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European Kingdoms



MapRaeti / Raetia (Alpines)
Incorporating the Brueni, Camuni, Isarci, Lepontii, Vennones, Vennonetes, & Venostes

The Raeti (Raetians, Rhaeti, or Reti) were not part of the West Indo-European migration into southern Central Europe from its Pontic steppe homeland between about 3500-2500 BC. Instead they seem to have borne a degree of relationship with the Etruscans of north-western Italy. Possibly they (and the Etruscans) were indigenous, but one school of thought from the twentieth century had the latter migrating from the eastern steppes immediately before their rise around 800 BC (unlikely, as they would have had to make their way through various Indo-European groups). Herodotus claimed they were descended from Lydian colonists who landed in Etruria in the thirteenth century BC (perhaps following the collapse of the Hittite empire). Hellicanus of Lesbos ascribes Etruscan existence to the settlement of Pelasgian refugees, fleeing from Hellenic domination of Thessaly.

FeatureRecent genetic studies seem to support these westward migration stories to an extent, claiming an unusual eastern heritage for the Etruscans that is found in no other Italian peoples (see feature link for more on this). The most likely answer is that they were related to groups in Anatolia that had migrated westwards much as their Neolithic farmer ancestors had done, arriving in Greece to form the Sesklo culture in the seventh millennium BC and then migrating outwards after that. The non-Indo-European Alpine tribes could have been an early northwards extension of a related group, or possibly indigenous Palaeolithic groups who took on board Etruscan language influences and culture (probably due to a takeover by a small Etruscan elite). The Raetic group was formed by a confederation of smaller tribes, many of which barely warrant a mention in the historical record. They were located in central Switzerland, across Alpine Germany and Italy, and in the Austrian Tyrol. The Danube formed their northern border (although this area was largely occupied by the Vindelici) while the Celtic Noricum abutted their territory to the east.

Livy covered the Etruscans in his work. He had them on both sides of the Apennines in twelve cities and twelve subsequent colonies. These colonies held the whole of the country beyond the Po as far as the Alps, with the exception of the corner that was inhabited by the Veneti (the later Venetians). He was of the opinion that the Alpine tribes to their north were undoubtedly of the same stock, especially the Raeti, who had 'through the nature of their country become so uncivilised that they retained no trace of their original condition except their language, and even this was not free from corruption'. That corruption would have been due to increasing Celtic influence from the north and Latin influence from the south.

In support of the early Raeti not being Indo-European or speakers of an Indo-European language until external influences reached them, Maurizio Puntin points to dozens (to say the least) of inscriptions that are widespread between the Steinberg (Tyrol-A) to the north and the upper Veronese, the upper Vicentino and Feltre to the south of their territorial region. Many experts (H Rix, Cristofani, and others) support the idea that their language was similar to Etruscan (related, but not descended from it), and certainly had no kinship with the nearby Indo-European languages such as Venetic or Celtic. If the Raeti did indeed have a language of their own - or at least a dialect - how far it reached amongst the Alpine tribes is very uncertain, even during the early Roman empire period. By then their tongue had already become corrupted by contact with Celts. Those Raeti on the southern side of the Alps, in northern Italy, fared better, managing to hold onto their language until the third century AD. By then all Raeti had become Latinised.

Individual Raeti tribes seem poorly documented, but they included: the Brueni (or Breuni, to the south-east of Raetia, in the Val Brounia or Bregna (a corruption of their name), at the source of the Tessino) - classified as Illyrians by Strabo, as were a number of east coast Italic tribes such as the Iapyges; the Camuni or Camunni (around Val Camonica at the south-western end of Raeti territories and ascribed as being Euganei by Pliny); the Isarci (immediately south of the Brueni, in the Val de Sarra or Sarcha (a corruption of their name), near Val Camonica); the Lepontii (or Leponzi, in the south-central region, bordering the Celtic Seduni who were between them and Lacus Lemanus (Lake Geneva)) - although Pliny labels the Lepontii as Celts of the Taurisci type, possibly because their language had already been Celticised the Vennones (according to Ptolemy, although Strabo has them as Vindelici and therefore Celtic-speakers) - apparently the wildest of Raetian tribes; the Vennonetes (Pliny, and almost certainly the same as Vennones); and the Venostes (on the south-western flank of the Isarci).

(Information by Edward Dawson and Peter Kessler, with additional information by Maurizio Puntin, from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius (translated by Rev Canon Roberts), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith (1854, Perseus Digital Library), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed).)

c.1200 - 900 BC

Herodotus claims that the Etruscans are descended from Lydian colonists who land in Etruria in the thirteenth century BC (perhaps following the collapse of the Hittite empire). This is largely reflected in the earliest 'Etruscan' names, which are of an improbably early date so that they can be tied with the Lydian kings.

While this version is dismissed by modern historians, there is a leaning towards the idea that the Etruscans do migrate from the eastern Mediterranean, probably in the tenth century BC, and blend into the indigenous population which at this time forms the Villanova culture. It is already a well-trodden path as evidenced by the Sesklo culture of Neolithic farmers and all its various descendant branches. What later become the Alpine tribes could be part of this same migration, making them late interlopers into an Alpine region that is surrounded by early Celtic and Italic tribes.

Source of the Ticino
The mountainous Alpine country of the Raeti would have supplied a relatively tough tribal life during which it would seem that they never particularly thrived or expanded and which led to their easy absorption into Celtic and Latin cultures

c.600 BC

The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, king of Rome. As archaeology seems to point to a start date of around 500 BC for the beginning of a serious wave of Celtic incursions into Italy, this event has either been misremembered by later Romans or is an early precursor to the main wave of incursions, probably as a result of the same apparent overpopulation in southern Germany that doubtless forces the start of migration into Iberia around a century earlier. The Celtic advance into the Po Valley also forces the Raeti to relocate into the Alps (according to Pliny the Elder).

222 BC

By the time that Rome has finally won the Gallic War in northern Italy by subjugating the Celtic tribes there, those very Gauls have been present in the region for over three hundred years. The Insubres tribe at least may have integrated to an extent with surrounding Etruscans, Italics (most likely the Umbri), Ligurians, and Raeti, providing the external influences that eventually subsume the original identity of the Euganei, Ligurians and Raeti.

27 BC

The office of dictator of Rome is offered to Caesar Augustus (Octavian), who wisely declines it. Instead he opts for a politic arrangement which leaves him as functional dictator without having to hold the controversial title or office itself. The Roman empire is born.

It is also by this time that non-Indo-European elements in the Alpine region largely seem to have lost their native language, with it having been replaced by Celtic speech. More southern Raeti groups retain their language for a further three centuries before becoming fully Latinised. The fact that the Roman empire soon unquestionably controls the entire Alpine region probably hastens the final decline and disappearance of non-Indo-European traits, customs, and languages here.