Historical Overview

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In this section we will offer a short overview of the basic archaeological and historical background.

Many of the hypotheses and interpretations concerning the Lepontic language and its speakers include essential data from historical and archaeological evidence. The archaeological context of the Inscriptions is important for the amendment of basic data (e.g. the dating of the inscriptions). In addition, one can attempt to complement the very fragmentary linguistic evidence of the Celtic languages/dialects of Northern Italy by interrelating it with its cultural and historical background (e.g. Uhlich's attempt in Uhlich 2007, 378-381; Uhlich 1999, 282-290. For the critique to the applied methodology based on culture-historical approaches see Bruce G. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought. Second Edition. Cambridge 2008 [1996], 311ff.).

The term "Lepontii", describing the historically attested tribe in the area of the Alps, should not be put on a level with the linguistic term Lepontic. There is often an attempt to distinguish a local "facies" of the Golasecca Culture in order to localise the "Lepontii" (see Rapi 2012 for a short definition of the term and additional literature).

Contents

Archaeological and historical context

of the Celtic inscriptions of Northern Italy (Overview)

Archaeological phases Dating (Prae-)Historical context
Golasecca II A beginning 6th cent. BC - 525 Golasecca Culture
Golasecca II B 525 - 480/75 "
Golasecca III A 1 480/75 - 450/440 "
Latène A = Golasecca III A 2-3 450 - 375 Gaulish Invasion into the Po valley (ca. 400 BC)
Latène B 375 - first half of 3rd cent. BC "
Latène C 1 second half of 3rd cent. BC "
Latène C 2 2nd cent. BC Roman conquest of the gaulish tribes in Italy (since 225/191)
Latène D end of 2nd cent. BC - 1st cent. BC "

slightly simplified table from Uhlich 2007: 381, cp. Uhlich 1999: 292-293

Historical evidence: Classical sources

Immigration of Celtic tribes to northern Italy

  1. Polybius, Historiae Polybius is the earliest source about the immigration of the Celtic tribes to northern Italy (2nd century BC). He mentions the Battle of Allia (387/386 BC) being the starting point of the fights between Celts and Romans, and the Celtic invasions to northern Italy (Pol. 2, 18; English translation from 1889). See also Pol. 2, 14 (migration of celtic tribes to Italy; English translation from 1889), 2, 17 (Celtic tribes in northern Italy; English translation from 1889).
  2. Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita (History of Rome) Livy is the second main source about the immigration of Celtic tribes to northern Italy (dating approx. 27-25 BC). Livy incorporated a second tradition which dates the first vawe of Celtic immigrants two centuries earlier. Livy relates the first wave of Celtic immigration to several historical facts of the 6th century BC, e.g. 1) the reigning of Tarquinius Priscus (Liv. 5, 34,1); 2) the foundation of Massalia (Liv. 5, 34,8). For the second vawe of immigration (Liv. 5, 33, 4-6) a common source with Polybius is likely. See also Liv. 5, 35 (Celtic tribes in northern Italy). An English summary from 1924 of book V can be found at Project Perseus.
  3. Plinius (Pliny the Elder), Naturalis Historia Pliny's dating of the Celtic invasions to northern Italy is based on the same chronology as Polybius (Plin. 3, 125). This is a later source dating approx. 77-79 AD. See also Plin. 3, 123-125 (Celtic tribes in northern Italy; English translation from 1855).


Sources: Frey 1995: 515-518, Piana Agostinetti 2004: 64-77, 82-83

Peoples/Nations in Northern Italy

  1. Strabo, Geographica In this source, published between 7BC - 23AD, Strabo reports that in the Alps most of the "nations" are Celtic, with exeption of the Ligurians (Strab. 2, 5, 28; English translation from 1903). The ancient historians did not always attribute the numerous tribes unanimously to the same peoples/culture; e.g. Taurini. For Plinius and Strabo (Plin. 3, 123; Srab. 4, 6, 6) they were Ligurians; for Livius (Liv. 5, 34, 8) they originated from Gaul.
  2. Strabo mentions the term Kelto-Ligures (Kελτολίγυας Strab. 4, 6, 3; English translation from 1903) which could be a hint to a mixed culture from the mediterranean point of view. The same perception could be the reason for Livy's description of the "Taurini" as semigalli (Liv. 21, 38, 5).

Sources: Whatmough 1933, 65

The Lepontii

  1. Strabo, Geographica (7BC - 23 AD): Strabo attributes the Lepontii (Ληπόντιοι) to the Raetic people/culture (Strab. 4, 6, 8; English translation from 1903). According to Strabo the southern limit of the extension of the Raetic civilisations was above Verona and Como (Οὐήρωνος and Κώμου).
  2. Plinius (Pliny the Elder), Naturalis Historia (77-79 AD): Pliny reports an enumeration of the "Euganean" peoples/nations living in northern Italy (Plin. 3, 133-135; English translation from 1855). He quotes that Cato considered the Lepontii to be of Tauriscan origin; he mentions that most of the other authors however (which he does not quote) followed the Greek interpretation of the name of the Lepontii, and "consider the Lepontii to have been those of the followers of Hercules who were left behind in consequence of their limbs being frozen by the snow of the Alps" (quoted from the Englis translation by John Bostock, 1855). Plinius locates the Lepontii at the sources of the Rhône (Plin. 3,135; see Whatmough 1933, 66, fn. 1).
  3. Caesar, De Bello Gallico (52-51 BC): Caesar locates the Lepontii at the sources of the Rhine (DBG 4.10).

Sources: Whatmough 1933, 65-66; Lejeune 1972: 262-263

The Celts in northern Italy – Historical context

This list is not a comprehensive collection of relevant literature. It is a first result of the research work in progress.

  • Whatmough 1933: 66-67
  • Frey 1995
  • Frey 1996: 75 ff.
  • Cunliffe 1997: 70ff.
  • Wernicke 1991: 73-86, (Die Kelten in Italien, in Palingenesia 33; zu Livius: 86-110)
  • Violante 1993: (zu Livius: 15-23)
  • Baldacci 1983: (La celtizzazione dell'Italia settentrionale nel quadro della politica mediterranea, in Popoli e facies culturali celtiche, Atti del Colloquio Internazionale Vol. I; zu Livius 153-155)
  • De Marinis 1988: 169-170 (Laevi (= Ligurians), Insubres, Orobii, Lepontii)
  • Plinius III, 124, 134
  • Strabon IV, 6
  • Livius: 5.33, 5.34
  • Polybios: 2.17.3-7 (Kelteneinwanderung in N-Italien), 1.6.1 (gallische Eroberung Roms)
  • Markey & Mees 2003: 124-125
  • Rankin 1987: 110-116 (Celts and the classical world)
  • Violante 1993: 11-35 (arrive, early phase), 37-49 (400-300 BC), 51-92 (300-100 BC)

Other:

Archaeological evidence

Broader archaeological context: synopsis of archaeological phases in different regions

The Golasecca Culture

This list is not a comprehensive collection of relevant literature. It is a first result of the research work in progress.

Lepontic, Lepontii and Golasecca Culture

Numismatic context

see Lepontic coins

Bibliography

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