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).

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)


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


Cunliffe 1997 Barry Cunliffe, The ancient Celts, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press 1997.
De Bernardo Stempel 2000 Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel, "Ptolemy's Celtic Italy and Ireland: a Linguistic Analysis", in: David N. Parsons, Patrick Sims-Williams (Eds.), Ptolemy. Towards a linguistic atlas of the earliest Celtic place-names of Europe. Papers from a workshop, sponsored by the British Academy, in the Department of Welsh, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 11-12 April 1999, Aberystwyth: CMCS 2000, 83-112.
De Hoz 1992 Javier de Hoz, "Lepontic, Celt-Iberian Gaulish and the Archaeological Evidence", Études celtiques 29 (1992), 223-240.
De Marinis & Biaggio Simona 2000 Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, Simonetta Biaggio Simona (Eds.), I Leponti tra mito e realtà, Locarno: Gruppo Archeologia Ticino 2000.
De Marinis & Motta 1990-1 Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, Filippo Motta, "Una Nuova Iscrizione Lepontica su Pietra da Mezzovico (Lugano). Aspetti Epigrafici e Inquadramento Cronologico", Sibrium 21 (1990-1991), 201-225.
De Marinis 1981 Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, "Il Periodo Golasecca III A in Lombardia", in: Marco Tizzoni, "La Cultura del Tardo La Tène in Lombardia", Studi Archeologici 1 (1981), 5-39, 41 ff..
De Marinis 1988 Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, "Liguri e Celto-Liguri", in: Anna Maria Chieco Bianchi et al. (Eds.), Italia Omnium terrarum alunna. La civilta' dei Veneti, Reti, Liguri, Celti, Piceni, Umbri, Latini, Campani e Lapigi, Milano: Scheiwiller 1988, 159-259.
De Marinis 1991 Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, "I Celti Golasecchiani", in: Sabatino Moscati, Otto Hermann Frey, Venceslas Kruta, Barry Raftery, Miklòs Szabò (Eds.), I Celti. Catalogo della mostra di palazzo Grassi, Milano: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, Bompiani, Sonzogno, Etas 1991, 93-102.
De Marinis 1991b Raffaele C. De Marinis, "The Golasecca culture and its links with Celts beyond the Alps", in: Sabatino Moscati (Ed.), The Celts, Milano: Bompiani 1991, 93-102.
Devoto 1956 Giacomo Devoto, "Criteri Linguistici e Criteri Archeologici nella Definizione del Problema Gallico", CELTICA 3 (1956), 324-331.
Devoto 1972 Giacomo Devoto, "Quanti Italici", Studi Etruschi 40 (1972), 247-257.
Frey 1995 Otto-Herman Frey, "The Celts in Italy", in: Miranda J. Green (Ed.), The Celtic world, London: Routledge 1995, 515-532.
Frey 1996 Otto-Hermann Frey, "The Celts in Italy", Studia Celtica 30 (1996), 59-82.
Lejeune 1972 Michel Lejeune, "Un problème de nomenclature: Lépontiens et Lépontique", Studi Etruschi 40 (1972), 259-270.
Marinetti & Prosdocimi 1994 Anna Marinetti, Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi, "Le Legende Monetali in Alfabeto Leponzio", in: Giovanni Gorini (Ed.), Numismatica e archeologia del celtismo padano. Atti del convegno internazionale; Saint-Vincent 8 - 9 settembre 1989, Aosta: Regione Autonoma Valle d’Aosta, Assessorato del Turismo, Sport e Beni Culturali 1994, 23-48.
Markey & Mees 2003 Thomas L. Markey, Bernard Mees, "Prestino, patrimony and the Plinys", Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 53 (2003), 116-167.
Meid 1999 Wolfgang Meid, "Altkeltische Sprachen II", Kratylos 44 (1999), 1-19.
Morandi 1984 Alessandro Morandi, "Leggende Monetali Preromane della Lombardia", in: Giovanni Gorini (Ed.), La Zecca di Milano. Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studio (Milano, 9-14 maggio 1983), Milano: Società Numismatica Italiana 1984, 73-90.
Morandi 1999 Alessandro Morandi, "Epigrafia vascolare celtica fra Ticino e Como", Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire 77 (1999), 151-204.
Motta 1992 Filippo Motta, "Vues présentes sur le celtique cisalpin", Études Celtiques 29 (1992), 311-318.
Negroni Catacchio 1975 Nuccia Negroni Catacchio, Le Fasi Finali della Civiltà di Golasecca [= Popoli e Civiltà dell’Italia Antica 4], Roma: Biblioteca di Storia Patria 1975, 329-355.
Pauli 1970-3 Ludwig Pauli, "Studi sulla cultura di Golasecca", Rivista Archeologica della Provincia di Como 152-155 (1970-1973), 51-64.
Pauli 1971 Ludwig Pauli, Studien zur Golasecca-Kultur, Heidelberg: Kerle 1971.
Piana Agostinetti 1988 Paola Piana Agostinetti, "Per una Definizione dei Confini delle Civitates Celtiche della Transpadana Centrale", Scienze dell'Antichità 2 (1988), 137-218.
Piana Agostinetti 2004 Paola Piana Agostinetti, Celti d'Italia. A cura di Paola Piana Agostinetti. Tomo I: Archeologia, lingua e scrittura dei Celti d'Italia [= Popoli e civiltà dell'Italia antica 12.1], Roma: Spazio Tre 2004.
Prosdocimi & Marinetti 1986-7 Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi, Anna Marinetti, "Cultura Etrusca Transpadana", in: Raffaele Carlo De Marinis (Ed.), Gli Etruschi a Nord del Po, Mantova: 1986-1987. (catalogo della mostra, 2 volumes), volume 2, 110-117.
Rapi 2012 Marta Rapi, "Lepontier", in: Susanne Sievers, Otto H. Urban, Peter C. Ramsl eds., Lexikon zur keltischen Archäologie [= Mitteilungen der Prähistorischen Kommission 73], Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 2012. (2 volumes), 1153-1154.
Solinas 2002b Patrizia Solinas, "Spie di Ideologia Etnica in Epigrafi Celtiche di Area Veronese", Studi Etruschi 65-68 (2002), 275-298.
Stöckli 1975 Werner Ernst Stöckli, Chronologie der jüngeren Eisenzeit im Tessin [= Antiqua 2], Basel: Verlag Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte 1975.
Tibiletti Bruno 1978 Maria Grazia Tibiletti Bruno, "Ligure Leponzio e Gallico", in: Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi (Ed.), Lingue e dialetti dell'Italia antica [= Popoli e civiltà dell'Italia antica 6/1], Roma: Biblioteca di Storia Patria 1978, 131-208.
Uhlich 1999 Jürgen Uhlich, "Zur sprachlichen Einordnung des Lepontischen", in: Stefan Zimmer, Rolf Ködderitzsch, Arndt Wigger (Eds.), Akten des zweiten deutschen Keltologensymposiums (Bonn, 2.–4. April 1997) [= Buchreihe der Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 17], Tübingen: Niemeyer 1999, 277-304.
Uhlich 2007 Jürgen Uhlich, "More on the linguistic classification of Lepontic", in: Pierre-Yves Lambert, George-Jean Pinault (eds.), Gaulois et celtique continental [= École pratique des hautes études. Sciences historiques et philologiques. III. Hautes études du monde gréco-romain 39], Genève: Librairie Droz 2007, 373-411.
Violante 1993 Antonio Violante, I Celti a sud delle Alpi [= Popoli dell’Italia antica 2], Milano: Silvana Editoriale 1993.
Whatmough 1933 Joshua Whatmough, The Prae-Italic Dialects of Italy. Vol. 2, Part 3: The Raetic, Lepontic, Gallic, East-Italic, Messapic and Sicel inscriptions, Cambridge/Mass.: Harvard University Press 1933.