SALAVS Lesson 1

Lesson 1 – Alphabets and Writing


In this lesson, we’ll look at the alphabets used to write Oscan. There are three main ones you need to know about.

Oscan alphabet

The first is variously called the Oscan alphabet, the National alphabet, the Native Oscan alphabet, or the Central Oscan alphabet. There are various problems with all these names, but they are all still in regular use. We’ll call it the Oscan alphabet here.

Here’s a basic drawing of the alphabet. In this diagram, the letters in brackets underneath show one set of possibilities for the sound values of the letters (using the IPA – n.b. [x] refers to a strong h sound, as in the ch Scottish loch or German Bach). The capital letter shows how we normally transcribe the letter.

Image result for oscan alphabet

Key features:

  • The Oscan alphabet was written right-to-left, which is why the letters look ‘reversed’ compared to the Roman alphabet.
  • It is based on the Etruscan alphabet, on which our Roman alphabet was also based – so there are some letters which will already seem very familiar.
  • We transcribe this alphabet using bold.

Things to watch out for:

  • The letters and are the ‘opposite’ to the Roman alphabet.
  • We don’t 100% know the sound values of all these letters – for example could be [w] or [v]. is probably more like [ts], but could also be [z].
  • ú and í are the newest letters of the Oscan alphabet, and the oldest inscriptions don’t have them. That’s why they are on the end of the sequence.
  • The three vowels i, í and form a continuum. We don’t know exactly what sound each letter represents, but we know that í was a sound between and e. (If you know French, you can approximate this with as difference between i, é and è. If this doesn’t help – don’t worry about it!)

Greek alphabet

In the south (mainly Lucania and Bruttium), Oscan was written using the Greek alphabet, plus a couple of extra characters. The Greek alphabet is written left-to-right.

If you don’t already know the Greek alphabet, you might like to learn this now too – but we’ll start out by using mainly Oscan alphabet inscriptions, so you can come back to this later if you want. Again, here are the characters, the approximate pronunciation and the usual transcription.

greek alphabet

Key features

  • The sigma (s) is usually similar to that found in Greek at this period – it is sometimes called a ‘lunate’ sigma, and looks like the Roman letter c.
  • The extra character for the [w] or [v] sound is the same as the Oscan alphabet v, above.
  • The extra character for [f] is probably an adaptation of the original 8, and usually looks like S or J. Very occasionally, [f] is written as θ instead (Greek theta).
  • There are some spelling rules about when to use epsilon vs. eta and omicron vs. omega – but don’t worry about these for now.
  • We transcribe Oscan inscriptions written in the Greek alphabet in Greek characters (usually all lower-case).

Roman alphabet

In some areas, and increasingly from the second century BCE onwards, Oscan was written using the Roman alphabet. This is probably self-explanatory.

We transcribe Oscan inscriptions written in the Roman alphabet in italics.


Can you write these Oscan words in the Oscan alphabet? (Remember to write right-to-left!)

  • fluusaí “to Flora (goddess of spring)”
  • úpsed “he put up, erected”
  • deded “he gave”
  • futír “daughter”
  • deíkum “to say”
  • deívaí “to the goddess”
  • herekleís “of Herakles”
  • aasaí “at the altar”


Can you transcribe the texts from these images? (Don’t worry about the vocab yet – just practice the letter shapes.)



Highlight below for the answer:




Highlight below for the answer:

mz . avdiis . klí .

dekis . seppiis . úpf .

kvaízstur . upsens .

(3) This one is a bit harder, because it is broken on one side. Watch out for the ligatured letters in the last line too – these are letters that are squished together so that they share some of their lines.


Highlight below for answer:

]puriís . ma

]vaísstur .


]ngin . aamanaffed


(4) And here’s a Greek one: can you transcribe this Oscan inscription in the Greek alphabet?


Highlight below for answer:

διοϝηι τιτιδιεσ 


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