(Chapter XII, section 7)



Italy, one of the most clearly demarcated geographical units in Europe, is a country of considerable racial variability. Although the Mediterranean race is strongly represented in it, Italy belongs only partially to the Mediterranean world, for much of it is more typically Alpine racial territory. Unfortunately, it is impossible to trace the early prehistory of the Alpines in Italy, since our knowledge of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods there is still obscure. The primary racial impulse of the early Neolithic, however, is known. This was the immigration of small Mediterraneans in great numbers, coming largely if not entirely by sea; these first food-producers were followed by more competent navigators, Atlanto-Mediterraneans, who settled chiefly in the north and in the islands, and Dinarics from the eastern Mediterranean in search of metal. Some of the Dinarics penetrated the Alpine Valleys while others settled in the Po Valley and in central Italy. The movement of highly cultured peoples from the east into Italy continued into historic times, and included the settlement of the Etruscans in Tuscany, and of the Greeks in Sicily and in the southern end of the peninsula.

As early as the Bronze Age there were, however, counter-movements from the north, icluding the invasions of the early Italici, ancestors of Oscans and Umbrians, Latins and Faliscans, and also the arrival of Illyrian tribes in northern and eastern Italy. Whereas the movements by sea had brought in Mediterraneans of different kinds, some short and some tall, some straight-nosed and others beaked in a Near Eastern manner, as well as Dinarics, the movements from the north introduced Nordics of two varieties; the classic Hallstatt type, and the Keltic Iron Age type which was later to form the basic racial element among the Roman patricians. Further invasions from the north, of Kelts and of Germans, had only local influence.

More important perhaps than many of these invasions was the effect of the Roman industrial system, which relied on involuntary labor, and which necessitated the introduction of slaves of all known races and countries by the thousands. Although some of these slaves were prevented by ill usage and by segregation from propagating, the majority without doubt reproduced, and with their emancipation under Christianity blended readily into the local populations. Other strangers who were not slaves moved to Italy in great numbers; as traders, craftsmen, soldiers, and visitors attracted to the center of civilization. Thus through her rôle as mistress of the world Rome accumulated and assimilated a heterogeneous population.

That this popualtion was by no means purely or even predominantly Mediterranean is shown by the study of the skulls of Pompeiians,72 victims of the eruption which turned their city from a metropolis into a museum. These crania, with a mean cranial index of 80, represent a population which had acquired a racial character of its own despite its mixed origin, and in which the Alpine element was the most important. The vaults are of moderate size, as are the faces; the mean nasion-menton height of 119 mm. is too low to suggest a strong Dinaric element, which the mesorrhiny typical of the group also precludes. A series of 100 modern crania from Bologna,73 with a mean cranial index of 83.5, is almost purely Alpo-Dinaric, with the latter element in a position of prominence. The Dinaric race is common in northern, but not southern Italy, and this distinction has been true since the Bronze Age.

Our knowledge of the physical antropology of living Italians is based largely upon the work of Livi,74 who measured some 300,000 recruits of the classes of 1859-63. In using this material it must be remembered that it is over half a century old, and that Livi's head measuring technique was not in accordance with modern standards. Thus the Italians are without doubt taller now than in Livi's day, and they are from one to two points less brachycephalic. Despite these corrections, Livi's work is of great value. It has established the main facts of regional distribution in Italy beyond question. These are that stature increases as one goes northward from Sicily and the toe of Italy; that the cephalic index increases in the same manner, as does blondism. In northern Italy the tallest men are longer headed than the mean; in southern Italy the shortest men are longer headed. Blondism is everywhere correlated with a realtively high cephalic index.

In other words, the southern Italians are a blend for the most pat of Alpines and small Mediterraneans, while among the northern Italians the most important dolichocephalic strain is the Atlanto-Mediterranean. The association of relatively great blondism with brachycephaly merely indicates that both Alpines and Dinarics are characteristically mixed or intermediate in pigmentation. The few unaltered Nordics still found in northern Italy and in aristocratic families elsewhere are far outnumbered by Atlanto-Mediterraneans.

The mean stature for the recruits of 1859-63 was 164.5 cm., that for the classes of 1907-09 was 165.5 cm.75 A better figure for the present would probably be 166 cm. The present provincial range would probably run from 164 cm. in the south, to 168 cm. in Piedmont and Veneto, as well as in the Trentino. The mean cephalic index of Livi's recruits was 82.7; that of the 1907-09 class 80.8. The reduction of two index points is largely technical, but may be partly due to stature increase. Despite this difference, the northern Italians, the Piedmontese particularly, are very brachycephalic, more so that the Swiss or Austrians, and the Piedmont forms a continuation of the southwestern French zone of Alpine racial concentration.

Special studies of southern Italians and Sicilians have been made in America, where several millions of these people live.76 Although some selection may have taken place in the determination of who should come to America and who should stay at home, they probably fall near enough to the total mean for present purposes. This group is not short, but slightly under medium in stature; the present mean is about 165 cm. A relative span of 102, and a relative sitting height of 53.3, strongly indicate a short-legged, short-armed, and long-bodied condition, while a mean weight of 150 pounds is heavy for this stature level. Although slender, delicately built Mediterraneans are found among these people, the great majority are thick-set, short-necked, short-fingered, broad-handed, and heavy-torsoed. They incline to corpulence in middle age, and few of the women remain slender past the period of child-bearing.

The mean cephalic index for this group is 79; there is, however, a great range, and many are typical brachycephals. The head size stands in accord with the body bulk; a mean head length of 191 mm., and breadth of 151 mm., indicate a larger vault than is usual among Mediterraneans of the same stature. The facial breadths again exceed Mediterranean figures; the minimum frontal mean is 106 mm., that of the bizygomatic 140 mm., and of the bigonial 108 mm. These dimensions fall suggestively into the Alpine category, while at the same time resembling those of coastal groups from Portugal. The mean total face height is 121 mm., the upper face height 70 mm. Facial and upper facial indices are mesoprosopic and mesene. The nasal dimensions (54 mm. by 36 mm.) are moderately long and broad, the nasal index mean of 67 leptorrhine, but in a Mediterranean and Alpine rather than Nordic or Dinaric sense.

The skin color is as a rule dark; over 50 per cent of unexposed shades are definitely light brown or olive-colored, while the exposed skin often tans to a distinctive reddish-brown. Ten per cent are freckled. About 20 per cent have black hair, and 48 per cent dark brown; reddish brown shades, or dark to medium brown with a reddish glint, account for some 16 per cent, while the remaining 6 per cent have light brown or blondish colors. Pure dark eyes are found among 44 per cent of those studied; mixed eyes among 50 per cent, and pure light eyes among 6 per cent. The high ratio of reddish shades in the hair and of mixed eyes reflects the strong Alpine strain in this population, as does the large minority of non-brunet skin colors and the presence of freckling. Of the mixed eyes, the majority are dark-mixed, and green-brown combinations are three times as common as blue-brown and gray-brown put together.

The southern Italians depart from a Mediterranean standard in the development of the pilous system; over 80 per cent have medium to heavy beards, and the body hair is heavier than among any other European group studied.77 The hair is rarely fine, usually coarse to medium in texture, and is curly in 10 per cent of this group, while wavy forms are usual. The forehead is of medium height and slope, as a rule, and the browridges medium; their typical development is Alpine rather than Mediterranean. The eyebrows are usually heavy, in 57 per cent concurrent. The nasion depression is medium to deep, the nasal root of medium height, and frequently broad. The nasal bridge is usually quite high, and broader than among most other Europeans; the profile is variable, with large concave as well as convex categories; several types are present in this respect. The nasal tip is as a rule thicker than the European standard, and the wings as often flaring as compressed. In 35 per cent the tip is depressed. The lips vary considerably in thickness, but more fall into the thick category than in most European groups; well over a third show a visible degree of facial or alveolar prognathism. The chin is frequently prominent, and the gonial angles frequently flaring; prominent malars are much commoner than compressed ones.

The southern Italians, as this survey will indicate, are a distinctive group of people who will not fall into any one recognized racial category. Besides conventional Mediterraneans and Alpines there are two special types which are particularly common, and will be familiar to anyone living in Italian sections of the United States, as well as to anyone who has visited southern Italy. These are: (1) a coarse Mediterranean, short-statured, thick-limbed, mesocephalic, possessing a narrow forehead, wide malars, heavy browridges, a short, broad, straight or lightly concave nose with upturned tip, a strong jaw, and some prognathism; (2) a local approximation to an Armenoid, short-statured, especially thick-set and short-necked, with a flattened occiput, dome-shaped lateral vault profile, heavy browridges, a high-rooted, high-bridged, thick-tipped and depressed-tipped nose, and an especially prominent jaw.

The coarse Mediterranean mesocephal has counterparts in Spain and Portugal, as well as North Africa, and goes back at least to the time of the shell-heap burials of Muge. It seems, however, especially prevalent among South Italians. The local Armenoid may be partly descended from Near Easterners brought to cental and southern Italy in imperial times, but it is more likely that it is to a greater extent a local combination of Alpine with various Mediterranean elements, through the mechanism of differential inheritance.

Observational data on the poulation of the neighborhood of Bologna78 permits, by contrasts to the foregoing, a study in some detail of a North Italian population, one with a mean stature of about 168 cm. and a mean cephalic index of about 83 or 84. The skin color of the face is about equally divided between light brown and pinkish-white; the hair is black in 25 per cent, dark brown in 60 per cent, and light brown to blond in the rest of cases. Twenty-five per cent of eyes are dark brown, 38 per cent light brown or dark-mixed, and 27 per cent light-mixed or light. The pigmentation is lighter than in southern Italy, but still prevailingly brunet. There is a slight linkage between the lightest hair and eye colors and dolichocephaly, indicating that a Nordic type has preserved its identity as a minor element here.

The development of the pilous system is less marked here than in the south; body and beard hair are of normal European thickness; furthermore, only 14 per cent have concurrent eyebrows. These actually go more with the dolichocephals than with the brachycephals. The noses are convex in 32 per cent, straight in 58 per cent, and concave in 8 per cent of the group; convex noses are slightly more frequent among the long heads. Nasal tip thickness is usually medium, and lips are frequently thin. The thin nose and thin lip combination, which takes the form of a positive correlation, is again linked with dolichocephaly.

In the population of the Bolognese there is a strong prevalence of Alpine and Dinaric types, especially the former, but approximately one-third of the population is long-headed or nearly so. Among this third, Nordics are not uncommon, but the most important element is a tall, slender, brunet, long-faced type, with a thin, straight or convex nose, and thin lips. It is a variant of the Atlanto-Mediterranean, with some of the Cappadocian facial features brought from western Asia by early navigators, including the Etruscans. Associated with this type is a frequent obliquity of the eye slits, which are very long; highly arched eyebrows and full malars. The beauty of Bolognese women is proverbial, and the type described above is to a certain extent responsible for this reputation. It is common elsewhere in northern Italy as well, and was often portrayed by Renaissance painters. This type is also found as a minor element in the Tyrol, where it seems to form a basic part of the Dinaric racial complex.

No country in Europe in which one language and one cultural tradition prevail shows a greater diversity of race between its southern and its northern extremities than does Italy. The binding element which is common to all sections is the Alpine, which has reëmerged from obscure beginnings through a superstructure composed of Dinaric, Nordic, and various kinds of Mediterranean accretions. Italy stands on the fence between the Alpine and Mediterranean worlds.


72. Nicolucci, G., APA, vol. 12, 1882, pp. 143-178.
Schmidt, E., AFA, vol. 17, 1888, pp. 189-227.

73. Calori, C. L., MASB, ser. 2, vol. 8, 1868, pp. 205-234.
Schwerz, F., AFA, vol. 43, 1917, pp. 181-195.

74. Livi, R., Anthropometria Militare.

75. Gini, C., CIPP, ser. 1, vol. 5, 1934, pp. 589-607.
Gini's figures cover exactly the same territory as Livi's, and do not include recruits from the provinces acquired by Italy since Livi's day.

76. Boas, F., Materials for the study of Inheritance in Man; ZFE, vol. 45, 1913, pp. 615-626.
Davenport, C.B., and Love, A. G., Army Antropometry.
Hooton, E. A., The American Criminal.
Hrdlicka, A., The Old Americans.
Willoughby, R. R., HB, vol. 5, 1933, pp. 690-705.

77. That is, in Hooton's American criminal material, drawn directly from all parts of Europe.

78. Frasetto, F., Note Antropologiche Sulla Populazione del Bolognese.