Eteocretan Logo

Eteocretan Language Pages

The Lemnos Stele

As I explained on the Pelasgian page, in 1885 a stone stele was discovered near the village of Kaminia on the Greek island of Lemnos. It is written in a western Greek alphabet and in language which most scholars agree is either Etruscan or a language closely related to Etruscan. It is dated to the late 6th century BCE and is probably a funerary inscription

Sadly, however, a one-off inscription inevitably attracts all sorts of wild speculations. On the 'Pelasgian' page I refer to seven other theories concerning the Pelasgians and the language of this stele. I have discovered from emails I have received over the years that these theories tend to be held with a fanatical and bigoted passion; the writers, alas, are rude and abusive when I do not subscribe to their view.

Please do not send me patronizing or abusive emails, telling me that I have got it all wrong. I will treat such emails as junk and trash them.


facsimile of Lemnian stele



The inscription is in two parts and reads:

of writing
 In standard Greek script

A. The front of the stele
  1. hολαιεζ:ναφοθ:ζιαζι
  2. μαραζ:μαϝ
  3. σιαλχϝειζ:αϝιζ
  4. εϝισθο:ζεροναιθ
  5. ζιϝαι
  6. ακερ:ταϝαρζιο
  7. ϝαναλασιαλ:ζεροναι:μοριναιλ

B. The side of the stele
  1. hολαιεζιφοκιασιαλε:ζεροναιθ:εϝισθο:τοϝερονα
  2. ρομ:hαραλιο:ζιϝαι:επτεζιο:αραι:τιζ:φοκε
  3. ζιϝαι:αϝιζ:σιαλχϝιζ:μαραζμ:αϝιζ:αομαι
of writing
  In modern Roman script *

A. The front of the stele
  1. holaiez:naφoθ:ziazi
  2. maraz:maw
  3. sialχweiz:awiz
  4. ewisθo:zeronaiθ
  5. ziwai
  6. aker:tawarzio
  7. wanalasial:zeronai:morinail

B. The side of the stele
  1. holaiezi:φokiasiale:zeronaiθ:ewisθo:towerona
  2. rom:haralio:ziwai:eptezio:arai:tiz:φoke
  3. ziwai:awiz:sialχwiz:marazm:awiz:aomai
* In accordance with common convention in the transcription of Etruscan, the symbols θ, φ and χ are used to represent aspirated voicless plosives: [tʰ], [pʰ] and [kʰ] respectively. However I have departed slightly from normal Etruscan transcription in that /k/ is represented by k (rather than c) and /w/ is represented by w (rather than v).

The order of the rows is uncertain. J. Friedrich in "Kleinasiatische Sprachdenkmäler" (Berlin, 1932) lists the orders given by other scholars. He himself adopts the order given by Nachmanson (1908). I list these below with the addition of N. Pallottino in "L'origine degli Etruschi" (Rome 1947)

 Front of the steleSide
Order adopted above 1234567 123
Bréal (1886), Bugge (1886), Torp (1903) 1/2345687 123
Corsten (1930) 1543276 123
Dee (1886) 1/5432876 123
Friedrich (1932), Nachmanson (1908) (a)(b) 1(b) 2(b) 3 (b) 4(c) 1(c) 2 123
Hammarström (1926 & 1928) 7123456 321
Kretschmer (1929), Pauli (1886 & 1894) III4II3II1II1III2III1 123
Lattes (1894) 1/254396/78 123
Pollottino (1947) 1542367 123



It will be seen that the text contains no voiced plosives, but it does show a sries of unaspirated voiceless plosives and of aspirated voiceless plosives which is exactly what we find in Etruscan.

Furthermore, only four vowels are attested: a, e, i and o. Etruscan also has only four vowels: a, e, i and u. If the Lemnian language is related to Etruscan, then clearly Lemnian o will correspond to Etruscan u.

We do not know what sound z denoted in either language; possibly it was some sort of voiceless affricate such as [ʦ] or [ʧ.

Line A1
We possibly have here the name of the dead person, Holaie; it has been suggested that this name might be the same as the proper name Ὑλαῖος found in several Greek inscriptions from Central Greece, Macedonia and North Black Sea (e.g. IG IV 732, 28; IG V,2 11, 17-18; FD III 2:86, 9, etc.). This is followed by a term of relationship naφoθ, cf. Etruscan napti ~ nefts "grandson". The case ending -z or -zi appears to be a genitive or dative, cf. Etruscan -s, -si. Thus we may tentatively read:
"To Holaie grandson of Zia".
Line A2
maraz is possibly akin to Etruscan maru (but see the note below), the title of a magistracy which appears in Latin as maro and Umbrian as maron-, i.e. this denotes Holaie's rank. The second word maw is unknown to me.
Line A3
sialχweiz awiz is strongly reminiscent of Etruscan sealχls avils "forty years" or, according to others, "60 years";
Line A4
ewisθo is a mystery. But both zeronaiθ in this line and zeonai in Line A7 seem to have locative endings, cf. Etruscan -i, -iθ. It possibly refers to the tomb, cf Etruscan zeri- "sacred act, rite, sacred thing". If this so, then zerona- will have been formed from zer- by adding the formative suffix -ona- = Etruscan -una-, cf. Pupluna "Populonia" [name of town], aisuna- etc. Thus zeronai may mean "in the tomb".
Line A5
ziwai recalls Etruscan ziva- "dead".; see also Line B3.
Line A6
I can offer no suggestions for this line.
Line A7
The meaning of the first word is unknown; but its ending -asial, and that of morinail may be cognate with Etruscan endings -ale, -asial., which are used particularly in the onomastic field, cf. Larθiale, Helvasial etc. It is possible that morin- refers to the Lemnian city of Μυρίνη. (Murinē). For zeronai, see Line A4 above.
More recently Glen Gordon has proposed a different interpretation of this line on his Paleoglot blogspot. Also he and others have suggested that the mor- of morinail may be related to an Etruscan root *mur- which some give as "(to) die" and others as "(to) stay."  
Line B1
The words holaiezi and zeronaiθ have already been discussed in Lines A1 and A4 respectively. We possibily have the onomastic formative -asial(e) in φokiasiale which may mean something like " from Phokaia" (on the coast of Asia Minor). We have once more the unknown word ewisθo which we had in Line A4. Also towerona remains a mystery, though it may contain the formative affix -ona.
Line B2
Most of this line remains a mystery to me. But we do have ziwai "dead?" (see Line A5). We may have another reference to Phokaia in the last word φoke.
Line B3
The phrase ziwai awiz sialχwiz is very reminiscent of Etruscan formulae such as avils cealχls lupu "years thirty dead" (that is: died when he was thirty) and lupum maχs śealχlsc "... and-dead years five forty/sixty" (and he died when he was forty five [or sixty five]). So the opening three words are probably telling us that Holaie died when he was forty or sixty.
The word marazm is the maraz of Line A2 with the enclitic -m "and" which is also found in Etruscan and used like the Latin -que So Holaie was forty when he died and had been maraz for ?? years or for just a year. The last word unknown to me.

So it would seem we have an inscription in a language akin to Etruscan which, perhaps, tells us that Holaie, the grandson of Zia, died at the age of 40 9or 60), having held the rank of maraz for at least a year, and that, possibly, he came from Phokaia and now lies in his tomb in Murine.

But Pallottino, in the work cited above, has noted that there are also certin features that recall Anatolian forms, namely:

  • the ending of morinail and the suffix of Nesite (Hittite) ethnica such as Ališail;
  • the probable copulative enclitic -m and the Nesite enclitic spelled -ma in cuneiform;
  • eptezio in Line B2 and the Lydian pronominal word epttehi ← *epttesi;;
  • maraz- and the Lycian maraza- "head";
  • and perhaps the base of the word wanalasial and the Lydian vanaλ;- "tomb".

Indeed Pallottino goes so far as to say that eptezio almost certainly corresponds to Lycian epttehi. It should be noted, however, that Pallottino does not think any of these Anatolian elements are of Indo-European origin, but are rather associated with the oldest linguistic stratum of Asia Minor.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Valid CSS!
Created December 2004. Last revision:
Copyright © Ray Brown