Some remarks on the word “Oscan”

Photo by Aaron Burden

Photo by Aaron Burden

The word “Oscan” is used in two different ways: it is used as an ethnonym originally referring to a population, the Oscans, who inhabited Campania before the expansion of the Samnites and spoke a variety of Italic which is conventionally known as Pre-Samnite, but is more commonly used as a glottonym to indicate the language of the Samnites, Lucanians, Bruttians and Mamertines, who never referred to themselves as “Oscans”. Because of its derivation from *opes– “work, activity, wealth”, the Greek and Latin word for “Oscans” (Greek Opikoi, Latin Osci < Opsci) is generally interpreted as meaning “the wealthy ones”. As shown by Albert Cuny, however, it should be more correctly rendered as “ceux qui ont été voués à la déesse Ops” (“those who were vowed to the goddess Ops”), which makes direct reference to the ver sacrum “printemps voué (à une divinité)”, that is “spring vowed (to a deity)”, an Italic religious custom which consisted in consecrating the offspring of human beings or cattle born in the following spring to a deity, e.g. Vestini from Vesta, Marsi from Mars. Vowed children had to leave their community (for further details see Albert Cuny, Essai sur le nom des «Volsques», in Revue des Études Anciennes. Tome 13, 1911, n. 2. pp. 176-182, 1911; James Clackson, Oscan in Sicily, in Language and linguistic contact in ancient Sicily (Olga Tribulato ed.), pp. 132-148, 2012; Katherine McDonald, Oscan in Southern Italy and Sicily. Evaluating language contact in a fragmentary corpus, 2015).