De Lingua Sabina: A Reappraisal of the Sabine Glosses
This thesis offers a reappraisal of the Sabine glosses through the analysis of thirty-nine words, all glossed explicitly as Sabine in ancient sources ranging from the first century BCE to the sixth century CE.
The study of the Sabine glosses found in ancient grammarians and antiquarians goes back to the beginnings of Italic scholarship. Over time, two positions on the Sabine glosses have crystallised: (a) the Sabine glosses are evidence of a personal obsession of the Republican author Varro, in whose work many Sabine glosses survive, and (b) the Sabine glosses are true remnants of a single language of which little or no epigraphic evidence has survived. By using the neogrammarian observation that sound-change is regular and exceptionless, it is possible to ascertain whether or not the Sabine glosses are likely to be from the same language. This thesis finds that the sound-changes undergone by the Sabine glosses show no broad agreement. The developments are characteristic of different languages – Latin, Faliscan and various Sabellic languages – and many changes are mutually exclusive. This consequently throws doubt on the assertion that the Sabine glosses are all taken from one language. Instead, the glosses should be seen as part of a discourse of the relationships between Romans, Sabines and Sabellic-speaking peoples.
During the Republic, Sabines were central to Roman myth, historiography and political rhetoric. As the Sabines were a distinct people in the Roman foundation myths, but were largely Romanised in the Republican present, they became a convenient bridge between Rome and the Sabellic-speaking peoples of Central and Southern Italy, to whom Greek and Roman writers ascribed myths tracing origin back to the Sabines. This continued into the Empire, when emperors such as Claudius and Vespasian utilised their (supposed) Sabine heritage to gain ideological capital. In light of this, the phenomenon of Sabine glosses cannot be seen as one man’s interest, but as a means of reflecting on Rome’s relations with Sabellic-speaking Italy.