Euro 2020: Team Italy- what does it mean to be Italian?

Euro 2020 will kick off on June 12th at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy.  The first match to be played at this stadium will feature former World and European champions Italy against former World Cup Bronze Medallists and Euro Semi-Finalists Turkey.

While this football competition expects a worldwide TV audience of thousands of fans from all over the world, it is likely that this stadium with a capacity of over 70,000 will host predominantly Italian fans.  This week, this blog will delve into Italian history and genetic research in an attempt to explain the origin of some of the most populous groups residing in Rome and Italy as a whole.

When we look at present-day Italy, we think of “Italians” being the main ethnic group in terms of demographics.  While this is true, what exactly does the term “Italian” mean when we throw historical connotations into the definition?  Is there such thing as a “pure” Italian?  While the exact origin of any group can be difficult to trace, it is important to examine historical information in an attempt to reach tentative conclusions.  The fact is, long before the Italian Peninsula was recorded as “Italy”, it was comprised of a multitude of distinct groups.  For example, the North was home to the Etruscans, while in the South, Greeks, North Africans and other groups were the inhabitants during distinct time periods.  Rome was a location where a once existing Monarchy became a Republic around 509 BC.  Rome began to take control of other groups/regions by emerging victorious in altercations against multiple groups—for example, during the Roman-Gallic wars.  As expansion took place, the Romans would contend for other geographic regions, for example by prevailing and obtaining control of Carthage (present-day Tunisia) or areas within the present-day Greek Islands.  All of these victories ensured dominance in Southern Europe.  As time continued, the Roman Empire would eventually fracture into two divisions: the Western Roman Empire, and the Eastern Roman Empire (referred to as the Byzantine Empire with its capital located in Constantinople or Present-day Istanbul) in 284 AD.  Once this had taken place, Rome essentially fell apart.  As time went on, the Italian Peninsula was managed by the Eastern Empire.  As time went on, distinct groups including Germanic tribes began settling in the Italian Peninsula in multiple areas including present day Lombardy.  Some pockets of the already existing population in present-day Italy decided to flee their places of residence in an attempt to avoid Lombard people.  In turn, other sections of the Peninsula became populated.  With these kinds of events taking place in Italy’s North, the South was experiencing North African control.

As history shows us, it is clear that the Italian Peninsula was divided with regards to the kinds of people living in distinct regions—in terms of various criteria including cultural backgrounds, ethnic ancestries, etc.  While further research on the history of Italy is encouraged, readers can see that as put forth on numerous occasions, the origin of a Country’s present-day inhabitants has a lot to do with their geographic location, contact with other groups, political structure, etc.  The short summary of some of Italy’s ancient history listed in the previous paragraph brings to light the idea that a plethora of distinct groups have essentially been brought together to encompass “Italy” as a nation today.


In terms of genetics, it appears as though the region that an Italian individual is from is contingent on their genetics.  For example, it is common to find Northern Italian populations which have notable similarities with other Northern European ethnic groups (potentially Celtic and Germanic groups) while Southern Italians tend to have more similarity with Greek and Middle Eastern populations.  When one examines the history, one cannot be logically surprised to see differences existing between distinct regions within Italy.