The Celtiberian S: a new letter



The Celtiberian S is a new letter, created by the Celtiberians to write their own language with the Latin alphabet. The creation of a new sign presupposes that the Celtiberians who used the Latin alphabet to write their language felt that that system of writing was limited for their purposes. They ascertained that the Latin alphabet lacked a specific sign for representing one or several of the sounds in their language, presumably those represented as sigma in Palaeohispanic writing. They tried to resolve this absence with the creation of a new sign: they added a stroke below the S. 

A bronze fragment with an inscription written in Celtiberian language and Latin alphabet has recently been found in Novallas (province of Zaragoza). Its discovery has revealed the existence of this new letter.The new S, which appears not only in this new text, but also in a pair of inscriptions from Peñalba de Villastar: the inscription known as the Great Inscription (K.3.3), and one of the short ones (K.3.14).

The marked S on the Novallas Bronze (photograph: F. Beltrán)


In a new paper (see below), we communicate to the scientific community the identification of the aforementioned letter in Latin inscriptions from Celtiberia. We have detected the marked Ss in five Latin inscriptions: Buenafuente (CIL II 5790), Almadrones (CIL II 6294), Peralejo de los Escuderos, Lara de los Infantes and Salas de los Infantes (three certainly and two in all likelihood). The letter was first recognised on the bronze from Peralejos de los Escuderos, which suggests that the use of this marked S continued in Latin texts of the Imperial period. They are always geminated and always appear in Celtiberian proper nouns: a gentilic (Dercinoaśśedensibus, Peralejo de los Escuderos) and two family names, Segośśoq(um) (Buenauente) and Niśśic[um] (Almadrones); there are also two inscriptions from Burgos, one from Lara and the other from Salas de los Infantes. The marked Ss can be detected in these, too –although not as obviously, because of the state of preservation in both cases– again geminated and used to denote the same personal name: Pressus (nom.) and Presso (dat.).


Stele from Buenafuente (Museo Arqueológico Nacional, photograph Archivo digital MAN): Letondo / Segośśoq(um) / Melmandi · f(ilius) / (h)i(c) s(itus) e(st) H / [-----]; on the right is a detail showing the marked Ss, which appear in the family name Segośśoq(um).


For the first time, the marked S is reported on inscriptions in Celtiberian language and Latin alphabet. The exact dating of this group of inscriptions cannot be specified with certainty, but the available evidence points to the first century BCE. The inscriptions from Peñalba are dated to the reign of Augustus.  The editors of the Novallas Bronze indicate that, although lacking stratigraphic context, this inscription cannot be later than Augustus’ period, either. The Latin inscriptions in which Ś appears are, without doubt, chronologically later. 

In terms of geographic distribution, it is highly significant that the sign is documented at two such distant sites as Peñalba and Novallas, which suggests that it was a significant innovation, although for the moment it is only documented in two places. The two areas of discovery are located, furthermore, within the territory in which eastern Celtiberian Palaeohispanic writing was used. The Latin texts with marked Ss appear more to the west. They are concentrated in a small region that spans from the north of the modern day province of Guadalajara to the south of Soria: Buenafuente, Almadrones, and Peralejo de los Escuderos, although the possibility cannot be excluded that the latter inscription was incised in the uicus of Clunia which received the citizenship of Termes. The three settlements fall within the area in which western Celtiberian Palaeohispanic writing was used. 

The detection of the śś in this Latin epigraphy with indigenous onomastics leads us to consider the following reflections: if the etymologies proposed are accurate, in Dercinoaśśedensibus the double S would be marking the result of the meeting of *-d+s-; in Segośśoq(um) of  *-ntyo-; and in Niśśic[um] of *-tyo-. In Palaeohispanic writing, this would be indicated, in principle, by sigma (in Celtiberian Palaeohispanic script, the gemination does not appear to have been used). 


In conclusion, a new grapheme was created to write Celtiberian in Latin alphabet: the marked S, which is only attested in three Celtiberian documents, but which survives in some Latin inscriptions from the Imperial period to denote vernacular proper nouns, and which we propose calling Celtiberian S.


Celtiberian inscriptions in Latin alphabet Latin inscriptions
[---]TICAŚ (Novallas Bronze, line 2)

Dercinoaśśedensibus (Peralejo de los Escuderos)

TERGAŚ (Novallas Bronze, line 2) Segośśoq(um) (Buenafuente)
VAMVŚ (Novallas Bronze, line 4) Niśśic[um] (Almadrones)

ENIOROŚEI (Peñalba de Villastar, K.3.3., lines 1and 5)

Preśśo (Lara de los Infantes)

TRECAIAŚ (Peñalba de Villastar, K.3.3., line 3)

Preśśus (Salas de los Infantes)
+++ŚO (Peñalba de Villastar, K.3.14)  


Ś in Celtiberian and Latin Inscriptions.


You can read the paper here:

Simón Cornago, Ignacio y Jordán Cólera, C., “The Celtiberian S. A New Sign in (Paleo)Hispanic Epigraphy”, Tyche 33, 2018, pp. 183-205.