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p894 Petorritum

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p894 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

PETO′RRITUM, a four-wheeled carriage, which, like the Essedum was adopted by the Romans in imitation of the Gauls (Hor. Sat. I.6.104). It differed from the Harmamaxa in being uncovered. Its name is obviously compounded of petor, four, and rit, a wheel. Festus (s.v.) in explaining this etymologya observes that petor meant four in Oscan and in Aeolic Greek. There is no reason to question the truth of this remark; but, since Petor meant four in many other European languages, it is more than probable that the Romans derived the name, together with the fashion of this vehicle, from the Gauls. Gellius (XV.30) expressly says that it is a Gallic word.


Thayer's Note:

a explaining this etymology: Even the inattentive reader will have noted that this is one of Smith's most unsatisfactory entries; neither you nor I could ever draw a petorritum from this article.

Going with the flow, however, and thus wandering into linguistics, we find our author's remark is quite accurate: the Indo-European root *petor produced just about every word for the number 4 in any language you care to think of. The rule of thumb is that p in Oscan etc. yields k, usually spelled q, in Latin; often this corresponds to t in Greek. The same Indo-European p often yields f in the Germanic languages: whence quattuor and its modern derivatives; τετ(α)ρ- in Greek; English four, German vier; farther afield, the Russian and Sanskrit words are also related.


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Page updated: 12 Oct 06