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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Italy

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa and the Near East are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see feature link, right).

FeatureFormed by a relatively narrow peninsula which emerges into the Mediterranean from Southern Europe, modern Italy's territory is characterised by a rugged central spine of mountains, the Apennines, which are bordered either side by fertile plains and valleys (for more on the naming of the Apennines, see the feature link).

This mountain range has a surface area of 301,230 square kilometres, including the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Archaeological investigation shows signs of Homo Heidelbergensis and Neanderthal occupation, with modern humans arriving around forty thousand years ago. During the most recent ice age, water levels in the Mediterranean were lower than today, allowing land bridges to form to the islands of Elba and Sicily, and leaving the northern half of the Adriatic as a fertile plain.

The human hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic prospered until the end of the ice age, around 10,000 BC, when large game became harder to find. The Grimaldian, a local form of the Aurignacian culture, survived here for a long time without a Solutrean or Magdalenian interlude. It remained dominant into the Mesolithic, and even through that into the Neolithic with only minor microlithic influence being noticed.

What can be described as early Italy emerged towards the end of the Epigravettian culture (8000 BC), while the Neolithic began with the introduction of pottery and the later Gaudo culture in southern Italy, before these both gave way to the Bronze Age.

The greatest changes came between the twelfth to eighth centuries BC when West Indo-European proto-Italic tribes gradually made their way into Italy. They bumped up against Greek settlements in the south and the early Etruscans in the centre and west.

The basis of the Roman republic and subsequent empire of the Italian Iron Age were laid by this migration, as was the ethnic mix of the modern country, albeit with a heavy Germanic addition in the north and centre in the form of the Lombards and Ostrogoths, and in the south by the Normans.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, 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: The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of northwest Europe (Nature), and Mesolithic man in the Crimea.)


King list Apennine Culture
(c.1800 - 1200 BC)

Apennine culture appeared in early Italy from the early 2000s BC onwards, spanning most of the peninsula as it emerged from the preceding European Neolithic period.

King list Terramare Culture
(c.1750 - 1150 BC)

The people of the Terramare were bronze users, possibly descendants of Bell Beaker folk in northern Italy and therefore also likely to be proto-Italics.

King list Villanova Culture
(c.1100 - 750 BC)

Villanova people seem to have migrated from multiple locations farther east, which suggests the presence of proto-Italics and/or proto-Illyrians.

King list Golasecca Culture
(c.1100 - 300 BC)

This culture is the archaeological expression of pre-Roman cultural superiority, and it was here that the Euganei, Raeti, and Ligurian identities were forged.

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