Key to Umbria: Spello

In construction 

Fausto Gentile Donnola, in his ‘Istoria della Terra di Spello’ (ca. 1621), recorded that:

  1. “In front of the church of San Pietro del Cervaro, ... near the amphitheatre, is a grand stone inscribed in capital letters, which says ...” (from the edition by Mario and Luigi Sensi, referenced below, p. 84, my translation).

Donnola’s transcription clearly relates to this marble inscription (CIL XI 5283, see also LSA-1638), which is on the base of a statue of Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus.  According to Dorica Manconi (in Manconi, Camerieri and Cruciani, referenced below, at p. 390, note 52), it was discovered in 1581.  It is now in the lapidarium of Palazzo Comunale.

The inscription reads:

C(aio) Matrinio Aurelio

C(ai) f(ilio) Lem(onia) Antonino, v(iro) p(erfectissimo),

coronato Tusc(iae) et Umb(riae),

pont(ifici) gentis Flaviae,

abundantissimi muneris sed et/ praecipuae laetitiae theatralis editori

aedili quaestori duumviro/ iterum q(uin)q(uennali) i(ure) d(icundo)

huius splendissimae/ coloniae curatori r(ei) p(ublicae) eiusdem / colon(iae) et

primo principali ob meritum

benevolentiae eius erga se/ [ple]bs omnis urbana Flaviae / Constantis

patrono/ dignissimo

  1. To Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus, son of Caius, of the Lemonia tribe, of equestrian rank:

  2. coronatus” (crowned priest) of the province of Tuscia et Umbria;

  3. pontifex gentis Flaviae” (priest of the cult of the gens Flavia, the family of the Emperor Constantine I);

  4. sponsor of lavish gladiatorial shows and especially enjoyable theatrical spectacles;

  5. holder of the following civic magistracies: aedile; quaestor; and  twice duovir quinquennale iure dicundo of “this most splendid colony”;

  6. curator of the colony and first notable.

  7. The whole plebs urbana (people) of Flavia Constans had erected the statue of “a most worthy patron, on account of the services of his kindness towards them”.


The designation Flavia Constans had recently been conferred in the Rescript, as described in the page Rescript of Constantine: Flavia Constans.

Although Antoninus had reached the highest post in the civic administration of Hispellum, his cursus gives pride of place to his responsibilities in relation to the provincial government and the imperial cult:

  1. as coronatus (crowned priest) of the province of Tuscia et Umbria; and

  2. as pontifex gentis Flaviae, a priesthood related to the recently instituted cult of the gens Flavia at Hispellum, described in my page Templum Flaviae Gentis.

Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus and the Rescript

The Rescript gave permission for the construction, at Hispellum, of “a temple of the Flavian family ... of truly magnificent workmanship, worthy of the greatness of its name”.  As noted above, Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus would have officiated at this temple in his role as pontifex gentis Flaviae.   

More problematic is his association, if any with the annual festival that had been held in or near the Etruscan city of Volsinii before the Rescript sanctioned the transfer of its Umbrian component to Hispellum.  The Rescript also described the priesthood associated with this festival:

  1. In its account of the situation before the partial transfer, the Rescript recorded:

  2. You assert that you [the Umbrians] have been joined with Tuscia in such a way that,

  3. -according to istituto consuetudinis priscae [previous/ ancient custom],

  4. -priests are [chosen/ selected/ elected]

  5. -per singulas annorum vices [annually/ in alternate years]

  6. -by you [the “Umbrians”] and by the aforesaid people of Tuscia. 

  7. These priests present theatrical shows and gladiatorial games apud [in/ near] Volsinii, a city of Tuscia. 

  8. After the Rescript, the priest elected (or chosen by some other means) by the Umbrians would preside over the “Umbrian” part of the festival at Hispellum, presumably using the theatre and the amphitheatre in the sanctuary in which the new Templum Flaviae Gentis was to be built.

This raises a number of questions:

  1. Had some (or all?) of the “most abundant spectacles and of extraordinary rejoicing in the theatre” that Antoninus sponsored been associated with this annual festival ?  [Note: he is not commemorated as a sponsor of gladiatorial games, although these also formed part of the annual festival.]

  2. Was he ever elected (or chosen in some other way) by the Umbrians to preside over one or more of these annual festivals, either at or near Volsinii (before the Rescript) or at Hispellum (thereafter) ?

  3. If so, did he do so:

  4. as coronatus;

  5. as pontifex gentis Flaviae; or

  6. in another priestly capacity ?

The correct answer to these questions is key to a detailed understanding of the provisions of the Rescript.  Thus, these three possibilities are discussed, in turn, below.


At the peak of his career, Antoninus became “coronato Tusc(iae) et Umb(riae)” (crowned priest of the province of Tuscia et Umbria).  The paragraphs below describe how this priesthood came about and what it involved.

Province of Tuscia et Umbria

Until the reforms of the Emperor Diocletian, the cities of Italy enjoyed a large measure of autonomy under the direct auspices of the imperial authorities in Rome.   However, this situation became increasingly unsustainable as the administrative centre of the Empire moved away from Rome.  According to Timothy Barnes (referenced below), Diocletian’s administrative reforms were undertaken “at a single stroke” in 293 AD, the time of the creation of the Tetrarchy. 

The redefined Roman provinces were placed under provincial governors who were now ranked in a consistent hierarchy:

  1. The Proconsuls of Africa Proconsularis and Asia, together with the Urban Prefect of Rome, reported directly to the imperial authorities.

  2. The other provinces were grouped into (originally twelve) dioceses, and their respective provincial governors (entitled Correctores or Consulares in other important provinces and Praesides elsewhere) reported to Rome via a diocesan “Vicarius”.

These “other provinces” now included 16 that were created in Italy, which were grouped in the new diocese of Italia.  Among them was the Province of Tuscia et Umbria, which absorbed the cities of what had been:

  1. the Augustan region of Etruria; and

  2. the part of Augustan region of Umbria that lay to the west of the Apennines. 

The epigraphic record includes a series of governors of this province in the period from ca. 310 AD until at least 366 AD (when the title changed from Correctore or Consulare).  

Provincial Imperial Cult

David Fishwick (referenced below) established that the Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) had probably standardised the previously ad hoc arrangements for the imperial cult in the Roman provinces, placing it under imperial control so that it could be used for the purpose of legitimising his authority across the Empire.  Fishwick’s analysis of the epigraphic record of the corresponding priesthoods over the period from this point until the 3rd century AD established the following: 

  1. The provincial priests were usually given the title of sacerdos or flamen.

  2. They were elected from among the delegates sent by the individual cities to the provincial councils.

  3. The office was prestigious and usually followed a successful career in municipal administration.

  4. The men elected needed to be relatively wealthy because they were expected to pay for the festivals that attended the celebration of the imperial cult at the annual provincial councils. 

  5. The priesthood lasted for a year, but the “retired” priests thereafter became  permanent members of their respective municipal governments. 

Enrico Zuddas (2013, referenced below, at p. 108) elaborated on the role of the Provincial Councils, where:

  1. political and administrative matters of public interest were discussed;

  2. public honours were decreed; and

  3. petitions that were to be addressed to the emperors were agreed.

A coronatus presided over these meetings and led any resulting delegations that were made to the imperial authorities.  However, Dr Zuddas asserted that the organisation of the cult festival held at the federal sanctuary during the council meetings (mentioned above) was his most important task.

Until the creation of the Italian provinces in 293 AD (above), the imperial cults there were administered by the individual municipal authorities.   Diocletian’s reforms must have involved the creation of new provincial imperial cults in Italy.

The imperial cult was maintained into the Christian era because it was embedded into the administrative framework of the Empire and continued to serve the purpose of securing the loyalty of the provinces to their Emperor.   Henk Jan de Jonge (referenced below) described how the associated priesthood was viewed by the authorities of the emerging Christian Church:

  1. “The Council of Elvira (ca. 306 AD) found it necessary to promulgate several disciplinary measures against various forms of active participation by Christian flamines in the cult of the Emperor.  But the Council did not, and could not, forbid Christians to occupy the priestly office in the imperial cult itself.”

In the corresponding footnote, he elaborated:

  1. “The priestly office in the imperial cult was an extremely prestigious and socially important position.  Well-to-do people who could afford to underwrite the huge costs of the office would normally aspire to the post.  If such wealthy and prominent persons  ... were Christians, the Church was not in a position to forbid them to accept the office.  On the contrary, the Church had every interest in trying to keep these leading figures and benefactors within [the Christian] community.”

Priesthood of the Imperial Cult in Tuscia et Umbria

The post of coronatus (crowned priest) of the province of Tuscia et Umbria is known from two inscription:

  1. that commemorating Antoninus (above); and

  2. another from Carsulae (see below). 

It was probably equivalent to that of the provincial sacerdos or flamen in other provinces described above.  Emily Hemelrijk (referenced below, at page 18) established that, although the literary and epigraphic evidence is scant, it does indeed suggest that some provincial priests (and possibly also municipal ones) in the Latin-speaking western provinces wore golden crowns from the late 1st century onwards.

  1. In his biography of the Emperor Domitian, Suetonius records the golden crowns worn by the Flaviales (priests of Domitian’s Flavian cult) in Rome:

  2. “[The Emperor Domitian ...] established a quinquennial contest in honour of Jupiter Capitolinus of a threefold character, comprising music, riding, and gymnastics, and with considerably more prizes than are awarded nowadays.  ... He presided at the competitions in half-boots, clad in a purple toga in the Greek fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown with figures of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, while by his side sat the priest of Jupiter and the college of the Flaviales, similarly dressed, except that their crowns bore his image as well” (para. 4.4).

  3. Tertullian casually speaks of the golden crowns of provincial priests as if they were common:

  4. “There is a dress proper to everyone, for daily use as as well as for office and dignity.  [For example,...] the gold [that was used] as ornaments of the neck [was], among the Egyptians and Babylonians, [a sign] of dignity, just as ...  the golden wreaths of provincial priests are now” (“De idolatria”, 18:1).

  5. An inscription (3rd century AD; CIL III 1433) commemorates a provincial priest of Dacia as sacerdos arae Aug(usti) n(ostri) coronatus Dac(iarum) III”.  (Other similar priests of this province are commemorated more simply as: sacerdos provinciae; sacerdos Daciae; sacerdos Arae Augusti).

  6. An inscription (CIL VIII 17896; 4th century) from Thamugadi in Numidia (a province in the diocese of Africa) refers to the priesthood of “co/ronati [provi]nc[iae”.

  7. In Hippo Regius (Africa Proconsularis) a local magistrate, Salvius Fuscus, donated a corona aurea, probably for use in the imperial cult, together with a silver statue (see CIL VIII 17408).

Coronatus from Carsulae (4th century AD)

As noted above, there is only one other surviving record of a ‘coronatus’ of the province of Tuscia et Umbria: this is in the form of an inscribed statue base from Carsulae, which was mentioned but not described by Umberto Ciotti in 1977 (on p22 and p24 of “San Gemini e Carsulae”).   The surviving fragments have recently been tracked down and the inscription has finally been published (by E. Roscini and E. Zuddas, referenced below).  The main part (on the two largest fragments) reads:

[- - -]onato splend[  ... ]

[- - -] nobili prosapiaq(ue)

[- - -]to patrono [  ... ]

[- - - coro]nato Tusciae et Um[b(riae)] 

[- - -]mni umore  profuso

[- - - ci]vium defension(...) [ ... ]

[ ------]

This seems to preserve the cognomen Donato (line 1) and to refer to his noble family (line 2).  Lines 3 and 4 identify the subject as:

  1. [....]to, which the authors complete as “omnibus honoribus functo”, a phrase used at this time to summarise the civic career of a man who had held all the important offices in the government of a municipality;

  2. a patron, presumably of Carsulae; and

  3. coronatus’ of the province of Tuscia et Umbria.

Coronatus and the Annual Festival at Volsinii

Many scholars believe that the priesthood described in the Rescript was the provincial priesthood of the coronati.  According to this interpretation, before the Rescript:

  1. The “Etruscans” and “Umbrians” who  elected (or chose by some other means) the respective priest mentioned in the Rescript were precisely the Etruscan and Umbrian cities that sent delegates to the annual Provincial Councils of Tuscia et Umbria.

  2. This “istituto consuetudinis priscae” (previous or ancient custom) dated back to 290 AD, when the province had been formed.

  3. The annual Provincial Councils were held at or near Volsinii, which must therefore have been the provincial capital.

  4. On these occasions, an Etruscan and an Umbrian priest (selected as above) also presided over and financed the celebrations of the imperial cult (including the attendant theatrical shows and gladiatorial games) that took place at the time of these meetings.  (It is unclear from the text of the Rescript whether they did so jointly or in alternate years).

  5. After his year in office, each of these priests became a permanent member of the government of the city that had appointed him as its delegate.

Textual uncertainty uncertainty complicates our understanding of the situation after the Rescript, so opinions vary, even among those scholars who associate the festival discussed in the Rescript with the annual Provincial Councils:

  1. Some scholars in this “school” hold that Constantine performed a “judgement of Solomon”: the games continued as before, except that they alternated between Volsinii (presided over by the Etruscan priest) and Hispellum (presided over by the Umbrian priest).

  2. Others hold that separate games were held each year, one event taking place at Volsinii and the other at Hispellum.  This implies separate Provincial Council meetings, held by the “Umbrian” and “Etruscan” cities of the province.

On either interpretation, the Rescript essentially designated Hispellum as the joint capital  of Tuscia et Umbria, alongside Volsinii. 

In his recent examination of the Rescript (and particularly of the uncertainties in its translation), Enrico Zuddas arrived at the second of these interpretations, recognising that it entailed:

  1. a college of two coronati, one for each ethnicity represented in Tuscia et Umbria; and

  2. after the Rescript, the holding of separate cult festivals by each ethnicity (albeit that the tradition of a joint Council for administrative purposes probably continued under the joint chairmanship of both coronati).

He acknowledged that there are no known direct precedents in other, similarly “combined” provinces, but pointed out that the epigraphic record on which our knowledge relies is scant, particularly for the period following the reforms of Diocletian (when a number of “combined provinces” were formed for the first time).

In summary, this theory - that the priesthood described in the Rescript was the provincial priesthood of the coronati - has the following advantages:

  1. It provides a natural definition of “Umbria” and “Tuscia”, the places that the two priests (respectively) represented: each represented all of the cities of the cities of his ethnicity that were included in the Province of Tuscia et Umbria.

  2. It explains why and when the tradition of attendance by the Umbrian cities at an annual pan-municipal festival at Volsinii arose: it was an obligation associated with their incorporation into the Province of Tuscia et Umbria, and dated back to 293 AD, when the province was created.

  3. It is supported by the similarity between:

  4. the annual festival described in the Rescript  and the festival that apparently accompanied annual Provincial Councils; and

  5. the functions of the priests in the Rescript and the provincial priests (who, inter alia, presided over the provincial festivals. 

  6. It explains why imperial permission was needed for the arrangements for the annual festival to be modified.

However, the theory has the following disadvantages:

  1. It is predicated on the assumption that Volsinii was the provincial capital of of Tuscia et Umbria. at the time of the Rescript and that Hispellum became the joint capital thereafter.  As Enrico Zuddas (2013, referenced below, in note 74) pointed out, these are both deductions from the Rescript that cannot be separately verified: the only indication we have for the possible location of the capital  of the province is the fact that a law incorporated into the Codex Theodosianus had been issued by the Correctore of the province from Florentia in 366 AD.

  2. It implies that all of the ethnically Umbrian and ethnically Etruscan cities of Tuscia et Umbria attended the annual festivals described in the Rescript, but we do not know that this was the case.

  3. It implies that the Rescript addressed three unconnected requests from the Hispellates:

  4. two that only related to their own city (its new name and its new temple); and

  5. a third that related to the annual provincial festival, which affected all of the cities of the province (and, not least, its putative capital, Volsinii).

  6. This seems to have been oddly “untidy” in administrative terms.

Enrico Zuddas’ other key point is that, in his opinion, a priesthood designated as ‘pontifex’ was always of municipal character.  He addressed this in his paper of 2013 (discussed above) and, more fully in his slightly later paper with Elena Roscini (referenced below, at pp. 249-50):

  1. “... the title pontifex can not be considered to be equivalent to coronatus because this function does not belong to the provincial but to the urban ambit (and is not necessarily annual).  In the specific case of the pontificate of the gens Flavia,  it is also known elsewhere, and does not seem to have anything to do with a provincial priesthood:

  2. -... L. Aradius Valerius Proculus signo Populonius was pontifex Flavialis in Rome itself (where he held the post of Urban Prefect for the first time in the 337-8 AD, and held  numerous other priesthoods) ... ‘ and

  3. -... according to Aurelius Victor [“De Caesaribus” 40:28], at the time of the defeat of Maxentius [i.e. in 312 AD]:

  4. per Africam sacerdotium decretum Flaviae genti, Cirtaeque oppido ... reposito exornatoque nomen  Constantina inditum’.

  5. (Note the coincidence between the creation of this priesthood and the renaming Cirta)” (my translation).

The implication of Zuddas’ last remark seems to be that there was a parallel between Cirta and Hispellum, in that each renamed city was a centre of the new  imperial cult.  However, if the African priesthood was decreed simply for the municipium of Cirta/ Constantina, why did Aurelius Victor say it was “per Africam”?  

  1. As noted in my page on History: Constantine’s Imperial Cult, Noel Lenski (referenced below, at p. 141) suggested that, byper Africam:

  2. “... Aurelius Victor apparently means [the province of] Africa Proconsularis ... With its strong connections to senatorial Rome, Proconsularis had an extremely conservative population of prosperous taxpayers.  Constantine was surely eager to cultivate their allegiance by permitting this cult.”

  3. While this is certainly correct, I think that Enrico Zuddas is also correct in suggesting that the priesthood must have been held at Cirta: if not, Aurelius Victor would presumably have written two separate sentences.  I therefore think that ‘Africa’ (like ‘Umbria’ in the Rescript) must have meant a group of ethnically-related municipalities (however selected).

In other words, I think that the new priesthood served neither a single province nor (at least in the cases for which we have evidence) a single municipality: in ‘Africa’, ‘Tuscia’ and ‘Umbria’, it served municipalities that combined together along ethnic lines to celebrate the new cult at specific ‘federal’ sanctuaries.  If so, the duplicated games were pan-municipal rather than strictly provincial in character and could well have been presided over by one (or, before the Rescript, by two) pontifex/ pontifices gentis Flaviae.

Read more: 
N. Lenski, “Constantine and the Cities: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics”, (2016) Philadelphia  
E. Roscini and E. Zuddas, “Il Coronatus Ritrovato”, Epigraphica (2014) pp 231-64  
E. Zuddas, “Osservazioni sui Coronati Tusciae et Umbriae”, Hormos: Ricerche di Storia Antica, 5 (2013) 
E. Zuddas, “L’ Umbria in Età Costantiniana”, in 
A. Bravi (Ed.), “Aurea Umbria: Una Regione dell’ Impero nell’ Era di Costantino”, Bollettino per i Beni Culturali dell’ Umbria (2012) pp 61-70 
E. Hemelrijk, “Coronatus: Local Empresses: Priestesses of the Imperial Cult in the Cities of the Latin West”, Phoenix 61: 3/4 (2007), 318-49  
H. de Jonge, “The Function of Religious Polemics: The Case of the Revelation of John versus the Imperial Cult”, in 
T. Hettema and A. van der Kooij (Eds), “Religious Polemics in Context: Papers Presented to the Second International Conference of the Leiden Institute for the Study of Religions (Lisor) held at Leiden, 27-28 April, 2000” , (2004) Assen, pp 276-90
D. Fishwick, “The Imperial Cult in the Latin West:Provincial Cult: The Provincial Priesthood (Volume 3.2)”, (2002) Leiden:
See also this review by Nayla Kabazi Muntasser, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006
D. Manconi, P. Camerieri and V. Cruciani, “Hispellum: Pianificazione Urbana e Territoriale”, in: 
G. Bonamente and F. Coarelli (Eds),“Assisi e gli Umbri nell' Antichità” Assisi (1996) pp. 375-423; the section on the sanctuary is at pp. 381-92
G. Cecconi, “Governo Imperiale e Élites Dirigenti nell’ Italia Tardoantica: Problemi di Storia Politico-Amministrativa (270-476 d.C.)”, (1994) Como
See Chapter III, “Le Assemblee Provinciale”, 83-106.
T. Barnes, “The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine”, (1982) Cambridge (MA) 
M. Sensi and L. Sensi, “Fragmenta Hispellatis Historiae (1): Istoria della Terra di Spello, di Fausto Gentile Donnola”, Bollettino Storico della Città di Foligno, 8 (1984) 7-136
Roman Sanctuary:  Main Page    
  Rescript of Constantine:  Main Page;    Flavia Constans;   Templum Flaviae Gentis;  Theatrical Shows and Gladiatorial Games
Associated Inscription:   Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus  

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Inscribed Base from Statue of

Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus (ca. 335 AD)

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Associated Inscription:   Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus