Ancient Italy resembled the modern Caucasus, with an intricate ethnography reflecting its complex topography. Yet both are regions girdled by seas and thus exposed to external commerce and colonization. At the beginning of the 5th century BCE, Etruria and Greece were vying to be the dominant colonizing power on the Italian mainland. The Etruscan defeat at Cumae (474 BCE) settled that contest, and indirectly opened the way for Rome, and Latin, to become dominant in the peninsula. The provenance of Etruscan is hotly disputed by philologists, as is that of Rhaetic and Venetic in the north. Central Italy housed a variety of Italic languages: Osco-Umbrian was most widespread, Faliscan confined to a tiny mountain fastness between two volcanic lakes. The Messapian peoples of the heel of Italy spoke a language related to Illyrian, from across the Adriatic. The Celts invaded the north at this time, but too briefly to disseminate their language.
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