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Liber Linteus

From Academic Kids

The Liber Linteus ("Linen Book") is a unique ancient document, being both the longest Etruscan text and the only linen book extant. It is over two thousand years old, and was preserved only due its being unwittingly used to wrap a mummy. The mummy and the manuscript are kept in a refrigerated room at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, Croatia.

Contents

Discovery

In 1848 Mihael Barić resigned his post as secretary in the Austro-Hungarian Royal Chancellery and embarked upon a tour of several countries, one of which was Egypt. While there, in 1849, he purchased the mummy of a young girl, and took it home with him to Vienna. Although Barić removed the linen wrappings, he never realised their importance. The mummy remained on display at his home until 1859, when he died.

The executors of Barić's estate donated the mummy to the National Museum in Zagreb. It was here that the German Egyptologist Heinrich Brugsch examined the wrappings and noticed a series of signs - the text of the Liber Linteus - though he did not know what he was looking at.

The wrappings were transported to Vienna in 1891, where Jacob Krall thoroughly examined and reassembled them. It was his work that established that these wrappings were a linen book written in Etruscan.

Structure

The book is laid out in twelve columns from right to left, each one representing a "page". Much of the first three columns is missing, and it is not known where the book begins. Closer to the end of the book the text is almost complete (there is a strip missing that runs the entire length of the book). By the end of the last page the cloth is blank and the selvage is intact, showing the definite end of the book.

There are 230 lines of text, with 1200 legible words. Black ink has been used for the main text, and red ink for lines and diacritics.

In use it would have been folded so that one page sat atop another like a codex, rather than being wound along like a scroll. Julius Caesar is said to have folded scrolls in similar accordion fashion while on campaigns.

Contents

Though the Etruscan language cannot be fully read, certain words can be picked out of the text to give us an indication of the subject matter. Both dates and the names of gods are found throughout the text, giving the impression that the book is a religious calendar. This view is strengthened by recurring words that, although untranslated, are surmised to have religious, liturgical or dedicatory meanings.

Such calendars are known from the Roman world, giving not only the dates of ceremonies and processions, but also the rituals and liturgies involved. There is even a collection of rituals in Latin (Libri Rituales) translated from the original Etruscan rites, like those in the Liber Linteus.

Origins

Certain local gods mentioned within the text allow the Liber Linteus's place of production to narrowed to a small area in the southeast of Tuscany near Lake Trasimeno. Four major Etruscan cities were in that area: modern day Arezzo, Perugia, Chiusi and Cortona. All of them would have had temples that could have both produced and used the Liber Linteus.

The age of the book is unknown, though a date of about 250 BCE is given due to the shape of the letters. It must have been made before use of the Etruscan language declined in opposition to Latin, as the cost involved would require temple patrons that yet spoke Etruscan.

The End

As the Etruscan tongue slowly died out the meaning of the Liber Linteus would have been forgotten: first as a text, and then as a sacred object. New calendars were written in Latin, and new customs would have prevailed. Perhaps the community who wrote it, like the language and the book itself, declined and fell into obscurity. For many years the book would have lain untouched, its owners considering it no more than a worthless anachronism.

To Egypt

In the first century BCE, the Roman Empire conquered Egypt. Like the Hellenes before them, Roman settlers embraced many aspects of Egyptian culture, including mummification. Such was the vogue of this burial practice in the first century CE that there was a widespread shortage of cloth. The price of cloth rose sharply, and corpses were wrapped in anything available (one has been found wrapped in a sail).

The community that owned the Liber Linteus would have taken this opportunity to make some money from their old junk, and we may yet thank them for it.

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