Italic peoples: Strabo on Latins, Sabines, Samnites, Umbrians, Lucanians, and others (early first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Italic peoples: Strabo on Latins, Sabines, Samnites, Umbrians, Lucanians, and others (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 8, 2024,

Ancient authors: Strabo (early first century CE), Geography 5.1.1-6.3.11 (link).

Comments: Strabo’s first century discussion of the peoples that inhabited Italy at various historical stages is the most extensive account on the subject of Italic peoples, namely pre-Roman peoples of various origins.  With this discussion, Strabo transitions to explaining the extension of the Romans’ power first over Italic peoples and then over peoples throughout the Mediterranean (link).  One of Strabo’s key early sources is Antiochos of Syracuse (fifth century BCE), who has his own post (link).

Works consulted: E. Dench, From Barbarians to New Men: Greek, Roman and Modern Perceptions of Peoples from the Central Apennines (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

This post is part of the Italic peoples series:

  • Thucydides on Sikelians (Sicilians) and Sikanians (link)
  • Antiochos on migrations of peoples to and in Italy (link)
  • Theopompos on Tyrrhenians (Etruscans) (link)
  • Klearchos on Iapygians (link)
  • Cato, Livy, and Florus on Samnites and Sabines (link)
  • Diodoros on Tyrrhenians (link), on Ligurians (link), and on Sikelians and Sikanians (link)
  • Strabo on Latins, Sabines, Samnites, and Lucanians (link) and on Ligurians (link)
  • Dionysios on Latins, Sikelians, Umbrians, and others (link)
  • Plutarch on Tyrrhenians (link)
  • Dio Cassius (link coming soon)


[For Strabo’s preceding discussion of Celts and Ligurians, go to this link]

[Introduction to Italy and its peoples]

(5.1.1) After the foothills of the Alps comes the beginning of what is now Italy. For the ancients used to call only Oinotria Italy, although it extended from the strait of Sicily only as far as the gulfs of Tarenton and Poseidonia,​ but the name of Italy prevailed and advanced even as far as the foothills of the Alps, and also took in, not only those parts of Ligustica​ which extend from the boundaries of Tyrrhenia as far as the Varus river and the sea there, but also those parts of Istria which extend as far as Pola.

One might guess that it was because of their prosperity that the people who were the first to be named “Italians” (Italoi) imparted the name to the neighbouring peoples, and then received further increments in this way until the time of the Roman conquest. At some late time or other after the Romans had shared with the Italiotes (Italiōtai) the equality of civil rights, they decided to allow the same honour both to the Galatians​ on this [south] side of the Alps and to the Henetians (Henetoi; or: Venetians), and to call all of them “Italiotes” as well as Romans, and, further, to send out many colonies amongst them, some earlier and some later, than which it is not easy to call any other set of colonies better. . . [omitted detailed description of the overall shape of Italy].

[Geographical sketch from north to south with reference to locations of peoples]

(5.1.3) Taking the parts individually, however, we can speak as follows: as for the Alps, their base is curved and gulf-like, with the cavities turned towards Italy. The central gulf are near the Salassians, while the extremities take a turn, the one as far as Ocra and the recess of the Adriatic sea, the other to the Ligurian seaboard as far as Genua (the emporium of the Ligurians), where the Apennine mountains join the Alps. But immediately at the base of the Alps there lies a considerable plain, with its length and its breadth about equal, namely, two thousand one hundred stadium-lengths; its southern side is shut in both by the seaboard of the Henetians and by those Apennine mountains which reach down to the neighbourhood of Ariminum and Ancona. These mountains, after beginning in Liguria, enter Tyrrhenia, leaving only a narrow seaboard, and then, withdrawing into the interior little by little, when they come to be opposite the territory of Pisa, bend towards the east and towards the Adriatic until they reach the regions around Ariminum and Ancona, there joining in a straight line the seaboard of the Henetians. The Celtic region on this [south] side of the Alps [aka Cisalpine Celtica], accordingly, is shut in by these boundaries; and although the length of the seaboard, together with that of the mountains, is as much as six thousand three hundred stadium-lengths, the breadth is slightly less than one thousand. The remainder of Italy, however, is narrow and elongated, terminating in two heads, one at the Sicilian strait and the other at Iapygia; and it is pinched in on both sides, on one by the Adriatic and on the other by the Tyrrhenian sea. The shape and the size of the Adriatic are like that part of Italy which is marked off by the Apennine mountains and by both seas as far as Iapygia and that isthmus which is between the gulfs of Tarentum and Poseidonia; for the maximum breadth of each is about one thousand three hundred stadium-lengths, and the length not much less than six thousand.

The remainder of Italy, however, is all the country occupied by the Brettians (or: Bruttians) and certain of the Lucanians. Polybios says that, if you go by foot, the seaboard from Iapygia to the strait is as much as three thousand stadium-lengths, and that it is washed by the Sicilian sea, but that, if you go by sea, it is as much as five hundred stadium-lengths short of that. The Apennine mountains, after joining the regions around Ariminum and Ancona, that is, after marking off the breadth of Italy there from sea to sea, again take a turn, and cut the whole country lengthwise. As far, then, as the territory of the Peuketians [perhaps a subgroup of Iapygians] and that of the Lucanians they do not recede much from the Adriatic, but after joining the territory of the Lucanians they bend off more towards the other sea and then, for the rest of the way, passing throughout the centre of the territory of the Lucanians and Brettians, end at what is called Leucopetra in the district of Rhegion. Thus much, then, I have said about what is now Italy, as a whole, in a merely rough-outline way, but I will now go back and try to tell about the several parts in detail; and first about the parts at the base of the Alps.

[1. Peoples of northern Italy]

[Ligurians, Celts and Henetians]

(5.1.4) This country is a plain that is very rich in soil and diversified by fruitful hills. The plain is divided almost at its very centre by the Padus [Po] river; and its parts are called, the one Cispadana, the other Transpadana. Cispadana is all the part that lies next to the Apennine mountains and Liguria, while Transpadana is the rest. The latter is inhabited by the Ligurian and the Celtic peoples (ethnē), who live partly in the mountains, partly in the plains, whereas the former is inhabited by the Celts and Henetians. Now these Celts are actually from the same people (homoethnos) as the Celts beyond the Alps. However, concerning the Henetians, there are two different accounts: On the one hand, some say that the Henetians are also colonists of those Celts with a similar name who live on the ocean-coast. On the other hand, others say that certain of the Henetians of Paphlagonia escaped to this place with Antenor from the Trojan war. As support for this view, they adduce the Henetians devotion to the breeding of horses, a devotion which has now actually completely disappeared even though it was formerly prized among them. They had an ancient rivalry in the matter of producing mares for mule-breeding. Homer, too, recalls this fact: “From the land of the Henetians, from which comes the breed of the wild mules.” Again, Dionysios, the tyrant of Sicily, collected his stud of prize-horses from here, and consequently not only did the fame of the Henetian foal-breeding reach the Greeks but the breed itself was held in high esteem by them for a long time. . . [omitted description of surrounding waters and rivers].

[Boians, Insubrians, and Senonians]

(5.1.6) In early times, then, as I was saying, the country around the Padus river was inhabited for the most part by the Celts. And the largest peoples of the Celts were the Boians, Insubrians, and those Senonians who, along with the Gaizatians, once seized the territory of the Romans at the first assault. These two peoples, it is true, were utterly destroyed by the Romans later on, but the Boians were merely driven out of the regions they occupied. After migrating to the regions around the Ister [Danube] river, lived with the Tauriskians, and carried on war against the Dacians until they perished, people and all. So they left their country, which was a part o-f Illyria, to their neighbours as a pasture-ground for sheep.

The Insubrians, however, are still in existence. They had as metropolis Mediolanium, which, though long ago only a village (for they all used to dwell only in villages), is now a notable city. It is across the Padus river, and almost adjoins the Alps. Near by is Verona also (this, too, a large city), and, smaller than these two, the cities of Brixia, Mantua, Region, and Comum [modern Como]. Comum used to be only a moderate-sized settlement, but, after its ill treatment by the Rhaitians who are situated above it, Pompey Strabo, father of Pompey the Great, settled a Roman colony there. Then Gaius Scipio added three thousand colonists. Then the deified Caesar further settled it with five thousand, among whom the five hundred Greeks were the most notable, and to these Greeks he not only gave the rights of citizenship but also enrolled them among the colonists. The Greeks did not, however, permanently settle there, though they at least left to the settlement the name. The colonists were, as a whole, called “Neocomitians” — that is, if interpreted in Latin, “Novum Comum.” Near this place is what is called Larius lake; it is fed by the river Addua. The river then issues from the lake into the Padus river; it has its original sources, however, in mount Adula, in which also the Rhenus [Rhine] river has its sources.

[Spinatians, Umbrians, Carnians, Cenomanians, Medoacians, and Symbrians]

(5.1.7) [omitted paragraph] . . . Between the two cities is Butrium, a town belonging to Ravenna, and also Spina, which though now only a small village, long ago was a Greek city of repute. At any rate, a treasury of the Spinitians is to be seen at Delphi. Everything else that history tells about them shows that they were once masters of the sea. Moreover, it is said that Spina was once situated by the sea, although at the present time the place is in the interior, about ninety stadium-lengths away from the sea. Furthermore, it has been said that Ravenna was founded by the Thessalians. However, because they could not bear the extreme outrages of the Tyrrhenians, they voluntarily took in some of the Umbrians (Ombrikoi), which latter still now hold the city, whereas the Thessalians themselves returned home. These cities, then, are for the most part surrounded by the marshes, and hence subject to inundations.

(5.1.8) But Opitergium, Concordia, Atria, Vicetia, and other small towns like them are less hemmed in by the marshes, though they are connected with the sea by small waterways. It is said that Atria was once an illustrious city, and that the Adriatic gulf got its name therefrom, with only a slight change in the spelling. Aquileia, which is nearest of all to the recess of the gulf, was founded by the Romans as a fortress against the barbarians who were situated above it. There is an inland route to Aquileia for merchant-vessels using the river Natiso [Venetia] for a distance of more than sixty stadium-lengths. Aquileia has been given over as an market-center for those peoples of the Illyrians that live near the Ister river. The latter load on wagons and carry inland the products of the sea, and wine stored in wooden jars, and also olive-oil, whereas the former get in exchange slaves, cattle, and hides.\

But Aquileia is outside the boundaries of the Henetians. The boundary between the two peoples is marked by a river flowing from the Alps, which affords an inland voyage of as much as twelve hundred stadium-lengths to the city of Noreia, near which Gnaeus Carbo clashed to no effect with the Kimbrians. This region has places that are naturally well-suited to gold-washing, and also has iron-works. And in the very recess of the Adriatic sea there is also a temple of Diomedes that is worth recording, “the Timavum.” The temple has a harbour, a magnificent precinct, and seven fountains of potable waters which immediately empty into the sea in one broad, deep river. According to Polybios, all the fountains except one are of salt water. Furthermore, the natives call the place the source and mother of the sea. But Poseidonios says that a river, the Timavus [Timavo], runs out of the mountains, falls down into a chasm, and then, after running under­garound a hundred and thirty stadium-lengths, makes its exit near the sea.

(5.1.9) . . . [omitted paragraph about Diomedes and related legends]. The Transpadane districts, then, are occupied both by the Henetians and by the peoples who extend as far as Pola. Above the Henetians, the districts are occupied by the Carnians, the Cenomanians, the Medoacians, and the Symbrians. Among these peoples, some were once enemies of the Romans, but the Cenomanians and the Henetians used to help the Romans in their battles, not only before the campaign of Hannibal (I mean when the Romans were making war upon the Boians and the Symbri), but afterwards as well.

[Umbrians and Tyrrhenians as previous rivals for domination]

(5.1.10) Now the peoples this side [south] of the Padus [Po] river occupy all that country which is encircled by the Apennine mountains towards the Alps as far as Genua and Sabata. The greater part of the country used to be occupied by the Boians, Ligurians, Senonians, and Gaizatians; but since the Boians have been driven out, and since both the Gaizatians and the Senonians have been annihilated, only the Ligurian peoples and the Roman colonies are left. The Romans, however, have been intermingled with the stock of the Umbrians and also, in some places, with that of the Tyrrhenians. Both of these peoples, before the general expansion of the Romans, carried on a sort of competition with one another for the primacy, and since they had only the river Tiber between them could easily cross over against one another. And if, as I suppose, one of the two peoples went out on a campaign against a third people, the other of the two conceived a contentious desire not to fail to make an expedition to the same places. Furthermore, when the Tyrrhenians had sent out an army into the midst of the barbarians around the Padus river and had fared well, and then on account of their luxurious living were quickly cast out again, the other of the two made an expedition against those who had cast them out. Then, in turns, disputing over the places, the two, in the case of many of the settlements, made some Tyrrhenian and some Umbrian. The majority were Umbrian, however, because the Umbrians were nearer. But the Romans, upon taking control and sending settlers to many places, helped to preserve also the populations of the earlier settlers. And at the present time, although they are all Romans, some are nonetheless called “Ombrians” and some “Tyrrhenians,” as is the case with the Henetians, the Ligurians, and the Insubrians. . . [omitted list of other settlements and natural resources south of the Po river].

[Latins, Samnites, Sabines]

(5.2.1) . . . [omitted further geographical details, some of which drawn on Poseidonios]. These regions reach up to those parts of the Apennine mountains which closely approach the Adriatic sea, in this order: first, Umbria, then, after Umbria, the country of the Sabines, and, last, Latium, all of them beginning at the river. Now the country of the Latins lies between the coastline that stretches from Ostia as far as the city of Sinuessa and the country of the Sabines (Ostia is the port-town of the Roman navy — the port into which the Tiber, after flowing past Rome, empties), although it extends lengthwise as far as Campania and the mountains of the Samnites. But the country of the Sabines lies between that of the Latins and that of the Umbrians, although it too extends to the mountains of the Samnites, or rather it joins that part of the Apennine mountains which is in the country of the Vestiniansans, Pelignians, and the Marsians. And the country of the Umbrians lies between the country of the Sabines and Tyrrhenia, although it extends over the mountains as far as Ariminum and Ravenna. And Tyrrhenia, beginning at its proper sea and the Tiber, ceases at the very foot of those mountains which enclose it from Liguria to the Adriatic sea. I will treat the several parts, however, in detail, beginning with the Tyrrhenians themselves.

[Tyrrhenians and Tarquinians in northwestern Italy, including the Lydian colonists theory and the sea-bandits characterization]

(5.2.2) The Tyrrhenians, then, are called among the Romans “Etruscans” and “Tuscians.” The Greeks, however, so the story goes, named them after Tyrrhenos son of Atys, who sent out colonists here from Lydia: At a time of famine and dearth of crops, Atys, one of the descendants of Herakles and Omphale, having only two children, by a casting of lots detained one of them, Lydos. Assembling the greater part of the people with the other, Tyrrhenos, sent them out. And when Tyrrhenos came, he not only called the country Tyrrhenia after himself, but also put Tarqo in charge as “coloniser,” and founded twelve cities. I am talking about Tarqo after whom the city of Tarquinia is named. On account of his wisdom since boyhood, the myth-tellers say he had been born with grey hair.

Now at first the Tyrrhenians, since they were subject to the orders of only one ruler, were very strong, but in later times, it is reasonable to suppose, their united government was dissolved, and the Tyrrhenians, yielding to the violence of their neighbours, were broken up into separate cities. For otherwise they would not have given up a happy land and taken to the sea for banditry (lēsteia), different groups turning to different parts of the high seas. Actually, in all cases where they acted in concert, they were able, not only to defend themselves against those who attacked them, but also to attack in turn and to make long expeditions. But it was after the founding of Rome that Demaratos arrived, bringing with him a host of people from Corinth. Since he was received by the Tarquinians, he married a native woman, by whom he begot Loukoumo. And since Loukoumo had proved a friend to Ancus Marcius, the king of the Romans, he was made king, and his name was changed to Lucius Tarquinius Priscus.

Be that as it may, he too adorned Tyrrhenia, as his father had done before him. The father did so by means of an ample supply of artisans who had accompanied him from home and the son by means of the resources supplied by Rome. It is further said that the triumphal and consular adornment, and, in a word, that of all the rulers, was transferred to Rome from Tarquinians, as also fasces, axes, trumpets, sacrificial rites, divination, and all music publicly used by the Romans. This Tarquinius was the father of the second Tarquinius, the “Superbus,” who was the last of the kings and was banished. Porsinas, the king of Clusium, a Tyrrhenian city, undertook to restore him to the throne by military force, but was unable to do so, although he broke up the personal enmity against himself and departed as friend, along with honour and large gifts. That is what can be said about the lustre of the Tyrrhenians.

[2. Peoples of central Italy]

[Kairetanians just northwest of Rome]

(5.2.3) Still to be discussed are the achievements of the Kairetanians (or: Caeretanians) [Kaire / Caere was located just north of Rome]. They defeated in war those Galatians who had captured Rome, having attacked them when they were in the country of the Sabines on their way back, and also forcefully took away as plunder from the Galatians what the Romans had willingly given them [i.e. placed in the early fourth century BCE]. In addition to this, they saved all who fled to them for refuge from Rome, they saved the immortal fire, and they saved the priestesses of Vesta. The Romans, it is true, on account of the bad managers which the city had at the time, do not seem to have remembered the favour of the Kairetanians with sufficient gratitude because, although they gave them the right of citizenship, they did not enroll them among the citizens. The Romans even used to relegate all others who had no share in the equal right to “the Tablets of the Kairetanians.”

Among the Greeks, however, this city was in good repute both for bravery and for righteousness because it not only abstained from all sea-banditry (lēstēria), but also set up at Pytho what is called “the treasury of the Agyllaians,” because what we now calle Kaire was formerly called Agylla, and is said to have been founded by Pelasgians who had come from Thessaly. But when those Lydians whose name was changed to Tyrrhenians marched against the Agyllaians, one of them approached the wall and inquired what the name of the city was, and when one of the Thessalians on the wall, instead of replying to the inquiry, saluted him with a “chaire” [“greetings” in Greek], the Tyrrhenians accepted the omen, and, on capturing the city, changed its name accordingly. But the city, once so splendid and illustrious, now preserves mere traces of its former self. The hot springs near by, which are called Kairetanian springs, have a greater population than it has, because of those who visit the springs for the cure

[Aside on Pelasgians, drawing on Ephoros]

(5.2.4) As for the Pelasgians, almost all agree, in the first place, that some ancient people of that name spread throughout the whole of Greece, and particularly among the Aiolians of Thessaly. Again, Ephoros says that he is of the opinion that, since they were originally Arkadians, they chose a military life, and that, in bringing many peoples to the same mode of life, they imparted their name to everyone, and thus acquired great glory, not only among the Greeks, but also among all other people wherever they happened to go. For example, they prove to have been colonisers of Crete, as Homer says. Anyways, Odysseus says to Penelope: “But one tongue with others is mixed; there dwell Achaians, there Cretans of the old stock, proud of heart, there Kydonians, and Dorians too, of waving plumes, and goodly Pelasgians.” And Thessaly is called “the Pelasgian Argos” (I mean that part of it which lies between the outlets of the Peneius river and Thermopylai as far as the mountainous country of Pindus), on account of the fact that the Pelasgians extended their rule over these regions. Further, Zeus of Dodona [in Epiros in northwestern Greece] is by the poet himself named “Pelasgian”: “O Lord Zeus of Dodona, Pelasgian.” And many have called also the peoples of Epiros “Pelasgian,” because in their opinion the Pelasgians extended their rule even as far as that. And, further, because many of the heroes were called “Pelasgians” by name, the people of later times have, from those heroes, applied the name to many of the peoples. For example, they have called the island of Lesbos “Pelasgia,” and Homer has labelled as “Pelasgians” the people that were neighbours to those Cilicians who lived in the Troad: “And Hippothous led the peoples of spear-fighting Pelasgians, those Pelasgians who inhabited deep-soiled Larissa.”

But Ephoros‘ authority for the statement that this race originated in Arkadia was Hesiod. Hesiod says: “And sons were born of god-like Lykaon, who, on a time, was begotten by Pelasgos.” Again, Aeschylus, in his Suppliants, or maybe his Danaan Women, says that the descent group (genos) of the Pelasgians originated in that Argos which is around Mycenae. And the Peloponnesos too, according to Ephoros, was called “Pelasgia.” And Euripides too, in his Archelaos, says: “Danaos, the father of fifty daughters, on coming into Argos, took up his abode in the city of Inachos, and throughout Greece he laid down a law that all people previously named Pelasgians were to be called Danaans.” And again, Antikleides says that they were the first to settle the regions around Lemnos and Imbros, and indeed that some of these sailed away to Italy with Tyrrhenos the son of Atys. And the compilers of the histories of The Land of Atthis give accounts of the Pelasgians, believing that the Pelasgians were in fact at Athens too, although the Pelasgians were by the Attic people called “Pelargians,” the compilers add, because they were wanderers and, like birds, resorted to those places where chance led them. (5.2.5) They say that the maximum length of Tyrrhenia – the coastline from Luna [modern Luni] as far as Ostia [port city of Rome] – is about two thousand five hundred stadium-lengths, and its breadth (I mean its breadth near the mountains) less than half its length. . . [omitted geographical details, outline of cities, and natural resources of the areas].


(5.2.6) As for the Volaterranians [around modern Volterra, Italy in Tuscany], their country is washed by the sea and their settlement is in a deep ravine. In the ravine there is a high hill, which is precipitous on all sides and flat on the crest, and it is on this hill that the walls of the city are situated. The ascent from the base to the crest is fifteen stadium-lengths, an ascent that is sharp all the way up, and difficult to make. This is where some of the Tyrrhenians and of those who had been proscribed by Sulla assembled. On filling out four battalions, they withstood a siege for two years, and even then retired from the place only under a truce. . . [omitted further geographical details of surrounding places].

[Corsicans as bandits and savage animals]

(5.2.7) But Kyrnos island is called Corsica by the Romans. It affords such a poor livelihood – being not only rough but in most of its parts absolutely impracticable for travel – that those who occupy the mountains and live by means of banditry (lēstēria) are more savage than wild animals. Anyways, whenever the Roman generals have made a military expedition and have taken a large number of the people as slaves (after suddenly attacking the strongholds), at Rome you can see and be amazed at the extent to which the nature of wild beasts (like controlling cattle) is evident in them. For either they cannot endure to live in captivity or, if they remain in captivity, they so irritate their purchasers by their apathy and insensibility, that, even to the purchasers may have paid for them no more than an insignificant sum, nevertheless they regret the purchase. . . [omitted natural details].

[Four other mountaineer peoples on Corsica island]

But the excellence of some of the island’s natural features is offset by a serious defect: in summer the island is unhealthy, particularly in the fruitful districts, and it is precisely these districts that are continually ravaged by those mountaineers who are now called Diagesbians. In earlier times, however, their name was Iolains. It is said that Iolaos came here, bringing with him some of the children of Herakles, and lived along with the barbarians who held the island (the latter were Tyrrhenians). Later on, the Phoenicians of Carthage got the mastery over them, and along with them carried on war against the Romans. But after the defeat of the Phoenicians, everything became subject to the Romans.

There are four peoples of the mountaineers, the Paratians, Sossinatians, Balarians, and Aconites. They live in caves, but if they do hold a bit of land that is fit for sowing, they do not sow even this diligently. Instead, they pillage the lands of the farmers, and not only of the farmers on the island, but they actually sail against the people on the opposite coast, the Pisatians in particular. Now the military governors who are sent to the island resist the mountaineers part of the time, but sometimes they grow tired of it. This is when it is not profitable continuously to maintain a camp in unhealthy places, and then the only thing left for them is to employ strategies. So, having observed a certain custom of the barbarians (who come together after their forays for a general celebration extending over several days), attack them at that time and overpower many of them. Again, Sardo produces the rams that grow goat-hair instead of wool. They are called, however, “musmones,” and it is with the hides of these that the people there make their cuirasses. They also use a small leather shield and a small dagger.

[Pelasgians again]

(5.2.8) . . . [omitted details of surrounding geography and islands]. The distance to Gravisci [modern Porto Clementino] is three hundred stadium-lengths; and in the interval is a place called Regis Villa. History tells us that this was once the palace of Maleos, the Pelasgian. It is said that, although he held dominion in the places mentioned along with the Pelasgians who helped him to colonise them, he departed from there to Athens. And this is also the tribe (phylē) to which people belong who have now taken hold of Agylla. . . [omitted sentences].

[Falerians and Falsicians]

(5.2.9) In the interior there are still other cities besides those already mentioned . . . [omitted sentencei]. Some of them were founded long ago while others were colonized by the Romans, or else have subdued, as they did Veians, which had oftentimes gone to war with them, and as they did Fidenians. Some, however, call the Falerians, not “Tyrrhenians,” but “Faliscians,” a special and distinct people. Again, others call Faliscum a city with a special language all its own. Other peoples mean by Faliscum “Aequum Faliscum,” which is situated on the Flaminian way between Ocriclid and Rome.

The city of Feronia is at the foot of mount Soracte, with the same name as a certain native goddess, a goddess greatly honoured by the surrounding peoples. The goddess’ sacred precinct is in the place. It has remarkable ceremonies, for those who are possessed by this goddess walk with bare feet through a great heap of embers and ashes without suffering. Crowds of people come together at the same time, for the sake not only of attending the festal assembly, which is held here every year, but also of seeing the previously mentioned sight. . . [omitted geographical details and measurements].


(5.2.10) Alongside Tyrrhenia, on the part toward the east, lies Umbria (Ombrika). Umbria starts at the Apennine mountains and extends still farther beyond as far as the Adriatic; for it is at Ravenna that the Umbrians begin, and they occupy the nearby territory and also, in order thereafter, Sarsina, Ariminum, Sena, Camarinum. . . [omitted geographical details]. The cities this side [i.e. in relation to Rome] of the Apennine mountains that are worthy of mention are: first, on the Flaminian way itself: Ocricli [north of Rome], near the Tiber, Larolon, and Narna, through which the Nar river flows (it meets the Tiber a little above Ocricli, and is navigable, though only for small boats). Then there is Carsuli and Mevania, past which flows the Teneas (this too brings the products of the plain down to the Tiber on rather small boats). Besides those, there are still other settlements, which have become filled up with people rather on account of the Flaminian way itself than of communal organisation. These are Forum Flaminium, and Nuceria (the place where the wooden utensils are made), and Forum Sempronium. Secondly, to the right of the Way, as you travel from Ocricli to Ariminum, is Interamna, and Spoletium, and Aesium, and Camertes (in the very mountains that mark the boundary of the Picentian country). On the other side of the Flaminian way, are Ameria, Tuder (a well-fortified city), Hispellum, and Iguvium, the last-named lying near the passes that lead over the mountain.

Now as a whole Umbria is blessed with fertility, even though it is a little too mountainous and nourishes its people with spelt rather than with wheat. The Sabine country also, which comes next in order after Umbria, is mountainous, and it lies alongside Umbria in the same way that Umbria lies alongside Tyrrhenia. Further away, all parts of the country of the Latins that are near to these parts and to the Apennine mountains are rather rugged. These two peoples begin, then, at the Tiber and Tyrrhenia, and extend to that stretch of the Apennine mountains near the Adriatic which slants slightly inland, although Umbria passes on beyond the mountains, as I have said, as far as the Adriatic. So much, then, for the Umbrians.


(5.3.1) The country the Sabines (Sabinoi) live in is narrow, but taken lengthwise it reaches even a thousand stadium-lengths from the Tiber and the little town of Nomentum [Mentana], as far as the country of the Vestinians. They have but few cities and even these have been subdued on account of continual wars; they are Amiternum, and Reate (near which is the village of Interocrea, and also the cold springs of Cotiliae, where people cure their diseases, not only by drinking from the springs but also by sitting down in them). Foruli too belongs to the Sabines. Foruli is a rocky elevation naturally suited to the purposes of a revolt rather than habitation. As for Cures, it is now only a small village, but it was once a city of significance, since it was the original home of two kings of Rome, Titius Tatius and Numa Pompilius. Hence, the title “Curites” by which the public orators address the Romans. Trebula, Eretum, and other such settlements might be ranked as villages rather than cities.

As a whole the land of the Sabines is exceptionally well-planted with the olive and the vine, and it also produces acorns in quantities. It is also significant for its domestic cattle of every kind, and in particular the fame of the Reate-breed of mules is remarkably widespread. In a word, Italy as a whole is an excellent nurse both of young animals and of fruits, although different species in different parts take the first prize.

The Sabines not only are a very ancient descent group (genos) but are also the indigenous (autochthones) inhabitants. Both the Picentinians and the Samnites are colonists from the Sabines; the Lucanians (Leukanoi) are colonists from the Samnites; and, the Brettians are colonists from the Lucanians. And the old-fashioned ways of the Sabines might be taken as evidence of bravery, and of those other excellent qualities which have enabled them to hold out to the present time. Fabius, the historian, says that the Romans realised their wealth for the first time when they became established as masters of this people.

As for the roads that have been constructed through their country, there is not only the Via Salaria (though it does not run far) but also the Via Nomentana which unites with it at Eretum (a village of the Sabine country, situated beyond the Tiber), though it begins above the same gate, Porta Collina.

[Latins, Aborigines, and other peoples previously in what would become Rome or its vicinity]

(5.3.2) Next comes the country of the Latins, in which the city of the Romans is situated, though it now comprises also many cities of what was formerly non-Latin country. For the Aecians, Volscians, Hernicians, and also the Aborigines (Aborigines) who lived near Rome itself, the Rutulians who held the old Ardea, and other groups, greater or less, who lived near the Romans of that time, were all in existence when the city was first founded.

[Myths of Aeneas, Ascanius, Amollius, and others related to these pre-Roman peoples and the founding of Rome]

Some of these groups, since they were ranked under no common people, used to be allowed to live autonomously in separate villages. It is said that Aeneas, along with his father Anchises and his son Ascanius, after putting in at Laurentum, which was on the shore near Ostia and the Tiber, founded a city a little above the sea, within about twenty-four stadium-lengths from it. Latinus, the king of the Aborigines, who lived in this place where Rome now is, on making them a visit, used Aeneas and his people as allies against the neighbouring Rutulians who occupied Ardea (the distance from Ardea to Rome is one hundred and sixty stadium-lengths), and after his victory founded a city near by, naming it after his daughter Lavinia. When the Rutulians joined battle again, Latinus fell, but Aeneas was victorious, became king, and called his subjects “Latins.”

After the death of both Aeneas and his father Anchises, Ascanius founded Alba and mount Albanus, which mount is the same distance from Rome as Ardea. Here the Romans in company with the Latins – I mean the joint assembly of all their magistrates – offered sacrifice to Zeus. The assembly put one of the young nobles in charge of the city as governor for the time of the sacrifice. But it is four hundred years later that the stories about Amollius and his brother Numitor are placed. These stories are partly fabulous but partly closer to the truth. In the first place, both brothers succeeded to the rule of Alba (which extended as far as the Tiber) from the descendants of Ascanius. But Amollius, the younger, elbowed the elder out and reigned alone. However, since Numitor had a son and a daughter, Amollius treacherously murdered the son while on a hunt, and appointed the daughter, in order that she might remain childless, a priestess of Vesta, so as to keep her a virgin (she is called Rhea Silvia). Then, on discovering that she had been ruined (for she gave birth to twins), instead of killing her, he merely incarcerated her, to gratify his brother, and exposed the twins on the banks of the Tiber in accordance with an ancestral custom. In mythology, however, we are told that the boys were begotten by Ares, and that after they were exposed people saw them being suckled by a she-wolf. But Faustulus, one of the swineherds near the place, took them up and raised them (but we must assume that it was some influential man, a subject of Amollius, that took them and raised them), and called one Romulus and the other Romus. After reaching manhood, they attacked Amollius and his sons, and upon the defeat of the latter and the reversion of the rule to Numitor, they went back home and founded Rome — in a place which was suitable more as a matter of necessity than of choice. For the site was not naturally strong, nor did it have enough land of its own in the surrounding territory to meet the requirements of a city, nor yet, indeed, people to join with the Romans as inhabitants. For the people who lived around there were used to living by themselves (though their territory almost joined the walls of the city that was being founded), not even paying any attention to the Albans themselves. . . [omitted further myths not involving the pre-Roman peoples].

[Rome as an Arkadian Greek colony]

(5.3.3) But there is another one, older and fabulous, in which we are told that Rome was an Arkadian colony and founded by Euandros: When Herakles was driving the cattle of Geryon he was entertained by Euandros. Since Euandros had learned from his mother Nikostrate (she was skilled in divination, the story goes) that Herakles was destined to become a god after he had finished his labours, he not only told this to Herakles but also consecrated to him a precinct and offered a sacrifice to him after the Greek ritual, which is still to this day kept up in honour of Herakles. Coelius himself, the Roman historian, puts this down as proof that Rome was founded by Greeks, namely, the fact that at Rome the hereditary sacrifice to Herakles follows the Greek ritual. The Romans also honour the mother of Euandros, regarding her as one of the nymphs, although her name has been changed to Carmentis.

[Overview of peoples of Latium]

(5.3.4) Be that as it may, the Latins at the outset were few in number and most of them would pay no attention to the Romans. However, later on – struck with amazement at the prowess both of Romulus and of the kings who came after him – they all became subjects. And after the overthrow of the Aequians, Volscians, and Hernicians, and, even earlier, both the Rutulians and Aborigines (and besides these, certain of the Rhaecians, as also of the Argyruscians and the Prefernians), the whole country that belonged to these peoples was called Latium. The Pomptine plain, on the confines of the Latins, and the city of Apiola, which was destroyed by Tarquinius Priscus, used to belong to the Volscians. The Aequians are the nearest neighbours of the Curitians. Their cities, too, were sacked by Tarquinius Priscus, and his son captured Suessa, the metropolis of the Volscians. The Hernicians used to live near Lanuvium, Alba, and Rome itself. Aricia, Tellenae and Antium were not far away either.


At the outset the Albans lived in harmony with the Romans, since they spoke the same language and were Latins, and though they were each, as it happened, ruled by kings, separate and apart, nonetheless they not only had the right of intermarriage with one another, but also held sacrifices – those at Alba [near modern Alba Lake, southeast of Rome] – and other political rights in common. Later on, however, war arose between the the Albans and the Romans, with the result that all Alba was destroyed except the temple, and that the Albans were adjudged Roman citizens. As for the other neighbouring cities, some of them too were destroyed, and others humiliated, for their disobedience, while some were made even stronger than they were because of their loyalty. Now at the present time the seaboard is called Latium from Ostia as far as the city of Sinuessa, but in earlier times Latium had extended its seaboard only as far as Circaeum. Further, in earlier times Latium did not include much of the interior, but later on it extended even as far as Campania and the Samnites and the Pelignians and other peoples who inhabit the Apennine mountains.

(5.3.5) All Latium is blessed with fertility and produces everything, except for a few districts that are on the seaboard, by which I mean all those districts that are marshy and sickly . . . or any districts that are perhaps mountainous and rocky. Yet even these are not wholly untilled or useless, but afford rich pasture grounds, or timber, or certain fruits that grow in marshy or rocky ground . . . [omitted details of cities in Latium, starting with Ostia and Antium].

[Ausonians and Oscians]

(5.3.6) . . . [omitted description of Antium]. The country that joins the Pomptine plain [near Circaeum / modern Mount Circeo, about 100 km south of Rome] was formerly inhabited by the Ausonians, who also held Campania. After these come the Oscians. They also had a share in Campania, but now everything belongs to the Latins as far as Sinuessa, as I said. A peculiar thing has taken place in the case of the Oscians and the people of the Ausonians. Although the Oscians have disappeared, their dialect still remains among the Romans, so much so that, at the time of a certain traditional competition, poems in that dialect are brought on the stage and recited like mimes. Although the Ausonians never once lived on the Sicilian sea, still the high sea is called “Ausonian.” . . . [omitted detailed discussion of the Appian Way, of other geographical and environmental features and of the city of Rome itself].

[Romans and their achievements]

(5.3.8) So much, then, for the natural advantages of the city of Rome. But the Romans have added still others, which are the result of their foresight. If the Greeks had the reputation of aiming most happily in the founding of cities, in that they aimed at beauty, strength of position, harbours, and productive soil, the Romans had the best foresight in those matters which the Greeks did not pay much attention to, such as the construction of roads and aqueducts, and of sewers that could wash out the filth of the city into the Tiber. Moreover, they have so constructed also the roads which run throughout the country, by adding both cuts through hills and embankments across valleys, that their wagons can carry boat-loads. The sewers, which are vaulted with close-fitting stones, have in some places left room enough for wagons loaded with hay to pass through them. And water is brought into the city through the aqueducts in such quantities that veritable rivers flow through the city and the sewers. Almost every house has cisterns, service-pipes, and copious fountains. Marcus Agrippa concerned himself most with these, though he also adorned the city with many other structures.

In a word, the early Romans paid little attention to the beauty of Rome, because they were occupied with other, greater and more necessary, matters. Whereas the later Romans, and particularly those of today and in my time, have not fallen short in this respect either. Actually, they have filled the city with many beautiful structures. Pompey, the deified Caesar, Augustus, his sons and friends, and wife and sister, have outdone all others in their zeal for buildings and in the expense incurred. . . [omitted enumeration of key buildings and structures].


(5.3.9) As for the rest of the cities of Latium, their positions may be defined, some by a different set of distinctive marks, and others by the best known roads that have been constructed through Latium. The cities are situated either on these roads, or near them, or between them. The best known of the roads are the Appian Way, the Latin Way, and the Valerian Way. . . [omitted description of the three roads and cities on them].

[Detailed look at peoples again]

(5.4.1) I began with the peoples that live next to the Alps, and with that part of the Apennine mountains which lies next to them, and then, passing over that part, traversed all the country on this side which lies between the Tyrrhenian sea and that part of the Apennine mountains which bends towards the Adriatic sea and stretches to the countries of the Samnites and the Campanians. I will now, therefore, go back and indicate the peoples that live in these mountains, and also in the foothills both of the country outside the mountains, as far as the Adriatic seaboard, and of the country on this side. But I must begin again with the Celtic boundaries.

[Picentinians on the northeastern coast]

(5.4.2) Next after those cities of the Umbrians that are between Ariminum [modern Rimini] and Ankon [modern Ancona, on the eastern coast, northeast of Rome] comes the Picentinian country. The Picentinians are originally from the Sabine country, a woodpecker having led the way for their ancestors, which is where their name comes from, because they call this bird “picus” and consider it sacred to Mars. The country they live in begins at the mountains and extends as far as the plains and the sea, thus having increased in length more than breadth. The land is good for every use to which it may be put, though better for fruits than for grain. Its width – that from the mountains to the sea – taken at the different intervals, is irregular, while its length, by a voyage along the coast from the Aesis river to Castrum, is eight hundred stadium-lengths. Its cities are, first Ankon, a Greek city, founded by the Syracusans who fled from the tyranny of Dionysios. . . [omitted details about Ankon].

[Peoples east of Rome: Vestinians, Marsians, Pelignians, Marrucinians, and Frentanians]

Beyond the Picentinian country are the Vestinians, the Marsians, the Pelignians, the Marrucinians, and the Frentanians (a Samnite people). They occupy the mountain-country there, their territory touching upon the sea for only short stretches. These peoples are small, it is true, but they are very brave and oftentimes have exhibited this virtue to the Romans: first, when they went to war against them; a second time, when they took the field with them as allies; and, a third time when, begging for freedom and political rights without getting them, they revolted and kindled what is called the Marsian war, for they proclaimed Corfinium (the metropolis of the Pelignians) [near modern Corfinio, east of Rome] the common city for all the Italiotes, instead of Rome, making it their base of operations for the war and changing its name to Italica.

It was at Corfinium that they mustered all their followers and elected consuls and praetors. And they persisted in the war for two years, until they achieved the partnership for which they went to war. The war was named “Marsian” after the people who began the revolt, Pompaedius in particular. Now these peoples live in villages, generally speaking, but they also have cities: first, above the sea, Corfinium, Sulmon, Maruvium, and Teate, the metropolis of the Marrucinians. And, secondly, on the sea itself, Aternum, which borders on the Picentian country and is of like name with the river that separates the Vestine country from the Marrucine. That river flows from the territory of Amiternum, and through the Vestine country, leaving on its right that part of the Marrucine country which lies above the Pelignians (it may be crossed by a pontoon-bridge). But although the little city that is named after the river belongs to the Vestinians, it is used as a common port by the Pelignians and the Marrucinians. The pontoon-bridge is twenty-four stadium-lengths away from Corfinium.

After Aternum comes Orton, the port-town of the Frentanians, and then Buca (it too belongs to the Frentani), whose territory borders on that of Teanum Apulum. Ortonium is in the country of the Frentani, a cliff-town belonging to pirates, whose dwellings are pieced together from the wreckage of ships; and in every other respect they are said to be a bestial folk. Between Orton and Aternum is the Sagrus river, which separates the country of the Frentani from that of the Pelignians. The voyage along the coast from the Picentian country to the country of those Apuli whom the Greeks call “Daunians” is about four hundred and ninety stadium-lengths.

[3. Peoples of southern Italy]

[Samnites, Tyrrhenians, Opicians, Ausonians, and Sidicinians]

(5.4.3) Next in order after Latium come both Campania, which stretches along the sea, and, above Campania, in the interior, the Samnite country, which extends as far as the country of the Frentani and the Daunians. Then there are the Daunians themselves and the rest of the peoples on to the Sicilian strait. However, I must first speak of Campania. There is a fair-sized gulf which, beginning at Sinuessa, extends along the coast next thereafter as far as Misenum [modern Miseno near Naples], and also another gulf, much larger than the first, which begins at Misenum. They call the latter the “Crater,” and the “Crater” forms a bay between the two capes of Misenum and Athenaeum.

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.

The Tyrrhenians founded twelve cities in the country and named their capital city “Capua” [north of modern Naples]. But due to their luxurious living they became soft, and consequently, just as they had been made to get out of the country around the Padus river [Po], so now they had to yield this country to the Samnites. Then, in turn, the Samnites were ejected by the Romans. . . [omitted details of the produce of the land and details about Cumae and Baiae].

[People of Avernus living in tunnels and local legends of a connection with Kimmerians from north of the Black Sea]

(5.4.5) . . . [omitted geographical details]. The people prior to my time were accustomed to make Avernus [near Cumae] the setting of the fabulous story of the Homeric “Nekyia.” Furthermore, writers tell us that there actually was an oracle of the dead here and that Odysseus visited it. Now gulf Avernus is deep up to the very shore and has a clear outlet. The gulf has both the size and character of a harbour, although it is useless as a harbour because of the fact that gulf Lucrinus lies before it and is somewhat shallow as well as considerable in extent. Again, Avernus is enclosed around by steep hill-brows that rise above it on all sides except where you sail into it (at the present time they have been brought by the toil of man into cultivation, though in former times they were thickly covered with a wild and untrodden forest of large trees); and these hill-brows, because of the superstition of man, used to make the gulf a shadowy place.

And the natives used to add the further fable that all birds that fly over it fall down into the water, being killed by the vapours that rise from it, as in the case of all entrances into the realm of Plouton. And people used to suppose that this too was a Ploutonian place and that the Kimmerians had actually been there. At any rate, only those who had sacrificed beforehand and propitiated the deities of the underworld could sail into Avernus, and priests who held the locality on lease it were there to give directions in all such matters; and there is a fountain of potable water at this place, on the sea, but people used to abstain from it because they regarded it as the water of the Styx. The oracle is also situated somewhere near it; and further, the hot springs near by and Lake Acherusia betokened the river Pyriphlegethon.

[Ephoros on a supposed local story]

Again, Ephoros, in the passage where he claims the locality in question for the Kimmerians, says: They live in underground houses, which they call ‘argillai,’ and it is through tunnels that they visit one another, back and forth, and also admit foreigners to the oracle, which is situated far beneath the earth. They live on what they get from mining, and from those who consult the oracle, and from the king of the country, who has appointed them fixed allowances. Those who live near the oracle have an ancestral custom, that no one should see the sun, but should go outside the caves only during the night. It is for this reason that the poet speaks of them as follows: “And never does the shining sun look upon them.” But later on the Kimmerians were destroyed by a certain king, because the response of the oracle did not turn out in his favour. The seat of the oracle, however, still endures, although it has been removed to another place.

Such, then, are the stories the people before my time used to tell, but now that the forest around Avernus has been cut down by Agrippa, and the tracts of land have been built up with houses, and the tunnel has been cut from Avernus to Cumae, all those stories have proven be mere fictions. Yet the Cocceius who made, not only this tunnel, but also the one from Dikaiarchia (near Baiae) to Neapolis [modern Naples], was pretty well acquainted with the story just now related about the Kimmerians, and it may very well be that he also considered it an ancestral custom, for this region, that its roads should run through tunnels. . . [omitted discussion of the Greek city of Neapolis, of Mount Vesuvius and of other locations south of that, including Capua and other Campanian cities].

[Samnites / Saunites and Sulla’s war with them]

(5.4.11) . . . Regarding the Samnites (Saunitai), in earlier times they made expeditions even as far as that part of the Latin country which is around Ardea [south of Rome], and then, after that, ravaged Campania itself. Therefore they must have possessed considerable power. Actually, the Campanians, since they were already schooled in the obedience of other despots, quickly submitted to the new commands. However, now Samnites have been completely worn out: first by others and last of all by Sulla, who became dictator of the Romans. For when he was putting down the insurrection of the Italiotes by many battles [ca. 82 BCE], Sulla saw that the Samnites, almost alone, were holding together and, in like manner as before, were on the border, ready actually to march against Rome itself, so he engaged in battle with them in front of the city walls. He killed some of them in the battle (for he had ordered that none be taken alive); the rest were about three or four thousand men (it is said) who had thrown away their weapons whom he brought down to the Villa Publica in the Campus Martius and imprisoned. Three days later, however, he let soldiers loose upon them and thus slaughtered them all. Furthermore, he would not stop making proscriptions until either he had destroyed all Samnites of importance or banished them from Italy. And to those who found fault with him for such excessive anger, he said he had realized from experience that not a single Roman could ever live in peace as long as the Samnites held together as a separate people. Actually, their cities have now come to be mere villages (though some have utterly vanished). I mean Bovianum, Aesernia, Panna, Telesia (close to Venafrum), and others like them. No one of these deserves to be regarded as a city, but I, for my part, am thus going into detail, within due bounds, because of the glory and power of Italy. Beneventum, however, has held up very well, and so has Venusia.

[Samnites as an offshoot of Sabines]

(5.4.12) Concerning the Samnites there is another story current to this effect: The Sabines, since they had long been at war with the Umbrians, vowed to dedicate everything that was produced that year, just like some Greeks do. When they won the war, they partly sacrificed and partly dedicated all that was produced. Then a shortage ensued, and some one said that they should have dedicated the babies too. They did this as well, devoting to Mars all the children born that year. When these children had grown up, they sent them away as colonists and a bull led the way. When the bull lay down to rest in the land of the Opicians (who, as it chanced, were living only in villages), the Sabines ejected them and settled on the spot. Furthermore, in accordance with the utterance of their prophets, they slaughtered the bull as a sacrifice to Mars who had given it for a guide. It is reasonable to suppose therefore that their name “Sabelloi” is a nickname derived from the name of their ancestors.

On the other hand, their name “Samnites (Samnitai)” (the Greeks say “Saunites (Saunitai)”) is due to a different cause. Some say, moreover, that a colony of Lakonians joined the Samnites, and that for this reason the Samnites actually became friends of the Greeks, and that some of them were even called “Pitanatians.” But it is thought that the Tarantines simply fabricated this, to flatter, and at the same time to win the friendship of, a powerful people on their borders. The reason this seems to be the case is because the Samnites were accustomed to send out an army of as many as eighty thousand foot-soldiers and eight thousand horsemen.

They say that among the Samnites there is a law which is indeed honourable and conducive to noble qualities, because they are not permitted to give their daughters in marriage to whoever they want; Instead, every year ten virgins and ten young men, the noblest of each sex, are selected, and, of these, the first choice of the virgins is given to the first choice of the young men, and the second to the second, and so on to the end. But if the young man who wins the meed of honour changes and turns out bad, they disgrace him and take away from him the woman given him. Next after the Samnites come the Hirpinians, and they too are Samnites. They got their name from the wolf that led the way for their colony (for “hirpus” is what the Samnites call the wolf). Their territory adjoins that of those Lucanians who live in the interior. So much, then, for the Samnites.


(5.4.13) As for the Campanians, it was their lot, because of the fertility of their country, to enjoy in equal degree both evil things and good. For they were so extravagant that they would invite gladiators, in pairs, to dinner, regulating the number by the importance of the dinners. When, on their instant submission to Hannibal, they received his army into winter-quarters, the soldiers became so effeminate because of the pleasures afforded them that Hannibal said that, although victor, he was in danger of falling into the hands of his foes, because the soldiers he had got back were not his men, but only women. But when the Romans got the mastery, they brought them to their sense by many severe lessons, and, last of all, portioned out to Roman settlers a part of the land.

[Picentinians and Sybarites on the southwestern coast]

Now, however, they are living in prosperity, being of one mind with the new settlers, and they preserve their old-time reputation, in respect to both the size of their city and the high quality of its men. After Campania, and the Samnite country (as far as the Frentanians), on the Tyrrhenian sea dwells the people of the Picentinians, a small offshoot of those Picentinians who live on the Adriatic sea [in northeast Italy, discussed earlier], which has been transplanted by the Romans to the Poseidonian gulf. This gulf is now called the Paestan gulf, and the city of Poseidonia, which is situated in the centre of the gulf, is now called Paestus. The Sybarites, it is true, had erected fortifications on the sea, but the settlers removed them farther inland. Later on, however, the Lucanians took the city away from the Sybarites, and, in turn, the Romans took it away from the Lucanians.

But the city is made unhealthy by a river that spreads out into marshes in the neighbourhood. Between the Sirenussians and Poseidonia lies Marcina, a city founded by the Tyrrhenians and now inhabited by Samnites. From here to Pompaia, by way of Nuceria, the distance across the isthmus is not more than one hundred and twenty stadium-lengths. The country of the Picentinians extends as far as the river Silaris, which separates the old Campania from this country. In regard to this river, writers report the following as a special characteristic, that although its water is potable, any plant that is let down into it turns to stone, though it keeps its colour and its shape. Picentia first belonged to the Picentinians, as metropolis, but at the present time they live only in villages, having been driven away by the Romans because they had made common cause with Hannibal. And instead of doing military service, they were at that time appointed to serve the state as couriers and letter-carriers (as were also, for the same reasons, both the Lucanians and the Brettians). For the purpose of keeping watch over the Picentinians, the Romans fortified Salernum against them, a city situated only a short distance above the sea. The distance from the Sirenussians to the Silaris is two hundred and sixty stadium-lengths.

[Lucanians, as a subset of Samnites who are a subset of Sabines]

(6.1.1) After the mouth of the Silaris one comes to Lucania, and to the temple of Hera of Argos, built by Jason, and near by, within fifty stadium-lengths, to Poseidonia. From there, sailing out past the gulf, one comes to Leucosia, an island, from which it is only a short voyage across to the continent. The island is named after one of the Sirens, who was cast ashore here after the Sirens had flung themselves, as the myth has it, into the depths of the sea. In front of the island lies that promontory which is opposite the Sirenussians and with them forms the Poseidonian gulf. . . [omitted description of Elea / Velia as Greek settlement].

After Elea comes the promontory of Palinurus. Off the territory of Elea are two islands, the Oinotrides, which have anchoring-places. After Palinurus comes Pyxus — a cape, harbour, and river, for all three have the same name. Pyxus was peopled with new settlers by Micythus, the ruler of the Messene in Sicily, but all the settlers except a few sailed away again. After Pyxus comes another gulf, and also Laos, a river and a city. Laos [modern Marcellina] is the last of the Lucanian cities, lying only a short distance above the sea, is a colony of the Sybarites, and the distance to there from Ele is four hundred stadium-lengths. The whole voyage along the coast of Lucania is six hundred and fifty stadium-lengths. Near Laos is the hero-temple of Draco, one of the companions of Odysseus, in regard to which the following oracle was given out to the Italiotes “Much people will one day perish about Laian Drako.” And the oracle came true, for, deceived by it, the peoples who made campaigns against Laos, that is, the Greek inhabitants of Italy, met disaster at the hands of the Lucanians.

[Historical sketch of previous peoples in southern Italy: Chonians, Oinotrians, and others]

(6.1.2) These, then, are the places on the Tyrrhenian seaboard that belong to the Lucanians. As for the other sea, they could not reach it at first; in fact, the Greeks who held the gulf of Tarentum were in control there. Before the Greeks came, however, the Lucanians were as yet not even in existence, and the regions were occupied by the Chonians and the Oinotrians. But after the Samnites had grown considerably in power, and had ejected the Chonians and the Oinotrians, and had settled a colony of Lucanians in this portion of Italy, while at the same time the Greeks were holding possession of both seaboards as far as the strait, the Greeks and the barbarians carried on war with one another for a long time.

Then the tyrants of Sicily, and afterwards the Carthaginians, at one time at war with the Romans for the possession of Sicily and at another for the possession of Italy itself, mistreated all the peoples in this part of the world, but especially the Greeks. Later on, beginning from the time of the Trojan war, the Greeks had taken away from the earlier inhabitants much of the interior country also, and indeed had increased in power to such an extent that they called this part of Italy, together with Sicily, Magna Graecia. But today all parts of it, except Taras, Rhegion, and Neapolis, have become completely barbarized, and some parts have been taken and are held by the Lucanians and the Brettians, and others by the Campanians. That is, nominally by the Campanians but in truth by the Romans, since the Campanians themselves have become Romans. However, the man who busies himself with the description of the earth must speak not only about facts of the present but also sometimes about facts of the past, especially when they are notable.

[Difficulties in distinguishing Italic peoples in Strabo’s time]

As for the Lucanians, I have already spoken of those whose territory borders on the Tyrrhenian sea, while those who hold the interior are the people who live above the gulf of Tarentum. But the latter, and the Brettians, and the Samnites themselves (the progenitors of these peoples) have so utterly deteriorated that it is difficult even to distinguish their several settlements; and the reason is that no common organisation endures in any one of the separate peoples. Their characteristic differences in language, armour, dress, and the like have completely disappeared. In addition, their settlements, individually and in detail, are wholly without a reputation.

[More about Lucanians and Samnites in the interior]

(6.1.3) Accordingly, without making distinctions between them, I will only tell in a general way what I have learned about the peoples who live in the interior, I mean the Lucanians and those among the Samnites that are their neighbours. Petelia, then, is regarded as the metropolis of the Chonians, and has been rather populous down to the present day. It was founded by Philoktetes after he, as the result of a political quarrel, had fled from Meliboea. It has so strong a position by nature that the Samnites once fortified it against the Thurians. And the old Crimissa, which is near the same regions, was also founded by Philoktetes. Apollodoros, in his work On Ships, in mentioning Philoktetes, says that, according to some, when Philoktetes arrived at the territory of Croton, he colonised the promontory Crimissa, and, in the interior above it, the city Chone, from which the Chonians of that district took their name. Apollodoros also says that some of his companions whom he had sent forth with Aegestes the Trojan to the region of Eryx in Sicily fortified Aegesta. Moreover, Grumentum and Vertinae are in the interior, and so are Calasarna and some other small settlements, until we arrive at Venusia, a notable city. But I think that this city and those that follow in order after it as one goes towards Campania are Samnite cities. Beyond Thurians lies also the country that is called Tauriana. The Lucanians are a Samnite descent group (genos), but upon mastering the Poseidoniatians and their allies in war they took possession of their cities. At all other times, it is true, their government was democratic, but in times of war they were accustomed to choosing a king from those who held magisterial offices. But now they are Romans.

[Iapygians, Oinotrians, and “Italians”, according to Antiochos of Syracuse (FGrHist 555)]

(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 Tarantines, 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, one hundred and sixty stadium-lengths in width, 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 Oenotrian 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. In the first place, Lucania lies between the Tyrrhenian and Sicilian coast-lines, the former coast-line from the river Silaris as far as Laos, and the latter, from Metapontion as far as Thurians; in the second place, on the mainland, from the country of the Samnites as far as the isthmus which extends from Thurians to Cerilli (a city near Laos), the isthmus is three hundred stadium-lengths in width. But the Brettians are situated beyond the Lucanians. The Brettians live on a peninsula, but this peninsula includes another peninsula which has the isthmus that extends from Scylletium to the Hipponiate gulf. The name of the people was given to it by the Lucanians, for the Lucanians call all revolters “Brettians.” The Brettians revolted, so it is said (at first they merely tended flocks for the Lucanians, and then, by reason of the indulgence of their masters, began to act as free men), at the time when Dio made his expedition against Dionysios and aroused all peoples against all others. So much, then, for my general description of the Lucanians and the Brettians.

(6.1.5) The next city after Laos belongs to Brettium, and is named Temesa, though the men of today call it Tempsa; it was founded by the Ausones, but later on was settled also by the Aitolians under the leadership of Thoas; but the Aetolians were ejected by the Brettians, and then the Brettians were crushed by Hannibal and by the Romans. . . [omitted geographical details and discussion of Rhegion as a foundation by the Greek Chalcidians].

[Western Lokrians and their written laws, drawing on Ephoros]

(6.1.8) Lokrians towards the west (Epizephyrioi) are believed to have been the first people to use written laws. After they had lived under good laws for a very long time, Dionysios, on being banished from the country of the Syracusans, abused them most lawlessly of all men. For he would sneak into the bed-chambers of the girls after they had been dressed up for their wedding, and lie with them before their marriage. He would gather together the girls who were ripe for marriage, let loose doves with cropped wings upon them in the midst of the banquets, and then bid the girls waltz around unclad, and also bid some of them, shod with sandals that were not mates (one high and the other low), chase the doves around — all for the sheer indecency of it. However, he paid the penalty after he went back to Sicily again to resume his government, because the Lokrians broke up his garrison, set themselves free, and thus became masters of his wife and children. These children were his two daughters, and the younger of his two sons (who was already a lad), for the other, Apollocrates, was helping his father to effect his return to Sicily by force of arms. And although Dionysios — both himself and the Tarantines on his behalf — earnestly begged the Lokrians to release the prisoners on any terms they wished, they would not give them up; instead, they endured a siege and a devastation of their country. But they poured out most of their wrath upon his daughters, for they first made them prostitutes and then strangled them, and then, after burning their bodies, ground up the bones and sank them in the sea.

Now Ephoros, in his mention of the written legislation of the Lokrians which was drawn up by Zaleukos from the Cretan, the Lakonian, and the Areopagite usages, says that Zaleukos was among the first to make the following innovation: whereas before his time it had been left to the judges to determine the penalties for the several crimes, he defined them in the laws, because he held that the opinions of the judges about the same crimes would not be the same, although they should be the same. And Ephoros goes on to commend Zaleukos for drawing up the laws on contracts in simpler language. And he says that the Thurians, who later on wished to excel the Lokrians in precision, became more famous, to be sure, but morally inferior because, he adds, it is not those who in their laws guard against all the wiles of false accusers that have good laws, but those who abide by laws that are laid down in simple language. And Plato has said as much, namely that where there are very many laws, there are also very many lawsuits and corrupt practices, just as where there are many physicians, there are also likely to be many diseases. . . [omitted sections with geographical details, discussion of Croton and other Greek colonies and a description of islands off the southern tip of Italy, including Sicily].

[“Barbarian” peoples around Syracuse: Sikelians, Sikanians, and Morgetians]

(6.2.4) . . . Furthermore, the men of Syracuse proved to have the gift of leader­ship, with the result that when the Syracusans were ruled by tyrants they lorded it over the rest, and when set free themselves they set free those who were oppressed by the barbarians. As for these barbarians, some were native inhabitants, whereas others came over from the mainland. The Greeks would permit none of them to lay hold of the seaboard, but were not strong enough to keep them altogether away from the interior. In fact, to this day the Sikelians, the Sikanians, the Morgetians, and certain others have continued to live in the island. Among these peoples there used to be Iberians, who, according to Ephoros, were said to be the first barbarian settlers of Sicily. Morgantium, it is reasonable to suppose, was settled by the Morgetians; it used to be a city, but now it does not exist. . . [omitted detailed sections about sites on Sicily and the fertility of Sicily].

[Iapygians, Peuketians]

(6.3.1) Now that I have traversed the regions of Old Italy as far as Metapontion, I must speak of those that border on them. And Iapygia borders on them. The Greeks call it Messapia, also, but the natives, dividing it into two parts, call one part (that around the Iapygian cape) the country of the Salentinians, and the other the country of the Calabrians. Above these latter, on the north, are the Peuketians and also those people who in the Greek language are called Daunians, but the natives give the name Apulia to the whole country that comes after that of the Calabrians, though some of them, particularly the Peuketians, are also called Poidiklians. . . [omitted geographical details, details about the founding of Taras, a description of the fertility of the Iapygian territory, other Greek colonies in the area, and travel distances].

[Apulians on the eastern coast]

(6.3.11) The intervening space, immediately after cape Garganum, is taken up by a deep gulf; the people who live around it are called by the special name of Apulians, although they speak the same language as the Daunians and the Peuketians, and do not differ from them in any other respect either, at the present time at least, although it is reasonable to suppose that in early times they differed and that this is the source of the three diverse names for them that are now prevalent. In earlier times this whole country was prosperous, but it was destroyed by Hannibal and the later wars. . . [omitted sections].

[For Strabo’s subsequent discussion of the Romans as a superior people for hegemony, go to this link]


Source of translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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