Ancient History & Civilisation

3. THE COPPER AND BRONZE AGES4

Under the impulse of ‘warrior’ immigrants from central Europe Italy began to move into the Copper Age. Three main centres are known. In the north a typical site is found at Remedello near Brescia, and later, as the Bronze Age advanced, a fairly uniform culture, called Polada from a village on Lake Garda, spread over much of north Italy (c. 1800–1450 BC). Further south remains from the Copper Age are found in two areas, at Rinaldone in Tuscany and at Gaudo near Paestum not far from Salerno. The older Neolithic population of course lived on in part, affected in varying degree by the fresh influences, while the new metal was too scarce to replace stone for most of the tools and implements of everyday life: flint daggers and stone battle-axes continued to be used, and supplies of obsidian were still needed from Lipari. In the north some Bell-Beaker influences are found (including burials as well as beakers), while in the Italian peninsula itself the discovery in 1971 of some beakers near Viterbo (at Fosso Conicchio) shows some degree of penetration.5 To what extent these central and more southerly settlements were affected by Aegean influences also remains somewhat uncertain.

With man’s ability to turn copper into bronze we reach Bronze Age Italy, which divides into two distinct cultural areas, one in the north, the other along the Apennines. In the north, as we have seen, a steady development occurred around the Lakes and in the Po valley from Neolithic times onwards, but in the middle or later Bronze Age a new phase developed with settlements which archaeologists have named Terremare from the ‘black earth’ (terra mara) which modern farmers have used as a fertilizer for its rich nitrogenous content. These settlements were thought to have been regular in type, with huts raised on wooden platforms on pile foundations and divided into regular blocks by parallel streets; outside lay cemeteries where the ashes of the dead were buried in urns, incineration being the distinctive mark of this culture. In fact the similarity of the supposed regular construction to the layout of later Roman camps and towns led some archaeologists to suppose that these people were both the architects of the Bronze Age in Italy and the ancestors of the Romans, some of them having migrated southwards through Etruria to the site of Rome. It is, however, now clear that they did not arrive from the Danube area until the mid-fifteenth century, some three hundred years after the earliest Bronze Age settlements, and that they did not expand towards Rome. In fact their villages are confined to the modern provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma and Piacenza. They were often surrounded by an earthen bank, wooden palisade and a ditch which would protect them against enemies and flooding, and the huts were built on raised terraces or piles. Climatic deterioration towards the end of the second millennium BC may have promoted increased building on piles and may possibly have contributed to the ultimate abandonment of the settlements. Thus these Terramaricoli were not ancestors of the Romans; they might perhaps in some sense be regarded as ‘cousins’ of the Palafitticoli of the Lakes, but they were probably fresh immigrants from the central Danube area.

They were in the main agriculturalists and stock farmers, though many continued to hunt boars, deer and bears, and perhaps to fish. Fowl and duck now joined the farmyard, and the horse was widely used for draught purposes. Remains of flax, beans, lentils and two kinds of wheat, together with wild fruits such as hazel nuts, pears and apples have been found in their settlements. They worked in wood, bone and horn as well as bronze, and carried on textile and ceramic industries: their pottery was distinctive but varied. The discovery of many razors and combs suggests an interest in their personal appearance, while the comparative absence of weapons points to a fairly peaceful existence. Two aspects of their culture that were significant for the future were their cremation cemeteries and the fact that in all probability they spoke an Indo-European language. Further, as they kept up a connection with the Danube area, which had probably been their original homeland, they formed a communication channel by which the more northerly Bronze Age culture spread southwards; they thus became an important link in the trade routes of Europe. But they were manufacturers as well as importers and their products ultimately began to move southwards into Apennine Italy, which was poor in metals.

The other main area of Bronze Age settlement was the Apennine culture, which reached its full development c. 1500 BC and was far less advanced than the northern settlements, though more central to peninsular Italy. The people consisted of descendants of the Neolithic and Copper Age population, intermixed with some ‘warriors’ who may have come in small groups from overseas (from the Aegean world) and landed either in Apulia or on the west coast, and who probably spoke an Indo-European language. They show relatively few traces of settled agricultural life, but comprised a scattered population of herdsmen who moved between semi-permanent winter settlements on low ground (often mere caves by watercourses) to summer pastures high up in the Apennines. Such seasonal transhumance of flocks has continued into modern times. By the twelfth century they had become somewhat more settled and practised some agriculture, perhaps influenced by the more settled Terramara and Urnfield peoples of the north. Their semi-nomadic way of life would have helped to spread their language, which may well have been the ancestor of the later Umbro-Sabellian dialects spoken by the Samnites. Unlike the northern Bronze Age folk, they buried their dead, and they lacked the northerners’ technological skill in metal work: their domestic sites have produced very little bronze. Their dark burnished pottery, which was quite attractive and varied in shape, has been found widely: at the future site of Rome, in south-east Emilia, through Etruria, Latium, Campania, Apulia and in Lipari. Some scholars have seen in this culture the primary continuing factor in the composition of the Italic people from Lipari to the Po.6

In the late Bronze Age the two groups, the Terramaricoli and the Apennine folk, began to move closer together. The former may well have sought the copper of Etruria to supplement their supplies from north of the Alps. At any rate, whether or not they brought copper with them, some of the Apennine people had settled in open villages near the Adriatic and the mouth of the Po by the eleventh century. The northerners in turn worked the metal and began to send their products not only to Etruria but also down the Adriatic coast as far south as the neighbourhood of Tarentum where (at Scoglio del Tonno) an Apennine settlement had been trading with the Mycenaean Greeks until the collapse of their empire (see below). Thus in the final phase of the Bronze Age, from c.1150 BC, a more uniform culture began to spread throughout all Italy and the two main groups drew closer together, as may be seen, for instance, at a settlement at Pianello inland from Ancona. Above all, from c. 1000 BC cremation and urnfields appeared in many areas where previously inhumation had prevailed, though in many central and southern parts the old Apennine culture and inhumation persisted well into the Iron Age. But before turning to this obscure transitional period we must glance at two other aspects of the Italian Bronze Age.

The extent to which merchant adventurers fared forth into western waters from Minoan Crete is uncertain, though some have left their traces in Sicily and Lipari, while the tradition that an expedition was launched against Sicily to avenge the death of Minos reflects some interest in the west. However the Mycenaean Greeks took stronger action. Their presence in Sicily and Lipari has been detected even before 1400 BC; not only did individual traders subsequently press on into southern Italy as well, but some even established a permanent trading post near Tarentum where they continued to operate until their own world collapsed in the twelfth century. From Tarentum they could extend their trade over the heel of Italy, up the Adriatic coast, and to Sicily and Lipari. Thus Mycenaean pottery has been found around Syracuse, at Mylae in northeast Sicily, at Lipari, at the island of Ischia off Naples, and most surprisingly five pieces, dating to c. 1250 BC, at Luni in Etruria. This last item strengthens the likelihood that one of the principal objectives of Mycenaean trade was the bronze of Etruria. If, though it is far from certain, the name ‘Metapa’ found on a Linear B tablet at Pylos represents the later Greek city of Metapontum in southern Italy then this area may even have come under some control by Nestor’s kingdom of Pylos in the Peloponnese. At all events, Mycenaean trade in the west was considerable, and some trade between Greece and Italy apparently continued on a smaller scale even after the collapse of the Mycenaean empire and the abandonment of the settlement at Tarentum in the twelfth to eleventh century.7

Lipari and the other volcanic Aeolian Islands, lying some twenty-five miles north-east of Sicily, owed their early significance to the native obsidian which was exploited even in Neolithic times, while Greek pottery, imported during the Bronze Age, has provided valuable dating material. In about 1250 BC the Middle Bronze Age villages on the citadel of Lipari and on other islands were destroyed and succeeded by a culture which belonged to the Apennine group. This conquest has been linked by some scholars to the story, told by Diodorus, that Liparus, the son of the king of the Ausonians in central-southern Italy, seized Lipari and established a city there; consequently this new cultural phase has been called Ausonian. But since the remains of the new settlement appear to have more links with the Adriatic side of Italy than with Campania and the south, others would associate Diodorus’ Ausonians with the slightly later Final Bronze Age period, when in the islands (and at Milazzo in northeast Sicily) we find a fusion of Terremare and Apennine elements such as occurs on the mainland at Pianello, with cremation predominating, as in the Urnfields of Italy. This phase (Ausonian II) must have been due to fresh invaders from the peninsula and continued at least into the ninth century; later it faded out, for when the Greeks arrived to establish a colony at Lipari in 580 BC they found a population of only five hundred. Thus Ausonian culture led on to the Early Iron Age and the Villanovans, while the material from Lipari has some close parallels with the early Bronze Age remains from the Palatine and Forum at Rome.8

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