The Early Iron Age in Italy and Sicily

The transition from Bronze Age to Iron Age societies in Sicily was accomplished by about 900 B. C. in Sicily and somewhat later on the peninsula of Italy itself. There were no massive migrations, but a steady influx of peoples from the regions of the Danube and Aegean brought the technology for smelting iron from its ores with them.

Italian Iron Age societies developed along two different paths in two distinct regions. The societies to the south and east were Indo - Europeans who buried their dead while those who settled in the north and west were non Indo - Europeans who cremated their dead. One of the most important of these latter was the Villanovan Culture. Other societies continued developing in all parts of Italy. Some of these, both Indo - European and non Indo - European included the following.

The Villanovans

Considered by many to be the precursors of the Etruscans, the Villanovans buried their dead in biconical urns which were at first made of clay, then later of bronze. These are called cinerary urns and have been found at many Villanovan, Latin, and Etruscan sites. The Villanovans also learned the techniques of hammering bronze into plates and sheets, which enabled them to create plate armor.

The Villanovan society lasted until about 600 B. C., considered the beginning of the historical period in Italian history. Note that the traditional founding of Rome is given by most sources as some date during the Eigth Century B. C. , with most sources going with a date of 753 B. C. There is agreement amongst most scholars that the date for the establishment of the Roman Republic is 509 B. C., which is well into the historical period. Additionally, there is much evidence that the Etruscan king Servius Tullus was an historic personality but his traditional regnal dates are probably only approximately correct.

The Ligures

The Ligures occupied the northwestern corner of the Italian peninsula, including the Po River Valley. They were a mixture of Neolithic peoples and other northern groups. The Ligures were speaking an Indo - European dialect by the beginning of the Sixth Century B. C. The Veneti (who settled in the regions of modern Venice and from whom and the Raeti were two other groups that shared the Po Valley with the Ligures.

The Latins

The Latins were the people who were destined to become the Romans. They occupied the land south of the Tiber and North of the Campanian Plain. They were a mixture of native Neolithic peoples, Etruscan stock, and Indo - Europeans who migrated there in later times. The Falisci and Hernici were close relatives of the Latins. As the history of the Latins progresses, we find them intermarrying with Sabines and Albans from neighboring tribes. The district in which the Latins dwelt was called Latium and it included a fordable place on the Tiber about twenty miles from the river's mouth. This was also the furthest point upriver still navigable by ocean going vessels. The site encompassed seven small hills and traces of early Latin settlement can still be found on the Palatine. It was on the Palatine that Romulus was supposed to have founded the city of Rome. The Sabines occupied the Viminal, Esquiline, and Quirinal. Intermarriage between the Latins and the Sabines soon united the two peoples from whom the Romans were originally descended. the legendary event known as the "Rape of the Sabine Women" gives us the folklore explanation of this unification of the latin and Sabine peoples. According to tradition, during the reign of Rome's first king Romulus, the men of Latium did not have very many women from amongst their own people from whom to choose wives. They politely asked the fathers of young women of the Sabines for the hands of their daughters in marriage. The Sabines feared that this was just a ruse by which the Latins might overcome them so the Sabine fathers, encouraged by Titus Tatius, the king of the Sabines refused to give their daughters as wives for the Latin men. So Romulus led the Latin men on a raid and took the young women by force. According to the story, the ladies were not totally against the idea, for many of them saw the prospect of a good husband in these strong and heroic Latins. Before any pursuit could be organized, the ladies were respectably married to their new Latin husbands and it did not take much persuasion at that point to convince the Sabine fathers that they had not lost their daughters, but had instead gained fine strong sons. Titus Tatius and Romulus came to a friendly agreement and war was avoided. Later during the period of Etruscan domination, the site of Rome included the other hills, the Caelian, Capitoline, and Avenal.

The curious mixture of historical fact and folklore as encountered in the previous paragraph would be seen as a major feature of Roman history time and again. In many cases, records from the earliest times were very sparse and consisted of nothing but annals. Oral tradition became confused over the years. Sometimes, the the Romans considered the bare facts to be too plain and drab, lacking a sufficient element of heroic saga. They were quite comfortable with a history that was part true reporting of events and part bigger - than - life fabrication. In fact, one cannot truly understand the Romans or their history without studying these folklore traditions alongside the archaeological evidence.

Peoples of Northern and Central Italy

There were several tribes in what is called the Umbro - Sabellian group by many anthropologists. These tribes included many of Rome's traditional early enemies and the early history of Rome is filled with tales of conflict with and later assimilation of these people. Some Umbro - Sabellian tribes included the Volsci, Sabines or Sabini, Aequi, Umbri, Marsi, Vestini, Frentani, and Samnites or Sabellians. This group of peoples spoke two languages and several dialects which were all somewhat similar to Latin. Umbrian was spoken in the north and Oscan in the south. The Umbro - Sabellians, the Latins, and their relatives as a group are referred to as the Italic peoples, as distinct from the Etruscans and Ligurians. The Danunii, Pescetii, and Mesapi were neighboring tribes who spoke Mesapian.

The peoples of Southern Italy

In the regions of Campania running from south of Latium to the regions surrounding the Bay of Naples, the people spoke Oscan and were known by the same name. The Oscan people were influenced by Indo - European newcomers in later times and their language was transformed by the language these people spoke. In Lucania and Bruttium to the south, the population consisted of a mixture of Greeks and Illyrians by the Sixth Century. Later invasions by the Samnites from farther north produced an admixture of these cultures with the latin culture and language of the Samnites.

Sinngien and Boak pp. 15 - 20
Grant pp. 5 - 6 image of hut shaped cremation urn, p. 9
Atlas of the Roman World pp. 17 - 18, 19 -20, also see map of regions, p. 19
Time - Life Imperial Rome pp 35 - 36 map p. 37
The History of Art: Architecture - Painting - Sculpture Image of a biconical cinerary urn, p. 122.


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