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Sabellic

SABELLIC, 1 the name originally given by Mommsen in his Unteritalische Dialekte to the pre-Roman dialects of Central Italy which was neither Oscan nor Umbrian. The progress of study has, however, grouped them under more specific names, such as the " North Oscan " group (see PAELIGNI) and the " Latinian " group (see LATIN LANGUAGE), and the only content now left for the term Sabellic consists of a group of 8 or 9 inscriptions to which it certainly cannot be applied with truth. They are probably, if not .certainly, the most ancient inscriptions in existence on Italian soil. Since they were all found on a strip of the eastern coast running from the mouth of the Aternus on the south to Pesaro on the north, it is probably best to call them simply " East Italic " or " Adriatic."

Not even the transcription of their alphabet has reached the stage of certainty, for even in this small number of inscriptions the alphabet seems to vary. The chief doubt is about the value of V and V (or A and A) which appear beside the symbol A on the same inscriptions; and of the dots in the middle of the line which are certainly not interpuncts. They may conceivably have some connexion with the dots in Venetic inscriptions, which R. S. Con way has endeavoured to explain (see VENETI). The most striking characteristic of the group of inscriptions is that the direction of the writing in alternate lines is not merely reversed but inverted (" serpentine boustrophedon " as on the Etruscan stele of Capua of the 5th century B.C.) (see ETRURIA: Language). Thus if the first line consisted of the letters ABC. in that order, the next would be J3CI, i.e. with each letter turned so as to face the left, and with its head downwards. This arrangement appears in some of the Venetic inscriptions also. The longest of the inscriptions is that from Grecchio, now preserved in the Naples Museum. The probability is that this and all the rest were epitaphs, but a translation is as yet out of the question. The stone from Castrignano gives us certain forms which seem to be recognizable as Indo-European, namely paterefo, materefo, though it is far from certain that the symbol f>4, which is here represented by/, really has that value. Pauli's conjecture that these inscriptions probably represented the language of some settlers from Illyria has little support except that of some coincidences in tribal and local names on the two sides of the Adriatic (e.g. " Truentum, quod solum Liburnorum in Italia relicuum est " (Plin. Nat. Hist. iii. no), -entum being a frequent Illyrian ending, and Liburni an Illyrian tribe), though it is a priori likely enough.

For the authorities for the alphabets and the text of the inscriptions as known down to 1897, see R. S. Conway's Italic Dialects 1 For the Sabellian tribes, see SABINE.

I" iCi 25 [er . ^eipzig, i9i. pp. 220 seq. and p. 423). Some plausible (but wholly uncertain) conjectures by W. Deecke as to the meaning of some of the inscriptions may be sought in the appendix to Zvetaieff's Inscrr. Italiae inferioris dialectics; and since 1897 a further inscription of this class has been found at Belmonte Piceno, which is preserved in the museum at Bologna and reported by Brizio in Notiz. degli scavi, 1903, p. 104.

It is to be noticed that a much longer and far more legible inscription from Novilara (now in the museum at Pesaro a cast of it is at Bologna) sometimes spoken of as Sabellic, whose first two words are mimnis erut, is perhaps more probably to be regarded as containing some variety of Etruscan, though its character is far from certain. Its alphabet closely resembles Etruscan of the 4th century B.C. It is a very interesting monument both for its own sake, since it is sculptured as well as inscribed (there is one or more hunting or pastoral scene on the back), and because the archaeological stratum (late Bronze period) of the cemetery from which it is believed to have come is clearly marked.

With a companion fragment it is fully described by Brizio in Monumenti anttchi, v. (1895), and it has also been discussed by Elia Lattes in Hermes (xxxi. 465 and xliii. 32). (R. S. C.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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