As far as is known, the Iapyges and their
subsequent splinter groups were Illyrian tribes that migrated into
south-eastern Italy from the Balkans in the eleventh or tenth
centuries BC. The Italics migrated in later, probably in the tenth
and ninth centuries, although the details are disputed and some
groups of Italics were already there when the Illyrians arrived,
suggesting either several waves of Italic migration, or two separate groups
of Italics. The latter seems entirely possible, with perhaps several
hundred years dividing the two waves of arrivals. Their most
likely route was from the northern Balkans into north-eastern Italy.
Unlike the other peoples in Italy, the Etruscans were not
Indo-Europeans. They appear to have had an origin at the eastern end
of the Mediterranean, perhaps as the pre-Mycenaean natives of
Greece, the Pelasgians, although any investigation of Etruscan
origins is highly speculative.
The Iapyges later fragmented into various tribal
groups in the south-east of Italy. The main Italic group broke up
into the Opici and Umbri, but these also fragmented as time went on,
with the former giving rise to a large number of central Italian tribes.
It was the Etruscans, apparently the last to arrive, who were the
first to create a dominant culture outside of the Greek and
Phoenician areas of influence. Whatever tribal structure the
Etruscans might have possessed, it had already developed into a city
state culture by the time history was able to record it.
The arrival of the Illyrians created a knock-on
effect that pushed the southern Italics farther to the south-west, while the
creation of Greek colonies from the late eighth century BC onwards
pushed those same tribes inland and farther west and south. Tribes
such as the Oenotri and Chones forced others such as the Itali and
Siculi to migrate southwards, into Calabria and onto the island of
This tribal situation, with some tribes resettling,
and others sub-dividing, is how Italy emerges into the historical
record, when the early Romans started recording what they found as
they ventured outwards from central Italy to eventually dominate the
entire peninsula. In time, all the other tribes and cultures were
submerged beneath Latin culture and political dominance.
Iron Age Italy was a confused mess of different
ethnic origins, which makes the hard classification into 'Italic'
tribes one that is probably not entirely accurate. For example, the
Oenetri might simply be Veneti who sailed down the Adriatic to the
boot of Italy. Why would the Latins be Italic and the Veneti not,
when the language differences between Latins and Italics such as the
Umbri are probably as great as the difference between Umbri and
Veneti language? In fact, Latin would probably seem to be more
different from Umbrian than Venetic. Umbrian and Venetic seem to
have both been P-Italic rather than Q-Italic types, but the solid
consolidation of any tribe into one ethnic grouping or another is
impossible given the available evidence.