Fast Facts About Italy > Geography of Ancient Italy | Era-by-Era Roman Timeline
Italy is bounded by the Alps and the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Tyrrhenian seas. It is a peninsula with a long (7,600 km) coastline.
Northern Italy, between the Alps and the Upper Apennines, is dominated by the fertile plain of the Po River. The people referred to as Villanovans lived here. These were an Iron Age people, who buried the ashes of their dead in urns, and who may have been the ancestors of the Etruscans. [Herodotus thought the Etruscans had migrated to Italy from Asia Minor.]
In ancient times, Liguria (§2), Upper Etruria (§1) and Venetia (§4) were in the Po Valley. Upper Etruria (and part of Liguria) was conquered by Celts. This is the area referred to in Caesar's Gallic Wars as Cisalpine Gaul (§3).
Central Italy consisted of Etruria, Latium, Campania (§12), on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Umbria (§5), Picenum (§6), and 200 mile long Sabine territory on the Adriatic Sea. Campania was a rich, fertile region because it was the home of Mt. Vesuvius. Umbria was mountainous. Picenum had hills and a fertile plain along the Adriatic.
Despite the long seaboard, the Italic people were mostly farmers, rather than sailors, and except in the south, which was dominated by Greek colonies, they had few cities or harbors along the coast. [See Map.] Latium originally ran from the Tiber harbor that was later the site of the city of Ostia south to the promontory at Circeii. The Apennine mountains formed its eastern border. It is likely that Latium was one of the later inhabited regions because of volcanoes still active during the Bronze Age, although there is some evidence that even then it was sparsely inhabited. Ancient writers record about 50 villages in the area, sharing a language and religion. By 500 B.C. these villages had merged into about 10-12 communities.
Major Cities of Latium
Cities of Etruria
Cities of Umbria
Cities of Picenum
Cities of Samnium
Cities of Campania
Southern Italy contained Lucania (§13) and Bruttium/Brutium (§16) on the west and Apulia (§14) and Calabria (§15) (Iapygia or Messapia to the Greeks) on the East. Calabria was on the heel. It was known for oil, wine, wool, and honey.
Italy also has three islands, Sicily, rich in soil, Sardinia, rich in grain and silver mines, and forested Corsica. Carthage and Greece also claimed these islands.
An Ancient History for Beginners, by George Willis Botsford, New York: Macmillan Company. 1917.
Compare the accompanying region map with an Italic Language Map.