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Prehistoric Europe

The Ligurians

by Edward Dawson & Peter Kessler, 5 November 2022

The Ligurians could be found in north-western Italy, prior to domination by the Romans.

They occupied areas of today's Liguria, extending west into Piedmont to the southern bank of the River Po, and even as far as the French Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.

They may also have extended towards northern Tuscany and across the Pyrenees into Catalonia before later groups pegged them back. Prior to the arrival of Indo-European proto-Italics and then proto-Celts, they seemingly formed part of a pre-Indo-European population which occupied much of the western Mediterranean coastline.

Sardinian and Corsican links

The Ligurians are often held to be the ancestors of many of the western Mediterranean's early populations - such as the Sardinians and Corsicans - in much the same way as the Pelasgians were held by the ancient Greeks to be the original inhabitants of Greece.

In fact there are some apparent links between Ligurians and Pelasgians (or at least Greeks in general), such as a shared habit of putting retsina in their wine.

While one recent DNA survey has supported a Corsican-Sardinian link, the other has formed quite the opposite view, suggesting that Corsicans and Sardinians were of different origins.

It proposed that the people of Tuscany (and therefore Ligurians) bear the closest affiliation to Corsicans, judged to be a Neolithic connection which introduced the first permanent settlements in the island. More work in this field is needed to produce a definitive result.

The Ligurians are also accused by Thucydides of forcing the Sicani to migrate from Iberia to Sicily.

Territory and living

Ligurian coastal territory, from the Port of Monoecus as far as Tyrrhenia, is not only exposed to the wind but is also harbourless, except for shallow mooring-places and anchorages.

Lying above this coast are the enormous beetling cliffs of the mountains, which leave only narrow passes to the sea.

Map of European Tribes
The locations of the various larger Alpine groups are included on this map of European tribes around the first centuries BC and AD (click or tap on map to view at an intermediate size)


The Ligurians lived mainly off their sheep, plus milk and a drink made of barley. They were also able to make good use of copious amounts of timber which was suitable for ship-building. These products and resources allowed them to trade quite effectively with the later-arriving Italic tribes of Italy.

While apparently no use at all as cavalrymen, they produced excellent heavy-armed soldiers and skirmishers.

From the fact that they use bronze shields, some ancient writers inferred that they were Greeks (another pointer to a possible shared origin with Pelasgians or Greeks, but more probably simple cultural assimilation).

Ligurian coastline

The Ligurian coastline of modern Italy owes its name to the Ligurian people, a pre-Indo-European grouping which probably consisted of several influences prior to being Latinised by the Romans

 

Main Sources

Titus Livius Patavinus - Res Gestae

Albert Karl Ernst Bormann - Ligustica (in three parts, 1864-1868)

Harry Thurston Peck - Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1898)

William Smith - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography

Ptolemy - Geography

Online Sources

Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples

Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny

Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition)

Polybius, Histories

L'Arbre Celtique (The Celtic Tree, in French)

Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz or Dictionnaire Historique de la Suisse or Dizionario Storico dell Svizzera (in German, French, and Italian respectively)

 

 

     
Images and text copyright © P L Kessler & Edward Dawson. An original feature for the History Files.