At Gubbio (Iguvium; see umbrians) were discovered, in 1444, seven bronze tablets of varying sizes (the largest measure 86 x 56.5 cm, or 33 x 22 inches, the smallest 40 x 28 cm or 16 x 12 inches), engraved on one or both sides with Umbrian texts, partly in the native alphabet (normally transcribed in bold), partly in the Latin alphabet. These are the famous Iguvine Tables. They range in date probably from c.200bce to the early 1st century bce and are the main source of our knowledge of Umbrian (see Sabellic languages).The texts contain the proceedings and liturgy of a brotherhood of priests, the frater atiersiur [Atiedian Brethren], not unlike the Roman arval brethren (see fratres arvales). The name is clearly to be linked with atiieřiate (dat. sg.), the name of one of the social groupings within Iguvine society; it had two subdivisions, which may correspond to two gentes mentioned in rituals as having sacrifices performed on their behalf (petruniaper natine, vuçiiaper natine).
Sabellic (or Sabellian) is the name given to a group of languages in ancient Italy, including Oscan and Umbrian, that belongs to the Italic branch of Indo-European (see italy, languages of for the use of “Italic” as a label for this group alone). An alternative name, still widely employed, is Osco-Umbrian, but the less cumbersome label Sabellic is increasingly to be found. It is based on what seems to have been the native term for the peoples of this linguistic community (see SABELLI): an element sab-/saf- may be recognized in such names as Samnium (Oscan safinim) and Sabini. (It is clear from recorded glosses and from personal names that the Sabini spoke a form of Sabellic, but there are virtually no inscriptions that can be assigned to them, apart from an unintelligible text on a vase from Poggio Sommavilla.) An older usage, still employed by some scholars, reserves the label Sabellic for the so-called minor dialects, such as Paelignian and Volscian.
Umbrian was the language of Sabellic populations in central Italy, including Umbria (see Umbrians) and neighbouring areas to the south that were occupied by the Volsci, Marsi, and Sabini. The bulk of scholarly knowledge of Umbrian comes from the Iguvine Tables (see fig. 1 and TABULAE IGUVINAE).The remaining material consists of about fifty mostly very short inscriptions from the 7th through the 1st centuries bce. A Volscian lex sacra of several lines, found at Velletri but probably stemming from elsewhere, is also noteworthy, as is the extreme age of the so-called Paleo-Umbrian material mostly from the 7th century.Umbrian is distinguished from Oscan, probably its closest relative, by many phonological developments that have, in their aggregate, generally obscured the resemblance of its vocabulary to cognates elsewhere in Italic. Many consonant clusters were simplified; s was rhotacized to r both between vowels and, by the later period, also word-finally after a vowel; diphthongs were monophthongized; intervocalic d was rhotacized to a sound written rs or ř; and initial l- became v-.
There is no evidence for any form of writing in Italy before the arrival of Greek colonists in the 8th century bce. The Euboean alphabet brought by settlers at Pithecusae (mod. Ischia) and Cumae was borrowed by the Etruscans, who acted as intermediaries for the spread of writing throughout much of the peninsula. Only in southern regions adjacent to other Greek settlements was the Greek alphabet again borrowed directly, as in Lucania (for writing Oscan see Sabellic languages) and the Sallentine peninsula (with some modifications, for writing Messapian). Greek cities, of course, continued to write in the Greek alphabet throughout antiquity.An alphabet learnt as such (the theoretical alphabet) may contain more letters than are used in practice. So a number of 7th-century Etruscan abecedaria (written-out alphabets) adhere to the Greek model and include letters such as b, d, or o that are not found in texts: abcdevzhθiklmnsopśqrstuṡφχ.