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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula


Dauni (Italics / Illyrians)

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 Dauni (or Daunia to the Greeks) were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, were located in the northern part of the modern region of Apulia, on the Gargano promontory, and were neighboured by the Frentani to the north, the Carracini and Pentri clans of the Samnites to the west, the Iapyges to the south-west, and the Peucetii to the south. Unlike the other Italic tribes around them, the Dauni, and their Peucetii neighbours to the south, were probably of Illyrian origin. Both were sub-branches of the Iapyges, who were thought to have migrated into the Italian peninsula from the Illyrian coastline. They probably crossed the Adriatic Sea at its narrowest point, from modern Albania, to arrive in south-eastern Italy. This migration appears to have taken place between the eleventh and tenth centuries BC, and the Dauni settled the northern section of Apulia, between the rivers Frento and Aufidus. This included Monte Gargano and Monti Dauni, to which they gave their name.

The Monti Dauni is a low-lying mountain chain which forms the border between Apulia and the region of Molise to the north, and it also forms the least mountainous area in Italy as a whole. The region is a fairly isolated one, even today, and is greatly orientated towards agriculture, which is fed by streams which come off the Gargano. The Dauni were far enough north to escape most of the influence of the Greeks in southern Italy, so they were able to develop a more localised culture of their own. This culture was developed in various centres throughout their territory during the seventh and sixth centuries BC, but specific details of the tribe are hard to come by.

The Illyrian tribes in south-eastern Italy spoke a language belonging to the Messapian group. This was an Indo-European branch that was found in Italy alone, but which may have been related to one of the Illyrian languages. It was spoken only by the Iapyges and their three sub-groups, the Dauni, Messapii, and Peucetii. Approximately three hundred inscriptions survive which can be dated to the period between the sixth and first centuries BC, after which the Illyrian tribes were submerged by Latin culture and language.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), and 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.)


Eponymous legendary founder of the tribe.

According to Greek legend, Iapyx, Daunius, and Peucetius are three sons of an Illyrian (Arcadian) king named Lycaon, who is himself the son of Pelasgos, ancestor of the Pelasgoi. They lead their people across the Adriatic Sea and into south-eastern Italy, where they settle, mixing in with the native pre-Italic population. The tribe fragments into at least four segments: the Iapyges, Dauni, Messapii, and Peucetii. Subsequently, towns in the southern parts of the region are founded by the Greek colonists of Magna Graecia.

7th - 6th C BC

The Dauni differ from their Illyrian cousins to the south in that they are farther away from the influence of the Greeks in southern Italy. They also have fewer connections with the Greeks and instead develop a more distinct culture of their own. They create a series of funerary monuments, stelae, in this period, which are later located by archaeologists in the plain to the south of Siponto. They also create very distinctive, hand-formed pottery, which begins by using geometric patterns.

Dauni pottery
Early Dauni pottery developed a style that was mostly its own, generally using geometric shapes, although the example shown here is a plain one, albeit still simplistically attractive

Italo-Illyrian cultural centres develop at Aecae (near Troia), Arpi (near Foggia), Ausculum (modern Ascoli Satriano), Canusium (modern Canosa di Puglia, one of two principle centres for pottery), Casone, Castelluccio dei Sauri, Coppa Navigata, Cupola, Herdonia (modern Ordona, the second of two principle centres for pottery), Lavello, Lucera, Melfi, Merinum (modern Vieste), Monte Saraceno (near Mattinata), Ripalta (near Cerignola), Salapia (near Cerignola and Manfredonia), Siponto, Teanum Apulum (in the San Paolo di Civitate of the present day), Uria, Venosa, and Vibinum (modern Bovino).

5th century BC

Daunian pottery begins to be influenced by the Greeks. Crude human, bird and plant figures begin to replace the earlier geometric patterns.

325 - 304 BC

Rome fights the Second Samnite War against the Samnites in 325 BC. During this period the Marsi ally themselves to the Romans, while the Dauni, Iapyges, Lucani, 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 (in Peucetii territory), killing 60,000. The final stages of the war in Italy are fought out at Monte Gargano, in the northernmost part of the modern region of Apulia and the heart of Dauni territory. When the Carthaginians withdraw, Rome is able to capture the ports of Brundisium (Brindisi, on the eastern coast) and Tarentum (Taranto), both of which border Messapii territory, and establish full dominion over the south-east of Italy.

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. During the imperial age, the regions of Apulia and Calabria become production houses of grain and oil, and form the main export route for the eastern provinces. Thereafter, the Dauni are gradually absorbed within Roman Italy and lose their individual identity.

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