Longest Ancient Etruscan Inscription Reveals Name of Virtually Unknown Goddess
Researchers working in Poggio Colla, a key ancient Etruscan settlement in Italy, have found a 120-character inscription, described as one of the most significant Etruscan discoveries in decades. The ancient script names the goddess Uni. Her name was inscribed on a stone slab that was unearthed recently.
“The discovery indicates that Uni—a divinity of fertility and possibly a mother goddess at this particular place—may have been the titular deity worshipped at the sanctuary of Poggio Colla, a key settlement in Italy for the ancient Etruscan civilization,” says Phys.org.
The stele or stone slab was reportedly part of a temple wall at Poggio Colla. The Phys.org story says many Etruscan artifacts have been found at the settlement, “including a ceramic fragment with the earliest birth scene in European art. That object reinforces the interpretation of a fertility cult at Poggio Colla,” said Gregory Warden, an archaeologist with Southern Methodist University.
The 500-pound (226.8 kg) stele is described in the Phys.org article as possibly the longest Etruscan inscription at 120 “or more” characters.
The painting “Cloelia and Her Companions Escaping from the Etruscans” was done by Frans Wouters in the 17 th century. You can read the strange story about how an Etruscan king named Lars Porsenna demanded several teenage hostages from his enemies the Romans here. Cloelia led them to safety despite near-impossible odds. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Phys.org report says “it's very rare to identify the god or goddess worshipped at an Etruscan sanctuary.” The inscription reportedly invokes the supreme deity of the Etruscans, which Phys.org identifies as Uni. In another part of the Phys.org story the goddess Tina is mentioned as the supreme deity of the Etruscans, equivalent to Zeus of the Greeks and Jupiter of the Romans.
Indeed, it must be rare as this writer’s numerous books on myth do not mention any goddess or god of any people worldwide named Uni or Tina.
Man, Myth and Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural states:
‘Mysterious’ is the word popularly applied to the Etruscans. This conventional epithet has arisen for many reasons: the uncertainty shrouding their origin, the fact that their language is partly undeciphered, the apparent concern of much of their religious beliefs with the underworld and divination, and the fact that when archaeologists firs tbegan to uncover their remains the chief source of investigation was provided by large chamber tombs with frescoes which included scenes of the tortures of the damned, reminsicnet of the Hell of some medieval painters.
The Phys.org story quotes Adriano Maggiani, a former professor at the University of Venice, as saying: “The location of its discovery—a place where prestigious offerings were made—and the possible presence in the inscription of the name of Uni, as well as the care of the drafting of the text, which brings to mind the work of a stone carver who faithfully followed a model transmitted by a careful and educated scribe, suggest that the document had a dedicatory character.”
Added Warden: “It is also possible that it expresses the laws of the sanctuary—a series of prescriptions related to ceremonies that would have taken place there, perhaps in connection with an altar or some other sacred space.” The story identifies Warden as co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project.
This circa-4 th century BC Etruscan red-figure calyx-crater represents Achilles killing a Trojan prisoner in front of Charun, the Etruscan demon of death, related to the Greek Charon (Wikimedia Commons)
Unlike past textual discoveries in Etruscan sites, this one is not funereal in nature, Phys.org states. The story states the researchers are trying to decipher the text and adds: “While archaeologists understand how Etruscan grammar works, and know some of its words and alphabet, they expect to discover new words never seen before, particularly since this discovery veers from others in that it's not a funerary text.”
Top image: The purported stele bears one of the longest Etruscan texts ever found at 120 characters and names gods, according to Phys.org. (Credit: Mugello Valley Project)
By Mark Miller