The Settlement of Italy. - Long before Rome was founded, every part of Italy was already peopled. Many of the peoples living there came from the north, around the head of the Adriatic, pushing their way toward the south into different parts of the peninsula. Others came from Greece by way of the sea, settling upon the southern coast. It is of course impossible for us to say precisely how Italy was settled. It is enough for us at present to know that most of the earlier settlers spoke an Indo-European, or Aryan, language, and that when they first appeared in Italy they were scarcely civilized, living upon their flocks and herds and just beginning to cultivate the soil.
The Italic Tribes.The largest part of the peninsula was occupied by a number of tribes which made up the so-called Italic race.1 We may for convenience group these tribes into four divisions the Latins, the Oscans, the Sabellians, and the Umbrians. (1) The Latins dwelt in central Italy, just south of the Tiber. They lived in villages scattered about Latium, tilling their fields and tending their flocks. The village was a collection of straw-thatched huts; it generally grew up about a hill, which was fortified, and to which the villagers could retreat in times of danger. Many of these Latin villages or hill-towns grew into cities, which were united into a league for mutual protection, and bound together by a common worship (of Jupiter Latiaris); and an annual festival which they celebrated on the Alban Mount, near which was situated Alba Longa, their chief city (see map, p. 46).
A Temporary Village of Straw Huts in Modern Italysupposed to be like an ancient Latin village
(2) The Oscans were the remnants of an early Italic people which inhabited the country stretching southward from Latium, along the western coast. In their customs they were like the Latins, although perhaps not so far advanced. Some authors include in this branch the Aequians, the Hernicans, and the Volscians, who carried on many wars with Rome in early times.
(3) The Sabellians embraced the most numerous and warlike peoples of the Italic stock. They lived to the east and south of the Latins and Oscans, extending along the ridges and slopes of the Apennines. They were devoted not so much to farming as to the tending of flocks and herds. They lived also by plundering their neighbors’ harvests and carrying off their neighbors’ cattle. They were broken up into a great number
of tribes, the most noted of which were the Samnites, a hardy race which became the great rival of the Roman people for the possession of central Italy. Some of the Samnite people in very early times moved from then mountain home and settled in the fertile plain of Campania.
(4) The Umbrians lived to the north of the Sabellians. They are said to have been the oldest people of Italy. But when the Romans came into contact with them, they had become crowded into a comparatively small territory, and were easily conquered. They were broken up into small tribes, living in hill-towns and villages, and these were often united into loose confederacies.
The Etruscans.Northwest of Latium dwelt the Etruscans, in some respects the most remarkable people of early Italy. Their origin is shrouded in mystery. In early times they were a powerful nation, stretching from the Po to the Tiber, and having possessions even in the plains of Campania. Their cities were fortified, often in the strongest manner, and also linked together in confederations. Their prosperity was founded not only upon agriculture, but also upon commerce.
Their religion was a gloomy and weird superstition, in which they thought that they could discover the will of the gods by means of augury, that is, by watching the flight of birds and by examining the entrails of animals. The Etruscans were great builders; and their massive walls, durable roads, well-constructed sewers, and imposing sepulchers show the greatness of their civilization.
The Greeks in Italy.But the most civilized and cultivated people in Italy were the Greeks, who had planted their colonies at Tarentum, and on the western coast as far as Naples (Neapolis) in Campania. So completely did these coasts become dotted with Greek cities, enlivened with Greek commerce, and influenced by Greek culture, that this part of the peninsula received the name of Magna Graecia.2
The Gauls.If the Greeks in the extreme south were the most civilized people of Italy, the Gauls or Celts, in the extreme north, were the most barbarous. Crossing the Alps from western Europe, they had pushed back the Etruscans and occupied the plains of the Po; hence this region received the name which it long held, Cisalpine Gaul. They held this territory against the Ligurians on the west and the Veneti on the east; and for a long time were the terror of the Italian people.
SELECTIONS FOR READING
Ihne, Early Rome, Ch. 1, “The Greatness of Rome” (5).3
Michelet, Ch. 2, “Description of Italy” (6).
Liddell, Introduction, “Physical Geography of Italy” (1).
How and Leigh, Ch. 2, “Peoples of Italy” (1).
Shuckburgh, Ch. 3, “Inhabitants of Italy” (1).
Mommsen, Vol. 1., Bk. 1., Ch. 3, “Settlements of the Latins” (2).
Mommsen, abridged, Ch. 5, “The EtruscansThe Greeks in Italy” (2).
SOURCES OF ROMAN HISTORY.Liddell, Ch. 16 (1); Ihne, Early Rome, Ch. 2 (5); Shuckburgh, pp. 54-60 (1); Mommsen, abridged, pp. vii.-xviii. (2); Dyer, Kings of Rome, Introductory Dissertation (5).
1 Remnants of other early peoples may be seen in the Ligures and the Veneti in the north, the Iapygians in the southeast, and the Siculi in Sicily.
2 It may be noticed here that the early Phoenician traders touched upon the coasts of Italy and the neighboring islands, and that Sardinia and western Sicily came to be occupied by Carthage, the greatest of the Phoenician colonies. Eastern Sicily was colonized by the Greeks.
3 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.