Connectivity and competition: multilingualism in Ancient Italy 800-200 BC

This research project is funded by an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellowship (2018-2021). Past work on this theme has been supported by a Rome Award (2015) at the British School at Rome. It also builds on the work of the AHRC-funded Greek in Italy project, PI: Prof. James Clackson.

Project objectives

Historical and archaeological discourse now sees the Mediterranean as highly interconnected and characterised by mobility – but how does language fit into this picture? Was multilingualism widespread in areas of high connectivity, or was it limited to a few categories of hypermobile individuals? Was multilingualism more common in urban or non-urban areas? How did people use their languages in their relationships with their neighbours, their trading partners and their gods? These are questions which can help us to understand language contact as part of the everyday experience of migration and connectivity for many ancient people across all social groups.

This project’s particular focus is multilingualism and language use in ancient Italy. While the role of distinctive dialects and alphabets for identity-forming in the epigraphy of Greece has long been generally accepted, limited attention has been paid to the similar but separate phenomena found in Italy during the second half of the first millennium BC. The linguistically diverse material from ancient Italy, where many different languages are attested in a wide range of written text types, provides a unique opportunity to form a better understanding of the multifaceted evidence for language contact in ancient epigraphic texts.

This project’s objectives are:

1. To understand the nature of language contact and multilingualism in Italy, taking a comparative approach to language use in multiple regions and at both urban and non-urban sites from c. 800 BC to c. 200 BC.

2. To explore the implications of the linguistic evidence for our historical understanding of migration, mobility and connectivity in Italy and the ancient Mediterranean.

3. To evaluate the social and linguistic outcomes of language contact and multilingualism in the epigraphic practices of ancient Italian communities, and to investigate how written language was used as a mode of interaction within and between communities.

4. To facilitate dialogue between different disciplines interested in connectivity, trade and mobility in the region at this period, by producing research outputs which will be accessible to scholars based in Iron Age archaeology, Italian epigraphy and pre-Roman/early Roman history, making linguistic research relevant and available to other fields.

Project activities

This project will also support (1) school talks and activity days, (2) ECR training in epigraphic techniques and (3) community history days for members of the public interested in exploring inscriptions in their local area.


This page (and my blog) will continue to be updated as the project develops. Watch this space!

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