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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why is Italy called Italy?

Where did Italy get its name? The Local delves into the etymology...

Map of Italy and the Adriatic, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian seas in 1911.
Map of Italy and the Adriatic, Ionian, and Tyrrhenian seas in 1911. Source: WikiCommons.

Readers who know their history will be aware that modern day Italy only came into being in the 19th century with the country’s gradual unification (known in Italy as the Risorgimento) between 1848 and 1871, thanks to a series of successful military campaigns led by General Giuseppe Garibaldi.

But the name Italia – referring to different parts of the peninsula at different points in history – has been in use for several thousand years.

In his text ‘On Italy’ the Greek historian Antiochus of Syracuse, writing in around 420 BC, reportedly identified Italia as the southern part of modern day Calabria – the toe of Italy’s boot.

Italy according to the ancient Greeks, corresponding to modern Calabria, scanned from a 19th century book.

Italy according to the ancient Greeks, corresponding to modern Calabria, scanned from a 19th century book. Source: WikiCommons.

Most of Antiochus’ works are lost to us today, but the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing several hundred years later in the early first century AD, quotes parts of them in his text ‘Roman Antiquities‘.

Here Antiochus recounts the legend that sixteen generations before the Trojan war, the region we now know as Calabria was inhabited by the Enotri or the Oenotrians. The Enotri had a king named Italus, and subsequently changed their name to the Itali.

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The town of Catanzaro in Calabria today has a road sign proudly announcing itself as the birthplace of the name Italia.

Over the following centuries, the area known as Italia gradually expanded to include all of the south and central-northern part of the peninsula; the northern cisalpine region under Julius Caesar in the 40’s BC; the northeastern region of Istria (home to modern day Trieste) under Caesar Augustus in 7 AD; and finally Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica under the Emperor Diocletian in 292 AD.

Expansion of the territory called "Italy".

Expansion of the territory called “Italy”. Source: Wikicommons.

Multiple alternative theories persist, however, as to the origins of the name Italia.

The most popular is that it’s the Latin formulation of the Oscan word Víteliú, meaning ‘land of the young cattle’. The word was translated as Italói in ancient Greek and Italia in Latin.

READ ALSO: Four civilizations in Italy that pre-date the Roman Empire

Oscan was spoken by a number of tribes, including the Samnites, the Aurunci, and the Sidicini. It had become a dead language by about 100 AD, but in the first century BC these tribes, in competition with the Romans, were minting coins with Víteliú stamped on them.

Another idea is that Italia comes from the Greek Aethalia or Aithalìa, meaning “land of thick smoke”, in reference to its numerous volcanoes. 

Finally, Dionysius of Halicarnassus himself, in the same text in which he mentions Antiochus’ account of Italus, offers an alternative origin story.

READ ALSO: 8 things you probably didn’t know about the Romans

Dionysius cites another 5th century BC historian, Hellanicus of Lesbos, who brings Hercules into the mix. According to Hellanicus, for Hercules’s tenth labour he was ordered to raid the cattle of the monster Geryon and bring them to King Eurystheus.

As Hercules was driving the herd back to Greece on his return from his successful mission, one of the calves swam away and escaped to Sicily. Hercules wandered all over the land asking its inhabitants – who spoke little Greek – if they had seen the animal, and in responding, they used their word for calf, vitilus.  

Hercules gave the name Vitulia – land of the calf – to the land he had wandered in search of the creature.

Hercules and the Cretan Bull, early 17th century bronze sculpture.

Hercules and the Cretan Bull, early 17th century bronze sculpture. Source: WikiCommons.

Dionysius notes that he considers that Antiochus’ explanation ‘perhaps is more probable’ than Hellanicus’, but concludes the important thing is that either way, Italy got its name ‘in Hercules’ time, or a little earlier’, and it stuck.

And that concludes our range of possible explanations as to how the country got its name.

Why is Italy called Italy? Like Dionysius two thousand years ago, it looks like it’s up to you to pick your favourite theory.

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CRIME

REVEALED: The cities in Italy with the highest crime rates

From robbery and vehicle theft to cyber fraud and blackmail, where are you most likely to be a victim of crime in Italy? Here are the country’s latest crime figures.

REVEALED: The cities in Italy with the highest crime rates

While Italy is among the safest countries in the world – it ranked 32nd out of 163 in the latest Global Peace Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace – crime is a concern in many parts of the boot, especially in big cities. 

Milan is by far the Italian city with the highest crime rate, according to data from Italy’s Department of Public Security collated in a report by financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Altogether, as many as 193,700 crimes were reported in the city in 2021 – that’s nearly 6,000 reported crimes for every 100,000 residents. 

But while Milan takes the unenviable title of Italy’s ‘crime capital’, things aren’t much better in other major cities as Turin (3rd overall), Bologna (4th), Rome (5th), Florence (7th) and Naples (10th) all figure in the top 10. 

Italy's crime map in 2021

Milan is Italy’s ‘crime capital’, followed by Rimini and Turin. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

The top of the table is completed by smaller and, perhaps, slightly unassuming Italian cities, namely Rimini (2nd), Imperia (6th), Prato (8th) and Livorno (9th).

READ ALSO: What happens when a foreign national gets arrested in Italy?

That said, while the overall crime rate ranking shows us Italy’s crime hotspots, it doesn’t provide any insight into the types of offences committed, which is why it is worth looking into single-offence rankings. 

For instance, Milan, Rimini and Rome are the top Italian cities when it comes to theft-related offences, with all three locations registering well over 2,000 reported thefts per 100,000 residents in 2021. 

Crime card for Rome, Italy

Italy’s capital city, Rome, has the fifth-highest crime rate in the country. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

But while these cities remain the country’s overall theft capitals, other Italian cities seem to have their own ‘theft specialisation’. 

For example, Ravenna ranks first for home burglaries, while Naples and Barletta are first for motorcycle and car thefts respectively. 

As for other types of offences, the northern city of Trieste is first for sexual violence (as many as 25 reported crimes per 100,000 residents) and attempted murder, whereas Gorizia is the worst Italian city when it comes to cyber fraud and online scams. 

Finally, Biella ranks first for blackmail and extortion, while La Spezia is Italy’s ‘drug-dealing capital’.

Trieste's crime card, Italy

Trieste is the worst Italian city in terms of sexual violence offences. Image: Il Sole 24 Ore

Il Sole 24 Ore’s report however shows that Italy registered far fewer crimes in 2021 than it did in 2019, especially in big cities.

Notably, in Florence and Venice the number of reported crimes was down by 24.6 and 17.8 percent respectively.

READ ALSO: Rome shooting: What was behind attack that killed friend of Italy’s PM?

It should be pointed out, however, how the presence of Covid-related social restrictions throughout the first half of 2021 likely contributed in some measure to the overall drop in reported crime. 

It’s also worth noting that, in spite of such measures, some smaller Italian provinces still experienced significantly negative trends, with Piacenza, Isernia and Rieti all registering higher crime rates compared to 2019.

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