Etruscan numerals

Etruscan numerals could mean the words and phrases for numbers of the Etruscan language, or the symbolic notation used by Etruscans to write them.

Numeric symbols

The Etruscan symbolic number notation included the following symbols with known values:[1]

Symbol Etruscan Numeral 1.svg Etruscan Numeral 5.svg Etruscan Numeral 10.svg Etruscan Numeral 50.svg Etruscan Numeral 100.svg
Unicode ๐Œ  ๐Œก ๐Œข ๐Œฃ ๐ŒŸ
Value 1 5 10 50 100

(With the proper Unicode font installed, the first two rows should look the same.)

Examples are known of the symbols for larger numbers, but it is unknown which symbol represents which number. Most numbers were written with "additive notation", namely by writing symbols that added to the desired number, from higher to lower value. Thus the number '87', for example, would be written 50 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 5 + 1 + 1 = "๐Œฃ๐Œข๐Œข๐Œข๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ".[1] (Since the Etruscan script was usually written from right to left, the number would appear as "๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œก๐Œข๐Œข๐Œข๐Œฃ" in inscriptions. This caveat holds for all the following examples.)

However, mirroring the way those numbers were spoken in their language, the Etruscans would often write 17, 18, and 19 as "๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œข๐Œข", "๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œข๐Œข", and "๐Œ ๐Œข๐Œข" โ€“ that is, "three from twenty", "two from twenty", and "one from twenty", instead of "๐Œข๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ", "๐Œข๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ", and "๐Œข๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ".[1] (The Romans occasionaly did the same for 18 and 19, matching the way they said those numbers: duodeviginti and undeviginti. This habit has been attributed to Etruscan influence in the Latin language.[2])

The same pattern was used for 27, 28, 29, 37, 38, 39, etc. In contrast, the Etruscans generally wrote "๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ " for 4 (alone and in 14, 24, 34, etc.), "๐Œข๐Œข๐Œข๐Œข" for 40, and "๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ", "๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ", "๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ " for 7, 8, and 9 alone. (In that they were unlike the Romans, who would write 4 as "IV", 9 as "IX", 40 as "XL".)[1]

These symbols were used throughout the Etruscan zone of influence, from the plains of northern Italy to the region of modern Naples, south of Rome. However, it should be kept in mind that there is in fact very little surviving evidence of these numerals.[1]

The Etruscan number signs for 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100 ("๐Œ ", "๐Œก", "๐Œข", "๐Œฃ", and "๐ŒŸ") have been assigned specific codes in the Unicode computer character set, as part of the Old Italic block.


The Etruscan number symbols may have been based on the Greek Attic numerals.[citation needed] However, other hypotheses have been advanced.

Hand signals

An older theory, advanced by Th. Mommsen in 1887 and echoed by A. Hooper, is that the symbols for 1, 5, and 10 originated as representations of hand gestures for counting.

In that theory, the early inhabitants of the region counted from 1 to 4 by extending the same number of long fingers (index to little); gestures that were represented in writing by "๐Œ ", "๐Œ ๐Œ ", "๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ", "๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ". The count of 5 was signaled by extending those 4 fingers plus the thumb; and the written symbol "๐Œก" is then meant to depict that hand, with the thumb out to the side. The numbers 6 to 9 then would be signaled by one fully open hand and 1 to 4 long fingers extended in the other; which would be depicted as "๐Œก๐Œ ", "๐Œก๐Œ ", "๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ", "๐Œก๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ". Finally 10 would be signaled by two hands with all fingers and thumbs extended; which, in writing, would be represented by the upper and lower halves of the symbol "๐Œข".[3][4]

Tally marks

Another hypothesis, which seems to be more accepted today, is that the Etrusco-Roman numerals actually derive from notches on tally sticks, which continued to be used by Italian and Dalmatian shepherds into the 19th century.[5][1] Unfortunately, being made of perishable wood, no tally sticks have (or would have) survived from that period.[1]

In that system, each unit counted would be recorded as a notch cut across the stick. Every fifth notch was double cut, i.e. "๐Œก" and every tenth was cross cut, "๐Œข"; much like European tally marks today. Then a count of '28' would look like

๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ฮ›๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œข๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ฮ›๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œข๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ฮ›๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ 

When transposing the final count to writing (or to another stick), it was obviously unnecessary to copy each "๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ฮ›๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ " before a "๐Œข", or each "๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ " before a ฮ›. So the count of '28' would be written down as simply "๐Œข๐Œขฮ›๐Œ ๐Œ ๐Œ ".

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