], people of N Spain and SW France. There are about 2 million Basques in the three Basque provs. and Navarre, Spain; some 250,000 in Labourd, Soule, and Lower Navarre, France; and communities of various sizes in Central and South America and other parts of the world. Many preserve their ancient language, which is unrelated to any other tongue. They have guarded their ancient customs and traditions, although they have played a prominent role in the history of Spain and France.
The origin of the Basques, almost certainly the oldest surviving ethnic group in Europe, has not yet been determined, but they antedate the ancient Iberian tribes of Spain, with which they have been erroneously identified. Genetically and culturally, the Basque population has been relatively isolated and distinct, perhaps since Paleolithic times. Primarily free peasants, shepherds, fishermen, navigators, miners, and metalworkers, the Basques also produced such figures as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, and Francisco de Vitoria.
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