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Ancient Italy On Assignment

Ancient Italy On Assignment

Ancient Italy
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Ancient Italy @ National Geographic Magazine
By Erla ZwinglePhotographs by O. Louis Mazzatenta

In the centuries leading up to the birth of the empire, ancient Italy saw the rise and fall of a host of cultures—Umbrians, Samnites, Faliscans, and others. All left their mark on the life of the modern country. Now archaeologists are learning more about how these early Italians thought, fought, worked, and worshipped.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

He came to her in a dream, a sad, beautiful Samnite boy who had lost his way home. "It was on a hill I know, but without any vegetation," Teresa Cerlone remembered, "and he was wandering back and forth in a world that wasn't his. He was looking for a door, not to a house but to a world. And there was a spring of water, I remember. There was an entrance with two columns with a tall staircase, like the temple at Pietrabbondante," she continued, speaking quietly but with intensity. "We went under the columns, and he asked me, 'Help me find my way.' He took my hand, and I felt that he was flesh and blood. Then he disappeared, but he left his hand in mine. It wasn't human anymore; it was made of terra-cotta. And I woke up, sweating."
When it was light, Cerlone went immediately to the hillside she had dreamed about. She's not an archaeologist, but she is passionate about the Samnites, the fierce people who once dominated the mountains of Abruzzi and Molise not far from her home in Isernia. Where she had dreamed the spring was located, she began to dig in the loamy earth. Suddenly she touched something hard. She pulled it out. It was a piece of terra-cotta. It was a hand.

Discoveries just as exciting, though perhaps not quite as eerie, are bringing to light extraordinary new aspects of the peoples who lived in Italy before the Romans became its masters. In the Iron Age, around the ninth century
B.C., when the Romans were merely a smallish farming tribe living in huts near the Tiber, Italy was teeming with distinctive cultures, languages, and works of art and craft. In fact, until the fourth century B.C. the Romans weren't the ones you'd have picked as most likely to conquer the Western world. The smart money would have been on the Etruscans—or on the Samnites.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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Send a friend an e-greeting of an image of sizzling celebration on the eve of the feast of Sant' Antonio Abate in Novoli, Italy.

Final Edit
Rescued from the cutting-room floor is this month's Final Edit, an image of a sublimely lit street in Gubbio, Italy.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
The origin of Valentine's Day isn't at all clear, but it's often reported that this day of love has links to the Lupercalia, a pagan ritual of early Rome. Celebrated on February 15, Lupercalia was a rite of spring with themes of fertility and purification. Following a ceremony involving the sacrificing of goats and a dog, loincloth-clad young men ran about whipping young women who would eagerly bare their shoulders, believing the whip's touch would bestow fertility. Unable to rid Rome of the popular festival in early Christian times, some sources say, the church dedicated the day before, February 14, to Saint Valentine, and the celebration of love continued.
But no reputable evidence for this idea has ever been found, and in Italy, "Valentine's Day does not exist," notes Adriano La Regina, superintendent of archaeology of Rome. The modern-day celebration that most captures the spirit of Lupercalia seems to be Mardi Gras, or Carnival.
"It is sure that there are connections between Lupercalia and the modern Carnevale," says La Regina. "A more innocent version is still alive in Venice."
—Mary Jennings
Did You Know?

Related Links
Samnites: Archaeology of Ancient Samnium
Read all about the religion, life, and language of the ancient Samnites, brought to you by Samnite enthusiast David Monaco. (Scroll down to the bottom and click on the British flag to read in English.)
Region of Abruzzi
Find out the history, heritage, and hotels of this region of central Italy that was home to Italic groups such as the Marsians and the Vestini, and where you can view the famous "Warrior of Capestrano."
Gubbio, Italy
Read more about the Corsa dei Ceri and get tourism information on visiting the town and seeing the famous Iguvine Tables.
Pompeii Archaeology
Visit the official website of Pompeii and learn about the ongoing archaeology projects, how best to plan your visit, and more.
Università degli Studi della Basilicata
The website for the University of Basilicata School of Archaeology includes a link to the excavation of Samnite-period Pompeii (in Italian).


Cornell, T. J. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000 – 264 B.C.). Routledge, 1995.
Pallottino, Massimo. A History of Earliest Italy. Translated by Martin Ryle and Kate Soper. The University of Michigan Press, 1991.
Salmon, E. T. The Making of Roman Italy. Cornell University Press, 1982.
Salmon, E. T. Samnium and the Samnites. Cambridge University Press, 1967.
Schullard, H. H. A History of the Roman World, 5th ed. Routledge, 2003.


NGS Resources
Burgan, Michael, and Richard Nowitz. "The Day of Disaster." National Geographic World (December 1999), 10-4.
Dunn, Jerry Camarillo, Jr. "Stadium of Life and Death." National Geographic World (March 1998), 11-5.
Reid, T. R., and James Stanfield. "The World According to Rome." National Geographic (August 1997), 54-83.
Henneberg, Maciej, Renata Henneberg, and Joseph Carter. "Health Among the Ancient Greeks, Metaponto, Southern Italy, 600 to 250
B.C." Research & Exploration (Autumn 1992), 446-59.
Gore, Rick, James M. Gurney, and O. Louis Mazzatenta. "The Eternal Etruscans." National Geographic (June 1988), 696-743.
Splendors of the Past: Lost Cities of the Ancient World. National Geographic Books, 1981. 
Lerici, Carlo. "Periscope on the Etruscan Past." National Geographic (September 1959), 336-50.


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