1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sabini

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SABINI, an ancient tribe of Italy, which was more closely in touch with the Romans from the earliest recorded period than any other Italic people. They dwelt in the mountainous country east of the Tiber, and north of the districts inhabited by the Latins and the Aequians in the heart of the Central Apennines. Their boundary, between the southern portion of the Umbrians on the north-west, and of the Picentines on the north-east, was probably not very closely determined. The traditions connect them closely with the beginning of Rome, and with a large number of its early institutions, such as the worship of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus, and the patrician form of marriage (confarreatio).

Of their language as distinct from that of the Latins no articulate memorial has survived, but we have a large number of single words attributed to them by Latin writers, among which such forms as (1) fircus, Lat. hircus; (2) ausum, Lat. aurum; (3) nouensiles, Lat. nouensides ("gods of the nine seats"); (4) the river name Farfarus, beside pure Lat. Fabaris (Servius, ad Aen. vii. 715); and (5) the traditional name of the Sabine king, Numa Pompilius (contrasted with Lat. Quinctilius), indicate clearly certain peculiarities in Sabine phonology: namely, (1) the representation of the Indo-European palatal aspirate gh by f instead of Lat. h; (2) the retention of s between vowels; (3) the change of medial and initial d to l; (4) the retention of medial f which became in Latin b or d; and (5) the change of Ind.-Eur. q to p. Not less clear is the well attested tradition (e.g. Paul ex Fest. 327 M.) that the Sabines were the parent stock of the Samnites, and this is directly confirmed by the name which the Samnites apparently used for themselves, which, with a Latinized ending, would be Safini (see Samnites and the other articles there cited, dealing with the minor Samnite tribes).

It is one of the most important problems in ancient history to determine what was the ethnological relation of these tribes, whom we may call "Safine," to the people of Rome on the one hand, and the earlier stratum or strata of population in Italy on the other. Much light has been thrown on this group of questions in recent years both from linguistic and from archaeological sources. For the historical and archaeological evidence which connects the Sabines with the patricians of Rome, see Rome, Ancient History. The linguistic side of the matter may be conveniently dealt with here. From this point of view the question to be asked is what language did the Safines speak? Was it most nearly akin to Latin or to Oscan or again to Umbrian and Volscian?

A single monument of 5th- or 4th-century Safine would be of unique value; but in the absence of any such direct evidence we are thrown back on a few cardinal facts: (1) Festus, though he continually cites the Lingua Osca never spoke of Lingua Sabina, but simply of Sabini, and the same is practically true of Varro, who never refers to the language of the Sabines as a living speech, though he does imply (v. 66 and 74) that the dialect used in the district differed somewhat from urban Latin. The speech therefore of the Sabines by Varro's time had become too Latinized to give us more than scanty indications of what it had once been.

(2) The language of the Samnites was that which we now call Oscan (see Osca Lingua). (3) The evidence of the glosses and place-names already referred to confirms tradition by the resemblance which they show to the phonological characteristics of Oscan. On the other hand there are two or three forms called Sabine by Latin writers which do appear to show the sound q unchanged, especially the name of the Sabine god Quirinus, which seems to be at least indirectly connected with the name of the Sabine town Cures. We do not, however, know that the initial sound of this word was originally a Velar q, and Professor Ridgeway ("Who were the Romans," London, 1908, in Proceedings of the British Academy, iii. 19) rightly lays some stress on the fact that the name in Greek form is simply κυρῖνος (not κοιρῖνος: whereas Lat. Quintus is regularly transcribed κοίντος), and suggests that the initial sound may have been slightly modified so as to correspond with the pure Latin word quirites (spearmen). In one or two other examples of an apparent q in Safine names or glosses it is not difficult to show that the sound was originally a pure palatal followed by a suffixal u (e.g. tesqua, "desert places," probably for *ters-c-ua, cf. pas-c-ua, and Greek τερσα-ίνειν, Lat. terra, "dry land," from tersā), so that they would in fact offer no difficulty.

There is further an important piece of evidence which connects together all the Safine tribes and distinguishes them sharply, at least in the 5th and following centuries B.C., from the earlier strata of population in Italy. As this point arises in connexion with so many tribes it is desirable to offer the evidence for it here once for all. It rests upon the different character of the suffixes used by particular tribes and communities to form their ethnic name.

There are only six suffixes so used among the names of ancient Italy.[1] These suffixes are: -ulo-, -io-, -co-, -no-, -ti- (or -ati-), -ensi-.

1. The suffix -ulo- appears only in a few old names, Siculi, Rutuli, Appuli, Poediculi and * Vituli, which would have been the pure Latin form instead of Itali, which was taken over from the Grecized form Ίταλοι.

2. Excluding this small group, the frequency of the occurrence of these suffixes in ancient Italy is shown by the following table:

Table of Ethnic Suffixes in Ancient Italy
Dialectic Area. -IO-. -CO-. -NO-. -TI-. -ENSI-. Totals
Messapii 2 ... 16 ... 2 20
Peucetii 1 ... 15 ... 3 19
Daunii 1 ... 8 3 2 14
Bruttii 2 ... 11 2 4 19
Lucani 2 ... 13 3 2 20
Hirpini ... ... 33 1 2 36
Frentani ... ... 4 4 2 10
Samnites 1 (1) 5 4 3 13
Campani 3 (1) 43 5 3 54
Aurunci 1 2 (1) 2 ... 1 5
Volsci ... 1 29 10 1 42
Hernici 1 1 3 2 ... 6
Marsi 1 ... 3 4 1 9
Aequi ... ... 6 2 ... 9
Latini 4 1 (2) 44 8 20 77
Early Rome 2 ... 19 ... 6 27
Sabini ... ... 13 4 2 19
Etruria (including the Falisci) 5 2 34 9 20 70
Marrucini 1 (1) 2 1 ... 4
Paeligni ... ... 5 ... 2 7
Vestini ... ... 8 4 2 14
Piceni ... (1) 15 5 14 34
Umbri ... ... 23 35 15 73
Totals 27 7 (7) 354 106 107 601
The figures in brackets refer to the forms in -CINO-; see below.

3. The names in -io- seem to have been evenly distributed over the Italian area and not to mark any particular tribe or epoch.

4. The suffix -ensi- can be shown to have borne a political significance, that is to say, it was used by the Romans to form the names of the inhabitants of municipal towns, as for instance Foro-iulienses, the inhabitants of Forum Julii. There remain, therefore, the three suffixes -co-, -no-, and -ti-, and it will be seen from the table that the relative frequency of these suffixes in different dialect-areas varies very greatly. The suffix -no-, for example, has almost driven out any other in the district of the Hirpini, and it is greatly preponderant among the Campani, in the district of the Lucani, and among the Latini and Sabini themselves.

5. On the other hand, the -co- suffix, which is nowhere frequent, is practically confined to the central areas.

6. The -ti- suffix is comparatively frequent in the Volscian district and very frequent in the Umbrian; it is also fairly well represented in Latium and Etruria.

7. In the article Volsci it is shown that the addition of the -no- suffix is often a mark of the conquest of an original -co- folk by a Safine tribe. It is also fairly frequently added to names formed with the -ti- suffix: Ardea gave first Ardeates and then Ardeatini; the Picentes became Picentini, the Camertes Camertini; of such forms there are no fewer than 54.

8. The addition of the -ati- suffix to the -no- ethnicon, as in Iguvinates, is comparatively rare, and no doubt denotes the opposite process, namely, the absorption of a -no- tribe by a population to whom it was natural to use the suffix -ti-. The two opposite processes confirm the inference that both are due to some change of race, not merely to a change of custom in the same population in a later age; for in that case the change would have been in one direction only.

The assumption of the Safine origin of the -no- suffix is further confirmed by the practice of the Romans themselves. The folk of Latium after the Safine conquest were no longer Latiares but Latini; and over against the old name Quiritis was the new Populus Romanus. Just the same rough and ready nomenclature was applied to communities conquered on foreign soil; the Σπαρτιάται became Spartani, the Συρακόσιοι Syracusani, and the Άσιατικοί Asiani, and so on.

The assumption that Latin was properly the language of the Latian plain and of the Plebs at Rome, which the conquering patrician nobles learnt from their subjects, and substituted for their own kindred but different Safine idiom, renders easier to understand the borrowing of a number of words into Latin from some dialect (presumably Sabine) where the velars had been labialized; for example, the very common word bos, which in pure Latin should have been *vos. And in general it may be stated that the hypothesis of such an intermixture of forms from neighbouring dialects has been rendered in recent years far more credible by the striking evidence of such continual intermixture going on within quite modern periods of time afforded by the Atlas linguistique de la France, even in the portion which has already been published.

The conclusion, therefore, to which the evidence appears to lead us is that in, say, the 7th century, B.C., the Safines spoke a language not differing in any important particulars from that of the Samnites, generally known as Oscan; and that when this warlike tribe combined with the people of the Latian plain to found or fortify or enlarge the city of Rome, and at the end of the 6th century to drive out from it the Etruscans, who had in that century become its masters, they imposed upon the new community many of their own usages, especially within the sphere of politics, but in the end adopted the language of Latium henceforth known as lingua Latina, just as the Normans adopted the language of the conquered English.

The glosses and place-names of the ancient Sabine district are collected by R. S. Conway, the Italic Dialects (Cambridge, 1897), p. 351. For the history of the Sabine district see Mommsen, C.I.L. ix. p. 396; and Beloch, "Der italische Bund unter römischer Hegemonie" (Leipzig, 1880) and "La Conquista Romana della regione Sabina," in the Rivista di storia antica (1905), ix. p. 269. (R. S. C.)

  1. This statement with those which follow is based upon the collections of the place-names of ancient Italy, arranged according to their locality, by R. S. Conway in The Italic Dialects (Cambridge, 1897).