The History of Rome (Mommsen)/Book 1/Chapter 8



Umbro-Sabellian migration. The migration of the Umbrian stocks appears to have begun at a period later than that of the Latins. Like the Latin, it moved in a southerly direction, but it kept more in the centre of the peninsula, and towards the east coast. It is painful to speak of it; for our information regarding it comes to us like the sound of bells from a town that has been sunken in the sea. The Umbrian people extended, according to Herodotus, as far as the Alps, and it is not improbable that in very ancient times they occupied the whole of Northern Italy, to the point where the settlements of the Illyrian stocks began on the east, and those of the Ligurians on the west. As to the latter, there are traditions of their contests with the Umbrians, and we may perhaps draw an inference as to their extension in very early times towards the south from isolated names, such as that of the island of Ilva (Elba) compared with the Ligurian Ilvates. To this period of Umbrian greatness the evidently Italian names of the most ancient settlements in the valley of the Po, Hatria (black-town), and Spina (thorn town), probably owe their origin, as well as the numerous traces of Umbrians in Southern Etruria (such as the river Umbro, Camars the old name of Clusium, Castrum Amerinum). Such indications of an Italian population having preceded the Etruscan especially occur in the most southern portion of Etruria, the district between the Ciminian forest (below Viterbo) and the Tiber. In Falerii, the Etrurian town nearest to the frontier of Umbria and the Sabine country, according to the testimony of Strabo, a language was spoken different from the Etruscan, and recently inscriptions bearing out that statement have been brought to light there, the alphabet and language of which, while presenting points of contact with ruscan, exhibit a general resemblance to the Latin.[1] The local worship also presents traces of a Sabellian character; and a similar inference is suggested by the primitive relations subsisting in sacred as well as other matters between Cære and Rome. It is probable that the Etruscans seized those southern districts from the Umbrians at a period considerably subsequent to their occupation of the country on the north of the Ciminian forest, and that an Umbrian population maintained itself there even after the Tuscan conquest. In this fact we may probably discover the ultimate explanation of the surprising rapidity with which the southern portion of Etruria became Latinized, as compared with the tenacious retention of the Etruscan language and manners in northern Etruria, after the Roman conquest. That the Umbrians were after obstinate struggles driven back from the north and west into the narrow mountainous country between the two arms of the Apennines, which they subsequently held, is clearly indicated by the very fact of their geographical position, just as the position of the inhabitants of the Grisons and that of the Basques at the present day indicates the similar fate that has befallen them. Tradition also communicates information that the Tuscans deprived the Umbrians of three hundred towns; and, what is of more importance as evidence, in the national prayers of the Umbrian Iguvini, which we still possess, along with other stocks the Tuscans specially are cursed as public foes.

It was probably in consequence of this pressure exerted upon them from the north, that the Umbrians advanced towards the south, keeping in general upon the heights, because they found the plains already occupied by Latin stocks, but beyond doubt frequently making inroads and encroachments on the territory of the kindred race, and intermingling with them the more readily, that the distinction in language and habits could not have been at all so marked then as we find it afterwards. To the class of such inroads belongs the tradition of the entrance of the Reatini and Sabines into Latium and their contests with the Romans; similar phenomena were probably repeated all along the west coast. Upon the whole the Sabines maintained their footing in the mountains, as in the district bordering on Latium which has since been called by their name, and in the Volscian land; probably because the Latin population did not extend thither, or was less dense there, while on the other hand the well-peopled plains were better able to offer resistance to the invaders, although they were not in all cases able or desirous to prevent isolated bands from gaining a footing, such as the Tities and afterwards the Claudii in Rome (P. 46). In this way the stocks became mingled here and there, a state of things which serves to explain the numerous relations that subsisted between the Volscians and Latins, and how it happened that their district, as well as Sabina, afterwards became so speedily Latinized.

Samnites. The chief branch, however, of the Umbrian stock migrated eastward from. Sabina, into the mountains of the Abruzzi, and the adjacent hill-country to the south of them. Here, as on the west coast, they occupied mountainous districts, whose thinly scattered population gave way before the immigrants or submitted to their yoke; while in the plain along the Apulian coast the ancient native population, the Iapygians, upon the whole maintained their ground, although involved in constant feuds, in particular on the northern frontier about Luceria and Arpi. When these migrations took place cannot of course be determined; but it was probably about the period of the regal government in Rome. Tradition reports that the Sabines, pressed by the Umbrians, vowed a ver sacrum, that is, swore that they would give up and send beyond their bounds the sons and daughters born in the year of war, so soon as these should reach maturity, that the gods might at their pleasure destroy them or bestow upon them new abodes in other lands. One band was led by the ox of Mars; these were the Safini or Samnites, who in the first instance established themselves on the mountains adjoining the river Sagrus, and at a later period proceeded to occupy the beautiful plain on the east of the Matese chain, near the sources of the Tifernus. Both in their old and in their new territory they named their place of public assembly, which in the one case was situated near Agnone, in the other near Bojano, from the ox which led them, Bovianum. A second band was led by the woodpecker of Mars; these were the Picentes, "the woodpecker-people," who took possession of what is now the March of Ancona. A third band was led by the wolf (hirpus) into the region of Beneventum; these were the Hirpini. In a similar manner the other small tribes branched off from the common stock, the Prætuttii near Teramo; the Vestini about the Gran Sasso; the Marrucini near Chieti; the Frentani on the frontier of Apulia; the Pæligni about the Majella mountains; and lastly the Marsi about lake Fucinus, coming in contact with the Volscians and Latins. All of these tribes retained, as these legends clearly show, a vivid sense of their relationship and of their having come forth from the Sabine land. While the Umbrians succumbed in the unequal struggle, and the western offshoots of the same stock became amalgamated with the Latin or Hellenic population, the Sabellian tribes prospered in the seclusion of their distant mountain land, equally remote from collision with the Etruscans, the Latins, and the Greeks. There was little or no development of an urban life amongst them; their geographical position almost wholly precluded them from engaging in commercial intercourse, and the mountain-tops and strongholds sufficed for the necessities of defence, while the husbandmen continued to dwell in open hamlets or wherever each found the spring and the forest or pasture that he wished. In such circumstances their constitution remained stationary; like the similarly situated Arcadians in Greece, their communities never became incorporated into a single state; at the utmost they only formed confederacies more or less loosely connected. In the Abruzzi especially, the strict seclusion of the mountain valleys seems to have debarred the several cantons from intercourse either with each other or with the outer world. They maintained but little connection with each other, and persevered in a complete isolation from the rest of Italy; and in consequence, notwithstanding the bravery of their inhabitants, they exercised less influence than any other portion of the Italian nation on the development of the history of the Peninsula.

On the other hand the Samnite people decidedly exhibited the highest political development among the eastern Italian stock, as the Latin nation did among the western. From an early period, perhaps from its first immigration, a comparatively strong political bond held together the Samnite nation, and gave to it the strength which subsequently enabled it to contest with Rome on equal terms the supremacy of Italy. We are as ignorant of the time and manner of the formation of the league, as we are of its constitution; but it is clear that in Samnium no single community exercised a preponderating influence, and still less was there any town to serve as a central rallying point and bond of union for the Samnite stock, such as Rome was for the Latins. The strength of the land lay in its communes of husbandmen, and authority was vested in the assembly formed of their representatives. This assembly in case of need nominated a federal commander-in-chief. In consequence of such a constitution the policy of the confederacy was not aggressive like the Roman, but limited to the defence of its own bounds; only in an united state is power so concentrated and passion so strong, that the extension of territory can be systematically pursued. Accordingly the whole history of the two nations is prefigured in their diametrically opposite systems of colonization. Whatever the Romans gained, was a gain to the state: the conquests of the Samnites were achieved by bands of volunteers who went forth in search of plunder, and, whether they prospered or were unfortunate, were left to their own resources by their native home. The conquests, however, which the Samnites made on the coasts of the Tyrrhenian and Ionic seas, belong to a later age; during the regal period in Home they seem to have been only gaining possession of the settlements in which we afterwards find them. As a single incident in the series of movements among the neighbouring peoples caused by the Samnite settlement may be mentioned the surprise of Cumæ by Tyrrhenians from the Upper Sea, Umbrians, and Daunians in the year of the city 230 [524]. If we may give credit to the accounts of the matter, which bear certainly a considerable colouring of romance, it would appear that in this instance, as was often the case in such expeditions, the intruders and those whom they supplanted combined to form one army, the Etruscans joining with their Umbrian enemies, and these again joined by the Iapygians, whom the Umbrian settlers had driven towards the south. Nevertheless the undertaking proved a failure: on this occasion at least the superiority of the Greeks in the art of war, and the bravery of the tyrant Aristodemus succeeded in repelling the barbarian assault on the beautiful seaport.

  1. In the alphabet the r especially deserves notice, being of the Latin (R) and not of the Etruscan form (D), and also the z (𐌆); it can only be derived from the primitive Latin, and must very faithfully represent it. The language likewise has close affinity with the oldest Latin; Marci Acarcelini he cupa; i. e., Marcius Acarcelinius heic cubat: Menerva A. Cotena La f. . . zenatuo senten . . dedet cuando . . cuncaptum, i. e, Minervæ A(ulus?) Cotena La(rtis) f(ilius) de senatus sententia dedit quando (perhaps = olim) conceptum. At the same time with these and similar inscriptions there were found some other records in a different character and language, undoubtedly Etruscan.