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Peoples of Cisalpine Gaul, 391-192 BC.
The Roman Regio IX Liguria.
Iron Age groups within the Italian peninsula. Liguria is located in the upper left corner of the map.
Roman Italy, showing Liguria located between the rivers of the Var and Magra.

The Ligures (singular Ligus or Ligur; English: Ligurians; Greek: ) were an ancient population that gave the name to Liguria, a region of north-western Italy.[1]

In pre-Roman times, the Ligurians occupied present-day italian regions of Liguria, Piedmont south of the Po river and north-western Tuscany. However, it is generally believed that around 2000 BC, the Ligurians occupied a much larger area, including much of northern western Italy up to all of northern Tuscany north of the Arno river, southern France and presumably part of north-eastern Iberian Peninsula.[2][3][4]

Little is known of the Old Ligurian language, the lack of inscriptions does not allow a certain linguistic classification: Pre-Indo-European[5] or an Indo-European language of the Celtic language family.[6] The problem is closely related to the lack of inscriptions, and to the equally mysterious origin of the ancient Ligurian people. The linguistic hypotheses are mainly based on toponyms and names of persons.

Because of the strong Celtic influences on their language and culture, they were known in antiquity as Celto-Ligurians (in Greek Keltolígues).[7] and it is generally believed, after a certain point, that Old Ligurian became an Indo-European language with particularly strong Celtic affinities, as well as similarities to Italic languages. Only some proper names have survived, such as the inflectional suffix -asca or -asco "village".[8]


It is not known how the Ligurians called themselves in their language and if they had a term to define themselves. "Ligurians" is a term that derives from the name by which the Greeks called this ethnic group (Ligues) when they began exploring the western Mediterranean. Later, in late times, they too began to use this term to differentiate themselves from other ethnic groups. The term "Ligurian" seems to be related to Loire. The name of the French river in fact derives from the Latin "Liger", the latter probably from the Gallic *liga, meaning mud or silt. [9]Liga derives from the root proto-Indo-European *leg?-, meaning "lie", as in the Welsh word Lleyg.[10]

One opinion, shared by most, it is that originally the Ligurians did not have a term to define their entire ethnicity, but only had names by which they defined themselves as members of a particular tribe. Only when they had to deal with united and organized peoples (Greeks, Etruscans, Romans) and had to federate to defend themselves would they have felt the need to recognize themselves ethnically through a single term.


According to Plutarch, the Ligurians called themselves Ambrones, which could indicate a relationship with the Ambrones of northern Europe.[11]

Strabo tells that they were of a different race from the Celts (by which he means Gauls), who inhabited the rest of the Alps, though they resembled them in their mode of life.[12]

Aeschylus, in a fragment of Prometheus Unbound, represents Hercules as contending with the Ligures on the stony plains, near the mouths of the Rhone, and Herodotus speaks of Ligures inhabiting the country above Massilia (modern Marseilles, founded by the Greeks).

Thucydides also speaks of the Ligures having expelled the Sicanians, an Iberian tribe, from the banks of the river Sicanus, in Iberia.[13]

The Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax describes the Ligyes (Ligures) as living along the Mediterranean coast from Antion (Antibes) as far as the mouth of the Rhone and then intermingled with the Iberians from the Rhone to Emporion in Spain.[14]

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.[15] Greek leaders in Sicily continued to recruit Ligurian mercenary forces from the same quarter as late as the time of Agathocles.[13][16]

The Ligures fought long and hard against the Romans, but as a result of these hostilities many were displaced from their homeland[17] and eventually assimilated into Roman culture during the 2nd century BC. Roman sources describe the Ligurians as smaller framed than the Gauls, but physically stronger, more ferocious and fiercer as warriors, hence their reputation as mercenary troops.

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.[18]

People with Ligurian names were living south of Placentia, in Italy, as late as 102 AD.[11]

Modern theories on origins

Traditional accounts suggested that the Ligures represented the northern branch of an ethno-linguistic layer older than, and very different from, the proto-Italic peoples. It was widely believed that a "Ligurian-Sicanian" culture occupied a wide area of southern Europe,[19] 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.

In the 19th century, the origins of the Ligures drew renewed attention from scholars. Amédée Thierry, a French historian, linked them to the Iberians,[20] while Karl Müllenhoff, professor of Germanic antiquities at the Universities of Kiel and Berlin, studying the sources of the Ora maritima by Avienus (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),[21] 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.[22]

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.[23]

Dominique-François-Louis Roget, Baron de Belloguet, claimed a "Gallic" origin of the Ligurians.[24] 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.[25]

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 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".[26]

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.[27]

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.[28][29]


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 prevails. If there is also a noble class, this is tempered by "tribal rallies" in which all the classes participate; there does not seem to be 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 age did a real dynastic aristocratic class begin to emerge. Originally there was no slavery: prisoners of war were massacred or sacrificed.[30]

The stories of the foundation of Massalia, give us some interesting information:

  • had a strong sense of hospitality;
  • the women chose each other's husbands, demonstrating an emancipation unknown to the eastern peoples.
  • Diodorus Siculus in the first century B.C. writes that women take part in the work of toil alongside men.[31]


Diodorus Siculus reports the use of a tunic tightened at the waist by a leather belt and closed by a clasp generally bronze. Other garments used were cloaks "sagum", and during the winter animal skins to shelter from the cold[32]. 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.


Reproduction of the Pulica 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 of the Gauls. As proof of this, the Ligurian warriors were very much in demand as mercenaries and several times the Mediterranean powers went to Liguria to recruit armies for their expeditions (for example, the elite troops of Hannibal were made up of a contingent of Ligurians).

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[33][34] The main weapon was the spear, with cusps that could exceed a cubit (about 45 cm), followed by the sword, of Gallic shape (often 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[35], always of Celtic typology (but to difference of this last one without metallic umbo)[36] and a simple helmet, of Montefortino type; the use of armor is not known, even if it is possible that the richer warriors possessed armor in organic material analogously to the Gauls[36] or linothorax on the Greek model.[37]

Roquepertuse: seated warrior

Tactics were mainly based on ambushes and hand-to-hand combat.

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.


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 Liguria and the Alps present these types of sacred centres.

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 (eg daggers). Their real meaning has been lost in memory, today it is assumed that they represented:

  • gods;
  • ancestors and divinized heroes;
  • the birth from the womb to symbolize the origin of their race originated directly from the womb of the earth and nature.

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.

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 Bormo, 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 Cicnus (the swan), which perhaps represents the divinization of a mythical ancient king (the Cicno of the Greeks) or, as for many northern cultures, the totemic animal associated with the cult of the sun.

Thanks to the long contact with the Celtic populations, probably the Ligurians acquired beliefs and myths coming from that world. Surely, starting from the seventh century BC, the funerary outfits are similar to those found in populations of Celtic culture.


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.[38]

Thanks to the contact with the bronze "metal seekers", the Ligurians also dedicated themselves to the extraction of minerals[39] 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.[40]


See also


  1. ^ Maggiani, Adriano (2004). "Popoli e culture dell'Italia preromana. I Liguri". Il Mondo dell'Archeologia (in Italian). Rome: Treccani editore. Retrieved 2019. Alla relativa abbondanza delle fonti letterarie circa queste popolazioni, che una parte della critica storiografica di tradizione ottocentesca voleva estese dal Magra all'Ebro, non corrisponde un panorama archeologico altrettanto ricco, che anzi, anche all'interno della Liguria storica, è ben lungi dal presentare caratteri unitari.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Francisco Villar, Los Indoeuropeos y los origines de Europa: lenguaje e historia, Madrid, Gredos, 1991,
  4. ^ "Ligures en España" Martín Almagro Basch
  5. ^ "Liguri". Enciclopedie on line. (in Italian). Rome: Treccani -Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana. 2011. Le documentazioni sulla lingua dei Liguri non ne permettono una classificazione linguistica certa (preindoeuropeo di tipo mediterraneo? Indoeuropeo di tipo celtico?).
  6. ^ "Ligurian language". 2014-12-16. Retrieved .
  7. ^ Baldi, Philip (2002). The Foundations of Latin. Walter de Gruyter. p. 112.
  8. ^ The suffixes -asca or -asco do not appear to be related to the Celtic -brac, possibly meaning "swamp".
  9. ^ ^Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, Errance, 2003, p. 201.
  10. ^ Montclos, Jean-Marie Pérouse de (1997). Châteaux of the Loire Valley. Könemann. ISBN 978-3-89508-598-7. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
  11. ^ a b Boardman, John (1988). The Cambridge ancient history: Persia, Greece and the Western Mediterranean c. 525-479 BC. p. 716.
  12. ^ Strabo, Geography, book 2, chapter 5, section 28.
  13. ^ a b William Smith, ed. (1854). "Liguria". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.
  14. ^ Shipley, Graham (2008). "The Periplous of Pseudo-Scylax: An Interim Translation".
  15. ^ Herodotus 7.165; Diodorus Siculus 11.1.
  16. ^ Diodorus Siculus 21.3.
  17. ^ Broadhead, William (2002). Internal migration and the transformation of Republican Italy (PDF) (Ph.D.). University College London. p. 15.
  18. ^ Lucan, Pharsalia, I. 496, translated by Edward Ridley (1896).
  19. ^ Sciarretta, Antonio (2010). Toponomastica d'Italia. Nomi di luoghi, storie di popoli antichi. Milano: Mursia. pp. 174-194. ISBN 978-88-425-4017-5.
  20. ^ Amédée Thierry, Histoire des Gaulois depuis les temps les plus reculés.
  21. ^ Postumius Rufius Festus (qui et) Avienius, Ora maritima, 129-133 (nel quale in modo oscuro indica i Liguri come abitanti a nord delle "isole oestrymniche"; 205 (Liguri a nord della città di Ophiussa nella penisola iberica); 284-285 (il fiume Tartesso nascerebbe dalle "paludi ligustine").
  22. ^ Karl Viktor Müllenhoff, Deutsche Alterthurnskunde, I volume.
  23. ^ Arturo Issel Liguria geologica e preistorica, Genoa 1892, II volume, pp. 356-357.
  24. ^ Dominique François Louis Roget de Belloguet, Ethnogénie gauloise, ou Mémoires critiques sur l'origine et la parenté des Cimmériens, des Cimbres, des Ombres, des Belges, des Ligures et des anciens Celtes. Troisiéme partie. Preuves intellectuelles. Le génie gaulois, Paris 1868.
  25. ^ Gilberto Oneto Paesaggio e architettura delle regioni padano-alpine dalle origini alla fine del primo millennio, Priuli e Verlucc, editori 2002, pp. 34-36, 49.
  26. ^ See, in particular McEvedy, Colin (1967). The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History by Colin McEvedy. p. 29.
  27. ^ Henning, Andersen (2003). Language Contacts in Prehistory: Studies in Stratigraphy. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 16-17.
  28. ^ Garcia, Dominique (2012). From the Pillars of Hercules to the Footsteps of the Argonauts (Colloquia Antiqua). Peeters.
  29. ^ Haeussler, Ralph (2013). Becoming Roman?: Diverging Identities and Experiences in Ancient Northwest Italy. Routledge. p. 87.
  30. ^ Livius mentions the fate of the population of Mutina, once it fell into the hands of the Ligures.
  31. ^ Historical Library, V,39,1.
  32. ^ Diodorus Siculis, Biblioteca, V, 39, 1-8
  33. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Library, V, 39, 1-8
  34. ^ Livius XXXIX I, 6
  35. ^ Polibius XXIX 14, 4
  36. ^ a b "AD PUGNAM PARATI: Rievocazione Storica, Spettacolo, Sperimentazione" (in Italian). Retrieved .
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ (Diodorus Siculus, in Luca Ponte, Le genovesi)
  39. ^ Examples of mining activities are witnessed in the Labiola mine.
  40. ^ (Diodorus Siculus, in Luca Ponte, Le genovesi)


  • ARSLAN E. A. 2004b, LVI.14 Garlasco, in I Liguri. Un antico popolo europeo tra Alpi e Mediterraneo, Catalogo della Mostra (Genova, 23.10.2004-23.1.2005), Milano-Ginevra, pp. 429-431.
  • ARSLAN E. A. 2004 c.s., Liguri e Galli in Lomellina, in I Liguri. Un antico popolo europeo tra Alpi e Mediterraneo, Saggi Mostra (Genova, 23.10.2004-23.1.2005).
  • Raffaele De Marinis, Giuseppina Spadea (a cura di), Ancora sui Liguri. Un antico popolo europeo tra Alpi e Mediterraneo, De Ferrari editore, Genova 2007 (scheda sul volume).
  • John Patterson, Sanniti,Liguri e Romani,Comune di Circello;Benevento
  • Giuseppina Spadea (a cura di), I Liguri. Un antico popolo europeo tra Alpi e Mediterraneo" (catalogo mostra, Genova 2004-2005), Skira editore, Genova 2004
The eastern hemisphere in the 3rd Century BC, prior to the Roman Republic's incorporation of Liguria (upper right).

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