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In historical studies, Italic peoples may refer to the speakers of languages of the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family found in Italy from the 9th century BCE onwards, as attested by inscriptions. The term may also refer to the presumed ancestral migrants who brought Indo-European languages into Italy, presumably in the second millennium BCE.

One of those Italic groups, the Latins, achieved a dominant position in the Italian peninsula in the late 1st millennium BCE. It eventually created the Roman Empire, that spread their civilization and their language — Latin — to much of Europe. All other Italic tribes, together with many European peoples who spoke non-Italic or non-Indo-European languages, were absorbed in a process known as romanization. After the collapse and fragmentation of the Empire, a large part of those Romanized Europeans developed Latin into various Romance languages.

The term "Italic peoples" is also sometimes used, especially in non-specialised literature, as including other groups living in the Italian peninsula in the first millenium BCE, like the Etruscans and the Raetians, who did not speak Indo-European languages.[1]



Linguistic map of Italy in the Iron Age.

The Italic languagesEdit

Writing was introduced in the Italic peninsula, via the Euboean Greeks and the Etruscans, around the 8th or 9th century BCE. The inscriptions that survive from that period show that Italy was inhabited by several populations that spoke different languages.

Some of those languages have been identified as members of the Indo-European family; and some of them have been classified into a specific branch of the family, the Italic languages. Their speakers are referred by historians as "Italic peoples"; however, since their genetics and origins are largely unknown, they do not necessarily make an ethnic group or nation.

Languages of Central Italy at the beginning of Roman expansion

The Italic languages are classified in two major subgroups:

Several other languages attested by inscriptions appear to be Indo-European, but their status as "Italic" and their classification are still disputed:


Copper AgeEdit

During the Copper Age, at the same time that metalworking appeared, Indo-European people are believed to have migrated to Italy in several waves.[5] Associated with this migration are the Rinaldone culture and Remedello culture in Northern Italy, and the Gaudo culture of Southern Italy. These cultures were led by a warrior-aristocracy and are considered intrusive.[5] Their Indo-European character is suggested by the presence of weapons in burials, the appearance of the horse in Italy at this time and material similarities with cultures of Central Europe.[5]

Early and Middle Bronze AgeEdit

Indo-European Migrations. Source David Anthony (2007), The Horse, The Wheel and Language

According to David W. Anthony, between 3100–3000 BCE, a massive migration of Indo-Europeans from the Yamnaya culture took place into the Danube Valley. Thousands of kurgans are attributed to this event. These migrations probably split off Pre-Italic, Pre-Celtic and Pre-Germanic from Proto-Indo-European.[6] By this time the Anatolian peoples and the Tocharians had already split off from other Indo-Europeans.[7] Hydronymy shows that the Proto-Germanic homeland was in Central Germany, which would be very close to the homeland of Italic and Celtic languages as well.[8] The origin of a hypothetical ancestral "Italo-Celtic" people is to be found in today's eastern Hungary, settled around 3100 BCE by the Yamnaya culture. This hypothesis is to some extent supported by the observation that Italic shares a large number of isoglosses and lexical terms with Celtic and Germanic, some of which are more likely to be attributed to the Bronze Age.[5] In particular, using Bayesian phylogenetic methods, Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson argued that Proto-Italic speakers separated from Proto-Germanics 5500 years before present, i.e. roughly at the start of the Bronze Age.[9] This is further confirmed by the fact that the Germanic language family shares more vocabulary with the Italic family than with the Celtic language family.[10]

From the late third to the early second millennium BCE, tribes coming both from the north and from Franco-Iberia brought the Beaker culture[11] and the use of bronze smithing, to the Po Valley, to Tuscany and to the coasts of Sardinia and Sicily. The Beakers could have been the link which brought the Yamnaya dialects from Hungary to Austria and Bavaria. These dialects might then have developed into Proto-Celtic.[12] The arrival of Indo-Europeans into Italy is in some sources ascribed to the Beakers.[1] A migration across the Alps from East-Central Europe by Italic tribes is thought to have occurred around 1800 BCE.[13][14]

In the mid-second millennium BCE, the Terramare culture developed in the Po Valley.[15] The Terramare culture takes its name from the black earth (terra marna) residue of settlement mounds, which have long served the fertilizing needs of local farmers. These people were still hunters, but had domesticated animals; they were fairly skillful metallurgists, casting bronze in moulds of stone and clay, and they were also agriculturists, cultivating beans, the vine, wheat and flax. The Latino-Faliscan people have been associated with this culture, especially by the archaeologist Luigi Pigorini.[5]

Late Bronze AgeEdit

The Villanovan culture in 900 BC

The Urnfield culture might have brought proto-Italic people from among the "Italo-Celtic" tribes who remained in Hungary into Italy.[12] These tribes are thought to have penetrated Italy from the east during the late second millennium BC through the Proto-Villanovan culture.[12] They later crossed the Apennine Mountains and settled central Italy, including Latium. Before 1000 BCE several Italic tribes had probably entered Italy. These divided into various groups and gradually came to occupy central Italy and southern Italy.[14] This period was characterized by widespread upheaval in the Mediterranean, including the emergence of the Sea Peoples and the Late Bronze Age collapse.[16]

The Proto-Villanovan culture dominated the peninsula and replaced the preceding Apennine culture. The Proto-Villanovans practiced cremation and buried the ashes of their dead in pottery urns of a distinctive double-cone shape. Generally speaking, Proto-Villanovan settlements have been found in almost the whole Italian peninsula from Veneto to eastern Sicily, although they were most numerous in the northern-central part of Italy. The most important settlements excavated are those of Frattesina in Veneto region, Bismantova in Emilia-Romagna and near the Monti della Tolfa, north of Rome. The Osco-Umbrians, the Veneti, and possibly the Latino-Faliscans too, have been associated with this culture.

In the 13th century BCE, Proto-Celts (probably the ancestors of the Lepontii people), coming from the area of modern-day Switzerland, eastern France and south-western Germany (RSFO Urnfield group), entered Northern Italy (Lombardy and eastern Piedmont), starting the Canegrate culture, who not long time after, merging with the indigenous Ligurians, produced the mixed Golasecca culture.

Iron AgeEdit

Italy (as defined by today's borders) in 400 BC.

In the early Iron Age, the relatively homogeneous Proto-Villanovan culture shows a process of fragmentation and regionalisation. In Tuscany and in part of Emilia-Romagna, Latium and Campania, the Proto-Villanovan culture was followed by the Villanovan culture. The Villanovan culture is closely associated with the Celtic Halstatt culture of Alpine Austria, and is characterised by the introduction of iron-working, the practice of cremation coupled with the burial of ashes in distinctive pottery. The earliest remains of Villanovan culture date back to circa 1100 BCE.

In the region south of the Tiber (Latium Vetus), the Latial culture of the Latins emerges, while in the north-east of the peninsula the Este culture of the Veneti appeared. Roughly in the same period, from their core area in central Italy (modern-day Umbria and Sabina region), the Osco-Umbrians began to emigrate in various waves, through the process of Ver sacrum, the ritualized extension of colonies, in southern Latium, Molise and the whole southern half of the peninsula, replacing the previous tribes, such as the Opici and the Oenotrians. This corresponds with the emergence of the Terni culture, which had strong similarities with the Celtic cultures of Hallstatt and La Tène.[17] The Umbrian necropolis of Terni, which dates back to the 10th century BCE, was identical in every aspect to the Celtic necropolis of the Golasecca culture.[18]


By the mid-first millennium BCE, the Latins of Rome were growing in power and influence. This led to the establishment of ancient Roman civilization. In order to combat the non-Italic Etruscans, several Italic tribes united in the Latin League. After the Latins had liberated themselves from Etruscan rule they acquired a dominant position among the Italic tribes. Frequent conflict between various Italic tribes followed. The best documented of these are the wars between the Latins and the Samnites.[1]

The Latins eventually succeeded in unifying the Italic elements in the country. Many non-Latin Italic tribes adopted Latin culture and acquired Roman citizenship. During this time Italic colonies were established throughout the country, and non-Italic elements eventually adopted the Latin language and culture in a process known as romanization.[14] In the early first century BCE, several Italic tribes, in particular the Marsi and the Samnites, rebelled against Roman rule. This conflict is called the Social War. After Roman victory was secured, all peoples in Italy, except for the Celts of the Po Valley, were granted Roman citizenship.[1]

Rise of the Romance languagesEdit

Romanization was eventually extended to the European areas dominated by the Roman Empire. Roman methods of organization and technology also spread to the Germanic tribes living along Rome's European frontier. In the fifth century CE these tribes migrated into the Western Roman Empire and amalgamated with the local Latin-speaking population.[1] The Germanic migration left a vacuum filled by the Slavs.[1]

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the use of the Latin language retreated in size, but was still widely used, such as through the Catholic Church as well as by others like the Germanic Visigoths and the Catholic Frankish kingdom of Clovis.[19]:1 In part due to regional dialects of the Latin language and local environments, several languages evolved from it, the Romance languages.[19]:4 The ethnic groups that emerged from this development are collectively referred to as Romance peoples or Latin peoples.[1][20] The Spanish and Portuguese languages prominently spread into North, Central, and South America through colonization.[19]:8,10 The French language has spread to most inhabited continents through colonialism, however the ethnic qualification of the Italic ethnolinguistic group is only found in France, and some parts of Haiti.[19]:13–15 The Italian language developed as a national language of Italy beginning in the 19th century out of several similar Romance dialects.[19]:312 The Romanian language has developed primarily in the Daco-Romanian variant that is the national language of Romania and Moldova, but also with other Romanian variants such as the Aromanian spoken in Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia by the Aromanian minority.

Romance ethnic groups include:[20]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Waldman & Mason 2006, pp. 452–459
  2. ^ The Latin Dialect of the Ager Faliscus.
  3. ^ Tongues of Italy, Prehistory and History
  4. ^ Gli Antichi Italici
  5. ^ a b c d e Mallory 1997, pp. 314–319
  6. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 305
  7. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 344
  8. ^ Hans, Wagner. "Anatolien war nicht Ur-Heimat der indogermanischen Stämme". eurasischesmagazin. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  9. ^ "Language evolution and human history: what a difference a date makes, Russell D. Gray, Quentin D. Atkinson and Simon J. Greenhill (2011)".
  10. ^ "A Grammar of Proto-Germanic, Winfred P. Lehmann Jonathan Slocum" (PDF).
  11. ^ p. 144, Richard Bradley The prehistory of Britain and Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-521-84811-3
  12. ^ a b c Anthony 2007, p. 367
  13. ^ "Italic languages: Origins of the Italic languages". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  14. ^ a b c "History of Europe: Romans". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  15. ^ Pearce, Mark (December 1, 1998). "New research on the terramare of northern Italy". Antiquity.
  16. ^ Waldman & Mason 2006, pp. 620–658
  17. ^ Leonelli, Valentina. La necropoli delle Acciaierie di Terni: contributi per una edizione critica (Cestres ed.). p. 33.
  18. ^ Farinacci, Manlio. Carsulae svelata e Terni sotterranea. Associazione Culturale UMRU - Terni.
  19. ^ a b c d e Harris, Martin; Vincent, Nigel (2001). Romance Languages. London, England, UK: Routledge.
  20. ^ a b Minahan 2000, p. 776
  21. ^ Minahan 2000, p. 47
  22. ^ Minahan 2000, p. 156
  23. ^ Minahan 2000, p. 182
  24. ^ Minahan 2000, p. 257
  25. ^ Minahan 2000, p. 343
  26. ^ Minahan 2000, p. 545
  27. ^ Minahan 2000, p. 588