They are first mentioned as members of a confederacy with the Vestini, Paeligni and Marrucini. They joined the Samnites in 308 BC, and on their submission became allies of Rome in 304 BC. After a short-lived revolt two years later, for which they were punished by loss of territory, they were readmitted to the Roman alliance and remained faithful down to the Social War, their contingent being always regarded as the flower of the Italian forces. In this war, which, owing to the prominence of the Marsian rebels is often known as the Marsic War, they fought bravely against odds under their leader Q. Pompaedius Silo, and, though they were frequently defeated, the result of the war was the enfranchisement of the allies. The Marsi were a hardy mountain people, famed for their simple habits and indomitable courage. It was said that the Romans had never triumphed over them or without them (Appian). They were also renowned for their priests and magicians, who were associated with unusual remedies and snake charming.
The Latin colony of Alba Fucens near the north-west corner of the lake was founded in the adjoining Aequian territory in 303, so that from the beginning of the 3rd century the Marsians were in touch with a Latin-speaking community, to say nothing of the Latin colony of Carsioli (298 BC) farther west. The earliest pure Latin inscriptions of the district seem to be C.I.L. ix. 3827 and 3848 from the neighbourhood of Supinum; its character generally is of the Gracchan period, though it might be somewhat earlier.
Mommsen pointed out that in the Social War all the coins of Pompaedius Silo have the Latin legend "Italia," while the other leaders in all but one case used Oscan.
The chief record of the dialect we owe to the goddess Angitia, whose chief temple and grove stood at the south-west corner of Lake Fucinus, near the inlet to the emissarius of Claudius (restored by Prince Torlonia), and the modern village of Luco. She (or they, for the name is in the plural in the Latin inscription next cited) was widely worshipped in the central highlands as a goddess of healing, especially skilled to cure serpent bites by charms and the herbs of the Marsian woods. Her worshippers naturally practised the same arts—as their descendants do. Their country was considered by Rome to be the home of witchcraft.
The earliest local inscriptions date from about 300 to 150 BC and include the interesting and difficult bronze of Lake Fucinus, which seems to record a votive offering to Angitia, if A(n)ctia, as is probable, was the local form of her name. Their language differs very slightly from Roman Latin of that date; for apparently contracted forms like Fougno instead of Fucino may really only be a matter of spelling. In final syllables the diphthongs ai, ei, oi, all appear as e. On the other hand, the older form of the name of the tribe (dat. plur. Martses = Lat. Martiis) shows its derivation and exhibits the assibilation of -tio- into -tso- proper to many Oscan language but strange to classical Latin.
- R. S. Conway, The Italic Dialects, pp. 290 seq. (from which some portions of this article are taken; on the Fucino-Bronze, ib. p. 294.
- ↑ (Livy viii. 29, cf. viii. 6, and Polybius ii. 24, 12)
- ↑ (Liv. ix. 41)
- ↑ (Liv. ix. 45)
- ↑ (Liv. x. 3)
- ↑ (e.g. Liv. xliv. 46)
- ↑ (e.g. Horace Odes ii. 20, 18)
- ↑ (Unteritalische Dialekten, p. 345)
- ↑ (Sulmo, C.I.L. ix. 3074, Furfo Vestinorum, ibid. 3515)
- ↑ (see A de Nino's charming collection of Usi e costumi abrusszest)
- ↑ see Hor. Sat. i, 9, 29, Epod. 17, 28, &c.