Italy was inhabited by a variety of populations, the origins of many of which are unknown. In addition to these local peoples, foreigners began establishing settlements on Italian soil starting in the early 1st millennium BCE. Phoenician and Punic colonies (the latter settled by merchants from Carthage who traced their origins back to Phoenicia as well) were founded in western Sicily and Sardinia, resulting in an influx of Eastern products and culture. Greek colonists, attracted by the rich farmlands and safe harbors of southern Italy, established the first Greek colonies there in the 8th century BCE. This southern region, including Sicily, came to be known as Magna Graecia (“Greater Greece”). It had a profound influence on the rest of the country, especially in artistic matters.
In central and northern Italy, a variety of cultures flourished, thanks largely to the region’s rich metal ores. The most important of these cultures was the Etruscan, whose civilizing impact proved to be one of the most significant contributions to the early development of central Italy. Between Etruria and Magna Graecia lay Latium, the region inhabited by the Latin-speaking Italic communities. At the end of the 8th century BCE, Latium’s villages became increasingly prominent. One of these eventually emerged as the city of Rome.