Italy in the early days was inhabited by different ethnic groups. There were at least 35 different groups. One geographic element which affected them was the features of the terrain. The people who lived on the mountains tended to have more of a pastoral life. The lives of the peoples who lived on the plains tended to be based more heavily on cultivation. Variations in climate also played a part. The winter in the south and centre of the peninsula is shorter and mild. The winter in the north is longer and cold.

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A geographic aspect which had a great impact was the peninsula’s proximity to Greece. The Greeks established colonies (settlements) in southern Italy and Sicily in the 8th and 7th century BC. Being a more advanced civilisation, their arrival had a big impact on all the Italic peoples they came in contact with during their archaic (early) period. For example, Etruscan civilisation arose out of trade with and deep influence by these Greeks in what has been called the orientalising period, where the Etruscans adopted Greek motifs for their pottery and Greek architectural styles. The Italic peoples also adopted and adapted the western Greek alphabet to create their own written languages. This included written Etruscan and written Latin. Recent archaeological evidence has shown that the Latins were influenced by the Greeks of Cumae (a Greek city near Naples, just 125 miles south of Rome) as well as the Etruscans in their archaic period.

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