Liber Linteus

The "Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis" (also rarely known as "Liber Agramensis") (Latin: "Linen Book of Zagreb" or "Book of Agram") is the longest Etruscan text and the only extant linen book. It remains mostly untranslated because of the lack of knowledge about the Etruscan language, though the few words which can be understood indicate that the text is most likely a ritual calendar.

The fabric of the book was preserved when it was used for mummy wrappings in Ptolemaic Egypt. The mummy and the manuscript are now kept in a refrigerated room at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, Croatia.


Purchase of the mummy

In 1848, Mihajlo Barić (1791–1859), a Croatian minor official in the Hungarian Royal Chancellery, resigned his post and embarked upon a tour of several countries, including Egypt. While in Alexandria, he purchased a sarcophagus containing a female mummy, as a souvenir of his travels.

Barić displayed the mummy at his home in Vienna, standing it upright in the corner of his sitting room. He often told his visitors that it was the body of King Stephen of Hungary's sister. At some point he removed the linen wrappings and put them on display in a separate glass case, though he seems to have never realised either the writing or its importance.

The mummy remained on display at his home until his death in 1859, when it passed into the possession of his brother Ilija, a priest in Slavonia. He took no interest in the mummy, and, in 1867, donated it to the State Institute of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia in Zagreb (now the Archaeological Museum). Their catalogue described it as follows:

:"Mummy of a young woman (with wrappings removed) standing in a glass case and held upright by an iron rod. Another glass case contains the mummy's bandages which are completely covered with writing in an unknown and hitherto undeciphered language, representing an outstanding treasure of the National Museum."

Initial examinations

The mummy and its wrappings were examined the same year by the German Egyptologist Heinrich Brugsch, who noticed the text, but believed them to be Egyptian hieroglyphs. He did not undertake any further research on the text, until 1877, when a chance conversation with Richard Burton about runes made him realise that the writing was not Egyptian. They realised the text was potentially important, but wrongly concluded that it was a transliteration of the Egyptian Book of the Dead in the Arabic script.

In 1891, the wrappings were transported to Vienna, where they were thoroughly examined by Jacob Krall, an expert on the Coptic language, who expected the writing to be either Coptic, Libyan or Carian. Krall was the first to identify the language as Etruscan and reassemble the strips. It was his work that established that the linen wrappings constituted a manuscript written in Etruscan.


Certain local gods mentioned within the text allow the Liber Linteus's place of production to be narrowed to a small area in the southeast of Tuscany near Lake Trasimeno, where four major Etruscan cities were located: modern day Arezzo, Perugia, Chiusi and Cortona. Such municipalities would have likely had one or more temples in which the Liber Linteus was produced or utilized.

The age of the book is unknown. However, by comparing the shape and style of the characters contained within the text to those found on other Etruscan artifacts it is possible to infer an approximate date of 250 BCE. The manuscript must have been created prior to the wholesale decline of the Etruscan language in favor of Latin; as such a work could have only been produced by a priest or highly educated person possessing special religious knowledge and literacy in Etruscan.



The book is laid out in twelve columns from right to left, each one representing a "page". Much of the first three columns are missing, and it is not known where the book begins. Closer to the end of the book the text is almost complete (there is a strip missing that runs the entire length of the book). By the end of the last page the cloth is blank and the selvage is intact, showing the definite end of the book.

There are 230 lines of text, with 1200 legible words. Black ink has been used for the main text, and red ink for lines and diacritics.

In use it would have been folded so that one page sat atop another like a codex, rather than being wound along like a scroll. Julius Caesar is said to have folded scrolls in similar accordion fashion while on campaigns.


Though the Etruscan language is not fully understood, certain words can be picked out of the text to give us an indication of the subject matter. Both dates and the names of gods are found throughout the text, giving the impression that the book is a religious calendar. Such calendars are known from the Roman world, giving not only the dates of ceremonies and processions, but also the rituals and liturgies involved. There is even a collection of rituals in Latin ("Libri Rituales") translated from the original Etruscan rites, like those in the Liber Linteus.

The theory that this is a religious text, although still untranslated, is strengthened by recurring words and phrases that are surmised to have liturgical or dedicatory meanings. Some notable formulae on the Liber Linteus include a hymn-like repetition of in column 7 as well as variations on the phrase <šacnicleri cilθl špureri meθlumeri enaš> found throughout the text.

Disuse and disposal

As the Etruscan tongue slowly died out the meaning of the Liber Linteus would have been forgotten: first as a text, and then as a sacred object. New calendars were written in Latin, and new customs would have prevailed. Perhaps the community who wrote it, like the language and the book itself, declined and fell into obscurity. For many years the book would have lain untouched, its owners considering it no more than a worthless anachronism.

In the first century BCE, the Roman Empire conquered Egypt. Like the Greeks before them, Roman settlers embraced many aspects of Egyptian culture, including mummification. Such was the vogue of this burial practice in the first century CE that there was a widespread shortage of cloth. The price of cloth rose sharply, and corpses were wrapped in anything available (one has been found wrapped in a sail). The community that owned the Liber Linteus would have taken this opportunity to make some money by selling something for which they had no use.

At first, the provenance and identity of the mummy were unknown, due to the irregular nature of its excavation and sale. This led to speculation that the mummy may have had some connection to either the "Liber Linteus" or the Etruscans. But a papyrus buried with her proves that she was Egyptian and gives her identity as Nesi-hensu, the wife of Paher-hensu, a tailor from Thebes [Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, [ "The Egyptian Collection: The Zagreb Mummy"] . Retrieved 30 December 2005.] .

ee also

* "Tabula Cortonensis" - An Etruscan inscription.
* "Cippus perusinus" - An Etruscan inscription.
* "Pyrgi Tablets" - A bilingual Etruscan-Phoenician inscription.
* Etruscan civilization
* Lemnian language
* Eteocypriot
* Eteocretan
* Etruria


External links

* [ "The Etruscan Liber Linteus"] ; contains etexts of the book, proposed translations, and notes on haruspicy.
* [ Information on the Liber Linteus from the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb]

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