Synopsis of Chapter II: The expansion of Italic peoples in Abruzzo

The Piceni

Before Roman times in Abruzzo there was a number of peaceful peoples, whose economy was mainly agricultural, called with various names: the Liburni and Siculi along the coasts, the Aborigines in the Aterno valley, the Opici in Southern Abruzzo. Later on a group acquired cultural dominance, and we call them today collectively Piceni, or middle-Adriatic peoples, and they were extensively studied through the excavations at Campovalano; their culture had distinctive features, though showing the influence of nearby peoples.

The Italici

The peoples inhabiting the central Apennines were called Sabelli and Sanniti, and their economy was mainly based on sheep-raising. They spoke Indo-European dialects and used alphabets derived from the Etruscan. The language, called oscan-umbrian, was spoken in the Samnium (present-day Molise) in Campania and Southern Italy, the sabellic language in central Italy and the Umbrian in the ancient Umbria region. Recent studies seem to point to a different origin for the Latin language, and scholars believes that the Sabellic and Latin languages evolved separately before these peoples migrated, at different times, to Italy. Politically, the Sabellic peoples maintained a tribal structure, without ever reaching a political unity.

The Picentii, Palmensi, Praetutiani

A number of peoples moved from the Sabina territory (east of Rome) to the area called Picenum (present day Marche) choosing Asculum as their capital and building their sanctuary at Cupra. Related to them were the Palmensi with the city of Truentum, and the Prateutiani who founded Interamna (= Teramo) between the rivers Albula and Batinus, Castrum Novum (=Giulianova) along the Adriatic, and Beregra whose actual site has not yet been identified.

The Adriani

The Adriani, possibly of Illyric origins, had as their capital Hatria (=Atri), called by Titus Livius "Tuscorum colonia" (=Etruscan colony) which was a flourishing maritime center, possibly under Etruscan influence, whose importance is demonstrated also by the minting of its own coin, with the name of the city and a dog representing the Adranus god, venerated by Siculi peoples.

The Vestini

South of the Adriani there were the Vestini, in the present territory of Penne and L'Aquila; according to Roman historian Strabo, they were a Samnite population. Different ethymologies exist for their name: after Vesta, the home goddess, or Vesticus, an Umbrian god, or from "ves" a prefix meaning "water", menaing they inhabited a "land of waters". The Vestini were a mountain people, hunters and warlike. Roman historian Plinius mentions four vestine cities: Pinna (=Penne) Angulus (=Città Sant'Angelo or Spoltore) Aternum (=Pescara) And Plenina or Plania (possibly Pianella). Other town names were Cutina (possibly Civitaquana), Cincilia (Civitaretenca or Villa Celiera), Aufinum (Ofena) Pitinum (Coppito) Prifernum (Assergi), Peltuinum (Prata d'Ansidonia) Aveia (Fossa).

The Sabini

The peoples inhabiting between the Vestini and Latium were called Sabini, according to Stramo the most ancient Italic people who occupied the land of the Aborigines. In Latium they merged with the Romans, and Numa Pompilius, one of the seven roman kings, belonged to their stock. The Sabini were a deeply religious people, occupied in agriculture, courageous and warlike. The Sabini towns in Abruzzo wrere Amiternum (near San Vittorino) Foruli (Civitatomassa) Fisternae (Vigliano) Interocrea (Antrodoco) and Cotilia (near Cittaducale).

The Peligni

The peoples inhabiting central Abruzzo, bordering the Vestini, Marsi and Samnites in the west, the Marrucini and Frentani to the east, were called Peligni. Their territory of mountains, gorges, and fertile plains, was always a key strategic passage in central Italy. They were celebrated in antiquity for their courage and were actually a cofederation of 3 peoples, the Superequani (whose capital Superequum, was near present day Castelvecchio Subequo) , the Corfiniensi and the Sulmonensi. Their main city was Corfinium, which was also the center of the Italic war against Rome. The etymology is uncertain, possibly from Palenum (today's Palena) or from Pelino.

The Marrucini

Another Sabellic people the Marrucini occupied a narrow territory between the Vestini and the Frentani, from the mountains to the Adriatic, their capital was Teate (=Chieti) and other centers were Interpromium (near Casauria) Tatia or Taties, near Rapino, and Pollitium whose site has not been identified.

The Frentani

The territory south of the Marrucini comprised between the Morrone-Maiella mountain group to the west, the Adriatic to the east and as far south as the Fortore river, was inhabited by the Frentani, another Sabellic people of more ancient origin. They had flourishing maritime centers, as Ortona, Histonium (=Vasto) and Interamnia (=Termoli), merchant towns like Anxanum (=Lanciano), mountain citadels like Iuvanum (near Torricella Peligna), Pallanum (near Tornareccio) and Larinum in Molise.

The Marsi

The Marsi inhabited a mountain territory comprised among four rivers, the Sangro, Aterno, Turano and Liri. The name was more certainly derived from the god Mars, and in antiquity the Marsi were known as fierce warriors; they were famous also as snake charmers, and they worshipped the snake-goddess Angitia, whose cult was transformed into the snake rites for San Domenico at Cocullo. The Marsian towns were Marruvium, their capital, possibly along the Eastern banks of the Fucino lake, Cerfennia (Collarmele) Anxantum (Luco) Antinum (near Civita d'Antino).

The Equi

This very ancient population, fierce enemies of the early Romans, inhabited a small territory between the Marsi and the Sabini, and their centers were Carseoli (Carsoli) Auricola (Oricola) and Alba Fucens.

The Sanniti

These warlike peoples inhabited the southernmost area of Abruzzo and their centers were Caricium and Aufidena (near Castel di Sangro). Their symbol was a bull often represented wile crushing the Roman she-wolf. The tradition says that the Samnite moved to Molise, which was originally called Samnium after them, during a "ver sacrum", following a bull: Their main centers were Bovianum, Aesernia, Venafrum and Terventum.

Political organization of the Italics

Italic peoples were organized in city-states called touta ruled by a meddix for one-year terms, assisted by two assemblies called kombennion and komparakion. They shared common religious sanctuaries called conciliabula, which were also commercial centers. Their religion was mostly agrarian, and apart from the usual gods Mars and Jupiter they venerated female goddesses like Ceres, Flora and Angitia

The "ver sacrum"

The "sacred spring (season)" was a peculiar rite, taking place in the history of the Samnite peoples whenever demographic pressure endangered the simple direct democracy system. During a holy season part of the youths migrated following a holy animal.

The cultural life

Very little is known about the Italic culture. The earliest inscriptions date back to the 3rd century BC, and isolated findings of statues and ceramic works point more to the expression of individual artists than to a widespread crafts work tradition. However the exceptional finding, a few decades ago, of the statue commonly called the Capestrano warrior, dated to the 7th century BC, point to a highly developed, well structured civilization, connected through common heritage to other findings in Numana (near Ancona), Guardiagrele and Loreto Aprutino.


  • Italic Peoples and towns (Plinius Senex). In his Naturalis Historia he describes the Quarta and Quinta Regio of the Empire, listing all the different peoples with their towns.
  • Italian Stocks (Silius Italicus). The poet Silius Italicus, possibly of Abruzzese origins, in his poem Punicae celebrates the Marsi a, Peligni and other peoples of the region, Roman allies against Hannibal.

Other Synopses of Chapters