Ancient History of Italy

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History, Facts and Information about Ancient History of Italy
The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about life in Ancient Rome including Ancient History of Italy - the Early Inhabitants and races.

Ancient History of Italy - The Early Inhabitants
The early inhabitants of Italy may be divided into three great classes: the Italians proper, the Iapygians, and the Etruscans, who are clearly distinguished from each other by their respective languages.

Besides these three races, two foreign races also settled in the peninsula in historical times. These are the Greeks and the Gauls.

Ancient Geography of Italy

Ancient History of Italy - The Italians
The Italians proper inhabited the centre of the peninsula. They were divided into two branches, the Latins and the Umbro-Sabellians, including the Umbrians, Sabines, Samnites, and their numerous colonies. The dialects of the Latins and Umbro-Sabellians, though marked by striking differences, still show clearest evidence of a common origin, and both are closely related to the Greek. It is evident that at some remote period a race migrated from the East, embracing the ancestors of both the Greeks and Italians—that from it the Italians branched off—and that they again were divided into the Latins on the west and the Umbrians and Sabellians on the east.

Ancient History of Italy - The Iapygians
The Iapygians dwelt in Calabria, in the extreme southeast corner of Italy. Inscriptions in a peculiar language have here been discovered, clearly showing that the inhabitants belonged to a different race from those whom we have designated as the Italians. They were doubtless the oldest inhabitants of Italy, who were driven toward the extremity of the peninsula as the Latins and Sabellians pressed farther to the south.

Ancient History of Italy - The Etruscans (Rasena)
The Etruscans, or, as they called themselves, Rasena, form a striking contrast to the Latins and Sabellians as well as to the Greeks. Their language is radically different from the other languages of Italy; and their manners and customs clearly prove them to be a people originally quite distinct from the Greek and Italian races. Their religion was of a gloomy character, delighting in mysteries and in wild and horrible rites. Their origin is unknown. Most ancient writers relate that the Etruscans were Lydians who had migrated by sea from Asia to Italy; but this is very improbable, and it is now more generally believed that the Etruscans descended into Italy from, the Rhaetian Alps. It is expressly stated by ancient writers that the Rhaetians were Etruscans, and that they spoke the same language; while their name is perhaps the same as that of Rasena, the native name of the Etruscans. In more ancient times, before the Roman dominion, the Etruscans inhabited not only the country called Etruria, but also the great plain of the Po, as far as the foot of the Alps. Here they maintained their ground till they were expelled or subdued by the invading Gauls. The Etruscans, both in the north of Italy and to the south of the Apennines, consisted of a confederacy of twelve cities, each of which was independent, possessing the power of even making war and peace on its own account. In Etruria proper Volsinii was regarded as the metropolis.

Ancient History of Italy - The Greeks
The Greeks planted so many colonies upon the coasts of southern Italy that they gave to that district the name of Magna Graecia. The most ancient, and, at the same time, the most northerly Greek city in Italy, was Cumae in Campania. Most of the other Greek colonies were situated farther to the south, where many of them attained to great power and opulence. Of these, some of the most distinguished were Tarentum, Sybaris, Croton, and Metapontum.

Ancient History of Italy - The Gauls
The Gauls, as we have already said, occupied the greater part of northern Italy, and were so numerous and important as to give to the whole basin of the Po the name of Gallia Cisalpina. They were of the same race with the Gauls who inhabited the country beyond the Alps, and their migration and settlement in Italy were referred by the Roman historian to the time of the Tarquins. 

Ancient History of Italy - The Ancient Races
The ancient races of Italy were as follows:

  • The Sabini
  • The Marsi, Peligni, Vestini, and Marrucini
  • The Frentani
  • The Latium
  • The Bruttii

Ancient History of Italy - The Early Inhabitants - The Sabini aka the Sabines
The Sabini inhabited the rugged mountain-country in the central chain of the Apennines, lying between Etruria, Umbria, Picenum, Latium, and the country of the Marsi and Vestini. They were one of the most ancient races of Italy, and the progenitors of the far more numerous tribes which, under the names of Picentes, Peligni, and Samnites, spread themselves to the east and south. Modern writers have given the general name of Sabellians to all these tribes. The Sabines, like most other mountaineers, were brave, hardy, and frugal; and even the Romans looked up to them with admiration on account of their proverbial honesty and temperance.

Ancient History of Italy - The Early Inhabitants - The Marsi, Peligni, Vestini, and Marrucini
The Marsi, Peligni, Vestini, and Marrucini  inhabited the valleys of the central Apennines, and were closely connected, being probably all of Sabine origin. The Marsi dwelt inland around the basin of the Lake Fucinus, which is about thirty miles in circumference, and the only one of any extent in the central Apennines. The Peligni also occupied an inland district east of the Marsi. The Vestini dwelt east of the Sabines, and possessed on the coast of the Adriatic a narrow space between the mouth of the Matrinus and that of the Aternus, a distance of about six miles. The Marrucini inhabited a narrow strip of country on the Adriatic, east of the Peligni, and were bounded on the north by the Vestini and on the south by the Frentani.

Ancient History of Italy - The Early Inhabitants - The Frentani
The Frentani dwelt upon the coast of the Adriatic from the frontiers of the Marrucini to those of Apulia. They were bounded on the west by the Samnites, from whom they were originally descended, but they appear in Roman history as an independent people.

Ancient History of Italy - The Early Inhabitants - The Latium
The Latium was used in two senses. It originally signified only the land of the Latini, and was a country of small extent, bounded by the Tiber on the north, by the Apennines on the east, by the sea on the west, and by the Alban Hills on the south. But after the conquest of the Volscians, Hernici, AEquians, and other tribes, originally independent, the name of Latium was extended to all the country which the latter had previously occupied. It was thus applied to the whole region from the borders of Etruria to those of Campania, or from the Tiber to the Liris. The original abode of the Latins is of volcanic origin. The Alban Mountains are a great volcanic mass, and several of the craters have been filled with water, forming lakes, of which the Alban Lake is one of the most remarkable. The plain in which Rome stands, now called the Campagna, is not an unbroken level, but a broad undulating tract, intersected by numerous streams, which have cut themselves deep channels through the soft volcanic tufa of which the soil is composed. The climate of Latium was not healthy even in ancient times. The malaria of the Campagna renders Rome itself unhealthy in the summer and autumn; and the Pontine Marshes, which extend along the coast in the south of Latium for a distance of thirty miles, are still more pestilential.

Ancient History of Italy - The Early Inhabitants - The Bruttii
The Brutii inhabited the southern extremity of Italy, lying south of Lucania; and, like Lucania, their country is traversed throughout by the chain of the Apennines.

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