The origins of ‘Italia’

There are several theories about the origins of the word Italia, but they all seem to point in the same direction.

If you can stretch your linguistic skills a bit, you might see that there is a similarity between the words vitello and italia.  Why is this?

According to David Gilmour, in his recently published (and highly readable) history “In Pursuit of Italy”:

“Italy seems to begin with the myth of Hercules, the Greek hero who rescued a stray calf that wandered across southern Italy and swum the straits of Messina.  The land the animal crossed duly became known as Italia, from the word ‘ouitoulos’ or bull-calf, a word that has also bequeathed us, via Oscan and Latin, the word ‘vitello’ or veal.  A related theory, recorded by the Greek historian Timaeus, held that the ancient Greeks had been so impressed by the cattle in Italy that they had rewarded the land with the same name.”

So originally, the term only applied to the land at the bottom of the boot.  In time, the Romans conquered this part of the peninsula and the name began to describe a larger area.

Over the centuries, Italy was actually a number of independent states, not unified until 1871, at which time the name ‘Italy’ was applied to the whole country.

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