A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, July 26, 2013

Did Spoken Punic Survive Until the Advent of Arabic? Part Two: Punic After Carthage.

I'm on vacation. As I've done in recent years, I've prepared a number of posts on topics of historical and cultural interest ahead of time, posts unlikely to be overtaken by events. There will be one or more of these per day, and I may drop in to comment on current developments as required.

Delenda est Carthago. (Also given as Carthago delenda est, and both are shortened versions; Cato used to end all his speeches, regardless of the subject he was speaking about, with something like Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam: roughly, "Oh, and did I mention yet: Carthage must be destroyed.") In 146 BC, Rome delendaed the bloody hell out of the place, razing all the buildings and sowing the ground with salt. Every schoolboy knows (or allegedly once knew) that. The end.

But as I noted yesterday, the Punic language survived the fall of Carthage for an indeterminate period, and certain French and North African historians have suggested it lasted until the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh century AD, at which point the presence of a previous Semitic linguistic substrate, namely Punic, helped speed the adoption of Arabic.

The evidence is slim and, as our Amazigh ("Berber") friends persist in reminding the rest of us, Arabic's triumph is still far from complete in the Maghreb. And the Arab conquest of the region around ancient Carthage,though it began in the 640s AD, was only complete in the 660s; Kairouan was founded in 670. From 146 BC to 670 AD is more than eight centuries, a long survival for a language that was a foreign transplant to begin with (from Phoenicia), competing with the local languages (so-called "Libyco-Berber," a presumed ancestor of modern Tamazight languages) and the official tongue, Latin, and with no surviving sponsoring polity to keep it alive.

Don't expect to be utterly persuaded by what we'll be discussing over the next few days. I'm not 100% convinced myself, but since I first heard of the idea (originally associated as far as I know with the writings of William and Georges Marçais, though I think Ernest Renan may have raised the idea earlier; it's embraced by some modern Maghrebi scholars as well) I've thought it an intriguing but definitely unproven possibility. Don't expect me to prove it: hey, remember, I'm on vacation.

Punic is not a well-attested language. Most of what survives are brief inscriptions, often tombstones.  Early Punic is virtually identical with Phoenician; there are some variants in later Punic.

For a useful listing of literary evidence of late Punic, as well as a discussion of other sources, see Fergus Millar's "Local Cultures in the Roman Empire: Libyan, Punic and Latin in Roman Africa," The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 58, Parts 1 and 2 (1968), pp. 126-134 (available online but only via paid download through JSTOR, from which I take an extended quote (pp. 130-131)(but do nor here include his footnotes):
The literary evidence other than that of Augustine stretches from the late first to the sixth century, and deserves to be set out in full, in chronological order by the writers:
(1) Statius, Silvae IV, 5, 45-6 (to Septimius Severus):
non sermo Poenus, non habitus tibi, / externa non mens, Italus, Italus.

(2) Apuleius, Apologia 98, 8-9 (on his step-son and opponent Sicinius Pudens):
loquitur numquam nisi Punice et si quid adhuc a matre graecissat; enim Latine
loqui neque vult neque potest. Audisti, Maxime, paulo ante, pro nefas, privignum
meum, fratrem Pontiani, diserti iuvenis, vix singulas syllabas fringultientem.

(3) Ulpian, Lib. 2. fideicommissorum (Dig. xxxii. i i. pr.) :
fideicommissa quocumque sermone relinqui possunt, non solum Latina vel
Graeca, sed etiam Punica vel Gallicana vel alterius cuiusque gentis.

(4) Ulpian, Lib. 48 ad Sabinum (Dig. XLV. i. i. 6):
proinde si quis Latine interrogaverit, respondeatur ei Graece, dummodo congruenter
respondeatur, obligatio constituta est: idem per contrarium. sed utrum
hoc usque ad Graecum sermonem tantum protrahimus an vero et ad alium,
Poenum forte vel Assyrium vel cuius alterius linguae, dubitari potest.

(5) Epit. de Caes.20,8:
(Septimius Severus) Latinis litteris sufficienter instructus, Graecis sermonibus
eruditus, Punica eloquentia promptior, quippe genitus apud Leptim provinciae

(6) Historia Augusta, vita Sept. Sev. I5, 7:
cum soror sua Leptitana ad eum venisset vix Latine loquens, ac de illa multum
imperator erubesceret ... redire mulierem in patriam praecepit.

(7) Jerome, Com. ep. Gal. II (Migne, PL XXVI, 357):
Antiquae stultitiae usque hodie manent vestigia. Unum est quod inferimus, et
promissum in exordio reddimus, Galatas excepto sermone Graeco, quo omnis Oriens
loquitur, propriam linguam eandem habere quam Treviros, nec referre, si aliqua
exinde corruperint, cum et Afri Phoenicam linguam nonnulla ex parte mutaverint.

(8) Procopius, de bello Vandalico ii, IO, 20:
[Greek text: I'll be giving a translation of this Procopius passage in a later part of this series—MCD

These texts are of course of very uneven value. Apuleius is trying to discredit his stepson, and the proof that he spoke only Punic is supposed to be his speaking Latin haltingly; and the late biographical passages on Severus have little or no weight in themselves. But the two passages of Ulpian are quite another matter. He is speaking about what is legally permissible in the first passage, and envisaging an exchange of a dubiously binding nature in the second. He is, in other words, talking about the real contemporary world, and it is not an accident that the three languages used as examples are Punic (in both cases), Celtic, and Aramaic or Syriac. It ought to follow, unless Ulpian is making a wild error, that Punic was still used by persons of something more than the lowest social standing and, from the first passage, that it was written-though not necessarily (see below) in Semitic script. Jerome compares with those in Punic changes that have occurred in another living language, Galatian. The passage of Procopius is set in the very dubious context of a legend about the settlement of N. Africa, supposedly referred to in an inscription of Phoenician language and lettering at Tigisis; Courtois has argued that the inscription could not have had its supposed contents, and consequently that the people did not understand it (and therefore that in this sentence Procopius refers to Berber). But the argument makes Procopius use φοινικικός in two different senses in the same passage, and proceeds too strictly from what we might presume but cannot know. The sentence is an addition by Procopius himself, who had been in Africa with Belisarius, and (especially when combined with Augustine's evidence) should be taken to mean what it says.
Millar also spells out the epigraphic evidence:
The literary evidence may thus provide a framework against which to set the documentary evidence, from coins and inscriptions. The coin evidence is very limited: Punic lettering appears on the coins of a few civitates liberae of the early Empire, but disappears in the first half of the first century.The very numerous Punic (or rather neo-Punic) inscriptions of Roman Africa, many with parallel Latin texts, are effectively impossible to survey with confidence, for they have never been assembled in any modern collection. Furthermore, not only in CIL viii but also in the otherwise excellent Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (I952) the Punic parallel texts of Latin inscriptions are mentioned but not given. It may be sufficient therefore to start from the conclusion of G. Charles-Picard in his illuminating discussion of the civilization of Roman Africa: extended Punic inscriptions appear roughly up to the beginning of the second century, and brief formulae up to the beginning of the third. This view is based to a large extent on Charles-Picard's own invaluable work at Mactar, where nearly 130 Punic inscriptions have been found, though far from all published. Among them the latest extended texts have until recently been thought to be the three inscriptions,probably of the first century A.D., on the temple of Hathor Miskar (or Hoter Miscar); thev dedicatory inscription on the frieze of the temple runs to forty-seven lines in ten columns.A subsequent discovery, however, has produced two further inscriptions from the temple, one of a mere two lines, but another of eleven columns of three, five or six lines each. It records the repair of the temple, with the names of thirty-six contributors ; eighteen of them appear to have transliterated Latin names. It is suggested by the editors that the occasion cannot have been earlier than the early second century, and may well have been considerably later.
On Latino-Punic, the blog Bubulistan in 2007 summarized a thesis in Dutch on the subject and translated a few quotes. (It's the second of the two subjects quoted in the blogpost.) Not knowing  Dutch, I've omitted the Dutch text. The thesis author is convinced that Punic survived until the seventh century.
A thesis on the subject was recently defended by Robert Kerr of Universiteit Leiden (summary in pdf). Punic written in Latin script is of course nothing new: act V, scene 1 of Plautus' Poenulus, for example, contains an entire monologue in Punic (look here for an analysis taken from Rosenberg's Phönikische Sprachlehre und Epigraphik). Yet I had no idea that the Latino-Punic corpus was so extensive (Dr. Kerr mentions 69 inscriptions, "mostly epitaphs"), nor that Punic apparently remained a living "functioning North-West Semitic language" for much longer than previously thought. Dr. Kerr believes Punic was spoken as late as the 7th century AD and offers the following insight (NL) into the Punic-Roman relations after the Third Punic War (again, please excuse the poor translation):
It was long believed that the Punic culture was done for once Carthage was destroyed and "Africa" became a province of the Roman Empire. But the culture in Tripolitania actually only came to bloom. The region went its own way. Rome didn't really bother itself with it and the Carthagian influence was already diminished after the Second Punic War when the region broke away from the Carthagian sphere of influence. We are inclined to think of that period in terms of Roman-Carthagian dichotomy. But not every Punic speaker in North Africa had posters on their wall celebrating Hannibal as a liberator.
The earliest inscriptions in the Latino-Punic corpus are from 1st and 2nd centuries AD and were found in Leptis Magna. Later specimens were found deeper inland at the edge of the desert and date back to the 3rd and 4th and perhaps even 5th century AD. According to Dr. Kerr,
... in the pre-desert part of Tripolitania, Punic inscriptions far outnumbered the Latin ones. In fact, almost no Latin inscriptions were found there.
No surprise there since apparently Punic was spoken by the mixed population which came about when Punic men married Libyan women. Punic men
[Dutch text omitted from quote]

... were settled in the border areas by the Romans. They had been in the army and were now employed to man defendable border outposts for a good pay. They were afforded a lot of freedom. In Roman sources, speakers of Punic were famous for being able to successfully cultivate the land in dry areas.
[Dutch text omitted from quote]

The system of defendable outposts and water retrieval was fragile and maintenance intensive and did not survive Berber raids beginning in the 6th century and the Islamic conquest in the 7th century.
As for the actual language of the inscriptions, there is still some controversy as to what it actually is:
[Dutch text omitted from quote]

Some berberologists and africanists still wanted to believe that while poor leaseholders still spoke Punic, the elite did not and switched completely to Latin. But the inscriptions are a first-hand proof that Punic was still spoken by the upper class on the coast as late as the 3rd century AD, as is also evident from the tradition surrounding the Emperor Septimius Severus who was born in Leptis Magna.
I found Dr. Kerr's findings concerning the phonology of the inscriptions utterly fascinating. He compared the writing conventions used in both Latin and Punic inscriptions of North Africa and found that the latter must be derived from the former. This lead him to the conclusion that the pronunciation of North African vulgar Latin must have strongly resembled that of Punic. In both languages, for example, ellision of unstressed vowels is a rule. Dr. Kerr believes that the phonology of both vulgar Latin and Punic in North Africa must have been influenced by a substrate language which he terms Berbero-Libyan. In his own words:
[Dutch text omitted from quote]
Compare that with the similarities in pronunciation of Afrikaans and South African English, or Irish and Irish English. The language is different, but the accent is immediately recognizable.
And finally, even the good old St. Augustine (who was born in Roman North Africa) comes into play here:
[Dutch text omitted from quote]

It is often assumed that Augustine actually meant "Berber" when he spoke of Punic. But he was very well aware of the difference between Punic and Libyco-Berber. Of the latter he only knew that it existed, but he did not speak it. Augustine for example recognized Hebraisms in the Old Latin translation of the Bible because he spoke Punic. He did not speak any Hebrew.
Linguistic blogger Lameen Souag, meanwhile, noted this post in 2007 as well, and adds:
In eastern Libya, as it happens, Punic continued to be written even after the Phoenician alphabet was forgotten; this body of inscriptions, using the Latin alphabet to write Punic, is called (logically enough) Latino-Punic, and a comprehensive database of such inscriptions is available from Leiden.
Unfortunately that link today brings up what appears to be a 404 error in Dutch and I'm not finding it through other searches.  Lameen also mentions Saint Augustine and the 11th century text of al-Bakri, which may hint at a very late survival, but we'll be discussing them and other evidence in later parts of this series.

All these authors have referred to the evidence of Augustine. He is the last certain point in this exploration; later evidence such as that of Procopius and al-Bakri is highly uncertain. We'll discuss Augustine on Monday; enjoy your weekend.

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