Banco de datos de lenguas paleohispánicas

Onomastics: presentation



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This section deals with Hispanic onomastic testimonies which have come to us sometimes in the indigenous epigraphic documents, but more often through texts written in Latin. It is beyond all doubt that the data which provide us with proper names, whether of people (anthroponyms), divinity (theonyms) or place (toponyms), have implications in several disciplines, and constitute an important basis for the understanding of ancient languages.

First studies

The use of Onomastics as an auxiliary discipline for Linguistics, with the aim of getting a better idea of the linguistic situation in the Iberian Peninsula in Antiquity, has been varied and deserves some historiographical observations. The first important onomastic study, devoted specifically to the data provided by literary works, was that of Wilhelm von Humboldt, a great expert on classical sources, who in 1821 published a study of Hispanic names present in Greek and Latin authors.

In his Prüfung von Humboldt noticed some features which challenged the prevalent opinion that took Basque (=Iberian) to be the oldest and unique language of Hispania; specifically, the presence of names with an initial r-, such as the anthroponym Rectugenus, did not fit in well with the Iberian lexical patrimony. Besides this peculiarity he came across the fact that the formants in -briga of some toponyms (like Segobriga or Arcobriga) had parallels in other regions of Europe (such as in the Brigantes of Britannia and Germania). This allowed him to presume the existence of another linguistic layer besides that of Iberian in the peninsula, in particular a Celtic one, of which ancient sources were also aware.

Humboldt's heirs

Following Humboldt’s work, Emile Hübner became the great specialist in the epigraphy of the Iberian Peninsula and developed a systematic study not only of the Roman world, but also of the field of indigenous materials. Apart from the information on Latin epigraphy, which was published in the Hispanic volumes of the Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL II and CIL II Suppl.), Hübner specifically worked on indigenous materials in his Monumenta linguae Ibericae (MLI), in whose indexes one can retrieve information about anthroponyms, theonyms, geographical names, etc.

Later on, the linguist Hugo Schuchardt, who took over the baton of onomastic studies, identified the names of the horsemen mentioned in Turma Salluitana of the Ascoli Bronze, discovered in 1908, as coming from the Iberian region, and put forward the idea that this language was related to Basque. He was the first who interpreted the structure of the Iberian personal names as we understand them today.

However, Gómez Moreno must be credited with being the first to draw a map showing the distribution of Hispanic anthroponyms (1925), revealing the potential value of Onomastics to establish geographical areas showing the extension of a language.

Humboldt himself had already observed that toponyms which contained the element -briga appeared quite consistently in the central, northern and western areas of Hispania, and this distribution later led to the conclusion that those were Celtic-speaking areas, linguistically different to the Iberian area, where another kind of formant for place names, namely ili- / ilti- (as in Iliberri), predominated. The idea that the element -briga was a phonetic development particular to Celtic languages from the Proto-Indo-European root *bhrgh- illustrates another property of onomastics, which is the possibility of assigning lexical roots to a specific language or linguistic family according to some phonetic evolutions which are characteristic of that language or linguistic family.

We are indebted also to Gómez Moreno for his redefinition of a peninsular situation defined in terms of the opposition between “Celtic” and “Iberian Hispania” to a division in terms of “Indo-European” vs “non-Indo-European Hispania”. The later identification of new languages, like Lusitanian in the Indo-European Hispania (cf. Tovar 1985) or Vascon onomastics in the non-Indo-European area (cf. Michelena 1961), corroborated this new linguistic division of Hispania in ancient times.



The materials which Hübner brought to light (and those included in other publications such as the Ephemerides Epigraphicae or the Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia, which periodically took note of new developments) served as a basis for the pioneering work on peninsular anthroponymics. Partial studies by authors like Fidel Fita, Manuel Gómez Moreno and Antonio Tovar established the basis for what would be some more systematic results of onomastic studies, which began with the works of Jürgen Untermann and others, published in the mid-twentieth century. These works were basically Untermann’s Elementos, Manuel Palomar’s works for Lusitania and those of M. Lourdes Albertos for the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as a comparative study by José Rubio Alija on the distribution of the onomastic elements.

Each of these works had a different objective: while the work of the German scholar was primarily aimed at creating maps of anthroponymic dispersion (as the way to establish geographical areas in which a given language could have been used, see Untermann, Elementos, pp. 11-12), the Spanish school prioritised the etymological analysis of the documented forms (relying more on the potential of onomastics to assign lexical roots to a specific language). Over time, Albertos was able to pick up the baton of Hispanic onomastic study and unified both lines of onomastic research, accepting (see, for example, Albertos 1983) the importance of the notion of “anthroponymic landscape” which Untermann had developed.

Epigraphic discoveries continued to offer information and it soon became clear the need to have publications in which the new data should be offered to the scientific community. Hispania Antiqua Epigraphica, which provided a useful epigraphic repertoire model appeared first in 1950, but, unfortunately, did not continue beyond the late 1960s. In 1989 Hispania Epigraphica (HEp) gradually took over, and nowadays one can say that it has become established as a fundamental work in updating the Hispanic epigraphic panorama. These works were complemented by the extremely useful Année Épigraphique (AE) which, continuously since 1888, has reported new epigraphic findings from the whole Roman Empire.

In 1994, José Manuel Abascal published a repertoire of Hispanic onomastics in Latin epigraphy; his Nombres personales became the standard reference which included onomastic data from the CIL up to the latest publications, some of which were truly disperse.

The Indo-European world

Parallel to Abascal’s work, the Grupo Mérida undertook the study of the onomastics of Roman Lusitania, which resulted in the Atlas antroponímico de la Lusitania romana published in 2003. The participation, in these types of projects, of researchers from outside the world of Linguistics underlined the interest that Onomastics arouses in other disciplines related to Antiquity. Chapter 1 of this work, “La onomástica indígena”, by Gorrochategui and Vallejo, analyses the principal characteristics of Lusitanian onomastics on the basis of the cartographic distribution of names and elements.

These modern collections, which already integrated the advantages of computer tools in their elaboration, also suffered from some drawbacks; Abascal’s work did not take into consideration the names included in indigenous inscriptions, and the Atlas of the Grupo Mérida was limited to just the Roman province of Lusitania.

Subsequently, the Celtiberian materials collected in vol. IV of Untermann’s Monumenta linguarum Hispanicarum (MLH) or the work by Beltrán et alii 1996 complemented in part the indigenous data, and the whole collection of Indo-European epigraphy in Hispania was thus complete.

In 2005 José M. Vallejo published a linguistic study of indigenous onomastics in Roman Lusitania which, to some extent, updated the work by Palomar 1957; (the few) onomastic data in the Lusitanian epigraphy were also included here. On the basis of this work, which also utilised indigenous data external to Lusitania, a data base was conceived which would serve to elaborate the onomastic pages in the Hesperia Data Bank.

The non-Indo-European world

Given that the epigraphic selections in the Hesperia Data Bank seek to collect all the peninsular inscriptions, Iberian onomastics, which had been partially collected by Abascal 1994 when it was transmitted in the Latin epigraph, could not be overlooked. Due to our great ignorance of the Iberian language as well as to the peculiarities of its writing, the introductory model for the data and their congruence with the rest of peninsular onomastics implied a major challenge for the team. For this purpose, the work of Eduardo Orduña in creating the page model and the collaboration of Noemí Moncunill have been decisive.

Iberian onomastics had already received special attention by Untermann, who drew up a list of Iberian anthroponymic components (MLH III, § 7); more recently, Moncunill has studied the Iberian lexicon in his doctoral dissertation, from which she had extracted onomastic information, which she published in 2010. These two works have served as the main source of information for this data base, apart from other points of reference such as the contributions by Jesús Rodríguez Ramos.

The Vascon area, which has seen its corpus increase significantly, has its basic points of reference in works by Gorrochategui 2006, 2007 and 2009 and Fernández Palacios 2009, and the Turdetan region (detected by Gómez Moreno) has received special attention in the works by Javier de Hoz, e.g. de Hoz (2010a, 458-462).

The data in the base

In addition to the indigenous names we can find in Hispania in both Latin and non-Latin epigraphy (monetary, Iberian, Celtiberian, Lusitanian and Turdetan), this database includes literary names transmitted through Greek and Latin sources (basically contained in chapter 21 of Humboldt 1821), as well as the names of Hispanic people outside our borders which are given in the volumes of the CIL for the rest of the Empire.

Any updating of the data, whether as a correction of those already there or as the introduction of new items, will be in line with the same criteria which have facilitated their elaboration, that is, on the basis mainly of regular publications which, in a general way (HEp and AE) bring the peninsular epigraphic panorama up-to-date. We enjoy, moreover, the advantage that, for some issues now, HEp has included indigenous inscriptions in any of the Hispanic epigraphic scripts, so that any consultation is much simpler. The updating of peninsular indigenous epigraphy regularly published in “Chronicae” fashion by the journal Palaeohispanica is also worth noting here.

For the time being, we have not used any data from the so-called South Western inscriptions, which are too questionable in the current state of the research.

Anthroponimic map

When settlements in which we have attested indigenous anthroponyms in the Hesperia Data Bank are projected on a map of the Iberian Peninsula, we get quite a reliable idea of the quantity of inscriptions which we are working with and their geographical scope.

Despite all the partial maps which have been drawn up on the dispersion of names or families of names (cf. our basic reference, Untermann, Elementos), no map like that we offer here, which includes all the settlements with indigenous anthroponymic testimonies, has ever been elaborated.

As we noted, Onomastics can be used for different purposes. On the one hand, the analysis of the geographical dispersion of the languages, allows us to divide up the previous general map into several smaller areas and assign each of them some names which are only or mostly attested there. That way, we can situate in Celtiberia names like Segontius, Letondo, Rectugenus or Melmandus; in the western region, Tanginus, Sunua or Apana; in the Vascon area, Abisunhari, Abisunsonis or Vmmesahar; and in the Iberian region, bilostibaś, biuŕtaŕ or sakaŕiskeŕ. On the other, the possibility of proposing etymological hypotheses serves to highlight other features which characterise those names linguistically: the absence of p in Celtic forms, the absence of consonant clusters in the Iberian or Vascon world, the presence of the phonological trait of aspiration in the Vascon or Turdetan areas, etc. For instance, we can see one of these partial maps, namely the location of the supra-familial groups.



Hübner’s works also served as the first general collection of the names of divinities. The attention paid to these testimonies went beyond the merely linguistic, and attracted the interest of other disciplines such as Anthropology or the History of Religion.

The study of the names of peninsular divinities began with the pioneering work of José Leite de Vasconcelos at the start of the twentieth century, and received special and systematic attention in the later works of José M. Blázquez in Spain and José D’Encarnação and José Manuel Garcia in Portugal. This dividing up of the study by country (what has not occurred to the same extent in the field of anthroponymy) is a remarkable feature of the research in theonymy which, on some occasions, has prevented a comprenhensive consideration of the whole phenomenon.

In more recent times, we have works such as those by Blanca Prósper, Carlos Búa, Juan Carlos Olivares and the FERCAn project in the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

The map of theonyms

In a similar way to how we proceeded with anthroponymy, and with the same graphic and visual interest, we can obtain a map with all the settlements in which the name of a divinity is attested, according to the data which appear in the Hesperia Data Bank.

This peninsular theonymic map shows a less uniform dispersion than that of anthroponymy, especially in view of the massive presence of theonyms which can be observed in the areas of Lusitania and Gallaecia, on the one hand, and the almost total absence thereof in the Iberian area, on the other.

Other partial maps are also possible, and highlight, in the same way as happens with anthroponymy, the capacity of theonymy to aid Linguistics, insofar as smaller areas of theonym concentration can be established: in the West, with names like Reue, Bandue or Nabiae, or in Celtiberia, with Lugu. Likewise, some other features help to characterise the areas and, by extension, the languages spoken there: e.g., the presence of p- in the Lusitanian forms Paramaeco, Paeteaico or Palantico, or the aspiration in the Vascon forms Helasse or Larrahe, let alone the linguistic information which can be drawn from the preserved indigenous inflection in Lusitanian forms like Nemucelaicabo.



The Hesperia project includes, within its onomastic data base, a table we have termed “Anthroponymy and Theonymy (Corpus)”. In each of its nearly 5900 entries, this table includes data of one individual whose onomastic sequence includes an indigenous name, whether in the form of an idionym, filiation or supra-familial unity. These entries include 7000 name occurrences, since the oldest Iberian texts until the latest Latin inscriptions of the Late Roman Empire. All anthroponyms of Latin, Greek, Celtiberian, Iberian, Turdetan and Lusitanian inscriptions are included. Also included are literary names transmitted through Greco-Latin sources, and the names of individuals found outside the peninsula which point to a Hispanic origin.

The “Onomastics sequence” field includes the names in the way they appear in the inscription, and this makes the relationship established between these distinct elements evident. The non-Latin writing has been transliterated according to the most widely accepted standard, i.e. the transcription seen in the epigraphic section of the BDHesp, to which we refer for any doubt that may arise about Hispanic scripts. For regions whose epigraphy is still not available in the BDHesp (Southern Iberian, Turdetan or Greco-Iberian), we have followed the transliterations in MLH III. In the same way as in the epigraphic section, the so-called dual system of scripts is marked with an accent over the vowel in those syllabograms which are hypercharacterised.

The subsequent fields of the onomastic entry serve to the purpose of establishing the function of each of the elements in the formula, which does not, however, affect its study and linguistic consideration: the “Nomen” field offers the nominative case of the indigenous forms which function like nomen gentilicium in the onomastic forms of tria nomina (or duo nomina in later inscriptions). Evidently, the Latin elements of the onomastic formula are also given when the individual presents some indigenous element (for example, P. Iulius G. f. Gal. Tanginus). The “Cognomen / single name” field includes the names which in the Roman onomastic formula appear as cognomina and the idionyms which in indigenous models identify the individual and therefore have a more or less equivalent function to those. The section for “Filiation” includes the name of the father or the mother and, although it appears in genitive in the inscriptions, it has been lemmatised in nominative case, in spite of some problematic forms which bear the ending -i, which according to Latin epigraphic practice correspond to nominatives in both -us and -ius. In the same way as in previous fields, Latin filiations are also included when they accompany indigenous names (e.g., Tanginus Capitonis f.). The “Suprafamilial Unity” field is the only one that does not modify the case in which the name is attested, be it (most often) the genitive plural, the nominative plural, or other cases in singular which agree with the idionym.

The “Theonym” field, which includes the names of indigenous divinities, whether associated with an individual or not, appears immediately below the “Onomastics sequence”; in this manner, all Hispanic names of divinities are included, whether in local or Latin inscriptions. They add up to just over 700 entries, which firstly give the form of the divinity in the grammatical case in which it is documented, generally in the dative (e.g. Bandue), followed by the sequence of letters preserved in the inscription (e.g. Ba[n]due); the intention is to favour searches and facilitate the ordering of names. When two or more individuals appear in an inscription as offerers of one single divinity, the name of this has been repeated on the different pages, but only on one is it an ordinary reference; on the others the theonym has been included in angle parentheses (< >) in order to express what should be eliminated as far as the calculation of attestations is concerned.

A small field for “Observations” serves to include additional epigraphic and philological information in each entry. Meanwhile, each of the pages adds the most up-to-date bibliographical reference possible, geographical location data and a map which illustrates the exact origin of the name; in the case of individuals who, outside their place of origin, declare their origo, it is this that serves to establish geographical location.

Searches related to anthroponymy and theonymy can also be carried out according to different criteria, whether these are strictly onomastic or geographical. Thus, indigenous names can be searched for according to function in the onomastics sequence (in the fields “Nomen”, “Cognomen / single name”, “Filiation”, etc.), according to their distribution by settlement or province, in accordance with their bibliographical appearance, or as a combination of all the criteria. The most common syntaxes which facilitate some complex searches appear on the search page itself. The results of these searches can always be revealed on a map or in a PDF file.

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