Thursday, May 18, 2006


I've already mentioned here how the Phoenician colony of Carthage has a Semitic etymology: "Qart-Hadasht, related to the Hebrew kirya hadasha קריה חדשה - 'new city'."

Well, Carthage had an older sister, the colony of Utica, also in modern Tunisia. It was settled about 300 years before Carthage, around 1100 B.C.E. A number of sites mention that just as Carthage means "new city", Utica means "ancient city". But unlike Carthage, no one conjectures as to the etymology. Well, that's what I'm here for.

There are two words for ancient or old in Hebrew which could have led to Utica. I supposed that the source could be either atik עתיק or vatik ותיק. But while atik appears in the Tanach, vatik only began to mean "veteran" in modern Hebrew. In its earliest sources (post-Biblical), it meant "straightforward, reliable".

I recognized Utica having grown up in Upstate New York - there's a town with the same name in the area. Many towns in Upstate New York have Greek origins - Troy, Syracuse, even Greece. But one other town actually sounds a lot like Utica - Ithaca, the home of Cornell University. And according to this site, one of the theories as to the origin of the name of the Greek Ithaca is "Utica". Cornell claims that it is "the first American university". That title is debatable, but the name of the hosting town may very well mean "ancient" in one of the most ancient languages on Earth.

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