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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Apennine Culture (Bronze Age) (Italy)
c.1800 - 1200 BC
Incorporating the Grotta Nuova, Proto-Apennine B, & Sub-Appennine

The Southern European Bronze Age Apennine culture appeared in Early Italy from the early second millennium BC onwards, spanning most of the peninsula as it emerged from the preceding European Neolithic Farmer period and the widespread Bell Beaker faded. At its peak it covered all of southern and central Italy but did not venture into the north where the Terramare culture dominated.

The Apennine can be broken down into four phases - early, middle, late, and a sub phase - although archaeologists more recently have begun to prefer to consider as 'Apennine' only ornamental pottery style of the later phase of the middle Bronze Age (which may account for some of the modern dating variances).

There also exist some earlier elements which can be linked to the Apennine but which have been labelled proto-Apennine (Protoapennine), and which can be dated to the beginning of the third millennium BC. Start and finish dates for the proto-Apennine vary by modern source, but usually agree on a period between 2000-1600 BC.

The Apennine's middle Bronze Age phase is now preceded in central Italy by the Grotta Nuova facies, and in southern Italy by the Protoapennine B facies, while it is succeeded by the Subappennine facies of the thirteenth century BC ('Bronzo Recente').

Apennine pottery was a burnished blackware which was incised with patterns, usually dots, spirals, or combinations of both. Its people were alpine cattle herders who for the most part frequented the arable land along the mountainous stretch of central Italy. They had permanent settlements, usually small defendable sites, but also used temporary camps when moving their herds between pastures.

Italian countryside

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), from The Apennine Culture of Italy, D H Trump (Cambridge University Press, 2014), from The Bronze Age in Europe: an introduction to the prehistory of Europe, c.2000-700 BC, John M Coles & A F Harding (Taylor & Francis, 1979), and from External Link: The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of northwest Europe (Nature).)

2000 - 1500 BC

An eruption of Mount Vesuvius can be dated to this period. It destroys several Apennine or proto-Apennine cultural settlements, although the occupants have time to make a hurried evacuation beforehand.

The settlements are buried in much the same manner as Pompeii in AD 79, and archaeologists are able to uncover one of them in 2001, at Croce del Papa near Nola (immediately to the east of Naples). They find preserved household items, animals, and even the footprints of the fleeing populace.

Mount Vesuvius
Modern Naples lies beneath the slumbering volcano of Vesuvius, one of a long line of settlements there which have risked an eruption and which have sometimes been destroyed by one

1600 BC

The 'Middle Apennine' begins in peninsula Italy, but it shows signs of influences from the Balkans, suggesting an influx of new people. This has to be West Indo-Europeans and their related groups farther east along the Danube, seemingly as part of an early phase of migration into the Italian peninsula.

There is a large variety in pottery types for this phase, including bowls with elaborate, upstanding handles, and vessels which have been decorated with curvilinear and zigzag geometric designs.

c.1200 BC

Drier climactic conditions are causing a social breakdown further east, where the collapse of the Hittite empire is a major act in a century of turmoil. The same climate-induced hardships also hit the descendants of Indo-European settlers along the Danube and in Romania, descendants who have already expanded into the northern Balkans.

They begin to search out food and better circumstances, perhaps also helped on by the growing dominance of the Urnfield culture (in the local form of the Gava culture) to the north.

Map of Late Bronze Age Cultures c.1200-750 BC
This map showing Late Bronze Age cultures in Europe displays the widespread expansion of the Urnfield culture and many of its splinter groups, although not the smaller groups who reached Britain, Iberia, and perhaps Scandinavia too (click or tap on map to view full sized)

In Italy similar Indo-European groups, of the proto-Italic variety, begin or continue to penetrate deeply into the Italian peninsula.

Two tribes in this migration - the Latins and Faliscans - cross over the Apennines to reach the western coast  at about the same approximate time at which the Apennine culture begins to fade out.

c.1200 BC

The Southern European Apennine culture fades out, replaced by the recently-arrived proto-Italic Latins and Faliscans. They create a culture of their own in central and upper Early Italy which becomes known as the Villanova.

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