HUI 216 - Unit 3, Topics 0-8
"Civilizations in ancient Italy"

Andrea Fedi

0 Italy 1000BC-400BC

[Notes] — There wasn't a political or administrative structure that covered the entire Italian peninsula until the time of the first Roman emperor, Augustus (r. 27 B.C. - 14 AD).
Harmony and peace in Italy and among the various Italic peoples are important themes in Virgil's long poem entitled Aeneid (finished around 19 B.C.). Virgil was supported by Augustus through his advisor/culture minister, Maecenas, for the very reason that the contents and ideology found in his poetry were in agreement with the imperial agenda and the government's propaganda.
Italy was first inhabited by Mediterranean tribes, such as the Ligurians, and other indigenous peoples.
The Romans, the Greeks, the Etruscans, the Carthaginians, and the Gauls settled in Italy and developed their civilizations only during the 1st millenium B.C.

3.1 The Etruscans

[Notes] — Read about the Etruscans' own legend about their origins: "This is their story: [...] their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed. [...] they came to the Ombrici [=the Umbrians], where they founded cities and have lived ever since. They no longer called themselves Lydians, but Tyrrhenians, after the name of the king's son who had led them there." Most ancient sources as well as recent genetic research lend support to this story.
Under Fascism, the issue of the origins of the Etruscans acquired relevance within the context of the racist propaganda of the late 1930s and 40s.
Young scholar Massimo Pallottino (1909-1995), inside a 1939 article, emphasized the autochthonous hypothesis of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, according to which the Etruscans were "a very ancient nation," "native to the country." In a 1942 book, Pallottino went on to stress the concept of formation or formative process, which made the hypothesis of the Oriental origins of the Etruscans irrelevant from the scholarly point of view: "no one would dream of asking where Italians or Frenchmen came from originally; it is the formation of the Italian and French nations that we study."
Pallottino dismissed the numerous 19th- and 20th-century studies that had been published in a variety of European countries, which pointed out the apparent affinities between the Etruscans and the ancient Middle Eastern cultures. He explained their findings as the result of influences by contact that would have occurred during the delicate period of formation of Etruscan civilization.

The Fascists

[Notes] — In 1942 Pallottino published Etruscologia, a book dedicated to Mussolini, insisting on the racial, linguistic and cultural connections between the Etruscans and ancient Italy.
In 1941 fascist monthly Razza e Civiltà had discussed the historical roots of the "super race of the Italian nation", the "Aryan-Roman race."
The natural compatibility between Pallottino's theories and contemporary fascist ideology helped his academic career, and was a factor in establishing his rule as teacher and mentor of an entire generation of Etruscologists in postwar Italy.
Outside of Italy several were the dissenting voices, during the same period. French scholar André Piganiol in a famous 1953 article, "Les Etrusques, peuple d'Orient," wrote, "Etruria? a fragment of Babylon in Italy."

Murlo, Monteleone

[Notes] — Giovanni Semerano (1913-2005) was an Italian scholar who argued against the autochtonous theory, on the basis of his lifelong study of the Etruscan language (you can read this article on him, if you understand Italian).
Recent genetic studies, conducted on humans and animals in the area of Murlo (Tuscany), in 2007, have boosted the theory of the Near East origin of the Etruscans.
The case of the Etruscans is a good example of the contrast between historical and cultural relevance in the study of a civilization: the Etruscans had been completely assimilated into Roman society by the beginning of the Roman Empire. They became truly relevant within the discourse on the construction of the national and regional Italian identity during the 19th and 20th century, for cultural and political reasons.
Modern politics plays an essential role in the definition of any local anthropological identity, as one can see in the case of the Monteleone chariot, found in 1902, sold the next year and recently restored by the Metropolitan Museum. The chariot was claimed back in 2007 by the Umbrians of a small village: "A local farmer stumbled upon the bronze chariot, considered one of the finest pieces of Etruscan art in the world, in 1902 as he was clearing land. By the next year it was in the possession of the Met. But the residents of Monteleone, population 680, say the chariot was illegally sold and should never have left the country. 'I'm very sorry for the Met because they've done a great job in making the most of the chariot,' said Mayor Nando Durastanti, who saw the chariot, which has been out of sight for years while being restored, this month during a private tour of the new Met galleries, which are to open April 20. 'It's clear they care a lot about it, but it's ours. It's part of our identity.'" In April 2007, "Some 200 people -- about a third of the town's population -- blew whistles and waved placards demanding that the Italian state, which does not support their claim, join their cause" ("Arts, Briefly; An Opening and a Protest").
Look at pictures of the Monteleone chariot from the website of the New York Times.
Look at this pictures from the Etruscan collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and from the Roman forum.

3.2 Etruscan society

[Notes] — The Etruscans controlled some of the areas north of Naples (a major Greek settlement, at that time), the territory of Lazio (north of Rome), most of Tuscany, and parts of the Po valley (mostly south of the Po River): look at this map.
The twelve major Etruscan city-states were run by religious/political leaders, and joined forces to form a loose political federation (according to ancient sources and traditional scholarship).
The Etruscan League lacked the cohesion and organizational strength necessary to stop an aggressive enemy, or to implement policies to resist assimilation.
The Etruscans lost control of the Po valley to the Gauls, were assimilated by Italics in the South.
The wealthy Etruscan cities of Tuscany were eventually conquered by the Romans, their citizens were fully assimilated into Roman society, over time.
Etruscan civilization was the most advanced in Italy until the 6th century B.C.

Etruscans and Romans

[Notes] — Etruscans and ancient Italics participated to the foundation of the city of Rome: in fact some of the Roman kings may have come from the Etruscan community, because their names seem Etruscan.
The Etruscans introduced in Rome some of their customs, together with many inventions and technologies, such as city planning, commercial trading, the architectural arch, and religious practices, such as haruspicy, which is the art of predicting the future through the observation of the guts of sacrificed animals, or the interpretation of natural phenomena connected with the sky (traditionally controlled by the divinities): e.g., storms, lightnings, the flight of birds (see the story of the foundation of Rome in Livy).
The Romans perfected the Etruscan arch, as they did with inventions and ideas borrowed from other civilizations. The Etruscans were the first in Italy to experiment successfully with complex architecture, and their overall relevance in Roman society may have been underestimated, as their memories were fading already towards the end of the Roman Republic.
A famous Roman politician, Cato the Elder, claimed that "almost all of Italy was once under Etruscan control"; although somewhat of an exaggeration, this quote illustrates the kind of consideration that the educated Roman elite had for Etruscan civilization.
The Etruscans introduced in Roman society social customs that became very popular among the upper classes, such as some of the rituals of formal dining.
They also left a relatively small number of fairly important words in Latin, and from that language those words passed into modern Neo-Latin languages: "person" (Italian persona) comes from an Etruscan word that indicated the mask worn on the stage by theatrical performers. The English adjective "histrionic" and the Italian equivalent istrione come from the Etruscan word for 'actor'.

3.3 George Dennis

[Notes] — This section contains excerpts from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (London: 1848, 1878, 1883, 1907). This book was instrumental in the revival of interest in the Etruscans during the age of Romanticism.
You can look at illustrations from the 1848 edition, showing the Anubis vase, the Etruscan walls of Cortona, a bronze bust from Vulci, and a funerary urn.
The following link takes you to a modern online edition of Dennis's book.


[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: ""The external history of the Etruscans, as there are no direct chronicles extant, is to be gathered only from scattered notices in Greek and Roman writers. Their internal history, till of late years, was almost a blank, but by the continual accumulation of fresh facts it is now daily acquiring form and substance, and promises [...] to be as distinct and palpable as that of Egypt, Greece, or Rome."

Monumental remains

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "We are indebted for most of this knowledge, not to musty records drawn from the oblivion of centuries, but to monumental remains -- purer fonts of historical truth -- landmarks which, even when few and far between, are the surest guides across the expanse of distant ages -- to the monuments which are still extant on the sites of the ancient Cities of Etruria, or have been drawn from their Cemeteries."

The internal history

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "The internal history of Etruria is written on the mighty walls of her cities, and on other architectural monuments, on her roads, her sewers, her tunnels, but above all in her sepulchres; it is to be read on graven rocks, and on the painted walls of tombs; but its chief chronicles are inscribed on sarcophagi and cinerary urns, on vases and goblets, and mirrors and other articles in bronze, and a thousand et cetera of personal adornment, and of domestic and warlike furniture -- all found within the tombs of a people long passed away, and whose existence was till of late remembered by few but the traveller or the student of classical lore."

A second Pompeii

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "It was the great reverence for the dead, which the Etruscans possessed in common with the other nations of antiquity, that prompted them -- fortunately for us of the nineteenth century -- to store their tombs with these rich and varied sepulchral treasures, which unveil to us the arcana of their inner life, almost as fully as though a second Pompeii had been disinterred in the heart of Etruria [...]."

Relapsed into the desert

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "Etruria was of old densely populated, not only in those parts which are still inhabited, but also, as is proved by remains of cities and cemeteries, in tracts now desolated by malaria, and relapsed into the desert [...]
[...] contained numerous cities, mighty, and opulent, into whose laps commerce poured the treasures of the East, and the more precious produce of the Hellenic genius."

Glory has departed

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "Most of these ancient sites are now without a habitat, furrowed yearly by the plough, or forsaken as unprofitable wildernesses; and such as are still occupied, are, with few exceptions, mere phantoms of their pristine greatness -- mean villages in the place of populous cities [...].
The glory has verily departed from Etruria."

The great civilizers

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "The Etruscans were undoubtedly one of the most remarkable nations of antiquity -- the great civilizers of Italy -- and their influence not only extended over the whole of the ancient world, but has affected every subsequent age, and has not been without effect, however faint, on the civilization of the nineteenth century, and of regions they never knew.
When we consider the important part they played among the nations of old, it is astonishing that the records of them are so vague and meagre."

A false impression

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "[...] had it not been for their tombs, we should have known them only through the representations of the Greeks and Romans, which would give us a false and most unfavourable impression. For the Greeks describe them as pirates and robbers, or as effeminate debauchees; the Romans brand them as sluggards, gluttons, and voluptuaries. Yet the former acknowledged their power at sea, their commercial importance, and their artistic skill; and the latter were forced to confess that to Etruria they owed most of their institutions and arts: still neither have paid that tribute to her civilization which we have now learned to be due [...]."

Indelible traces

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "How far we Transalpines of the nineteenth century are indebted to her civilization is a problem hardly to be solved; but indelible traces of her influence are apparent in Italy.
That portion of the Peninsula where civilization earliest flourished, whence infant Rome received her first lessons, has in subsequent ages maintained its pre-eminence.
It was on the Etruscan soil that the seeds of culture, dormant through the long winter of barbarism, broke forth anew. [...] it was in Etruria that immortality was first bestowed on the lyre, the canvass, the marble, the science of modern Europe."

No other country

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: Here arose "the all Etruscan three--Dante and Petrarch, and scarce less than they, The Bard of Prose, creative spirit! he Of Hundred Tales of love."
It was Etruria which produced Giotto, Brunelleschi, Fra Angelico, Luca Signorelli, Fra Bartolomeo, Michel Angelo, Hildebrand, Macchiavelli, "the starry Galileo," and such a noble band of painters, sculptors, and architects, as no other country of modern Europe can boast.

Natural superiority

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "Certainly no other region of Italy has produced such a galaxy of brilliant intellects.
I leave it to philosophers to determine if there be anything in the climate or natural features of the land to render it thus intellectually prolific.
But much may be owing to the natural superiority of the race, which, in spite of the revolutions of ages, remains essentially the same, and preserves a distinctive character."

The roots

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).

Neapolitans, Tuscans

[Notes] — What you find above are quotes from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, by George Dennis (1848).
Complete passage: "How else comes it that while the Roman of to-day preserves much of the rudeness of former times -- while the Neapolitan in his craft and wiliness betrays his Greek origin -- the Tuscan is still the most lively in intellect and imagination, the most highly endowed with a taste for art and literature?.
May it not be to the deep-seated influences of early civilization that he owes that superior polish and blandness of manner, which entitle Tuscany pre-eminently to the distinction claimed for it of being "a rare land of courtesy"?

Under the Tuscan Sun

[Notes] — Dennis and Lawrence are both quoted (on the Etruscans and Tuscany) by Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan sun. At home in Italy, New York, Broadway Books, 1996: see pp. 149, 160.
Mayes refers to the Etruscans to explain certain qualities of the Tuscans of today: for example, their "Italian insouciance and ability to live in the moment with gusto" (p. 178; see also pp. 146-149).
Other texts connecting modern Tuscany to Etruscan civilization:

  • Elizabeth Caroline Gray, Tour to the Sepulchres of Etruria, J. Hatchard & Son: London, 1840.
  • Charles Godfrey Leland, Etruscan Roman remains in popular tradition, New York, C. Scribner, London, T.F. Unwin, 1892.
  • D.H. Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan places and other Italian essays, ed. by Simonetta De Filippis, Cambridge, Cambridge University press, 1992 [1927]

3.4 The Indo-Europeans

[Notes] — The Indo-European people (Wikipedia): "The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE), an unattested but now reconstructed prehistoric language.
Knowledge of them comes chiefly from the linguistic reconstruction, along with material evidence from archaeology and archaeogenetics. Linguistic reconstruction is fraught with significant uncertainties and room for speculation, and PIE speakers cannot be assumed to have been a single, identifiable people or tribe. Rather, they were a group of loosely related populations ancestral to the later, still partially prehistoric, Bronze Age Indo-Europeans.
The Proto-Indo-Europeans in this sense likely lived during the Copper Age, or roughly the 5th to 4th millennia B.C. Mainstream scholarship places them in the general region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Some scholars would extend the time depth of PIE or Pre-PIE to the Neolithic or even the last glacial maximum, and suggest alternative location hypotheses."
By the mid-2nd millennium B.C. offshoots of the Proto-Indo-Europeans had reached Anatolia, the Aegean, Northern India, and likely Western Europe.

The Indo-European languages: history and background of this theory (Middlebury). "Historical linguistic investigation shows that certain trees, animals and techniques are common to specific levels of the Indo-European history, while other items have different and independent terminology and hence a different origin. The words for 'dog' 'cow' 'wagon' 'ten' and 'hundred' persist right across Europe, while words for 'horse' and 'fire' and 'god' do not."

Indo-European Documentation Center: "In 1786, Sir William Jones suggested that similarities among languages such as Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Gothic, and others were so striking as to suggest that they had sprung from a common, no longer existing source [...] now called Proto-Indo-European. By the 19th century, August Schleicher's Family Tree had been proposed to model the relationships among the Indo-European languages as the branches of a tree [...]. In the early part of the 20th century, Antoine Meillet suggested that Greek (Hellenic), Armenian, and Indo-Iranian were more closely related to each other than to any one of the other languages, and linguistic similarities among Celtic, Italic, and Tocharian are now thought to indicate a closer prehistoric community, while Germanic was isolated very early: only later, in northern Europe, did Germanic, Baltic, and Slavic speakers come back into contact."

IndoEuropeans in Italy

[Notes] — Indo-European tribes migrated from Central Asia, slowly moving through the regions of Russia and Eastern Europe.
During the second millennium B.C. some of them arrived in Italy, in different waves, and there they settled.
Among them were the Latins (later known as Romans, after the foundation of the city of Rome), the Greeks, the Samnites, the Umbrians, the Oscans, the Sicans, etc.

Alternative theories

[Notes] —The following sections are based on passages from "World's Farmers Sowed Languages as Well as Seeds" by Nicholas Wade (The New York Times, May 6, 2003).
The invention of agriculture has long been invoked to explain the spread of the Indo-European languages.
Dr. Jared Diamond of the University of California at Los Angeles and Dr. Peter Bellwood of the Australian National University in Canberra have applied the concept to 15 major language families.
Their article was published inside an issue of Science (Apr. 25, 2003).

Agricultural system

[Notes] — The premise is that when humans lived as hunters and gatherers, their populations were small, because wild game and berries can support only so many people.
But after an agriculture system was devised, populations expanded, displacing the hunter-gatherers around them and taking their language with them.
On this theory, whatever language happened to be spoken in a region where a crop plant was domesticated expanded along with the farmers who spoke it.

Genes, languages

[Notes] — Even if the farmers interbred with the hunter-gatherers whose land they took over, genes can mix, but languages cannot.
So the hunter-gatherers would in many cases have adopted the farmers' language.
That is why languages "record these processes of demographic expansion more clearly than the genes".
Relevant genetic research was conducted at the University of Stony Brook in the early 1990s: "The conventional theory holds that the Indo-European languages were imposed on the early inhabitants of Europe by the conquerors who swept out of the steppes of what is now the southern Ukraine beginning about 6,500 years ago. A competing view says that the languages were spread by early farmers as they moved, century by century, in search of new lands, starting in the Middle East about 9,000 years ago. Last year, a team headed by Dr. Robert R. Sokal lent support to the agricultural theory by demonstrating that genetic patterns are correlated with the spread of agriculture. If no correlation had been found, Dr. Sokal said, the agricultural theory would have collapsed because there would have been no mechanism for the spread of the languages. [...] And now, carrying the analysis a step further, he and two colleagues at Stony Brook, Dr. Neal L. Oden and Barbara A. Thomson, have attempted to establish a similar correlation between genetics and the spread of language itself, as postulated by the two theories. There is none, they report in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 'We have not disproved them,' Dr. Sokal said of the competing theories, 'but our genetic evidence does not support them.'

3 language families

[Notes] — Just as China was a powerhouse of new language families in the East, the Fertile Crescent, the arc running through Lebanon and through Iraq, was the source of at least three major language families in the West: look at this map.
One was Dravidian, a language family now centered on southern India.
A second was the Indo-European family, which includes English, French and German in its Western branch and Iranian and Hindi in its Eastern branches.
A third may have been Afro-Asiatic, a family that includes ancient Egyptian and Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew.

The East-West axis

[Notes] — Agriculture did not drive all language expansions -- the Inuit's spread across the Arctic is an example of that -- but "for most of the widespread language families the driving force for the spread has been agricultural".
The new theory also predicted that expansions would occur more easily on an east-west axis than a north-south axis, because the crop plants on which an agriculture depends tend to be able to grow only at particular latitudes.


[Notes] — Dr. Christopher Ehret of UCLA said the authors had overstated the role of agriculture.
He did not agree with Dr. Bellwood that the Indo-European languages had been spread by farming. "In reality, the spread of language families has come about for different reasons in different times and places, but one of the causes has sometimes been the development of agriculture."
Linguistic evidence shows the speakers of the ancestral Indo-European tongue knew of wheels and kept horses in years around 4,500-3,500 B.C., but agriculture had spread to Europe at least 2,500 years previously.

3.5 The Greeks

[Notes] — Look at this map of Ancient Italy, before the expansion of Rome: you can see how many different ethnic groups existed in Italy during the 7th century B.C.
The ancient Greeks established a number of colonies in southern Italy and on the East coast of Sicily. In fact, Magna Graecia (The Great Greece) was an expression often used by the Romans when referring to southern Italy.
Consider the example of Syracuse: the city was founded by Corinthians during the 7th century B.C., and became at that time one of the wealthiest cities in Italy.
Greek artifacts recently found by archaeologists suggest the presence of Greek settlers, for a limited time, even in the area of the Venetian lagoon.

Greeks and Romans

[Notes] — The following are the most important contributions made by the ancient Greeks (especially the Greeks of Italy) to Roman civilization.
The Laws of the 12 tables (circa 450 B.C.), first legal code of the ancient Romans, were written by the Romans, per their own admittance, only after a careful examination of Greek laws: a committee of legal experts was sent to the Greek colonies to study their legal system.
The alphabet used by the Romans was modeled after the Greek alphabet: the Etruscans, who had multiple contacts with the Greek colonies most probably introduced that alphabet in Roman society.
Roman religion borrowed numerous myths and divinities from the Greeks: once again the Etruscans were often the intermediaries.

Literature and culture

[Notes] — Roman literature and music, the arts and theater were developed relatively late, following the stimulus and the example of the great writers, artists and playwrights of Greece.
Among those who contributed to spreading the knowledge of Greek civilization in Rome, an essential role was played by educated Greeks slaves, captured during the wars fought by Roman armies in southern Italy, the Balkans, and, eventually, in Greece.
One of the required readings focuses on the foundational myth of Aeneas (a narrative which is a spinoff of a popular poem written by Greek poet Homer, the Iliad).

The following notes were taken from this Wikipedia article. As described in Virgil's Aeneid, "Aeneas is one of the few Trojans who were not killed in battle or enslaved when Troy fell. When Troy was sacked by the Greeks, Aeneas, after being commanded by the gods to flee, gathered a group, collectively known as the Aeneads, who then traveled to Italy and became progenitors of the Romans." Aeneas "carried with him the Lares and Penates, the statues of the household gods of Troy, and transplanted them to Italy." "Aeneas and his fleet made landfall at Carthage after six years of wanderings. Aeneas had a year long affair with the Carthaginian queen Dido [...], who proposed that the Trojans settle in her land and that she and Aeneas reign jointly over their peoples. [...] However, the messenger god Mercury was sent by Jupiter and Aphrodite to remind Aeneas of his journey and his purpose, thus compelling him to leave secretly and continue on his way. When Dido learned of this, she ordered her sister Anna to construct a pyre, she said, to get rid of Aeneas' possessions, left behind by him in his haste to leave. Standing on it, Dido uttered a curse that would forever pit Carthage against Rome. She then committed suicide by stabbing herself with the same sword she gave Aeneas when they first met and then falling on the pyre." "After visiting Carthage, the Trojans returned to Sicily where they were welcomed by Acestes, king of the region." Eventually, "Latinus, king of the Latins, welcomed Aeneas's army of exiled Trojans and let them reorganize their life in Latium. His daughter Lavinia had been promised to Turnus, king of the Rutuli, but Latinus received a prophecy that Lavinia would be betrothed to one from another land &emdash; namely, Aeneas. Latinus heeded the prophecy, and Turnus consequently declared war on Aeneas at the urging of Juno, who was aligned with King Mezentius of the Etruscans and Queen Amata of the Latins. Aeneas' forces prevailed. Turnus was killed and his people were captured. According to Livy, Aeneas was victorious but Latinus died in the war. Aeneas founded the city of Lavinium, named after his wife."

Look at this fresco by Raphael, which provides a visual association between a local medieval incident, the fire in the Borgo, and the episode of Aeneas escaping from burning Troy, carrying his father Anchises (1514, the Vatican rooms, Rome); click here and then zoom in by clicking on the picture of the fresco. The significance of the fresco lies in the fact that it suggests that even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the citizens of Rome have retained the same heroic qualities possessed by their ancestors: if the Romans and the Italians of the 16th century were able to rediscover in them that legacy, they too could rise to the occasion and be victorious against the 'fire' of the foreign invasions.
Representations of Aeneas were quite common in 16th and 17th century Italian art, especially in the area of Rome. Aeneas and his story are sometimes represented because of their clout and popularity, and the main focus of the artist, depending on the case, oscillates between the aesthetic values and the ideological content of the representation.
Consider the case of Federico Barocci, and the theatrical phantasmagoria of his Mannerist Aeneas' Flight from Troy, a gift for the Borghese family (1598).
Compare it to the more intense and dramatic interpretation of that subject given by Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in his Aeneas carrying Anchises, a marble group from 1618-19. In this sculpture, the vertical line that goes from Aeneas's father Anchises, carrying the statuettes of their ancestors, to Aeneas himself, to his son Ascanius, is suggestive of the idea that the same values are passed from one generation to the next, implying that modern Romans need only rediscover their ancestry to find new strength and emerge victorious from their political crisis.

3.6 Foundational myths

[Notes] — The story of Aeneas became part of the foundational myths of the Romans. At some point in time, it was connected to the main competing myth, the story of Romulus and Remus (found in a supplemental required reading), which also incorporated elements from other civilizations which contributed to the creation and development of Roman society: consider the all-important reference to the birds (connected to Etruscan rituals/beliefs), and the essential role played by the Sabines in the third foundational myth, the abduction of the Sabine women.
"In Plutarch, the grandfather of Romulus and Remus is Numitor, a descendant of Aeneas, fugitive from Troy after its destruction by the Greeks. Numitor inherits the kingship of Alba Longa. His brother Amulius inherits its treasury, including the gold brought by Aeneas from Troy. Amulius uses his control of the treasury to dethrone Numitor, but fears that Numitor's daughter, Rhea Silvia will bear children who could overthrow him. He forces her to perpetual virginity as a Vestal priestess. In one variant, Mars, god of war, seduces her (another version names Amulius). The king sees his niece's pregnancy and confines her. She gives birth to twin boys of remarkable beauty; her uncle orders her death and theirs. One account holds that he has Rhea buried alive - the standard punishment for Vestal Virgins who violated their vow of celibacy - and orders the death of the twins by exposure; both means would avoid his direct blood-guilt. In another, he has Rhea and her twins thrown into the River Tiber. In each case, a servant is charged with the deed.
"The servant cannot bring himself to harm the twins; he places them in a basket and leaves it on the banks of the Tiber. The river rises in flood and carries the twins downstream, unharmed. The river deity Tiberinus makes the basket catch in the roots of a fig tree that grows in the Velabrum swamp at the base of the Palatine Hill. The twins are found and suckled by a she-wolf (Lupa) and fed by a woodpecker (Picus). A shepherd of Amulius named Faustulus discovers them and takes them to his hut, where he and his wife Acca Larentia raise them as their own.
"In all versions of the founding myth, the twins grow up as shepherds. They come into conflict with the shepherds of Amulius, leading to battles in which Remus is captured and taken to Amulius. Their identity is discovered. Romulus raises a band of shepherds to liberate his brother; Amulius is killed and Romulus and Remus are conjointly offered the crown. They [...] restore Numitor as king, pay due honours to their mother Rhea and leave to found their own city. They are accompanied by a motley band of fugitives, runaway slaves, and any who want a second chance in a new city with new rulers.
The brothers argue over the best site for the new city. Romulus favours the Palatine Hill; Remus wants the Aventine Hill. They agree to select the site by divine augury, take up position on their respective hills and prepare a sacred space; signs are sent to each in the form of vultures, or eagles. Remus sees six; Romulus sees twelve, and claims superior augury as the basis of his right to decide. Remus makes a counterclaim; he saw his six vultures first, and should take priority. Romulus sets to work with his supporters, digging a trench (or building a wall, according to Dionysius) around the Palatine to define his city boundary. Remus criticizes some parts of the work and obstructs others. At last, Remus leaps across the boundary, as an insult to the city's defenses and their creator. For this, he is killed."

The rape of the Sabines

[Notes] — In this context, the word rape, which derives from the Latin word raptus, has the archaic meaning of "abduction, kidnapping or seizure."
According to the third foundational myth, Romulus and his gang still needed one thing to complete the process of the foundation of their new city: women, who would provide children and guarantee a future for the Roman community.
According to Roman sources, no neighboring tribe would help them, because the thuggish acolytes of Romulus were considered barbarians and criminals.
The Romans therefore had to abandon their peaceful intentions and resort to the use of violence and deceit.
The Romans went to neighboring tribes, including the Sabines, with an invitation to bury the hatchet and jointly celebrate a religious festivity
Unarmed and unprepared (guests were sacred in most ancient cultures), the Sabines, with their wives and daughters, attended the Consualia festival in Rome, only to have their women taken by force.
3 years later, the Sabine men returned for revenge and successfully breached the Palatine defenses.


[Notes] — Before the Romans were overwhelmed by their attackers, their already-reconciled women (with children in tow) threw themselves between the parties, begging mercy for their husbands. War was averted, and the foundation of Rome was completed, on the basis of not blasphemy or rape, but forgiveness and harmony.
On this topic, see also FEMINAE ROMANAE: The Women of Ancient Rome (offline from Nov. 2009).
Consider the popularity of this foundational myth in European art: examples can be found inside the Wikipedia article on The Rape of the Sabine Women. In particular, look at The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1796-1799), by Jacques-Louis David.

Common themes

[Notes] — Common themes in the foundational myths of the Romans:

  • Violence, as it is used by the Romans, brings or restores justice.
  • War is seen as the continuation of political planning, and is supported by diplomatic efforts.
  • Military activities are connected to the development of a new social/cultural identity.
  • Assimilation of different cultures/ethnic groups is a fundamental process in the creation of Roman society.
  • Superiority and magnanimity of the Romans, qualities that are linked to their courage, their generous and reactive nature.

Eclecticism, tolerance

[Notes] — Ancient Romans demonstrated a constant inclination to borrow practices, values and contents from other cultures. This attitude facilitated the assimilation of their subjects through an active exchange of customs and ideas.
Unification and integration were accomplished primarily through the establishment of a unified economy, where trades were supervised by Rome's central administration, and supported by the creation and maintenance of infrastructures, such as a complex network of roads, ports and shipyards, storage facilities, military strongholds, defense lines.
The ancient Romans were generally inclined to tolerate other cultures, provided that there was reciprocation, and that other cultures were not radically different from theirs in essential or strategic areas of life and society.
This is apparently one of the reasons why the Romans feared and persecuted Jews and Christians, who abhorred polytheism and could not in turn easily accept some of the social customs and political/religious rituals of the Romans. In fact, stubbornness, and hatred are the negative stereotypical connotations of the early Christians in ancient Roman documents.

3.7 The Carthaginians

[Notes] — The city-port of Carthage, in modern Tunisia, was founded originally by the ancient Phoenicians (who inhabited the area of modern Lebanon).
The Carthaginians had colonies in Spain, on the shores of the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, and on the west coast of Sicily.
They were great sailors, and active merchants who traded a variety of goods in many areas of the Mediterranean Sea. They exported agricultural products from North Africa and Sicily (wheat, cereals). They transported and sold ivory and ebony coming from sub-Saharan Africa, salt and spices coming from the Middle East and Egypt.

The Gauls

[Notes] — The Gauls \(Galli in Latin) were another Indo-European group, which migrated into Italy from central and western Europe.
By 400 B.C. the area south of the Alps (in later times also known as Gallia Cisalpina) was occupied or controlled by Gallic tribes.
These semi-nomadic tribes sometimes raided south. Under the leadership of Brennus, the Gauls managed to sack Rome, in 390 B.C.

3.8 The Italian Greeks

[Notes] — In areas of the Italian South, especially in Apulia (more specifically in the peninsula of Salento), and Calabria, there are Italian-Greek communities, still speaking a dialect called Grico or Griko, which derives from the Greek language.
Although it was believed in the past that those small Greek-speaking communities were the direct descendants of the original Greeks of classical antiquity, more recent studies have confirmed that at the end of the Middle Ages, before the fall of the Byzantine Empire (conquered entirely by Turks by 1453), small groups of Greeks escaped from Greece and modern Turkey, settling in Apulia, the Italian region closest to them by sea.
You can find more information (well-organized and nicely presented), on this web page, entitled Greek (Griko) in Italy; I have copied from there some excerpts containing relevant information.
The Greek language spoken in Italy, known by the names grico, griko, greco-bovese or greco-calabro, is written in Roman characters and is a highly corrupted form of modern Greek.
Griko is not a unitary language: it is spoken in two geographically and linguistically distinct enclaves, one in the area known as Bovesia near Reggio di Calabria and the other near Lecce, in the area known by the name of Grecia Salentina (see the map inside the Wikipedia article).
The Greek-speaking territory of Bovesia lies in very mountainous terrain and is not easily accessible.
In recent times, many descendants of the early inhabitants of the area have left the mountains to set up home by the coast.


[Notes] — The Grico speakers of Calabria live in the villages of Bova Superiore, Bova Marina, Roccaforte del Greco, Condofuri, Bagaladi, Polizzi and Gallicianò.
The villages of Chorio and Roghudi were abandoned after the floods of 1971 and 1972, and their inhabitants were resettled in Mélito di Porto Salvo.
In Grecia Salentina, the Grico speakers can be found in the villages of Calimera, Martignano, Martano, Sternatia, Zollino, Corigliano d'Otranto, Soleto, Melpignano and Castrignano dei Greci, although Grico seems to be disappearing from Martignano, Soleto and Melpignano.
The number of Grico speakers is very limited in Bovesia: some authors speak of 3,900 speakers at the end of the 1970s, principally in Roghudi and Gallicianò. In general, the number of Greek speakers appears to have fallen by around 70% since the 1950s.

Italian Greek heritage

[Notes] — Until the agrarian reforms of 1950-51 took effect, the Grico-speaking peasants lived out a virtually self-sufficient existence on their masserias (ancient fortified farmhouses): this has enabled them to preserve their language for such a long time.
Today the Calabrian Autonomy Statute accords recognition to the cultural heritage of the Albanian and Greek populations and makes provision for the promotion of instruction in both languages in the places where they are spoken.
Although Calabrian Greek is not used as a classroom language, optional regional courses in Greek language and culture have been held in the 1990s in certain kindergarten and primary schools in Bovesia, thanks to funding from the regional authorities, the EU, and the Church. Even if the number of kids who choose to attend these courses is limited (50 at the most), there seems to have been a small resurgence of interest in the Greek language and Greek culture.
It seems at the present time that nobody in Bovesia speaks Grico spontaneously: a few people will do so if encouraged, especially shepherds and farmers. Grico has given way to Italian and the region's various other Italian dialects. There has been a total breakdown in the oral tradition, especially since the 1950s, on account of economic changes, depopulation of the region and the growing percentage of the population who have attended public school.

The End

The Monteleone chariot. Metropolitan Museum of Art