Archaeological material provides the main basis of our knowledge of the prehistory and ethnology of Italy. The nature of Etruscan civilization and the appearance of early Rome and other Italian towns has been revealed largely by the spade. The result often confirms in a striking manner the later literary tradition which can thus be tested and controlled at many points, though elsewhere much of the early history must remain hypothetical. There has been a reaction from the hypercritical and destructive attitude displayed towards early Roman history at the beginning of this century by E. Pais, who later indeed himself somewhat modified his earlier views; and this reaction is due in part to the new light shed by archaeological research. The material provided also illustrates later phases of Rome’s conquests in Italy and the Mediterranean world. As examples there may be cited the discovery of a Chalcolithic settlement and Iron Age huts at Rome, of the site of Politorium, of the thirteen altars and the probable ‘tomb of Aeneas’ at Lavinium, of the castrum at Ostia which dates the Roman colony to the mid-fourth century; excavations which reveal the early prosperity of Ardea and its decline after the Samnite Wars; the Greek, Lucanian and Roman phases exemplified in the splendid fortifications and other buildings at Paestum; the Etruscan, Greek, Samnite and Roman stages in the development of Pompeii; the early growth of colonies, as Minturnae, Cosa and Alba Fucens. Beside the laying bare of cities and buildings archaeologists have supplemented the literary tradition by the discovery of coins (p. 318 ff.) and inscriptions. Apart from those inscriptions which illustrate the dialects, constitutions and religious history of Italian towns, the majority which survive are concerned with Roman contacts with the Hellenistic world.
Of the laws, treaties and public documents some survived long enough to be recorded by ancient historians; others have been unearthed in modern times. Examples of the former are the Twelve Tables, the foedus Cassianum, and Rome’s early treaties with Carthage, recorded by Polybius. The latter are illustrated by the surviving Forum inscription; the treaty with Aetolia; the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus of 186 BC and that relating to Thespiae in 170; the decree of Aemilius Paullus, granting freedom to a small Spanish town; the letters of the Scipios to Colophon and Heraclea.1