mind. Nonetheless, so prevalent and pivotal is this narkeentii, &c., that something had to be attempted here. Therefore, in counterdistinction to the approach usually followed and described above, the proposal is that the formation is the cognate of Greek nark} grow stiff, numb, dead (< Indo-European *[s]nerk- bind, cf., Old High German in-snerahan bind [Rix 2001, 574])both in the literal sense, suiting funerary inscriptions, but also more abstractly to bind, fix, make inalterable, carve in stone, hence so be it, amenan Indo-European formation which has otherwise died out or failed to be attested in Celtic. The formulaic word

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    narkeentii, &c., is often carved so as to turn around a bend as the text changes direction, possibly having to do with the symbolic binding of a permanent injunction. (Arguably, despite their seeming Indo-European-ness, the apparent non-Celticity of narkeentii, &c., has been a significant factor in inspiring reluctance on the part of many scholars to accept the language as a whole as Celtic, indirectly propping up a persistentbut linguistically baselessidea that the Tartessian language, like the script, was an import from the east, akin to Anatolian or Phrygian.) The readings used here generally follow Untermann (1997) based on both his transcriptions and the accompanying photographs and line drawings. Consideration has been given to the several detailed discussions by Correa and the differing points in the transcription system of Rodrguez Ramos (2000). The procedure sketched aboveessentially fishing for any further Celtic forms within a corpus of inscriptions in which a few promising examples had already been recognizedhad the unexpected result of identifying a sufficient number of Celtic-looking forms (often with comparanda in the core vocabulary of more than one Celtic language) as to call into question the hybrid positions taken by Untermann and Villar. The Celtic-looking elements in Tartessian accepted by earlier writers had remained small as an absolute number and as a relative proportion of the corpus, and, with a writing system that did not show word divisions or distinguish voiced from voiceless stops, a small number of resemblances might be coincidental. That is not to say that all elements in all the inscriptions have now simply fallen neatly into place as Celticfar from it. But rather, there is no coherent residue of recurrent and systematic linguististic features that lack fairly obvious Indo-European (and most often Celtic) analogues. The inscriptions most devoid of Celtic-looking features are those that are generally of poorest qualitybriefest, badly fragmented, poorly carved, badly worn, or using anomalous letter forms. In many of the inscriptions, especially the longer ones that are complete and unbroken, the Celtic-looking elementsnames, common nouns, pronouns, preverbs, verbs, and inflexional terminationsaccumulate to the point that the inscrutable forms that had implied the hypothetical non-Celtic matrix language are nearly, or wholly, absent. Consequently, it has been possible to offer here a number of original translations for words, for groups of words, and for some complete inscriptional texts. However, all translations remain tentative at this stage. As to broader implicationshistorical, linguistic, and archaeologicalthese are potentially significant, if and when they are explored at length, but no more than the fewest broad strokes are attempted now. It matters only secondarily whether the Tartessian inscriptions have Celtic elements within a non-Celtic (probably non-Indo-European) matrix language or the inscriptions are simply Celtic throughout. Either way, we have speakers of a Celtic language in the extreme south-west of Europe by the Early Iron Age or even the Final Bronze Age. In either event, the long-held spell of the Hallstatt and La Tne archaeological cultures on modern ideas concerning the origins of the Celts must begin to loosen. In terms of ideas about the origins of the Hispano-Celts, the Tartessian evidence shifts the focus from the coming of central European Late Bronze Age Urnfield influences to the eastern Meseta (the historical Celtiberia) as the key event, usually imagined as crossing overland the formidable central Pyrenees, with subsequent westward penetration into Galicia and Portugal. Attention now turns from Herodotuss oft-quoted, but fuzzy, formulation concerning the Kelto inhabiting the upper Danube

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    and to his too often ignored, but much clearer and better informed statement that the Kelto were the immediate neighbours of the Kun{tes, that is, the inhabitants of what is now the Algarve and the vicinity of Tartessos, in the extreme south-west of Europe. In short, we now have another set of data coming from another discipline for recon