Chapter II - The First Inhabitants of Abruzzo

From Enrico Abbate's "Guida d'Abruzzo", Rome 1903. The text was written over one century ago, and since then archeology has made giant steps in establishing the presence of a flourishing civilization in Abruzzo in the Metal Age. This chapter is nowadays mostly interesting under a historical perspective: as a matter of fact, recent studies have shown that the Piceni who inhabited the Adriatic territories and the Etruscans were two separate civilizations.

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There is very little information about the most ancient period when strong peoples inhabited Abruzzo before the expansion of Rome. There is no legend which tells about the first migration of the human race here. The discoveries described in the previous chapter made by Concezio Rosa in the Vibrata valley between Corropoli and Cassone, the prehistoric tombs near Lama dei Peligni, the dolmens (Note of Translator: Stone monument typical of Celtic populations, found all over Europe) that can be found here and there, especially in the eastern Maiella hills, to which popular imagination gave names derived from medieval legendary tales, show the existence of disappeared primitive people in Abruzzo at the beginning of known history, in the paleolithic and neolithic periods. These earliest inhabitants, whose earliest traces are found in the Tortoreto area, departed before agriculture developed and the fusion of metals was discovered.

But we know nothing about these primitive populations, and history can only begin when man, joining in communities, develops customs, a religion and a language. But even in this latter period archeological findings are very scanty. History cannot show which races inhabited Abruzzo and only theories can be developped. There are two basic currents of thought about the earliest civilized inhabitants of Abruzzi, which are based on assumption that Italic peoples originated the Roman civilization, more than the Greeks or the Egyptians. One theory says that the first inhabitants were the Sabines, either native or coming from Asia, and says that the Pelasgi and the Tyrreni were one people called with these two different names according to their different civilization degree. According to the second theory, following the famous sentence by Roman historian Titus Livius,

"Thuscorum ante romanum imperium lata terra marique opes patuere" (= Before the Roman Empire the Etruscans dominated by land and sea)

the Etruscans were the first inhabitants of central Italy and the remains of ancient civilizations are to be ascribed to the Etruscan people. Between the two theories, there is another hypothesis which joins both saying that in the mountains areas there were the Sabini* aborigines and in the coastal lands the Etruscans and Liburni* known for their swift sailing ships.

The Sabini might be descended from the earliest inhabitants of central Italy, who were called in the north Umbrians (ethimologically the word comes from the Greek ombros, imber which means deluge). From the Sabines or Sabellians came the many powerful, warlike tribes that we find in our territory at the dawn of the Roman civilization. In the south these earliest inhabitants received the name of Osci (Opici from Opi, the Earth Goddess). The Osci might have also been the ancestors of the many peoples that populated a large part of Central and Southern Italy.

A short while after the great deluge (which the Greeks called Deucalione and the Bible also mentions) the Oenotri came to occupy the lands of the originary Osci tribes, and later more peoples came and called the originary Umbri, Osci and Oenotri as Aborigines (Note of Translator: the word aborigines derives from the Latin "since the very beginning".) all together, a name which is still given to the primitive peoples coming from Asia. These ancestral inhabitants of Central Italy, from Campania to Latium and the Adriatic sea, who occupied in a very remote age a large part of the Peninsula, were later defeated by the Sabellians tribes, but their language remained even in later periods, since the language spoken by the Campanians* and the Samnites* is of Oscian origin. We don't know whether this language remained pure or was modified by the Sabellic language, because all of the so far known written documents follow the Sabellian conquest. With the help of stone inscriptions, among which the one found by Professor De Nino* near Castel di Ieri (which has not yet been deciphered), we can establish the limits where the Osci language was spoken: that is Campania, Samnium, Irpinia, Frentania and Northern Apulia. And this language, which is strictly connected and similar to Latin, and not mysterious like the language of the Etruscans, was the language that continued to be spoken in Central Italy even after the Roman conquest and is found in the medal inscriptions coined by the Samnites in our region during the Social War (Note of Translator: the Social War - from the Latin socius, ally, also called Italic or Marsian war - was fought from 91 to 88 BC between Rome and Italian municipia until then allied to the Romans.).

With all these names of peoples and the uncertain historical tradition mostly coming from unsure information and legends, the only certainty is that the peoples living in Abruzzo (when contacts with Rome began), represented one of the two branches of the Italic people. Traditionally the passage from pastoral life to agriculture is credited to king Italus (or Vitalo or Vitulo), but this is another version of the Samnitic fable, that says that their "aratore" (ploughman) was the head of the colonies. In the same way the most ancient Latin names call the Siculi or Sicani "field workers" (Opsci).

The two branches of the Italic peoples were the Latins and the Umbrians; from the latter came the Marsi, Samnites or Osci, and from these ones all the nations that in historic times occupy the various territories in Central Italy."