A traveller today on a journey through the mountainous landscape of ancient Lucania would find it difficult to believe the high density of settlement which this corner of south-west Italy sustained in the fourth century BC. Networks incorporating much of the peninsula, Greece, Sicily, Epirus, Macedon and Carthage all found a foothold here. Ancient narratives, largely focusing on military contexts, give little sense of the nature of activity in the area, but the remains of material culture provide an image of thriving communities, not organised on the city-state model, which were active participants in the culture and power struggles of the Mediterranean in the period before Roman hegemony. This study brings together historical and archaeological approaches to create a better understanding of the socio-cultural diversity of the region, as well as the construction and transformation of community identities especially in the period of profound change and decline prior to the Hannibalic War. It compels a reassessment of the literary source narratives and a conception of how the written record was formed. In so doing it challenges the models of ‘primitive’ mountainous societies along with the polarities often used to define and isolate them: rural-urban; pastoral-agricultural; barbarian-civilised.