The enigma of Venetic culture

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.

A number of archaeological discoveries give strong evidence that Este was an important centre of Venetic culture from the 7th to the 4th century BC, with a great shrine to the god (or goddess) Reitia and more importantly, a school for scribes. Among numerous finds that include small bronze statues, various tools and weapons, vases, clasps, money, were 200 inscriptions in the Venetic script and the so-called Alphabet Tablets, which thought to contain the key to the mystery.

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 = Slovene 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 "veneti".

 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.

Matej Bor had studied the problem of the Venetic script over a number of years. In contrast to the prevailing opinion, he believed in the Slavic origin of  Venetic language (rather than Italic), He found enough indicators to warrant an investigation based on this premise.

As it sometimes happens, Bor was once more studying Tablet Es 24 containing the mysterious word akeo, when he had a flash of intuition. The scholars had read the inscription of rows of identical letters starting from the bottom, and came up with the repetitions of akeo.
Looking at the text, Bor suddenly had a new perspective: what if the inscription should be read from the top? What if he further left out the row of letters "o" as having only a separating function He tried it, and came up with an answer that made sense. The result was stunning and beyond expectations. He discovered a recognizable Slovenian verb, set out with grammatical forms still current in modern Slovenian.

E E  E E  E E  E  E  E  E  E
K K K K K K K K  K  K K
A A A A A A  A A A A  A
E H B T  IS R  P J  D  V

With the inclusion of the letters from the damaged part of the tablet, which Venetologists had already provided, and leaving out the top row of letters "o", Bor got the following words:

Ekae, ekah, ekat, ekais, ekar, eka, ekap,
ekan, ekam, ekal, ekak, ekaj, ekad, ekav.

He made a further assumption that e is pronounced as je (pronounce ye as in yes), which is the case in Old Church Slavic (9th century) and in the present day Russian. In Slovenian and Serbo-Croatian it is both spoken and written as je. The result were forms of the verb jekat (to cry, wail or mourn, eg. at a funeral), its meaning and endings still current in Slovenian and Serbo-Croatian:

ekat (inf), jekam (1st p. sg.), jeka (2 nd p. sg), jekaj (imp. sg.),
jekal (past part. masc.), jekaje (present part.), jekah (aorist 1 st p. sg.)

Bor made another important discovery - a segment on Venetic phonetics, with consonants and tautosyllabic consonant pairs, such as kr, kn, kl, tr, tn, tl, sr, sn, sl, mr, mn, etc., another teaching tool.

Bor's discovery of the verb jekat on the tablet Es 26(LLV) was of great significance in that it led to further investigation of the tablets and their function. The Slovenian linguist concluded that the tablets were fragments or chapters on Venetic phonology and morphology; the remnants of a fairly sophisticated teaching tool, demonstrating an unexpected level of understanding of language structures.

  Matej Bor proceeded to decipher other tablets and inscriptions, and found his hypothesis largely confirmed. An expert in Slavic languages and Slovenian dialects, he was not only able to understand the inscriptions, but also found to his delight many words and structures, that are still in use today, in modern Slovenian literary language and in Slovenian dialects.

A very important conclusion can now be made regarding the Venetic language: it was Old Slavic or more precisely, proto-Slovenian, a precursor of the modern Slovenian language. Continuity of language spoken by Adriatic Veneti to present day Slovenian has thus been established. Matej Bor decoding has been the only successful attempt till now. With this new insight, the coventional view of the arrival of Slovenes from the east in the 6th century AD to their present territory between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, might be reconsidered.


Šavli, Jožko, Matej Bor, and Ivan Tomažič, Veneti - First Builders of European Community, Editiones Veneti, Vienna, Boswell, British Columbia, 1996