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The peoples of the Italian peninsula (Mid 1st millennium BC)

This map is part of a series of 6 animated maps showing the history of Rome and its Empire.

By the middle of the first millennium BC, various peoples had settled in the Italian peninsula:

- Agricultural communities lived on the plains: the Campanians at the foot of Vesuvius and the Latins in the Rome region

- Pastoral tribes lived in the inland mountainous regions, including the Umbri, Sabines, Samnites, Osci and Lucani.

Some groups, which apparently came from Illyria, settled along the Adriatic coast: Picentes, Apuli, Messapii.

There were Etruscan settlements between the Tiber and the Arno. This race, probably arriving originally by sea from the east, set up a federation of 12 cities and developed a brilliant civilization.

During the 6th century BC, the Etruscans extended their zone of influence:

- Northwards, into the Po plain;  

- And southwards, along the Tyrrhenian coast as far as Campania.  At this time, the Roman kings were Etruscans.

In the southern regions of the peninsula there were Greek colonies. They were looking for new agricultural lands or setting up trading posts along maritime trading routes.

The first Greek port was founded on the island of Pithekousai, now Ischia. Soon after, in approximately 750 BC, the city of Cumae was built in today’s Bay of Naples. During the following decades, other Greek colonies were created in southern Italy: Taranto, Crotone, Sybaris, Locri, Paestum; and in Sicily: Syracuse, Naxos, Agrigento. Each of these cities was an important commercial and cultural centre. However, they were vulnerable because of their prosperity, which was envied by the mountain peoples. Greek language and civilisation soon spread to the neighbouring communities.

In the 5th century BC, the Celts settled in the distant Po plain, an area relatively unknown to the Romans. They were known as “Gauls” and gave their name to this region: Cisalpine Gaul.