1902 Encyclopedia > The Alps > Humans in the Alps

The Alps
(Part 25)


(a) Humans in the Alps

At the earliest period of which records are preserved the Alps appear to have been mainly inhabited by Celtic tribes, some of which, before they were subjugated by the Romans, ahs made considerable progress in the knowledge of the useful arts. The Rhætians and Vinddelicians especially, in whom a primitive Turanian stock seems to have been amalgamated with a dominant Celtic race, readily assimilated the civilization of Rome; and the language of the conqueror, modified by peculiarities of pronunciation and the retention of some native terms, still survives in Eastern Switzerland, and in a few isolated valleys of Tyrol. Throughout by far the larger part of the Alps, however, the flood of Teutonic invasion either exterminated of drove into exile the previous population. The Alemanni and other kindred tribes settled in the main valleys of the Eastern Alps, and finally became masters of the greater parts of Switzerland, leaving to the original Celtic population the Western Alps and both slopes of the great Pennine chain. At a later period the invasion of Slavonic hordes threatened to substitute a new nationality throughout the same region, but after prolonged contest these tribes were restricted to its south-eastern portion, being nearly confined to the upper valleys of the Drave and the Save, with their tributaries. The Italian valleys of the Alps, from the Val d’Ossola to the Tagliamento, inhabited by people of mixed race, have, with a few exceptions, preserved the language of Italy, much varied in the local dialects; while the western districts, in which the Celtic element remained predominant, have for the most part clung to the French tongue. The estimates formed of the present populous districts lying without the mountain region. It is usually reckoned that there are about 1,500,000 of Celto-Gallic stock in the French and Savoy Alps, western Switzerland, and some valleys of Piedmont; about 4,000,000 of Teutonic origin in the Swiss and German Alps; about 1,000,000 of Slavonic stock, chiefly Slovenes; and about 1,000,000 of Italians in the valleys of Northern Italy, the Swiss cantons of Tessin and Grisons, and in the Italian Tyrol, making an aggregate of 7,500,000. To these should be added about 70,000 people speaking some dialect of the Rhæto-Roman or Romansch. All these numbers excepting the last are excessive, if we would restrict the estimate within the proper limits of the Alps.

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