The Peoples of Romulus’ Italy

In the age of Romulus and the Founding of Rome, in the mid-8th century BC, the Italian peninsula was inhabited by different peoples. The Celtic Gauls enter Rome’s history centuries after Romulus, so will not be discussed here. Etruscan cities sat to the north and east of Rome; the Latin peoples, which included, but were not exclusive to, the Sabines, had many cities surrounding the hills where Rome began.

The Greeks: Greek cities lay in Italy south of Naples throughout the toe and heel. Greeks from Achaea and from Euboea sent colonists to southern Italy (and Sicily just across the Messina Strait.) Euboean Chalcidians settled on the island of Pithecusa (modern Ischia) c. 750 BC. Some then moved to the mainland by 725 BC and settled Kyme/Cumae, just north of the modern Bay of Naples. Tarquinius Superbus, who ruled Rome from 535-509 BC, acquired some of the books of the Sibyl of Cumae. Cumae would later fight against the Etruscans in 524 BC.

Rhegion, settled by Greek Chalcidians at Italy’s toe, was established on the site of an earlier Oscan-Italic settlement. Sybaris was founded in the eighth century on the instep of Italy’s boot, and a century later it sent out its own colonists to found Posidonia further up Italy’s west coast at the modern Bay of Salerno. Achaean Greeks founded Croton in the late 8th century on the east coast of Italy just inside the Gulf of Taranto. Taras, later known as Tarentum, was founded c. 709 on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Taranto by Sparta. Tarentum would eventually draw Rome into war with Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus in the later 3rd century BC.

Ancient Roman sources leave no record that Romulus and his Rome had any contact with these Greeks in southern Italy. However, the sources and archaeological evidence indicate that Greeks traded with the Etruscans and lived within their cities. But according to the ancient sources, the fifth king of Rome, Tarquinius Priscus who reigned about a century after Romulus, was born in the Etruscan city of Tarquinii to a Corinthian Greek who had emigrated there and brought with him many skilled artisans. A Greek sanctuary to the goddess Hera was uncovered in the port of that city.

The Etruscans: The Etruscans were referred to in ancient sources as the Tyrrhenoi. Etruscan cities lay throughout Italy as early as the 9th and 8th centuries BC. Some were settled on the plateaus of southern Etruria and Latium. Some lay on isolated hills which overlooked the sea, or rivers, in central and northern Italy. Just as archaeology and ancient sources indicate that Greeks and Etruscans had contact, so did the Etruscans have contact with the indigenous and the Carthaginian cultures by way of Sardinia. Rich in mineral deposits like tin, iron, copper and silver, Sardinia was settled by Phoenicians and Carthaginians as early as the 9th and 8th centuries. Rome fought Carthage in three wars-the first in the first quarter of the 3rd century BC, but it signed its first treaty with Carthage in 509 BC, in the last year of Rome’s monarchy. Populonia and Vetulonia on the western coast of Italy lay closest to Sardinia, making trade contact simple. Sardinian pottery models of canoes and boats have been found in rich burial sites of southern coastal and central inland Etruria. Small Sardinian-style pottery jugs have been found in great numbers at Vetulonia, and also from Volterra in the north to Caere in the south. From the mid-9th century, small Sardinian bronzes have been found around Populonia and Vetulonia, from Tarquinia and Vulci (a particularly rich find). These bronzes were votives like pendants, and models of baskets, boats, and daggers. Etruscan bronze objects like fibulae, razors and axes have been found at indigenous Sardinian nuragic sites.

Ancient sources made reference to an Etruscan league of twelve cities. Whether or not such a league existed as such is unclear. This is a list of some Etruscan cities, which appear in the sources of Rome under the kings:

Pupluna/Populonia and Vetluna/Vetulonia, in northern Etruria opposite Corsica, and in good sailing range of Sardinia.

Rosella/Rusellae, which helped the Latins against the fifth Roman king Tarquinius Priscus.
Velch/Vulci, notable because according to Emperor Claudius account of an Etruscan history, Aulus and Caelius Vibenna, and an Etruscan who may have become sixth Roman king Servius Tullius, may have been from Vulci.

Tarchna/Tarquinia lay about 55 miles northwest from Rome, and may have been the oldest Etruscan city. Legend said that the arts of divination for which Etruscans became famous may have begun there.

Cerveteri/Caisra (Etr)/Caere (Lat): Caere lay south of Tarquinii, about 28 miles northwest from Rome. The Etruscans from Caere allied with the Carthaginians in 535 against the Phocaean Greeks.

Veii, which appears in the accounts of Romulus and his wars. Veii lay to the east of Caere, tweve miles northwest of Rome on the right bank of the Tiber River. She claimed control of the Tiber as a waterway and of the salt-works at the Tiber’s mouth. Pliny wrote that an Etruscan sculptor modeled the statue of Capitoline Jupiter for the new temple built by Rome’s last king in the later 6th century. Since sources report that Etruscans worked on the temple itself, perhaps Veii also provided all the artisans. Rome would war with Veii on and off, from Romulus’ reign through the fourth century BC. Veii also claimed possession of nearby Fidenae on the Tiber’s left bank, which provoked a war with Romulus which he won. Fidenae controlled access to the Cremera River valley, which led to Veii. Capua and Tusculum also appear in the ancient sources.

Chiusi/Clevsin/Clusium, from whence came Lars Porsenna, who besieged Rome in 505 BC, perhaps attempting to return the last king of Rome to his throne.

The Latins: Rome itself was a Latin city by birth. Romulus was born in Alba Longa, a Latin town colonized, according to the sources, from Lavinium by descendants of the Trojans who with Aeneas had merged with the Latins there. Strabo’s Geography and Livy’s History discuss these people. Here are some which appear during period of Regal Rome.

The Volsci went to war with Rome for the first time under her last king Tarquinius Superbus, and continued war with Rome over the next two centuries.

The Aequi are said to have provided the Romans with the rites of declaring war. Tarquinus Superbus made peace with them but they later fought again with Rome.

The Hernici alternately fought against Rome and as allies of Rome.

The Sabines are probably the most famous of the Latin peoples. While young women from several Latin cities and peoples were abducted for marriage by Romulus and his Romans, it is recorded that most of these women came from the Sabine people. After a few battles and victories, the Sabines warred on Rome. The war was interrupted, and brought to an end, by the intervention of the women, now all honored wives and mothers of Rome. Romulus and the Sabine leader then became joint rulers of Rome for some years.

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Filed under Early Rome, Historical fiction, Novel, Research

One response to “The Peoples of Romulus’ Italy

  1. Pingback: My Fiction for The Regal Period of Rome- | Marie Antonia Parsons

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