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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
Classical Philology
Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jan. 1919), pp87‑88.

The text is in the public domain.

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 p87  On the Stele of the Forum

Some aid in dating the stele inscription, probably our earliest specimen of Latin, comes from an unexpected source. Last year while at Rome I had the good fortune to meet Commendatore Verri who has labored incessantly for a score of years upon the intricate problems of Latian geology and is now the acknowledged authority in that field. With a generosity of information and time that seems to be unlimited he explained the intricacies of the Latian rock strata and showed how, with microscopic slides and chemical means, it was possible to classify the Roman building tufas and identify them with respect to their several native quarries. He was called away from Rome before it occurred to me to question him regarding the stele, and naturally I could not remove a fragment from the sacred stone for examination. But on the criteria which he provided I feel safe to say that the stone is without question the kind that is found north of the Cremera and only there, a stone that had its origin in the volcanic ejecta of the Sabatini craters, not of the Alban volcanoes. What this means I have tried to explain in discussing the sources of the Servian wall in the American Journal of Archaeology, XXII.181 ff.

 p88  The region from which the stele came was Etruscan land until Veii was captured, and it is highly improbable that any Roman would have gone so far afield for a piece of stone no better than that which the native ledges could provide, unless either the Etruscans then possessed Rome, i.e., before 509, or the Romans had gained possession of the country beyond the Cremera, i.e., after 396. Since the antiquity of the writing excludes the latter period, we should date the inscription before 509.

It would appear then that this stele is also a relic of the Etruscan occupation of Rome; and it is interesting to have its evidence that the language of the Romans continued during the occupation to be the native Latin.

Tenney Frank

Bryn Mawr College

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