Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Refinements and Future Directions in Venetic Scholarship

by Charles Bryant-Abraham, PhD

Distinguished Colleagues!

It is an honor and privilege to be invited to share with you a few modest thoughts on the present and future of Venetology, an emerging field promising to cast a new light on mankind's understanding of European pre-history.

First, a few introductory words about my own background are in order.  I am a sixth-generation Texan, and there are relatively few of us on earth.  My family first came to the Virginia Colony in North America in 1653.  You will find few individuals who are as authentically American as I am.  I was awarded a Ph.D. in Linguistics by the Université de Montréal for my work in Medieval Castilian philology.  All of which is to say that I, at least for one, have no hidden agenda or political axe to grind about the importance of Slovenian dialectology in deciphering the Venetic inscriptions.  I truly am simply an innocent academic bystander whose only interest is to learn a little more about early European pre-history.  If I'm a chauvinist at all, I must be faulted as one of those proverbial insufferably-braggadocious types from the Lone Star State of Texas, a "John Wayne" cowboy, if you please.

But indeed I do suspect that history is about to be written, or rather rewritten.  We stand on the threshold of a new world of insight into the pre-history of Europe and of the Mediterranean.

Prior to entering into my exposition before this august assembly, I must issue a preliminary disclaimer, for the timeless epistemological inquiry remains ever in front of us.  How can the "truth" of a given moment in history every really be known?  Historian A may assert the reality of a fact and historians B, C, and D may successively quote the assertion of historian A in recounting their own stories of how things must have happened.  But in every case where historians are not elaborating primary and direct evidence created at the time an event occurred, subsequent students of history will be coping with varying levels of credibility.  The presupposition underlying any historical assertion doggedly remains, "It is believed that..."  All that the most successful of historians ever achieve after that is a rearrangement of extant records lending strength to the probability of an assertion.  In linguistic history, just as in social, military, literary, musical, or artistic history, there is simply no such thing as absolute proof of anything.  Every "fact" we posit can only be based upon the preponderance of evidence found to date.  At every step we must ask: "What does the preponderance of evidence now lead us to conclude?"

In the case before us, I must ask: what is all of this hue and cry about lack of scientific method in reexamining inscriptions which no one heretofore has been able to decode or make any significant sense of whatsoever?  Do we now possess a preponderance of evidence permitting us to begin drawing some justifiable conclusions about these inscriptions, despite faulty methodology, or rather despite the lack of appropriate technical jargon to express the results obtained?  Forgive me, but the analogy is obvious. It looks all the world like the proverbial, insecure, pedantic teacher who marks a correct math answer "wrong" just because the student derived the correct answer without recourse to the precious method the teacher had so painstakingly taught.  Clearly the integrity of a method or system is at best secondary to the accurate solution of a given problem.

Likewise, a satisfactory solution to any problem must preempt every system of instruction designed to lead to that solution.  But in recent Venetic research a number of instances have come to remind us of the adage: "There is no sound as painful as a scientist groaning under a collapsed theory."  The question, however, will just not go away:  What inescapable conclusions must be drawn from the preponderance of evidence to date?  Thanks to a precious few, undaunted Slovenian scholars, for the first time inscriptions heretofore indecipherable are at last being meaningfully read.

Matej Bor, may he rest in peace, was a courageous pioneer who ventured forth into uncharted waters.  All future Venetic scholarship will forever remain indebted to him.  Like the work of every pioneer, the field of inquiry he so thoughtfully advanced will necessarily see many refinements in the years to come.  But it must always be remembered: he was an intellectual father of Venetic studies.

Now, to the eyes of this sixth-generation Texan, it does seem that Matej Bor did manage to come to enough conclusions to make just about everyone on God' s green earth angry at him.  To be so decisively iconoclastic about one sacred assumption is daring enough, but the weighty implications of Bor's deductions were so broad and deep that much of the subsequent opposition would not have been difficult to predict.

Still, to streamline out and systematize three simultaneous rivers, which he let flow, might now prove useful to future directions of Venetic scholarship.

1. Undoubtedly the most intensely incendiary of Bor's findings is that Slovenian had heretofore been inaccurately classified as a South Slavic language, where in fact it is to be ranked among the West Slavic languages.   This question continues to deserve all the attention it can bear, but for quite different reasons than those germane to the Venetic inscriptions.  To sift out the objections of those decrying Venetic research as chauvinistically motivated, this entire issue should be reassigned to a specialized subcommittee for future development and redirected out of Venetic research altogether.

2. The evidence of past Venetic presence in any given area, which can be marshaled from inherited place names, will necessarily always be speculative and cannot be allowed to detract attention from more decisive evidence.  Nevertheless, Venetic topology must be pursued, especially in areas where inscriptions do independently attest to earlier Venetic settlement.  Anton Ambrozic, in his book, Journey Back to the Garumna, has shown the validity and usefulness of Venetic topology in the territories of pre-Roman Gaul.  Likewise, the identity of the pre-Greek Pelasgians, who had widely spread over the coasts and islands of the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean, may well be established through future Venetic topology, even in the dearth of reliable inscriptional evidence, as we shall come to see.

3. The overwhelming importance of the Venetic runic inscriptions themselves must lead to the development of a separate and distinct scientific discipline, commanding the keenest focus of all Slavicists, for it does constitute the cultural patrimony of all Slavs.  Indeed the high value of the ultra-conservative Slovenian dialects in the decipherment of these inscriptions has the potential of so enhancing the appreciation of Slovenian linguistics that those alpine dialects may yet come to be collectively hailed as the "mother of Slavic languages."  My sincere advice is that research into these inscriptions should proceed "full steam ahead" to produce credibly deciphered texts which can then later be analyzed by linguistic specialists who will write their descriptions in the conventional jargon of the trade.

We absolutely must tease out these three subject areas if we are to develop each in its own right and attract future scholars into this new field of investigation.

Having duly considered these imperative refinements to the current practice of Venetology, let us now turn our attention to new avenues of approach begging to be opened.

As a point of transition, I shall attempt to illustrate an important principle.   One of the earliest expressions of this principle is found in the second-century Jewish text, Pirké-Avót 4:1:  "Ben Zoma used to say, who is wise?  He who learns from all men, as is said in the Psalms, 'From all my teachers I have gained wisdom.'"1

To make clear my implication, consider one critique of Matej Bor's work, "Vandals, Veneti, Windischer:  The Pitfalls of Amateur Historical Linguistics," by Prof. Tom Priestly, read at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Denver, Colorado, on November 2000.  My point is that none should take the criticism in a personal way, but rather apply oneself to the task of learning from it.  Indeed, every criticism of Venetic scholarship must be taken seriously and used to refine the details of the theory.  Still, Prof. Priestly might have benefited from a broader peripheral vision, had he just put a little more creative thinking into his critique.3  Be that as it may, for clear and good reasons, he quite correctly faults the work of Johann Topolovsek, Die Basko-slavische Spracheinheit. I Band, Einleitung. Vergleichende Lautlehre (1894), and the work of Franc Jeza, Skandinavski izvor Slovencev. Etnografska-jezikoslovna in zgodovinska studija (1967).  Both of these studies failed to prove their case:  clearly Slovenian and Basque do not share common descent, nor do Slovenian and Old Norse.  In citing these two studies, which have nothing in common with Bor's research, Prof. Priestly has brought to the attention of Venetic scholarship an important new direction, specifically, early lexical borrowing from Venetic by contiguously-spoken languages.  Obviously, neither Basque and Slavic nor Scandinavian and Slavic are derivable one from the other.  Yet what is to be made of the extraordinary lexical correspondences that Topolovsek and Jeza have succeeded in amassing and, at least in the case of Basque which have recently been replicated by the Czech researcher, Ota Janek?  This indeed opens a new avenue for future research, that of lexical borrowing in pre-historic times by languages in contact with Venetic.  And it is to be expected that predictable phonologic laws will emerge within each receptor language, revealing the phonetic processes as it adapted Venetic loan words to its own speech habits over a long period of symbiosis.  Instructive also are Jeza's correlated pairs of Slovenian and Old Norse shared lexical items, of which Prof. Priestly states:  "Semantically, Jeza's word-pairs are even more plausible than Topolovsek's:  in almost every instance, the Scand. and the Sln. word have an identical meaning; this is true of all the examples ... except for kupa 'hollow log' vs. cupa 'boat', which would indeed involve an acceptable semantic shift ... some pairs are so far apart phonetically that one wonders at Jeza's audacity in citing them...  He seldom comments on this, but on page after carefree page lists hundreds of word-pairs with phonetic inconsistencies which are never related to any systematic framework and which seldom receive comment."2  Here, what Prof. Priestly failed to consider is that the Scandinavian/Venetic symbiosis continued over a vast stretch of time, and the phonetic habits of both languages, particularly Old Norse, continued to change without surcease, so that phonetic inconsistencies would not only be predictable, but would render somewhat difficult the work of consistent phonetic correlation.

Yet what is so very intriguing in Jeza's Scandanavian/Venetic word-pairs is the indirect, though still inconclusive, testimony of the two languages in contact, a testimony strengthening the Venetic hypothesis of the origin of Norse runes.  To be brief, let me cite from the following4:  "It has been established that a number of runes which are contemporaneous with the oldest of those found in the Danish bogland have been discovered along a line of country passing through Pomerania, Brandenburg, Volhynia and Rumania.  Moreover, these discoveries include archaic objects the primary forms of which do not hail from western Europe but are found in southeastern Europe, on the northern coast of the Black sea and along the lower Danube and in Carinthia.  From this fact, and also from the close agreement of the forms of the letters in these texts, especially the Negau helmets, with those of the subalpine alphabets of northern Italy, and the agreement in date (c. 250 B.C.), the conclusion was drawn simultaneously by a number of scholars that the runes came to Scandinavia from central Europe and that the script itself was of subalpine origin."  In other words, it does now seem probable that the early Scandinavians not only borrowed vocabulary from the Veneti, but the art of runic writing itself.

Thus, the results of Topolovsek's and Jeza's studies must be reviewed from the alternative point of view of lexical loans.  Moreover, similar studies are needed for the Greek, Celtic, Italic and Baltic language families.  Also the Armorican Venetic lexical level of Breton should be further explored and documented, as Ota Janek has begun to do.

Prof. Priestly's critique is equally useful to us in two further instances where he should and could have used broader peripheral vision:

1. Prof Priestly is correct in writing: "...since there was a single proto-phoneme /h/...the three consonantal correspondences.../h : k/, /h : g/ and /h : h/ must be in complementarity.  In other words, in reconstructing the sound-changes involved in the development from Ven. (Psl.) to Sln., it is necessary to show that * /h/ changed to /k/ under some circumstances, to /g/ under some different circumstances, and remained unchanged as /h/ in a third set of circumstances..."5  Incidentally, it is likely that Venetic distinguished here a voiceless /h/ < /k/, /h/ and voiced /h/ < /g/, analogous to the voiced /h/ of Czech and Afrikaans.  But isn't Priestly's speculation here really putting the cart before the horse? Once phonemes coalesce ( /k/, /g/, /h/ > /h/), they are not known to separate out again into the original phonemic inventory.  Therefore, what we are confronting - and this is an important lead that Prof. Priestly provides - is the imminent emergence of Venetic dialectology.  Indeed, Slovenian must henceforth take its place as the only surviving dialect of Venetic, and a most conservative one at that, for only sporadically did its regional variations undergo coalescence of the three phonemes at issue into /h/.

2. Prof. Priestly further expands the emergent dialectology of Venetic in two other cases:  1.) "It is unclear what the Ven. word for 'fire' was. Cf. on the one hand:  'v han' - into the fire... and on the other 'v ougon' - into the fire'"6; and 2.) "...'betatism' ... Bor... has two graphemes labelled 'B,V' on his alphabet table... and whenever one occurs, he is more or less at liberty to interpret it as he pleases... this approach shows an annoying lack of consistency...".7  I must point out that these differences are highly indicative of dialectal variation over the vast Venetic territory and that given these differences, it will be incumbent upon future Venetologists to elaborate the dialectal contours and broad isoglosses of Venetic as attested in the inscriptions.

Parallel to the on-going analysis of the Venetic inscriptions, a thorough search must be undertaken throughout the Balkan Peninsula for all extant lapidary evidence of its former presence there.  Foremost - and I have called attention to this elsewhere - an investigation must be made of all inscriptions associated with the age of Philip of Macedon preceding the Hellenization of his son, Alexander, under the tutelage of Aristotle.  The close collaboration of Macedonian and Greek scholars must be solicited and sustained for this effort.  We are encouraged in this direction by the findings of Anton Ambrozic who has successfully demonstrated Venetic presence in the Hellenistic city, Dura-Europos, founded by Alexander in the Syrian desert and destroyed by the Sassanids in AD 256, some 400 years before the supposed first penetration of Slavs into the Balkan Peninsula.8   These Venetic inscriptions from Dura-Europos lend weighty if still circumstantial evidence to my original conjecture that Alexander and his Macedonian people may very well have been Veneti.  If this does prove to be the case, then the Macedonian people today will have every justifiable reason to reclaim their own linguistic patrimony.

Finally, it is my privilege to bring to the attention of this august assembly the extensive body of the as yet undeciphered pre-Roman Iberian inscriptions.  These inscriptions, written with the Venetic runes, have already received considerable scrutiny by Spanish archeologists and linguists.  My role here is modest, very humbly that of bridging the two worlds of Spanish and Slovenian scholarship, for to date each seems to have been unaware of the importance of the other for their own specific interests.

The transparencies of Exhibit 1 illustrate the runic alphabet of Tartessos, the Biblical "Tarshish,"9  Notable is the horizontal and vertical reversal of a number of these runes, yet all still remain unmistakably Venetic.

Exhibit 2 illustrates two inscriptions found on Sardinia and now in the archeological museum of Gaglieri.10

Exhibit 3 will serve to initiate yet another potential direction in Venetology, that of Venetic numismatics.  These inscriptions are all from pre-Roman coins found in Spain.11

The transparencies of Exhibit 4 present examples of Iberian inscriptions found all along the Mediterranean Coast from Andalusia to Catalonia.12

It is neither my intention nor within my capacity to set before you today an exhaustive display of the Iberian inscriptions, but simply to call your attention to their existence and to heartily encourage a new effort to decipher them.

In conclusion, I wish to note how very obvious it would have been for the Venetic ships to sail the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar, along the western and northern coasts of the Iberian Peninsula and through the Bay of Biscay to reach and ultimately settle Armorica.  There, Tacitus, the Roman historian, records encountering them and their powerful fleets.   Moreover, it is to be noted that Spanish archeology has gone far in advancing the civilization centered at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River as the historical Tarshish, often cited in the Old Testament.  Can it be that the "ships of Tarshish" so frequently mentioned in the Bible were in fact manned by the Venetic-speaking predecessors of the Slovenian people?

Moreover, little is known of the early pre-Greek peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean, those who produced the famous Cycladic statuary.  But, keeping in mind Homer's reference to Veneti at the Battle of Troy, our final exhibit opens the door to a truly exciting possibility, one rich with promise for the future of Venetic studies.

Exhibit 5 illustrates the striking similarities between the historical Venetic runes and the earliest inscriptions from the Mediterranean Levant, the Greek Isles, and the Greek and Italic peninsulas.13  All extant inscriptions written in these cognate runic alphabets must now be subjected to the most scarifying reexamination for a potential Proto-Slavic genesis.

My parting words are drawn from the writings of the American philosopher and physician, Dr. Abraham J. Twerski.  Quoting, he writes:
"There is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1: 9)

America was always there, long before Columbus discovered it.  Penicillin killed bacteria long before Fleming discovered it.  We could go on to list numerous discoveries which could have benefited mankind long before they came to our attention.

It has been said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  We can say the same thing about discoveries; they become evident to us when we are ready for them.

Just what constitutes this state of readiness is still a mystery.  While technological advances are usually continent upon earlier progress, many other discoveries were right before our eyes, but we did not seem them.

This concept is as true of ideas and concepts in our lives as it is true of scientific discoveries.  The truth is out there, but we may fail to see it.14

Esteemed colleagues, much hard, diligent work lies before us in the years to come.  I applaud what you have already accomplished, and I encourage you, each and every one, on toward the future.

1. Psalm 119:99a
2. Tom Priestly Vandals, Veneti, and Windischer: The Pitfalls of Amateur Historical Linguistics, text for possible publication, being a longer version of The 'Veneti' Theory, paper, AAASS, Denver, November 2000, "5.2. The theory that Scandinavian and Slovene are closely related."
3. Prof. Priestly does need to review his grasp of German grammar, as looms clear from the use in his title of the genitive plural of the nominalized strong adjective, "Windischer," where he needed the nominative plural, "Windische."
4. Encyclopaedia Britannica (1967), article "Rune," p. 660
5. Tom Priestly Vandals, Veneti, and Windischer: The Pitfalls of Amateur Historical Linguistics, text for possible publication, being a longer version of The 'Veneti' Theory, paper, AAASS, Denver, November 2000, "5.4.3 The Phonological Evidence: Some Correspondence Sets."
6. Ibid, "5.4.5. Further Criticisms."
7. Ibid, "5.4.6. Variation".
8. Cf. Anton Ambrozic, Adieu to Brittany, Part Two, pp. 74 - 86.
9. Julio Caro-Baroja, "La Escritura en la España Preromana (Epigrafía y Numismática)," in La España Primitiva, Vol. II. La Protohistoria, by Martin Almagro Basch and Antonio García y Bellido, pp. 685 ff.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Abraham Twerski, MD, Growing Each Day, Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 1992, p. 327.

Page Created:  October 14, 2001
Page Updated:  August 29, 2003
©Copyright 2001, 2002, 2003 Gary L. Gorsha