History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula


Opici / Ausones (Italics)
Incorporating the Aurunci & Sidicini

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 Opici were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, settled in Italy. Their territory is hard to pinpoint, but Aristotle placed it between the Oenotri people and Etruria, which lay to the immediate north of Rome. That offers a fairly wide swathe of land, suggesting that they were one of the earliest groups of Italics to arrive, and were later compressed towards western central Italy. During the height of their importance, at the beginning of the Iron Age, they were probably neighboured to the north by the Etruscans, and then the Latins, Marsi, and Volsci, to the east by the growing Samnite group and the shrinking Oenotri people (themselves an early arrival in Italy). The Oenotri probably also occupied the south (modern Calabria), as they later fractured into various smaller groups in that region.

Aristotle was also cited by Dionysius when he referred to Latium as a district of 'Opika', suggesting that the Latins and probably early Romans, were in some way subject to the Opici. The Opici were alternatively known as Ausonians, seemingly with the latter being a branch of the main group, and also as Obsci, Opicans, Opsci, and Osci. Only Polybius seemed to think they were two separate peoples. The 'Ausones' name appears to have been given to them by the Greeks, while the early Romans called them Aurunci (a direct derivation of Ausones). The different names were later used as references to distinct branches of Opici. However, if 'Osci' were pronounced with the 'c' pronounced as a 'ch' instead of a 'k' (in Latin a 'c' can represent either a 'ch' or 'k' sound), then it could be the exact same name as 'Ausones'. Strip off the Latin suffixes and what is left is 'Osc' (pronounced Osch) and 'Auson'. The '-on' suffix in 'Auson' could be a Celtic-style suffix. Strip that off and 'Osch' is roughly the same as 'Aus', making Opici and Ausonians one and the same people.

Strabo and Pliny, along with other ancient writers, claimed the Aequi, Hernici, Sabini, and Volsci as divisions of the Opici or their Ausones stem. They also stated that the Picentes and Samnites were originally tribes of the Sabellians. This was a collective of central Italian tribes during the Iron Age, comprising the Marrucini, Marsi, Sabini, and Vestini. More specifically, the Picentes and Samnites may have been a division of the Sabini. Writers frequently link one to the other, sometimes referring to the Samnites as Sabellus, seemingly as an umbrella term for their origin. From the Samnites were descended the Lucani, and from the Lucani the Brutii, showing a good deal of interrelationship between the various Iron Age peoples. If the ancient writers were correct, the Opici would seem to be the ancestor of most of these peoples. The Sidicini were also a later division of the Opici.

The language of the Opici 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). These Italic Indo-Europeans (who were perhaps proto-Celts) migrated into the peninsula from the north in the eleventh to eighth centuries BC, but this process may have begun even earlier for the Opici.

(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, & Anthony A Barrett, 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).)


Legendary founder of Ausonia and the city of Aurunca.

Paul the Deacon preserves an earlier citation from Festus in reference to Auson, the legendary founder of the Opici homeland. In it, 'Auson, son of Ulysses and Calypso, gave his name to Ausonia, and built the city of Aurunca'.


Son. Eponymous founder of the Lipari Islands.

fl c.1180s BC


Paid host to Odysseus.

10th century BC

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 Opici probably dominated much of Campania to start with, but were pushed out of the eastern parts by the Samnites, dominated themselves by the Etruscans, and then defeated by Rome

mid-8th 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.

The Opici, who by now may perhaps be located to the north of the Oenotri, are apparently quickly subjugated by the Etruscans, who now dominate western central Italy. They also form two other Etruscan Leagues, one of which is Campania in the south, led by the city state of Capua (and containing what is now the city of Naples). It is this league that dominates the Opici.

c.580 BC

FeatureBy this stage, the Samnites are undoubted masters of the central southern Apennines, probably having evicted or absorbed any remaining Opici and pushing their remnants towards the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy. The Opici appear to quickly disintegrate as a recognisable group, although they survive for a few more centuries as a weak and unimportant people located between Rome and the Samnites. Their disintegration appears to have been speeded up by their fragmentation into various smaller groups which include the Aequi, Brutii, Hernici, Lucani, Marrucini, Marsi, Picentes, Sabini, Samnites, Vestini, and Volsci. This process occurs between the tenth and sixth centuries, and it leaves the core group of Opici with little remaining substance, and no ability to withstand and survive the population movements and pressures of Iron Age Italy.

503 BC

Livy mentions the Aurunci division of the Opici when the Latin colonies of Cora and Pometia rebel against Rome's domination of the region. In their fight the colonies unite with the Aurunci (whose location is not mentioned). Rome sends two armies against them and a hard-fought battle results in defeat for the rebels, with a high number of casualties. Few prisoners are taken, it seems, and even those are butchered in a blood-thirsty rampage by the Roman troops. The rebels retire to Pometia, followed by the Roman armies who besiege them. An Aurunci sally forces the Romans to withdraw with losses, but they return, take the town, behead the Aurunci officers, sell the Pometians into slavery, level the buildings, and sell off the land.

495 BC

The Aurunci field an army in support of the Volsci against Rome. While on the march, they send envoys ahead to demand that Rome withdraws from Volsci territory. The reply is a consular army under Publius Servilus Priscus Structus which meets them at Arricia and ends the war in a single, victorious battle. The Aurunci, or Opici, are thoroughly put down.

The Opici subsequently appear as three recognised states, probably the result of further fragmentation, but perhaps also the result of deliberate division by Rome to weaken them and prevent further opposition. These three states are known as the Aurunci, Ausones, and Sidicini. The Ausones capital is at Cales, while the Sidicini have their capital at Teanum (modern Teano).

Map of the Etruscans
This map shows the greatest extent of Etruscan influence in Italy, during the seventh to fifth centuries BC, including the Campania region to the south (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.346 - 345 BC

As the final act in the revolt of the Volsci, Rome sacks and levels their town of Satricum around 346 BC. The surviving fighting men, who number about 4,000, are sold into slavery. The Aurunci choose this moment to send a force against Rome itself, which causes panic, with the senate viewing the threat as a wider conspiracy of the Latin League. Lucius Furius Camillus is selected as dictator, for the second time. He pulls together an emergency army from Rome's citizens and ends the threat at the very first battle against the Aurunci (which is becoming an Opici habit). The same army is then used to complete the conquest of the Volsci at Sora.

343 - 341 BC

Advances by the Samnites force the Greek city states along the coast to request of Rome that it reins in its ally. The Samnites also launch an apparently unprovoked attack against the Sidicini. When the Samnites refuse to listen to Roman 'reason', Rome triggers the First Samnite War. Roman victories over the course of the next two years brings the Samnites to the bargaining table where they agree to restore the former Roman-Samnite alliance on condition that the Samnites are permitted to go to war against the Sidicini if required. As Rome has no agreement with the Sidicini, the terms are accepted.

340 - 338 BC

The Latin War is the last major attempt by the Latins to retain independence from Rome. As its trigger, the Samnites attack the Sidicini who, in their desperation, offer to subjugate themselves to Rome. They are refused on the grounds that they are too late in seeking Rome's protection (following the conclusion of the First Samnite War). Instead, the beleaguered Sidicini ally themselves to a Latin League force which is advancing against the Samnites.

Encouraged by Rome's indifference to the Latin-Samnite conflict, the Latins plan to attack Rome next. Rome hears of this and, following failed bargaining in the Senate with ten Latin chiefs to agree a new treaty, declares war against the Latin League. Allied to the Samnites, Rome fights for two years to defeat the Latins in a number of battles, following which they are subjugated fully. The Latin League is dissolved, and some Latin states are annexed directly to Rome, while others retain autonomy.

337 - 335 BC

Having signed separate treaties with Rome, the Aurunci and Sidicini now fall out. Livy describes that the Sidicini attack the Aurunci in 337 BC. The latter are forced to abandon their towns in Campania and retreat to the stronghold of Suessa in the mountains. The stronghold is renamed Aurunca, signalling that it is intended to be a permanent capital for this people. The Ausones side with the Sidicini, raising the suggestion that the Aurunci have committed some kind of cardinal sin in the eyes of their Opici cousins. In 335 BC, Rome sends an army under Marcus Valerius Corvus to besiege Cales, the Ausones capital. Corvus captures the town while its defenders are in a drunken sleep and a Roman garrison is placed there. Colonists soon follow, and land is distributed amongst them, effectively destroying the Ausones.

c.334 BC

The Sidicini now bear the brunt of Rome's attentions. In a campaign by both consular armies, the Sidicini apparently accept subjugation without a battle, while the Romans are struck by an unexplained plague (probably malaria, which is prevalent in the region). The details are not mentioned at all by Livy, which is unusual if this people have been conquered in battle. The Sidicini people are not mentioned again in history, but their city, Teanum, prospers.

Roman Teanum
The Roman city of Teanum, modern Teano, thrived during the late Roman republic and empire periods after being founded as the main centre of the Sidicini tribe

325 - 304 BC

The Second Samnite War is triggered against Rome. During this period the Marsi ally themselves to the Romans in an attempt to remove the Samnite hold over them, but Rome finds it has to move to secure the territory between it and the Samnites before it can win the war, and this means finally conquering and subduing the remains of the Opici (probably the Aurunci in their mountain stronghold).

All the Opici peoples subsequently merge into the general population of Campania. This period proves to be the end for the Golasecca culture within the Italian Iron Age.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.