Terremare: the origins of a territory
In the territory corresponding to the current Emilia, remains dating back to the Upper Paleolithic were found, about 35,000 years ago. The first known settlements of those that will become the provinces of Bologna and Modena are the so-called terremare, whose inhabitants are still little known except that they lived on stilts, dedicated to agriculture and pastoralism. The term terremare derives from “tera marna” (in the dialect of Emilia, “land fat”), to describe the dark and rich land that already characterized then the fertile Emilia. Terramare were abandoned about 12,000 years ago, for reasons still unknown.
The Etruscans, a people surrounded by mystery
After the abandonment of the terremare, Emilia has remained sparsely inhabited for long centuries. Everything changes towards the IX century B.C. with the advent of the Villanovan civilization (the name derives from the site of Villanova di Castenaso, in the province of Bologna) and later of the Etruscans, people whose origin represented a mystery already for the Greek and Roman historians. Linguistically isolated from the neighboring peoples (which we would now call Indo-Europeans), they were clearly strangers such as spoken, culture, and art. Two were (and still are) the main theories on the origin of what the Greeks called Tyrrhenoi (originally “Tursenoi”), and who called themselves Rasna (or more anciently “T’rasena”): according to Dionigi di Alicarnasso, the Etruscan populations were native inhabitants of the region who had resisted the invasion of the peoples who would later be called “italics” such as Osci, Umbri, and Latini; according to Herodotus, on the other hand, they were foreign peoples, coming from the distant shores of Asia Minor. Genetic, linguistic, and cultural evidence now supports the one and the other hypothesis, without clarifying what remains to this day one of the most fascinating mysteries of pre-Roman Italy.
The arrival of the Celts
Around 550 B.C. the Etruscans founded the city of Velzna in Emilia, which the Romans then called Felsina, and which we now call Bologna. Defined by Pliny the Elder “the most important of Etruria”, immediately the city is an organized and powerful urban center. The end of the Etruscan domain coincides with the arrival around 350 BC. from the Gallia of the Boi people, in the framework of the great invasion of the Celts of the Italian peninsula. The implications of the change are still confused, the fact is that in 250 a.C. the city was in fact the capital of Boi in northern Italy. A substantially similar story was Mutina, now known as Modena, whose name probably derives from the Etruscan Mutna, a “raised place”: the first Villanovan center, then an Etruscan city, which later fell under Celtic influence.
In that same period, the forces of a rapidly growing city were emerging on the Po Valley and whose name would have resounded over time: Rome.