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Atena Lucana, mysterious gateway to the south
Italy is so abundantly endowed with remains of classical antiquity that we tend to overlook the even older bits of ancient Italy. There are many that we really don't know much about. If you go back to about 700 BC, you find an Italian peninsula not yet characterized by strong Italic tribes, although you certainly find early versions of Latini, Campanians, Oscans, Sabines, Volscians, and so forth, among whom the Latini did famously well for themselves. And, importantly, you find a large and strong Etruscan presence spread from north to south even as far as the southern portion of present-day Campania, at which point it runs into remnants of early prehistoric peoples, and smatterings of Greeks immigrant settlers and traders. (That relatively small Greek presence started around 800 BC but by 600 had expanded greatly and established many of the well-known settlements of Magna Grecia in Italy.).
It is during this period—the first half of the 7th century BC (from 700 to 650) that someone built a settlement with impressively large walls (termed "Cyclopean"*) on the hill upon which perches the town of Atena Lucana, a town with a claim to being the oldest settlement in the area. The most interesting thing about that claim is that archaeologists see the site as having been some sort of communication hub between quite different cultures. Atena Lucana is technically not part of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, although it is close enough to be included as one the towns "associated" with that park.
I have not yet had the chance to wander through the small archaeological museum in Atena Lucana; I will do so at the first opportunity and report back; sight unseen, I know that it will be well done and that they will need a lot more money. Atena Lucana is 115 km/70 miles SE of Naples and 50 km/30 miles inland (due east) from Paestum. It is on the other side of the Alburni massif (map, just above Sala Consilina), strategically placed at about 650 meters on a hill overlooking the Tanagro river and guarding the ancient approaches to the Diano Plain (Vallo di Diano), the long, narrow passage to southern Italy. Just east of the town and the river, the Maddalena mountains start their climb and form the boundary between the modern regions of Campania and Basilicata. There are not a lot of ancient written sources on the origins of Atena Lucana. Roman sources mention Atina or Campus Atinas, and Pliny the Elder calls the inhabitants 'Atinates' and lists them as one of the Lucanian peoples. Whether or not the original name corresponded to "Athens," purportedly so named by Greeks settlers, is debatable, and most sources claim that the name, in fact, does not mean "Lucanian Athens," as pleasant and poetic as that might sound.
It is not at all clear who built the walls and I don't find any unanimity of opinion on the subject. Some sources say it is an early Greek settlement, which would be strange since the Greeks built along the coasts of Italy and Atena Lucana is well inland. It might have been the earlier Lucanians, settlers from farther north and a descendent culture of the Samnites. The Lucanians had settlements both along the southern coasts (the Tyrrhenian as well as the Ionian) and inland. Indeed, Atena Lucana was one of the principal cities in the so-called Lucanian Federation. They were displaced from the coast by the Greeks, but later returned and spent a few centuries contesting the whole area with the Greeks until the Romans took it all over (roughly between 300 and 200 BC).
The peoples of pre-Roman Italy were many, and only the few and famous such as the Greeks and Etruscans have left substantial pieces lying around on the ground (or below it) to help us figure out who lived when and where. Some others, such as the Samnites, Lucanians and, as noted, the Sardinians and great wall builders of central Italy have also left large fragments. All we can say with a degree of certainty is that there were, indeed, prehistoric peoples on the peninsula who were largely overwhelmed by Indo-European tribes beginning in the second millennium BC who, following Pareti (bibliography) are termed "first Italics" and "second Italics," depending on when they arrived and from which direction—north to south or from east to west across the Adriatic or Ionian seas. These include all the well- and lesser known cultures in Italy bonded linguistically by languages related to a presumed parent tongue of Latin. Pareti excludes the non-Indo-European Etruscans from this grouping. Whether any of these people built the original settlement at Atena Lucana is still a mystery—at least to me.
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