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1200 BC (iron age in Italy (geographical region))–AD 63
Ancient Liguria corresponds almost entirely to present-day Liguria.
Ancient Liguria corresponds almost entirely to present-day Liguria.
Common languagesLigurian (ancient language)
Historical eraLiguria, Italy
• Established
1200 BC (iron age in Italy (geographical region))
• Death of King Cottius II.The last Ligurian city of Susa were formally absorbed by Rome[4]
AD 63
Succeeded by
Roman Empire
Today part of
Iron Age groups within the Italian peninsula. Liguria is located in the upper left corner of the map.
Iron Age groups within the Italian peninsula. Liguria is located in the upper left corner of the map.

The Ligures (singular Ligur; Italian: liguri; English: Ligurians) were an ancient people after whom Liguria, a region of present-day north-western Italy, is named.[5]

The languages of the Italian peninsula in the 3rd century BC. J.-C.. In pink, languages of non-Indo-European origins.
The languages of the Italian peninsula in the 3rd century BC. J.-C.. In pink, languages of non-Indo-European origins.
The N4 zone in purple corresponding to the Ligurian ethnic group. It is between the Var rivers in the West, the Po in the North, and the Magra in the East.
The N4 zone in purple corresponding to the Ligurian ethnic group. It is between the Var rivers in the West, the Po in the North, and the Magra in the East.
Roman Liguria, between the rivers of Var in the West, of Po in the North, and of Magra in the East.
Roman Liguria, between the rivers of Var in the West, of Po in the North, and of Magra in the East.

In pre-Roman times, the Ligurians occupied, the present-day Italian region of Liguria, Piedmont south of the Po river and north-western Tuscany, and the French region of Alpes-Maritimes which is also in the Italian geographical area. However, it is generally believed that around 2000 BC, the Ligurians occupied a much larger area, including much of north-western Italy, all of northern Tuscany (the part that lies north of the Arno river), and a portion of what today is Catalonia (in the north-eastern corner of the Iberian Peninsula).[6][7][8]

Little is known about the Old Ligurian language because there are no known written records or inscriptions in it. And because it is not known where the ancient Ligurian people originally came from, an autochthonous origin is increasingly probable. Some people have suggested that it may have been a Pre-Indo-European.[9] Some think a connection with the Celts but it is a certain anachronism given that the Celtic culture arrives very late. Moreover, there is no relationship between the Italic populations of southern Europe living in areas of relief inside the Alpine arc and the populations of Western Europe living in the plains of France. The Var river and the Alps are considered an important ethno-cultural border, where even the climate is radically different.[10][11] Numerous inscriptions in an ancient and mysterious alphabet are found all over Liguria. These date mostly between the 6th and 3rd BC. Most of these engravings are made on stelae.[12][13]


The name "ligure" has gone through the centuries and has never changed. The origin of this name is currently unknown and seems to predate the arrival of the Romans, Carthaginians or Greeks. The Greeks and in particular Strabo quote the Ligurians several times. When Hannibal arrived in Italy, the Ligurians participated with the Carthaginians in the battles against the Romans and these are called Ligurians. The Romans already called them ligures and the Greeks "λιγούρες" which also translates as ligures. In no ancient text is there mentioned another name to define this people.[14][10][11]

Geographical area of ancient Liguria

Main article: Roman Italy

Roman Liguria between the Po, Var (or the Siagne further west) and Magra rivers. Which corresponds to the writings of Strabo and Pliny the Elder, located in the north of Italy, inside the alpine arc, in the south of the Alps and the Apennines.
Roman Liguria between the Po, Var (or the Siagne further west) and Magra rivers. Which corresponds to the writings of Strabo and Pliny the Elder, located in the north of Italy, inside the alpine arc, in the south of the Alps and the Apennines.

The geography of Strabo, from book 2, chapter 5, section 28 :

The Alps are inhabited by numerous nations, but all Keltic with the exception of the Ligurians, and these, though of a different race, closely resemble them in their manner of life. They inhabit that portion of the Alps which is next the Apennines (Alpes Maritimes), and also a part of the Apennines themselves (Ligurian Alps and Ligurian Apennine). This latter mountain ridge traverses the whole length of Italy from north to south, and terminates at the Strait of Sicily.[15]

This zone corresponds to the current region of Liguria in Italy as well as to the former county of Nice which could be compared today to the Alpes Maritimes.

The writer, naturalist and Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder writes in his book "The Natural History" book III chapter 7 on the Ligurians and Liguria :

The more celebrated of the Ligurian tribes beyond the Alps are the Salluvii, the Deciates, and the Oxubii (...) The coast of Liguria extends 211 miles40, between the rivers Varus and Macra.[16]

Just like Strabo, Pliny the Elder situates Liguria between the rivers Varus and Magra. He also quotes the Ligurian peoples living on the other side of the banks of the Var and the Alps. He writes in his book "The Natural History" book III chapter 6 :

Gaul is divided from Italy by the river Varus, and by the range of the Alps (...) Forum Julii Octavanorum, a colony, which is also called Pacensis and Classica, the river Argenteus, which flows through it, the district of the Oxubii and that of the Ligauni (ligurian ethnicity). above whom are the Suetri, the Quariates and the Adunicates (celtic ethnicity). On the coast we have Antipolis, a town with Latian rights, the district of the Deciates (ligurian ethnicity), and the river Varus, which proceeds from Mount Cema, one of the Alps.[17]

So there is no archaeological evidence or ancient text that affirms the presence of Ligurians in southern Gaul except in the Alpes-Maritimes, of which the major part of this territory was in Italy until 1860. We note that Pliny the Elder cites the Ligurian peoples between the river Argenteus and Varus, which corresponds to the western part of the Alpes-Maritimes. The southern Gaul was therefore populated by Celts before the Germanic invasions of the Franks at the end of the Roman Empire. While Liguria was populated by Italic population, the Ligurians.


Proto-history of northern Italy

Main article: Polada culture

Further information: Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps

Antler hoes of Polada culture
Antler hoes of Polada culture

The Polada Culture (a location near Brescia, Lombardy, Italy) was a cultural horizon extended in the Po valley from eastern Lombardy and Veneto to Emilia and Romagna, formed in the first half of 2nd millennium BC perhaps for the arrival of new people from the transalpine regions of Switzerland and Southern Germany.[18] Its influences are also found in the cultures of the Early Bronze Age of Liguria, Corsica, Sardinia (Bonnanaro culture). There are some commonalities with the previous Bell Beaker Culture including the usage of the bow and a certain mastery in metallurgy.[19] Apart from that, the Polada culture does not correspond to the Beaker culture nor to the previous Remedello culture.

The Bronze tools and weapons show similarities with those of the Unetice Culture and other groups in north of Alps. According to Bernard Sergent, the origins of the Ligurian language, in his opinion related to the distant with Italic languages families, would be sought in the Polada Culture (early Bronze Age), southern emanations of the Unetice Culture.

It is said that the Ligurians inhabited the Po valley around the 2,000 B.C., they not only appear in the legends of the Po valley, but would have left traces (linguistic and craft) found in the archaeological also in the area near the northern Adriatic coast.[20] The Ligurians are credited with forming the first villages in the Po Valley of the facies of the pile dwellings and of the dammed settlements,[21] a society that followed the Polada culture, and is well suited in middle and late Bronze Age.

The ancient name of Po river (Padus in Latin) derived from the Ligurian name of the river:[22] Bod-encus or Bod-incus. This word appears in the place name Bodincomagus, a Ligurian town on the right bank of the Po downstream near today's Turin.[23]

According to a legend, of the late Bronze Age are the foundations of Brescia and Barra (Bergamo) by Cydno, the forefather of Ligurians.[24] This myth seems to have a grain of truth, because recent archaeological excavations have unearthed remains of a settlement dating back to 1,200 B.C. that scholars presume to have been built and inhabited by Ligures peoples.[25][26] Others scholars attribute the founding of Bergamo and Brescia to the Etruscans.[27][28]

Pre-historic pile dwellings settlements in northern Italy
Pre-historic pile dwellings settlements in northern Italy

With the facies of the pile dwellings and of the dammed settlements, the continuity of the previous Polada culture of the ancient Bronze Age seems to be unbroken. The villages, as in the previous phase, are on stilts and are concentrated in the area of the Lake of Garda. In the plains appear instead villages with levees and ditches.

The settlements were usually made up of stilt houses; the economy was characterized by agricultural and pastoral activities, hunting and fishing were also practiced as well as the metallurgy of copper and bronze (axes, daggers, pins etc.). Pottery was coarse and blackish.[29]

The bronze metallurgy (weapons, work tools, etc.) was well developed among these populations. As for the burial customs both cremation and inhumation were practiced.

The foundation of Genoa

Main article: History of Genoa

The Genoa area has been inhabited since the fifth or fourth millennium BC.[30] In ancient times this area was inhabited by Ligures (ancient people after whom Liguria is named). According to excavations carried out in the city between 1898 and 1910, the Ligure population that lived in Genoa maintained trade relations with the Etruscans and the Greeks, since several objects from these populations were found.[31][32] In the 5th century BC the first town, or oppidum, was founded at the top of the hill today called Castello (Castle), which is now inside the medieval old town. The ancient Ligurian city was known as Stalia (Σταλìα), referred to in this way by Artemidorus Ephesius and Pomponius Mela; this toponym is possibly preserved in the name of Staglieno, some 3 km (2 mi) from the coast. Stalia had an alliance with Rome through a foedus aequum (equal pact) in the course of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). The Carthaginians accordingly destroyed it in 209 BC. The town was rebuilt and, after the Carthaginian Wars ended in 146 BC, it received municipal rights. The original castrum then expanded towards the current areas of Santa Maria di Castello and the San Lorenzo promontory. Trade goods included skins, timber, and honey. Goods were moved to and from Genoa's hinterland, including major cities like Tortona and Piacenza. An amphitheater was also found there among other archaeological remains from the Roman period.

The Corsi

Main article: Corsi people

Simplified map of the ancient tribes of Corsica
Simplified map of the ancient tribes of Corsica

Corsi were an ancient people of Sardinia and Corsica, to which they gave the name. They dwelt at the extreme north-east of Sardinia, in the region today known as Gallura,[33]

According to historian Ettore Pais and archeologist Giovanni Ugas, the Corsi probably belonged to the Ligurian people.[34][35] Similar was also the opinion of Seneca, who claimed that the Corsi from Corsica, where he had then been staying in exile, were of mixed origin, resulting from the continuous mingling of various ethnic groups of foreign origin, like the Ligures, the Greeks and the Iberians.[36] In a myth, reported by Sallust, the peopling of Corsica is traced back to Corsa, a Ligurian woman who when grazing her cattle, went to the island, which then took her name.

The Phoceans in 565 or 562 B.C. founded the colony of Alalia, at the site of the current city of Aleria. The Greeks called the island first Kalliste and then Cyrnos, Cernealis, Corsis and Cirné.

In 535 B.C., following the Battle Alalia, they were defeated by an Etruscan-Carthaginian coalition formed on a pact specifically stipulated and that, after the conflict, in case of victory, provided for the division of the two islands on which the influence had been conquered: Sardinia to the Carthaginians, Corsica to the Etruscans. In reality, according to Herodotus, the Focei had won, but it would have been a pyrrhic victory, given that of the 60 ships employed (half of the total armoury of the opposing fleets) 40 were sunk and the remaining rendered useless. The Phoceans then left Corsica and the Carthaginians and Etruscans were able to give substance equally to the pact of partition. The Etruscans regained control over the eastern shores of the island, which they had already consolidated with the activity of the war marinas of Pisa, Volterra, Populonia, Tarquinia and Cere.

Western Alps and Po Valley

See also: Canegrate culture and Golasecca culture

Starting from the 12th century B.C., from the union of the previous cultures of Polada and Canegrate, at the Villanova culture in central Italy, a new civilization developed that archaeologists call Golasecca from the name of the place where the first discoveries were found.

The People of Golasecca Culture inhabited a territory of about 20,000 km2, from the Alpine watershed to the Po, from Valsesia to the Serio, gravitating around three main centers: the area of Sesto Calende, Bellinzona, but especially the protourban center of Como.

The Etruscan expansion in the plain of the Po confined the Ligurians between the Alps and the Apennines, where they offered such resistance to Roman penetration that they gained a reputation with the ancients for primitive fierceness.

The Cultures of Canegrate, Polada and Golasecca

Areal of diffusion of Canegrate Culture
Areal of diffusion of Canegrate Culture

The Canegrate culture (13th century BC) may represent the first migratory wave of the proto-Celtic[37] population from the northwest part of the Alps that, through the Alpine passes, penetrated and settled in the western Po valley between Lake Maggiore and Lake Como (Scamozzina culture). They brought a new funerary practice—cremation—which supplanted inhumation. It has also been proposed that a more ancient proto-Celtic presence can be traced back to the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (16th-15th century BC), when North Western Italy appears closely linked regarding the production of bronze artifacts, including ornaments, to the western groups of the Tumulus culture (Central Europe, 1600 BC - 1200 BC).[38] The bearers of the Canegrate culture maintained its homogeneity for only a century, after which it melded with the Ligurian aboriginal populations and with this union gave rise to a new phase called the Golasecca culture,[39][40] which is nowadays identified with the Lepontii[41][42] and other Celto-Ligurian tribes[43]

Within the Golasecca culture territory, which has become Padania (northern Italy), now included in areas belonging to two Italian regions (West Lombardy and eastern Piedmont) and Ticino in Switzerland, it could observe that some areas that have a greater concentration of findings and that correspond broadly to the different archaeological facies attested in the Culture of Golasecca. They coincide, in a significant way, with the territories occupied by those tribal groups whose names are reported by Latin and Greek historians and geographers:[38]

The Celts have not imposed themselves on the existing tribes, but have mixed with them. When the Etruscans and Romans arrived, north-west Italy was inhabited by a complex network of Celtic-Ligurian populations with some geographical differences: in general, to the north of the Po (named Gallia Transpadana later by Romans ), Celtic culture prevailed decisively, while to the south (Gallia Cispadana named later) the Ligurian imprint continued to leave important traces.

Looking at North-Western Italy up to the Po river, while in modern Lombardy and eastern Piedmont the Golasecca culture emerged, in the westernmost part there are 2 principal tribal groups: the Taurini in the area of Turin and the Salassi in modern Ivrea and the Aosta Valley.

The Etruscan expansion

Etruscan expansion in the south Po Valley, and in Corsica
Etruscan expansion in the south Po Valley, and in Corsica

Ligurian sepulchres of the Italian Riviera and of Provence, holding cremations, exhibit Etruscan and Celtic influences.[44]

In the seventh century BC, in addition to the Greeks, the Etruscans also began to push in the northern Tyrrhenian Sea, until what is now called the Ligurian Sea.

Although they had intense commercial exchanges, they were competitors of the Greeks, with whom they often clashed. From 540 B.C. about the Etruscan presence in the Po Valley experienced a renewed expansion in the scenario following the Battle of Alalia resulted in a progressive limitation of Etruscan movements in the Upper Tyrrhenian Sea.[45] The expansion to the north of the Apennines is characterized by that moment as aimed at identifying and controlling new trade routes

Their expansionist policy was different from that of the Greeks: their expansion was mainly by land, trying gradually to occupy the areas bordering them. Even though they were good sailors, they did not found far away colonies, but at the very least emporiums destined to support trade with the local populations. This created an ambivalence in the relations with the Ligurians; on the one hand they were excellent commercial partners for all the coastal emporiums, on the other hand, their expansionist policy led them to press on the Ligurian populations settled north of the Arno river, making them retreat into the mountain areas of the northern Apennines.

Even in this case, the Ligurian opposition prevented the Etruscans from going further; indeed, although traditionally the border between the Ligurian and Etruscan areas is considered the Magra river, it is testified that the Etruscan settlements north of the Arno (for example Pisa) were periodically attacked and plundered by the Ligurian tribes of the mountains.

As already mentioned, hostility to the borders did not prevent an intense commercial relationship, as evidenced by the large quantity of Etruscan ceramics found in the Ligurian sites. Of this period is the foundation of the oppida of Genua (nowadays Genoa, about 500 BC), the urban core of the "Castello" (perhaps an ancient Ligurian oppidum) began,[46] for flourishing trade, to expand towards today's Prè (the area of meadows) and the Rivo Torbido. Some scholars believe that Genoa was an Etruscan emporium, and that only later, the local Ligurian tribe took control (or merged with the Etruscans).[47] However, the human occupation of the region of Genoa is early. The oldest traces of sedentarization found in the region of Genoa are dated from the Neolithic period to the 5th millennium BC. J.-C. Remains of more recent dwellings dating from the Bronze Age (a dry stone wall3) were also found at the mouth of the Bisagno.[48]

From that moment on, Genoa, inhabited by the Ligurian Genuati, was considered by the Greeks, given its strong commercial character, "the emporium of the Ligurians": wood for shipbuilding, livestock, leather, honey, textiles were some of the Ligurian products of commercial exchange.

The Celts on the other side of the Alps and the Var

Celtic tribal groups of France, and the Ligurians to the east of the Var river in the Italian geographical area. The Var is an ethno-cultural separation between the Celtic populations of Western Europe in the west, and the Italic Mediterranean populations of southern Europe.
Celtic tribal groups of France, and the Ligurians to the east of the Var river in the Italian geographical area. The Var is an ethno-cultural separation between the Celtic populations of Western Europe in the west, and the Italic Mediterranean populations of southern Europe.

The emergence of celtic culture appears around the middle of the 3 BC. However, nothing is known of the exchanges that there may have been between the much older Ligurian kingdoms and this new culture on the other side of the Alps and the Var.

First contacts with Romans

In the third century B.C., the Romans, having been right of the Etruscans and integrated their territories, found themselves in direct contact with the Ligurians. However, Roman expansionism was directed towards the rich territories of Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula (then under Carthaginian control), and the territory of the Ligurians was on the road (they controlled the Ligurian coasts and the South-western Alps).

At the beginning the Romans had a rather condescending attitude: the Ligurian territory was considered poor, while the fame of its warriors was known (they had already met them as mercenaries), finally they were already engaged in the First Punic War and were not willing to open new fronts, so they tried first of all to make them allies. However, despite their efforts, only a few Ligurian tribes made alliance agreements with the Romans, notably the Genuates. The rest soon proved hostile.

The hostilities were opened in 238 BC by a coalition of Ligurians and Boii Gauls, but the two peoples soon found themselves in disagreement and the military campaign came to a halt with the dissolution of the alliance. Meanwhile, a Roman fleet commanded by Quintus Fabius Maximus routed Ligurian ships on the coast (234-233 BC), allowing the Romans to control the coastal route to and from Gaul.

In 222 B.C. the Insubres, during a war with Romans occupied the oppidum of Clastidium, that at that time, it was an important locality of the Anamari (or Marici), a Ligurian tribe that, probably for fear of the nearby warlike Insubres, had already accepted the alliance with Rome the year before.

For the first time, the Roman army marched beyond the Po, expanding into Gallia Transpadana. In 222 BC, the battle of Clastidium was fought, and allowed Rome to take the capital of the Insubres, Mediolanum (modern-day Milan). To consolidate its dominion, Rome created the colonies of Placentia in the territory of the Boii and Cremona in that of the Insubres.[49]

Second Punic War

With the outbreak of the second Punic war (218 B.C.) the Ligurian tribes had different attitudes. Some, like the tribes of the west Riviera and the Apuani, allied with the Carthaginians, providing soldiers to Hannibal's troops when he arrived in Northern Italy, hoping that the Carthaginian general would free them from the neighbouring Romans. Others, like the Genuates, Bagienni and the Taurini, took sides in support of the Romans.

The pro-Carthaginian Ligurians took part in the Battle of the Trebia, which the Carthaginians won. Other Ligurians enlisted in the army of Hasdrubal Barca, when he arrived in Cisalpine Gaul (207 BC), in an attempt to rejoin the troops of his brother Hannibal. In the port of Savo (modern-day Savona), then capital of the Ligures Sabazi, triremes of the Carthaginian fleet of Mago Barca, brother of Hannibal, which were intended to cut the Roman trade routes in the Tyrrhenian Sea, found shelter.

In the early stages of the war, the pro-Roman Ligurians suffered. The Taurini were on the path of Hannibal's march into Italy, and in 218 BC, they were attacked by him, as he had allied with their long-standing enemies, the Insubres. The Taurini chief town of Taurasia (modern-day Turin) was captured by Hannibal's forces after a three-day siege.[50]

In 205 BC, Genua (modern-day Genoa) was attacked and razed to the ground by Mago.[51]

Near the end of the Second Punic War, Mago was among the Ingauni, trying to block the Roman advance. At the Battle of Insubria, he suffered a defeat, and later, died of wounds sustained in the battle. Genua was rebuilt in the same year.

Ligurian troops were present at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, which marked the final end of Carthage as a great power.[52]

Roman conquest of Ligurians

Reproduction of the Pulica helmet, revovered into an Apuani grave
Reproduction of the Pulica helmet, revovered into an Apuani grave

In 200 BC, the Ligures and Boii sacked and destroyed the Roman colony of Placentia, effectively controlling the most important ford of the Po Valley.[53]

During the same period, the Romans were at war with the Apuani. Serious Roman efforts began in 182, when both consular armies and a proconsular army were sent against the Ligurians. The wars continued into the 150s, when victorious generals celebrated two triumphs over the Ligurians. Here too, the Romans drove many natives off their land and settled colonies in their stead (e.g., Luna and Luca in the 170s). During the same period, the Romans were at war with the Ligurian tribes of the northern Apennines.

By the end of the Second Punic War, however, hostilities were not over yet. Ligurian tribes and Carthaginian holdouts operating from the mountain territories continued to fight with guerrilla tactics. Thus, the Romans were forced into continuous military operations in northern Italy.

In 201 BC, the Ingauni signed a peace treaty with Rome.

It was only in 197 BC that the Romans, under the leadership of Minucius Rufus, succeeded in regaining control of the Placentia area by subduing the Celelates, Cerdicates, Ilvati and the Boii Gauls and occupying the oppidum of Clastidium.

Genua was rebuilt by the proconsul Spurius Lucretius in the same year. Having defeated Carthage, Rome sought to expand northwards, and used Genua as a support base for raids, between 191 and 154 BC, against the Ligurian tribes of the hinterland, allied for decades with Carthage.

A second phase of the conflict followed (197-155 BC), characterized by the fact that the Apuani Ligurians entrenched themselves on the Apennines, from where they periodically descended to plunder the surrounding territories. The Romans, for their part, organized continuous expeditions to the mountains, hoping to snide, surround and defeat the Ligurians (taking care not to be destroyed by ambushes). In the course of these wars, the Romans celebrated fifteen triumphs and at suffered at least one serious defeat.

Historically, the beginning of the campaign dates back to 193 BC on the initiative of the Ligurian conciliabula (federations), who organized a major raid going as far as the right bank of the river Arno. Roman campaigns followed (191, 188 and 187 BC); these were victorious, but not decisive.

In the campaign of 186 BC, the Romans were beaten by the Ligurians in the Magra valley. In this battle, which took place in a narrow and precipitous place, the Romans lost about 4000 soldiers, three eagle insignia of the second legion and eleven banners of the Latin allies. In addition, the consul Quintus Martius was also killed in the battle. It is thought that the place of the battle and the death of the consul gave rise to the place-name of Marciaso, or that of the Canal of March on Mount Caprione in the town of Lerici (near the ruins of the city of Luni), which was later founded by the Romans. This mountain had a strategic importance because it controlled the valley of Magra and the sea.

In 185 BC, the Ingauni and the Intimilii also rebelled and managed to resist the Roman legions for the next five years, before capitulating in 180 BC. The Apuani, and those of hinterland side still resisted.

However, the Romans wanted to permanently pacify Liguria to facilitate further conquests in Gaul. To that end, they prepared a large army of almost 36,000 soldiers, under the command of proconsuls Publius Cornelius Cethegus and Marcus Baebius Tamphilus, with the aim of putting an end to Ligurian independence.

In 180 BC, the Romans inflicted a serious defeat on the Apuani Ligures, and deported 40,000 of them to the regions of Samnium. This deportation was followed by another one of 7,000 Ligurians in the following year. These were one of the few cases in which the Romans deported defeated populations in such a high number. In 177 BC other groups of Apuani Ligures surrendered to the Roman forces, and were eventually assimilated into Roman culture during the 2nd century BC, while the military campaign continued further north.[54]

The surviving Ligurian tribes, now isolated and in absolute inferiority, continued to fight.

The Frinatiates surrendered in 175 BC, followed by the Statielli (172 BC) and the Velleiates (158 BC). The last Apuani resistance was subdued in 155 BC by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus.

Subjugation of "transalpine" and "Capillati" Ligures

The subjugation of the coastal Ligures and the annexation of the Alpes Maritimae took place in 14 BC, closely following the occupation of the central Alps in 15 BC.[55]

The last Ligurian tribes (e.g. Vocontii and Salluvii) still autonomous, who occupied Provence, were subdued in 124 BC.[56]

Under Roman rule

The Padania

The Cisalpine Gaul was the part of modern Italy inhabited by Celts during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Conquered by the Roman Republic in the 220s BC, it was a Roman province from c. 81 BC until 42 BC, when it was merged into Roman Italy as indicated in Caesar's will (Acta Caesaris).[57][58]

Northern Italy was further subdivided into Regio VIII Aemilia, Regio IX Liguria, Regio X Venetia et Istria and Regio XI Transpadana, i.e. its portions south and north of the Po River, respectively. The Roman province of the 1st century BC was bounded on the north and west by the Alps, in the south as far as Placentia by the river Po, and then by the Apennines and the river Rubicon, and in the east by the Adriatic Sea.[59] In 49 BC all inhabitants of Padania (northern italy) received Roman citizenship.[60]

The Regio IX Liguria

Main article: Roman Italy

Ancient Liguria. The ethnico-cultural boundaries were the rivers of Po, Var and Magra. The Roman Regio IX Liguria.
Ancient Liguria. The ethnico-cultural boundaries were the rivers of Po, Var and Magra. The Roman Regio IX Liguria.
Roman Italy, showing Liguria located between the rivers of the Var and Magra and Po.
Roman Italy, showing Liguria located between the rivers of the Var and Magra and Po.

Around 7 BC, Augustus divided Italy into eleven regiones, as reported by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia. Northern Italy was divided among four of the eleven regions of Italy: Regio VIII Aemilia, Regio IX Liguria, Regio X Venetia et Istria and Regio XI Transpadana (on the other side of the mythical Po river).[61] One of this was The Regio IX Liguria, in 6 A.D. Genoa became the centre of this region and the Ligurian populations moved towards the definitive Romanisation.

The official historical name did not have the Liguria apposition, due to the contemporary academic use of naming the Augustan regions according to the populations they understood. Royal IX included only the Ligurian territory. This territory extended from the Maritime and Cottian Alps and the Var river (to the west) to the Trebbia and the Magra bordering Regio VIII Aemilia and Regio VII Etruria (to the east), and the Po to North.[62]

The description of the IX regio Italiae goes back to Pliny:[63] "patet ora Liguriae inter amnes Varum et Macram XXXI Milia passuum. Haec regio ex descriptione Augusti nona est".

Pertinax, Roman emperor in 193 A.D. from Alba Pompeia, Liguria.
Pertinax, Roman emperor in 193 A.D. from Alba Pompeia, Liguria.

People with Ligurian names were living south of Placentia, in Italy, as late as 102 AD.[64]

In 126 A.D. the Liguria region was the birthplace of Pertinax, Roman soldier and politician who became Roman Emperor.

The Kingdom of Cottius

Arch of Augustus, in Susa, Piedmont, Italy. It was constructed in the years 8 to 9 BC in Segusio (ancient Susa)
Arch of Augustus, in Susa, Piedmont, Italy. It was constructed in the years 8 to 9 BC in Segusio (ancient Susa)

The area of the Alpes Cottiae province, named after Cottiust, the local king of Ligurian tribe of Segusini, who initially resisted Augustus' imperialism but eventually submitted and became the emperor's ally and personal friend. His territory, together with that of the other Alpine tribes, was annexed to the Roman empire in 15 BC - although Cottius, and his son after him, were accorded the unusual privilege of continuing to govern the region, with the title of praefectus i.e. Roman governor.[65] In 8 BC, Cottius showed his gratitude for this reprieve from dynastic oblivion by erecting a triumphal arch to Augustus in his capital, Segusio (Susa, Piedmont, Italy), which still stands. After the death of Cottius' son, the emperor Nero (ruled 54-68) appointed a regular equestrian procurator to govern the province.[66]

Ancient source

Thucydides also speaks of the Ligures having expelled the Sicanians, an Iberian tribe, from the banks of the river Sicanus, in Iberia.[67]

French theories concerning the origin of the Ligurians

The eastern hemisphere in the 3rd Century BC, prior to the Roman Republic's incorporation of Liguria (upper right).
The eastern hemisphere in the 3rd Century BC, prior to the Roman Republic's incorporation of Liguria (upper right).

In the 19th century, the origins of the Ligures drew renewed attention from scholars. Amédée Thierry, a French historian and journalist, linked them to the Iberians.[68] The historian of the Bourgogne and specialist in its Gallic culture, Dominique-François-Louis Roget, Baron de Belloguet, would later claim a "Gallic" origin of the Ligurians.[69] During the Iron Age the spoken language, the main divinities and the workmanship of the artifacts unearthed in the area of Liguria (such as the numerous torcs found) were similar to those of Celtic culture in both style and type.[70]

Karl Müllenhoff, professor of Germanic antiquities at the Universities of Kiel and Berlin, studying the sources of the Ora maritima by Avienius (a Latin poet who lived in the 4th century AD, but who used as a source for his own work a Phoenician Periplum of the 6th century BC),[71] held that the name 'Ligurians' generically referred to various peoples who lived in Western Europe, including the Celts, but thought the "real Ligurians" were a Pre-Indo-European population.[72] Italian geologist and paleontologist Arturo Issel considered Ligurians to be direct descendants of the Cro-Magnon people that lived throughout Gaul from the Mesolithic period.[73]

Those in favor of an Indo-European origin included Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville, a 19th-century French historian, who argued in Les Premiers habitants de l'Europe (1877) that the Ligurians were the earliest Indo-European speakers of Western Europe. Jubainville's "Celto-Ligurian hypothesis", as it later became known, was significantly expanded in the second edition of his initial study. It inspired a body of contemporary philological research, as well as some archaeological work. The Celto-Ligurian hypothesis became associated with the Funnelbeaker culture and "expanded to cover much of Central Europe".[74]

Julius Pokorny adapted the Celto-Ligurian hypothesis into one linking the Ligures to the Illyrians, citing an array of similar evidence from Eastern Europe. Under this theory the "Ligures-Illyrians" became associated with the prehistoric Urnfield peoples.[75]

Today some accounts suggest that the Ligures represented the northern branch of an ethno-linguistic layer older than and very different from the proto-Italic peoples. It was believed that a "Ligurian-Sicanian" culture occupied a wide area of southern Europe,[76] stretching from Liguria to Sicily and Iberia. However, while any such area would be broadly similar to that of the paleo-European "Tyrrhenian culture" hypothesized by later modern scholars, there are no known links between the Tyrrenians and Ligurians.

There are others such as Dominique Garcia, who question whether the Ligures can be considered a distinct ethnic group or culture from the surrounding cultures.[77][78]



Statue-menhir of a warrior revovered in Zignago
Statue-menhir of a warrior revovered in Zignago

The Ligurians never formed a centralized state, they were in fact divided into independent tribes, in turn organized in small villages or castles. Rare were the oppidas, to which corresponded the federal capitals of the individual tribes or important commercial emporiums.

The territory of a tribe was almost entirely public property, only a small percentage of the land (the cultivated) was "private", in the sense that, against payment of a small tax, was given in concession. Only late in life did the concept of private, heritable or marketable property develop.

Reflecting the decentralized character of the ethnic group, the Ligurians did not have a centralized political structure. Each tribe decided for itself, even in contrast with the other tribes; as evidence of this, are the opposing alliances that over time Ligurian tribes made against Greeks, Etruscans and Romans.

Within the tribes, an egalitarian and communal spirit prevailed. If there was also a noble class, this was tempered by "tribal rallies" in which all the classes participated; there does not seem to have been any pre-organized magistracy. There were no dynastic leaders either: the Ligurian "king" was elected as leader of a tribe or a federation of tribes; only in late period did a real dynastic aristocratic class begin to emerge. Originally there was no slavery: prisoners of war were massacred or sacrificed.[79]

Diodorus Siculus, in the first century B.C., writes that women take part in the work of toil alongside men.[80]


De Bello Civili (On the Civil War), more commonly referred to as the Pharsalia, is a Roman epic poem written by the poet Lucan, from book 1, card 5 :

Ligurian tribes, now shorn, in ancient days

First of the long-haired nations, on whose necks Once flowed the auburn locks in pride supreme; And those who pacify with blood accursed Savage Teutates, Hesus' horrid shrines, And Taranis' altars, cruel as were those Loved by Diana, goddess of the north; All these now rest in peace. And you, ye Bards, Whose martial lays send down to distant times The fame of valorous deeds in battle done, Pour forth in safety more abundant song. While you, ye Druids, when the war was done, To mysteries strange and hateful rites returned: To you alone 'tis given the heavenly gods To know or not to know; secluded groves Your dwelling-place, and forests far remote. If what ye sing be true, the shades of men Seek not the dismal homes of Erebus Or death's pale kingdoms; but the breath of life Still rules these bodies in another age- Life on this hand and that, and death between. Happy the peoples 'neath the Northern Star In this their false belief; for them no fear Of that which frights all others: they with hands And hearts undaunted rush upon the foe

And scorn to spare the life that shall return.[3]

Among the most important testimonies, the sacred mountain sites (Mont Bègo, Monte Beigua) and the development of megalithicism (statues-stelae of Lunigiana) are worth mentioning.

The spectacular Mont Bégo in Vallée des merveilles is the most representative site of the numerous sacred sites covered with rock carvings, and in particular with cupels, gullies and ritual basins. The latter would indicate that a fundamental part of the rites of the ancient Ligurians, provided for the use of water (or milk, blood?). The site of Mont Bégo has an extension and spectacularity comparable to the sites of Val Camonica. Another important sacred centre is Mount Beigua, but the reality is that many promontories in North-west Italy and the Alps present these types of sacred centres.

Among the more considerable Ligurian monuments are rock engravings and anthropomorphic sculptures analogous to those of southern France, found in Lunigiana and Corsica. Some of these artistic manifestations are repeated in territories farther east[44]

The other important evidence is the proliferation of megalithic events, the most spectacular and original of which is that of the stele statues in the Lunigiana. These particular oblong stones, stuck in the ground of the woods, ended with stylized human heads, and could be equipped with arms, sexual attributes and significant objects (e.g. daggers). Their real meaning has been lost in memory, today it is assumed that they represented:

The heads, so represented, for the Ligurians were the seat of the soul, the center of emotions and the point of the body where all the senses were concentrated, consequently the essence of the divine and hence its cult.

Statue menhir from Lunigiana

In general, it is believed that the Ligurian religion was rather primitive, addressed to supernatural tutelary gods, representing the great forces of nature, and from which you could get help and protection through their divination.

The proliferation of sacred centers near the peaks, would indicate the cult of majestic celestial numes, represented by the high peaks: in fact Beg- (from which Baginus and Baginatie), Penn- (later transformed by Romanization in Iuppiter Poeninus and in the Apenninus pater) and Alb- (from which Albiorix) are indicated as tutelary numes of the Ligurian peaks.

Numbers such as Belenus and Borvo, linked to the cult of water, and the cult of Matronae (hence the sanctuary of Mons Matrona, now Montgenèvre) are also mentioned.

Among the many engravings, significant is the presence of the figure of the bull, even if only stylized through the symbol of the horns, this would indicate the cult of a deity taurine, male and fertilizer, already known to Anatolian and Semitic cultures.

Another important deity was Cycnus of Liguria, which perhaps represents the divinization of a mythical ancient king or, the totemic animal associated with the cult of the sun.


Diodorus Siculus reports the use of a tunic tightened at the waist by a leather belt and closed by a clasp generally bronze; the legs were naked.[81] Other garments used were cloaks "sagum", and during the winter animal skins to shelter from the cold.[82] Characteristic element was the fibula, used to close the clothes and the cloaks, made of amber (imported from the Baltic) and glass paste, enriched with ornamental elements in bone or stone.

Physical appearance

Lucan in his Pharsalia (c. 61 AD) described Ligurian tribes as being long-haired, and their hair a shade of auburn (a reddish-brown):

...Ligurian tribes, now shorn, in ancient days

First of the long-haired nations, on whose necks

Once flowed the auburn locks in pride supreme.[83]


Montefortino type helmet
Montefortino type helmet

Diodorus Siculus describes the Ligurians as very fearsome enemies: although not particularly impressive from the physical point of view, strength, will and tenacity makes them the most dangerous warriors than the gauls. As proof of this, the Ligurian warriors were very much in demand as mercenaries and several times the Mediterranean powers like Carthage and Syracuse, went to Liguria to recruit armies for their expeditions (for example, the elite troops of Hannibal were made up of a contingent of Ligurians).[citation needed]

Tactics, unit types and equipment

The armament varied according to the class and the comfort of the owner, in general however the great mass of the Ligurian warriors was substantially light infantry, armed in a poor way[82][84] The main weapon was the spear, with cusps that could exceed a cubit (about 45 cm, or one and half foot ), followed by the sword, of Gallic shape (sometimes cheap because made with soft metals), very rarely the warriors were equipped with bows and arrows.

The protection was entrusted to an oblong shield of wood,[85] always of Celtic typology (but to difference of this last one without metallic boss)[86] and a simple helmet, of Montefortino type.

The horned helmets, recovered in the Apuani tribe area, were probably used only for ceremonial purpose and they were worn by warchief, to underline their virility and military skills. The use of armor is not known: the seated warrior from the site of Roquepertuse seems to wears a leather armor, although the statue is attributable to the 5th century A.D. and the armor maybe was used only in this period. Even if it is possible that the richer warriors used armor in organic material like the Gauls[86] or the Greek linothorax .[87]

The infantry was good both close combat as skirmishes but could fight hand-to-hand when necessary.


Pillar of Entremont oppida, representing a horseman with a head carried around the neck of the horse.
Pillar of Entremont oppida, representing a horseman with a head carried around the neck of the horse.

Strabo and Diodorus Siculus say they fought almost on foot, because of the nature of their territory, but their phrasing implies that cavalry were not entirely unknown, and two recently discovered Ligurian graves have included harness fittings. Strabo says that the Salyes tribe located north of Massalia, have a substantial cavalry force, but, they were one of the several Celto-Ligurian tribes, and probably the cavalry reflect the Celtic element [81]

Seated warrior from Roquepertuse
Seated warrior from Roquepertuse


The Ligures seem to have been ready to engage as mercenary troops in the service of others. Ligurian auxiliaries are mentioned in the army of the Carthaginian general Hamilcar I in 480 BC.[88] Greek leaders in Sicily continued to recruit Ligurian mercenary forces from the same quarter as late as the time of Agathocles.[67][89]

The mercenary trade was a particular form of trade and income: as the Greek and Roman sources attest, from very ancient times the Ligurians served as mercenaries in the armies of the western Mediterranean. The enlistment took place by contingents (obviously not for individual soldiers), as it was essential to have well-functioning units. Centuries of war experiences in the wars between Etruscans, Carthaginians, provided the Ligurians with war skills such as to keep the Roman armies in check for several decades.


In ancient times, a side activity to the seafaring was piracy, and the Ligurians were no exception. If they thought it was appropriate, they attacked and plundered ships sailing along the coast. The thing is not surprising: even in ancient times the fastest way to obtain goods is to steal them. After all, the continuous raids of the Ligurian tribes in the territories of the neighbouring peoples are well documented, and constitute an important voice in their economy. The Ingauni, a tribe of sailors located around Albingaunum (nowadays Albenga) were famous to engage trade and piracy, hostiles to Rome,[90] they were subdued by consul Lucius Emilius Paullus Macedonicus in 181 BC.[91]

Under Roman service

After the Roman conquest, in the 171-168 some of them combated with the Romans against Macedonia, by the time of Gaius Marius they became commoner in Roman army.

According to Plutarch the Battle of Pydna, the decisive battle of Third Macedonian War, started in the afternoon, for an artifice devised by Roman consul L.Emillius Paullus. In order to make the enemies move in battle first, he pushed before a horse without reins the Romans threw him against them, and the pursuit of the horse began the attack. According to another theory instead, the Thracians in Macedonian service, attacked some Roman foragers getting a little too close to enemy lines, and in response there was the immediate charge of 700 Ligurian auxiliaries.[92]

Before Pydna the Romans used their Ligurian auxiliares with the velites for chasing off the Macedonian skirmishers (the peltasts)[81]

Sallustius and Plutarch say that during the Jugurthine War (from 112 to 105 BC)[93] and the Cimbrian War (from 104 to 101 BC)[94] the Ligurians served as auxiliary troops in the Roman army. In the course of this last conflict they played an important role in the Battle of Aquae Sextae.

Ligures in its broad sense included all the Ligurian peoples of north western Italy, between the Var and Magra rivers, in the apennines and the southern alps, however because Regio Liguria was annexed to Italia, the inhabitants of this region became Roman citizens, and would have been recruited into the legions.


The Ligurian economy was based on primitive agriculture, sheep farming, hunting and the exploitation of forests. Diodorus Siculus writes about the Ligurians:

"Since their country is mountainous and full of trees, some of them use all day to cut wood, using strong and heavy dark; others, who want to cultivate the land, must deal with breaking stones, because it is so dry soil that you can not pick tools remove a sod, that with it do not rise stones. However, even if they have to fight with so many misfortunes, by means of stubborn work they go beyond nature [...] they often give themselves to hunting, and finding quantities of savage, with it they make up for the lack of bladders; and so it comes, that flowing through their snow-covered mountains, and getting used to practicing then more difficult places of the thickets, they harden their bodies, and strengthen their muscles admirably. Some of them, due to the famine of food, drink water, and live of meat of domestic and wild animals.[95]

Thanks to the contact with the bronze "metal seekers", the Ligurians also dedicated themselves to the extraction of minerals[96] and metallurgy, even if most of the metal in circulation is of central European origin.

The commercial activity is important. Already in ancient times the Ligurians were known in the Mediterranean for the trade of the precious Baltic amber. With the development of the Celtic populations, the Ligurians found themselves controlling a crucial access to the sea, becoming (sometimes in spite of themselves) custodians of an important way of communication.

Although they were not renowned navigators, they came to have a small maritime fleet, and their attitude to navigation is described as follows:

"They sail for reason of shops on the sea of Sardinia and Libya, spontaneously exposing themselves to extreme dangers; they use smaller hulls than vulgar boats for this; nor are they practical of the comfort of other ships; and what is surprising is that they are not afraid to sustain the serious risks of storms.[95]


Main article: List of ancient Ligurian tribes

See also


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  85. ^ Polibius XXIX 14, 4
  86. ^ a b "AD PUGNAM PARATI: Rievocazione Storica, Spettacolo, Sperimentazione" (in Italian). Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  87. ^ The commercial contacts with the Greeks and the militancy of Ligurian mercenaries in the ranks of the Greek and Carthaginian armies of the western Mediterranean, who effectively used this type of protection, may have led to their adoption by the Ligurians.
  88. ^ Herodotus 7.165; Diodorus Siculus 11.1.
  89. ^ Diodorus Siculus 21.3.
  90. ^ They were on Carthaginian side during the Second Punic War also.
  91. ^ "Ingauni" on Enciclopedia Treccani
  92. ^ Plutarch, The Lives of Emilius Paul and Timoleon XVIII
  93. ^ Salustio, Giugurtine War (In French)
  94. ^ Plutarch, Marius, 20
  95. ^ a b (Diodorus Siculus, in Luca Ponte, Le genovesi)
  96. ^ Examples of mining activities are witnessed in the Labiola mine.


Further reading