South of Rome–West of Ellis Island
South of Rome–West of Ellis Island
Abstract: An i-Italy article, reporting scientific technology used in the study of Altinum, brings to mind a scientific linguistics study of ancient Liguria which came to the ironic (visa vis the “Southern Question”) conclusion that northern Italian culture was born of Sicilian immigrants.
Recently i-Italy.org linked to an ANSA.it article “ANCIENT FOREFATHER TO VENICE MAPPED Aerial photos of Altinum reveal 'spectacular architecture'”. The ANSA article in turn is a summary of a detailed report, appearing in the prestigious magazine “Science”, on the use of technology to study the architectural remnants of the ancient Veneto city Altinum.
While the use of technological instruments is relatively new to the study of history, the method and logic of science was highly developed in the linguistic and philological sciences in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, Arnold J. Toynbee’s study of the ancient roots of northern Italian communities (see: “Sicilian Lights on Roman Origins” Study of History v. 8, p. 704-7) is an eloquent demonstration of how linguistic sciences bring us knowledge of extinct societies. Toynbee’s study, inadvertently, has an ironic implication for the so-called “Southern Question.”
“The Southern Question” is a characterization of a compendium of social issues predicated on the assumption that the people, culture and society of southern Italy is significantly different than that of the north. Or as they use to say before it became “so not PC”: “Italy ends at the Garigliano.”
Toynbee makes a very strong, and inadvertently ironic, case that two of the major northern social centers Liguria and, indeed Rome itself, were originally Sicilian colonies. This article outlines his Ligurian thesis.
Toynbee begins the essay with a description of a “linguistic map” of Italy in the first half of the first millennium BC prior to when there is a clear and unequivocal existence of the Roman city-state in the historic record. According to this linguistic map, “there were various language groups present in Italy and Sicily during this period.
Three geographic groups of people spoke the Latin language:
1. “Sicel natives of Sicily
2. “Ligurians in the North-Western Appennines” (present day Italian Riviera)
3. “Latins and Falisci in the lower basin of the River Tiber” (present day Rome)
Common place-names in Riviera and Sicily
On the Italian Riviera, are found four place-names that are identical to four places in Sicily. Toynbee: “At the eastern end of the Italian Riviera, we find four place-names – not of Roman mintage...identical with the principal place-names in the Elymian country in the north-western corner of Sicily.”
Specifically the common place-names are:
1a ‘Eryx’ a port on the Gulf of Spezia (modern city of Lerici)
1b ‘Eryx’ a mountain in NW Sicily (modern mountain of San Giuliano – modern town of Erice)
2a ‘Portus Veneris’ (modern Portovenere), across the Spezia Gulf from Lerici, dedicated to the same goddess know as Aphrodite (note: Venus is Aphrodite with different name)
2b ‘Temple of Aphrodite’ on the side of the Sicilian Mountain Eryx (again modern San Giuliano/Erice)
3a ‘Segesta’ a town on Gulf of Genoa (modern Sestri Levante)
3b ‘Segesta’ city-state in NW Sicily
4a ‘Entella’ town on Gulf of Genoa (modern river with same name)
4b ‘Entella’ town in W. Sicily (Mark ‘A’ on map below)
Scientific method essentially consists of finding Facts and Explaining facts. Following the method of science, Toynbee proceeds.
First, using linguistic techniques, he established two historic facts about pre-Roman times
F1. People in West Sicily and on the Gulf of Genoa spoke the Latin language
He then proceeds to finding an explanation. How can these facts be explained?
There are three possible explanations (hypotheses):
E1. Coincidence – people in Liguria and Sicily by chance used the same names
E2. Latin speaking people from the Riviera emigrated to Sicily
E1 is rejected by Toynbee as a very low probability. He writes
“This fourfold correspondence between place-names in Sicily and on the Riviera can hardly be accidental...”
However, E2 and E3 are plausible:
“ We cannot reject the inference that the places known by these four names in Liguria had been called after the four places with identical names in Sicily, or vice versa.”
More linguistic facts are gathered to make a decision.
Fact: “Graecized” Latin
Toynbee: “The natives of Sicily, who did their utmost to resist by force of arms the interloping Greek colonists’ aggressive attempts to eject or subjugate them, were at the same time voluntarily adopting the language, religion, and art of their Greek assailants. The never conquered Elymi...took to speaking Greek.”
The fact that the Riviera Latin place-name Eryx has a Grecian characteristic, implies that the people who named the place were Latin speaking people from Sicily whose Latin language had been modified with Greek characteristics.
Toynbee writes: “the probability [implication] that the group of names in [the Riviera] was derived from the group in Sicily is indicated by the fact that in [the Riviera], as in Sicily the mountain-name appears in the Graecized form ‘Eryx’ and not in a Ligurian equivalent... ‘verruca’ (‘peak’), which we should expect to find surviving here if the name had originated in Liguria and had been carried thence to Sicily.”
E2 (Latin speaking people from the Riviera emigrated to Sicily) is rejected
E3 (Latin speaking people from Sicily emigrated to the Riviera) is judged to be more probable based on linguistic evidence
Thus, the historian has made the case that Sicilian immigrants settled on the Italian Riviera (E3) rather than the Ligurians emigrating to Sicily (E2)
Toynbee has made a strong linguistic case that Sicilians emigrated to the Italian mainland as far north as the present day Italian Rivera. This opens up the possibility that they also emigrated to the Tiber River basin, which is discussed in another of my blog articles (see linked article "Sicilian Lights..." in the Related Articles box above).
We see how scientific thinking even without scientific technology such as that used in the Altinum study provides us with knowledge of the past.
Finally, on a subjective note, what a delicious irony: quintessential cultural centers of northern Italian denigrators of Sicily were originally Sicilian colonies!