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Historical Article

Bruttium, The Brettii



The Brettii were an indigenous Italian people who emerged in southern Italy in the mid-fourth century BC. Ancient authors describe them as a group of revolted slaves and miscellaneous fugitives who came together after seeking refuge in the rugged mountains of the area. Nonetheless, it is more likely that most of these people were native Oenotrians or Pelasgians who had escaped from domination by the Greek cities and other native groups to the north. By the mid-third century BC, this disparate congregation of people, now known as the Brettii, had become the predominant power over most of Italy south of the river Laos, including the important mints of Consentia, Medma, Hipponium, Terina, and Thurium (Diod. XVI.15; Strabo VI). Their rising power, however, was eventually checked by the expansion of Roman authority in their region. In the 280s BC, they united with their neighbors, the Lucanians, against Rome, an adventure that proved inconclusive. Soon thereafter, they aided Pyrrhos in his war against Rome, an unsuccessful endeavor that resulted in the Romans carrying on the conflict against the Brettians after defeating the Epiran leader. The Brettians submitted to the Romans, but in the face of Hannibal's successes against Rome, they again allied themselves with Rome's enemy during the Second Punic War (Livy XXII. 61). In this conflict, the Brettians were completely invested in the alliance with Carthage, such that the entire region of Bruttium became a veritable Punic fortress, and it was during this war that the entire series of Brettian coinage was struck. Once again, though, the Brettii had supported the losing side, and this time the Romans were determined to squash any further ability of the Brettians to threaten them. In the aftermath of Hannibal's defeat, the Romans subjugated Bruttium through annual military deployments and the establishment of three colonies, at Tempsa, Kroton, and Vibo Valentia (Livy XXXIV. 45 and XXXV. 40). Unlike other Italian populations that had been conquered by the Romans, the Brettii were also not admitted as Roman allies and could not serve in the Roman military (Appian, Annib. 61). Little is known of the Brettii thereafter, but in the early to mid-first century BC, Bruttium was further laid waste during the revolt of Spartacus and the war between Sextus Pompey and Octavian (Plut. Crass. 10-11; Appian, B.C. IV. 86, V. 19 and 91).

BRUTTIUM, The Brettii. Circa 216-214 BC. AV Hemidrachm (2.10 g, 11h). Attic Standard. Second Punic War issue. Bearded head of Herakles left, wearing lion's skin headdress; club behind, tiny G (engraver's signature) below / Nike, holding kentron and reins, driving biga right; serpent below. Arslan dies 5/8; Scheu G.8; HN Italy 1953; SNG ANS 15 corr.; SNG Lloyd 540; SNG Copenhagen 1613; Jameson 404; De Luynes 653 (all from the same dies).