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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula


Brutii (Italics)

The so-called West Indo-European tribes arrived at the eastern edge of Central Europe around 2500 BC. Their northern group became the proto-Celts of the Urnfield culture while the southern group seemingly migrated westwards and southwards, reaching Illyria and northern Italy. Already divided further into semi-isolated tribes, they became more civilised in habits and technologies due to contact with southern Greeks and Etruscans. In the eleventh to eighth centuries BC, some of those groups in Illyria crossed by sea into the Italian peninsula and settled along the south-eastern coast. Those in the north Italian piedmont gradually migrated southwards to occupy much of the rest of eastern and central Italy. These tribes all formed part of a general group called Italics.

The Brutii (or Bruttii) were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, were located along the Tyrrhenian coast of the modern region of Calabria, and were neighboured to the north by the Lucani and Oenotri, to the east by the Chones, and to the south by the Morgetes. The Oscan-Umbrian group of which the Brutii were part are largely accepted as being Indo-Europeans (perhaps even proto-Celts) who were part of the migration into the peninsula from the north. They settled in a region later known as Bruttium, in western Calabria.

Strabo and Pliny, along with other ancient writers, state that the Picentes and Samnites were originally tribes of the Sabellians. This was a collective of central Italian tribes during the Iron Age, comprising the Marrucini, Marsi, Sabini, and Vestini. More specifically, the Picentes and Samnites may have been a division of the Sabini. Writers frequently link one to the other, sometimes referring to the Samnites as Sabellus, seemingly as an umbrella term for their origin. From the Samnites were descended the Lucani, and from the Lucani the Brutii.

Their language was related to the Oscan-Umbrian group of Indo-European languages (P-Italic), which were widely spoken in Iron Age Italy before the rise to dominance of Latin (Latin itself was a slightly more distantly related language, coming from the Indo-European Latino-Faliscan group, or Q-Italic). The meaning behind the Brutii name is obscure, but Dionysius states that it was the Lucanian term for 'slaves' or 'rebels', suggesting a less than amicable split from the Lucani at some point in the fourth century BC. It seems that the Lucani originally called them rebels when they split away, and the name was later adopted by the 'rebels' themselves. Later versions of the story ascribe the name to the queen of the people, one Bruttia, who played a part in the initial revolt and later ruled the new tribe.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, Vol 3, Issue 1, James Cowles Prichard, from The Roman History: From Romulus and the Foundation of Rome to the Reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Velleius Paterculus, J C Yardley, & Anthony A Barrett, from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), and from External Links: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed).)

10th century BC

According to Thucydides, the arrival of the more warlike Oenotri and Opici in northern Calabria triggers the migration of the Elymi, Itali, and Siculi into the 'toe' of Italy and onto Sicily. Antiochus of Syracuse, writing around 420 BC, confirms this. The migration would seem to be the trigger for the Lucani to enter the modern regions of southern Campania and Basilicata.

Greek coin from Bruttium
A Greek coin from a colony on the coast of Brutii territory, with the head of Athena complete with Corinthian helmet on the left

c.700 BC

Shortly after the start of the Golasecca I B period the Oenotri are pushed out of their settlement at Metabon on the Gulf of Taranto by Greek settlers who found the colony of Metapontum on the site. The Oenotri are forced to move inland, and it is probably at this time that they infringe on the territory of the Lucani. The Chones, similarly pushed off the coast by the colony of Sybaris, would also appear to infringe on Lucani territory, as Strabo later writes that the land named after the Lucani (Lucania) contained none of their number. Instead it is entirely possessed by the Chones and Oenotri. The Lucani are pushed north-westwards, buffering against the Samnites.

356 BC

By this time the Brutii have probably become recognisable as a distinct entity (by about 360 BC, although the precise date of 356 BC is given by Diodorus). Opinions on their origin are mixed, with the later Roman writer Justin describing them in his Historiarum Philippicarum libri XLIV as the youths of the Lucani while others call them a conglomeration of slaves, Oenotri, and Etruscans. In all probability both are true, with Lucani settlers heading a mixed bag of locals. The territory they occupy, to the south of the Lucani, is never referred to as the domain of the Brutii - the more modern term of 'Bruttium'. Instead it is the people themselves who are always referenced, which seems to reinforce the idea that they are late to appear as a separate people. Their territory abuts that of the Lucani along the River Laus close to the Tyrrhenian Sea. From there it crosses to the River Crathis, close to the Gulf of Tarentum.

Map of the Etruscans
This map shows not only the greatest extent of Etruscan influence in Italy, during the seventh to fifth centuries BC, but also Gaulish intrusion to the north, which compressed Etruscan borders there (click or tap on map to view on a separate page)

340s - 330s BC

The mixed bag which forms the Brutii quickly gels and prospers. They are able to defend the more mountainous interior of their land and also strike out and expand. Over the course of the years following their initial appearance they attack and conquer the Greek colonies of Hipponium, Terina, and Thurii.

334 - 331 BC

At the request of the embattled Greek colony of Taras, Alexander I Molossus embarks with a force of Epirotes, Macedonians and Tarantines to Italy. He fights the Brutii and Lucani, and in 332 BC defeats an alliance of Lucani and Samnites near Paestum.

In the same year he concludes a treaty with the Romans and continues battling against the other Italic peoples. This period proves to be the end for the Golasecca culture within the Italian Iron Age.

He captures Heraclea from the Lucani and then Sipontum and Terina from the Brutii but, having been forced to accept battle at Pandosia (in Calabria), he is killed by a Lucani exile. The defeat is a significant one as it marks the end of any new Greek colonisation in Italy and teaches the Italians how to defeat the phalanx, which is completely outmanoeuvred on rocky ground by the fast-moving Italics.

282 - 278 BC

The growing power of Rome has saved the Greek colony of Thurii from being overwhelmed by the Italics, but the colony of Tarentum intervenes, sinking some of the Roman ships. Rome declares war on Tarentum, but Pyrrhus of Epirus declares for Tarentum, as do many of the southern Italic peoples, including the Brutii, Lucani, and Samnites. A few years later these three Italic tribes send auxiliaries to the army of Pyrrhus, but following his withdrawal in 278 BC to conquer Syracuse they face Rome's might alone.

278 - 272 BC

In six years of further campaigning, Generals Gaius Fabricius Luscinus and Lucius Papirius inflict defeat after defeat on the Italic tribes until they are subdued (by 272 BC) and forced to concede half of the forest of Sila, which is a valuable source of timber, in exchange for peace.

Numerius and the Samnites at Bovianum
Numerius prepares his Samnites to face Rome at the Battle of Bovianum, close to the Pentri capital of the same name

218 - 202 BC

The Second Punic War is fought against Carthage. Rome is aided by its Etruscan, Picene, and Umbrian forces, but Italy is invaded by Hannibal Barca and a Roman army is massacred at the Battle of Cannae, killing 60,000. The Brutii immediately declare for the Carthaginians against their northern oppressors and their territory forms a vital bulwark for Hannibal's defensive measures in southern Italy. Rome's resurgence at the successful conclusion of this war seals the fate of all the Calabrian tribes which include the Oenotri, Brutii, Chones, Morgetes, and Itali.

All of them fall permanently under Roman domination, but the Brutii are especially punished, suffering the loss of control of most of their territory and being used as servants and other menials, while being excluded from providing military service. Despite this, the Brutii are still carefully monitored by Rome for several years, with Roman colonies being established in the region to effect better control of them. This is the last that is heard of the Brutii. Their remaining numbers are absorbed into the new Roman population of the region.

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