The character of the Iapygian people, little capable of resistance, easily merging into other nationalities, agrees well with the hypothesis, to which their geographical position adds probability, that they were the oldest immigrants or the historical autochthones of Italy. There can be no doubt that all the primitive migrations of nations took place by land; especially such as were directed towards Italy, the coast of which was accessible by sea only to skilful sailors and on that account was still in Homer's time wholly unknown to the Hellenes. But if the earlier settlers came over the Apennines, then, as the geologist infers the origin of mountains from their stratification, the historical inquirer may hazard the conjecture that the stocks pushed furthest towards the south were the oldest inhabitants of Italy; and it is just at its extreme south-eastern verge that we meet with the Iapygian nation.


The middle of the peninsula was inhabited, as far back as trustworthy tradition reaches, by two peoples or rather two branches of the same people, whose position in the Indo-Germanic family admits of being determined with greater precision than that of the Iapygian nation. We may with propriety call this people the Italian, since upon it rests the historical significance of the peninsula. It is divided into the two branch-stocks of the Latins and the Umbrians; the latter including their southern offshoots, the Marsians and Samnites, and the colonies sent forth by the Samnites in historical times. The philological analysis of the idioms of these stocks has shown that they together constitute a link in the Indo-Germanic chain of languages, and that the epoch in which they still formed an unity is a comparatively late one. In their system of sounds there appears the peculiar spirant -f, in the use of which they agree with the Etruscans, but decidedly differ from all Hellenic and Helleno-barbaric races as well as from the Sanscrit itself. The aspirates, again, which are retained by the Greeks throughout, and the harsher of them also by the Etruscans, were originally foreign to the Italians, and are represented among them by one of their elements--either by the media, or by the breathing alone -f or -h. The finer spirants, -s, -w, -j, which the Greeks dispense with as much as possible, have been retained in the Italian languages almost unimpaired, and have been in some instances still further developed. The throwing back of the accent and the consequent destruction of terminations are common to the Italians with some Greek stocks and with the Etruscans; but among the Italians this was done to a greater extent than among the former, and to a lesser extent than among the latter. The excessive disorder of the terminations in the Umbrian certainly had no foundation in the original spirit of the language, but was a corruption of later date, which appeared in a similar although weaker tendency also at Rome. Accordingly in the Italian languages short vowels are regularly dropped in the final sound, long ones frequently: the concluding consonants, on the other hand, have been tenaciously retained in the Latin and still more so in the Samnite; while the Umbrian drops even these. In connection with this we find that the middle voice has left but slight traces in the Italian languages, and a peculiar passive formed by the addition of -r takes its place; and further that the majority of the tenses are formed by composition with the roots -es and -fu, while the richer terminational system of the Greeks along with the augment enables them in great part to dispense with auxiliary verbs. While the Italian languages, like the Aeolic dialect, gave up the dual, they retained universally the ablative which the Greeks lost, and in great part also the locative. The rigorous logic of the Italians appears to have taken offence at the splitting of the idea of plurality into that of duality and of multitude; while they have continued with much precision to express the relations of words by inflections. A feature peculiarly Italian, and unknown even to the Sanscrit, is the mode of imparting a substantive character to the verb by gerunds and supines,--a process carried out more completely here than in any other language.

Relation Of The Italians To The Greeks

These examples selected from a great abundance of analogous phenomena suffice to establish the individuality of the Italian stock as distinguished from the other members of the Indo-Germanic family, and at the same time show it to be linguistically the nearest relative, as it is geographically the next neighbour, of the Greek. The Greek and the Italian are brothers; the Celt, the German, and the Slavonian are their cousins. The essential unity of all the Italian as of all the Greek dialects and stocks must have dawned early and clearly on the consciousness of the two great nations themselves; for we find in the Roman language a very ancient word of enigmatical origin, -Graius-or -Graicus-, which is applied to every Greek, and in like manner amongst the Greeks the analogous appellation --Opikos-- which is applied to all the Latin and Samnite stocks known to the Greeks in earlier times, but never to the Iapygians or Etruscans.

Relation Of The Latins To The Umbro-Samnites

Among the languages of the Italian stock, again, the Latin stands in marked contrast with the Umbro-Samnite dialects. It is true that of these only two, the Umbrian and the Samnite or Oscan, are in some degree known to us, and these even in a manner extremely defective and uncertain. Of the rest some, such as the Marsian and the Volscian, have reached us in fragments too scanty to enable us to form any conception of their individual peculiarities or to classify the varieties of dialect themselves with certainty and precision, while others, like the Sabine, have, with the exception of a few traces preserved as dialectic peculiarities in provincial Latin, completely disappeared. A conjoint view, however, of the facts of language and of history leaves no doubt that all these dialects belonged to the Umbro-Samnite branch of the great Italian stock, and that this branch, although much more closely related to Latin than to Greek, was very decidedly distinct from the Latin. In the pronoun and other cases frequently the Samnite and Umbrian used -p where the Roman used -q, as -pis- for -quis-; just as languages otherwise closely related are found to differ; for instance, -p is peculiar to the Celtic in Brittany and Wales, -k to the Gaelic and Erse.

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