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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula


Frentani (Samnites) (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 Frentani were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, were located in the hilly country of the modern region of Molise, on the Adriatic coast immediately north of the Gargano promontory. They were neighboured by the Dauni to the south, the Pentri and Carracini clans of the Samnites to the west, and the Paeligni, Vestini and Marrucini to the north. Their language came from the Oscan-Umbrian group of Indo-European languages (P-Italic), which were widely spoken in Iron Age central and southern 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 Frentani people (not to be confused with the Ferrentani) formed part of the Oscan-Umbrian group. For some of their existence as an identifiable clan, they formed part of the Samnite confederation. This was a loosely-knit grouping of four clans: the Carracini, Caudini, Hirpini, and Pentri (the most important of the clans). The Frentani seem to have joined the Samnites as the confederation expanded its territory towards the Adriatic coast, but later Roman intervention drove them apart again. According to Strabo, they were originally a Samnite people, but it seems that their location allowed them to act independently, and for the most part they were seen as a fully independent people (as were the Lucani, another former Samnite clan). They generally had much more in common with the minor peoples to their north, the Marrucini, Paeligni, and Vestini.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, 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 Samnium and the Samnites, E T Salmon, from Geography, Ptolemy, 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

FeatureThe Samnite confederation of clans would already appear to exist and has settled along the Apennine range. 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, thereby separating themselves from the main Samnite body.

Map of the Samnites
The orange area shows the general territory under the control of the Samnites, while the location of each of their divisions, along with the Frentani, is shown within that territory (click or tap on map to view full sized)

9th - 7th century BC

With the beginning of the Italian Iron Age, signs of territorial variation begin to emerge, although the gradual differentiation between a western area, an eastern area, and an Alpine area will only acquire more consistency in the seventh century BC. This is the Golasecca I A period.

By now the Frentani have occupied the territory in the modern region of Molise, on the Adriatic coast, immediately north of the Gargano promontory. Their migration there seems to detach them from the main Samnite body, so that they are recognised as an individual people. Ptolemy and Strabo, both writing in the first centuries AD, set the Frentani borders at the River Sagrus (modern Sangro) in the north, but Pliny has them (almost) as far as the Aternus. This gives them a large chunk of the Sagrus' northern bank, and puts them up against the Marrucini and Vestini. Pliny would seem to be more accurate, as the settlements of Anxanum (modern Lanciano) and Ortona are both to the north of the Sagrus and both are Frentani, and Ptolemy also claims Anxanum for them. To the west they reached as far as the foothills of the Appenines, where they buffer the Carracini clan of Samnites.

325 - 304 BC

The Second Samnite War is triggered against Rome, and the Samnite commander, Gaius Pontius, leads a force of around 9,000, including a thousand cavalry, with which he wins several early victories. The Frentani receive their first direct mention in history in 319 BC, at which time they are allied to the Samnites in the fight. However, they are quickly defeated and submit to Rome. When the Samnites are finally defeated in 304 BC, their confederates, the Frentani, Marrucini, Marsi, and Paeligni, voluntarily accept their reintegration into Roman administrative rule.

All the other Samnite allies are also subjugated by Rome. In fact, the Frentani seem to be politically connected far more closely to the Marrucini, Paeligni, and Vestini than with the Samnites by now. This period proves to be the end for the Golasecca culture within the Italian Iron Age.

282 - 278 BC

Pyrrhus of Epirus sides with Tarentum against Rome, 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, while Rome has its own loyal Frentani auxiliaries (or, more probably, the subject Ferrentani of Campania). The Frentani have remained true to their alliance with Rome, and perform with distinction. Following the withdrawal of Pyrrhus in 278 BC to conquer Syracuse, the Italics face Rome's might alone.

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. A greater part of the Italic peoples go over to the side of Carthage, but again the Frentani remain true to their alliance.

91 - 89 BC

Along with the Etruscans, Lucani, Marrucini, Marsi, Paeligni, Picentes, and Vestini, the Samnites fight the Social War (Italian War, or Marsic War) against Rome. For once, the Frentani also join in opposition to Rome, but they appear to agree terms early on, along with the Latins and Umbri, and play little part in a war that is the result of increasing inequality in Roman land ownership. The spark for conflict is delivered by the assassination of the reforming Marcus Livius Drusus, whose efforts would have led to citizenship for all of Rome's allies.

91 - 89 BC

Gaius Papius Mutilus

Samnite leader during the Social War.

91 - 89 BC

Publius Praesentius

Probable commander of the Frentani.

88 BC

With most of the Italics defeated, only the Samnites stand against Rome, so the latter agrees concessions to end what may be a prolonged conflict. The Italic tribes are granted the Roman citizenship which had previously been withheld from them. Thereafter, they are gradually absorbed within Roman Italy and lose their individual identity.

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