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The Messapii were an ancient tribe 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 Rugge), 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", and -apia from Proto-Indo-European *ap-, "water" (cf. another toponym, Salapia, "salt water").


Herodotus records a tradition[1] that sometime after the death of King Minos a large body of Cretans, all except the Polichnites and the Praisians, sailed for Sicania and besieged Camicus for a space of five years. Failing to take the city, and suffering from hunger, they departed Sicania and began the voyage homewards. A furious storm hit when they were at sea close to the shore of what later became Iapygia. The storm threw them upon the coast and broke all their vessels to pieces; and so, as they saw no means of returning to Crete, they founded the town of Hyria and "changed their name from Cretans to Messapian Iapygians[2].

The true origin of the Messapii is debated. The most credited theory is that they came from Illyria.

After Hyria (founded probably in the 18th 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 Greater Greece communities. A corps of Messapic archers foughts with Athens in its war against Syracuse.

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

Language and writingEdit

Main article:Messapian language.

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

Main citiesEdit

The main Messapic cities included:

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


  1. Herodotus, The Histories, 7.170.1,"and made this their dwelling place, accordingly changing from Cretans to Messapians of Iapygia,"
  2. Herod. 7.170
  3. Herod. 7. 170

See alsoEdit

External links Edit

bs:Mesapi ca:Messapis de:Messapier el:Μεσσάπιοι es:Mesapios eo:Mesapianoj fr:Messapes it:Messapi la:Messapii lt:Mesapiai hu:Messzápok pl:Messapiowie ru:Мессапы sq:Mesapët sh:Mesapi

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