Michael Crawford: Language, geography, and economy in early Italy

Epigraphic Saturday, Cambridge, February 16th, 2008. 15:30.

Crawford presented some observations based on his research over the past six of compiling the Imagines Italicae corpus of Oscan, Umbrian, and Picene inscriptions. He began with the observation that while Roman colonies, even those established in Italic-speaking or Etruscan areas, invariably left epigraphy only in Latin, the native Oscans throughout the region where that language was spoken left large numbers of inscriptions in Oscan written in the national alphabet. Where there were exceptions to this pattern, there must be some political or cultural explanation.

In the settlement at Pontecagnano, for example, there are two major sanctuaries that both cease operation around 300 BC (at least one of them is deliberately and ritually closed down), and Oscan inscriptions end around the same time. This was about the time that the Romans forcibly re-settled some tens of thousands of Picentes to this area, in order to do which they must have confiscated a huge amount of land from the locals. This great cultural and demographic shift must have changed the composition of the entire region, and may be the explanation for the sudden cease of all public writing in Oscan.

Similarly at Salerno there were a large number of Oscan inscriptions in the Etruscan alphabet, but this indiginous writings ends at the end of the third century with the foundation of the Roman colony. Public writing seems to be driven in large part by large cultural and political institutions (sanctuaries, mints, governmental decrees); the toppling of such institutions by Roman intervention can cause a radical shift writing style. Examination of this evidence allows us, Crawford argues, to reconstruct a geography of political and economic confiscations in early Italy.

For example, large amounts of land seem to have been confiscated by the Romans in Caudium, perhaps in an attempt to blot out the memory of the shameful defeat at the Caudine forks. At Cluviae there is almost no native epigraphy at all; while the land here is very poor, it seems that the Romans may have confiscated the land here purely out of vengeance for the locals’ defiance of them rather than due to any need for the land itself. In a valley further inland [name not caught by this blogger], a very fertile stretch of land seems to have been confiscated but not re-settled until much later (when Gracchan boundary stones appear in large numbers), perhaps with the aim of breaking up the politico-religious cultural structures in the region.

As usual, Crawford ended the paper with a puzzle, a question for the audience to deliberate upon. The city of Aequum Tuticum is, like many of those discussed above, lacking in native Oscan epigraphy. The name “Aequum” is a good Latin name, and clearly it was a Roman settlement; but “Tuticum” is pure Oscan (the Latin transliteration of Tuvtix “public”). How did a Roman colony with no evidence of native writing retain such a clearly Italic name?

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