The Messapians or Messapii were an Indo-European people that inhabited, in historical times, the south-eastern peninsula or "heel" of Italy (Salento, modern Apulia), known variously in ancient times as Calabria, Messapia and Iapygia. Their chief towns were Uzentum (modern Ugento), Rudiae (modern Lecce), Brundisium (modern Brindisi) and Hyria. They spoke the Messapian language. They are often referred to as "the most southerly of the Iapygian tribes".
Julius Pokorny derives their ethnonym Messapii from Messapia, interpreted as "(the place) Amid waters", Mess- from Proto-Indo-European *medhyo-, "middle", and -apia from Proto-Indo-European *ap-, "water" (cf. another toponym, Salapia, "salt water").
The true origin of the Messapii is debated. The most credited theory is that they came from Illyria.
After Hyria (founded probably in the 8th century BC) they founded other towns, which, at a much later time, the Tarentines attempted to take. The Iapygians repulsed the Tarentine Greeks however and inflicted a serious defeat on them in 473 BC, thanks to their superior cavalry. The Messapic cities were independent from each other, and had trade relationships with communities of Magna Graecia. A corps of Messapic archers fought with the Athenians in a war against Syracuse.
Language and writing
The Messapii spoke the Messapian language, a centum language belonging to its own branch of Indo-European, though possibly on the same branch as the Illyrian languages spoken across the Adriatic in its time. Messapian (or Iapygian) was also spoken by other Iapygian tribes. The Messapii were familiar with literacy, and adapted the Ionic/Tarentine Greek alphabet to write their own language, recorded in some fifty inscriptions, only partially and indefinitely deciphered thus far.
The language became extinct as its speakers adopted Latin, though some may have adopted Greek.
The main Messapic cities included:
- Alytia (Alezio)
- Aoxentum (Ugento)
- Hodrum/Idruntum (Otranto)
- Hyria/Orria (Oria)
- Kaìlia (Ceglie Messapica)
- Mesania (Mesagne)
- Neriton (Nardò)
- Rudiae (outside Lecce)
- Mios/Myron (Muro Leccese)
- Thuria sallentina (Roca Vecchia)
- List of ancient tribes in Illyria
- Messapian language
- Illyrian languages
- Ancient Italic peoples
- Herod. 7. 170
- Civiltà messapica (Italian)
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