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"Messapians" redirects here. For other uses, see Messapian (disambiguation).
Italy in 400 BC.
Messapic ceramic, Archaeological Museum of Oria, Apulia.

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" (cf. Ancient Greek μέσος méssos "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 as one of the Illyrian tribes who settled in modern Apulia.[1][2]

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,[3] 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.

The Messapians were later conquered by the Romans and absorbed into the Latin-speaking and Greek-speaking populace.

Language and writing[edit]

Main article: Messapian language

The Messapii spoke the Messapian language, a centum language belonging to its own branch of Indo-European but 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; some may have adopted Greek.

Main cities[edit]

The main Messapic cities included:

Other Messapic settlements have been discovered near Francavilla Fontana, San Vito dei Normanni and in Vaste (Poggiardo).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kathryn Lomas, "Cities, states and ethnic identity in southeast Italy" E. Herring and K. Lomas (eds), The Emergences of State Identities in Italy in the First Millennium BC (London, 2000).
  2. ^ Talbert, Richard J. A. Atlas of Classical History. Routledge, 1985, ISBN 0-415-03463-9, p. 85. "...from Illyrians, known as Iapyges, who settled first in the heel of Italy and then spread north..."
  3. ^ Herod. 7. 170

External links[edit]