Greek Colonisation and the People of Italy

Greece and Italy

Ancient Italy and Greece
By 500 BCE, three groups of people lived in Italy: The Greeks, The Italic Speaking tribes and Etruscans 

While the city-states of mainland Greece were flourishing under the rule of kings, oligarchs, and tyrants, Greeks were spreading throughout the Mediterranean and even beyond. Earlier Greek settlements in Asia Minor grew rapidly, and new settlements were established by the various city-states as they expanded their influence. Some of the colonies began as simple trading posts, but over time they grew in size and importance. Others were established because the population required more land. Another colony was founded as a result of a sense of adventure and exploration. 

The beginning of colonisation along the coast of Asia Minor dates back to the eighth century BCE. Because of resistance from people in the interior, Greeks at Miletus were unable to establish more than a foothold in the area, and they eventually established colonies along the shores of the Black Sea. Other city-states established colonies in Sicily, Italy, and even Spain, as well as in other parts of the Mediterranean. The Greeks had established colonies in northern Africa between Egypt and Carthage as early as the sixth century BCE. In general, the Greeks sailed to new lands in long boats propelled by fifty oars, seized and fortified land, and established city-states that were replicas of their native ones. 

They only absorbed a small amount of the cultures into which they were forced, but they had a significant impact on the local people. This included the colonies in southern Italy, known as Magna Graecia, as well as the colonies in northern Italy. Beyond the Greeks who established themselves in Magna Grecia, the Italian peninsula was occupied by a diverse range of different peoples throughout history. Approximately 1000 BCE, Indo-Europeans began migrating to Italy from the north, and not long after that, the vast majority of the people in Italy were speaking some form of Indo-European language, including Latin in the region of Latium, which lies along the lower Tiber River and to the southeast.


Etruscans were masters of necropolis building
Etruscans were masters of necropolis building

A she wolf is said to have nursed the brothers Romulus and Remus when they were infants, leading to the founding of the city-state of Rome in 753 BCE, according to legend. In another legend, the boys were descended from Aeneas, the Trojan hero who fled to Italy after his city was destroyed during the Trojan War. Following Remus's death, Romulus succeeded him as the first king of Rome (which inherited his name). Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and final king of Rome, was a tyrannical dictator (Tarquin the Proud). In 509 BCE, the Romans overthrew him and established a republic in his place.


According to legend, Tarquinius's ancestors were descended from the Etruscans, who first appeared in Italy in the eighth century, though historians disagree on the exact origins of this group. The Etruscans established themselves along the coast of what is now Tuscany and prospered through trade, agriculture, crafts, and the extraction of copper, lead, and iron from the earth's crust. They built twelve to fourteen city-states in Italy, following in the footsteps of the Greeks and Phoenicians, with whom they traded, and modelled themselves on them. 

Although these were ruled by kings, a sacred alliance brought the city-states together economically and politically. Despite the fact that the Etruscans did not leave any written literature, many inscriptions in their language (written in the Greek alphabet) have survived, demonstrating that Etruscan is not an Indo-European language. Despite the fact that the Etruscans were frequently heavily influenced by the cultures they encountered while trading throughout the Mediterranean, they retained many of their inherited native beliefs. 

Their religion was dominated by the concept of fate, and they were constantly on the lookout for signs from the gods, resorting to methods such as reading the entrails of animals or the flight patterns of birds, as well as looking for signs in the form of lightning and thunder. The demigod Tages and the nymph Vegoe passed down precepts about rituals, destiny, human conduct, and life after death to the people of the ancient world. It appears that the gods and goddesses of the Etruscans are variations on the Greek and Roman deities who were worshipped in Italy at the time. 

Apulu, for example, appears to be an Etruscan version of the Greek god Apollo. The Etruscans frequently engaged in battle with the Phoenicians and the Greeks for control of trade routes in the western Mediterranean. In 535 BCE, they formed an alliance with the Carthaginians and defeated the Greeks in a naval battle off the coast of Sicily. Etruscan rule was finally thrown off by the Latins late in the sixth century BCE, and the Etruscans were driven out of Rome in 509 BCE. From that point on, their influence began to wane.

Etruscan Burial Customs

One common type of Etruscan tomb appears in the form of a mound
One common type of Etruscan tomb appears in the form of a mound.

The Etruscans invested a great deal of time and effort into their funeral rites. In most cases, each city-state had a large necropolis nearby that served as a cemetery. It is believed that the dead were buried in large tombs dug into the rock beneath the ground and designed to look like actual Etruscan homes. Beds and chairs were carved out of the rock in some tombs, which was unusual for the time. The tombs' walls were adorned with vibrant paintings depicting funerary banquets, games, and dancing, which added to their overall appeal. Others depict outdoor activities that could be indicative of a positive outlook on the afterlife. To be sure, tombs built in the fourth century would have a more solemn atmosphere. Other wall paintings depict scenes from mythology or historical events. At Tarquinia, one grave depicts the Trojan horse from Greek mythology, demonstrating how easily the Etruscans were able to combine their religion with foreign myths. It was customary to place the bodies in these tombs, which were then surrounded by household items, armour, weapons, and anything else they might have needed in the afterlife. It would be pleasant to live after death in peace.