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Eth. AU´SONES (Αὔσονες) is the name given by Greek writers to one of the ancient nations or races that inhabited Central Italy. The usage of ancient writers in regard to all these national appellations is very vague and fluctuating, and perhaps in no instance more so than in the case of the Ausones or Ausonians. But notwithstanding this uncertainty, some points appear to be pretty clearly made out concerning them.


The Ausonians were either identical with the Opicans or Oscans, or were at least a part of the same race and family. Aristotle expressly tells us (Pol. 7.10), that the part of Italy towards Tyrrhenia was inhabited by the Opicans, “who were called, both formerly and in his time, by the additional name of Ausones.” Antiochus of Syracuse also said, that Campania was at first occupied by the Opicans, “who were also called Ausonians.” (Ant. ap. Strab. v. p.242.) Polybius, on the contrary, appears to have regarded the two nations as different, and spoke of Campania as inhabited by the Ausonians and Opicans; but this does not necessarily prove that they were really distinct, for we find in the same manner the Opicans and Oscans mentioned by some writers as if they were two different nations (Strab. l.c.), though there can be no doubt that these are merely forms of the same name. Hecataeus also appears to have held the same view with Antiochus, as he called Nola in Campania “a city of the Ausones” (ap. Steph. B. sub voce Νῶλα).


The Ausones of the Greeks were the same people who were termed Aurunci by the Romans: the proofs of the original identity of the two have been already given under AURUNCI But at a later period the two appellations were distinguished and applied to two separate tribes or nations.


The name of Ausones, in this restricted and later sense of the term, is confined to a petty nation on the borders of Latium and Campania. In one passage Livy speaks of Cales as their chief city; but a little later he tells us that they had three cities, Ausona, Minturnae, and Vescia, all of which appear to have been situated in the plains bordering on the Liris, not far from its mouth. (Liv. 8.16, 9.25.) At this period they were certainly an inconsiderable tribe, and were able to offer but little resistance to the Roman arms. Their city of Cales was captured, and soon after occupied by a Roman colony, B.C. 333; and though a few years afterwards the success of the Samnites at Lautulae induced them to take up arms again, their three remaining towns were easily reduced by the Roman consuls, and their inhabitants put to the sword. On this occasion Livy tells us (9.25) that “the Ausonian nation was destroyed;” it is certain that its name does not again appear in history, and is only noticed by Pliny (3.5. s. 9) among the extinct races which had formerly inhabited Latium.

But however inconsiderable the Ausonians appear at this time, it is clear that at a much earlier period they were a powerful and widely extended nation. For although it is probable that the Greeks frequently applied the name with little regard to accuracy, and may have included races widely different under the common appellation of Ausonians, it is impossible to account for this vague and general use of the name, unless the people to whom it really belonged had formed an important part of the population of Central Italy. The precise relation in which they were considered as standing to the Opicans or Oscans it is impossible to determine, nor perhaps were the ideas of the Greeks themselves upon this point very clear and definite. The passages already cited prove that they were considered as occupying Campania and the western coast of Italy, on which account the Lower Sea (Mare Inferum, as it was termed by the Romans), subsequently known as the Tyrrhenian, was in early ages commonly called by the Greeks the Ausonian Sea.1 (Strab. 5.233; Dionys. A. R. 1.11; Lycophr. Alex. 44; Apollon. 4.590.) Other accounts, however, represent them as originally an inland people, dwelling in the mountains about Beneventum. (Festus, s. v. Ausonia.) Scymnus Chius also speaks of them as occupying an inland region (Perieg. 228); and Strabo (p. 233) tells us that they had occupied the mountain tract above the Pontine marshes, where in Roman history we meet only with Volscians. On the whole, it is probable that the name was applied with little discrimination to all the native races who, prior to the invasion of the Samnites, occupied Campania and the inland mountainous region afterwards known as Samnium, and from thence came to be gradually applied to all the inhabitants of Central Italy. But they seem to have been regarded by the best authorities as distinct from the Oenotrians, or Pelasgic races, which inhabited the southern parts of the peninsula (see Aristot. l.c.); though other authors certainly confounded them. Hellanicus according to Dionysius (1.22) spoke of the Ausonians as crossing over into Sicily under their king Siculus, where the people meant are clearly the Siculi. Again, Strabo speaks (vi. p. 255) of Temesa as founded by the Ausones, where he must probably mean the Oenotrians, the only people whom we know of as inhabiting these regions before the arrival of the Greeks. The use of the name of AUSONIA for the whole Italian peninsula was merely poetical, at least it is not found in any extant prose writer; and Dionysius, who assures us it was used by the Greeks in very early times, associates it with [p. 1.346]Hesperia and Saturnia, both of them obviously poetical appellations (1.35). Lycophron, though he does not use the name of Ausonia, repeatedly applies the adjective Ausonian both to the country and people, apparently as equivalent to Italían; for he includes under the appellation, Arpi in Apulia, Agylla in Etruria, the neighbourhood of Cumae in Campania, and the banks of the Crathis in Lucania. (Alex. 593, 615, 702, 922, 1355.) Apollonius Rhodius, a little later, seems to use the name of Ausonia (Αὐσονίη) precisely in the sense in which it is employed by Dionysius Periegetes and other Greek poets of later times--for the whole Italian peninsula. It was probably only adopted by the Alexandrian writers as a poetical equivalent for Italia, a name which is not found in any poets of that period. (Apollon. 4.553, 660, &c.; Dion. Per. 366, 383, &c.) From them the name of Ausonia was adopted by the Roman poets in the same sense (Verg. A. 7.55, 10.54, &c.), and at a later period became not uncommon even in prose writers.

The etymology of the name of Ausones is uncertain; but it seems not improbable that it is originally connected with the same root as Oscus or Opicus. (Buttmann. Lexil. vol. i. p. 68; Donaldson, Varronianus, pp. 3, 4.) [E.H.B]

1 Pliny,on the contrary (3.5 s. 10, 10. s. 15), and, if we may trust his authority, Polybius also, applied the name of “Ausonium Mare,” to the sea on the SE. of Italy, from Sicily to the Iapygian Promontory, but this is certainly at variance with the customary usage of the term.

hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 4.553
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 4.590
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 4.660
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.55
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.54
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 16
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 25
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