Main current theories
There are two main hypotheses concerning the historical geographical spread of the Basque language:
- That Basque has occupied its current homeland (western Pyrenees, coinciding with the territories of Navarra and the Autonomous community of the Basque Country) in Spain since prehistory;
- That the end of the Roman Republic and during the first hundreds of years of the Empire, migration of Basque-speakers from Aquitaine overlapped with an autochthonous population whose most ancient substrate would be Indo-European. The migration is alleged to have increased, with peaks in the 6th and 7th centuries.
The latter hypothesis, known as the late Basquisation of the Western Basque areas has been defended by historians and philologists such as Claudio Sánchez Albornoz, Manuel Gómez Moreno, Jürgen Untermann and Francisco Villar. The Basque-Spanish linguist Koldo Mitxelena raised important objections against that hypothesis; however, recent archaeological findings of Aquitanian morphology (as it is presumed by the analysis performed by such authors as Agustín Azkarate, Iñaki García Camino, Mikel Unzueta, and others) point to an important migration dated in the 5th-6th centuries and give the theory a new lease of life.
In his 2008 book Historia de las Lenguas de Europa (History of the Languages of Europe), the Spanish philologist and hellenist Francisco Rodríguez Adrados has updated the debate by arguing that the Basque language is older in Aquitaine than in the Spanish Basque country, and it now inhabits its current territory because of pressure of the Celtic invasions.
According to this perspective, over a more ancient autochthonous Indo-European occupation, evidence appears of important Celtic establishments in the current territory of the Basque Country (though apparently not in the Pyrenean valleys of Navarre). Both cultures coexisted, the Celtic elements being socially predominant, until the arrival of the Romans. This is observed all over Álava and Biscay, thus being concluded that the Caristii and Varduli were not Basque tribes or peoples, but that they were Indo-Europeans like their neighbors Autrigones, Cantabri, and Beroni. That is, the first autochthonous peoples over those areas were not Pre-Indo-European Basques, as it has been traditionally assumed, but they would be Indo-European. Or at least such Indo-Europeans extensively and deeply imposed themselves over the previous Pre-Neolithic substrate. Later it is observed that both Álava and Navarre were strongly romanized. The well known part of the Basque depression called saltus was only barely inhabited, and at the places where it was there was evidence of Roman vestiges. According to Julio Caro Baroja, the ager (another part of the Basque depression) was as romanized as the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. So, when did the Basque language arrive there and where did it come from? The answer that sustains this hypothesis is that the Basque language expansion occurred between the 5th and 6th centuries, much later than currently believed.
Late Basquisation is supported by the following evidence:
- Abundance of ancient Indo-European onomasty before Romanization (as pointed by María Lourdes Albertos Firmat).
- Absence of vestiges in Basque language prior to romanization, in stark contrast with Aquitaine.
- Deep romanization of the Basque depression (both the ager and the saltus, as indicated by Caro Baroja and Juan José Cepeda).
- Expansion of the Basque language at the Early Middle Ages.
- Homogeneity of the Basque dialects at the Early Middle Ages (pointed out by Luis Michelena).
- Archaeological vestiges (Aldaieta, Alegría, etc.)
- The genetic boundary between the Basques and their southern neighbors is quite abrupt, while it has a more diffuse character between Basques and their northern neighbors, which might indicate a displacement from Aquitaine to the south. (Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza).
- Francisco Villar, Blanca M. Prósper (2005), Vascos, Celtas e Indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas. Salamanca: Universidad de Salamanca
- Villar, Prosper, Ibid, p.513
- El vasco es mas antiguo em Aquitania que en el pais vasco
- Francisco Villar(2001), La complessità dei livelli di stratificazione indoeuropea nell’Europa occidentale, in G. Bocchi e M. Ceruti (eds.), Le radici prime dell’Europa. Gli intrecci genetici, linguistici, storici, Bruno Mondatori, Milano, pp. 209-234. “As far as the Basques are concerned, it is on the contrary unsure whether their presence in the Iberian peninsula was particularly extended or dense. Very few place or people names of Basque etymology can be traced in ancient sources, even in those concerning the historically Basque areas; in these too ancient place and people names have a prevailing IE character.” Translation by Mario Alinei(2003).
- Cited in History of Basque by Larry Trask, page 9.
- María Lourdes Albertos (1974) El culto a los montes entre los galaicos, astures y berones y algunas de las deidades más significativas. Estudios de Arqueología Alavesa 6:147-157. ISSN 0425-3507
- Agustín Azkárate (1993) Francos, aquitanos y vascones al sur de los Pirineos. Archivo Español de Arqueología. 66:149-176. ISSN 0066-6742
- Agustín Azkárate (2004) El País Vasco en los siglos inmediatos a la desaparición del Imperio Romano. En Historia del País Vasco. Edad Media (siglos V-XV):23-50. 84-9797-039-X
- Julio Caro Baroja (1945) Materiales para una historia de la lengua vasca en su relación con la latina. 84-7148-254-1
- Juan José Cepeda (1999) Dos depósitos monetarios de época altomedieval romana procedentes de Aloria (Álava). CSDIC: 215-228.
- Juan José Cepeda. 2001. El yacimiento arqueológico de Aloria.
- Iñaki García Camino. 2002. Arqueología y poblamiento en Bizkaia, siglos VI-XII.
- Manuel Gómez Moreno. 1951. De epigrafía vizcaína. Boletín de la Real Academia de Historia 128:210-217.
- Hector Iglesias (2011) « Sur l'origine présumée du fractionnement dialectal de la langue basque », Revista ARSE 45 (2011) : 65-95.
- Luis Michelena. 1988. Sobre historia de la lengua vasca.
- Claudio Sánchez Albornoz. 1976. Vascos y navarros en su primera historia.
- Theo Vennemann. 2003. Europa Vasconica - Europa Semítica. Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs 138.
- Francisco Villar & Blanca María Prósper (2005) Vascos, celtas e indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas. 84-7800-530-7
- Mikel Unzueta. 1994. Indigenismo prerromano en la vertiente cantábrica del País Vasco: fuentes documentales y contexto arqueológico. Illuntzar 94:101-112.
- Mikel A. Unzueta, J. A. Ocharan. 1999. Aproximación a la conquista romana del Cantábrico oriental: el campamento o campo de batalla de Andagoste (Cuartango, Álava). Regio Cantabrorum: 125-142.
- Larry Trask (1997) The history of Basque. 0-415-13116-2