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


Volsci (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 Volsci (or Volscians) were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, were first located on the upper River Liris, but were driven into the fertile land to the south of Rome. They were neighboured to the north by the Latins and Marsi, to the east by the Carracini and Pentri tribes of the Samnites, and to the south by the Etruscan-dominated regions of the Opici. Once south of Rome, they found themselves alongside the Hernici, and beyond them the Aequi, with the Aurunci and Samnites to the south. The Oscan-Umbrian group of which the Volsci were part are largely accepted as being Indo-Europeans (perhaps proto-Celts) who migrated into the peninsula from the north.

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.

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). An early third century inscription from the Volsci town of Velitrae provides the proof for their 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 Links: The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Classical Sites, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed).)

early 6th century BC

The Latin League forms as a way for the local states to share common interests such as religious worship and the defence of the region. Fertile and wealthy Latium is an inviting target to enemies such as the Aequi, Etruscans, and Volsci. The cities of the Latin League share commercial treaties and provide rights of commerce, intermarriage and settlement to its citizens. It is these rights that form the basics of later Roman politics and treaties.

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.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.

509 BC

Shortly after Lucius Tarquinius Superbus has commenced two centuries of Roman warfare by attacking the Volsci city of Suessa Pometia, Etruscan rule over Rome, and the other states in Latium, is broken. However, rather than unify, the states of the League vie with each other for dominance. The balance of power shifts often between Rome and other influential cities such as Alba Longa and Lavinium.

495 BC

By this stage it would appear that the Volsci have already resettled in the fertile territory to the south of Rome. 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.

492 BC

Thanks to his defeat of the Volsci town of Corioli, the Roman patrician Gneus Marcius is given the cognomen Coriolanus. Promoted to general, he attempts to abolish the office of plebeian tribune in Rome, which he believes is responsible for a grain shortage. The tribunes fight back with false charges of misappropriation of public funds, and he is forced into exile. Coriolanus seeks shelter with the Volsci and eventually leads an army against Rome. Town after town is captured along the way and Rome looks set to fall, until Coriolanus' mother and wife are sent to placate him. He relents and retires, but having now committed acts of disloyalty towards both Rome and the Volsci, he is soon tried and then conveniently assassinated.

492 BC

Gneus Marcius Coriolanus

Roman renegade and leader of the Volsci.

492 BC

Attius Tullius

Volsci co-commander.

492 BC

Coriolanus is the basis for Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name. However, many modern scholars doubt the existence of the original figure, citing him instead as a kind of allegory for the state of Roman-Volsci relations at a time when the latter is perhaps in a position to subjugate Rome entirely.

River Liris
The ancient River Liris (now divided into the Liri and the Gari) along its upper length was an early home to the Volsci, and later formed Rome's border with the Samnites

486 BC

The Hernici, who live between the Aequi and Volsci, have become highly adapted to Latin culture and customs. Under pressure from their two neighbours, they join the mutual protection treaty between the Romans and Latins. The armies defending Latium now consist of Romans, Latins and Hernici. The Aequi and Volsci remain allied in opposition to Rome.

431 - 390s BC

The Volsci control much of southern Latium, including the cities of Antium (modern Anzio), Cora (now Cori a Valle), Satricum (modern Le Ferriere), and Velitrae (modern Velletri), and they continue to pressure the Latins. In addition, the Aequi are said to reach Rome itself, and a decisive battle between the Latins and the Volsci appears to be fought in this year. The Romans, under the command of A Postumius Tubertus, again meet the Aequi at the Algidus Pass, but this time they are victorious. With this victory the Romans are able to open an aggressive offensive which the Volsci are unable to withstand forever.

390s - 377 BC

By the 390s the Romans and Latins have regained control of the plains and have relegated the Aequi and Volsci to the western highlands. The sack of Rome by Celts reverses the situation for a while, but the Volsci are finally defeated with the capture of the port of Antium in 377 BC. The equally defeated Aequi are doomed to be destroyed within the century.

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. The same army is then used to complete the conquest of the Volsci at Sora.

Satricum in Latium
The former Volscian town of Satricum in the coastal plain of Latium on the road from Antium to Velitrae has been examined by archaeologists since 1977

340 - 338 BC

The Volsci join the Latin War, the last major attempt by the Latins to retain independence from Rome. They and the 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 Latin League plans 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 and subjugate them fully. The Latin League is dissolved, and some Latin states are annexed directly to Rome, while others retain autonomy. This is the last display of resistance by the Volsci. They are subsequently Romanised and integrated completely into Roman society and culture. 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.