That boot-shaped peninsula extending out in a southeasterly direction from continental Europe into the Mediterranean Sea. From the Alps on the N to the “big toe” at the Straits of Messina in the S it is about 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) long. It varies in width from 100 to 150 miles (161-241 kilometers), and is bounded by the Adriatic Sea on the E and the Tyrrhenian Sea on the W. As a backbone down the middle of this peninsula is the Apennines mountain range, with its fertile valleys running toward the coastal plains. The principal rivers are the Tiber and the Po. Italy is about the size of the Philippines, or the states of Florida and Georgia combined.
Originally, according to Antiochus of Syracuse (of the fifth century B.C.E.), the name applied only to the province of Calabria in the S where the Itali lived. This name was a Grecized form of Vitelia, from the stem vitlo- (meaning calf or young bull), and was probably applied to these people, either because of their grazing lands and cattle or because they supposed themselves to be descendants of their bull-god. By the first century C.E. the name Italy had been extended to cover much the same territory it does today.
Peoples of different racial origins migrated to this very fertile land over the centuries. The first sizable colony of Greeks is said to have settled at Cumae about ten miles (c. 16 kilometers) W of Naples around the year 770 B.C.E. Italy’s early history includes wars between those already there and waves of newcomers that periodically invaded the land. The peninsula thus served as a melting pot of languages, blood and customs as these different national groups settled down and intermarried.
Christianity was brought to Italy at an early date, for, on the day of Pentecost, 33 C.E., Italian proselytes as well as Jews from Rome witnessed the outpouring of holy spirit, listened to Peter’s explanation, and no doubt some of them were among the “about three thousand” baptized on that occasion. (Acts 2:1, 10, 41) Returning to Italy, they could have formed the nucleus of the Christian congregation in Rome to whom Paul some years later addressed one of his letters. (Rom. 1:1-7) Aquila and Priscilla may have been of that congregation in Italy when ordered by Emperor Claudius on January 25, 50 C.E., to leave the country. They arrived in Corinth shortly before Paul got there on his first visit to that city on his second missionary tour.—Acts 18:1, 2.
Cornelius, undoubtedly an Italian and an army officer of the “Italian band,” had a home in Caesarea. (Acts 10:1) It was in Caesarea that Paul, at his trial before Festus, appealed his case to Caesar. He was then taken by boat to Myra, where, together with other prisoners, he was transferred to a grain boat from Alexandria that was headed for Italy. (Acts 25:6, 11, 12; 27:1, 5, 6) Shipwrecked on the voyage, they had to winter on the island of Malta. Then in the spring of 59 C.E. Paul first touched Italian soil, at Rhegium on the “toe” of Italy, and shortly thereafter he disembarked at Puteoli on the Gulf of Naples. Here, more than a hundred miles (161 kilometers) S of Rome, Paul stayed for a week with the local congregation before going on up to Rome via the Appian Way, along which, at “the Market Place of Appius and Three Taverns,” he was met by the brothers from Rome. (Acts 28:11-16) Likely, toward the end of Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, or shortly after his release in 61 C.E., he wrote the book of Hebrews while still in Italy.—Heb. 13:24.