Tartessian language

The Tartessian language, also known as southwestern or South Lusitanian is a paleohispanic language once spoken in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula: mainly in the south of Portugal (Algarve and southern Alentejo), but also in Spain (south of Extremadura and western Andalucia). The fact that almost all of the southwestern inscriptions have been found out of archaeological context does not permit the fixing of a precise chronology, but their use by the 5th century BC seems certain. However, it is usual to date them from the 7th century BC and consider the southwestern script to be the most ancient paleohispanic script.

Meanings of the name

The name for the Tartessian language has three definitions:
#The language of the city proper of Tartessos (this is the only one literally correct).
#the language of the eastern culture below the Guadalquivir between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE (archaeologically named Tartessian).
#The language corresponding to a set of brief inscriptions (the Southwest script) that have been found in the south of Portugal (Algarve and Lower Alentejo), while others have also been encountered in the Middle Guadiana (in Extremadura) and a few in the Lower Guadalquivir.Given that in the zone of Tartessos proper little documentation is extant, it has been discussed whether this writing corresponds to the Tartessian language or if it is a peripheral language to Tartessos.

Therefore, the discovery of the stela called "Tartessian" does not allow the formation of a certain hypothesis. Many historians have been praised for giving a different name to these stelae: South Lusitanian. They have pointed out that the texts do not appear in the zone generally considered Tartessian (between Huelva and the valley of the Guadalquivir). On the other hand, the name "South Lusitanian" is inconvenient, as it implies a relation with the Lusitanian language. Other name proposals include Bastulo-Turdetanian, Southeastern, and Algarvan.

The Turdetani of the Roman period are generally considered the heirs of the Tartessian culture and it is possible that the word Turd-etanian is a variant of Tart-essian. Strabo mentions that "…most sects of the Iberians and had historic writing and script in prose and verse and laws in metric form, which claim to go back 6000 years."


It is not known when the Tartessian language appeared on the Iberian peninsula, nor is it known precisely when they started to use writing. The language appeared only in a series of stelae of unclear time period, but that correspond at the least to sometime between the 7th and 5th centuries BCE. While there is a discrepancy about the writing of the mint of Salacia (Alcácer do Sal, Portugal), from around 200 BCE it corresponds with the language of the "stela". There is little that can be said, unless by deciphering the mint we might know the meaning of the suffix "-ipon".

Nor is it known when Tartessian ceased to be spoken, but it can be supposed that like with the rest of the peninsula, Romanization took place fairly quickly after the conquest.


The inscriptions in this language use the southwestern script, also known as Tartessian script or South Lusitanian script. Like all the paleohispanic scripts, with the exception of the Greco-Iberian alphabet, this script includes signs with syllabic value for the occlusives and signs with monophonematic value for the rest of consonants and vowels. In the classification of writing systems, these are neither alphabets nor syllabaries; instead, they are mixed scripts that normally are identified as semi-syllabaries. About the common origin of the paleohispanic semi-syllabaries, there is no agreement among researchers; some consider them as descended solely from Phoenician alphabet, while others believe the Greek alphabet had an influence as well.

The southwestern script is very similar to the southeastern Iberian script, both considering the shape of the signs and their values. The main difference is that southeastern Iberian script doesn’t show the vocalic redundancy of the syllabic signs. This characteristic was discovered by Ulrich Schmoll and allows the classification of a great part of the southwestern signs in vowels, consonants and syllabic signs. Unlike the northeastern Iberian script, the decipherment of the southeastern Iberian script and the southwestern script is still not complete, because there are a significant group of signs whose meaning remains in dispute.


* Fonte Velha (Bensafrim):

lokoobooniirabootooaŕaiaikaalteelokonanenaŕ [-] ekaa?iiśiinkoolobooiiteerobaarebeeteasiioonii

(Untermann 1997).

* Herdade da Abobada (Almodôvar)

ir´ualkuusie : naŕkeentiimubaateerobaare?aataaneatee

(Untermann 1997).

Further reading

* Correa, José Antonio (1989): «Posibles antropónimos en las inscripciones en escritura del S.O. (o Tartesia)» "Veleia" 6, pp.243-252.
* Correia, Virgílio-Hipólito (1996): «A escrita pré-romana do Sudoeste peninsular», "De Ulisses a Viriato: o primeiro milenio a.c.", pp.88-94
* Guerra, Amilcar (2002): [http://www.ipa.min-cultura.pt/pubs/RPA/v5n2/folder/219.pdf «Novos monumentos epigrafados com escrita do Sudoeste da vertente setentrional da Serra do Caldeirao»] , "Revista portuguesa de arqueologia" 5-2, pp. 219-231.
* Hoz, Javier de (1995): «Tartesio, fenicio y céltico, 25 años después», "Tartessos 25 años después", pp. 591-607.
* Rodríguez Ramos, Jesús (2002): «Las inscripciones sudlusitano-tartesias: su función, lingua y contexto socioeconómico», "Complutum" 13, pp. 85-95.
* Untermann, Jürgen (1997): "Monumenta Linguarum Hispanicarum. IV Die tartessischen, keltiberischen und lusitanischen Inschriften", Wiesbaden.
* Untermann, Jürgen (2000): «Lenguas y escrituras en torno a Tartessos» en "ARGANTONIO. Rey de Tartessos", Madrid, pp. 69-77.

External links

* [http://www.arqueotavira.com/Mapas/Iberia/Populi.htm Detailed map of the Pre-Roman Peoples of Iberia (around 200 BC)]

ee also

*Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula

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