🔼The name Italy: Summary
- Young Land
- From vitulus, the Latin for calf, foal or any young of a large animal.
🔼The name Italy in the Bible
The name Italy (or rather Ιταλια, Italia) is mentioned 5 times in the New Testament; see full concordance. In Acts 10:1 we meet Cornelius of Caesarea, who was the centurion of the so-called Italian (Ιταλικος, Italikos) cohort. And in Acts 18:2 we meet Aquila of Pontus and Priscilla, who had recently left Italy because of the decree issued by emperor Claudius.
When Paul appealed to Caesar, Agrippa and Porcius Festus put him on a boat to Italy (Acts 27:1, 27:6). At the end of his letter to the Hebrews, Paul reports that his audience is greeted by "those from Italy" (Hebrews 13:24).
Italia was originally the name of just the tip of the boot of modern Italy, and home of the people dubbed Itali by the Greeks. The area was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, and Augustus extended its name, Italia, to the entire peninsula, which until then was home to multiple not united territories and peoples. Italia was not officially a province of the Empire, but rather the territory of the city of Rome.
🔼Etymology of the name Italy
It's not clear where the name Italia comes from, but the tribes of the southern peninsula sported emblems in the form of bulls (that would gore the wolf of Rome, according to classical writers), and the Latin word for calf, vitulus comes close enough to italia for scholars to comfortably suggest an etymologic link (apparently, the arc from vitulus to vitalia to v'italia to italia was well within the range of Latin's local dialects).
Why Augustus adopted the enemy name Italia as synonym for The Land Of Rome is another mystery, but here at Abarim Publications we surmise that that this was part of the whole death-rebirth theme with which August "resurrected" Rome from the dead, or cut the baby Empire from the womb of the dead maternal Republic (see our article on the name Caesar).
The word vitulus not merely denotes the young bovine, but was also applied to describe the foal of a horse or the young of an elephant and even the whale and seal. The word shares its origin with the Sanskrit noun vatsa(s), which also means calf, but which is also used for whatever is young or even dear or beloved.
When the Greeks gave Italia its name, they possibly did so because the indigenous tribes venerated the bull calf. But it may also have been because the Greeks recognized in them a fledging community that might in time grow into a formidable trade partner.
It seems unlikely that Augustus named the Land Of Rome after one of its fiercest early enemies, or even after the ubiquitously venerated sacred bull with which Rome had little to do. It's much more likely that to Augustus and his comrades the name Italia still meant Young Land.