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OENO´TRIA (Οἰνωτρία), was the name given by the Greeks in very early times to the southernmost portion of Italy. That country was inhabited at the period when the Greeks first became acquainted with it, and began to colonise its shores, by a people whom they called OENOTRI or OENOTRII (Οἰνωτροί or Οἰνώτριοι). Whether the appellation was a national one, or was even known to the people themselves, we have no means of judging; but the Greek writers mention several other tribes in the same part of Italy, by the names of Chones, Morgetes, and Itali, all of whom they regarded as of the same race with the Oenotrians; the two former being expressly called Oenotrian tribes [CHONES; MORGETES], while the name of Itali was, according to the account generally received, applied to the Oenotrians in general. Antiochus of Syracuse distinctly spoke of the Oenotri and Itali as the same people (ap. Strab. vi. p.254), and defined the boundaries of Oenotria (under which name he included the countrs subsequently known as Lucania and Bruttium exclusive of Iapygia) as identical with those of Italia (ap. Strab. l.c.). A well-known tradition, adopted by Virgil, represented the Oenotrians as taking the name of Italians, from a chief or king of the name of Italus (Dionys. A. R. 1.12, 35; Verg. A. 1.533; Aristot. Pol. 7.10); but it seems probable that this is only one of the mythical tales so common among the Greeks: and whether the name of Itali was only the native appellation of the people whom the Greeks called Oenotrians, or was originally that of a particular tribe, like the Chones and Morgetes, which was gradually extended to the whole nation, it seems certain that, in the days of Antiochus, the names Oenotri and Itali, Oenotria and Italia, were regarded as identical in signification. The former names, however, had not yet fallen into disuse; at least Herodotus employs the name of Oenotria, as one familiar to his readers, to designate the country in which the Phocaean colony of Velia was founded. (Hdt. 1.167.) But the gradual extension of the name of Italia, as well as the conquest of the Oenotrian territory by the Sabellian races of the Lucanians and Bruttians, naturally led to the disuse of their name; and though this is still employed by Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 7.10), it is only in reference to the ancient customs and [p. 2.469]habits of the people, and does not prove that the name was still in current use in his time. Scymnus Chius uses the name Oenotria in a different sense, as distinguished from Italia, and confines it to a part only of Lucania; but this seems to be certainly opposed to the common usage, and probably arises from some misconception. (Scymn. Ch. 244, 300.)

There seems no doubt that the Oenotrians were a Pelasgic race, akin to the population of Epirus and the adjoining tract on the E. of the Adriatic. This was evidently the opinion of those Greek writers who represented Oenotrus as one of the sons of Lycaon, the son of Pelasgus, who emigrated from Arcadia at a very early period. (Pherecydes, ap. Dionys. 1.13; Paus. 8.3.5.) The statement of Pausanias, that this was the most ancient migration of which he had any knowledge, shows that the Oenotrians were considered by the Greeks as the earliest inhabitants of the Italian peninsula. But a more conclusive testimony is the incidental notice in Stephanus of Byzantium, that the Greeks in Southern Italy called the native population, whom they had reduced to a state of serfdom like the Penestae in Thessaly and the Helots in Laconia, by the name of Pelasgi. (Steph. Byz. s. v. Χῖοι.) These serfs could be no other than the Oenotrians. Other arguments for their Pelasgic origin may be deduced from the recurrence of the same names in Southern Italy and in Epirus, as the Chones and Chaones, Pandosia, and Acheron, &c. Aristotle also notices the custom of συσσίτιαι, or feasting at public tables, as subsisting from a very early period among the Oenotrians as well as in Crete. (Arist. Pot. 7.10.)

The relation of the Oenotrians to the other tribes of Italy, and their subjection by the Lucanians, a Sabellian race from the north, have been already given in the article ITALIA


hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Aristotle, Politics, 7.1329b
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.167
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.3.5
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.533
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