(Chapter VI, section 4)

The Romans

Before proceeding to study the rest of the Iron Age Indo-European speakers in their homes north of the Alps, let us examine the racial position of those near linguistic relatives of the Kelts, the Italici, who lived south of that barrier, and who played a rôle of the utmost importance in the history of Indo-European speech. The racial problem in Italy is nearly as complicated as in Greece, but the recent work of Whatmough, paralleling that of Myres, makes its solution equally possible. 45

We have already witnessed the accretion of various racial elements in Italy up to and through the Bronze Age. To a Neolithic Mediterranean sub-stratum were added tall, long-headed Megalithic invaders who came by sea, and Dinaric brachycephals from the eastern end of the Mediterranean. In the late Bronze Age, Urnfields people crossed the Alps from the north, and settled in northern Italy. Some of them built the terremare settlements in the Po Valley, while their descendants or others like them were responsible for the Villanova settlements in the Bologna region, and similar sites as far south as Latium. These collective Urnfields peoples came from central Europe, rather than from the nearer Swiss center. The Italic languages, like Keltic, were without reasonable doubt introduced by the Urnfields people. Like Keltic, they split into P and Q forms, with Oscan and Umbrian as P, and Latin and Faliscan as Q. Latin itself, in its historic form, was a mixture of Villanovan Italic plus Etruscan plus some altered Greek, plus early Mediterranean words, including plant names. 46 The non-Italic accretions bear witness to the influences which met the early Romans, while its major Italic character throughout attests the persistance of the Romans in retaining the nucleus of their own speech through centuries of Etruscan overlordship.

We know comparatively little about the racial composition of the early Italic people in pre-Roman times. Two crania from Remedello 47 are both those of dolichocephals of moderate size; one of them, which is certainly a male, has a stature of 168 cm. Two early Romans 48 were likewise dolichocephals of the same size and proportions as many of the Nordic groups north of the Alps; while a third, from the pre-Republican cemetery of Corneto Tarquinia, which can be more accurately defined, resembles a small male series of eight Christian Roman skulls, dating from the first to fourth centuries A.D. 49 These nine male crania are identical metrically with the means for the La Tène Kelts in Bohemia, and the Gauls and Gallo-Romans of the Marne. The same mesocephalic, leptorrhine form is found in each case.

Historically, the Romans should have been a mixture of Villanovan Italic northeners with Etruscans and Neolithic and Bronze Age predecessors. 50 The little crania material at hand points entirely in the northern direction, and confirms the relationship between Kelts and Italici, insofar as it may be used. On the other hand, the addition of Etruscan mesocephals with Dinaric and Mediterranean elements would not greatly alter the early Kelt-like Italic metrical form.

The early Romans, judging from the busts of their descendants in the days of Augustus, and of descriptions, were not very tall, as a rule, but were often of heavy body build. Their skulls were flattish on top, and rounded on the sides, like those of the Kelts. The facial features included the well-known "Roman" nose, which may have been partly derived from an Etruscan source. On the whole, the well-known sculptures of Caesar, Augustus, and others, although not reliable from the standpoint of accurate measurement, indicate that a mesocephalic to brachycephalic head form was admired. Their facial type is not native to the Mediterranean basin, but is more at home in the north. Nevertheless, the Romans considered the Kelts who invaded Italy tall and blond; hence the blondism of the Romans, including rufosity, must have been in the minority. 51

More detailed information may be obtained by studying the remains of Romans who died away from home in the colonial service of the empire. For example, an officer of the sixth legion, named Theodorianus, stationed at York, came from the small city of Nomentum, in Latium. Three others, also buried at York, were also native Romans. 52 These four were all of one type, and very much alike: dolicho- to mesocephalic, with low vaults, low, broad foreheads, very aquiline noses, and short, broad, square faces. The skulls of two other pure Roman officers from Bath and Gloucester are the same, as is one from Lincoln. 53

A group of eight male Roman crania from Rheinzabern on the Rhine, 54 belonging to real Romans from Italy, are the same as the individuals from Britain, and almost identical with the eight male males from Rome itself of the Christian period, and the early Roman from Corneto Tarquinia. These scattered references from various quarters, although few, are so alike that we must conclude that the Romans, however mixed, had formed a characteristic local or national physical type, which was mainly of Italic origin, and closely related originally to the Keltic.

The Italici, however, were not the only Indo-European speakers to invade Italy from the north. The Ligurians, of whom we have no certain skeletal remains, probably entered from Gaul, and may have been earlier than the Italici. On the eastern watershed of the Italian peninsula and in the Po Valley lived, in early protohistoric and historic times, various tribes of Illyrian speakers, notably the Veneti. To the Illyrian group may have belonged the people who buried in the cemetery of Novilara, on the central Adriatic coast, 55 about the eight century B.C., contemporaneously with the Villanova people. The site belonged to a tribe called the Piceni, who in the seventh and sixth centuries developed a high culture and later declined, becoming subjects of Rome.

The doubt as to their ethnic origin may be partly dispelled by a knowledge of their physical remains. A series of eighteen male and thirteen female skulls is homogeneously dolichocephalic, with the low mean male cranial index of 71.2; the skulls are high-vaulted, narrow-faced, and leptorrhine. The series is very similar to those of Hallstatt Illyrians farther north, and the stature, 165.5 cm. for males, is tall enough to support this. Whether or not they spoke Illyrian, they were of Illyrian racial type, and the Illyrian invasion of northeastern Italy was undoubtedly a real on in the racial sense.


45. Whatmough, J., The Foundations of Roman Italy.

46. Ibid., pp. 276-277.

47. Zampa, R., APA, vol. 20, 1890, pp. 345-365.

48. Sergi, G., ARAL, Anno 280, 1883, 10 pp.

49. Moschen, L., Crani Romani della Primera Epoca Cristiana, 1894.
Pröbstl, L., AFA, vol. 45, 1919, pp. 80-81.

50. Whatmough, op. cit., p. 267.

51. Rochet, C., MSAP, vol. 3, 1868, pp. 127-145.

52. Davis, J. B., and Thurman, J., Crania Britannica, 1865, Part II.

53. Browne, C. R., PRIA, vol. 2, ser. 3, 1899, pp. 649-654.

54. Pröbstl, L., AFA, vol. 45, 1919, pp. 80-81.

55. Whatmough is in doubt as to their linguistic affiliation. Whatmough, J., op. cit., pp. 202-205.