The First Inhabitants of Europe

The first inhabitants of Europe after the Deluge were the Celts, who were descended from Japhet. But the Celts and the Gaels were identical in origin; for, according to Liddell (in his "History of Rome"), Celt is strictly the same as Gael, and the Greek Keltai and Gallatai and the Latin Galli are all one. Heretofore, however, the Celts and the Gaels were considered as two distinct nations: the Celts as descended from Gomer; the Gaels from Magog—two of the sons of Japhet.

According to O'Brien's "Irish Dictionary," that portion of the posterity of Japhet, which peopled the south and south-west parts of Europe, must, after the Deluge, have first proceeded from the centre of the dispersion of mankind (Genesis xi. 8,) towards the straits of the Thracian Bosphorus, and those of the Hellespont, which they crossed by means of boats; whose construction was, doubtless, familiar to them from the traditional knowledge they had of the Ark. Those tribes which passed over the Hellespont first inhabited the south parts of Thrace,[1] as also Macedonia or ancient Greece; and those which crossed the Thracian Bosphorus (now called the straits of Constantinople) must have been the first inhabitants both of the northern parts of Thrace and of Lower, and Upper, Mesia, and also of Dacia when some of them had crossed the Danube.[2] In process of time a portion of the tribes which first settled in the two Mesias and the northern parts of Thrace proceeded towards Illyricum and Pannonia; from which regions, where they were separated into two different bodies, it is natural to conclude (from the situation of those localities) that they proceeded towards the west by two different courses: those of Pannonia going towards Noricum (now called Austria), Stiria, Carniola, and Upper Bavaria—from which countries it would appear that all the western parts of Germany were first peopled, as the east and north-east of that country were probably peopled from Dacia; and those of Illyricum taking their course towards Istria, from which point of the Adriatic coast they poured down into the regions of Italy, whence, in after ages, some of them proceeded to Gaul, speaking the very same language as that spoken by those of their nation whom they left in Italy, and who, by the ancient authors, were called Indigence or Aborigines: meaning that they were the original or primitive people who first inhabited that land. Those people were the Siculi, the Ausones, the Umbri (and all their descendants of different names mentioned by Cluver in his Geogr., Liber 3, c. 33, p. 332). Some of the ancient authors rank the Aborigines with the Umbrians, whom Pliny (Lib. 3, c. 14) represents as the most ancient people of Italy: "Umbrorum gens Antiquissima Italiae existimatur;" and Florus calls them "Antiquissimus Italiae populus." But it is conceded that the Aborigines were a tribe of the first inhabitants of Italy and, consequently, of the same stock of people of whom the first planters of Gaul were only a detachment; as the Umbri are acknowledged by some of the ancient authors to have been of the same stock as the old Gauls. The Sabini, who, as well as the Umbri and the Aborigines, formed a portion of the people afterwards called Latins, were but a tribe of the Umbri, and consequently of the same stock as the primitive Gauls. That the primitive inhabitants of the above-mentioned regions had originally but one and the same language, Cluver, in his German. Antiq., c. 6, 7, 8, produces clear vestiges in Gaul, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Illyricum; he might have added Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece:

"I am much inclined," says the Right Rev. Dr. O'Brien, "to believe that the near agreement which the ancient writers have remarked between the old Latin and Greek was, in greater measure, owing to this original identity of the European languages, than to whatever mixture might have been introduced into the Latin from the dialects of the Greek adventurers that came to Italy from time to time. Nor do I doubt but that the Gauls who repassed the Alps and settled in Upper Italy in the earliest times of the Romans, found the language of that country very nearly agreeing with their own: in the same manner and by the same reason that the people of Ireland and those of the Highlands of Scotland easily understand each other's dialects, though it be now near twelve hundred years since the Scots of Scotland parted from those of Ireland."

That the Iberno-Celtic or Gaelic-Irish language is the best preserved dialect of the old Celtic, and therefore the most useful for illustrating the antiquities of all the Celtic nations, was the opinion of the great Leibnitz, who, in his Collectan. Etymol. vol. i., p. 153, writes:

"Postremo, ad perficiendam, vel certe valde promovendam litteraturam Celticam diligentius Linguae Hibernicae studium adjungendum censeo, ut Lhudius egregie facere caepit. Nam, uti alibi jam admonui, quemadmodum Angli fuere Colonia Saxonum, et Brittanni emissio veterum Celtarum, Gallorum, Cimbrorum; ita Hiberni sunt, propago antiquiorum Britanniae habitatorum, colonis Celticis, Cimbricisque nonnullis, ut sic dicam, medus anteriorum. Itaque ut ex Anglicis linguae veterum Saxonum, et ex Cambricis veterum Gallorum; ita ex Hibernicis vetustiorum adhuc Celtarum, Germanorumque, &c., ut generaliter dicam. accolarum Oceani Britannici Cismarinorum antiquates illustrantur. Et si ultra Hiberniam esset aliquae insula Celtici sermonis, ejus filo in multo adhuc antiquiora duceremur."

And the learned Welshman,[3] Edward Lhuyd, mentioned by Leibnitz in the foregoing extract, acknowledges that the roots of the Latin are better and more abundantly preserved in the Irish than in the Welsh, which is the only Celtic dialect that can pretend to vie with the Gaelic Irish, as regards purity or perfection. Addressing the Irish nation, Lhuyd says:

"Your language is better situated for being preserved than any other language to this day spoken throughout Europe;"

meaning, no doubt, that languages are best preserved in islands and in mountain-countries, as being the most difficult of access for strangers; and especially because the Roman arms never reached Ireland, which, up to the Danish invasion, received no colonies but from Celtic countries. But, addressing the Welsh, the candid Lhuyd gives the preference to the Irish, not only for purity and perfection, as well as for priority of establishment in the British Isles, but also for its utility in illustrating the remote antiquities of Great Britain; he says:

"It is impossible to be a complete master of the ancient British, without a competent knowledge of the Irish language."


[1] Thrace: The ancient name of Adrianople, in Thrace, was, according to Ammianus, Uscudama ("uisge" : Irish, water, and "daimh," a house, more correctly "domh," Lat. "dom-us"), meaning "the watery residence:" showing an affinity in language between the Thracians and the ancient Irish!

[2] Danube: The name of the river "Danube" is, in the old Celtic, Danou ("dana :" Irish, bold; "obha" or "obhuin," an old Irish word for river), and signifies "the bold impetuous river." See the Irish epithet Gharbh, in Note under the "O'Mahony" pedigree, for the root of the Latin river Garumna and the French Garonne; each of which literally means "the boisterous river."

[3] Welshman: See Lhuyd's "Irish Vocabulary;" and his Archaeologia Britannica, published in English by Dr. Nicholson, in his "Irish Library."