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This webpage reproduces an article in the
American Journal of Philology
Vol. 45, No. 1 (1924), pp68‑69.

The text is in the public domain.

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 p68  The Letters on the Blocks of the Servian Wall

When Bruzza​1 first discussed the letters and marks that are found on many of the blocks of the "Servian Wall" at Rome it was generally supposed that the wall belonged to the regal period. Consequently scholars assumed that at least some of the marks might be Etruscan. Unfortunately little was then known about the Etruscan alphabet, and practically nothing about early Latin writing since the stele of the Forum and the Duenos Vase had not been found. When the discovery of some fifth-century tombs inside the wall on the Esquiline threw doubts on the supposed age of the "Servian Wall" scholars tacitly dropped every reference to a possible connection between these letters and the Etruscan alphabet. Forms that did not seem to be satisfactorily explained as Roman were interpreted as arbitrary marks.

A few years ago​2 I called attention to the fact that the material of which these walls were built was quarried in Veientine territory soon after Veii's fall. If this is so it would seem not improbable that the blocks were cut by Veientine captives and that the letters, which are quarry marks, are Veientine characters. Since we have as yet no inscriptions that are demonstrably of Veientine origin, and since Veii's language — spoken  p69 in a region that lies between Rome and Falerii — may prove to be of importance not only in Etruscan but also in Italic philology, the attention of linguists ought perhaps to be called to these marks before they disappear.

In the first place it must be pointed out that these marks cannot be proved to be Latin letters. The normal open H and the square topped Γ are sometimes pointed to as indicating this, but Faliscan inscriptions have both of these forms (cf. for example CIE 8256, 8343, 8240, 8340). It is also noteworthy that B D and O, which are lacking in Etruscan, do not appear on the blocks at Rome. To be sure, round letters are usually lacking on these blocks, but the triangular form of D and the square form of O are not unusual on early Italic inscriptions and might reasonably be expected if these marks were Roman. The most striking fact is that, while E occurs over twenty times, there is no certain case​3 of the equally facile F. Since the Faliscans used 𐌣 for F it seems likely that the seventy or more instances of this character found on the "Servian" blocks should be read as F. The character may of course be the central Etruscan (= chi),​4 but at any rate it is not a Roman letter.

Similarly, by the side of T we find the signs 𐌖 and 𐌙 on these blocks at Rome. The T may be Latin or Etruscan, but the two other signs, while found in Faliscan characters for T, have as yet not been found in Latin ones. In the case of the other characters that certainly occur on these stones (A C E I K L N V X I [= Z] and the ligatures [AV ligature] and [VA ligature]) no valid conclusions can be drawn, since in the fourth century B.C. they were common to Rome and South Etruria.

The present excavations at Veii will probably produce some inscriptions, and new evidence may any day come to light at Rome. Meanwhile it would seem that Etruscologists might profitably make a reliable record of the characters still legible on the "Servian" blocks and show what connections they bear with the various alphabets of southern Etruria.

Tenney Frank.

Johns Hopkins University.

The Author's Notes:

1 Annali Inst. 1876, 71 ff. There has never been an adequate discussion or even a complete record of them. Bruzza, who copied only those known in 1876, has been severely criticized for his inexact transcriptions. Jordan examined only a few using chiefly poor copies made by others (Hermes 1873, p482; 1876, pp127 and 461; Topographie I, p259). Richter, Über antike Steinmetzzeichen, 1885, has reproduced two photographs of the wall that lies near the railway station. This is very valuable since at least half of the marks record by the photographs are now illegible. But there is reason to suspect that the marks on the photographic negatives were reinforced before printing and that some inaccuracies thus crept in. Richter unfortunately did not take records from other parts of the wall. Notizie Scavi, 1907, p507 contains a good photograph of a few marks, and Graffunder reports a few new readings in Klio, 1911, p109. In this note I have used only what I have actually seen on the stones and on the photographs.

2 Am. Jour. Arch. 1918, p182. The quarry is still to be seen in the Grotta Oscura region four kilometers north of Prima Porta not far from the Tiber.

3 Bruzza reports two or three from the Palatine, but he probably misread the letter E. At least one finds in the letters still visible there traces of three horizontal lines.

4 Since the blocks are as wide as they are high, they were laid without reference to the direction of the writing.

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Page updated: 16 Mar 06