Adriatic Veneti

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Ethnolinguistic map of Italy in the Iron Age, before the Roman expansion and conquest of Italy. Veneti are in brown.

The Veneti (sometimes also referred to as Venetici, Ancient Veneti or Paleoveneti to distinguish them from the modern-day inhabitants of the Veneto region, called Veneti in Italian) were an Indo-European people who inhabited northeastern Italy, in an area corresponding to the modern-day region of Veneto, from the middle of the 2nd millennium BC and developing their own original civilization along the 1st millennium BC.[1]

The Veneti were initially attested in the area between Lake Garda and the Euganean Hills; later they expanded until they reached borders similar to those of the current Veneto region. According to the archaeological finds (which also agree with the written sources), the western borders of their territory ran along Lake Garda, the southern ones followed a line that starts from the Tartaro river, follows the Po and reaches Adria, along the extinct branch of the Po of Adria, while the eastern ones reached up to the Tagliamento river.[2]


According to Julius Pokorný, the ethnonym Venetī (singular *Venetos) is derived from Proto Indo-European root *wen- 'to strive, to wish for, to love'. As shown by the comparative material, Germanic languages had two terms of different origin: Old High German Winida 'Wende' points to Pre-Germanic *Wenétos, while Lat.-Germ. Venedi (as attested in Tacitus) and Old English Winedas 'Wends' call for Pre-Germanic *Wenetós. The latter, according to Tacitus, who would have been familiar with Adriatic Veneti, connects the Vistula Veneti with the Slavs. Etymologically related words include Latin venus, -eris 'love, passion, grace'; Sanskrit vanas- 'lust, zest', vani- 'wish, desire'; Old Irish fine (< Proto-Celtic *venjā) 'kinship, kinfolk, alliance, tribe, family'; Old Norse vinr, Old Saxon, Old High German wini, Old Frisian, Old English wine 'friend'.[3]


Venetic helmet

The ancient Veneti spoke Venetic, an extinct Indo-European language which is evidenced in approximately 300 short inscriptions dating from the 6th to 1st centuries BC. Venetic appears to share several similarities with Latin and the other Italic languages, but also has some affinities with other Indo-European languages, especially Germanic and Celtic. Venetic should not be confused with Venetian, a Romance language presently spoken in the Veneto region.


The extent of the territory occupied by the ancient Veneti before their incorporation by the Romans is uncertain. It included cities of the modern Veneto such as Este, Padua, Vicenza, Asolo, Oderzo, Montebelluna, Vittorio Veneto, Cadore, as well as other areas around the Po Delta.[4] Venetic territory was incorporated into Cisalpine Gaul, and under Augustus was organized as the tenth region (Regio X Venetia et Histria) of Roman Italy. Regio X stretched geographically from the Arsia River in the east in what is now Croatia to the Abdua in the current Italian region of Lombardy and from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea.[5]


Classical sources[edit]

Venetic vase

Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) at one point mentions the Veneti of the Adriatic (Histories V.9) and at another refers in passing to the "Eneti in Illyria" (Histories I.196) whose supposed marriage customs, he claims, mirrored those of the Babylonians.[6] This led early scholars to seek to link the Veneti with the Illyrians.[7] Their Illyrian origin is further strengthened by their close relationship with the inhabitants of the coastal regions of the Adriatic.[4] Karl Pauli, a late 19th-century expert on the Venetic language, declared that the language was more closely related to that of the Illyrians than to any other language, even though knowledge of Venetic is limited to personal names, nouns, and verbs used in dedicatory formulae. There are even fewer remains of an Illyrian language which have been connected to the region and may indicate an Illyrian.[8] However, this identification of the Adriatic Veneti as Illyrians has been discredited by many linguists.[9] Hans Krahe and later Anton Mayer showed that Herodotus was not referring to the Adriatic Veneti, but to an Illyrian tribe that lived in the borderlands of northern historical Macedonia.[10] Later linguistic and paleontological studies further solidified their findings.[11]

Roman historian Titus Livius (59 BC–AD 17), himself a native of the Venetic town of Patavium, wrote that after the fall of Troy, the Trojan prince Antenor became the leader of the Paphlagonians after they all had been expelled from their homeland. Together, they migrated to the northern end of the Adriatic coast where they established a settlement, and conquered and merged with indigenous people known as the Euganei.[12] The story connects the Veneti with the Paphlagonian Eneti, mentioned by Homer (750 BC).

Virgil (70-19 BC), in his epic the Aeneid, relates the same tradition.[13] A commentary on Virgil's Aeneid by the grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus (fl. c. AD 400) is said to imply a link between the Veneti and the Vindelici who are related to Liburnians from the Istrian Coast. However, the reference to the Veneti in Virgil seems to place them in the "innermost realm of the Liburnians" which must have been the goal at which Antenor is said to have arrived. This however implies only that the ancient Liburnians may have once encompassed a wide swath of the Eastern Alps, from Vindelicia, through Noricum, to the Dalmatian coast before the coming of the Veneti.

Venetic warrior

Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) mentions that Cornelius Nepos (100–24 BC) implied that the Paphlagonian Eneti (Heneti) were ancestors of the Veneti of Italy.[14] He lists the towns of Ateste, Acelum, Patavium, Opitergium, Belunum, and Vicetia as belonging to the Veneti.[15]

The Greek historian Strabo (64 BC–AD 24), on the other hand, conjectured that the Adriatic Veneti descended from Celts who in turn were related to later Celtic tribe of the same name who lived on the coast of Brittany and fought against Julius Caesar. He further suggested that the identification of the Adriatic Veneti with the Paphlagonian Enetoi led by Antenor—which he attributes to Sophocles (496–406 BC)—was a mistake due to the similarity of the names.[16] Strabo also gives information on the then-current domains of the Veneti.[17]

Pre-Roman period[edit]

The territory of the Veneti came to the notice of the Greeks in the 4th c. BC. Strabo records that Dionysius I of Syracuse (c. 432–367 BC), desiring the famed horses of the Veneti, founded trading colonies along the Adriatic coast.[18] The Sicilian tyrant favored the town of Adria[19] as a trading partner, helping it build canals which linked it to the sea and broke the trading monopoly of Spina.[20]

In 303/302 BC the Lacedaemonian prince Cleonymus of Sparta led a fleet of mercenaries up the Brenta River intending on sacking Patavium. However, the Veneti fought back and the Spartan ships were captured and destroyed.[21]

The Veneti were in recurring conflict with the Celtic peoples who then occupied most of Northwestern Italy, although they maintained peaceful relations with the Cenomani Celts who had settled in and eventually absorbed the areas of Brescia and Verona.

Roman period[edit]

Venetic sword

The Veneti seem to have begun contact with Rome in the third century BC. They established amicitia with Rome against the Gauls c. 238 BC.[22] During the Second Punic War, the Veneti were again allied with the Romans against the Celts, Iberians, and the Carthaginian expedition (218–203 BC) led by Hannibal.[23] Livy records that they sent soldiers to fight along with the Romans at the battle of Cannae.

With the foundation of the Latin colony of Aquileia by Rome in 181 BC and laying of the Via Postumia in 148 BC followed by the Via Annia in 131 BC, Roman influence among the Veneti increased. The Veneti seem to have voluntarily and gradually adopted the Latin language, Roman architecture, Roman city planning, and Roman religion. Votive offerings sometimes appear in the Venetic language written with the Roman alphabet or in Venetic with a Latin translation. Roman consuls were asked to adjudicate border disputes between Este and Padua in 141 and again in 135 BC[24] and also a border dispute between Este and Vicenza.[25] In 175 BC, Padua requested the aid of Rome in putting down a local civil war.[26] The Veneti were given Latin rights after the Social War in the Lex Pompeia de Transpadanis and Roman citizenship in 49 BC in the Lex Roscia. Roman colonies established at Este, Concordia, and Trieste between 49 BC and 14 AD and at Oderzo and Zuglio during the reign of Claudius further contributed to the absorption of the Veneti into Roman culture.[27]


The equivalent of Apollo was Belenus in Veneto and Noricum.[28] He had an oracle in the city of Aquileia and was worshipped as the divine protector of the town. Belenus was also connected with springs, which may suggest chthonic and medicinal powers.[29] Belenus was most likely of Celtic origin, and the dominant god of the Norici.[29][28]



Dates Description
Este I. c. 900–750 BCE Veneti settle the Po Valley where they encounter the Proto-Villanovan culture
Este II. c. 750–575 BCE Ossuary fibulae and bronze artifacts attest to growing dominance in the region with two main centers at Este and Padua, respectively
Este III. c. 575–350 BCE Venetic expansion throughout the Veneto and Friuli to the Adige, into the Piave Valley, and to Belluno
Este IV. c. 350–182 BCE Decline of Venetic culture; Veneti maintain their language and customs but are heavily influenced by Celts and Etruscans
Este V. 182 BCE–onward Alliance with Rome leads to gradual Romanization


Venetic situla

Information about Venetic society can be deduced from artifacts, tombs, and religious votive objects. There were village heads. Wealthy landowners were buried with amber jewelry. The Veneti traded actively on the Amber road.[30]

There were horsemen and fishermen, and members involved in animal husbandry. In the 7th century BC merchants at Este used bronze coins, while by the 3rd century BC silver money was in use, especially at Padua. Farmers cultivated grain and grapes. Artisans produced ceramic and bronze objects, and wove wool cloth. Artifacts show that among the sports enjoyed were boxing and boat races.[31]


Many archaeological excavations are still under way in the Veneto today at sites such as Este, Padua, Oderzo, Adria, Vicenza, Verona and Altinum. Studies have explored the vast influence of the Greeks in the Adriatic and their interaction with the Veneti, particularly focusing on the Euboeans, Phocaeans and Corinthians. Furthermore, studies have also been done on Etruscan activity in the region and their strong links to the Veneti.

Modern surveys on the Veneti and other Ancient Italic peoples, including the Venetic inscriptions from Este, were published by A. L. Prosdocimi,[32] A. M. C. Bianchi[33] and L. Capuis.[34]

Related tribes[edit]

Other tribes originally thought to have been Illyrians and shown to be actually related to the Veneti are: Histri,[35] Carni,[35] Catari,[36] Catali,[37] Liburni,[35] Lopsi,[38] Secusses,[39] Venetulani.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Storia, vita, costumi, religiosità dei Veneti antichi at (in Italian). Accessed on 2009-08-18.
  2. ^ Aspes, Alessandra. Il Veneto nell'antichità: preistoria e protostoria (in Italian). p. 661.
  3. ^ Pokorny 1959: 1146–1147; Steinacher 2002: 33
  4. ^ a b Le Glay, Marcel. (2009). A history of Rome. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-8327-7. OCLC 760889060.
  5. ^ Berto, Luigi (2013). ""Venetia (Venice)": Its Formation and Meaning in the Middle Ages" (PDF). NeMLA Italian Studies. 35: 1–2. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  6. ^ Herodotus. The Histories. Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt. (New York: Penguin Books, 1972), 120; 343.
  7. ^ Mallory, J.P.; Adams, D.Q. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 318. ISBN 9781884964985. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  8. ^ Aleksandar Stipčević - Illyrians, The Illyrian Art, The Illyrian Cult Symbols
  9. ^ Francisco Villar, Gli Indoeuropei e le origini dell'Europa, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1997.
  10. ^ Demiraj, Shaban (2006). The origin of the Albanians: linguistically investigated. Academy of Sciences of Albania. p. 57. ISBN 9799994381714.
  11. ^ R. Battaglia, "Dal paleolitico alla civilita atestina," in Storia di Venezia, I (Venice, 1957), 168-72; F. Sartori, "Galli transalpine transgressi in Venetiam," in Aquileia Nostra XXXI (1960), col. 6; G.B. Pellegrini and A.L. Prosdocimi, La Lingua Venetica, I (Padua, 1967), 7.
  12. ^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, Book 1, Chapter 1: "Antenor sailed into the furthest part of the Adriatic, accompanied by a number of Enetians who had been driven from Paphlagonia by a revolution and after losing their king Pylaemenes before Troy were looking for a settlement and a leader. The combined force of Enetians and Trojans defeated the Euganei, who dwelt between the sea and the Alps and occupied their land. The place where they disembarked was called Troy, and the name was extended to the surrounding district; the whole nation were called Veneti."
  13. ^ Virgil, Aeneid, I, 242-249.
  14. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book VI, Chapter 2 - Paphlagonia: "Beyond [the river Billis ]begins the nation of Paphlagonia, by some writers called Pylæmenia; it is closed in behind by the country of Galatia. In it are Mastya, a town founded by the Milesians, and then Cromna, at which spot Cornelius Nepos also places the Heneti, from whom he would have us believe that the Veneti of Italy, who has a similar name, is descended. The city also of Sesamon, now called Amastris, Mount Cytorus, distant sixty-three miles from Tium, the towns of Cimolis and Stephane, and the river Parthenius. The promontory of Carambis, which extends a great distance into the sea, is distant from the mouth of the Euxine three hundred and twenty-five miles, or, according to some writers, three hundred and fifty, being the same distance from the Cimmerian Bosporus, or, as some persons think, only three hundred and twelve miles. There was formerly also a town of the same name, and another near it called Armene; we now find there the colony of Sinope, distant from Mount Cytorus one hundred and sixty-four miles."
  15. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book III, Chapter 23 - Istria, its People and Locality.
  16. ^ Strabo, Geography, Book IV, Chapter 4: "It is these Veneti [the Gallic tribe of the Belgae], I think, who settled the colony that is on the Adriatic (for about all the Celti that are in Italy migrated from the transalpine land, just as did the Boii and Senones), although, on account of the likeness of name, people call them Paphlagonians. I do not speak positively, however, for with reference to such matters probability suffices."
    Book V, Chapter 1: "Concerning the Heneti there are two different accounts: Some say that the Heneti too are colonists of those Celti of like name who live on the ocean-coast; while others say that certain of the Heneti of Paphlagonia escaped hither with Antenor from the Trojan War, and, as testimony in this, adduce their devotion to the breeding of horses — a devotion which now, indeed, has wholly disappeared, although formerly it was prized among them, from the fact of their ancient rivalry in the matter of producing mares for mule-breeding."
    Book 13, Chapter 1: "At any rate, Sophocles says that [...] Antenor and his children safely escaped to Thrace with the survivors of the Heneti, and from there got across to the Adriatic Henetice, as it is called."
  17. ^ Strabo, Geography, Book V, Chapter 1.
  18. ^ Geography V.1.4
  19. ^ Strabo (Geography V.1.8) and Ptolemy (III.1.53) claim Adria was a Venetic town, while Varro (De lingua latina 161), Livy (V.33) and Pliny (N.H. III.120) suggest it was Etruscan.
  20. ^ According to Pliny (N.H. III.120) Spina was of Venetic foundation, but according to Ps.Scillace (Periplo 17), Strabo (Geography V.1.7), and Polybius (Histories II.17.1) it was Greek.
  21. ^ Livy, X.2
  22. ^ Polybius, 2.23.3; Strabo, Geog. 5.1.9
  23. ^ Polybius, 2.24.7; Silus Italicus, Punica, 8.602-4
  24. ^ CIL, I2, 633 = V, 2491 = ILS, 5944a = ILLRP, 476; CIL, I2, 2501 = ILLRP, 476 = AE 1923, 64; CIL, I2, 634 = V, 2492 = ILS, 5944 = ILLRP, 476[clarification needed]
  25. ^ CIL, I2, 636 = V, 2490 = ILS, 5945 = ILLRP, 477[clarification needed]
  26. ^ Livy, 41.27.3-4
  27. ^ Kathryn Lomas, "The Veneti", In Ancient Italy: Regions without Boundaries, Edited by Guy Bradley Elena Isayev, and Corinna Riva, (Liverpool University Press, 2008).
  28. ^ a b Krahe, Hans (1946). "Die illyrische Naniengebung (Die Götternamen)". Jarhbücher f. d. Altertumswiss. p. 200. S2CID 54995190.
  29. ^ a b Šašel Kos 2019, p. 38–39.
  30. ^ Grant, Michael (1987). The Rise of the Greeks. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-684-18536-1.
  31. ^ Franco Bordin, Storia del Veneto: dale origini alla conquista dei longobardi, (Padua: Zielo Editore, 1999), 17.
  32. ^ Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi, Aldo (2002). Veneti, Eneti, Euganei, Ateste: i nomi, in AA.VV., Este preromana: una città e i suoi santuari. Treviso: Canova, pp. 45-76.
  33. ^ Anna Maria Chieco Bianchi et al. (1988), Italia Omnium Terrarum Alumna: la civiltà dei Veneti, Reti, Liguri, Celti, Piceni, Umbri, Latini, Campani e Iapigi. Scheiwiller, Milan.
  34. ^ "Loredana Capuis biography and publications". Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti. Archived from the original on August 6, 2005. Retrieved August 19, 2009.
  35. ^ a b c Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, ISBN 0-631-19807-5, page 183,"We may begin with the Venetic peoples, Veneti, Carni, Histri and Liburni, whose language set them apart from the rest of the Illyrians"
  36. ^ Wilkes, J. J. The Illyrians, 1992, ISBN 0-631-19807-5, page 81,"In Roman Pannonia the Latobici and Varciani who dwelt east of the Venetic Catari in the upper Sava valley were Celtic but the Colapiani of the Colapis (Kulpa) valley were Illyrians"
  37. ^ Structure and Scale in the Roman Economy by Richard Duncan-Jones,2002, page 164,"... This allowed the city to draw on the Carni and Catali (tribes 'attributed' to Tergeste by Augustus) for new supplies of ..."
  38. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History by Alan K. Bowman, ISBN 0-521-26430-8, page 575
  39. ^ The classical gazetteer: a dictionary of ancient geography, sacred and profane by William Hazlitt,1851, page 311,"SECUSSES, a people of Histria"
  40. ^ Pliny NH III 3,69.


Additional primary sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bader, Françoise. Le nom des Vénètes et leur expansion. In: Autour de Michel Lejeune. Actes des journées d'études organisées à l'Université Lumière Lyon 2 – Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée, 2-3 février 2006. Lyon : Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux, 2009. pp. 31–77. (Collection de la Maison de l'Orient méditerranéen ancien. Série philologique, 43) []
  • Lejeune, Michel. "Vénètes de Pannonie". In: Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 134e année, N. 3, 1990. pp. 629–653. [DOI:]; []
  • Loicq, Jean. Sur les peuples de nom «vénète» ou assimilé dans l'Occident européen. In: Etudes Celtiques, vol. 35, 2003. pp. 133–165. [DOI:] []
  • Šašel Kos, Marjeta. "The Story of the Grateful Wolf and Venetic Horses in Strabo's Geography". In: Studia Mythologica Slavica 11 (October). Ljubljana, Slovenija. 2008. pp. 9–24.

External links[edit]