The Bruttians (alternative spelling, Bretti) (Greek: Βρέττιοι, romanized: Bréttioi, Latin: Bruttii) were an ancient Italic tribe of Lucanian descent. They inhabited the southern extremity of Italy, from the frontiers of Lucania to the Sicilian Straits and the promontory of Leucopetra. This roughly corresponds to the modern region of Calabria.
The Italic tribal wanderings of the early Roman Republic might be compared to those of the Germanic tribes during their great migration period. Earlier tribes affiliated together and folded into new umbrella groups, which gave their names to regions, for example, the Saxons and Saxony. Thus Livy uses the term Bruttii provincia to designate then what is now modern Calabria. The Greeks used Βρεττία for the name of the country, reserving Βρέττιοι for that of the people. Polybius, in more than one passage, calls it ἡ Βρεττιανὴ Χώρα, likely corresponding to the natives' name for their land, "Brettiōn".
The land of the Bruttii was bounded on the north by Lucania, from which it was separated by a line drawn from the river Laus near the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Crathis near the Gulf of Tarentum. On the west it was washed by the Tyrrhenian Sea, and on the south and east by that known in ancient times as the Sicilian Sea, including under that appellation the Gulf of Tarentum.
The country occupied by them was inhabited, in the earliest times described by ancient historians, by the Oenotrians a native Italic tribe whose name refers to winemaking, of which the Conii and Morgetes appear to have been subordinate divisions. It was while the Oenotrians were still masters of the land that the first Greek trading outposts were founded; and the beauty of the climate and country, as well as the rapid prosperity attained by these first settlements, proved so attractive that within a few years many Greek colonies appeared.
Such appears to have been the state of things at the time of the Peloponnesian War; but in the course of the following century a great change took place. The Lucanians (an Oscan people), who had been gradually extending their conquests towards the south, and had already made themselves masters of the northern parts of Oenotria, now pressed forwards into the Bruttian peninsula, and established their dominion over the interior of that country and many of the Greek outposts. This probably took place after their great victory over the Thurians, near Laus, in 390 BC; and little more than 30 years elapsed between this event and the rise of the people, properly called Bruttii. These are represented by some ancient authors as a congregation of rebellious natives. Justin describes them as headed by youths of Lucanian origin, and there appears sufficient evidence of their close connection with the Lucanians to warrant the assumption that these formed an important ingredient in their national composition, together with other predecessor Italic tribes from the area, not just the Oenotrians, but also the Ausones, Mamertines, Italy, and Sicels.
The name of Bruttii (Βρέττιοι) was given to them, it seems, not by the Greeks, but by the Lucanians, and signified in their language rebels (δραπέται, ἀποστάται). But though used at first as a term of reproach, it was subsequently adopted by the Bruttii themselves, who, when they had risen to the rank of a powerful nation, creating a semi-mythical origin story about a hero named Bruttus (Βρέττος), the son of Hercules and Valentia. Justin, on the other hand, represents them as deriving their name from a woman of the name of Bruttia, who figured in their first revolt, and who, in later versions of the legend, assumes the dignity of a queen. In any event, this name is quite similar to the Etruscan epithet for the original Roman population, Latini, akin to Etruscan "Latni," or freed slaves.
The rise of the Bruttii is dated to approximately 356 BC; and this accords with the statement of Strabo that they arose at the period of the expedition of Dion against Dionysius the Younger. The wars of the latter, as well as of his father, with the Greek cities in southern Italy, and the state of confusion and weakness to which these were reduced in consequence, probably contributed in a great degree to pave the way for the rise of the Bruttian power. The name must indeed have been much more ancient, since Diodorus, in another passage, speaks of the Bruttians as having expelled the remainder of the Sybarites, who had settled Sybaris on the Traeis after the destruction of their own city. Stephanus of Byzantium, indeed, cites Antiochus of Syracuse, as using the name of Brettia for this part of Italy.
The progress of the latter, after their first appearance in history, was rapid. They quickly became numerous and powerful enough to defy the arms of the Lucanians, and not only maintained their independence in the mountain districts of the interior, but attacked and made themselves masters of the Greek cities of Hipponium, Terina, and Thurii. Their independence seems to have been readily acknowledged by the Lucanians; and less than 30 years after their first revolt, the two nations united their arms as allies against their Greek neighbors. The latter applied for assistance to Alexander, king of Epirus, who crossed over into Italy with an army, and carried on the war for several successive campaigns, during which he reduced Heraclea, Consentia (modern Cosenza), and Terina; but finally perished in a battle against the combined forces of the Lucanians and Bruttii, near Pandosia, 326 BC.
They next had to contend against the arms of Agathocles, who ravaged their coasts with his fleets, took the city of Hipponium, which he converted into a strong fortress and naval station, and compelled the Bruttians to conclude a disadvantageous peace. But they soon broke this treaty; and recovered possession of Hipponium. This appears to have been the period when the Bruttian nation had reached its highest pitch of power and prosperity; it was not long before they had to contend with a more formidable adversary, and as early as 282 BC they joined and the Lucanians and Samnites against the growing power of Rome. A few years later they are mentioned as sending auxiliaries to the army of Pyrrhus; but after the defeat of that monarch, and his expulsion from Italy, they had to bear the full brunt of the war, and after repeated campaigns and successive triumphs of the Roman generals, Gaius Fabricius Luscinus and Lucius Papirius, they were finally reduced to submission, and compelled to purchase peace by the surrender of one-half of the great forest of Sila, so valuable for its pitch and timber.
Their submission however was still but imperfect; and though they regained tranquil throughout the First Punic War, the invasion of Hannibal in the Second proved difficult for the region, and some Bruttian cities supported the Carthaginian general after the Battle of Cannae. Petelia and Consentia remained loyal to Rome, and suffered horrible sieges because of it. Rhegium (modern Reggio Calabria remained firm, and was able to defy the Carthaginian arms throughout the war. In 215 BC, Hanno, the lieutenant of Hannibal, after his defeat at Grumentum by Tiberius Gracchus, threw himself into Bruttium, where he was soon after joined by a body of fresh troops from Carthage under Bomilcar: and from this time he made that region his stronghold, from whence he repeatedly issued to oppose the Roman generals in Lucania and Samnium, while he constantly fell back upon it as a place of safety when defeated or hard pressed by the enemy. The physical character of the country rendered it necessarily a military position of the greatest strength: and after the defeat and death of Hasdrubal Hannibal himself put forces into some Bruttian territory, where he continued to maintain his ground against the Roman generals. There is very little information concerning the operations of the four years during which Hannibal retained his positions in this province: he appears to have made his headquarters for the most part in the neighbourhood of Crotona, but the name of Castra Hannibalis retained by a small town on the Gulf of Squillace, points to his having occupied this also as a permanent station. Meanwhile, the Romans, though avoiding any decisive engagement, were continually gaining ground on him by the successive reduction of towns and fortresses, so that very few of these remained in the hands of the Carthaginian general when he was finally recalled from Italy.
The ravages of so many successive campaigns inflicted a severe blow upon the prosperity of Bruttium: the measures adopted by the Romans to punish them completed their romanization. They were deprived of a great part of their territory, It was however some time before they were altogether crushed: for several years after the close of the Second Punic War, one of the praetors was annually sent with an army to watch over the Bruttians: and it was evidently with the view of more fully securing their subjection that three colonies of Roman veteran soldiers and their families were established in their territory, two of Roman citizens at Tempsa and Crotona, and a third with Latin rights at Hipponium, to which the name of Vibo Valentia was now given. A fourth was at the same time settled at Thurii on their immediate frontier. Among the settlers at the latter were some ancestors of the first Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.
So complete was the romanization of the region, that the Bruttians as a people are not mentioned separately except for a few exceptions. First, their country again became the theatre of war during the revolt of Spartacus, who after his first defeats by Crassus, took refuge in the southernmost portion of Bruttium (called by Plutarch the Rhegian peninsula), in which the Roman general sought to confine him by drawing lines of intrenchment across the isthmus from sea to sea. The insurgent leader however forced his way through, and again carried the war into the heart of Lucania.
Next, during the Civil Wars the coasts of Bruttium were repeatedly laid waste by the fleets of Sextus Pompeius, and witnessed several conflicts between the latter and those of Octavian, who had established the headquarters both of his army and navy at Vibo. Strabo speaks of the whole province as reduced in his time to a state of complete decay.
It was included by Augustus in the Third Region (Regio III), together with Lucania; and the two provinces appear to have continued united for most administrative purposes until the fall of the Roman Empire, and were governed conjointly by a magistrate termed a Corrector. The Liber Coloniarum however treats of the Provincia Bruttiorum as distinct from that of Lucania.  Still, by the fifth century decline of the Western Empire, the region of Brettiōn was recorded as requesting help from the Roman Emperor from pirate raids on the coast, something that for years was recorded in error as occurring in Britain as the Groans of the Britons, due to similarity of the names.
Roman gentes of Bruttian origin
Romans with ties to Brettiōn
The family of the emperor Augustus had ties to the Roman colony at Thurii, such that Mark Antony accused him of having Brettian blood. Cicero had a villa at Vibo Valentia, and praised Reggio Calabria as being one of the ten most beautiful cities in the world.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1854–1857). "Bruttii". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: John Murray.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Bruttii.|
- Treb. Poll. Tetricks, 24; Notit. Dign. ii. pp. 10, 120.
- Pol. ix. 7, 25, xi. 7; Strabo vi. p. 255.
- i. 56, ix. 27.
- Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 98.
- Diod. xvi. 15; Strab. vi. p. 255; Justin xxiii. 1; Steph. Byz. s. v. Βρέττος.
- Justin. l. c.; Jornand. de Reb. Get. 30; P. Diac. Hist. ii. 17.
- xii. 22.
- Comp. Dionys. i. 12. It is more remarkable that, according to the same authority, the name of Brettian as an adjective (μελαίνη γλώσσα Βρεττία) was used by Aristophanes, at least 30 years before the date assigned for the rise of the nation.
- Diod. xvi. 15; Strab. vi. p. 255.
- Livy viii. 24; Justin. xii. 2, xxiii. 1; Strab. v. p. 256.
- Diod. xxi. 3, 8; Justin. xxiii. 1.
- Liv. Epit. xii.; Fast. Capit.
- Dionys. xx. Fr. Mai and Didot; Fast. Capit.; Zonar. viii. 6.
- Liv. xxii. 61.
- Id. xxiii. 20, 30, xxiv. 1-3.
- Id. xxvii. 51.
- Liv. xxxiv. 45, xxxv. 40.
- Plut. Crass. 10, 11; Flor. iii. 20.
- Appian, B.C. iv. 86, v. 19, 91, 103, etc.
- vi. p. 253.
- Plin. iii. 5. s. 10; Not. Dign. ii. 18. p. 64; Orell. Inscr. 1074, 1187; Lib. Colon. p. 209.