Over the Easter holidays, I’ve been reading Mary Beard’s SPQR, which I highly recommend. I was particularly pleased that so much of it focusses on early Rome and its relationship with Italy – it was at least a third of the way through before we even got to Sulla. Mary, as usual, brings out all the difficulties and problems of interpretation of ancient historical evidence, and is particularly sceptical of the later Roman presentation of their glorious beginnings. It’s a compelling story that also opens up debate and doubt, and basically I think you should all go and read it.
I was confused, though, when a small detail about the Social War looked wrong to me. She writes:
The allies seem to have gone some way towards establishing a rival state, under the name ‘Italia’, with a capital at a town renamed ‘Italica’ and even the word Itali (‘Italians’) stamped on their lead shots.
I had always referred to the capital of the allied state (previously known as Corfinium) as ‘Italia’, using the same name for both the state and the capital, just like ‘Roma’. ‘Italica’, to me, was a Roman settlement in Spain. But I suddenly realised I couldn’t think whether there were any literary references to the new name of Corfinium, and I had to chase it up.
The main reference to the renaming of the town is in Strabo (5.4.2), who calls the town Italike – clearly a Greek equivalent of the name ‘Italica’, and the usual Greek adjective for ‘Italian’ from around the second century BC (it is attested a few times earlier, such as in Plato’s Laws.) It’s just about possible that he is saying “they called city Italian” rather than “they called the city ‘Italica'”, though that would be at odds with Strabo’s normal use of Italiotikos rather than Italikos to mean ‘Italian’. There may be other authors who refer to Corfinium as ‘Italica’ too – but so far I’ve mainly been able to find the Spanish town of that name in other texts. (I’ve also not had a minute to check whether there is any disagreement in the manuscript tradition of Strabo.)
The rival source for the name of Corfinium during the Social War is the coins produced by the town itself. These all say Italia in Latin and the equivalent víteliú in Oscan. Assuming that, as was normal in the ancient world, the coins were stamped with the name of the city where they were made, this would mean that Corfinium was actually called ‘Italia’, and the Strabo passage is misleading.
A quick Google showed me that, in general, older history books – but also SPQR and some newer academic volumes like Alison Cooley’s A Companion to Roman Italy – go with Strabo’s version and call Corfinium ‘Italica’, while the majority of the more recent books on the archaeology and linguistics of the area (including mine!) go for ‘Italia’. So it seems that academic opinion is split between the two possible names, with possibly a slight tendency to privilege the name on the coins in some fields and the name in the literary source in others. Both are possible – but personally I’ll probably be sticking with ‘Italia’, unless I find more evidence the other way.
Updated to add: the fragments of Diodorus Siculus book 37 also seem to call the city ‘Italia’. You can read an English translation online here.
What about Velleius 2.16.4: “Caput imperii sui Corfinium legerant atque appellarant Italicam”?
Thanks for this interesting spotlight.