Italy Before Rome: A Sourcebook

I’m very pleased to say that Italy Before Rome: A Sourcebook is now under contract with Routledge, as part of the Routledge Sourcebooks for the Ancient World series.

The book is based on my module ‘Italy Before Rome‘, which ran in 2017/18 – but with plenty more material and, crucially, new translations of the material we covered. (Working through texts with students has turned out to be the best possible way to get to grips with the topic!) I have  a lot of fun work ahead of me – I’m hoping that the book will come out around the end of 2019 or early in 2020. I’ll be posting plenty of updates on the sources that I’m working with, and the process of putting the book together.

Here’s a synopsis of the book:

Italy was a diverse, multicultural, multilingual part of the ancient world. During the first millennium BC, it was home to multiple different civilizations, languages and cultures, from the wealthy Etruscan cities of the west, to the Oscan-speaking Samnites in the east and Lucanians and Campanians in the south, to the Greek trading posts and settlements on the coastline. While Rome was just a small city on the river Tiber, these other communities were flourishing. The Greek cities of Italy were known around the Mediterranean as ‘Great Greece’ because of their wealth and the significance of their great philosophers and law-givers. These cultures were also fundamentally interconnected, trade and exchange was a constant theme of life in Italy. The Etruscan élite were huge consumers of Greek art, mythology and pottery, and in turn other communities adapted elements of Greek and Etruscan culture. The alphabets and languages of Italy also developed in tandem, and in constant contact.

Today, history too often views Italy simply as an extension of the city of Rome, and forgets the diversity that came before. Still today people refer to the ‘mysterious Etruscans’, or assume that the languages of Italy are undeciphered and we have only Roman sources to guide us. On the contrary, epigraphic sources in Etruscan, Oscan, Greek, Umbrian, and many other languages survive from ancient Italy, and give us a strikingly non-Roman lens through which to view the peninsula’s history. These sources often contrast with Greco-Roman literary sources to show the tensions between Rome’s view of its neighbours and their views of themselves. In many cases, highlighting the epigraphic and archaeological information gives a richer, more complete view of the communities of Italy, which shows them to be vibrant cultures in their own right.

The cultures and languages of Italy are not just interesting for their own sake, but also give us essential insights into early Roman history. To understand Rome’s context and culture, we must understand the civilizations which surrounded it and interacted with it. Rome’s alphabet and written culture came from the Etruscans and the Greeks; its laws were developed in contact with Greek and Samnite law; its culture of food and drink came from Greece via the Etruscan innovation of allowing women to dine alongside men; the Oscan-speakers of Campania gave Rome its love of gladiatorial games. When Rome first started its expansion, it did so in constant negotiation with its enemies and allies in Italy.

This interdisciplinary sourcebook will use historical, epigraphic and archaeological sources to tell the story of Italy before Rome. Drawing on cutting-edge research, this book will form an accessible introduction to the languages and peoples of Italy in the first millennium BC. All sources will be provided in translation, with images and drawings where appropriate. The focus of the book will be on (a) letting the Etruscan, Greek and Oscan-speaking communities of Italy speak for themselves through their own writing (b) contrasting and supplementing this with the existing historical sources in Latin and Greek and (c) emphasising the interrelatedness and connections between the civilizations of Italy.

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