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European Kingdoms



Raeti / Raetia (Alpines)

Prior to domination by Rome, the Alpine region contained various populations which had a complex, obscure, and ethnically-multilayered history. Two major ethnic groups were recorded (aside from intrusions by the Etruscans and Veneti), these being the Euganei on the north Italian plain and the Alpine foothills, and the Raeti in the Trentino and Alto Adige valleys.

There were a great many more minor groups, all of which seem to have formed part of the initial phase of the Golasecca culture. Generally they belonged to one or the other of these though, or to the coastal Ligurians who had gradually penetrated the Alps from the south.

The Raeti (Raetians, Rhaeti, or Reti) were not part of the West Indo-European migration into southern Central Europe between about 3500-2500 BC. Instead they seem to have borne a degree of relationship with the Etruscans of north-western Italy.

MapPossibly they (and the Etruscans) were indigenous, but one school of thought from the twentieth century had the Etruscans migrating from the eastern steppe immediately before the start of their historical period around 800 BC - unlikely, as they would have had to make their way through a swathe of Indo-European groups (see map for more information).

The Raetic group was formed as a confederation of smaller tribes, many of which barely warrant a mention in the historical record. They were located in central Switzerland, across Alpine Germany and Italy, and in the Austrian Tyrol. The Danube formed their northern border (although this area was largely occupied by the Vindelici) while the Celtic Noricum abutted their territory to the east.

Livy covered the Etruscans in his work. He placed them on both sides of the Apennines in twelve cities and twelve subsequent colonies, stating that they also controlled all of Italian territory between Po and the Alps, with the exception of the eastern corner which was inhabited by the Veneti (the later Venetians).

He was of the opinion that the Alpine tribes to their north were undoubtedly of the same stock, especially the Raeti, who had 'through the nature of their country become so uncivilised that they retained no trace of their original condition except their language, and even this was not free from corruption'. That corruption would have been due to increasing Celtic influence from the north and Latin influence from the south.

FeatureRecent genetic studies seem to support these westward migration stories to an extent, claiming an unusual eastern heritage for the Etruscans that is found in no other Italian peoples (see feature link for more on this).

The most likely answer is that they were related to groups in Anatolia which had migrated westwards much as their Neolithic farmer ancestors had done when they arrived in Greece in the seventh millennium BC to form the Sesklo culture, before subsequently expanding farther into Europe. The original non-Indo-European Alpine tribes could have been an early northwards extension of a related group, or possibly indigenous Palaeolithic groups who took on board Etruscan language influences and culture (probably due to a takeover by a small Etruscan elite).

In support of the early Raeti not being Indo-European or speakers of an Indo-European language until external influences reached them, Maurizio Puntin points to dozens (to say the least) of inscriptions which are widespread between the Steinberg (Tyrol-A) to the north and the upper Veronese, the upper Vicentino, and the town of Feltre to the south of their territorial region.

Many experts (H Rix, Cristofani, and others) support the idea that their language was similar to Etruscan (related, but not descended from it), and certainly had no kinship with the nearby Indo-European languages such as Venetic or Celtic.

If the Raeti did indeed have a language of their own - or at least a dialect - how far it reached amongst the Alpine tribes is very uncertain, even during the early imperial Roman period. By then their tongue had already become corrupted by contact with Celts.

Those Raeti on the southern side of the Alps, in northern Italy, fared better, managing to hold onto their language until the third century AD. By then all Raeti had become Latinised. Although poorly documented, detailed coverage is available on a separate page of individual Raeti Tribes.

The Alps

(Information by Trish Wilson, Edward Dawson, and Peter Kessler, with additional information by Maurizio Puntin, from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius (translated by Rev Canon Roberts), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Les peuples préromains du Sud-Est de la Gaule: Étude de géographie historique, Guy Barruol (De Boccard, 1999), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith (1854, Perseus Digital Library), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and L'Arbre Celtique (The Celtic Tree, in French), and Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz or Dictionnaire Historique de la Suisse or Dizionario Storico dell Svizzera (in German, French, and Italian respectively).)

c.1200 - 900 BC

Herodotus claims that the Etruscans are descended from Lydian colonists who land in Etruria in the thirteenth century BC (perhaps following the collapse of the Hittite empire). This is largely reflected in the earliest 'Etruscan' names, which are of an improbably early date so that they can be tied in with the Lydian kings.

Map of Alpine and Ligurian tribes, c.200-15 BC
The origins of the Euganei, Ligurians, Raeti, Veneti, and Vindelici are confused and unclear, but in the last half of the first millennium BC they were gradually being Celticised or were combining multiple influences to create hybrid tribes (click or tap on map to view full sized)

While this version is dismissed by modern historians, there is a leaning towards the idea that the Etruscans do migrate from the eastern Mediterranean, probably in the tenth century BC, and blend into the indigenous population which at this time forms the Villanova culture.

If they come by land then this is already a well-trodden path, as evidenced by the Sesklo culture of Neolithic farmers and all its various descendant cultures. What later become the Alpine tribes could be part of this same migration, making them late interlopers into an Alpine region which is surrounded by early Celtic and Italic tribes, although this seems unlikely.

More reasonable is the proposition that they are originally non-Indo-Europeans who are heavily influenced by Etruscans before receiving later Celtic and Latin influences.

Villanovan ware
The bowl on the left is a restored eighth or seventh century BC Villanovan example, while the chalice and kantharos are Etruscan from the seventh to sixth centuries BC

c.600 BC

The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, king of Rome.

As archaeology seems to point to a start date of around 500 BC for the beginning of a serious wave of Celtic incursions into Italy, this event has either been misremembered by later Romans or is an early precursor to the main wave of incursions, probably as a result of the same apparent overpopulation in southern Germany which doubtless forces the start of migration into Iberia around a century earlier.

The Celtic advance into the Po Valley also forces the Raeti Tribes to relocate into the Alps (according to Pliny the Elder).

Source of the Ticino
The mountainous Alpine country of the Raeti would have supplied a relatively tough tribal life during which it would seem that they never particularly thrived or expanded and which led to their easy absorption into Celtic and Latin cultures

222 BC

By the time that Rome has finally won the Gallic War in northern Italy by subjugating the Celtic tribes there, those very Gauls have been present in the region for over three hundred years.

The Insubres tribe at least may have integrated to an extent with surrounding Etruscans, Italics (most likely the Umbri), Ligurians, and Raeti Tribes, providing the external influences which eventually subsume the original identity of the Euganei, Ligurians and Raeti.

27 BC

The office of dictator of Rome is offered to Caesar Augustus (Octavian), who wisely declines it. Instead he opts for a politic arrangement which leaves him as functional dictator without having to hold the controversial title or office itself. The Roman empire is born.

La Turbie and the Trophy of Augustus
The first century BC Tropaeum Alpium ('Trophy of the Alps') stands majestically in the commune of La Turbie on the French Riviera, overlooking the principality of Monaco, and marking the final victory over the Alpine tribes by Augustus

It is also by this time that many of the non-Indo-European elements in the Alpine region largely seem to lose their native language, with it having been replaced by Celtic speech. More southern Raeti Tribes retain their language for a further three centuries before becoming fully Latinised.

The fact that the Roman empire soon unquestionably controls the entire Alpine region - giving it free access to Gaul and Germania - probably hastens the final decline and disappearance of any non-Indo-European traits, customs, and languages here.

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