The Origins of the Name 'Italy'

 

Where does the name 'Italy' come from and how did Italy get populated over time?
 

In remote times, going back to the Bronze Age and dated between the 18th and 17th centuries B.C. there was the great maritime migration of the Arcadians from the Aegean towards Southern Italy. Guided by their mythical king Oenotro, these people were called Oenotrians.

From their expansion and mixings with the local populations, and with some complicated integrations, derived the Ausonians (Ausones), the Chones, the Morgetes, of course, the Itali, and the Siculians.

The Latins probably also descended from the Oenotrians, but instead were pushed a bit further North. It has been shown that between the 16th and the 15th centuries B.C. several populations speaking diverse Indoeuropean idioms had already penetrated in Italy.

These populations represent the result of the overlapping and in many ways a blending of a first wave of Indoeuropea in Italy with an existing non-Indoeuropean sub-layer like that very ancient Iberian-Caucasian, who survived the presence, even in the Roman era both in Eastern Sardenia as well as Eastern Sicily, where one refers to the Sicanians, and like the Aegean-Asianic of the Pelasgic type.

The Pelasgi were perhaps the first inhabitants of the Palatine, the hill on which Rome would later rise, and perhaps the very ancient town called "square Rome" is attributed to them. In addition, the ancient God of the Roman hill Janiculum, Janus, came from Tessalia. Although tradition attributes him Indoeuropean origins, some historians say he has Pelasgic origins, with his name coming from Inuus Pelasgic.

Therefore the Central-Southern part of Italy outlines a scenario very similar to that verified previously in Greece, where the Pelasgi, an antique Mediterranean population who lived in Tessalia, the Peloponnesian, the Caria, and quite probably in Crete and Cyprus in addition to the many other small islands of the Aegean, overlapped or fused with their arrival the Indoeuropean Greeks.

The Arcadi, originally from Peloponnesia, speaking an ancient Greek language, and therefore Indoeuropean, is the perfect example of this fusion between Indoeuropean people and pre-Indoeuropean populations, given that Peloponnesia is the region in which the Pelasgic presence lasted the longest.

The Itali lived in the southern part of present-day Calabria, that is, within the "toe" of the boot called Italy. Their name came from Vitulus, meaning veal or calf, since the area was rich with bovine, and perhaps the Itali took the name symbolically since it identified them with their land. But in the times of the Magna Grecia, following the Greek colonization of the majority of their territory, the coastal regions were renamed Italoi, the Greek word for Vitulus.

And so the name "Italoi" was inherited by the Romans upon conquering this territory which extended all the way down to the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Although for some time the land had been conquered by second-wave Indoeuropean populations such as a type of Sabellians called Bruttii.

From this, the name "Italy" was extended by the Romans first to cover Southern Italy and later to include the entire peninsula.

Many tales about contacts between the Aegean world and the Italic world make references to more recent migrations than the first Arcadian immigration, between the 13th and 12th centuries B.C. around the period of the Trojan war, in 1180 B.C.

During that period, the late Bronze Age, almost half of the Italic peninsula was made up of migrants from various places within the Aegean-Anatolic area.

This half consisted partly of people speaking Indoeuropean idioms, like Arcadians of Evandro, of whom the presence on the Roman hills of the Palatine would be dated to 60 years before the Trojan war or, like Ulysses' Achei and Enea's Trojans, immediately after the Trojan war.

The other half was made up of Mediterranean populations very similar to the Pelasgi but not speaking proper Indoeuropean languages and identified as Maritime Populations, such as Sardens or Shardana, meaning Sardanioi, that is, the Sardinians, and the Trs or Tursa, meaning the Tyrosine, that is the Tyrrhenians who perhaps originally came from Lydia in Asia Minor or from the Aegean island of Lemno, from which the Etruscans or Tusci come.

Source: Fabrizio Bianco (c) 2002, Inside Lazio; Ancient Italian Regions, "a brief introduction to the origins of the name 'Italy'
If you would like additional information you can write directly to the author

 


Created: November 2003
Updated: 03/24/04
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