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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula


Chones (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 Chones (or Chaones to Aristotle and Conii to others) were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, were located at the top of the Gulf of Taranto, the 'arch' of Italy's 'boot'. They were neighboured to the north by the Oenotri, to the east by the Iapyges and the Greek colony of Metapontum, to the south by the Greek colony of Sybaris and by the Morgetes, and to the west by the Brutii.

The Chones were a division of the Oenetri, or at least an Oenetrian tribe (which is what Aristotle calls them), Oenetria being an earlier name for Calabria. The Oscan-Umbrian group of which the Chones were part are largely accepted as being Indo-Europeans (perhaps proto-Celts) who were part of the migration into the peninsula from the north. The Oenotri (and therefore the Chones) are also linked to the Illyrian Iapyges, suggesting, perhaps, a degree of intermixing (see below for a theory regarding Chones roots in the Balkans). Ancient belief was that they had migrated into Italy under the command of a legendary son of Lycaon. This migration legend is also given to the Apulian tribes to the east, raising the possibility that the Oenotri were a branch of the Iapyges.

Their language is largely unknown, but it may have been 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 language of the Siculi influenced the Greeks on Sicily, and from there fed back into Greece itself and then into Latin. Similarities suggest that Siculi and Latin were related languages, since the former contained both words and grammatical forms which belonged to Latin but which were not common to either it or Greek.

Intriguingly, the Greek version of the tribe's name, Chaones, is remarkably similar to that of the Chaonians of Epirus. This tribe was dominant in that region until the twelfth century, which is perhaps a century before many Illyrians migrated from the southern Balkans into south-eastern Italy. Greek authors thought that these Illyrians had a Greek origin, so the possibility is suggested that the Italic Chones may have been Epirote Chaonians who migrated out of the lower Balkans in the eleventh or tenth century, after losing their domination of the area.

(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, and Anthony A Barrett, from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

c.700 BC

Shortly after the start of the Golasecca I B period the Oenotri are pushed inland by Greek settlers who found the colony of Metapontum, 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 northwards, buffering against the Samnites.

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)

325 - 304 BC

Rome fights the Second Samnite War in 325 BC, by which time the Oenotri and Chones would appear to be subjects of the Samnites. During this period the Marsi ally themselves to the Romans, while the Iapyges, Dauni, Messapii, and Peucetii side with the Samnites. When the Samnites are defeated, so are their allies, and all of them are subjugated by Rome. This period proves to be the end for the Golasecca culture within the Italian Iron Age.

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. Rome's resurgence at the successful conclusion of this war seals the fate of the Calabrian tribes which include the Brutii, Chones, Itali, Morgetes, and Oenotri. All of them fall permanently under Roman domination.

91 - 89 BC

The Marsi fight the Social War against Rome in which Rome's allies strive for, and are eventually granted, citizenship. The Frentani, Latins and Umbri are also granted citizenship, although they play a smaller role in the war, with the Umbri joining the rebels late and agreeing terms with Rome early on. The Chones and Oenotri are seemingly not mentioned during this war, suggesting that they have already disappeared as individual entities by this time, absorbed within Roman Italy.

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