|Region||Apulian region of Italy|
|Era||attested 6th to 2nd century BC|
Messapic (; also known as Messapian; or as Iapygian to refer to the pre-Roman, non-Italic languages of Apulia) is an extinct Indo-European language of the southeastern Italian Peninsula, once spoken in Apulia by the three Iapygian tribes of the region: the Messapians, the Peucetians and the Daunians. Messapic became extinct following the Roman conquest of the region. It has been preserved in about 600 inscriptions written in an alphabet derived from a Western Greek model and dating from the mid-6th to at least the 2nd century BC.
The term 'Messapic' or 'Messapian' is traditionally used to refer to a group of languages spoken by the Iapygians, a "relatively homogeneous linguistic community" of non-Italic-speaking tribes (Messapians, Peucetians and Daunians) dwelling in the region of Apulia before the Roman conquest.
However, some scholars have argued that the term 'Iapygian languages' should be preferred for referring to the group of languages spoken in Apulia, with the term 'Messapic' being reserved to the inscriptions found in the Salento peninsula, where the specific tribe of the Messapians had been living in the pre-Roman era.
The name Apulia itself derives from Iapygia after passing from Greek to Oscan to Latin and undergoing subsequent morphological shifts.
Messapic was a non-Italic and non-Greek Indo-European language. Modern archeologists and ancient sources both hold that the ancestors of the Iapygians came to Southeastern Italy (present-day Apulia) from the Western Balkans across the Adriatic Sea during the early first millennium BC.[note 1][note 2]
Linguistic evidence suggest that Messapic could have been the descendant of an unattested paleo-Balkanic language. Based upon lexical similarities with the Illyrian languages, some scholars contend that Messapic may have developed from a dialect of pre-Illyrian, meaning that it would have diverged substantially from the Illyrian language(s) spoken in the Balkans by the 5th century BC. A number of shared features with proto-Albanian may have emerged on their side as a result of linguistic contacts between Proto-Messapic and Pre-Proto-Albanian within the Balkan peninsula in prehistoric times.
Although the Illyrian languages - and to a some extent Messapic itself - are too scarcely attested to allow for an extensive linguistic comparison,[note 3] the Messapic language is generally regarded as related, though distinct from the Illyrian languages. This theory is supported by a series of similar personal and place names from both sides of the Adriatic Sea. Proposed cognates in Illyrian and Messapic, respectively, include: 'Bardyl(l)is/Barzidihi', 'Teuta/Teut?', 'Dazios/Dazes', 'Laidias/Ladi-', 'Plat?r/Plator-', 'Iapydes/Iapyges', 'Apulus/Apuli', 'Dalmata/Dalmathus', 'Peucetioe/Peucetii', 'Ana/Ana', 'Beuzas/Bozat', 'Thana/Thana', 'Dei-paturos/Da-matura'.
The linguistic data of Albanian can be used to compensate for the lack of fundamental information on Illyrian, since Proto-Albanian (the ancestor language of Albanian) was likewise an Indo-European language almost certainly spoken in the Balkans during the early first millennium AD, and probably since at least the 7th century BC, as suggested by the presence of archaic loanwords from Ancient Greek.
A number of linguistic cognates with Albanian have been proposed, such as Messapic aran and Albanian arë ("field"), bili? and bijë ("daughter"), or menza- and mëz ("foal"). The toponomy points to a link between the two languages, as some towns in Apulia have no etymological forms outside Albanian linguistic sources. Other linguistic elements such as particles, prepositions, suffixes, lexicon, but also toponyms, anthroponyms and theonyms of the Messapic language find singular affinities with Albanian. Some phonological data can also be compared between the two languages, and it seems likely that Messapic belongs, like Albanian, to a specific subgroup of the Indo-European languages that shows distinct reflections of all the three dorsal consonant rows. In the nominal context, both Messapic and Albanian continue, in the masculine terms in -o-, the Indo-European ending *-osyo (Messapic -aihi, Albanian -i / -u).
Regarding the verbal system, both Messapic and Albanian have formally and semantically preserved the two Indo-European subjunctive and optative moods. If the reconstructions are correct, we can find, in the preterital system of Messapic, reflections of a formation in *-s- (which in other Indo-European languages are featured in the suffix of the sigmatic aorist), as in the 3rd sg. hipades/opades ('he dedicated' < *supo-d?eh?-s-t) and in the 3rd pl. stahan ('they placed' < *stah?-s-n°t). In Albanian, this formation was likewise featured in the category of aorists formed with the suffix -v-. However, except for the dorsal consonant rows, these similarities do not provide elements exclusively relating Messapic and Albanian, and only a few morphological data are comparable.
An older theory, rejected by modern linguists, supposed that all Iapygian (i.e. ancient Apulian) dialects were nothing more than forms of the Oscan language. This hypothesis was mainly suggested by a sentence of Aulus Gellius stating that Ennius (who hailed from Rudiae, southern Apulia) used to speak Oscan together with Greek and Latin without mentioning Messapic, a phrase still difficult to explain today. Some scholars wonder whether Gellius knew that Messapic was a language separate from Oscan; if not, he may have simply used Osce instead of Messape. According to a tradition reported by Servius, Ennius claimed to descend from Messapus, the eponymous legendary founder of Messapia, which may suggest that Ennius' third "heart" and language reported by Gellius was not Oscan but Messapic; the nomen Ennius, however, is apparently Oscan. According to scholar James N. Adams, "Ennius might have known Messapic as well as Oscan, but continued speculation in the absence of any hard evidence is pointless."
The development of a distinct Iapygian culture in southeastern Italy is widely considered to be the result of a confluence of local Apulian material cultures with Balkanic traditions following the cross-Adriatic migrations of proto-Messapic speakers in the early first millennium BC.
The Iapygians most likely left the eastern coasts of the Adriatic for the Italian Peninsula from the 11th century BC onwards, merging with pre-existing Italic and Mycenean cultures and providing a decisive cultural and linguistic imprint. Throughout the second half of the 8th century, contacts between Messapians and Greeks must have been intense and continuous, and became to intensify after the foundation of Taras by Spartan colonists around the end of the century. Despite its geographical proximity with Magna Graecia, however, Iapygia was generally not encompassed in Greek colonial territories, and with the exception of Taras, the inhabitants were evidently able to avoid other Greek colonies in the region. During the 6th century BC Messapia, and more marginally Peucetia, underwent Hellenizing cultural influences, mainly from the nearby Taras. The use of writing systems was introduced during this period, with the acquisition of the Laconian-Tarantine alphabet and its progressive adaptation to the Messapic language.
The relationship between Messapians and Tarantines deteriorated over time, resulting in a series of clashes between the two peoples from the beginning of the 5th century BC. After two victories of the Tarentines, the Iapygians inflicted a decisive defeat on them, causing the fall of the aristocratic government and the implementation of a democratic one in Taras. It also froze relations between Greeks and the indigenous people for about half a century. Only in the late-5th and 6th centuries did they re-establish relationships. The second great Hellenizing wave occurred during the 4th century BC, this time also involving Daunia and marking the beginning of Peucetian and Daunian epigraphic records, in a local variant of the Hellenistic alphabet that replaced the older Messapic script.
Along with Messapic, Greek and Oscan were spoken and written during the Romanization period all over Apulia, and bilingualism in Greek and Messapic was probably common in southern Apulia at that time. Based upon the legends of the local currencies promoted by Rome, Messapic appears to have been written in the southern zone, Oscan in the northern area, while the central sector was a trilingual area where Messapic, Greek and Oscan co-existed in inscriptions. Messapic epigraphic records seem to have ended by the 2nd century BC.
A characteristic feature of Messapic is the absence of the Indo-European phonological opposition between the vowels /u/ and /o/, the language featuring only an o/u phoneme. Consequently, the superfluous letter /u/ (upsilon) was not taken over following the initial period of adaption of the Western ("red") Greek alphabet. The 'o/u' phoneme existed in opposition to an 'a/o' phoneme formed after the phonological distinction between *o and *a was abandoned. The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) vowel /o/ regularly appears as /a/ in inscriptions (e.g., Venas < *Wenos; menza < *mendyo; tabar? < *to-bhor?). The original PIE phonological opposition between ? and o is still perceptible in Messapic. The diphthong *ou, itself reflecting the merged diphthongs *ou and eu, underwent sound change to develop into ao, then into ? (e.g., *Toutor > Taotor > tor).
The dental affricate or spirant written ? is frequently used before the sounds ao- or o-, where it is most likely a replacement for the older letter . Another special letter, , occurs almost exclusively in Archaic inscriptions from the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Multiple palatalizations have also taken place, as in 'Zis' < *dy?s, 'Artorres' < *Art?ryos, or 'Bla(t)?es' < *Blatyos (where '(t)?' probably denoted a dental affricate or spirant /ts/ or /t?/). Proto-Indo-European *s was rather clearly reflected in initial and intervocalic positions as Messapic h, with notable examples including klaohi and hipa, but note Venas with *s in final position.
The Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirates *bh and *dh are certainly represented by the simple unaspirated voiced obstruents /b/ and /d/ in Messapic (e.g., 'berain' < *bher-; '-des' < *d?eh?). On the other hand, the outcomes of the Indo-European palatal, velar, and labiovelar stops remain unclear, with slender evidence.
The Messapic alphabet is an adaptation of the Western ("red") Greek alphabets, specifically the Laconian-Tarantinian version. The actual Messapic inscriptions are attested from the 6th century BC onward, while the Peucetian and Daunian epigraphic record (written in a local variant of the Hellenistic alphabet rather than in the older Messapic script) only begins in the 4th century BC.
The Greek letter ? (/p?/) was not adopted, because it would have been superfluous for Messapic. While zeta "normally" represented the voiced counterpart to /s/, it may have been an affricate in some cases. The value of ? is unclear, but is clearly dental; it may be an affricate or a spirant. In any case it appears to have arisen partly as the reflex of the segment *ty.
|Phonetic value||/a/||/b/||/g/||/d/||/e/||/v/||/z/, /dz/, /d?/||/h/||/h/||/?/||/i/||/k/|
|Phonetic value||/l/||/m/||/n/||/?/||/o/||/p/||/k/ (before /o/)||/r/||/s/||/t/||/k?/ > -h-, -y- (intervocalic before /i/)||/t?/ > /?/|
|Sources||Marchesini 2009, pp. 144-145; Matzinger 2014, pp. 10-14; De Simone 2017, pp. 1839-1844|
|Note||The letters are arranged in chronological order of appearance, from left to right. Some letterforms went out of use and were replaced by new shapes (see Matzinger 2014, pp. 10-14).|
The script used in northern Apulia was rather peculiar, and some consider it to be a distinct writing system named Apulian. A notable difference between the Apulian alphabet and the Laconian-Tarentinian Messapic alphabet was the use of ? (eta) for /?/ rather than /h/.
The Messapic language is a 'fragmentary language' (Trümmersprache), preserved only in about 600 inscriptions from the mid-6th up until the late-2nd century BC. Many of them consist of personal names of deceased engraved in burial sites (36% of the total), and only a few inscriptions have been definitely deciphered. Some longer texts are also available, including those recently found in the Grotta della Poesia (Roca Vecchia), although they have not been fully exploited by scholars yet. Most of the Messapic inscriptions are accessible in the Monumenta Linguae Messapicae (MLM), published in print in 2002.
|Messapic inscription||English translation||Source|
|Staboos ?onet?ihi Dazimaihi beileihi||'of Stabuas ?onetius, son of Dazimas'|||
|Dazoimihi Balehi Da?tas bilihi||'of Dazimas Bales, son of Dazet'|||
|tabar? Damatras; tabar? Aproditia||'priestess of Demeter'; 'priestess of Aphrodite'|||
|kla(o)hi Zis Venas||'listen, Zis (and) Venas'|||
|klohi Zis den ?avan||'listen, Zis, the public voice'|||
|?otoria marta pido vastei basta venian aran||'?otoria Marta handed (gave) her field to the city of Basta'|||
|plastas moldat?ehiai bilia et?eta hipades aprod[i]ta||'Et?eta, the daughter of Plazet Moldat?es, dedicated to Aphrodite'|||
Only Messapic words regarded as 'inherited' are hereunder listed, thus excluding loanwords from Greek, Latin or other languages.
|Messapic lexical item||English translation||Proto-Messapic form||Paleo-Balkan languages||Other Indo-European cognates||Sources|
|ana||mother||*ann? (a nursery word)||Proto-Albanian: *na(n)n?, *amma; Albanian: nënë/nana, ëmë/âmë ('mother')||Hittite: anna? ('mother'); Latin: amma ('mother'); Greek: ámma ('mother, nurse');|||
|anda||and, as well||Proto-Abanian: *edh?/ênd?; Albanian: edhe/ênde ('and', 'yet', 'therefore')||Latin: ante ("opposite, in front of"); Hittite: anda;|||
|apa||from||*apo||Proto-Albanian: *apo; Albanian: (për-)apë ('from'); Albanian (Gheg): pi (PI < apa) ('from') or pa (PA < *apa) ('without')||Greek: apó; Sanskrit: ápa|||
|atabulus||sirocco||Proto-Albanian: *abula; Albanian: avull ('steam, vapor')||Proto-Germanic: *nebulaz ('fog')|||
|aran||field||*h?r°h-||Proto-Albanian: *ar?: Albanian: arë, ara ('field')||Hittite: arba- ('border, area'); Latvian: ara ('field')|||
|bàrka||belly||Proto-Albanian: *baruka; Albanian: bark ('belly')|||
|Barzidihi||(personal name)||Illyrian: Bardyl(l)is;
Proto-Albanian: *bardza; Albanian: bardhë/bardhi, Bardha ('white', found also in anthroponyms)
|bennan||(a sort of vehicle)||*benna||Gaulish: benna (a kind of 'carriage')|||
|biles/bilihi||son||Proto-Albanian: *bira; Albanian: bir, pl. bilj - bij ('son')||Latin: f?lius ('son')|||
||daughter||*bhu-ly?||Proto-Albanian: *biril?; Albanian: bijë - bija ('daughter'); older dialect bilë - bila ('daughter')||Latin: f?lia ('daughter')|||
|bréndon; bréntion||stag; stag's head||Proto-Albanian: *brina; Albanian: bri, brî ('horn'; 'antler')||Lithuanian: briedis, ('elk'); Swedish: brinde ('elk')
The Messapic word is at the origin of the toponym Brendésion (?), Brent?sion (?), modern Brindisi
|Damatura||Mother Earth (goddess)||*d(e)m- matura||Proto-Albanian: *dz?; Albanian: dhe ('earth')||Latvian: Zemes M?te ('Mother Earth')|||
|deiva; d?va||god; goddess||Sanskrit: devá ('heavenly, divine'); Lithuanian Di?vas; Old Norse: Týr|||
|den||voice||*ghen||Proto-Albanian: *d?ana; Albanian: zë/zâ, zër/zân ('voice')|||
|hazava?i||to offer (sacral)||ha- is a prefix, zav- is the same root as in Greek, Sanskrit ju-hô-ti and Avestan: zaotar- ('sacrificer')|||
|hipades||he/she/it offers, dedicates, sets up||*supo dh?-s-t||Proto-Albanian: *sk?pa: Albanian: hip ('go up') and dha/dhash ('he gave/I gave')|||
|hipaka?i||offer, set up||Albanian: hip ('go up') and ka/kam ('he has/I have') > hip-ka-|||
|klaohi/klohi||hear, listen (invocative)||*kleu-s-||Albanian: kluoj/kluaj/kluhem ('call, hear')||Greek: klythí ('hear'); Sanskrit: ?rudhí ('hear'); Slavic: slu?ati ('hear'); Lithuanian: klausyti ('hear')|||
|kos||someone||*qwo||Proto-Albanian: *ku?a; Albanian: kush ('who')|||
|ma||not||*meh?||Albanian: ma, me, mos||Greek: m?; Sanskrit: m?|||
|menza||foal||*mendyo||Proto-Albanian: *mandja; Albanian: mëz - maz ('foal'); mend ('to suckle'); Romanian (< Dacian) mînz ('foal')||Gaulish: mandus ('foal')|||
|ner||man||*ner-||Proto-Albanian: *nera; Albanian: njeri ('man')||Greek: ? ('man'); Sanskrit: nar- ('man')|||
|penkaheh||five||Proto-Albanian: *pent?e; Albanian: pesë ('five')||Lithuanian: penki ('five')|||
|rh?nós||fog, mist, cloud||Proto-Albanian: *rina: Albanian: re, rê, rên ('cloud')|||
|tabar?; tabaras||priestess; priest (lit. 'offerer')||*to-bhor?; *to-bhoros||Albanian: të bie/të bar, bjer/bar ('bring', 'carry')||Greek? ('bring'); Latin: fer? ('bring')|||
(name of a god)
||Illyrian: Teuta(na) ('mistress of the people', 'queen')||Oscan: touto ('community'); Old Irish: túath ('tribe, people'); Lithuanian: tautà ('people'); Gothic þiuda 'folk'|||
|veinan||his; one's||Albanian: vetë ('himself, oneself')||Sanskrit: svayàm ('himself')|||
|Venas||desire (name of a goddess)||*wenos||Latin: Venus; Old Indic: vánas ('desire')|||
|Zis||sky-god||*dy?s||Illyrian: dei- or -dí ('heaven, god', as a prefix or suffix);
Albanian Zojz ('sky-god')
|Hittite: u? ('god'); Sanskrit: Dyáu?; Greek: Zeus; Latin: Jove ('sky-god')|||
The Messapic verbal form eipeigrave ('wrote, incised'; variant ipigrave) is a notable loanword from Greek (with the initial stem eipigra-, ipigra- deriving from epigrá-ph?, , 'inscribe, engrave'), and is probably related to the fact that the Messapic alphabet has been borrowed from an Archaic Greek script. Other Greek loanwords include argora-pandes ('coin officials', with the first part deriving from ?), and names of deities like Aprodita and Athana. The origin of the Messapic goddess Damatura is debated: scholars like Vladimir I. Georgiev (1937), Eqrem Çabej, Shaban Demiraj (1997), or Martin L. West (2007) have argued that she was an Illyrian goddess eventually borrowed into Greek as Demeter, while others like Paul Kretschmer (1939), Robert S. P. Beekes (2009) and Carlo De Simone (2017) have argued for the contrary.