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1 [12]

The following is the tradition concerning the [origin of the] Samnites. The Sabines having been engaged for a long period in war with the Ombrici, made a vow, common with some of the Grecian nations, that they would consecrate to the gods the productions of the year.1 They were victorious, and accordingly of the productions,2 the one kind were sacrificed, the other consecrated. However, in a time of scarcity, some one remarked, that they ought likewise to have consecrated the children. This then they did, and the children born at that period were called the sons of Mars.3 When these had grown up to manhood, they were sent forth, a bull leading the way, to found a colony. The bull lay down to rest in a place belonging to the Opici; a people dwelling in villages. These they drove out, and established themselves in the place. The bull, according to the direction of the diviners, they sacrificed to Mars, who had given him to then as a leader. It seems to have been in allusion to this that their parents called them by the diminutive form of Sabelli.4 The name of Samnites, or, as the Greeks call them, Saunites, originated in another cause. It is also said that certain Lacedæmonians came to dwell amongst them, and that this is the reason of their affection for the Greeks, and that certain of them are called Pitanatæ.5 The whole of this, however, appears to be a mere fabrication of the Tarentini, interested in flattering and conciliating to themselves a neighbouring people, so powerful as to be able, on a time, to bring into the field a force of eighty thousand foot-soldiers, and eight thousand cavalry. There is said to be a law amongst the Samnites, excellent in itself, and calculated to excite to virtue. It is not lawful for fathers to give away their daughters to whomsoever they may please; but every year ten of the most virtuous young women, and ten of the most virtuous young men, are selected; of these the most excellent young man is married to the most excellent young woman, the second to the second, and so on in order. Should he who re- ceives this reward, afterwards change and become wicked, he is dishonoured, and the wife who had been given is taken away from him. Beyond are the Hirpini, who are also Samnites: their name they take from the wolf, which conducted their colony; a wolf being called by the Samnites hirpos: these people border on the Leucani in the interior. So much for the Samnites.

2 Casaubon conjectures that in place of the τῷ ἔτει τούτῳ, we should read τῷ ἔαρι τούτω, or, the productions of the spring: and it certainly would seem that Strabo is here describing what the Latins called a ver sacrum. An ancient historian, speaking of the occurrence mentioned by Strabo, says, ‘Quondam Sabini fernntur vovisse, si res communis melioribus locis constitisset, se ver sacrum facturos.’ Sisenn. Hist. lib. iv. ap. Non. Marcell. De doctor. indag. ed. 1683, fol. 2531. Festus, Sext. P. Fest. De verb. sign. F. ed. 1699, p. 478, seems to have mentioned the same thing.

3 The animals and fruits are intended.

4 Devoted to Mars.

5 Or little Sabines.

6 From Pitane, a place in Laconia.

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