or Opci. The name Opiscan or Oscan, properly Opscian language (φωνὴ Ὀπικῶν; τῶν Ὄσκων ἡ διάλεκτος), was first applied by the Greek colonists of the coast of Campania to the dialect of the Italic race of Ὁπικοί (Opici) or Ὄσκοι (Opsci, prop. Opisci) whom they found to be the chief inhabitants of that region. The Opici have been occasionally identified with the Ausones, also inhabiting Campania, and certainly closely related to them, and to the Aurunci, living on the neighbouring coast of Latium, and probably also to the Sidicini, who settled the middle valley of the Volturnus. The association of the Aurunci, on the other hand, with the aborigines, once living farther north in Southern Sabini, about Reat, appears to be more than doubtful. The Oscans were not unsusceptible to Greek civilization; they constructed an excellent alphabet of twenty-one characters from the Greek: a, b, g, d, e, v, z, h, i, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, w, f, (sound between i and e), and (sound between w and o). The signs for d and r are interchangeable, according to pronunciation indicating either letter; the peculiar Italic spirant f takes the place of the aspirates; the z is vocal s as well as sibilant-dental (=ts, ds); rewritten in Greek and Latin, is regularly represented by o (ω), occasionally by ε (ει), e.
The Etruscan supremacy in Campania from about B.C. 800 to 400 appears, as in Rome, to have been exercised by a small military aristocracy, and therefore very superficial. We have no written [p. 1147] traces of them other than a number of inscriptions on vases, partly in a mixed language mainly Oscan, so that it may be inferred that the Etruscan supremacy, even if it broke the national power of the Oscans, yet rather advanced than suppressed their language and culture.
But when the Romans reached the region, about B.C. 380, the Oscan race, as well as the Ausones, [figure in text: Oscan Inscription from Pompeii.] had disappeared, absorbed by the Campanians, closely related to the Samnites, who had rushed down from the mountains, and made a sudden end of the Etruscan rule. From that time the Romans designated by the name lingua Opsca or Osca (also Obsca, by a leaning to obscaenus) not only the language of these Campanians, but that of the whole Samnite race, which then spread extensively over Southern Italy. And, in fact, the monuments of the language that have come down to us, and which are recognizable as Oscan, are found in an area of about 1000 square miles, almost as extensive as the Samnite territoryi. e. in Samnium proper (the land of the Caraceni, the Pentri, and Caudini), in the provinces of their descendants the Frent(r)ani in the east, the Hirpini in the south, as well as the adjacent parts of Apulia and Lucania, which they subdued, and above all, most numerously in Campania, whence the Mamertini carried the language to Bruttium (Vibo) and Sicily (Messana). The Oscan inscription of Nesce (Nersae) farther north, in the territory of the Aequicoli, is iso[figure in text: Oscan Inscription known as The Curse of Vibia. (Leaden plate found at Capua in 1876.)] lated. Finally, the coins of the Aurunci, who were perhaps conquered long before, have Oscan words and characters. The entire number of Oscan remains is about 200, and of these only four are importantthe so-called municipal laws of Bantia (tabula Bantina); the treaty of temple-boundary between Nola and Abella (cippus Abellanus); the votive inscription (more properly an inventory of temenos) of Agnon; and the lead plate of Capua with the Curse of Vibia.
Chronologically these remains extend from about B.C. 400 to the early Empire. Only the inscriptions found north of the Aufidus and Silarus show the Oscan alphabet; the southern have Greek or, as in the case of the Tabula Bantina, Latin characters. However, as their name shows and tradition confirms, the Samnite tribes were derived from the Sabines: Samnium=Sab(i)nium, Saf(i)nium; on the coins of the Social War, Safinum (not gen. pl.); cf. the softening in Greek Σαυνῖται, Σαυνῖτις χώρα. According to an old tradition, the Sabines in a war with the Umbrians sent out their finest young soldiers as ver sacrum (q. v.), who formed the stock of the Samnite race, and who again continued its extension in Southern Italy by like means. This Samnite people must therefore have originally used a Sabellian dialect; but the language of none of the Oscan remains can pass as such. If this difficulty be solved, nothing remains but to assume that after the Campanians the other Samnites appropriated the language of the more civilized Oscans and kindred tribes whom they had conquered, so that they both used and propagated it.
The Oscan language, with a well-developed phonetic system and series of forms, held its own uncorrupted till its latest days. In Campania, where Capua once dared to dispute with Rome the sovereignty of Italy, arose an extensive and diversified literature, as shown by the example of the ludi Atellani, a kind of popular farce, which the Romans eagerly adopted, and to which they gave a peculiar form of their own.
As an example of the Oscan dialect the following from the Tabula Bantina may be cited:
pon censtvr bansae tovtam censazet, pis cevs bantins fvst, censamvr esvf in itvam, poizad ligvd iosc censtvr censavm angetvzet.
Cum censores Bantiae populum censebunt quis civis Bantinus erit censetor ipse et pecuniam quoia lege ii censores censere proposuerint (?)[p. 1148]
These few lines afford instances of the principal peculiarities of Oscan, some of which are found also in the Old Latin. Such are the p for c (q), the use of s for the future sign, the ending -d in the ablative, the ending -s in the nominative plural of the second declension, the infinitive in -m, etc. Other characteristic features of the language are the retention of the diphthongs in all positions (whereas the Umbrian regularly loses them), the dative and ablative plural in -ais (Gk. -αις) and -ois (Gk. -οις), the locative singular in ei (Gk. -ει, as in οἴκει), and the genitive singular of u-stems in -ous (us). The vowel-system of the Oscan is the most elaborate of any of the European languages except the Greek, and the weakening of the vowels in unaccented syllables (so characteristic of the Latin) is almost unknown to it.
On the Oscan language see the chapter in Grber's Grundriss der romanischen Philologie, vol. i. (Strassburg, 1893); Mommsen, Die unteritalischen Dialekte (Leipzig, 1850); Buck, Vocalismus der oskischen Sprache (Leipzig, 1892); Bronisch, Die oskischen I und E Vocale (Leipzig, 1892); Von Planta, Grammatik der oskisch-umbrischen Dialekte (Strassburg, 1892); and Conway, The Italic Dialects (announced in 1895). The Oscan inscriptions are edited by Zvetaieff in his Sylloge Inscriptionum Oscarum, with plates and a vocabulary (St. Petersburg, 1878), and cf. his Inscriptiones Italiae Mediae Dialecticae (Leipzig, 1884); and Inscriptiones Italiae Inferioris Dialecticae (Moscow, 1886). See also the articles Italia; Tabula Bantina.