The Apennine Peninsula was home to a great variety of different cultures already in the early first millennium BC. Cultural diversity continued in subsequent centuries, and the inhabitants spoke a rich assortment of languages. From the second third of the 8th century BC, the Phoenicians and the Greeks appeared in Italy. They were mainly attracted by trading possibilities (1). The Phoenicians settled in western Sicily, and the Greeks established cities that flourish even today in eastern Sicily, and on the coast of South Italy, for example Syracousai (Syracuse, 2–3), Taras (Taranto, 4), Neapolis (Naples, 5). This territory was called Magna Graecia, ‘Greater Greece’.

Interaction between the indigenous cultures of ancient Italy and the newly arrived immigrants was of immense importance to both sides. In Magna Graecia, the Greek cities had close contact with the neighbouring Italic peoples (for example, the Daunians, Messapians, and Samnites). In the north, impulses from Phoenicia and Greece facilitated the emergence of Etruscan culture. The Etruscan cities, for example Caere (6), Vulci (7), and Clusium were not part of a unified state, but their important position is clearly shown by the fact that they had control over a territory stretching from the Po Valley through Rome to Campania between the 7th and the 5th centuries. In the 7th and 6th centuries they even flourished as a sea power, and Etruscan products reached faraway ports of the Mediterranean.

The cultural diversity of Italy ended gradually with the Roman conquest (5th–1st centuries BC). In 89 BC Roman citizenship was extended to the free inhabitants of Italy. A unified culture developed in the Apennine Peninsula which became the centre of a new vast power bloc: the Roman Empire.