New Lemnian Inscription

A new Lemnian inscription was discovered recently during excavation of an ancient sanctuary at Efestia on the island of Lemnos. The inscription was incised in two lines on the upper portion of a rectangular altar measuring 50 cm. in length and 13.05 cm. in height (see photograph below). The direction of writing is boustrophedon. The upper line reads from left-to-right, the lower line from right-to-left. The inscription has 26 letters plus punctuation marks in the form of three vertically-aligned points separating words. The transcription provided below is that given by de Simone (2009). The letter š (= palatal sibilant) is a transcription of the Lemnian 4-bar sigma and the letter s (= dental or alveo-dental sibilant) of the Lemnian z-sign. Punctuation is indicated by a colon.

upper line: hktaonosi : heloke (L to R)

lower line: soromš : aslaš (R to L)

The inscription is a votive dedication offered to or, more likely, on behalf of hktaono-. hktaonosi is inflected in the pertinentive case. (Exactly how to treat the odd initial cluster hk- is not clear.) The suffix of the verb heloke matches up well with the Etruscan past tense suffix /ke/, e.g., turuce /turuke/ ‘offered’. For the construction compare Etruscan muluvanice + pertinentive.

The forms in the lower line, which probably include the subject of the utterance, are problematic. The interpretative possibilities are discussed by de Simone (2009). They are: first name + family name; first name + patronymic; first name + name of object dedicated. If the direct object is topicalized then name of object dedicated + first name is also possible. But soromš and aslaš are in the uninflected form — they are not s-gentives because they end in palatal fricatives — which means that we can rule out the idea of a patronymic. Neither word has the morphology of a family name, so we can probably rule that out as well. The words may not be personal names at all. It seems reasonable to think that at least one of the words, perhaps soromš because it occupies first position, refers to an organization or institution that was responsible for setting up the dedication. aslaš could then be the name of the object dedicated. But this is all quite speculative.

Background information about the date of discovery and about the archaeological context in which the altar was recovered has not yet been published.  The inscription is dated on paleographic grounds to the last half of the 6th century BCE, but the date must be considered provisional until archaeological reports appear in print.


de Simone, Carlo. 2009. La nuova iscrizione tirsenica di Efestia. Tripodes 11.3–58.

(Lemnian inscription on altar base. Photo: SAIA)

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