History of Samnium and Samnites - Their government and the Gates Keepers

Dedication to victory
Dedication of a gift to victory by Pietrabbondante on bronze.


Many of nations had been able to produce and preserve advanced cultures even through a literature orally transmitted. However only what is left in writing renders possible the development of an economic society able to address the complexities of a civil life.
The language of the Samnites was called osco whose people preceded those living in the italian center-south. Such an idiom evolved from a type already existing in loco, shaped within the times by those people that made use of it and at last ending with the roman supremacy over the entire peninsula.
  Oscan pebble
River pebble with oscan engraved.
It became a self - contained language with its own strict rules of spelling and grammar, officially used throughout most of all Italy, a rather big area indeed. Around the IV century b.C. it expressed better than its latin's counterpart. This homogenous oscan idiom was universally accepted so that either the Samnites or the Lucanis and the Mamertinis, that propagated in the northern Sicily of grecian discendence, were able to understand it and communicate with. Generally speaking this language was similar to the latin's. Declination and conjugation were similar enough and generally, gender, sound and tenses were used in the same way. Same analogy in the syntax. However there was a difference in phonology, morphology and orthography.
The oscan - samnite alphabet, in its most developed form (III century b.C.), consists of 21 letters:

oscan - samnite alphabet

Vowels, originally only 4 (a, e, i, u), were taken then to 6 with the addition of two other letters, and , to indicate the sound intermediate between "i-e" for the first and between "o-u" for the second letter. These signs, in fact, occupying the last two positions in the alphabetical sequence, characterize the inscriptions not before the third century b.C.
Are possible bindings between two or more letters of a word, when the vertical strokes of the letters are to be in succession to each other:

The items that are in succession in the same line of writing are usually separated by a sign consisting of a point or two overlapping points.

Are commonly used abbreviations for first names, and more rarely on the surname, in personal names. They are also often abbreviated terms that indicate a public office (for
Frentani - Bronze weight

Frentani - Bronze weight shaped astragalus
with inscription Oscan.
example, M.T. was short for Meddix Tuticus).
Since the large usage it is relevant to acknowledge its own importance even though any reference left in writings was not found until 450 b.C. Only after the Campani's installation around the end of the V century, resulting in the greeks' influence, the Samnites started using written expressions. They utilized the etruscan alphabet adapting its phonetics and keeping the way to read and write from right to left, being able in this way to transform the oscan idiom in a written as well as a spoken expression.
The same etruscan alphabet was derived from the western greek farmers called Cuman's Calcidesi around the 650 century b.C. It was then that the Samnites started transacting official business in writing, for they drew treaties written upon animals' hides, or wrote on clay tablets or engraved words upon temple's stones.
Unfortunately we did not find any texts written in oscan except a few fragments and many token-proofs of roman writers and other literary men. We could find some written specimens on religious texts for instance the Tablet of Agnone, the Abellano Boundary Stone and the Tabula Bantina.
Proof of oscan literature however is found instead on the Fabulae Atellanae that became well known among the Romans. With the exception of certain findings in the roman theatre, showing how the satire was interpreted, nothing else has been found. By the same token we do not know of any samnium' writers, except for the testimony left by the roman historians. Authors like Gavius Ponzio and his father, both of political and military lineage, that were cited by Livius and some others. Yet nothing has been found of their writings.
The reason? The Romans destroyed everything of the people they hated so much !
  Stele oscan inscription - V secolo a.C.
Stele from Bellante
V century b.C.


Tile from Pietrabbondante - I century b.C.
IN OSCAN AND LATIN (I century b.C.)
(from Pietrabbondante)

Relevant to the cover of roof of Temple "B", impressed on raw tile:

hn. satties detfri
seganatted. plavtad
Latin: Herenneis Amica
signavit. qando
ponebamus. tegila

Oscan iscription: "Detfri, slave of Herennio Sattio, signed with her foot" or with her shoe (as a matter of fact there are two footprints of shoes in the tile).

Latin iscription: "Amica, slave of Herennio, signed when put the tiles" (to desiccate) - two footprints of shoes.



Graphemes of Oscan language







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History of Samnites and Samnium - Davide Monaco