Ancient Apulian peoples and agriculture

Ancient Apulian peoples and agriculture

Agriculture is the mother of the civilization of entire peoples; place of knowledge and exchange of knowledge between nature and humanity. Place of suffering, reflection and projection of the human soul towards the sky, which with its rains and its sunrays or the moon at night, was seen as an image of something transcendent.
Puglia, also due to its position between the West and the East, is a region that has seen the birth and evolution of often peaceful civilizations in agriculture, because the experience between heaven and earth has always led humanity to peace and not to war.
As with other regions and ancient stories, the history of this region and its peoples is based above all on the analysis of the finds and on the intuitions and deductions that these lead. Findings that, also through tools, sometimes rudimentary, tell the “technological” degree reached by a people but also its use and therefore the crops for which it was adopted.
Certainly in this region, there was soon a lot of wheat, precisely because of its position in passing from the places of the fertile half moon. But the oldest peoples who resided here had learned about herbs, their fruits, and most likely their benefits not only from the food point of view but also from the “pharmaceutical” one which at the time was a mixture of use and ritual.
And with wheat also all religious and cultural traditions and the gods had to arrive soon in this part of the Adriatic.
The data tell us that already around the tenth millennium BC, the collection of primitive wheat, spelled and barley, was common practice in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Palestine. The spread of agriculture and the first crops of wheat from the regions of the fertile crescent to Europe was relatively fast: around 6000 BC. agricultural villages had consolidated along the coast of the Aegean Sea, and from Greece it passed to Italy, precisely, among others, through Puglia.
It was only after the discovery of America that corn, potato, tomato, pepper, pumpkin, bean, peanut arrived.
But which peoples were present or had settled in the meantime, also through agricultural migrations in Puglia?
Over the centuries, many peoples have passed through Puglia, some coming from far away: pelasgi, messapi, iapigi, peuceti, dauni; and then Celts, Greeks, Minoans, Romans, Goths, Lombards; and still Albanians, Slavs, Jews, Turks, Saracens, Byzantines, Franks, Spaniards, Germans, Swabians, Normans, Arabs, Bulgarians and Armenians.
Archaeological and historical analyzes and their reconstructions lead to assert that the first to settle on the right side of the Italian boot, between the beginning of the Iron Age and the Roman conquest, were an Indo-European population from Illyria: the Japigi. The Japigi, once arrived in Puglia, which over the centuries was Apulia (in Latin), Iapyghia (precisely because of the presence of this people) and Ἰαπυγία (in ancient Greek), were divided territorially, from north to south, into three large groups ethnic: dauni, peucezi and messapi, thus creating Daunia (today’s Capitanata), Peucezia (central Puglia) and Messapia (ancient Salento).
The Dauni, took their name from Dauno, their leader in the transfer to Puglia. These were mostly peasants and, from the examination of the funerary objects and the remains of their settlements, it is possible to affirm that in the first centuries the power was held by small dominant groups, recognizable in the princely tombs of Lavello or Canosa, while in the VI century this emerging class spread, decreasing the detachment from the rest of the community.
This people developed many contacts with neighboring populations, while maintaining, however, a precise cultural “independence”. Among the most significant finds of this civilization, the famous “Daunian steles”, carved stone blocks dating back to the 6th century BC, found in the southern plain of Siponto, near Manfredonia, certainly stand out. They represent highly stylized male and female human figures and were stuck vertically in the ground, in correspondence with the burials of those they depicted.
The main Dauni centers were Casone (at today’s San Severo), Lucera, Merinum (Vieste), Monte Saraceno (near Mattinata), Siponto, Salapia (in the current countryside of Cerignola), Arpi (near Foggia), Aecae (near Troia), Vibinum (Bovino), Castelluccio dei Sauri, Ausculum (Ascoli Satriano), Ripalta (near Cerignola), Canosa, Melfi, Lavello and Venosa.
Other people were that of the Peuceti, who probably owed their name to Peucezio, brother of Enotrio and son of Licaone, in turn son of the legendary king Pelasgo.
This population was the first to arrive in southern Puglia from where it was pushed further north by local populations who, well organized, repelled that invasion. Thus was born in Peucezia, a large area that included the territory north of Egnazia up to Bari and beyond, and, to the west, up to Altamura and Gravina, on the border with the bellicose Lucanian populations. Bari was not a very important city in this area, especially when compared to the thriving cities of Canosa, Silvium (today’s Gravina in Puglia), Bitonto, Azetium (today’s Rutigliano), Norba and Trani.
The Peuceti were also dedicated to agriculture and distinguished themselves for the particular burial practice of the deceased: the inhumation of the body. The dead man was buried in a pit dug in the earth and covered by “mounds” or “specchie”, that is, by mounds of earth or stones, usually circular or oval in shape, built over the burial, which could be as individual as collective.

In these tombs, sometimes paved with stones, initially rough and then squared, it was possible to find deposits of animal bone remains, interpreted as a sign of sacrifices, and other small everyday objects, as well as numerous polychrome ceramic objects with geometric decoration , of excellent workmanship.
Another population that inhabited the Salento peninsula, however, was that of the Messapi. This peninsula south of Puglia, which the Greeks once called Messapia (ie “Land between two seas”), was instead inhabited by this people.
The Messapi were a population of Aegean-Anatolian origin, which takes its name from Messapo, a Boeotian hero (that is, coming from ancient Boeotia or Thessaly) who led, apparently, an expedition of colonists to our Puglia, and led them to a ” enlightened ”integration with indigenous peoples.
The Messapi also gave themselves a precise juridical-military organization which gathered the twelve most important centers in a sort of large “dodecapoli”. The main cities, in reality, had to be at least 13 and among these certainly: Alytia (Alezio), Ozan (Ugento), Brention / Brentesion (Brindisi), Hodrum / Idruntum (Otranto), KaÏlia (Ceglie Messapica), Manduria, Mesania ( Mesagne), Neriton (Nardò), Orra (Oria), Cavallino (there is no certain information of the ancient name), Thuria Sallentina (Roca Vecchia) and, at the northern limits of the peninsula, the important city of Egnazia.
Even the Messapi practiced largely agricultural practices, most likely similar, also by origin, to those of their Apulian brothers, even if these are attributed to the introduction of the olive tree in Puglia. The Messapi, however, in addition to agriculture, pastoralism, breeding, fishing, crafts, were dedicated to trade.
A characteristic artifact of their production was, for example, the vase called “trozzella” so called for decorations on the handles in the shape of a wheel.
An examination of the tombs they left behind (many often decorated with wall paintings) shows that they used to bury their dead in a crouched or supine position.
Japigi, Messapi, Peucezi and Dauni, for many centuries, almost always allies among themselves, rarely in conflict, claimed their right to exist and they succeeded, keeping it for centuries, at least until Rome, with its powerful war machine , slowly but with determination, having to open spaces for the conquest of the East, he did not subdue them.
Obviously agriculture, breeding and pastoralism did not only revolve around wheat, but these ancient peoples had also developed the cultivation of vines and above all that of the olive tree. A millenary culture that represented not only a food and economic importance but also a symbol of strength and peace.
The Olive Tree in Puglia is, what some call it, a magic that has lasted for over 3,000 years “. Although the use of olives is attested by testimonies that refer to prehistory, the first to introduce the cultivation of olive trees in Puglia, as mentioned, probably were the ancient Messapi.
This people, also through their teachers, began about three millennia ago, throughout Puglia, to graft the wild olive trees, the olive tree, with the more productive domestic olive tree, to obtain the olives from which to obtain the precious oil. history tells us that the first olive growing developed in countries such as Palestine, Syria and Crete, places of origin of the most ancient civilizations, and there are several testimonials that attest to it. Instead, the oldest quotation from the Bible relating to the olive tree, dating back to the canonical draft in 1000 BC, concerns the biblical dove of peace when he returned to Noah’s ark with an olive leaf in his beak announcing the withdrawal of the waters from the earth to olive groves.
It was probably also these populations, together with others from southern Italy, as in Sicily, that transformed olive growing in the peninsula from its wild form to its form as we know it today.
The most ancient technique for planting an olive grove was precisely to graft the wild olive trees spread among the Mediterranean scrub with the European olea sativa variety. In this way, however, disordered olive groves appeared that did not have an orderly sixth like the one that will be introduced later in Roman times. Giulio Columella, in his treatises De re rustica and De arbori bus of the first century AD, speaks of the technique of planting olive trees in regular rows, with plants placed at a distance of 60 feet, equivalent to 18 meters and which we can find in many olive groves millennials that are found in areas close to the ancient Roman-era Via Traiana.
Today, after these centuries of history, the part of Puglia between the territory of Ostuni, Monopoli, Fasano and Carovigno represents the area with the greatest concentration of secular olive trees of which many are certainly millennial. It is precisely from this area that passes one of the oldest streets, the Via Traiana built by the emperor Trajan about 2000 years ago to facilitate the communication of Rome with the port of Brindisi and with the East. The Via Traiana allowed the development of the oil trade thanks to better communication with the nearby ports, places where oil ships, loaded with vessels containing the precious yellow gold, left for northern Italy and northern Europe. This is the reason why you have a large number of ancient farms on the sides of Traiana, each with their underground oil mill and their olive trees from the Roman or even Messapian age.
In summary, it can be observed that the most consistent and widespread source of wealth for the Japigie people and for the other brothers was to cultivate the land, integrated with the breeding of cattle: sheep and pigs in the mountainous and hilly areas of the Dauno sub-Apennines and Murge, horses in the plains of Daunia and Messapia. Craftsmanship, flourishing throughout the region, must have met above all the internal needs, creating conditions of considerable autonomy, but also producing, as in the case of the Dauni, valuable products suitable for export. Finally, passing on the level of sociological analysis, it can be considered, with all due caution, that in the early Iron Age there was still no articulation in classes. It is more likely that socially undifferentiated groups were led by “leaders”, to which the economic surplus of the community flowed, used in a restricted family environment for the purchase of prestigious goods.
Thousand-year history that led to the creation of a landscape where olive trees, wheat, medicinal herbs, vines, farms, etc., have created a balance that has endured for millennia and which has surpassed, as certain artifacts, famines, diseases also tell us, infestations, wars and so on and which, in modern civilization, today cannot face an enemy, that of the xylella, which risks canceling out 3000 years of history, without the advanced science and some questionable political decisions being able to prove it.

Guido Bissanti

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *