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Linen Rose of Zagreb

Zagreb is unique for many things, and one of them is not really native to Croatian lands. It’s the significant Etruscan collection displayed at the Archaeological Museum. The collection actually consists of one single object! We had many ancient nations living in this area, we had Celts and Romans, but Etruscans weren’t one of them. In fact, if there wasn’t for a faraway visitor from distant past, Zagreb wouldn’t have had anything to do with them. 

Etruscan (or Tuschi) homeland was Tuscany, and Mediterranean Sea being their main trading area didn’t really point them our way. However, it seems they had a colony of some sort in Egypt, even practicing their own rites. And so happened that Fortuna (or maybe Etruscan goddess of destiny Northia) took Etruscan ritual book that was no longer of use, tore it apart, and wrapped it around a woman’s body. The lady has long been known as the Zagreb mummy and she is exhibited at the Archaeological museum. The ever-romantic citizens nicknamed her Ruzica (Rose). She lacks the briar part, but is indeed the Sleeping Beauty of Zagreb. Oh, you wouldn’t agree with the beauty part? We’ll see about that when you reach your 2000’s!

As for her wrappings… Well, a few decades after the mummy found its final resting place here in Zagreb, Jakob Krall, Vienna-based professor of Egyptology, decided to take a closer look at the bandages. And made a sensational discovery. What we have here is the only existing linen book that the world knows of. It’s also a very rare example of a codex (linen book with pages folded in accordion fashion, unlike scrolls). Plus, it’s the most comprehensive and longest known Etruscan text. It’s also the only manuscript and the only Etruscan book, since most of other known Etruscan texts (and there are about 10 000) are epigraphs. Isn’t that something?  

And how it ended up here in Zagreb? It’s a rather bizarre story if you ask me. Mr. Mihael Baric went to Egypt and all we got was this lousy mummy 🙂 Seriously, the man went on a journey to Egypt in 19th century, and returned home with a real mummy! He bought it and showed it off in his living room until his death. If you don’t think that’s weird, you probably won’t be surprised with the fact that the man went as far as to unwrap the mummy, and he displayed the bandages separately from the naked dead girl. Don’t judge the guy, if it wasn’t for his thing for the mummies, the linen book could have gone unnoticed. 

The body was also accompanied by an example of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, known as Papyrus Zagreb 602.  Based on the preserved part, it is concluded that the body belongs to wife of a priest of the god Khun. Her name is Nesi-Khons and she probably died in her 30s. That name is also in connection with a statue of prophetess of Hathor in the British museum. Still, the connection of the mummy and this document is not certain. Let’s also mention that she was buried with the cat and that makes her a witch, if not a prophetess, even in Western standards:)

Mihael the Perfectly Normal Guy with Great Taste for Souvenirs left the mummy and the wrappings to the predecessor of the Zagreb Archaeological museum in 1862. They put the poor girl on display, and also noticed the strange text on the bandages. It had first been supposed that the writings are some sort of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Afterwards it was even assumed that it was actually an Arabic translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. That name can come handy for our document indeed, since Etruscan deceased ones were often depicted with linen books.

Only in 1891 did Krall suggest that it was in fact Etruscan text. Ever since, Zagreb has been the sanctuary of  all etruscologists. The Etruscan collection of Archaeology museum consists of that sole exhibit, but it’s probably the most monumental Etruscan writing ever found. 

You’re probably wondering what the book says. Well, it’s a book of rites, a calendar with some instructions. The letters? Perfectly recognizable, not a mystery at all. Etruscans did write from right to left, but other than that, no peculiarities at all. It’s basically an ancestor of the Greek alphabet. So, what’s the book about then? No idea! Their long forgotten language has no similarities whatsoever to any other language. Some dig as far as into the paleolithic era in search for the source of Etruscan language, but the truth is, the scientist have still remained dazzled. 

It seems incredible that people have been trying to understand it for decades with no significant advancement. They’re actually writing essays and books about the fact that they don’t have a clue about the content of the book. They have numbers, some names of months and a god or two. The rest of the 340 cm wide 12 pages of the book is completely out of their reach. Feel free to join the quest of finding the meaning of the script.

Massimo Pallottino, sometimes known as the father of Etruscology, pointed out that the book is a direct proof of Etruscan literacy and knowledge, most of which we know of only thanks to the Romans. But it’s the Romans who did everything in their power to erase Etruscan footprints from Italy in the first place. Etruscan nation and their language died out in the era of the mighty Roman Empire. Their language was irreplaceable only for magical and prophetic rites, but eventually the time came to extinguish those practices too.

It seems like Etruscan gods work in mysterious way when they led this book to Zagreb and revealed it to scientists. But, what the book says remains a true mystery. The Etruscan language is yet to be understood. The Etruscan gods haven’t been out of their nation’s crypts and tombs since the Romans had buried them there. I wouldn’t count on any further help from them. They are known as a pretty vengeful set of gods and have always been very articulate about their signs. If you knew how to read those signs, you couldn’t go wrong. So, maybe bringing the book to Europe in the form of Egyptian mummy’s wrappings is just their way to say: 

”Hey, we know the secrets of Universe, but you decided to bury the memory of us and our people. And now, guess what? Our secrets are staying with us on this side of the river Styx, as does Rose. And they shall remain nothing more than a bunch of hieroglyphs for you.”


Hear about Rosie the mummy on our tour Zagrebarium, and find out more about some younger corpses on the ghosts and dragons tour😉