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The Lost Cities of Ancient Apulia – South-East Italy

Coins of Ancient Apulia - Lucera, Canosa, Bitonto, Venusi

Once we learn stories of historic pre-Roman Italy, typically the viewpoint we take in is that of the Greek city-states of southern Italy, or of their later Roman neighbours. Nearly no written material besides the Greek or Roman has survived the ancient interval. That is regardless of writing having unfold to their neighbours. To the extent that other peoples of historic Italy seem within the written report, they achieve this as “decoration” in Roman and Greek centred stories. The peoples of Historic Apulia are a working example.

The Greek and Romans typically described the individuals around them as “tribal” and led by kings or chiefs. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, through the European colonisation of the world, Europeans had an identical view of the world – dividing it between “civilised” and “tribal” or uncivilised. It’s an example of how historic considering re-emerged because the European empire builders drew parallels between themselves and the colonial and imperial tasks of the traditional world. Certainly, they typically consciously claimed to be the heirs of that historic culture.

Current many years of archaeology of southern Italy nevertheless tells a way more complicated story of the realities of the traditional world. Southern Italy was a serious website of Greek colonisation in the course of the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Cities akin to Naples, Syracuse and Taranto are among the more well-known of the string of cities that dotted the coast of southern Italy and Sicily. The influence of Greek tradition was so robust that Romans later referred to as the world “Magna Graecia”: Nice Greece.

Nevertheless archaeologists have established that the traditional Greek cities of Italy, though culturally Greek, have been created by a combined inhabitants of both Greek settlers and local populations. Nor have been the Greek cities surrounded by a “barbarian” hinterland. The story is identical throughout much of Italy and Europe, though this text focuses on the Apulia area.

Historic Apulia in South-East Italy has a rich archaeological document stretching again to the Neolithic period. It’s usually believed that from about 1000 BC individuals from Illyria, on the other coast of the Adriatic, settled the world. They spoke languages totally different both from the Italic languages spoken elsewhere in Italy and the Greek language of the coastal cities.

Later the Greeks and Romans referred to as these individuals Iapygians and divided them into Daunians, Peucetians and Messapians spread north to south alongside Apulia. The ancient Roman geographer Strabo, nevertheless suggests that they referred to as themselves “Apuli”, “Calabri” and “Salentini”. The picture from archaeology doesn’t essentially help easy “ethnic” divisions and exhibits a area with its personal culture and “civilisation” that was altering in parallel with the Greek speaking cities around them.

“Male” stele (front and back) and “feminine” stele entrance

Among the most informative archaeological finds that convey elements of the story of this historic culture to life are flat stone carvings of stylised male and female figures (stele) that date to the eighth century BC that are found in northern Puglia. The designs show “male” warriors bearing shields and swords and “female” figures who wear distinctive aprons and whose arms are tattooed. Spherical objects hanging from their belts are interpreted as poppy pods and the gown could possibly be an indication of a spiritual position played by the ladies. Whether the stele represented deceased individuals or legendary figures is debated. Typically the decorations on the carvings convey stories of travellers, present home scenes comparable to weaving, or spiritual processions, or riders standing on the again of horses in what seem like equestrian contests, chariots and other figures.

Camilla Norman notes the similarity of the feminine figures (that are probably the most quite a few) to traditional costume in Albania and Thrace (according to the Illyrian origin stories informed by the Greeks and Romans). Each the apron types and the tattooing of fore arms of girls have been traditional practices in these areas.

Tomb of the Dancers, fresco from Ruvo di Puglia 5th – 4th century

As culture continued to evolve in Apulia it took on more Greek traits. Cities (typically as long established because the 7th century BC) emerged. A few of the elite structure began to tackle Greek types. Older local ceramic types have been replaced with Greek type pottery of the classical period. The world actually turned a serious centre for the production and export of “Attic” fashion pottery to the Greek world.

Attic fashion amphora and plate from Apulia. The person wears a conical hat attribute of Apulians

Hellenization of Historic Apulia and the Second Punic Warfare

By the third century, numerous city-states advanced in these now increasingly Hellenized areas. The coins that the cities produced is a part of the evidence of their improvement. Cities resembling Arpi, Teanum. Apulum, Lucera, Bitonto, Canusia, Salapia and Venusa all produced their very own coinage on Greek (and later) Roman fashions. Arpi was one of many largest of those cities. It was surrounded by a 13 kilometre lengthy 2 metre high earthen wall and ditch. Later this wall was topped with a one metre excessive stone wall. Teanum to its north was similarly giant.

Approximate dimensions and site of historic Arpi within the Tavoliere

These emerging city-states have been increasingly drawn into conflicts of the Greek and Roman world. We study something concerning the measurement of the populations from the armies they sent as allies of their neighbours. In the third century, Rome’s Apulian allies despatched 50,000 foot and 16,000 cavalry to help Rome battle its Celtic enemies. For the second Punic Warfare Polybius data the troops that numerous elements of Italy might supply to help the Romans. Iapygia and Messapia might contribute 50,000 foot and 6,000 cavalry. Such proof and archeological surveys have led to lower estimates of around 145,000 individuals for the inhabitants of the Salento (i.e. the Messapians). Only one city in northern Apulia, Arpi, had a free population of around 30,000.

Greek and Iapygian cities in southern Italy (cities of neighbouring peoples – Samnites, Oscans and so on not shown)

Each side played an element in devastating Historic Apulia through the Second Punic Struggle. Rome’s biggest defeat at Hannibal’s arms at the Battle of Cannae occurred in Apulia itself.

It was a loss by which Rome’s allies shared, as they offered half of the forces at the battle. After this most of the cities of the area switched allegiance to Hannibal. When the Romans returned they lowered a few of the cities of Apulia that had gone over to Hannibal. New Roman colonies have been established in some locations. Rome now managed (effectively colonised) the financial system of the area. Although the local tradition did not solely disappear, the longer term can be firmly Roman. The native language did not survive.


Coin Collage – from Wikipedia artistic commons pictures

  1. Coin from historic Lucera
  2. Coin from Lucera 211-200 BC
  3. Coin of Teanum Apulum 250-225BC
  4. Coin from Canosa di Puglia 250 – 225 BC
  5. Coin from Venusia c. 260 BC
  6. Coin from Bitonto 275 – 225 BC

Male and Female Daunian Stelae from Wikipedia artistic commons photographs

  1. Male Stele
  2. Female Stele 610-550 BC

Apulian pottery from Wikipedia artistic commons photographs

  1. Apulian Amphora 350 BC
  2. Man sporting the pilos (conical hat). Tondo of an Apulian red-figure plate, third quarter of the 4th century BC.


Daunians, Peucetians and Messapians? Societies and Settlements in South-East Italy, Edward Herring in Historic Italy : regions with out boundaries edited by Man Bradley, Elena Isayev and Corinna Riva

Kathryn Lomas, Cities, states and ethnic id in southeast Italy in ed. Edward Herring and Kathryn Lomas, The Emergence of State identities in Italy in the first Millennium BC,

The Geography of Strabo Guide VI, Chapter III

Camilla R. Norman, Iron Age Stelae of Daunia, 2013 PhD Dissertation, College of Sydney

Brunt PA. Italian manpower, 225 B.C. – A.D. 14. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1971, p 45

Douwe Yntema, Polybius and the Area Survey Proof from Apulia in Individuals Land and Politics Demographic Developments and ed. Luuk de Mild and Simon Northwood Transformation of Roman Italy 300 BC – AD 14, Leiden 2008, chapter

Michael P. Fronda, Between Rome and Carthage, New York : Cambridge College Press, 2010