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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula


Morgetes (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 Morgetes were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, were located in the back half of the 'toe' of Italy, in the section to the north-east of the Greek colony of Hipponium and perhaps as far north as Sybaris. With a tribal capital at Morgantium, they were neighboured to the north by the Chones and Brutii, to the west by the Itali, and along the coastline on both sides by various Greek colonies of Magna Graecia. The Oscan-Umbrian group of which the Morgetes were part are largely accepted as being Indo-Europeans (perhaps proto-Celts) who migrated into the peninsula from the north. Their early history is unknown, but they are distinguished by ancient writers as being a sub-division of the Oenotri, along with the Chones and Itali. All four groups may have had an Illyrian or Greek origin, at least in part, probably with a large degree of intermixing with earlier, pre-Indo-European people in Italy.

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.

The Morgetes left no inscriptions or other materials which would allow scholars to classify their language group. Ancient writers persisted in ascribing them with a Grecian origin, which was mixed fairly equally with the native barbarians amongst whom they settled when they arrived in Italy. The possible Grecian origin would likely link them to the Dorians, or instead make them cousins of the Illyrian tribes in south-eastern Italy, principally the Iapyges.

(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 Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, Ed William Smith, 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 Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)


Legendary successor to King Italus of the Itali.

In his work, Politics, Aristotle names a king of Oenetria called Italus who is the successor to King Oenotrus himself. Oenetria at this time is taken to refer to the 'toe' of the Italian 'boot, an area which is known today as Calabria. Aristotle claims that the Oenotri of this region had changed their name to the Itali. It is this name that is used by later Greek settlers to refer to the entire land, but this origin story is probably sheer invention. Thucydides claims that Italus is a king of the Siculi, while after diligent research Dionysius concludes that the Itali and Siculi are one people. King Morges is claimed as the successor to Italus, and Siculus the successor to Morges, which seems to illustrate the belief that the Itali, Morgetes, Oenotri, and Siculi have a shared heritage.

Map of the Etruscans
Sila National Park
The modern Sila National Park would have fallen within the territory of the Morgetes, located as they were in the back half of the 'toe' of Italy, to the north-east of the Greek colony of Hipponium and perhaps as far north as Sybaris, while above is a map showing that approximate location (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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 cultural period.

Greek colonies along the coastal region of the 'toe' of Italy include Hipponium (modern Vibo Valentia) on the Gulf of Terina, Terina itself to the north (near modern Lamezia terme), Corsentia (modern Cosenza), which lies inland, probably on the northern border of Morgetes territory, and Petelia (modern Strongoli), Croton (modern Crotone), and Scylletium (near modern Catanzaro) on the eastern coastline, plus half a dozen more minor colonies. As they begin to interact with the Italic natives, they start using the name of the neighbouring Itali as a reference to the entire region.

411 BC

Writing at this time, the reliable Greek historian Thucydides of Alimos (close to Athens), mentions the Siculi. He says that groups of Siculi still occupy the Italian mainland in his time. It is possible, given their close links in the past with the Itali (and therefore their close cousins the Morgetes), that both peoples could be Siculi in all but name. Strabo claims that the Morgetes join the fortunes of their cousins, the Siculi, and migrate to Sicily where they intermarry with and are absorbed by the Siculi.

Either way, the Morgetes are very poorly documented and receive no further mention after Thucydides. The suggestion is either that they have indeed been absorbed by another Italic people, or that they have always been a branch of the Siculi (those that had remained on the Italian mainland), and that they now complete the migration to join their relatives on Sicily. Thereafter they share the same fate as the rest of the Siculi.

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