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European Kingdoms



Veneti (Adriatic / West Indo-Europeans)

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 from beyond the southern foothills), 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.

Following the arrival of Indo-Europeans in Central Europe between about 3000-2000 BC and their enthusiastic expansion of the Bell Beaker culture, two main groups emerged along the Danube. To the west was the West Indo-European group which seems to have started out entirely proto-Italic in terms of language. To the east was the South-West Indo-European group which was probably exactly the same at first.

After a period of gestation which may have ended before or during the climate-induced Near East social collapse of about 1200 BC, it was this second group which claimed much of the western Balkans coastal strip alongside the Adriatic.

That proto-Illyrian takeover of the long Balkan coastal strip probably was not a single event. Instead it had likely been gradually building for several centuries. Due to limited land or resources in this coastal territory - or perhaps overpopulation - some proto-Illyrians soon spilled over the Adriatic and into south-western Italy in the form of the Iapyges tribe (seemingly between the eleventh and tenth centuries BC).

The Adriatic Veneti are likely to have gained their own territory at the top of the Adriatic around the same time, and perhaps for the same reasons, although it is unclear whether they were 'proper' proto-Illyrians or a northern fringe group of Indo-Europeans which still possessed marked proto-Italic traits.

FeatureThe Veneti name has long puzzled some scholars, and has excited others who see it as a kind of shared super-tribal name (Strabo is guilty of triggering this particular idea). There were Veneti in Armorica, Venedi on the Vistula (see feature link for more on them), Veneti on the Adriatic, and many tribes in-between with names which shared the same root. The Vindelici are an example of the latter. If the postulated first wave of West Indo-Europeans contained a large central component which was using some form of the 'vend/vened' name then this could have spread via smaller migrations to later locations in which such named groups were to be found.

That would mean, at least, that the Venedi/Veneti/Vindelici tribes were not Celts as has often been put forward. Instead they likely had closer linguistic and cultural ties to proto-Italics and proto-Illyrians, seemingly the main components of the early main wave of Indo-European migration into Central Europe. This would also explain why Caesar did not name the Veneti as being Belgae.

Classifications as they exist today are based on surviving dominant cultures (that of Rome, primarily). They have little to do with linguistic and cultural realities. It may be more realistic to view the Veneti in their earlier days as West/South-West Indo-Europeans who fell somewhere between proto-Italics and proto-Illyrians, with the Ligurians immediately to the west probably a close match and the Liburnians immediately to the east showing an even greater confusion of influences.

If the mildly controversial link between the Venicnii of Ireland and the Veneti of Armorica is accurate (and also with the Venicones of Scotland), and it would seem to be, then the name breakdown is the same in all cases. It is a name which is shown in various ways by various authors, all meaning exactly the same thing. It appears to derive from a common root for 'white' (ie. blond) found in Celtic or Italic tongues and related branches. The English word 'white' is a cognate, the 'n' having been dropped at some point from the 'wenet' or 'vined' or similar root.

It is not known for certain if 'white' in Germanic languages was retained from proto-Indo-European, or imported from common Celtic. Most 'experts' seem to lean towards the former but the latter is preferable. As light-haired Europeans often have offspring with blonde hair regardless of the hair colour of their parents, the many tribes using variants of this could have gained their names from leaders who were born blond and named as such. It is only after the first few years that the blonde hair of many of those offspring turns brown. The Veneti or Venedi or Venicnii were 'the blonds'. The white of 'winter' has the same origin.

The settlement of Treviso is occasionally ascribed to a Gaulish tribe named as the Tarvisii. Given that this was firmly in Veneti territory, about as far as it was possible to get from the Gauls to the north, the Carni and Catubrini, and those of the south, the Cenomani and Lingones, this seems highly unlikely. Perhaps it would be more accurate to classify them as Celto-Veneti.

Similarly, the Eravisci may have been Celto-Veneti - just like the Carni - or even Celto-Illyrian. The Veneti themselves dominated the Euganei from at least late in the second millennium BC, while other nearby groups are also classed as Veneti relatives, including the Catali, Catari, Histri, Liburnians, Lopsi, Secusses, and Venetulani.

The Alps

(Information by Edward Dawson & Peter Kessler, with additional information by Trish Wilson, 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.1183 BC

According to an often-repeated story by ancient writers, following the conclusion of the Trojan War, Antenor, ally of Aeneas of the Dardanians, sails into the furthest part of the Adriatic (the northern reaches), accompanied by a number of Eneti who have been driven from Paphlagonia by revolution following the death of their king, Pylaemenes, before the gates of Troy.

Verona in Italy
Verona was initially the chief citadel of the Euganei, before they were forced out by the more powerful Celtic tribe of the Cenomani, probably in the sixth or fifth centuries BC

The story provides an elegant introduction to the arrival of the Veneti at the northern end of the Adriatic, but in reality they are probably migrants from the proto-Italic/proto-Illyrian fringe along the Danube who head outwards from there during the climate-induced social collapse at the end of the thirteenth century BC.

The Hittites, Syria, and Canaan suffer especially badly from this, but so do the Mycenaeans, and the South-West Indo-Europeans, who soon migrate southwards to populate much of the Balkans, including the Illyrian coast. It would also seem to be around this time that large populations of proto-Italics migrate into the Italian peninsula.

Whatever their origins at the top of the Adriatic, as the Veneti they defeat the Euganei, occupy their former lands near the Adriatic coast, and dominate them in their new, restricted home in the Alpine foothills.

It may even be the case that the Veneti take on board some elements of Euganei culture and language, forming a Venetic-Euganei mixture which may explain differences from a potential proto-Illyrian origin. Perhaps not coincidentally, the early phase of the Villanova culture begins around the same time.

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

1000s BC

Either in this century, or relatively early in the next, the Veneti found the settlement of Patavium (its later Latin name, possibly Venetic Patav, today's Padua). The settlement forms the centre of today's city, but it is not until the fifth century BC that it becomes a major Veneti city.

c.390s/380s BC

The tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius I the Elder, trades with the Adriatic Veneti, desiring their famed horses and founding trading colonies along the Adriatic coast to work with them. He helps the town of Adria to build canals to link it to the sea and thereby breaks Sina's trading monopoly.

303/302 BC

Prince Cleonymus, son of King Cleomenes II of Sparta, leads a mercenary fleet up the Adriatic, intent on sacking the city of Patavium. The Veneti successfully destroy and capture the Spartan ships before any attack can be launched. Cleonymus survives the failure.

The Veneti also consistently repel attacks by the Gaulish tribes which surround them to the north and south, other than the Cenomani with whom they enjoy peaceful relations. They may even have provided a Venetic influence to this tribe, given the difficulty in providing a wholly Celtic meaning to its name.

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)

231 - 225 BC

Over the next six years or so, the two most extensive tribes to be located in northern Italy, the Boii and Insubres, send out the call for assistance against Rome to the tribes living around the Alps and on the Rhône. Rather than each of the tribes sending their own warriors, it appears that individual warriors are hired from the entire Alpine region as mercenaries.

Polybius calls them Gaesatae, describing it as a word which means 'serving for hire'. They come with their own kings, Concolitanus and Aneroetes, who have probably been elected from their number in the Celtic fashion.

Rome has been informed of what is coming, and hurries to assemble the legions. Even its ongoing conflict with the Carthaginians take second place. Such is Rome's haste that they approach the Gaulish frontier before the Gauls have even stirred.

It is 225 BC when the Gaesatae forces cross the Alps and enter the valley of the Padus with a formidable army, furnished with a variety of armour. The Boii, Insubres, and Taurini accompany them but the Cenomani and Veneti (a recent and generally friendly new Roman contact) are persuaded to side with Rome, forcing the Gauls to detach a force to guard their flank.

Celtic warriors
While most of the Gauls of the third century BC fought fully clothed, their Gaesatae mercenaries tended to fight with nothing more than their weapons, and not even the trousers shown here

As well as the four new legions they have assembled, the Romans are accompanied by Etruscans, Sabines, Sarsinates, and Umbri, and more Cenomani and Veneti. The first battle, when it comes, is near Faesulae, outside the subjugated Etruscan city of Clevsin. The Romans are decimated and routed by superior Gaulish tactics.

A fresh army under Lucius Aemilius arrives, and Aneroetes counsels retreat with their booty and army intact, ready to launch a fresh attack when ready. Consul Gaius Atilius lands at Pisae with the Sardinian legion and the Gauls find themselves caught between two Roman armies. Despite taking serious losses, the Romans and their allies win the day.

186 BC

The Celtic Encyclopaedia states that the Carni now cross the Alps from the Veneti territory in Noricum to the Adriatic Veneti territory in Italy. The Carni are Gaulish in origin - or perhaps Belgic - but scholars have also previously linked them with Illyrians.

More recently this has changed, with a link to the Adriatic Veneti being preferred. Given the presence of Celts to the south of the Danube for several centuries it seems likely that they have developed links with both groups. They may well exhibit Illyrian and Venetic traces in the same way that Celts which live along the fluid border with the Germanic tribes are increasingly exhibiting Germanic influences.

Western Alps
The Celtic tribes of northern Italy were large and dangerous to the Romans, unlike their fellow Celts in the Western Alps, who were relatively small in number and fairly fragmented, although they made up for that by being even more belligerent than their easterly cousins

181 BC

Rome founds the Latin colony of Aquileia close to Veneti territory. This begins a period of increasing Roman influence over the Veneti which includes road-building over the course of the century to improve landward connections. The Veneti seem not to resist Latin cultural intrusions, or the gradual adoption of the Latin language. In fact there may not even be a great amount of difference between their languages given probable Veneti origins.

171 - 170 BC

The Taurisci are briefly mentioned as allies to the Norici (although such usage would seem to be from a later period). This takes place during the pillaging march of the Roman consul, Gaius Cassius Longinus, whose route passes partly through their territory. An official complain reaches Rome, with the Norici being compensated with a licence to buy highly-prized horses from the Veneti. This event includes the first historical mention of the Iapydes.

c.115 BC

During the year of his consulship in Rome, Marcus Aemilianus Scaurus succeeds in defeating the Carni and probably also the Taurisci. Cicero mentions this briefly in his Orations, but provides no additional depth. It seems that this final defeat of the Carni has been driven by their continued wish to settle the Veneti-controlled plains and Rome's equally strong desire to keep the rich, fertile plains for itself. Now the Carni, accepting their defeat, appear to submit to Rome.

Connected to the events of about 115 BC, Nauportus was established as an important Celtic trading centre, and it was one which flourished under the later Roman administration, following the conquest of the Gauls

49 BC

In the same year that the peoples of Gallia Transalpina are granted Roman citizenship (including the Cenomani and Veneti), civil war erupts between Julius Caesar and Pompey as the former crosses the Rubicon.

Rome's various allies and subject peoples take sides, but the days of the Veneti as a readily-identifiable people are coming to an end. They are now Romans, and they share the soon-to-be empire's highs and lows.

In the fifth century AD, increasing turbulence in the now-rapidly-declining empire sees refugees from Aquileia and other nearby cities (including Altinum) escape into the lagoon marsh islands for mutual protection, forming a settlement there which will become the republic of Venice.

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