Measuring and Writing

The art of measuring brings the world into subjection to man; the art of writing prevents his knowledge from perishing along with himself; together they make man—what nature has not made him—all-powerful and eternal. It is the privilege and duty of history to trace the course of national progress along these paths also.

Italian Measures

Measurement necessarily presupposes the development of the several ideas of units of time, of space, and of weight, and of a whole consisting of equal parts, or in other words of number and of a numeral system. The most obvious bases presented by nature for this purpose are, in reference to time, the periodic returns of the sun and moon, or the day and the month; in reference to space, the length of the human foot, which is more easily applied in measuring than the arm; in reference to gravity, the burden which a man is able to poise (-librare-) on his hand while he holds his arm stretched out, or the "weight" (-libra-). As a basis for the notion of a whole made up of equal parts, nothing so readily suggests itself as the hand with its five, or the hands with their ten, fingers; upon this rests the decimal system. We have already observed that these elements of all numeration and measuring reach back not merely beyond the separation of the Greek and Latin stocks, but even to the most remote primeval times. The antiquity in particular of the measurement of time by the moon is demonstrated by language;(1) even the mode of reckoning the days that elapse between the several phases of the moon, not forward from the phase on which it had entered last, but backward from that which was next to be expected, is at least older than the separation of the Greeks and Latins.

Decimal System

The most definite evidence of the antiquity and original exclusive use of the decimal system among the Indo-Germans is furnished by the well-known agreement of all Indo-Germanic languages in respect to the numerals as far as a hundred inclusive.(2) In the case of Italy the decimal system pervaded all the earliest arrangements: it may be sufficient to recall the number ten so usual in the case of witnesses, securities, envoys, and magistrates, the legal equivalence of one ox and ten sheep, the partition of the canton into ten curies and the pervading application generally of the decurial system, the -limitatio-, the tenth in offerings and in agriculture, decimation, and the praenomen -Decimus-. Among the applications of this most ancient decimal system in the sphere of measuring and of writing, the remarkable Italian ciphers claim a primary place. When the Greeks and Italians separated, there were still evidently no conventional signs of number. On the other hand we find the three oldest and most indispensable numerals, one, five, and ten, represented by three signs—I, V or /\, X, manifestly imitations of the outstretched finger, and the open hand single and double—which were not derived either from the Hellenes or the Phoenicians, but were common to the Romans, Sabellians, and Etruscans. They were the first steps towards the formation of a national Italian writing, and at the same time evidences of the liveliness of that earlier inland intercourse among the Italians which preceded their transmarine commerce.(3) Which of the Italian stocks invented, and which of them borrowed, these signs, can of course no longer be ascertained. Other traces of the pure decimal system occur but sparingly in this field; among them are the -versus-, the Sabellian measure of surface of 100 square feet,(4) and the Roman year of 10 months.

The Duodecimal System

Otherwise generally in the case of those Italian measures, which were not connected with Greek standards and were probably developed by the Italians before they came into contact with the Greeks, there prevailed the partition of the "whole" (-as-) into twelve "units" (-unciae-). The very earliest Latin priesthoods, the colleges of the Salii and Arvales,(5) as well as the leagues of the Etruscan cities, were organized on the basis of the number twelve. The same number predominated in the Roman system of weights and in the measures of length, where the pound (-libra-) and the foot (-pes-) were usually subdivided into twelve parts; the unit of the Roman measures of surface was the "driving" (-actus-) of 120 square feet, a combination of the decimal and duodecimal systems.(6) Similar arrangements as to the measures of capacity may have passed into oblivion.

If we inquire into the basis of the duodecimal system and consider how it can have happened that, in addition to ten, twelve should have been so early and universally singled out from the equal series of numbers, we shall probably be able to find no other source to which it can be referred than a comparison of the solar and lunar periods. Still more than the double hand of ten fingers did the solar cycle of nearly twelve lunar periods first suggest to man the profound conception of an unit composed of equal units, and thereby originate the idea of a system of numbers, the first step towards mathematical thought. The consistent duodecimal development of this idea appears to have belonged to the Italian nation, and to have preceded the first contact with the Greeks.

Hellenic Measures in Italy

But when at length the Hellenic trader had opened up the route to the west coast of Italy, the measures of surface remained unaffected, but the measures of length, of weight, and above all of capacity—in other words those definite standards without which barter and traffic are impossible—experienced the effects of the new international intercourse. The oldest Roman foot has disappeared; that which we know, and which was in use at a very early period among the Romans, was borrowed from Greece, and was, in addition to its new Roman subdivision into twelfths, divided after the Greek fashion into four hand-breadths (-palmus-) and sixteen finger-breadths (-digitus-). Further, the Roman weights were brought into a fixed proportional relation to the Attic system, which prevailed throughout Sicily but not in Cumae—another significant proof that the Latin traffic was chiefly directed to the island; four Roman pounds were assumed as equal to three Attic -minae-, or rather the Roman pound was assumed as equal to one and a half of the Sicilian -litrae- or half-minae.(7) But the most singular and chequered aspect is presented by the Roman measures of capacity, as regards both their names and their proportions. Their names have come from the Greek terms either by corruption (-amphora-, -modius- after —medimnos—, -congius- from —choeus—, -hemina-, -cyathus-) or by translation (-acetabulum-from —ozubaphon—); while conversely —zesteis— is a corruption of -sextarius-. All the measures are not identical, but those in most common use are so; among liquid measures the -congius- or -chus-, the -sextarius-, and the -cyathus-, the two last also for dry goods; the Roman -amphora- was equalized in water-weight to the Attic talent, and at the same time stood to the Greek —metretes— in the fixed ratio of 3:2, and to the Greek —medimnos— of 2:1. To one who can decipher the significance of such records, these names and numerical proportions fully reveal the activity and importance of the intercourse between the Sicilians and the Latins. The Greek numeral signs were not adopted; but the Roman probably availed himself of the Greek alphabet, when it reached him, to form ciphers for 50 and 1000, perhaps also for 100, out of the signs for the three aspirated letters which he had no use for. In Etruria the sign for 100 at least appears to have been obtained in a similar way. Afterwards, as usually happens, the systems of notation among the two neighbouring nations became assimilated by the adoption in substance of the Roman system in Etruria.

The Italian Calendar before the Period of Greek Influence in Italy

In like manner the Roman calendar—and probably that of the Italians generally—began with an independent development of its own, but subsequently came under the influence of the Greeks. In the division of time the returns of sunrise and sunset, and of the new and full moon, most directly arrest the attention of man; and accordingly the day and the month, determined not by cyclic calculation but by direct observation, were long the exclusive measures of time. Down to a late age sunrise and sunset were proclaimed in the Roman market-place by the public crier, and in like manner it may be presumed that in earlier times, at each of the four phases of the moon, the number of days that would elapse from that phase until the next was proclaimed by the priests. The mode of reckoning therefore in Latium—and the like mode, it may be presumed, was in use not merely among the Sabellians, but also among the Etruscans—was by days, which, as already mentioned, were counted not forward from the phase that had last occurred, but backward from that which was next expected; by lunar weeks, which varied in length between 7 and 8 days, the average length being 7 3/8; and by lunar months which in like manner were sometimes of 29, sometimes of 30 days, the average duration of the synodical month being 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes. For some time the day continued to be among the Italians the smallest, and the month the largest, division of time. It was not until afterwards that they began to distribute day and night respectively into four portions, and it was much later still when they began to employ the division into hours; which explains why even stocks otherwise closely related differed in their mode of fixing the commencement of day, the Romans placing it at midnight, the Sabellians and the Etruscans at noon. No calendar of the year had, at least when the Greeks separated from the Italians, as yet been organized, for the names for the year and its divisions in the two languages have been formed quite independently of each other. Nevertheless the Italians appear to have already in the pre-Hellenic period advanced, if not to the arrangement of a fixed calendar, at any rate to the institution of two larger units of time. The simplifying of the reckoning according to lunar months by the application of the decimal system, which was usual among the Romans, and the designation of a term of ten months as a "ring" (-annus-) or complete year, bear in them all the traces of a high antiquity. Later, but still at a period very early and undoubtedly previous to the operation of Greek influences, the duodecimal system (as we have already stated) was developed in Italy, and, as it derived its very origin from the observation of the fact that the solar period was equal to twelve lunar periods, it was certainly applied in the first instance to the reckoning of time. This view accords with the fact that the individual names of the months—which can only have originated after the month was viewed as part of a solar year—particularly those of March and of May, were similar among the different branches of the Italian stock, while there was no similarity between the Italian names and the Greek. It is not improbable therefore that the problem of laying down a practical calendar which should correspond at once to the moon and the sun—a problem which may be compared in some sense to the quadrature of the circle, and the solution of which was only recognized as impossible and abandoned after the lapse of many centuries—had already employed the minds of men in Italy before the epoch at which their contact with the Greeks began; these purely national attempts to solve it, however, have passed into oblivion.

The Oldest Italo-Greek Calendar

What we know of the oldest calendar of Rome and of some other Latin cities—as to the Sabellian and Etruscan measurement of time we have no traditional information—is decidedly based on the oldest Greek arrangement of the year, which was intended to answer both to the phases of the moon and to the seasons of the solar year, constructed on the assumption of a lunar period of 29 1/2 days and a solar period of 12 1/2 lunar months or 368 3/4 days, and on the regular alternation of a full month or month of thirty days with a hollow month or month of twenty-nine days and of a year of twelve with a year of thirteen months, but at the same time maintained in some sort of harmony with the actual celestial phenomena by arbitrary curtailments and intercalations. It is possible that this Greek arrangement of the year in the first instance came into use among the Latins without undergoing any alteration; but the oldest form of the Roman year which can be historically recognized varied from its model, not indeed in the cyclical result nor yet in the alternation of years of twelve with years of thirteen months, but materially in the designation and in the measuring off of the individual months. The Roman year began with the beginning of spring; the first month in it and the only one which bears the name of a god, was named from Mars (-Martius-), the three following from sprouting (-aprilis-) growing (-maius-), and thriving (-iunius-), the fifth onward to the tenth from their ordinal numbers (-quinctilis-, -sextilis-, -september-, -october-, -november-, -december), the eleventh from commencing (-ianuarius-),(8) with reference presumably to the renewal of agricultural operations that followed midwinter and the season of rest, the twelfth, and in an ordinary year the last, from cleansing (-februarius-). To this series recurring in regular succession there was added in the intercalary year a nameless "labour-month" (-mercedonius-) at the close of the year, viz. after February. And, as the Roman calendar was independent as respected the names of the months which were probably taken from the old national ones, it was also independent as regarded their duration. Instead of the four years of the Greek cycle, each composed of six months of 30 and six of 29 days and an intercalary month inserted every second year alternately of 29 and 30 days (354 + 384 + 354 + 383 = 1475 days), the Roman calendar substituted four years, each containing four months—the first, third, fifth, and eighth—of 31 days and seven of 29 days, with a February of 28 days during three years and of 29 in the fourth, and an intercalary month of 27 days inserted every second year (355 + 383 + 355 + 382 = 1475 days). In like manner this calendar departed from the original division of the month into four weeks, sometimes of 7, sometimes of 8 days; it made the eight-day-week run on through the years without regard to the other relations of the calendar, as our Sundays do, and placed the weekly market on the day with which it began (-noundinae-). Along with this it once for all fixed the first quarter in the months of 31 days on the seventh, in those of 29 on the fifth day, and the full moon in the former on the fifteenth, in the latter on the thirteenth day. As the course of the months was thus permanently arranged, it was henceforth necessary to proclaim only the number of days lying between the new moon and the first quarter; thence the day of the newmoon received the name of "proclamation-day" (-kalendae-). The first day of the second section of the month, uniformly of 8 days, was—in conformity with the Roman custom of reckoning, which included the -terminus ad quem- —designated as "nine-day" (-nonae-). The day of the full moon retained the old name of -idus- (perhaps "dividing-day"). The motive lying at the bottom of this strange remodelling of the calendar seems chiefly to have been a belief in the salutary virtue of odd numbers;(9) and while in general it is based on the oldest form of the Greek year, its variations from that form distinctly exhibit the influence of the doctrines of Pythagoras, which were then paramount in Lower Italy, and which especially turned upon a mystic view of numbers. But the consequence was that this Roman calendar, clearly as it bears traces of the desire that it should harmonize with the course both of sun and moon, in reality by no means so corresponded with the lunar course as did at least on the whole its Greek model, while, like the oldest Greek cycle, it could only follow the solar seasons by means of frequent arbitrary excisions, and did in all probability follow them but very imperfectly, for it is scarcely likely that the calendar would be handled with greater skill than was manifested in its original arrangement. The retention moreover of the reckoning by months or—which is the same thing—by years of ten months implies a tacit, but not to be misunderstood, confession of the irregularity and untrustworthiness of the oldest Roman solar year. This Roman calendar may be regarded, at least in its essential features, as that generally current among the Latins. When we consider how generally the beginning of the year and the names of the months are liable to change, minor variations in the numbering and designations are quite compatible with the hypothesis of a common basis; and with such a calendar-system, which practically was irrespective of the lunar course, the Latins might easily come to have their months of arbitrary length, possibly marked off by annual festivals—as in the case of the Alban months, which varied between 16 and 36 days. It would appear probable therefore that the Greek —trieteris— had early been introduced from Lower Italy at least into Latium and perhaps also among the other Italian stocks, and had thereafter been subjected in the calendars of the several cities to further subordinate alterations.

For the measuring of periods of more than one year the regnal years of the kings might have been employed: but it is doubtful whether that method of dating, which was in use in the East, occurred in Greece or Italy during earlier times. On the other hand the intercalary period recurring every four years, and the census and lustration of the community connected with it, appear to have suggested a reckoning by -lustra- similar in plan to the Greek reckoning by Olympiads—a method, however, which early lost its chronological significance in consequence of the irregularity that now prevailed as to the due holding of the census at the right time.

Introduction of Hellenic Alphabets into Italy

The art of expressing sounds by written signs was of later origin than the art of measurement. The Italians did not any more than the Hellenes develop such an art of themselves, although we may discover attempts at such a development in the Italian numeral signs,(10) and possibly also in the primitive Italian custom—formed independently of Hellenic influence—of drawing lots by means of wooden tablets. The difficulty which must have attended the first individualizing of sounds—occurring as they do in so great a variety of combinations—is best demonstrated by the fact that a single alphabet propagated from people to people and from generation to generation has sufficed, and still suffices, for the whole of Aramaic, Indian, Graeco-Roman, and modern civilization; and this most important product of the human intellect was the joint creation of the Aramaeans and the Indo-Germans. The Semitic family of languages, in which the vowel has a subordinate character and never can begin a word, facilitates on that very account the individualizing of the consonants; and it was among the Semites accordingly that the first alphabet—in which the vowels were still wanting—was invented. It was the Indians and Greeks who first independently of each other and by very divergent methods created, out of the Aramaean consonantal writing brought to them by commerce, a complete alphabet by the addition of the vowels—which was effected by the application of four letters, which the Greeks did not use as consonantal signs, for the four vowels -a -e -i -o, and by the formation of a new sign for -u —in other words by the introduction of the syllable into writing instead of the mere consonant, or, as Palamedes says in Euripides,

—Ta teis ge leitheis pharmak orthosas monos
Aphona kai phonounta, sullabas te theis,
Ezeupon anthropoisi grammat eidenai.—

This Aramaeo-Hellenic alphabet was accordingly brought to the Italians through the medium, doubtless, of the Italian Hellenes; not, however, through the agricultural colonies of Magna Graecia, but through the merchants possibly of Cumae or Tarentum, by whom it would be brought in the first instance to the very ancient emporia of international traffic in Latium and Etruria—to Rome and Caere. The alphabet received by the Italians was by no means the oldest Hellenic one; it had already experienced several modifications, particularly the addition of the three letters —"id:xi", —"id:phi", —"id:chi" and the alteration of the signs for —"id:iota", —"id:gamma", —"id:lambda".(11) We have already observed(12) that the Etruscan and Latin alphabets were not derived the one from the other, but both directly from the Greek; in fact the Greek alphabet came to Etruria in a form materially different from that which reached Latium. The Etruscan alphabet has a double sign -s (sigma -"id:s" and san -"id:sh") and only a single -k,(13) and of the -r only the older form -"id:P"; the Latin has, so far as we know, only a single -s, but a double sign for -k (kappa -"id:k" and koppa -"id:q") and of the -r almost solely the more recent form -"id:R". The oldest Etruscan writing shows no knowledge of lines, and winds like the coiling of a snake; the more recent employs parallel broken-off lines from right to left: the Latin writing, as far as our monuments reach back, exhibits only the latter form of parallel lines, which originally perhaps may have run at pleasure from left to right or from right to left, but subsequently ran among the Romans in the former, and among the Faliscans in the latter direction. The model alphabet brought to Etruria must notwithstanding its comparatively remodelled character reach back to an epoch very ancient, though not positively to be determined; for, as the two sibilants sigma and san were always used by the Etruscans as different sounds side by side, the Greek alphabet which came to Etruria must doubtless still have possessed both of them in this way as living signs of sound; but among all the monuments of the Greek language known to us not one presents sigma and san in simultaneous use.

The Latin alphabet certainly, as we know it, bears on the whole a more recent character; and it is not improbable that the Latins did not simply receive the alphabet once for all, as was the case in Etruria, but in consequence of their lively intercourse with their Greek neighbours kept pace for a considerable period with the alphabet in use among these, and followed its variations. We find, for instance, that the forms -"id:/\/\/", -"id:P",(14) and -"id:SIGMA" were not unknown to the Romans, but were superseded in common use by the later forms -"id:/\/\", -"id:R", and -"id:S" —a circumstance which can only be explained by supposing that the Latins employed for a considerable period the Greek alphabet as such in writing either their mother-tongue or Greek. It is dangerous therefore to draw from the more recent character of the Greek alphabet which we meet with in Rome, as compared with the older character of that brought to Etruria, the inference that writing was practised earlier in Etruria than in Rome.

The powerful impression produced by the acquisition of the treasure of letters on those who received them, and the vividness with which they realized the power that slumbered in those humble signs, are illustrated by a remarkable vase from a sepulchral chamber of Caere built before the invention of the arch, which exhibits the old Greek model alphabet as it came to Etruria, and also an Etruscan syllabarium formed from it, which may be compared to that of Palamedes—evidently a sacred relic of the introduction and acclimatization of alphabetic writing in Etruria.

Development of Alphabets in Italy

Not less important for history than the derivation of the alphabet is the further course of its development on Italian soil: perhaps it is even of more importance; for by means of it a gleam of light is thrown upon the inland commerce of Italy, which is involved in far greater darkness than the commerce with foreigners on its coasts. In the earliest epoch of Etruscan writing, when the alphabet was used without material alteration as it had been introduced, its use appears to have been restricted to the Etruscans on the Po and in what is now Tuscany. In course of time this alphabet, manifestly diffusing itself from Atria and Spina, reached southward along the east coast as far as the Abruzzi, northward to the Veneti and subsequently even to the Celts at the foot of, among, and indeed beyond the Alps, so that its last offshoots reached as far as the Tyrol and Styria. The more recent epoch starts with a reform of the alphabet, the chief features of which were the introduction of writing in broken-off lines, the suppression of the -"id:o", which was no longer distinguished in pronunciation from the -"id:u", and the introduction of a new letter -"id:f" for which the alphabet as received by them had no corresponding sign. This reform evidently arose among the western Etruscans, and while it did not find reception beyond the Apennines, became naturalized among all the Sabellian tribes, and especially among the Umbrians. In its further course the alphabet experienced various fortunes in connection with the several stocks, the Etruscans on the Arno and around Capua, the Umbrians and the Samnites; frequently the mediae were entirely or partially lost, while elsewhere again new vowels and consonants were developed. But that West-Etruscan reform of the alphabet was not merely as old as the oldest tombs found in Etruria; it was considerably older, for the syllabarium just mentioned as found probably in one of these tombs already presents the reformed alphabet in an essentially modified and modernized shape; and, as the reformed alphabet itself is relatively recent as compared with the primitive one, the mind almost fails in the effort to reach back to the time when that alphabet came to Italy. While the Etruscans thus appear as the instruments in diffusing the alphabet in the north, east, and south of the peninsula, the Latin alphabet on the other hand was confined to Latium, and maintained its ground, upon the whole, there with but few alterations; only the letters -"id:gamma" -"id:kappa" and -"id:zeta" -"id:sigma" gradually became coincident in sound, the consequence of which was, that in each case one of the homophonous signs (-"id:kappa" -"id:zeta") disappeared from writing. In Rome it can be shown that these were already laid aside before the end of the fourth century of the city,(15) and the whole monumental and literary tradition that has reached us knows nothing of them, with a single exception.(16) Now when we consider that in the oldest abbreviations the distinction between -"id:gamma" -"id:c" and -"id:kappa" -"id:k" is still regularly maintained;(17) that the period, accordingly, when the sounds became in pronunciation coincident, and before that again the period during which the abbreviations became fixed, lies beyond the beginning of the Samnite wars; and lastly, that a considerable interval must necessarily have elapsed between the introduction of writing and the establishment of a conventional system of abbreviation; we must, both as regards Etruria and Latium, carry back the commencement of the art of writing to an epoch which more closely approximates to the first incidence of the Egyptian Sirius-period within historical times, the year 1321 B.C., than to the year 776, with which the chronology of the Olympiads began in Greece.(18) The high antiquity of the art of writing in Rome is evinced otherwise by numerous and plain indications. The existence of documents of the regal period is sufficiently attested; such was the special treaty between Rome and Gabii, which was concluded by a king Tarquinius and probably not by the last of that name, and which, written on the skin of the bullock sacrificed on the occasion, was preserved in the temple of Sancus on the Quirinal, which was rich in antiquities and probably escaped the conflagration of the Gauls; and such was the alliance which king Servius Tullius concluded with Latium, and which Dionysius saw on a copper tablet in the temple of Diana on the Aventine. What he saw, however, was probably a copy restored after the fire with the help of a Latin exemplar, for it was not likely that engraving on metal was practised as early as the time of the kings. The charters of foundation of the imperial period still refer to the charter founding this temple as the oldest document of the kind in Rome and the common model for all. But even then they scratched (-exarare-, -scribere-, akin to -scrobes- (19)) or painted (-linere-, thence -littera-) on leaves (-folium-), inner bark (-liber-), or wooden tablets (-tabula-, -album-), afterwards also on leather and linen. The sacred records of the Samnites as well as of the priesthood of Anagnia were inscribed on linen rolls, and so were the oldest lists of the Roman magistrates preserved in the temple of the goddess of recollection (-Iuno moneta-) on the Capitol. It is scarcely necessary to recall further proofs in the primitive marking of the pastured cattle (-scriptura-), in the mode of addressing the senate, "fathers and enrolled" (-patres conscripti-), and in the great antiquity of the books of oracles, the clan-registers, and the Alban and Roman calendars. When Roman tradition speaks of halls in the Forum, where the boys and girls of quality were taught to read and write, already in the earliest times of the republic, the statement may be, but is not necessarily to be deemed, an invention. We have been deprived of information as to the early Roman history, not in consequence of the want of a knowledge of writing, or even perhaps of the lack of documents, but in consequence of the incapacity of the historians of the succeeding age, which was called to investigate the history, to work out the materials furnished by the archives, and of the perversity which led them to desire for the earliest epoch a delineation of motives and of characters, accounts of battles and narratives of revolutions, and while engaged in inventing these, to neglect what the extant written tradition would not have refused to yield to the serious and self-denying inquirer.


The history of Italian writing thus furnishes in the first place a confirmation of the weak and indirect influence exercised by the Hellenic character over the Sabellians as compared with the more western peoples. The fact that the former received their alphabet from the Etruscans and not from the Romans is probably to be explained by supposing that they already possessed it before they entered upon their migration along the ridge of the Apennines, and that therefore the Sabines as well as Samnites carried it along with them from the mother-land to their new abodes. On the other hand this history of writing contains a salutary warning against the adoption of the hypothesis, originated by the later Roman culture in its devotedness to Etruscan mysticism and antiquarian trifling, and patiently repeated by modern and even very recent inquirers, that Roman civilization derived its germ and its pith from Etruria. If this were the truth, some trace of it ought to be more especially apparent in this field; but on the contrary the germ of the Latin art of writing was Greek, and its development was so national, that it did not even adopt the very desirable Etruscan sign for -"id:f".(20) Indeed, where there is an appearance of borrowing, as in the numeral signs, it is on the part of the Etruscans, who took over from the Romans at least the sign for 50.

Corruption of Language and Writing

Lastly it is a significant fact, that among all the Italian stocks the development of the Greek alphabet primarily consisted in a process of corruption. Thus the -mediae- disappeared in the whole of the Etruscan dialects, while the Umbrians lost -"id:gamma" and -"id:d", the Samnites -"id:d", and the Romans -"id:gamma"; and among the latter -"id:d" also threatened to amalgamate with -"id:r". In like manner among the Etruscans -"id:o" and -"id:u" early coalesced, and even among the Latins we meet with a tendency to the same corruption. Nearly the converse occurred in the case of the sibilants; for while the Etruscan retained the three signs -"id:z", -"id:s", -"id:sh", and the Umbrian rejected the last but developed two new sibilants in its room, the Samnite and the Faliscan confined themselves like the Greek to -"id:s" and -"id:z", and the Roman of later times even to -"id:s" alone. It is plain that the more delicate distinctions of sound were duly felt by the introducers of the alphabet, men of culture and masters of two languages; but after the national writing Became wholly detached from the Hellenic mother-alphabet, the -mediae- and their -tenues- gradually came to coincide, and the sibilants and vowels were thrown into disorder—transpositions or rather destructions of sound, of which the first in particular is entirely foreign to the Greek. The destruction of the forms of flexion and derivation went hand in hand with this corruption of sounds. The cause of this barbarization was thus, upon the whole, simply the necessary process of corruption which is continuously eating away every language, where its progress is not stemmed by literature and reason; only in this case indications of what has elsewhere passed away without leaving a trace have been preserved in the writing of sounds. The circumstance that this barbarizing process affected the Etruscans more strongly than any other of the Italian stocks adds to the numerous proofs of their inferior capacity for culture. The fact on the other hand that, among the Italians, the Umbrians apparently were the most affected by a similar corruption of language, the Romans less so, the southern Sabellians least of all, probably finds its explanation, at least in part, in the more lively intercourse maintained by the former with the Etruscans, and by the latter with the Greeks.

Notes for Book I Chapter XIV

1. I. II. Indo-Germanic Culture

2. I. II. Indo-Germanic Culture

3. I. XII. Inland Commerce of the Italians

4. I. II. Agriculture

5. I. XII. Priests

6. Originally both the -actus-, "riving," and its still more frequently occurring duplicate, the -jugerum-, "yoking," were, like the German "morgen," not measures of surface, but measures of labour; the latter denoting the day's work, the former the half-day's work, with reference to the sharp division of the day especially in Italy by the ploughman's rest at noon.

7. I. XIII. Etrusco-Attic and Latino-Sicilian Commerce

8. I. XII. Nature of the Roman Gods

9. From the same cause all the festival-days are odd, as well those recurring every month (-kalendae- on the 1st. -nonae- on the 5th or 7th, -idus- on the 13th or 15th), as also, with but two exceptions, those of the 45 annual festivals mentioned above (xii. Oldest Table Of Roman Festivals). This is carried so far, that in the case of festivals of several days the intervening even days were dropped out, and so, for example, that of Carmentis was celebrated on Jan. 11, 15, that of the Grove-festival (-Lucaria-) on July 19, 21, and that of the Ghosts-festival on May 9, 11, and 13.

10. I. XIV. Decimal System

11. The history of the alphabet among the Hellenes turns essentially on the fact that—assuming the primitive alphabet of 23 letters, that is to say, the Phoenician alphabet vocalized and enlarged by the addition of the -"id:u" —proposals of very various kinds were made to supplement and improve it, and each of these proposals has a history of its own. The most important of these, which it is interesting to keep in view as bearing on the history of Italian writing, are the following:—I. The introduction of special signs for the sounds —"id:xi" —"id:phi" —"id:chi". This proposal is so old that all the Greek alphabets—with the single exception of that of the islands Thera, Melos, and Crete—and all alphabets derived from the Greek without exception, exhibit its influence. At first probably the aim was to append the signs —"id:CHI" = —"id:xi iota", —"id:PHI" = —"id:phi iota", and —"id:PSI"= —"id:chi iota" to the close of the alphabet, and in this shape it was adopted on the mainland of Hellas—with the exception of Athens and Corinth—and also among the Sicilian and Italian Greeks. The Greeks of Asia Minor on the other hand, and those of the islands of the Archipelago, and also the Corinthians on the mainland appear, when this proposal reached them, to have already had in use for the sound —"id:xi iota" the fifteenth sign of the Phoenician alphabet —"id:XI" (Samech); accordingly of the three new signs they adopted the —"id:PHI" for —"id:phi iota", but employed the —"id:CHI" not for —"id:xi iota", but for —"id:chi iota". The third sign originally invented for —"id:chi iota" was probably allowed in most instances to drop; only on the mainland of Asia Minor it was retained, but received the value of —"id:psi iota". The mode of writing adopted in Asia Minor was followed also by Athens; only in its case not merely the —"id:psi iota", but the —"id:xi iota" also, was not received and in their room the two consonants continued to be written as before.—II. Equally early, if not still earlier, an effort was made to obviate the confusion that might so easily occur between the forms for —"id:iota S" and for —"id:s E"; for all the Greek alphabets known to us bear traces of the endeavour to distinguish them otherwise and more precisely. Already in very early times two such proposals of change must have been made, each of which found a field for its diffusion. In the one case they employed for the sibilant—for which the Phoenician alphabet furnished two signs, the fourteenth ( —"id:/\/\") for —"id:sh" and the eighteenth (—"id:E") for —"id:s" —not the latter, which was in sound the more suitable, but the former; and such was in earlier times the mode of writing in the eastern islands, in Corinth and Corcyra, and among the Italian Achaeans. In the other case they substituted for the sign of —"id:i" the simple stroke —"id:I", which was by far the more usual, and at no very late date became at least so far general that the broken —"id:iota S" everywhere disappeared, although individual communities retained the —"id:s" in the form —"id:/\/\" alongside of the —"I".—III. Of later date is the substitution of —"id:\/" for —"id:/\" (—"id:lambda") which might readily be confounded with —"id:GAMMA gamma". This we meet with in Athens and Boeotia, while Corinth and the communities dependent on Corinth attained the same object by giving to the —"id:gamma" the semicircular form —"id:C" instead of the hook-shape.—IV. The forms for —"id:p" —"id:P (with broken-loop)" and —"id:r" —"id:P", likewise very liable to be confounded, were distinguished by transforming the latter into —"id:R"; which more recent form was not used by the Greeks of Asia Minor, the Cretans, the Italian Achaeans, and a few other districts, but on the other hand greatly preponderated both in Greece proper and in Magna Graecia and Sicily. Still the older form of the —"id:r" —"id:P" did not so early and so completely disappear there as the older form of the —"id:l"; this alteration therefore beyond doubt is to be placed later.—V. The differentiating of the long and short -e and the long and short -o remained in the earlier times confined to the Greeks of Asia Minor and of the islands of the Aegean Sea.

All these technical improvements are of a like nature and from a historical point of view of like value, in so far as each of them arose at a definite time and at a definite place and thereafter took its own mode of diffusion and found its special development. The excellent investigation of Kirchhoff (-Studien zur Geschichte des griechischen Alphabets-), which has thrown a clear light on the previously so obscure history of the Hellenic alphabet, and has also furnished essential data for the earliest relations between the Hellenes and Italians—establishing, in particular, incontrovertibly the previously uncertain home of the Etruscan alphabet—is affected by a certain one-sidedness in so far as it lays proportionally too great stress on a single one of these proposals. If systems are here to be distinguished at all, we may not divide the alphabets into two classes according to the value of the —"id:X" as —"id:zeta" or as —"id:chi", but we shall have to distinguish the alphabet of 23 from that of 25 or 26 letters, and perhaps further in this latter case to distinguish the Ionic of Asia Minor, from which the later common alphabet proceeded, from the common Greek of earlier times. In dealing, however, with the different proposals for the modification of the alphabet the several districts followed an essentially eclectic course, so that one was received here and another there; and it is just in this respect that the history of the Greek alphabet is so instructive, because it shows how particular groups of the Greek lands exchanged improvements in handicraft and art, while others exhibited no such reciprocity. As to Italy in particular we have already called attention to the remarkable contrast between the Achaean agricultural towns and the Chalcidic and Doric colonies of a more mercantile character (x. Iono-Dorian Towns); in the former the primitive forms were throughout retained, in the latter the improved forms were adopted, even those which coming from different quarters were somewhat inconsistent, such as the —"id:C" —"id:gamma" alongside of the —"id:\/" —"id:l". The Italian alphabets proceed, as Kirchhoff has shown, wholly from the alphabet of the Italian Greeks and in fact from the Chalcidico-Doric; but that the Etruscans and Latins received their alphabet not the one from the other but both directly from the Greeks, is placed beyond doubt especially by the different form of the —"id:r". For, while of the four modifications of the alphabet above described which concern the Italian Greeks (the fifth was confined to Asia Minor) the first three were already carried out before the alphabet passed to the Etruscans and Latins, the differentiation of —"id:p" and —"id:r" had not yet taken place when it came to Etruria, but on the other hand had at least begun when the Latins received it; for which reason the Etruscans do not at all know the form -"id:R" for -"id:r", whereas among the Faliscans and the Latins, with the single exception of the Dressel vase (xiv. Note 14 ), the younger form is met with exclusively.

12. I. XIII. Etrusco-Attic and Latino-Sicilian Commerce

13. That the Etruscans always were without the koppa, seems not doubtful; for not only is no sure trace of it to be met with elsewhere, but it is wanting in the model alphabet of the Galassi vase. The attempt to show its presence in the syllabarium of the latter is at any rate mistaken, for the syllabarium can and does only take notice of the Etruscan letters that were afterwards in common use, and to these the koppa notoriously did not belong; moreover the sign placed at the close cannot well from its position have any other value than that of the -f, which was in fact the last letter in the Etruscan alphabet, and which could not be omitted in a syllabarium exhibiting the variations of that alphabet from its model. It is certainly surprising that the koppa should be absent from the Greek alphabet that came to Etruria, when it otherwise so long maintained its place in the Chalcidico-Doric ; but this may well have been a local peculiarity of the town whose alphabet first reached Etruria. Caprice and accident have at all times had a share in determining whether a sign becoming superfluous shall be retained or dropped from the alphabet; thus the Attic alphabet lost the eighteenth Phoenician sign, but retained the others which had disappeared from the -u.

14. The golden bracelet of Praeneste recently brought to light (Mitth. der rom. Inst. 1887), far the oldest of the intelligible monuments of the Latin language and Latin writing, shows the older form of the -"id:m"; the enigmatic clay vase from the Quirinal (published by Dressel in the Annali dell Instituto, 1880) shows the older form of the -"id:r".

15. At this period we shall have to place that recorded form of the Twelve Tables, which subsequently lay before the Roman philologues, and of which we possess fragments. Beyond doubt the code was at its very origin committed to writing; but that those scholars themselves referred their text not to the original exemplar, but to an official document written down after the Gallic conflagration, is proved by the story of the Tables having undergone reproduction at that time. This enables us easily to explain how their text by no means exhibited the oldest orthography, which was not unknown to them; even apart from the consideration that in the case of such a written document, employed, moreover, for the purpose of being committed to memory by the young, a philologically exact transmission cannot possibly be assumed.

16. This is the inscription of the bracelet of Praeneste which has been mentioned at xiv, note 14. On the other hand even on the Ficoroni cista -"id:C" has the later form of -"id:K".

17. Thus -"id:C" represents -Gaius-; -"id:CN" -Gnaeus-; while -"id:K" stands for -Kaeso-. With the more recent abbreviations of course this is not the case; in these -"id:gamma" is represented not by -"id:C", but by -"id:G" (-GAL- -Galeria-), —"id:kappa", as a rule, by -"id:C" (-C- -centum- -COS- -consul; -COL -Collina-), or before -"id:a" by -"id:K" (-KAR- -karmetalia-; -MERK- -merkatus-). For they expressed for a time the sound —k before the vowels -e -i -o and before all consonants by -"id:C", before -a on the other hand by -"id:K", before -u by the old sign of the koppa -"id:Q".

18. If this view is correct, the origin of the Homeric poems (though of course not exactly that of the redaction in which we now have them) must have been far anterior to the age which Herodotus assigns for the flourishing of Homer (100 before Rome); for the introduction of the Hellenic alphabet into Italy, as well as the beginning of intercourse at all between Hellas and Italy, belongs only to the post-Homeric period.

19. Just as the old Saxon -writan- signifies properly to tear, thence to write.

20. The enigma as to how the Latins came to employ the Greek sign corresponding to -v for the -f quite different in sound, has been solved by the bracelet of Praeneste (xiv. Developments Of Alphabets in Italy, note) with its -fhefhaked- for -fecit-, and thereby at the same time the derivation of the Latin alphabet from the Chalcidian colonies of Lower Italy has been confirmed. For in a Boeotian inscription belonging to the same alphabet we find in the word -fhekadamoe-(Gustav Meyer, Griech. Grammatik, sec. 244, ap. fin.) the same combination of sound, and an aspirated v might certainly approximate in sound to the Latin -f.

20. -Ratio Tuscanica,: cavum aedium Tuscanicum.-

21. When Varro (ap. Augustin. De Civ. Dei, iv. 31; comp. Plutarch Num. 8) affirms that the Romans for more than one hundred and seventy years worshipped the gods without images, he is evidently thinking of this primitive piece of carving, which, according to the conventional chronology, was dedicated between 176 and 219, and, beyond doubt, was the first statue of the gods, the consecration of which was mentioned in the authorities which Varro had before him. Comp, above, XIV. Development of Alphabets in Italy.

22. I. XIII. Handicrafts

23. I. XII. Nature of the Roman Gods

24. I. XII. Pontifices

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!