Italic peoples: Antiochos of Syracuse on migrations of peoples to and within Italy (late fifth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Italic peoples: Antiochos of Syracuse on migrations of peoples to and within Italy (late fifth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 14, 2024,

Ancient authors: Antiochos of Syracuse (late fifth century BCE), Sicilian History = FGrHist 555 F1-6, 9, 12-13 (link to FGrHist), as cited by Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.11.3-4; Dionysios, Roman Antiquities 1.12.3; 1.22.1-6; 1.35.1-3; 1.73; Strabo, Geography 5.4.3; 6.1.4; 6.1.6; 6.1.15; 6.3.2-3; Stephanos of Byzantium, Ethnika at Βρέττος.

Comments: Antiochos of Syracuse’s fifth-century BCE work on the settlement of Sicily is the earliest source from an inhabitant of the area regarding migrations of peoples to and within Italy. Collected here are a number of the fragments of Antiochos’ work cited by others that expressly outline legends of migration and relations among different Greek and Italic peoples. Antiochos claims that the earliest settlers within Italy were either the Oinotrians or the Brettians (depending on which later authors’ interpretations of Antiochos’ work were in line with Antiochos’ views).

Works consulted: N. Luraghi, “Antiochos of Syracuse (555)” In Jacoby Online. Brill’s New Jacoby, Part III, edited by Ian Worthington. Brill: Leiden, 2013.


[Lapareans as Knidian settlers on islands off coast of Sicily after battle with Tyrrhenians]

(F1 = Pausanias,Description of Greece10.11.3-4) The Lipareans also dedicated statues [at Delphi] for a naval victory which they won over the Tyrrhenians [sometimes the equivalent of Etruscans]. These Lipareans were colonists from Knidos, and they say that the leader of the colony was a Knidian. His name was Pentathlos, according to a statement by Antiochos the Syracusan, son of Xenophon, in his Sicilian History. The historian further says that they founded a city on cape Pachynon in Sicily, but were hard put to it in war and finally expelled by the Elymians and Phoenicians, so they took possession of the islands which still bear the Homeric name of the “Islands of Aiolos.” They either found the islands uninhabited or expelled the inhabitants. Of these islands they inhabit Lipara, where they founded a city: they farm on the islands of Hiera, Strongyle, and Didymai, crossing to them in ships. In Strongyle fire may be seen rising up out of the earth, and in Hiera fire blazes up spontaneously on the highest point of the island. There are baths beside the sea, which are good enough if you let yourself gently into the water, but it is painful to jump into the water due to the heat.


[Oinotrians as the earliest settlers in Italy]

(F2 = Dionysios, Roman Antiquities 1.12.3) Antiochos of Syracuse, a very early historian, in his account of the settlement of Italy, when enumerating the most ancient inhabitants in the order in which each of them held possession of any part of it, says that the first who are reported to have inhabited that country are the Oinotrians. His words are these: “Antiochos the son of Xenophanes wrote this account of Italy, which comprises all that is most credible and certain out of the ancient accounts. This country, which is now called Italy, was formerly possessed by the Oinotrians.” Then he relates in what manner they were governed and says that in the course of time Italos came to be their king, after whom they were named Italians; that this man was succeeded by Morges, after whom they were called Morgetians, and that Sikelos, being received as a guest by Morges and setting up a kingdom for himself, divided the people. After which he adds these words: “Thus those who had been Oinotrians became Sikelians, Morgetians, and Italians.”


[Oinotrians and Iapygians]

(F3a = Strabo, Geography 6.1.4) The seaboard that comes next after Lucania, as far as the Sicilian strait and for a distance of thirteen hundred and fifty stadium-lengths, is occupied by the Brettians. According to Antiochos, in his treatise On Italy, this territory (and this is the territory which he says he is describing) was once called Italy, although in earlier times it was called Oinotria. And he designates as its boundaries, first, on the Tyrrhenian sea, the same boundary that I have assigned to the country of the Brettians, namely the river Laos; and secondly, on the Sicilian sea, Metapontion. But as for the country of the Tarantinians, which borders on Metapontion, he names it as outside of Italy, and calls its inhabitants Iapygians. And at a time more remote, according to him, the names “Italians” and “Oinotrians” were applied only to the people who lived this side of the isthmus in the country that slopes toward the Sicilian strait. The isthmus itself is one hundred and sixty stadium-lengths in width and lies between two gulfs: the Hipponiate (which Antiochos has called Napetine) and the Scylletic. The coasting-voyage around the country comprised between the isthmus and the strait is two thousand stadium-lengths. But after that, Antiochos says, the name of “Italy” and that of the “Oinotrians” was further extended as far as the territory of Metapontion and that of Seiris, for, he adds, the Chonians, a well-regulated Oinotrian people, had taken up their abode in these regions and had called the land Chone. Now Antiochos had spoken only in a rather simple and antiquated way, without making any distinctions between the Lucanians and the Brettians.


[Italy originally called Brettia and then Oinotria]

(F3c = Stephanos of Byzantium, Ethnika at Βρέττος) Brettos, an Tyrrhenian city . . .  Anyways, Antiochos says that Italy was first called Brettia, then Oinotria.


[Sikelians colonize the island of Sicily, ejecting others before the Trojan war]

(F4 = Dionysios, Roman Antiquities 1.22.1-6) The Sikelians, being fought by both the Pelasgians and the Aborigines, found themselves incapable of making resistance any longer, and so, taking with them their wives and children and such of their possessions as were of gold or silver, they abandoned all their country to these foes. Then, turning their course southward through the mountains, they proceeded through all the lower part of Italy, and being driven away from every place, they at last prepared rafts at the strait and, watching for a downward current, passed over from Italy to the adjacent island. It was then occupied by the Sikanians, an Iberian people. The Sikanians, fleeing from the Ligurians, had just lately settled there and had caused the island, previously named Trinacria, from its triangular shape, to be called Sicania, after themselves. There were very few inhabitants in it for so large an island, and the majority of it was not yet unoccupied. Accordingly, when the Sikelians landed there they first settled in the western parts and afterwards in several others. From these people the island began to be called Sicily.

[Debates among authors regarding timing in relation to the Trojan war]

In this manner the Sikelian people left Italy, according to Hellanikos of Lesbos [late fifth century BCE], in the third generation before the Trojan war, and in the twenty-sixth year of the priesthood of Alkyone at Argos. But Hellanikos says that two Italian expeditions passed over into Sicily, the first consisting of the Elymians, who had been driven out of their country by the Oinotrians, and the second, five years later, of the Ausonians, who fled from the Iapygians. Hellanikos mentions the king of the latter group was Sikelos, from whom both the people and the island got their name.

But according to Philistos of Syracuse [early fourth century BCE], the date of the crossing was the eightieth year before the Trojan war [ca. 1263 BCE] and the people who passed over from Italy were neither Ausonians nor Elymians, but Ligurians, whose leader was Sikelos. This Sikelos, he says, was the son of Italos and in his reign the people were called Sikelians, and he adds that these Ligurians had been driven out of their country by the Umbrians and Pelasgians. Antiochos of Syracuse does not give the date of the crossing. But he says the people who migrated were the Sikelians, who had been forced to leave by the Oinotrians and Opikans, and that they chose Straton as leader of the colony. But Thucydides [ca. 411 BCE – link to passage] writes that the people who left Italy were the Sikelians and those who drove them out were the Opikans, and that the date was many years after the Trojan war. Such, then, are the reports given by credible authorities concerning the Sikelians who changed their place of settlement from Italy to Sicily.


[Italians and Italos the founder]

(F5 = Dionysios, Roman Antiquities 1.35.1-3) But in the course of time the land came to be called Italy, after a ruler named Italos. This man, according to Antiochos of Syracuse,​ was both a wise and good prince, and persuading some of his neighbours by arguments and subduing the rest by force, he made himself master of all the land which lies between the Napetine and Scylacian bays, which was the first land, he says, to be called Italy after Italos. When he had gained posession of this district and had many subjects, he immediately wanted the neighbouring peoples and brought many cities under his rule. He says further that Italos was an Oinotrian by birth. But Hellanikos of Lesbos says that when Herakles was driving Geryon’s cattle to Argos and had come to Italy, a calf escaped from the herd and in its flight wandered the whole length of the coast. Then, swimming across the intervening strait of the sea, came into Sicily. Herakles, following the calf, inquired of the inhabitants wherever he came if anyone had seen it anywhere, and when the people of the island, who understood only a little Greek and used their own speech when indicating the animal, called it vitulus (the name by which it is still known), he, in memory of the calf, called all the country it had wandered over Vitulia. And it is no wonder that the name has been changed in the course of time to its present form, since many Greek names have met with a similar fate. But whether, as Antiochos says, the country took this name from a ruler, which perhaps is more probable, or, as Hellanikos believes, from the bull, it is still at least clear from both their accounts that in Herakles’ time, or a little earlier, it received this name. Before that it had been called Hesperia and Ausonia by the Greeks and Saturnia by the natives, as I have already stated.


[Three theories about the foundation of Rome, the earliest in Antiochos’ account of Italos, Morges, and Seikelos]

(F6 = Dionysios, Roman Antiquities 1.73) I could cite many other Greek historians who assign different founders to the city [of Rome], but, not to appear prolix, I will move on to the Roman historians. The Romans, to be sure, have not so much as one single historian or chronicler who is ancient; however, each of their historians has taken something out of ancient accounts that are preserved on sacred tablets.​ Some of these say that Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were the sons of Aeneas, others say that they were the sons of a daughter of Aeneas, without going on to determine who was their father; that they were delivered as hostages by Aeneas to Latinus, the king of the Aborigines, when the treaty was made between the inhabitants and the new-comers, and that Latinus, after giving them a kindly welcome, not only did them might good offices, but, upon dying without male issue, left them his successors to some part of his kingdom. Others say that after the death of Aeneas Ascanius, having succeeded to the entire sovereignty of the Latins, divided both the country and the forces of the Latins into three parts, two of which he gave to his brothers, Romulus and Remus. He himself, they say, built Alba and some other towns. Remus built cities which he named Capuas, after Capys, his great-grandfather, Anchisa, after his grandfather Anchises, Aeneia (which was afterwards called Janiculum), after his father, and Rome, after himself.​ This last city was for some time deserted, but upon the arrival of another colony, which the Albans sent out under the leader­ship of Romulus and Remus, it received again its ancient name. So that, according to this account [by Roman historians], there were two settlements of Rome, one a little after the Trojan war, and the other fifteen generations after the first.​ And if anyone desires to look into the remoter past, even a third Rome will be found, more ancient than these, one that was founded before Aeneas and the Trojans came into Italy. This is related by no ordinary or modern historian, but by Antiochos of Syracuse, whom I have mentioned before.​ He says that when Morges reigned in Italy (who at that time understood the entire seacoast from Tarentum to Posidonia),​ a man came to him who had been banished from Rome. His words are these: “When Italos had grown old, Morges reigned. In his reign there came a man who had been banished from Rome whose name was Seikelos.” According to the Syracusan historian, therefore, an ancient Rome is found even earlier than the Trojan war. However, as he has left it doubtful whether it was situated in the same region where the present city stands or whether some other place happened to be called by this name, I also cannot offer a guess. But as regards the ancient settlements of Rome, I think that what has already been said is sufficient.


[Opicians and Ausonians as early settlers in Campania]

(F7 = Strabo, Geography 5.4.3) Above these coasts lies the whole of Campania; it is the nicest of all plains, and around it lie fruitful hills, and the mountains of the Samnites and of the Oscians. Antiochos, it is true, says that the Opicians [likely equivalent of Oscians] once lived in this country and that “they are also called Ausonians,” but Polybios clearly believes that they are two different peoples, for he says “the Opicians and the Ausonians live in this country around the Crater.” Again, others say that, although at first it was inhabited by the Opicians, and also by the Ausonians, later on it was taken by the Sidicinians, an Oscian people. However, the Sidicinians were ejected by the Cumaeans, and in turn the Cumaens by the Tyrrhenians. For on account of its fertility, they [Antiochos and Polybios] continue, the plain became an object of contention.


[Rhegion as a settlement by Greek Chalcidians]

(F9 = Strabo, Geography 6.1.6) Rhegion was founded by the Chalcidians. It is said that this was done in accordance with an oracle in which one man out of every ten Chalcidians was dedicated to Apollo,​ because of a dearth of crops. But later on these people emigrated here from Delphi, taking with them still others from their home. But according to Antiochos, the Zanklaians sent for the Chalcidians and appointed Antimnestos as their founder-in‑chief.​ To this colony also belonged the refugees of the Peloponnesian Messenians who had been defeated by the men of the opposing faction. These men were unwilling to be punished by the Lakedaimonians [Spartans] for the violation of the young women which took place at Limnai, evebn though they were themselves guilty of the outrage done to the young women, who had been sent there for a ritual, and had also killed those who came to help the young women.​

So the Messenian refugees, after withdrawing to Makistos, sent a deputation to the oracle of the god to find fault with Apollo and Artemis if such was to be their fate in return for their trying to avenge those gods. They also did this to ask how they, now utterly ruined, might be saved. Apollo commanded the Messenian refugees to travel with the Chalcidians to Rhegion, and to be grateful to his sister [Artemis]. For, Apollo added, they were not ruined, but saved, since they were surely not to perish along with their native land, which would be captured a little later by the Spartans. The Messenian refugees obeyed, and so the rulers of the Rheginians down to Anaxilas​ were always appointed from the stock of the Messenians. According to Antiochos, the Sikelians and Morgetians had in early times inhabited the whole of this region, but later on, being ejected by the Oinotrians, had crossed over to the island of Sicily. According to some, Morgantium also took its name from the Morgetians of Rhegion.​


[History of the settlement of Metapontion and relations to surrounding Italic peoples]

(F12 = Strabo, Geography 6.1.15) Next in order comes Metapontion, which is one hundred and forty stadium-lengths from the naval station of Herakleia. It is said to have been founded by the Pylians who sailed from Troy with Nestor; and they so prospered from farming, it is said, that they dedicated a golden harvest​ at Delphi. And writers produce as a sign of its having been founded by the Pylians the sacrifice to the shades of the sons of Neleus.​ However, the city was wiped out by the Samnites. According to Antiochos: Certain of the Achaians were sent for by the Achaians in Sybaris and resettled the place, then abandoned. However, they were summoned only because of a hatred which the Achaians who had been banished from Lakonia had for the Tarantinians, in order that the neighbouring Tarantinians might not quickely take over the place. There were two cities, but since, of the two, Metapontion was closer to Taras,​ the new-comers were persuaded by the Sybarites to take Metapontion and hold it, because if they held this, they would also hold the territory of Siris. Whereas, if they turned to the territory of Siris, they would add Metapontion to the territory of the Tarantinians, which latter was on the very flank of Metapontion. When, later on, the Metapontians were at war with the Tarantinians and the Oinotrians of the interior, a reconciliation was effected in regard to a portion of the land. In fact, it was that portion which marked the boundary between the Italy of that time and Iapygia.​ Here, too, the fabulous accounts place Metapontus,​ and also Melanippe the prisoner and her son Boeotus.​ In the opinion of Antiochos, the city Metapontion was first called Metabon and later on its name was slightly altered, and further, Melanippe was brought, not to Metabos, but to Dios,​ as is proved by a hero-temple of Metabos, and also by Asios the poet, when he says that Boiotos was brought forth “in the halls of Dios by shapely Melanippe,” meaning that Melanippe was brought to Dios, not to Metabos. But, as Ephoros says, the colonizer of Metapontion was Daulios, the tyrant of the Krisa which is near Delphi. And there is this further account, that the man who was sent by the Achaeans to help colonise it was Leukippos, and that after procuring the use of the place from the Tarantinians for only a day and night he would not give it back, replying by day to those who asked it back that he had asked and taken it for the next night also, and by night that he had taken and asked it also for the next day.


[On Spartan and Cretan settlers of Taras and relations with Iapygians]

(F13 = Strabo, Geography 6.3.2-3) In speaking of the founding of Taras, Antiochos says: After the Messenian war​ broke out, those of the Lakedaimonians who did not take part in the expedition were considered slaves and were named Helots,​ and all children who were born in the time of the expedition were called Parthenians and judicially deprived of the rights of citizen­ship. However, they would not tolerate this, and since they were numerous formed a plot against the free citizens. When the latter learned of the plot they sent secretly certain men who, through a pretence of friendship, were to report what manner of plot it was. Among these was Phalanthos, who was reputed to be their champion, but he was not pleased, in general, with those who had been named to take part in the council. It was agreed, however, that the attack should be made at the Hyakinthian festival in the Amyklaion when the games were being celebrated, at the moment when Phalanthos should put on his leather cap (the free citizens were recognizable by their hair). However, when Phalanthos and his men had secretly reported the agreement, and when the games were in progress, the herald came forward and forbade Phalanthos to put on a leather cap. When the plotters perceived that the plot had been revealed, some of them began to run away and others to beg for mercy. Yet they were instructed to be of good cheer and were given over to custody. Phalanthos, however, was sent to the temple of the god​ to consult with reference to founding a colony. The god responded, “I give to you Satyrion, both to take up your abode in the rich land of Taras and to become a bane to the Iapygians.”

So the Parthenians went to Taras with Phalanthos, and they were welcomed by both the barbarians and the Cretans who had previously taken possession of the place. These latter, it is said, are the people who sailed with Minos to Sicily, and, after his death, which occurred at the home of Kokalos in Kamikoi,​ set sail from Sicily. However, on the voyage back​ they were driven out of their course to Taras, although later some of them went afoot around the Adrias​ as far as Macedonia and were called Bottiaians. But all the people as far as Daunia, it is said, were called Iapygians, after Iapyx, who is said to have been the son of Daidalos by a Cretan woman and to have been the leader of the Cretans. The city of Taras, however, was named after some hero. But Ephoros describes the founding of the city in this way. . . [omitted Ephoros’ explanation].


Source of translations: J.G. Frazer, Pausanias’s Description of Greece, volume 1 (London: MacMillan and Co., 1898); E. Cary, The Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 7 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1937-50), public domain (copyright not renewed); H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), all public domain and all adapted by Harland.

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