In this section we will offer a short overview of the basic historical background.
Many of the hypotheses and interpretations concerning the Lepontic language and its speakers include essential data from historical and archaeological evidence. The archaeological context of the Inscriptions is important for the amendment of basic data (e.g. the dating of the inscriptions). In addition, one can attempt to complement the very fragmentary linguistic evidence of the Celtic languages/dialects of Northern Italy by interrelating it with its cultural and historical background (e.g. Uhlich's attempt in Uhlich 2007, 378-381; Uhlich 1999, 282-290. For the critique to the applied methodology based on culture-historical approaches see Bruce G. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought. Second Edition. Cambridge 2008 , 311ff.).
The term "Lepontii", describing the historically attested tribe in the area of the Alps, should not be put on a level with the linguistic term "Lepontic". There is often an attempt to distinguish a local "facies" of the Golasecca Culture in order to localise the "Lepontii" (see Rapi 2012 for a short definition of the term and additional literature).
Historical evidence: Classical sources
Immigration of Celtic tribes to northern Italy
- Polybius, Historiae Polybius is the earliest source about the immigration of the Celtic tribes to northern Italy (2nd century BC). He mentions the Battle of Allia (387/386 BC) being the starting point of the fights between Celts and Romans, and the Celtic invasions to northern Italy (Pol. 2, 18; English translation from 1889). See also Pol. 2, 14 (migration of celtic tribes to Italy; English translation from 1889), 2, 17 (Celtic tribes in northern Italy; English translation from 1889).
- Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita (History of Rome) Livy is the second main source about the immigration of Celtic tribes to northern Italy (dating approx. 27-25 BC). Livy incorporated a second tradition which dates the first vawe of Celtic immigrants two centuries earlier. Livy relates the first wave of Celtic immigration to several historical facts of the 6th century BC, e.g. 1) the reigning of Tarquinius Priscus (Liv. 5, 34,1); 2) the foundation of Massalia (Liv. 5, 34,8). For the second vawe of immigration (Liv. 5, 33, 4-6) a common source with Polybius is likely. See also Liv. 5, 35 (Celtic tribes in northern Italy). An English summary from 1924 of book V can be found at Project Perseus.
- Plinius (Pliny the Elder), Naturalis Historia Pliny's dating of the Celtic invasions to northern Italy is based on the same chronology as Polybius (Plin. 3, 125). This is a later source dating approx. 77-79 AD. See also Plin. 3, 123-125 (Celtic tribes in northern Italy; English translation from 1855).
- Diodorus (XIV, 113)
Peoples/Nations in Northern Italy
- Strabo, Geographica In this source, published between 7BC - 23AD, Strabo reports that in the Alps most of the "nations" are Celtic, with exeption of the Ligurians (Strab. 2, 5, 28; English translation from 1903). The ancient historians did not always attribute the numerous tribes unanimously to the same peoples/culture; e.g. Taurini. For Plinius and Strabo (Plin. 3, 123; Srab. 4, 6, 6) they were Ligurians; for Livius (Liv. 5, 34, 8) they originated from Gaul.
- Strabo mentions the term Kelto-Ligures (Kελτολίγυας Strab. 4, 6, 3; English translation from 1903) which could be a hint to a mixed culture from the mediterranean point of view. The same perception could be the reason for Livy's description of the "Taurini" as semigalli (Liv. 21, 38, 5).
Sources: Whatmough 1933, 65
The most relevant historical sources that are interesting for the study of Lepontic are listed in Whatmough 1933: 65-70. Based on the historical evidence, Whatmough states that the Lepontii seem "to have occupied the whole stretch of territory east of the Salassi, from Como to the St. Gotthard Pass" (Whatmough 1933, 66). There is no ancient record about an own specific language spoken by the Lepontii. Whatmough applies the term as purely geographical description of the linguistic evidence (Whatmough 1933, 66).
The tribal name of the Lepontii
- The tribal name of the Lepontii is listed on the Tropaeum Alpium (that is reported in Plin. 3, 136-137; = CIL v. 7817, 19; see also Whatmough 1933, 70):
IMP · CAESARI DIVI FILIO AVG · PONT · MAX · IMP · XIIII · TR · POT · XVII · S · P · Q · R · QVOD EIVS DVCTV AVSPICIISQVE GENTES ALPINAE OMNES QVAE A MARI SVPERO AD INFERVM PERTINEBANT SVB IMPERIVM P · R · SVNT REDACTAE · GENTES ALPINAE DEVICTAE TRVMPILINI · CAMVNNI · VENOSTES · VENNONETES · ISARCI · BREVNI · GENAVNES · FOCVNATES · VINDELICORVM GENTES QVATTVOR · COSVANETES · RVCINATES · LICATES · CATENATES · AMBISONTES · RVGVSCI · SVANETES · CALVCONES · BRIXENETES · LEPONTI · VBERI · NANTVATES · SEDVNI · VARAGRI · SALASSI · ACITAVONES · MEDVLLI · VCENNI · CATVRIGES · BRIGIANI · SOGIONTI · BRODIONTI · NEMALONI · EDENATES · VESVBIANI · VEAMINI · GALLITAE · TRIVLLATI · ECDINI · VERGVNNI · EGVI · TVRI · NEMATVRI · ORATELLI · NERVSI · VELAVNI · SVETRI.
- The tribal name of the Lepontii is preserved in the geographical name of the "Val Leventina" as well, a valley in the Swiss canton Ticino. The region is recorded in the Ravenna Cosmography, a source from the 7th century AD, as Lebontia (Geogr. Ravenna, p. 251; see Whatmough 1933, 70).
- Strabo, Geographica (7BC - 23 AD): Strabo attributes the Lepontii (Ληπόντιοι) to the Raetic people/culture (Strab. 4, 6, 8; English translation from 1903). According to Strabo the southern limit of the extension of the Raetic civilisations was above Verona and Como (Οὐήρωνος and Κώμου).
- Plinius (Pliny the Elder), Naturalis Historia (77-79 AD): Pliny reports an enumeration of the "Euganean" peoples/nations living in northern Italy (Plin. 3, 133-135; English translation from 1855). He quotes that Cato considered the Lepontii to be of Tauriscan origin; he mentions that most of the other authors however (which he does not quote) followed the Greek interpretation of the name of the Lepontii, and "consider the Lepontii to have been those of the followers of Hercules who were left behind in consequence of their limbs being frozen by the snow of the Alps" (quoted from the Englis translation by John Bostock, 1855). Plinius locates the Lepontii at the sources of the Rhône (Plin. 3,135; see Whatmough 1933, 66, fn. 1).
- Caesar, De Bello Gallico (52-51 BC): Caesar locates the Lepontii at the sources of the Rhine (DBG 4.10).
The Celts in northern Italy – Historical context
This list is not a comprehensive collection of relevant literature. It is a first result of the research work in progress.
- Whatmough 1933: 66-67
- Frey 1995
- Frey 1996: 75 ff.
- Cunliffe 1997: 70ff.
- Wernicke 1991: 73-86, (Die Kelten in Italien, in Palingenesia 33; zu Livius: 86-110)
- Violante 1993: (zu Livius: 15-23)
- Baldacci 1983: (La celtizzazione dell'Italia settentrionale nel quadro della politica mediterranea, in Popoli e facies culturali celtiche, Atti del Colloquio Internazionale Vol. I; zu Livius 153-155)
- De Marinis 1988: 169-170 (Laevi (= Ligurians), Insubres, Orobii, Lepontii)
- Plinius III, 124, 134
- Strabon IV, 6
- Livius: 5.33, 5.34
- Polybios: 2.17.3-7 (Kelteneinwanderung in N-Italien), 1.6.1 (gallische Eroberung Roms)
- Markey & Mees 2003: 124-125
- Rankin 1987: 110-116 (Celts and the classical world)
- Violante 1993: 11-35 (arrive, early phase), 37-49 (400-300 BC), 51-92 (300-100 BC)
- Celtic placenames of Italy are discussed by De Bernardo Stempel 2000: 85-96
|Cunliffe 1997||Barry Cunliffe, The ancient Celts, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press 1997.|
|De Bernardo Stempel 2000||Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel, "Ptolemy's Celtic Italy and Ireland: a Linguistic Analysis", in: David N. Parsons, Patrick Sims-Williams (eds), Ptolemy. Towards a linguistic atlas of the earliest Celtic place-names of Europe. Papers from a workshop, sponsored by the British Academy, in the Department of Welsh, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 11–12 April 1999, Aberystwyth: CMCS 2000, 83–112.|
|De Marinis 1988||Raffaele De Marinis, "Liguri e Celto-Liguri", in: Anna Maria Chieco Bianchi, Giovanni Colonna, Bruno d'Agostino, Francesco d'Andria, Ettore M. de Juliis, Raffaele de Marinis, Venceslas Kruta, Maurizio Landolfi, Francesco Roncalli (eds), Italia omnium terrarum alumna. La civiltà dei Veneti, Reti, Liguri, Celti, Piceni, Umbri, Latini, Campani e Iapigi, Milano: Scheiwiller 1988, 159–259.|
|Frey 1995||Otto-Herman Frey, "The Celts in Italy", in: Miranda J. Green (Ed.), The Celtic world, London: Routledge 1995, 515-532.|
|Frey 1996||Otto-Hermann Frey, "The Celts in Italy", Studia Celtica 30 (1996), 59-82.|