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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula


Peucetii (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 Peucetii (or Peucetia to the Greeks and Poedicli to Strabo) were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, were located in the upper central area of the modern region of Apulia, along a thin stretch of coastline below the Gargano promontory. They were neighboured to the north by the Dauni, to the south and south-west by the Messapii, and to the west by the Iapyges. Unlike the other Italic tribes in the rest of the peninsula, the Peucetii, and their neighbours to the north and south-west, the Dauni and Messapii respectively, were probably of Illyrian origin. All three 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, with the Peucetii settling the central northern section of Apulia, to the south of Monte Gargano, between the River Aufidus and Tarentum (Taranto) and Brandusium (Brindisi).

Apulia is a fairly dry but extremely fertile region, with the northern areas being fed by streams that come off Monte Gargano. In this territory the Peucetii developed three main centres, Canusium (modern Canosa di Puglia), Bitonto, and Silvium (modern Gravina in Puglia). According to Dionysus of Halicarnassus, the Peucetii and their Iapyges cousins were settlers from Arcadia, while Herodotus gave them a Minoan origin, claiming them to be émigrés following the death of King Minos.

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 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).)


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 region are founded by the Greek colonists of Magna Graecia, influencing the culture of the settled Italo-Illyrians.

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)


Legendary Illyrian king.

7th - 6th C BC

Peucetii cultural centres develop at Canusium (modern Canosa di Puglia, shared with the Dauni as one of two principle centres for pottery), Bitonto, and Silvium (modern Gravina in Puglia). According to tradition, Bitonto is named after an Illyrian king called Botone, while the Greek settlers in the region are called Butontinoi. Similarities between its coinage and that of the Spartan colony of Tarentum (modern Taranto) suggest an alliance or Spartan domination.

c.500 BC

The Peucetii settlement of Gravina in Puglia is resettled by Greek colonists. The name is changed to Silouion (later known in Latin as Silvium), and the Greeks remain in control for about two hundred years, before losing the town to the Samnites.

473 BC

Hoping to follow up on a victory of 500 BC, the Spartan Greeks of Tarentum (modern Taranto) and its ally, Rhegion (modern Reggio Calabria), attempt to take control of one or more of the towns of the Messapii and Peucetii. However, the Italo-Illyrian tribes are able to hold them off and inflict a serious defeat upon them, thanks to the superiority of their tribal cavalry (according to Herodotus). The war against Tarentum continues until 467 BC.

5th - 4th C BC

The Peucetii town of Bitonto gains its first city wall, quite possibly as a reaction to the conflict with the nearby Greek colonies. Traces of this wall survive under the later Norman medieval walls.

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. The city of Canusium is lost in 318 BC when it sides with Rome, while the Peucetii frontier town of Silvium is apparently under Samnite control when it is seized by Rome in 306 or 305 BC. Bitonto appears to be a Roman ally throughout the war. When the Samnites are finally 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 the heart of Peucetii territory), killing 60,000. The Roman survivors are welcomed into Canusium. 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. This establishes full Roman dominion over the south-east of Italy.

Gravina caves
The caves at Gravina were first inhabited by farmers and shepherds, probably in the Bronze Age, and would have been a familiar feature to the Iapyges and Peucetii

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 much 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 Peucetii are gradually absorbed within Roman Italy and lose their individual identity.

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