Latial culture
Geographical rangeCentral Italy: Latium
PeriodEarly Iron Age
Datesc. 900 BC – c. 700 BC
Preceded byProto-Villanovan culture, Urnfield culture, Apennine culture
Followed byRoman Kingdom

The Latial culture ranged approximately over ancient Old Latium. The Iron Age Latial culture coincided with the arrival in the region of a people who spoke Old Latin. The culture was likely therefore to identify a phase of the socio-political self-consciousness of the Latin tribe, during the period of the kings of Alba Longa and the foundation of the Roman Kingdom.

Latial culture is identified by their hut-shaped burial urns. Urns of the Proto-Villanovan culture are plain and biconical, and were buried in a deep shaft. The hut urn is a round or square model of a hut with a peaked roof. The interior is accessed by a door on one of its side. Cremation was practiced as well as burial. The style is distinctive. The hut urns were miniature versions of the huts in which the population lived, although during this period they also developed the use of stone for temples and other public buildings.[1][2]

The Apennine culture of Latium transitioned smoothly into the Latial with no evidence of an intrusive population movement. The population generally abandoned sites of purely economic advantage in favor of defensible sites which later became cities. The term pre-urban is used for this era. The population movement to more defensible sites may indicate an increase in marauding.[3]


The standard periodization based on pottery is accepted as standard with little variation; however, a tolerance of ±25 years is implied.[2][4][5][6][7] More recent work based on dendrochronology has indicated a need to revise some periodization, with preserved timbers indicating that the traditional chronology may be some fifty years later out of sync with the rest of Europe; this raises some difficulty inasmuch as the timbers' dates disagree with pottery's dates.[8]

The first period of the Latial culture correspond with the remains of the Proto-Villanovan culture in archaeological sites in most of the Italian peninsula. The second and third periods correspond with the Villanovan culture in Etruria. They are characterised by simple and undecorated potteries and cremation as the main funerary rite.[9] The fourth stage corresponds with an orientalising trend in Etruria; the third stage marks a transition between the two. Foreign influences start entering pottery production by Latial III and become indigenised by Latial IV. Much of these changes in material culture correspond with like contemporary changes in Etruscan sites; Latium, however, was a poorer area in general as it did not possess the rich mineral veins present further north.[10]

Period Date BC (Cornell)[11] Date BC (Lomas)[12] Phase
Latial I 1000-900 1085–1020 Pre-urban (Late Bronze Age)
Latial IIA 900-830 1020–950 Pre-urban (Early Iron Age)
Latial IIB 830-770 950–880 Proto-urban (Early Iron Age)
Latial III 770-730 880–750 Proto-urban (Early Iron Age)
Latial IVA 730-630 Proto-urban (Early and middle orientalizing)
Latial IVB 630-580 Archaic urban (Late orientalizing)

Early Latial culture

The early Latial period is characterised by small villages, with populations likely less than a few hundred. Material remains of their houses indicate a lack of masonry construction techniques; instead, oval wattle and daub huts with diameters rarely greater than 20 feet (6.1 m) with thatched roofs were common. Pottery of the period was produced likely at the household level using coil techniques, as the pottery wheel was not introduced until the eighth century BC. Due to the lack of kilns, soft clay of the period also was heated in open flame, leading to a black and sooty appearance. Specialised skills other than metal working were non-existent.[10]

From Latial I–II, inhumation gradually replaced cremation as the main funerary rite. Grave goods were used: archaeologists have discovered in the Roman forum and the Alban hills ash urns that modelled huts that probably represented dwellings in the afterlife. Much of the evidence of funerary practices emerges from near Gabii on the Osteria dell'Osa and the six hundred graves excavated there.[10] The grave goods discovered there indicate a simple and poor society with status largely determined by gender and age; goods gradually became more developed over time, but within any one time were relatively uniform, indicating relatively low levels of wealth inequality. Cremation, due to its expenditure of fuel, was reserved "almost exclusively" for adult males between the aged 17–45 at death.[13] Male graves included full-size or miniature representative weapons while female graves included spindles; both reflect a gendered division of labour. Personal ornaments were more likely to be buried with women.[14]

Grave goods from Latial III start to display less consistency: miniature weapons are more regularly replaced with full-size weapons made of bronze. Jewelleries made from amber and potteries imported from Etruria and, in a few cases, from Greece – one globular flask has, inscribed by a metal point, the Greek letters EULIN – begin to make an appearance in graves. Expansion of metallurgy also is indicated by bronze hoards; the introduction of the pottery wheel also replaces coiled vessels. By this time the population also starts to disperse, bringing more lands under agriculture and increased surpluses, fuelling the lifestyles of local elites.[15]

Later Latial culture

Graves at Castel di Decima, located on the via Ostiensis 10 miles (16 km) south of Rome date to Latial IV and show much more substantial dispersion in grave goods. Most inhumations were simple with no goods at all, but some of the wealthiest graves dated to the seventh century contained women dressed in rich garments adorned with amber and glass bead, gold and silvery fibulae, and ornamental silver wire.[16] Women were also buried with bowls for mixing wine, suggesting that upper-class women in Latium participated in symposia and social gatherings as hostesses. The richest male grave at the site contained a sword, lance, breastplate, three shields, and a miniature chariot.[17]

Complex tombs – especially the Barberini and Bernardini tombs discovered in 1855 and 1876, respectively – contained large numbers of gold and silver objects along with interior artwork inspired by the Near East. Some of the objects were likely imported from Egypt or Phoenicia: one silver bowl contains a Phoenician inscription while depicting an Egyptian pharaoh in battle.[17] In the past, it was believed that these tombs in Latium reflected an Etruscan domination but further evidence from across Italy indicates that princely tombs of this sort were common on the peninsula and likely reflected an orientalising period across the peninsula's cultures.[18]

From around 650 BC onwards, huts started to be replaced with masonry on stone foundations with tiled roofing. Grave goods also started to disappear across Italy, likely reflected the close of an orientalising period from c. 580 BC. Monumental temples started to be constructed, including the Temple of Minerva at Lavinium and the Temple of Mater Matuta at Satricum. These shifts likely reflected the creation of city-states under Greek influence, along with the development of metalworking and ceramics joined with population growth and higher levels of agricultural production. By this time, local elites had consolidated social status organised around political and religious authority. Latium, however, still remained poorer than Etruria to the north due to its lack of major mineral deposits, which left it less connected than the Etruscans to pan-Mediterranean trade networks.[19]



  1. ^ Cornell (1995), pp 48-51.
  2. ^ a b Gordon (2007), p. 46.
  3. ^ Smith (1996), p. 34.
  4. ^ Smith (1996), p. xii.
  5. ^ Cornell (1995), p. 50.
  6. ^ Giovanni Colonna, Aspetti culturali della Roma primitiva: il periodo orientalizzante recente, , in ArchCl XVI, 1964, pp. 1-12. (Italian)
  7. ^ Giovanni Colonna, Preistoria e protostoria di Roma e del Lazio, in Popoli e civiltà dell’Italia antica, II, Roma, 1974, pp. 275-346. (Italian)
  8. ^ Lomas 2018, pp. 20, 349 n. 11.
  9. ^ Forsythe 2005, pp. 53–54.
  10. ^ a b c Forsythe 2005, p. 54.
  11. ^ Cornell 1995, p. 50.
  12. ^ Lomas 2018, p. 20, under the table heading "Revised Dates".
  13. ^ Forsythe 2005, pp. 54–55.
  14. ^ Forsythe 2005, pp. 55–56.
  15. ^ Forsythe 2005, p. 56.
  16. ^ Forsythe 2005, pp. 56–57.
  17. ^ a b Forsythe 2005, p. 57.
  18. ^ Forsythe 2005, pp. 57–58.
  19. ^ Forsythe 2005, p. 58.


  • Cornell, Timothy J (1995). "The Origin of Rome: Archaeology in Rome and Old Latium: the Nature of the Evidence". The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264 BC). The Routledge History of the Ancient World. Routledge. pp. 48–80. ISBN 978-0-415-01596-7.
  • Forsythe, Gary (2005). "Archaic Italy c. 800-500 BC". A critical history of early Rome : from prehistory to the first Punic War. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 28–58. ISBN 9780520226517.
  • Lomas, Kathryn (2018). The rise of Rome. History of the Ancient World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. doi:10.4159/9780674919938. ISBN 978-0-674-65965-0. S2CID 239349186.
  • Rüpke, Jörg (2007). "Historical Foundations". Religion of the Romans. Translated by Gordon, Richard. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. pp. 39–64. ISBN 978-0-7456-3014-4.
  • Smith, Christopher John (1996). Early Rome and Latium: Economy and Society c. 1000 to 500 BC. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-815031-2.