Who are the ancient Samnites? The story of a forgotten civilization

Who are the ancient Samnites? The Samnites were an Italic civilization that lived in Samnium, a region in southern Italy that currently includes Abruzzo, Molise, and Campania.

They spoke Oscan, an extinct Indo-European language in southern Italy, spoken by several tribes, including the Aurunci and Sidicini. The longest and most important inscription in the Samnites dialect is the small bronze Tabula agnonsis, which is entirely engraved in the Oscan alphabet.

Scholars such as Strabo suggest that the Samnites were an offshoot of the Sabines from the central Apennine Mountains, while another origin myth links them to the Spartans.

The latter probably arose from ancient Greek mythology to form a link with the Italian peoples for alliances, although archaeological evidence suggests that the Samnites originated from a pre-existing Italian culture.

What was the Samnite community like?

Most of their lands consisted of rugged and mountainous terrain with a mixed economy focused on highly developed forms of subsistence farming, mixed farming, animal husbandry, sheep farming, herding, and small property.

Beginning in the Iron Age, the territory was ruled by chieftains and an elite group, but by the third and fourth centuries BC. The Samnite polity evolved into a hierarchy focused on rural settlements led by magistrates.

At the base of the hierarchy were vices, grouped into cantons called Bagi, organized into tribal groups called tutus. Each tutu was led by an elected official, known as meddis, who ruled through a system known as meddíss túvtiks.

What religion did the Samnites have?

This evolved into the Kombennio, an early form of assembly or senate that was responsible for enforcing laws and electing officials, although the community is still dominated by a group of elite families such as the Popes, Statii, Egnatii, and Staii.

The Samnite religion worshiped both spirits called nominas and gods and goddesses. The Samnites honored their gods by sacrificing live animals and using offerings. However, only a few Semitic gods and goddesses are known.

Strabo states that the Samnites took ten virgin women and ten young men, who were considered the best representations of their gender, and intermarried them. Then, the best women were given to the best man, and then the best women to the second man, until all were combined.

Samnites were generally armed with projectiles such as spears, while swords were highly prized in the Samnites, often depicted on pottery and statues and in Samnite art soldiers are shown receiving swords in ritual ceremonies.

When did the Samnites contact the Romans?

The Samnites and the Romans first came into contact after the Roman conquest of Fulci in the 4th century BC. Four cantons, made up of the tribes Herbeni, Caudini, Carassini and Pentry, formed a Samnite confederation similar to the Latin League, and came into conflict with the Romans as a result of the intervention of Rome to save the city of Campania Capua from the attack of Samni.

This led to the Samnite Wars, a period of three major wars over a period of half a century that resulted in the defeat of the Samnites at the Battle of Aquillonia and the absorption of all Samnite lands and peoples into the Roman Republic.

Roman historians called the Samnite army “Belger Samneis”, loosely translating as “Samnean warrior”, while Roman historian Titus Livius (59 BC – 17 AD) described the elite group of Samnite soldiers, known as Legio linteata, meaning “Legion of the Linea”. ”, who used exorbitant equipment, and who swore not to escape from battle.

The heritage of the Samnites can be found in the archaeological record, where coins, pottery, architectural remains, and Samnite art have been excavated in earlier centers such as Saepinum and Caiatia, HeritageDaily wrote.

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