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The enigma of Venetic culture - 1000 BC

Recent discoveries and new hypothesis

The period regarded by some historians as a time of greatest advances, was unequaled by any other period of European history. The Europe was defined by the settlement of a people called Veneti
and the spread of the so-called Urnfield culture. They both appeared in the 13th century BC and spread over central Europe from the Baltic Sea down the Apennine Peninsula as far as Sicily. Within this space significant centres of culture sprang up and thrived, most of them reaching their peak around 7th century BC, and beginning to decline by 4th century BC, with the arrival of the Celts.

The Urnfield culture was named for its common and distinguishing feature - the funeral urn and the burial fields. It introduced into the European arena cremation and the use of urns as the means of internment of the dead. The custom marked a major change for most European people of the time in regard to their earthly existence and life after death.

Beside the funeral urns, the cultures flourishing during this millennium, left invaluable archeological evidence of settlement building, social and economical structures, tool making and ceramic objects. Outstanding among them, spreading their influence to regions beyond their designated areas, were the Lausatian culture in central Europe, Hallstatt culture to the south, the Etruscan culture on the Apennine Peninsula and the Este culture between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps.

What else is known about the Veneti?  It has been established that they spoke a common proto-Slavic language, that remained close to the original Indo-European language. Historians now accept the term “Venetic” as a linguistic characterization of the Veneti, including the term “Illyrian”. Place names containing the word Veneti, Venedi or Wendi, found throughout central Europe, are supporting evidence of long settlement of the Venetic people.

Adriatic Veneti territory c. 250 BC
(Map courtesy of Encyclopedia Britanica)

Weapons of the Hallstatt Culture
demonstrate a well developed metal craft

Slovenian linguist Matej Bor put forward an interesting hypothesis regarding the identity of these ancient people.   He argued that the original of Venet (Veneti is the plural form of Venet in Slavic languages) is actually Slo-venet (Slovenets = Slovenian of male gender). The word in Old Slavic derives from slovo (word) or sloviti (to speak). It has been retained till present day as common name for all the Slavic peoples (Slovan or Sloven), and in the names of countries - Slovenia, Slovakia, Slavonia, and Slovincia. The fact that Germans still use the word Wenden (Venedi) when referring to their Slavic neighbours, confirms the link between the two names. Apart from this, there are a number of historical references, where venedi and sclavi are quoted as names used alternatively for the same people. (It is assumed that the letter C was inserted into the word slavi, because Romans did not have the consonantal Sl group in their language; the same argument can be used for dropping the letters “slo” and using only “venet”).

Possibly the most significant legacy of this era is the so-called Venetic script
. Almost identical to the Etruscan script, it was discovered on metal and stone tablets and implements of the rich Este site, dated about 400 BC. The script itself has been traced to Phoenicians, and probably came via Etruscans to the Adriatic Veneti. Till recently both the language and the script remained an enigma. 

Slovenian linguist Matej Bor, specialising in Slavic languages and Slovenian dialects, finally unlocked the mystery. He started from the premise that Adriatic Veneti spoke proto-Slovenian. To his surprise and delight he found in the inscriptions, buried for more than two millennia, many words still in use in Slovenian dialects, as well as words used in modern literary Slovenian, which were unmistakable derivatives. After the breakthrough Bor made by unlocking the riddle of the so-called alphabet tablet
ES 24, the Venetic inscriptions could be read and understood by a trained linguist of similar background.

The continuity of language spoken by Adriatic Veneti to present day Slovenian has thus been established. The official historical view of the arrival of Slovenians in the 6th century AD to their present territory between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, must therefore be reconsidered.

Aleksandra Ceferin, Thezaurus (Melbourne 2000)
From: Ssavli, Bor, Tomazzic, Veneti-First Builders of European Community (Vienna 1996)