Italy: Ancient Italy

Ancient Italy

Little is known of Italian history before the 5th cent. b.c., except for the regions (S Italy and Sicily) where the Greeks had established colonies (see Magna Graecia). The earliest known inhabitants seem to have been of Ligurian stock. The Etruscans, coming probably from Asia Minor, established themselves in central Italy before 800 b.c. They reduced the indigenous population to servile status and established a prosperous empire with a complex culture. In the 4th cent. b.c., the Celts (called Gauls by Roman historians) invaded Italy and drove the Etruscans from the Po valley. In the south, the Etruscan advance was checked about the same time by the Samnites (see Samnium), who had adapted the civilization of their Greek neighbors and who in the 4th cent. b.c. drove the Etruscans out of Campania.

The Latins, living along the coast of Latium, had not been fully subjected to the Etruscans; they and their neighbors, the Sabines, were the ancestors of the Romans. The history of Italy from the 5th cent. b.c. to the 5th cent. a.d. is largely that of the growth of Rome and of the Roman Empire, of which Italy was the core. Augustus divided Italy into 11 administrative regions (Latium and Campania, Apulia and Calabria, Lucania and Bruttium, Samnium, Picenum, Umbria, Etruria, Cispadane Gaul, Liguria, Venetia and Istria, Transpadane Gaul). By that time, at the beginning of the Christian era, all of Italy had been thoroughly latinized, Roman citizenship was extended to all free Italians, an excellent system of roads had been built, and Italy, made tax exempt, shared fully in the wealth of Rome. Never since has Italy known an equal degree of prosperity or as long a period of peace. Christianity spread rapidly.

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