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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/September 1897/The Racial Geography of Europe: The Basques VIII



(Lowell Institute Lectures, 1896.)



THE Basques, or Euskaldunak, as they call themselves, on account of the primitive character of their institutions, but more particularly because of the archaic features of their language, have long attracted the attention of ethnologists. Few writers on European travel have been able to keep their hands off this interesting people. Owing to the difficulty of obtaining information from the original Basque sources, a wide range of speculation has been offered for cultivation. Interest for a long time mainly centered in the language; the physical characteristics were largely neglected. The last ten years have, however, witnessed a remarkable change in this respect. A series of brilliant investigations has been offered to science, based almost entirely upon the study of the living population. As a consequence, this people has within a decade emerged from the hazy domain of romance into the clear light of scientific knowledge. Much yet remains to be accomplished; but enough is definitely known to warrant many conclusions both as to their physical origin and ethnic affinities.[1] Thirty years ago estimates of the number of people speaking the Basque language or Euskara ran all the way from four to seven hundred thousand. Probability pointed to about a round half million, which has perhaps become six hundred thousand today; although large numbers have emigrated of recent years to South America, and the rate of increase in France, at least, is very slow. About four fifths of these are found in the Spanish provinces of Vizcaya (Biscay), Navarra, Guipuzcoa, and Alava,

PSM V50 D475 Languages and dialects surrounding Iberia.jpg

at the western extreme of the Pyrenean frontier and along the coast. (See map page 632.) The remainder occupy the southwestern third of the department of Basses-Pyrénées over the mountains in France. The whole territory covered is merely a spot on the European map. It is by quality, therefore, and not in virtue either of numbers or territorial extension, that these people merit our attention. In the preceding paper we aimed to

identify the oldest living population in Europe—a direct heritage from prehistoric times. We found it to lie about the city of Périgueux, shown on our map (page 632). Here, less than two hundred miles to the southwest, is probably the most primitive spoken language on the continent. Is there any connection discoverable between the two? Whence did they come? Why are they thus separated? Which of the two has migrated? Or have they each persisted in entire independence of the other? Or were they never united at all? Such are some of the pertinent questions which we have to answer.

These people derive a romantic interest from the persistency with which, both in France and Spain, they have maintained until the last decade their peculiar political organization; despite all attempts of the French and Spanish sovereigns through centuries to reduce them to submission. Their political institutions were ideally democratic, worthy of the enthusiasm bestowed by the "late Mr. Freeman upon the Swiss folk moot. In Vizcaya, for example, sovereignty was vested in a biennial assembly of chosen deputies, who sat on stone benches in the open air under an ancestral oak tree in the village of Guernica. This tree was the emblem of their liberties. A scion of the parent oak was always kept growing near by, in case the old tree should die. These Basques acknowledged no political sovereign; they insisted upon complete personal independence for every man; they were all absolutely equal before their own law; they upheld one another in exercising the right of self-defense against any outside authority, ecclesiastical, political, or other; they were entitled to bear arms at all times by law anywhere in Spain; they were free from all taxation save for their own local needs, and from all foreign military service: and in virtue of this liberty they were accorded throughout Spain the rank and privileges of hidalgos or noblemen.[2]

Along with these political privileges many of their social customs were equally unique. On the authority of Strabo, it was long asserted that the custom of the couvade existed among them—a practice common among primitive peoples, whereby on the birth of a child the father took to his bed as if in the pains of labor. This statement has never been substantiated in modern times; although the observance, found sporadically all over the earth, probably did at one time exist in parts of Europe. Diodorus Siculus asserted that it was practiced in Corsica at the beginning of the Christian era. There is no likelier spot for it to have survived in Europe than here in the Pyrenees; but it must be confessed that no direct proof of its existence can be found to-day, guide books to the contrary notwithstanding. The domestic institutions are remarkably primitive and well preserved.[3] Every man's house is indeed his castle. As Herbert puts it in his Review of the Political State of the Basque Provinces, speaking of Vizcaya: "No magistrate can violate that sanctuary; no execution can be put into it, nor can arms or horse be seized; he can not be arrested for debt or subjected to imprisonment without a previous summons to appear under the old oak of Guernica." The ties of blood are persistently upheld among all the Basques. The women enjoy equal rights before the law in many places. Customs vary from place to place, to be sure, and primitive characteristics are not always confined to the Basques alone. They are, however, well represented, on the whole. In some places the eldest daughter takes precedence over all the sons in inheritance, a possible relic of the matriarchal family which has disappeared elsewhere in Europe. It would be out of place to enlarge upon these social peculiarities in this place. It will be enough in passing to mention the once noted mystery plays, the folklore, the dances, the week consisting of but three days (as Webster asserts), and a host of other facts, each capable of inviting attention from the ethnological point of view. The only detail which it will repay us to elaborate is the language. To that we turn for a moment.

To the ordinary observer many peculiarities in the Basque language are at once apparent; x, y, and z seem to be unduly prominent—to play leading parts, in fact. There are more consonants alone, to say nothing of the vowels and double characters, than there are letters in our entire alphabet. For the linguist the differences from the European languages are of profound significance. The Basque conforms in its structure to but two other languages in all Europe, each of which is akin to the linguistic families of Asia and aboriginal America. It is formally like the Magyar or Hungarian; but this we know to be an immigrant from the East within historic times. It is also fashioned after the model of the speech of the Finns in Russia. These people are likewise quite foreign to western Europe; they are akin to tribes which connect them with the Asiatic hordes. The Basque alone of the trio is mysterious as to its origin; for it constitutes a linguistic island, surrounded completely by the normal population and languages of Europe.

In place of inflection, the Basque makes use largely of the so-called principle of agglutination. The different meanings are expressed by the compounding of several words into one, a device not unknown, to be sure, in Aryan tongues; but in the Basque this is carried much further. The verb habitually includes all pronouns, adverbs, and other allied parts of speech. The noun comprehends the prepositions and adjectives in a like manner. As an example of the terrific complexity possible as a result, Bladé gives fifty forms in the third person singular of the present indicative of the regular verb to give alone. Another classical example of the effect of such agglutination occurs in the Basque word meaning "the lower field of the high hill of Azpicuelta," which runs


This simple phrase is an even match for the Cherokee word instanced by Whitney:


meaning "they will by this time have come to the end of their (favorable) declaration to you and me." It justifies also the proverb among the French peasants that the devil studied the Basque language seven years and only learned two words. The problem is not rendered easier by the fact that very little Basque literature exists in the written form; that the pronunciation is peculiar; and that the language, being a spoken one, thereby varies from village to village. There are in the neighborhood of twenty-five distinct dialects in all. No wonder a certain traveler is said to have given up the study of it in despair, claiming that its words were all "written Solomon and pronounced Nebuchadnezzar."

Several features of this curious language psychologically denote a crudeness of intellectual power. The principle of abstraction or generalization is but slightly developed. The words have not become movable "type" or symbols, as the late Mr. Romanes expressed it. They are sounds for the expression of concrete ideas. Each word is intended for one specific object or concept. Thus there is said to be a lack of such simple generalized words as "tree" or "animal." There are complete vocabularies for each species of either, but none for the concept of tree or animal in the abstract. They can not express "sister" in general; it must be "sister of the man" or "sister of the woman." This is an unfailing characteristic of all undeveloped languages. It is paralleled by Spencer's instance of the Cherokee Indians, who have thirteen distinct words to signify the washing of as many different parts of the body, but none for the simple idea of "washing" by itself. The primitive mind finds it difficult to conceive of the act or attribute absolved from all connection with the material objects concerned. Perhaps this is why the verb in the Basque has to include so many other parts of speech. The Arabic language is similarly primitive. It has words for yellow, red, green, and other tints, but no term exists to express the idea of "color," apart from the substance of the thing on which, so to speak, the color lies.

A second primitive psychological characteristic of the Basque is found in the order of the words. These follow the natural sequence of ideas more closely than in European languages. The importance of the idea determines precedence. Thus, instead of saying "of the man," the Basque puts it "man, the, of." Nouns are derived from one another in this manner. From buru, head, comes buruk, "head-for-the," or bonnet.[4] Many of the words thus contain traces of their derivation, which have long since vanished from the Aryan. Sayce gives some good examples. Thus orzanz, thunder, comes from orz, cloud, and azanz, noise. The word for month is illabete, derived from illargi-bete, meaning "moon-full." The first of these two parts is again divisible into il, death, and argi, light. In this manner we can trace the process of reasoning which induced the combination in many more cases than in our own languages. We still have some, like twilight or hidalgo, which in Spanish signifies "son-of-somebody," a noble-man; but these are the exception.

Probably the most primitive element in the Basque is the verb, or the relative lack of it. It was long asserted that no such part of speech existed in it at all. This, strictly speaking, is not true. Most of the verbs are, however, really nouns: "to give" is in fact treated as if it were "donation" or the "act of giving." It is then declined quite like a noun, or varied to suit the circumstances. This is indeed truly primitive. Romanes has devoted much time to proving that the verb requires the highest power of abstraction of all our parts of speech. Certain it is that it is defective in most primitive languages, from the Chinese up. Its crudity in the Basque is undeniable evidence of high antiquity.

The archaic features of these Basque dialects in the days when language and race were synonymous terms led to all sorts of queer theories as to their origin and antiquity. Flavius Josephus set a pace in identifying the people as descendants of Tubal-Cain and his nephew Tarsis. In the middle ages they were traced to nearly all the biblical heroes. Such hypotheses, when comparative philology developed as a science, gave way to a number of others, connecting the Basques with every outlandish language and bankrupt people under the sun. Vogt and De Charency connected them directly with the American Indians, because of the similarity in the structure of their language. Then De Charency changed his mind and derived them from Asiatic sources. Sir William Betharn made them kin to the extinct Etruscans. Bory de Saint-Vincent proved that they were the sole survivors of the sunken continent of Atlantis; of the type of the now extinct Guanches of the Canary islands. Max Müller gives some evidence of similarity to the Lapps, the Finns, and the Bulgarians. Others said the ancient Egyptians were related to them. We have no space to mention more. Little by little opinion crystallized, especially among the historians, about the thesis upheld by Wilhelm von Humboldt, that the Basque was a survival of the ancient Celt-Iberian language of Spain; and that these people were the last remnants of the ancient inhabitants of that peninsula. Pictet was the only linguistic dissident from this view, holding that the Basques were of even greater antiquity; being in fact the prehistoric race type of Europe, antedating the Aryan influx altogether. So much, then, for the conclusions of the philologists. Not very satisfactory, to be sure!

It will be observed that all these theories rested upon the assumption that racial derivation could be traced by means of language. A prime difficulty soon presented itself. Some thirty years ago the Basque language was found to be drifting toward the north, despite the apparent immobility of the people themselves. It seemed to be losing ground rapidly in Spain, with no indication of doing so, rather the reverse, in France. Nor was this apparently a new development. Everything denoted that it had been going on for many years. The mode of proof is interesting as Broca used it. There are two independent sources of evidence. In the first instance the place names all over Navarra as far south as the Ebro River are of Basque origin; although the language, as our map shows, does not to-day extend nearly as far. This indicates that the Basque speech prevailed when the villages, the mountains, and the rivers were named. No such zone of place names lies outside the speech line in France, save in one canton, just over the Pyrenees. There the Basque place names extend out as far as the broad white line upon our sketch, shown more clearly perhaps upon our other maps. The inward bend of the curve of present speech at this place points to a retrogression of language. Everywhere else in France the division line of place names coincides very closely with that of speech.

No less important proof that Basque is losing ground in Spain but holding its own in France is at hand. Notice on the map that the Spanish language is to-day in use considerably within the Basque limit. In other words, there is an intermediate zone in Spain where both languages are understood and spoken by the peasants. This zone varies considerably in width. By the city of Plamplona there is a deep recess cut in the Basque. Castilian

PSM V51 D636 Cephalic index of the basque provinces.png

being the official language, and Plamplona the capital of the province, the people in its vicinity have been compelled to adopt this language. They have forgotten their native Basque tongue entirely. At Bilbao, also an official city, the Spanish is actively forcing its way in; although the Basque language has more persistently held its own along this side. All along the frontier in Spain the Basque is on the retreat, much of the movement having taken place since the sixteenth century. In France, on the other hand, the Basque tongue holds its own. The line of demarcation between the Basque and the Bearnais-French patois is clean and clear cut. There is no evidence of an invasion of territory by the outsider. This is equally true in respect to customs and folklore; so that the Basque frontier can be detected all along the line from village to village. The present boundary is of such a form that it denotes a complete equality of the two rival tongues. It has remained immovable for many generations.

The clearness of this frontier in France is interestingly illustrated by a bit of detail on the accompanying map. It concerns that loop which is roughly indicated upon the larger map just east of Bayonne. Here at the village of La Bastide-Clairence for generations has been a little tongue of Bearnais-French, penetrating deeply into Basque territory. The name of this town indicates a fortress, and another "Bastide" occurs in the tongue farther north. Broca inclines to the view that here was a bit of territory in which the French patois was so strongly intrenched that it held its own against the advancing Basque. It may have been a reconquest, to be sure. For us, the sharpness of frontier is the only point of concern, in contrast with the one in Spain. It is an undoubted instance of linguistic invasion toward the north.

Another difficulty, no less insuperable than the fact that their language was on the move in a quiescent population, lay in the PSM V51 D637 Basque french language boundary.pngDetail—Basque-French Boundary. way of the old assumptions that the Basques were pure and undefiled descendants of some very ancient people. Study of the head form precipitates us at once into it. No sooner did physical anthropologists take up the matter of Basque origins than they ran up against a pair of bars. Study of the cephalic index yielded highly discordant results. Those who, like Broca and Virchow, measured heads or skulls of the Basques in Spain, discovered a dolichocephalic type, with an index ranging about 79 on the living head. Equally positive were those like Pruner Bey, who investigated the head form on the French slopes of the Pyrenees, that the Basque was broad-headed. The indexes obtained in this latter case clustered about 83. The difference of four units and over was too great to ascribe to chance variation or to defective measurement. The champions of the broad heads, such as Retzius and Pruner Bey, affirmed an Asiatic origin, while their opponents, following Broca, as vehemently claimed that, whatever the Basques might be, they certainly were not Mongolian. They generally asserted an African origin for them. The often acrimonious

PSM V51 D638 French basque lower pyrenees.jpg
French Basque. Basses-Pyréées.

discussion has been settled finally by proof that both sets of observers were right after all. Strange as it may seem, the people on the two opposite slopes of the Pyrenees, both alike speaking the same peculiar language distinct from all others in Europe, were radically different in respect of this most fundamental racial characteristic. No proof of this, beyond a glance at our map of cephalic index, on page 620, is necessary. From preceding articles the broad heads in France, denoted by the dark tints, will be recognized as the extreme vanguard of the Alpine race of central Europe. Spain, on the other hand, is a stronghold of the long-headed Mediterranean type. Here we have the point of contact between the two. Let us not be confused by the light-shaded area about Dax. That is not truly Mediterranean. It need not bother us. Dr. Collignon identifies it as a remnant of the same prehistoric Cro-Magnon race, centering in Dordogne, which we described in our last paper.

Bearing in mind now that the crest of the Pyrenees runs along the political frontier, it seems as if, on the whole, the line of division between broad-headed and long-headed types lay at the northern base rather than along the summits of the mountains. This is indeed true. Apparent exceptions prove the rule; for where, in the heart of the Basque territory, the broad heads seem to penetrate to the Spanish frontier, there is the ancient pass of Roncesvaux, celebrated in history and literature. The broadheaded type would naturally have invaded here if at all. Everywhere else the long-headed type seems to prevail, not only on the Spanish slopes, but clear over to the foothills of the Pyrenees on the other side in France.[5]

If these facts be all true, what has become of our Basque physical type? Where are our philological theories of purity of racial representation? If the Basques are indeed an unmixed race, there must be one of these two types which is false. At first the anthropologists sought thus to reject one or the other, French or Spanish, for this reason. Then they laid aside their differences; they abandoned entirely the old theory of purity of descent. The Basque became for them the final complex product of a long series of ethnic crosses. Each of the conflicting characteristics was traced to some people, wherever found it mattered not. The type was compounded by a formula, as a druggist puts up a prescription. Bladé wrote in the light of such views. Canon Taylor,

PSM V51 D639 Spanish basques tolosa guipuzcoa.jpg
Spanish Basques. Tolosa, Guipuzeoa.

in his Origin of the Aryans, holds that the broad-headed French Basque is only a variation of the Alpine type which we have seen prevails in all the southwest of France, with a dash of Lapp blood. For him the Spanish Basque was, on the other hand, a subtype of the long-faced Iberian or Spanish narrow head. The result of the crossing of the two was to produce a peculiarity of physical feature which we shall shortly describe—namely, a broad head and a long, narrow face. Aranzadi, himself a Basque, assigns an equally mixed origin to his people. His view is that the Basque is Iberian at bottom, crossed with the Finn or Lapp, and finally touched by the Teuton.

Is there, after all, a Basque physical type corresponding to the Basque language? Enough has already been said to cast a shadow of doubt upon the assumption. Can it be that all which has been written about the Basque race is unwarranted by the facts? Let us examine a few portraits collected from both slopes of the Pyrenees. They appear on page 622 and the following pages. At once a peculiar characteristic is apparent in nearly every case. The face is very wide at the temples, so full as to appear almost swollen in this region. At the same time the chin is very long, pointed, and narrow, and the nose is high, long, and thin. The outline of the visage becomes almost triangular for this reason. This, with the eyes placed somewhat close together, or at least appearing so from the breadth of the temples, gives a countenance of peculiar cast. It resembles, perhaps, more than anything else the features of so-called infant prodigies, in which the frontal lobes of the brain have become overdeveloped. The contrast appears especially strong when we compare this Basque type of face with that of its neighbors. The people all about have very well-developed chins and regular oval features, in many cases becoming almost squarish, so heavily built is the lower jaw. A Basque may generally be detected instantly by this feature alone. The head is poised in a noticeable way, inclining forward, as if to balance the lack of chin by the weight of forehead. The carriage is always erect, a little stiff perhaps. This may be because burdens are habitually carried upon the head. On the whole, the aspect is a pleasant one, despite its peculiarities, the glance being direct and straightforward, the whole bearing agreeable yet resolute.

The peculiar triangular facial type we have described—characteristic both of Spanish long-headed or French brachycephalic Basques—has been mapped by Dr. Collignon for the north slope of the Pyrenees with great care. We have reproduced his map on this page. It is very suggestive. It shows a distinct center of distribution of the facial Basque wherein over half the population are characterized by it. Concentric circles of diminishing frequency lie about it, vanishing finally in the plains of Béarn and Gascogne. The most noticeable feature is the close correspondence of this distribution of a physical type with the linguistic boundary. It is exact, save in one canton, Aramitz, at the eastern end southeast of Mauléon. Here it will be remembered was the one spot in France where there was evidence in the place names of a retrogression of the Basque speech before the French. The light-dotted line shows the former boundary. It is the one French-speaking canton, with nearly a quarter of the population of the Basque facial type. The exception proves the rule. Some relation between language and racial type is proved beyond a doubt.

Another significant fact is illustrated by this map. It appears that instead of being refugees isolated in the recesses of the Pyrenees, the Basque physical type is really most frequent in the foothills and open plains along the base of the mountains.

PSM V51 D641 Relative frequency of basque facial types in france.png

In order to emphasize this point we have indicated the lay of the land upon our map by means of the five-hundred-meter contour line of elevation above the sea. It shows that in the Basque country the mountains are much narrower than farther to the east. The Pyrenees, in fact, dwindle away in height down to the seacoast. The only canton in the mountains proper with upward of half the population of the Basque facial type lies at the famous pass of Roncevaux. At this point the contour line sweeps far south, well toward the frontier. Of the three cantons with the maximum frequency of triangular faces among conscripts. Dr. Collignon found two and a half to be outside the mountains proper. The area of their extension is shaped like a fan, spreading out toward the plain of Béarn. The two wings of the fan are the cantons which form the core of the ethnic group. This region, Basse-Navarre, has always enjoyed a considerable political autonomy. Quite probably the ethnic segregation is due in part PSM V51 D642 Broad headed type like the bernais.jpgBroad-headed Type. Like the Bearnais. to this cause, as well as to the peculiarities of language. This fact that the Basques are not an ethnic remnant barely holding their own in the fastnesses of the Pyrenees, as is generally affirmed; but that they have politically and ethnically asserted themselves in the open fertile country, reverses their status entirely. It confirms an impression afforded by a study of their language that however it may be in Spain, these people are a positive factor in the population of France.

In reality we have here in the department of Basses-Pyrenees a complex ethnological phenomenon, the Basques constituting the middle one of three distinct strata of population lying on the north slope of the Pyrenees. Our map of cephalic index, on page 620, serves to illustrate this. The plains of Beam are occupied by the extreme western outpost of the broad-headed, round-faced

PSM V51 D642 French basque lower pyrenees.jpg
French Basque. Basses-Pyrenees.

Alpine type of central Europe. A portrait of one of these is given on this page. Then come the Basques proper, with their broad heads and triangular faces. These lie mainly along the foothills, although at Roncevaux extending back into the mountains proper. Behind them, in the recesses of the Pyrenees, is the third layer of population. These mountaineers are distinctly dolichocephalic. Conscripts with the characteristically narrow head, the long and smoothly oval face, are depicted in portraits on this same page. These last people are really Mediterranean in type, overflows from the true Iberian stock, which forms the bulk of the Spanish population. This ethnic segregation has probably been preserved because of the political independence of the people of the mountains during many generations. These three groups merge into one imperceptibly to the eye; but on analysis their differentiation from one another has now been clearly established. How has it come to pass that our Basques are thus left interposed between two neighboring populations so entirely distinct

PSM V51 D643 Mediterranean dolichocephalic types.jpg
Mediterranean Dolichocephalic Types. Pyrenees Mountains.

in respect of these important racial traits? Is it permissible to suppose that the intermediate zone in which the triangular face occurs most commonly is really peopled by a simple cross between the two ethnic types on either side? This would be similar to Canon Taylor's supposition that a brachycephalic parent stock determined the head form of the Basques, while the narrow lower face and chin was a heritage from a dolichocephalic long-visaged ancestry. Such disharmonic crania arise sometimes from crossing of the two types of head form, especially in Switzerland, where the Teutonic and Alpine races come into contact with one another. An objection to this theory of secondary origin by intermixture is close at hand. It is fatal to the assumption. It is an important fact that the Basques are relatively broader-headed than even the neighboring peasantry of Beam, and of course even more so than the long-headed Spanish population across the Pyrenees. Turning back to our map on page 620, this will appear. Of course, the Basques are not more extreme in this respect than the pure Alpine type; we mean that they rise in cephalic index above their immediate and adulterated Alpine neighbors in Béarn. This implies, of course, that they are at the same time far broader-headed than the Spanish Basques over the mountains. Thus we dispose at once of the explanation offered both by Canon Taylor and De Quatrefages for the broad-headedness of the French over the Spanish Basque. Taylor accounted for this marked difference between the people of the two opposite slopes of the Pyrenees on the supposition that in invading Béarn from Spain the Basques intermarried with the broad-headed Alpine stock there prevailing, and so deviated from their parent type. This fact that we have mentioned, that in France in their greatest purity the Basques are broader-headed than the Béarnais about them, proves beyond question that they are brachycephalic by birth and not by intermixture with their French neighbors. In Spain, on the other hand, the facial Basque, if we may use the term, is slightly broader-headed than his purely Spanish neighbor. Surrounded thus on all sides by people with longer and narrower heads, we are forced to the conclusion that this people is by nature of a broad headed race. An important corollary is that the pure Basque is to-day found in France and not in Spain, although they both speak the same language. This exactly reverses Taylor's theory. It is the Spanish Basque which is a cross-type—in other words, narrower-headed by four units than the French Basque because of intermixture with the dolichocephalic Spaniards. Those who are found here in Spain are probably stragglers; they have merged their physical identity in that of their Spanish neighbors. Their political autonomy on this south side of the mountains being less marked, the power of ethnic resistance vanished quickly as well.

Having disposed of the explanation of origin by intermixture, the only hypothesis tenable is that these Basques are immigrants that they are an intrusive people. Dr. Collignon's explanation—is so simple and agrees so well both with history and with anthropological facts that we give it as nearly as possible in his own words: During the Roman imperial rule a number of petty Iberian tribes, by virtue of the same tenacity which enables their descendants to enjoy political autonomy to this day, had preserved a similar independence south of the Pyrenees. Such were the Vardules, Caristes, Autrigons, and the Vascons (Basque—by no means physically identical with the Gascons, although derived from the same root word). These last occupied the upper course of the Ebro—that is to say, modern Navarra in Spain. The barbarian invasions ravished all Gaul with fire and sword. The Visigoths, controlling for a time the two slopes of the Pyrenees, were finally expelled from Aquitaine by the Franks, greater barbarians even than they. It is readily conceivable that these Visigoths about this time began to covet the rich territory of the Vascons over in Spain, especially the environs of Plamplona, which were of great strategic importance. History furnishes no details of the conflict, except that the Vascons were completely subjugated and partly driven into the Pyrenees. Here they speedily found their way over into Béarn in France, meeting no opposition since the country there had mainly been depopulated by constant wars. This occupation by the Vascons, according to PSM V51 D645 Spanish basque zamudio guipuzeoa.jpgSpanish Basque.
Zamudio, Guipuzeoa.
Gregory of Tours, took place in the year 587—that is to say, some time after the fall of the Roman Empire. The invasion was accelerated later through the pressure exerted by the Spaniards, fleeing before the Saracen conquerors in the south. Remnants of all the Spanish peoples took refuge at this time in the north. Impelled by this pressure from behind, the Vascons were driven out of the Pyrenees and still farther north into France, retaining their political autonomy under Prankish rule. Here they remained undisturbed by the Saracens, save by the single army of Abd-er-Rhaman. Hence on this northern side of the Pyrenees they have preserved their customs and physical characteristics intact, while in Spain intermixture has disturbed the racial type to a greater degree. The language alone has been better preserved south of the mountains because it was firmly fixed there before the Spanish refugees came in such numbers. Of our three layers of present population the dolichocephalic type in the fastnesses of the Pyrenees to-day represents the primitive possessors of Aquitaine. Here, driven to cover by the advancing wave of the Alpine stock on the north long before the fall of Rome, they have remained protected from disturbance by the later invaders from the south. The Vascons or Basques have simply passed through their territory, with eyes fixed upon the fertile plains of Aquitaine beyond. They spread out in two wings as soon as they were out of the mountains, as we have seen. In the course of time they have intermarried with the primitive population of the Pyrenees; and the latter have adopted the Basque language and customs: for they were penned in by them all along the base of the mountains and had no other option. This community of language and customs could not fail to encourage intermarriage; to the final end that to-day in the mountains the Basque is considerably crossed, as our map shows. In the plains, on the other hand, the line of demarcation of blood is as sharp as that of speech. Purity of type on this side was made possible by the political independence which Basse-Navarre has always enjoyed.

We have still to inquire as to the physical origin of this curious people. We have traced them back to Spain. Whence did they come into this country in the first place? Are they of African descent, following Broca's theory, or are they offshoots from Mongolian stock as Pruner Bey would have it? Or must we class them with the lost tribes of Israel? We already know the physical type of the prehistoric Cro-Magnon race. Let us compare it with our Vascons and test the theory of descent from it. The Basque head is disharmonic—that is, it is broad, while the face is extraordinarily narrow. This is in contravention of the general law that the face and the head usually participate alike in the relative proportions of breadth and length. Thus, as our portraits have shown, the broad-headed Alpine stock in Béarn has a round, short face; while the dolichocephalic population of the Pyrenees, lying behind the Basque, has a correspondingly long, oval visage. The Cro-Magnon race offers the only other example of a widespread disharmonic head in Europe. Are our Basques derived from this pure ethnic source? Curiously enough, these two cases of disharmonism so near to one another cross at right angles. In the Basque the head is broad and the face narrow; in the Cro-Magnon it is the head which is narrow while the face is broad. In view of this flat contradiction, the hypothesis of the Basque as a direct and pure descendant of the most primitive prehistoric population of Europe becomes completely untenable. Thus we dispose of one possible source for this people. We have already rejected those based upon intermixture. The broad head of our Basque with its narrow face is explained by De Aranzadi, himself a Basque, by the supposition of an admixture of Lapp blood to give the broad head with Iberian or Berber blood for the narrow face. Modern research is, however, inimical to such hasty assumptions of migrations across continents and over seas: for the inertia of simple societies is immense. Causes of variation nearer at home are regarded as more probable and potent, and there is none more powerful than social selection.

The difficulty of placing the Basque is solved by Dr. Collignon in a novel and yet simple way which has won favor already among anthropologists. It is of great significance for the student of sociology. His explanation for the Basque type is that it is a subspecies of the Mediterranean stock evolved by long-continued and complete isolation, and in-and-in breeding primarily engendered by peculiarity of language. The effects of heredity, aided perhaps by artificial selection, have generated local peculiarities and have developed them to an extreme. The objection to this derivation of the Basque from the Mediterranean stock which at once arises is that the latter is essentially dolichocephalic, while the Basques, as we have shown, are relatively broad-headed. It appears, however, that the Basque is broad-headed only at one spot, and that far forward near the temples. The cranium itself at its middle point is of only medium width and the length is only normal. The proportions, in fact, excluding the frontal region, are very much like those of the Mediterranean stock in Spain across the Pyrenees. They approach much nearer to them, in fact, than to the Alpine or broad-headed stock. It is thus only by its abnormal width at the temples that the cranium of the Basques may be classed as broad-headed. Dr. Collignon regards the type, therefore, a more or less a variation of the Mediterranean variety, accentuated in the isolation which this tribe has always enjoyed. It approaches in stature and in general proportions much nearer also to the Mediterranean than to the Alpine stock in France.

That the Basque facial type—that which is recognized as the essential characteristic of the people, both in France and Spain—is a result of artificial selection, is rendered probable by another bit of evidence. The Basques, especially in France where the type is least disturbed by ethnic intermixture as we have seen, are distinguishable from their Béarnais neighbors by reason of their relatively greater bodily height. This appears upon our map of stature on page 632. The lighter tints denoting taller statures are quite closely confined within the linguistic boundary. This is not due to any favorable influence of environment; for the Basque foothills are rather below the average in fertility. The case is not analogous to that of the tall populations of Gironde, farther to the north, light tinted upon the map. They, as we took occasion to point out in the preceding paper, are above the average either in Dordogne on the north or in Landes on the south. The contrasted tints show this clearly. These differences are in great measure due to the surpassing fertility of the valley of the Garonne, as compared with the sterile country upon either flank. No such material explanation is applicable to the Basque stature. Some other cause must be adduced. Ought not artificial selection, if indeed it once became operative in a given ethnic group, to work in this direction? Goodly stature is wide regarded as a type of beauty. We know that the Basques are proud of this trait. May they not have evolved it, or at least perpetuated it, by sexual choice perhaps? This, of course, is

PSM V51 D648 Statures of southwest france and spain.png

merely supposition on our part, but it seems to be worthy of mention.[6]

The development of a facial type peculiar to certain localities is by no means a rare phenomenon. We shall have occasion to call attention to it later in other portions of Europe, particularly where isolation prevails. The form of the nose, the proportions of the face, nay at times the expression, seem to be localized and strongly characteristic. It is easy to conceive of an artificial selection in an isolated society whereby choice should be exercised in accordance with certain standards of beauty which had become generally accepted in that locality. It is merely an illustration of what Giddings, in his Principles of Sociology, aptly terms a recognition of "consciousness of kind"; or as Dr. Beddoe puts it, of "fashion operating through conjugal selection." An example of the effect of selection of this kind in producing strongly individual types is offered by the Jews. They as a race vary greatly in the proportions of the head; and in color of eyes and hair to a lesser degree. Nevertheless, despite all variations in these characteristics the prominent facial features remain always the same. The first, being inconspicuous traits, are allowed to run their natural course; the latter are seized upon and accentuated through the operation of sexual preference for that which has become generally recognized either as beautiful or ethnically individual.

In the attempt to justify this interesting sociological explanation for the peculiarities of the Basques, causing them to differ

PSM V51 D649 French basques lower pyrenees.jpg
French Basque. Basses-Pyrénées.

from their parent Mediterranean stock, several corroborative facts have come to light. Certain customs among the peasants seem to imply a recognition of their facial individuality. These all tend to accentuate the peculiarities which have now apparently become hereditary among them. The chin is almost invariably shaven in the adults, with the effect of exaggerating its long and pointed formation. More conclusive still, it is said that in early manhood side whiskers are often grown upon the broadest part of the cheeks. This would obviously serve still more to exaggerate the peculiar form which the face naturally possesses. A neighboring people, the Andalusians, differ in their way of adorning the face in such wise as to heighten the contrast between themselves and the Basques. Among them chin whiskers are grown, which serve to broaden their already rounded chins and to distinguish them markedly from the pointed-chinned Basques. All this fits in perfectly with much of the evidence brought forward by Westermarck, in his History of Human Marriage, serving to show that the fashions in adornment which prevail among various peoples are largely determined by the physical characteristics which they naturally possess. Thus the North American aborigines, having a skin somewhat tinged with a reddish hue, ornament themselves almost entirely with red pigment, heightening still more their natural characteristics. Among the negroes a similar fact has been observed, in each case the attempt being to outdo Nature.

Is it not permissible to suppose that here the same process has been at work gradually remolding the physical type? A far-reaching and bold hypothesis this, to be sure. It would have less probability in its favor did we not observe in modern society many phenomena of fashion and custom closely akin to it in their immediate effects. We have but to suppose a fashion arising by chance, or perhaps suggested by some casual variation in a local hero or prominent family. This fashion we may conceive to crystallize into customary observance, until finally through generations it becomes veritably bred in the bone and part of the flesh of an entire community, A primary requisite is isolation—material, social, political, linguistic, and at last ethnic. No other population in Europe ever enjoyed all of these more than the Basques. If such a phenomenon could ever come to pass, no more favorable place to seek its realization could be found than here in this uttermost part of Europe.


Defending the use of scientific terminology in scientific books, a reviewer in The Athenæum maintains that "those most interested soon become familiar with the meaning of terms, and, experiencing their convenience, adopt them. It is only those who have no real knowledge or interest in the subject who refuse to read a book because they have not mastered the alphabet. We do not think it possible that anybody who would take the trouble to master the structure of half a dozen plant types could remain in ignorance of a considerable amount of terminology, or could express, himself rationally without it if he tried."
  1. The best modern authorities on the Basques are Broca, Sur l'origine et la répartition de la langue Basque. Revue d'Anthropologie, series i, iv, 1875, pp. 1-53; R. Collignon, Anthropologie du sud-ouest de la France, Mémoires de la Société d'Anthropologie, series ill, i, 1895, fasc. 4; De Aranzadi y Unamuno, El Pueblo Euskalduna, San Sebastian 1889; Hoyos Sainz and De Aranzadi, Un Avance à la antropologia de España, Madrid, 1892; Oloriz Distribucion geográfica del indice cefálieo en España, Madrid, 1894; and ibid., La talla umana en España, Madrid, 1896. Dr. De Aranzadi has also published interesting material in the Basque journal, Euskal-Erria, vol. xxxv, 1896, entitled Consideraciones acerca dc la raza Basca. For ethnography the older standard work is by T. F. Bladé, Étude sur l'origine des Basques, Paris, 1869. The works of Webster, Dawklns, Monteiro, and others are of course superseded by the recent and brilliant studies above outlined.
  2. For an account of these political rights, see W.T. Strong, The Fueros of Northern Spain, in Political Science Quarterly, New York, vol. viii, 1893, pp. 317-334.
  3. E. Cordier. De l'Organisation de la Famille chez les Basques. Complete references in detail by authors will be found in a Bibliography of the Ethno-Geography of Europe shortly to be published in Bulletins of the Boston Public Library.
  4. Good details on the structure of Basque are given by Pruner Bay in Bulletins de la Société d'Anthropologie, 1867 pp. 39-71. Bladé, cited above, also describes fully. Jules Vinson is the best modern authority. Vide his Le verbe Basque in recent volumes of the Revue de Linguistique-et de Philologie Comparée, Paris.
  5. The general limits of the mountainous country are shown by the five-hundred-meter contour line on our subsequent map on page 625.
  6. The apparently contradictory low stature in Spanish Navarra need not disturb us. No attempt was made by Oloriz to differentiate the Basque half of the province from the other. Hence the figures obtained are truly characteristic of neither. The data are defective for all Spain, as compared with the detailed researches of Collignon upon the French side.