Key to Ancient Umbria

Polybius (ca. 203–120 BC)

Polybius was a Greek historian who worked in Rome.  He is noted for his book “The Histories”, which covered the rise of Rome in the period 264-146 BC in 40 volumes.  Only 5 of these survive in their entirety, although much of the lost content is known from excerpts.

Polybius on the Etruscan, Umbrian and Sabine Cohorts 

In a chapter entitled “Forces Available to the Romans”, Polybius records the sizes of the contingents from the allied cities that were available to the Romans during the Gallic Wars (225 BC):

  1. “... there were with each Consul allies to the number of 30,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry.  Of Sabines and Etruscans too, there had come to Rome, for that special occasion, 4,000 horse and more than 50,000 foot. These were formed into an army and sent in advance into Etruria, under the command of one of the Praetors.  Moreover, the Umbrians and Sarsinatae, hill tribes of the Apennine district, were collected to the number of 20,000; ...” (2:24 ).

Polybius on the aftermath of the Battle of Lake Trasimeno 

In a chapter entitled “A Second Disaster in Etruria”, Polybius describes the aftermath of the Battle of Lake Trasimeno in 217 BC:

  1. “About the same time as the battle of [Trasimeno], the Consul Gnaeus Servilius, who had been stationed on duty at Ariminum [Rimini] ... having heard that Hannibal had entered Etruria and was encamped near [his consular colleague] Flaminius, designed to join the latter with his whole army.  But finding himself hampered by the difficulty of transporting so heavy a force, he sent Gaius Centenius forward in haste with 4,000 horse, intending that he should be there before himself in case of need.  But Hannibal, getting early intelligence after the battle of [Trasimeno] of this reinforcement of the enemy, sent Maharbal with his lightly armed troops and a detachment of cavalry.  Falling in with Gaius [Centenius, Maharbal ] killed nearly half his men at the first encounter; and having pursued the remainder to a certain hill, on the very next day, took them all prisoners.  The news of the battle of [Trasimeno] was [still only] three days' old a Rome ... when this further disaster was announced.   The consternation caused by it was no longer confined to the people.   The Senate now fully shared in it; and it was resolved that the usual annual arrangements for the election of magistrates should be suspended, and a more radical remedy be sought for the present dangers; for they came to the conclusion that their affairs were in such a state, as to require a commander with absolute powers.

  2. Feeling now entirely confident of success, Hannibal rejected the idea of approaching Rome for the present; but traversed the country plundering it without resistance, and directing his march towards the coast of the Adriatic.  Having passed through Umbria and Picenum, he came upon the coast after 10 days' march with such enormous booty that the army could neither drive nor carry all the wealth which they had taken, and after killing a large number of people on his road.  For the order was given, usual in the storming of cities, to kill all adults who came in their way; an order which Hannibal was prompted to give now by his deep-seated hatred of  Rome.” (3:86).

Cicero (106 - 43 BC)

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman politician, lawyer and orator, and a stalwart supporter of the Republic.  He reached the peak of his influence in the period between the retirement of Sulla and the emergence of Julius Caesar, a period in which the Republic was restored.  After Caesar's murder, Cicero somewhat cynically supported Octavian (the future Emperor Augustine) against Mark Antony.  When these protagonists were temporarily reconciled, Octavian chose not to protect Cicero , who was executed at the behest of Mark Antony.

Cicero was also a prolific author and published many of his letters and public orations.  The latter include:

  1. Pro Roscio Amerino”, Cicero’s speech in defense of Sextus Roscius of Ameria, with which he made his name as a young lawyer.  Chrysogonus, a favourite of Sulla had brought a charge of parricide against Sextus Roscius in order to extort his property, and Cicero accepted a high political risk in facilitating his acquittal. 

  2. Pro Balbo”, Cicero’s speech in defence of Lucius Cornelius Balbus, a Spaniard who had been given Roman citizenship by Pompey in 72 BC, but who was later prosecuted for allegedly having claimed it illegally.

  3. “Pro Vareno”, fragments of which were included in ca. 500 AD in the Institutiones Grammaticae (Grammatical Foundations) by Priscian.  It seems that Cicero defended Lucius Varenus on a murder charge by attempting (unsuccessfully) to transfer the guilt to the slaves of Caius Ancharius Rufu.

Cicero on Fulginia

Cicero mentioned seems to have mentioned Fulginia twice in his speech “Pro Vareno”.  Thus, according to Priscian:

  1. “Cicero ‘pro Vareno’: «G(aius) Ancharius Rufus fuit e municipio Fulginate». idem in eadem: |«in praefectura Fulginate»” (‘Institutiones Grammaticae: de Nomine’ 2, 348, 18-20; search on “Fulginate”).

  2. “Cicero, in ‘pro Vareno’: «G(aius) Ancharius Rufus  was from the municipium of Fulginia»; and, in the same work: “in praefectura of Fulginia»” (my translation

This is usually taken to imply that, at the time of Cicero’s oration (ca. 79 BC), Fulginia had been recently ‘promoted’ from a praefectura to a municipium

Cicero on Rome’s Treaties with Camerino, Gubbio and Spoleto

In ‘Pro Balbo’, Cicero used a number of precedents, one of which cited “the great man” Marius, who had initiated the policy of awarding citizenship to those of his soldiers from allied cities who had distinguished themselves in the service of Rome in 100 BC:

  1. Marius had awarded Roman citizenship to

  2. “... Marcus Annius Appius of Iguvium, a most gallant man, and one endued with the most admirable virtue, and also to two whole cohorts from Camerinum, [despite the fact that] he knew that the treaty made with Camerinum had been most solemnly ratified, and was in all respects a most equitable one” (46:46). 

  3. [The words in italics are omitted in error from the translation in the link above.  I have taken them from  Kathryn Lomas, referenced below, at p. 43.  The point was that the treaty with Camerinum prohibited the award of Roman citizenship from holding Roman citizenship, but, according to Kathryn Lomas, Marius took the view that military expediency overrode the finer points of law. ]  

  4. [Note, Valerius Maximus (V:2:8) records that Marius had granted Roman citizenship to two cohorts from Camertium  in the war against the Cimbri in 102 BC).]

  5. Marius would have testified, had he been before the court:

  6. “... that none of the people of Iguvium or of Camertum were excepted by treaty, so that their citizens were incapable of receiving from the Roman people the rewards of their virtue” (46:47).

  7. [Guy Bradley (referenced below, at p. 119, noter 54) translates this as: “Neither in the treaty with Iguvium nor with Camerinum was there any saving clause stipulating that the rewards of valour should not be bestowed on their citizens by the Roman people”.]

  8. “Titus Matrinius, of Spoletum, one of those men whom Caius Marius had presented with the freedom of the city, was indeed prosecuted, being a man of a Latin colony ... [However,] when Lucius Antistius ... prosecuted him, he never said that the people of Spoletum had not ratified the deed of Marius, [but argued rather that Marius had exceeded his authority in this case].... So great was the authority of Caius Marius, that ... in a few words [he] defended his conduct ... and proved his case to everybody's satisfaction”.

These quote are somewhat obscure, because Cicero is presenting the facts as part of a complicated legal argument about whether the granting of Roman citizenship to men from allied cities without the formal agreement of the cities concerned violated the terms of their treaties with Rome.  Cicero argues that the precedents show that the treaties with Iguvium and Camerinum (Camerino) had not preclude their inhabitants from achieving dual citizenship without the formal consent of the home city:

  1. In the case of Camerinum, this was true even though theirs was an “equal” treaty: it had been voluntarily negotiated in 310 BC. 

  2. By associating Iguvium with Camerinum, Cicero implies that Iguvium also had a relatively favourable treaty, which suggests that Iguvium had also voluntarily submitted to Rome.

The legal situation was apparently different in the case of a Latin colony such as Spoletium (which had been established in 241 BC after the Umbrian city been taken by force).  However, this problem was not connected with the terms of their treaty.  In any case, Marius’ decision in the case of Spoletium had been accepted by the court.

Cicero on the Cascate delle Marmore

In his letter to Atticus in 54 BC (A 4:15), Cicero wrote: “... the people of Reate conducted me to their Temple, to plead their cause against the people of Interamna before the consul and ten commissioners, because the Veline Lake, which had been drained by Manius Curius [by cutting away the mountain, flowed into the Nar, by which means the famous Rosia has been reclaimed from the swamp, though still fairly moist.  I lived with Axius, who took me also to visit Seven Waters.” 

The original work by Manius Curius Dentatus is usually said to have been carried out in 272 BC.  The outcome of the case is unknown.  For a later case in relation to this water system in 15 BC, see Tacitus below.

Varro (116–27 BC)

Marcus Terentius Varro, who was a celebrated scholar in Rome, was one of the few scholars of his day who could read Etruscan.  He had his political ups and downs: although he had supported Pompey, Julius Caesar rehabilitated him; but he fell from favour again in 44BC, after Caesar's murder, and sensibly devoted the rest of his life to writing.  Only two of his many books survive: “De Lingua Latina” (on the Latin Language); and “De Re Rustica” (on Farming).  Fragments from lost works are quoted by other authors.

Varro on Interamna

In De Lingua Latina , Varro explains that “the town ‘Interamna’ gets its name from its position ‘inter amnes’  (between rivers)” (5:28, search on Interamna).

Virgil (70 - 19 BC)

Publius Vergilius Maro, who was born in Mantua, was arguably the greatest Roman poet.  His works include:

  1. the “Ecologues” (Pastorals):

  2. the “Georgics” (on Husbandry); and

  3. the “Aeneid”, a Homeric saga of the foundation of Rome by the descendants of the Trojan Aeneas, which was written at the behest of the Emperor Augustus and unfinished at Virgil's death.

Virgil on the “Veline Fountains” and the Nar

In the Aenid (Book VII, search on “Velinus”), Virgil mentions:

  1. “white Nar’s river, with its sulphurous waters,  ... and the fountains of Velinus”. 

The Veline fountain is the modern Cascata delle Marmore, which Manius Curius Dentatus created in 274 BC to drain the flood water from the Velino in the high plain of Rieti into the Nar (Nera) and thence to the Tiber.

Livy (59 BC - 17 AD)

Titus Livius is the most important of the Roman historians.  His "History of Rome from its Foundations" was originally in 142 books, although only 35 survive.  Fortunately, the first 10 books, which cover the period from the foundation of Rome to the conquest of central Italy in 295 BC, survive in tact.   There are on-line English translations of Books 1-8; and of the surviving parts of Books 9-26; and of Books 27-36.  There is also an on-line translation of the  fourth-century summary known as the Periochae, which contains summaries of some of the lost books.

Livy on the Colonisation of Spoletium (241 BC)

According to the Periochae, Book 20 of the History contained the information that a colony was founded at Spoletum in 241 BC.

Livy on Via Flaminia (219 BC)

According to the Periochae, Book 20 of the History also contained the information that the Censor Gaius Flaminius built the Via Flaminia (and the Circus Flaminia in Rome) in 219 BC.

Livy on the Second Punic War (218-202 BC)

Livy reported on a second Roman defeat alongside the disaster at Lake Trasimeno:

  1. “Before [the plans of the Senate following the disaster at Lake Trasimeno] were sufficiently determined, another unexpected defeat is reported: 4,000 horse, sent under the conduct of [Gaius] Centenius, propraetor, by the Consul Gnaeus Servilius to his colleague [Flaminius], were cut off by Hannibal in Umbria, to which place, on hearing of the battle at [Trasimeno], they had turned their course.  [This gave rise to further consternation in Rome.]  The state therefore took refuge in a remedy for a long time before neither wanted nor employed:  the appointment of a dictator, and [because of logistical difficulties], the people created Quintus Fabius Maximus pro dictator, and Marcus Minucius Rufus master of the horse. To them the Senate assigned the task of strengthening the walls and towers of the city, of placing guards in such quarters as seemed good, and breaking down the bridges of the river, considering that they must now fight at home in defence of their city, since they were unable to protect Italy” (22:8).

After his victory at Lake Trasimeno (217 BC):

  1. “Hannibal, marching directly through Umbria, arrived at Spoletum, thence, having completely devastated the adjoining country, and commenced an assault upon the town, but was repulsed. ...[This gave him an insight into the problems that he would face in taking Rome.  He therefore] turned aside into the territory of Picenum” (22:9).

In 216-5 BCE, during closing stages of the war, Perusia sent a cohort of 460 men to aid the Roman defence of Casilinum, after nearby Capua had revolted.   The city fell, despite a  brave defence, but the Romans recaptured it in the following year, after which it served as the a base of their operations against Capua (23:17).

Narnia and Interamna were among the colonies that refused to support the war effort in 209 BC:

  1. “There were at the time 30 colonies belonging to Rome. Twelve of these announced to the consuls through their representatives in Rome that they had no means from which to furnish either men or money.  The colonies in question were Ardea, Nepete, Sutrium, Alba, Carseoli, Sora, Suessa, Cercei, Setia, Cales, Narnia and Interamna” (27:9) .

  2. [The Senate decreed that] "The consuls shall summon to Rome the chief magistrates and the ten leading councillors of each of the offending colonies, namely, Nepete, Sutrium, Ardea, Cales, Alba, Carseoli, Sora, Suessa, Setia, Cerceii, Narnia and Interamna (29:15).

For the expedition of Scipio Africanus against Hannibal in 205 BC:

  1. The people of Perusia, Clusium, and Rusella furnished firs for building ships, and a great quantity of corn.  ... The states of Umbria and ... the people of Nursia, Reate, and Amiternum, and all those of the Sabine territory, promised soldiers. ... The Cameritans, as they were joined with the Romans in league on equal terms, sent an armed cohort of 600 men” (28:45).

Livy on the Colony of Narnia (199 BC)

“When deputies from Narnia, complained:

  1. -that they had not their due number of settlers; and

  2. -that several who were not of their community had crept in among them and were conducting themselves as colonists;

Lucius Cornelius, the consul, was ordered to appoint 3 commissioners to adjust those matters.  The three appointed were, Publius and Sextus Aelius, both surnamed Paetus, and Caius Cornelius Lentulus.  The favour of filling up their number of colonists, which was granted to the Narnians, was refused to the people of Cossa, who [had also] applied for it” (32:2).

Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 AD)

Caius Plinius Secondus was a noted antiquarian in Rome, but his encyclopaedic "Natural History" is his only surviving work.   In it, he drew together (in 37 books) an amazing variety of facts relating primarily to geography, anthropology and botany.   Pliny died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Pliny the Elder on Lakes of Velinus

Pliny’s account of the Augustan Fourth Region (3:17) contained a note that the Sabini:

  1. “dwell on the dew-clad hills in the vicinity of the Lakes of the Velinus.  The Nar (Nera), with its sulphureous waters, exhausts these lakes, and, descending from Mount Fiscellus (Monte  Fiscello), unites with them near... Reate (Rieti), and then directs its course towards the Tiber, into which it discharges itself”.    

The artificial “Lakes of Velinus” were created in 274 BC, some twenty years after Manius Curius Dentatus had conquered the Sabines.  At this time, the Velino River habitually flooded the high plain of Rieti, so he opened an artificial channel to divert it over a precipice, (forming what are now called the Cascata delle Marmore) into the Nera and thence to the Tiber.

Silius Italicus (ca. 25-101 AD )

Tiberius Catius Silius Italicus was a Latin poet and politician.  He was used by the Emperor Nero to prosecute his enemies and attained the consulship in 68 AD, the year in which Nero died.  His poem Punica, which is devoted to the Second Punic War, survives.   However, it is important to remember that Silius was a poet rather than a historian, and should be used as a source of historical information only with caution.

Silius Italicus on the Clitumnus, Mevania etc.

Book 4 (search on “ Mevania”) describes the death of Varenus at the Battle of Trebia.  These lines touch on Varenus’ native Mevania (Bevagna), together with nearby Fulginia (Foligno) and the springs of the Clitumnus:

  1. “Nor was the son of Hamilcar less 

  2. formidable in the fray : he slew luckless Varenus who

  3. wore white armour and came from Mevania; for him

  4. fertile Fulginia ploughed her rich soil, where the

  5. Clitumnus, flowing through the spreading fields,

  6. bathes the white bulls in its cool stream”.

Book 6 (search on “Tuder”) describes the aftermath of the Battle of Lake Trasimeno.  These lines touch on Tuder (Todi), and include a more detailed description of Mevania:

  1. “While the defeated Romans were preparing for

  2. a fresh campaign, Hannibal, rebuffed by Jupiter's

  3. warning and hopeless of battering the walls of Rome,

  4. made for the hills and fields of Umbria, where Tuder

  5. hangs on a high mountain-top and slopes down its

  6. side; and where Mevania, lying low on the wide

  7. plains, breathes forth sluggish mists and feeds mighty

  8. bulls for Jupiter's altar.  Next he passed on over the

  9. land of Picenum, rich in olives, and took much booty”

Book 8 (search on “Umbrians”) describes the Umbrian allies of the Romans.  It describes the geography of the region, and touches on the Clitumnus spring and the cities of: Arna; Mevania; Hispellum (Spello); Narnia (Narni); Iguvium (Gubbio); Fulginia; Ameria (Amelia); Camertes; Sassina; and Tuder:

  1. “But the Umbrians, dwellers in the country, brought

  2. no less strength to the Roman army, when they came

  3. from their hills and valleys.  Their rivers are the

  4. Aesis and the Sapis, and the Metaurus which drives

  5. its rapid stream over rocks in noisy eddies; and there

  6. Clitumnus bathes in its sacred waters the mighty

  7. bull; and there is the Nar whose pale waves hasten

  8. to the Tiber, and the Tinia unknown to fame, and the

  9. Clanis, and the Rubicon, and the Sena named after

  10. the Senones. But Father Albula flows through

  11. their midst with his mighty stream and grazes

  12. their walls and brings near his banks.  The

  13. Umbrian towns are:

  14. -Arna;

  15. -Mevania of rich pastures;

  16. -Hispellum;

  17. -Narnia, which lies among the rocks on the rough mountain-side;

  18. -Iguvium, which damp mists formerly made unhealthy; and

  19. -Fulginia, which stands unwalled on the open plain.

  20. These sent good soldiers:

  21. -Amerians;

  22. -Camertes, famous alike with sword or plough;

  23. -men of Sassina rich in flocks; and

  24. -men of Tuder, no laggards in war. 

  25. These death-defying warriors were led by Piso ....”

Appian (ca. 95 - 165 AD)

Appianus of Alexandria was a Roman lawyer and historian of Greek descent who was born in Alexandria, where he held public office before moving to Rome in ca. 120.  His “Roman History” was written in Greek before 165 AD and was made up of 24 books, many of which survive.  The following extracts are from his account of the ‘War against Hannibal’.

As Hannibal approached Lake Trasimeno:

  1. “The citizens [of Rome] became greatly alarmed ..., for they had no force at hand fit for battle.  Nevertheless, 8,000 of those who remained were brought together, over whom Centenius one of the patricians, although a private citizen, was appointed commander, there being no regular officer present, and sent into Umbria to the Plestine marshes to occupy the narrow passages that offered the shortest way [for Hannibal to reach] to Rome” (9).

After the disaster at Lake Trasimeno:

  1. “When this news reached the consul Servilius on the Po, he marched to Etruria with 40,000 men.  Centenius, with his 8000, had already occupied the narrow passage previously mentioned” (10).

  2. “WhenHannibal saw the Plestine marsh and the mountain overhanging it, and Centenius between them guarding the passage, he inquired of the guides whether there was any way around.  When they said there was no path but that the whole region was rugged and precipitous, he nevertheless sent a body of lightly armed troops, under the command of Maharbal, to explore the district and pass around the mountain by night.  When he judged that they had reached their destination he attacked Centenius in front.  While the engagement was in progress, Maharbal was seen pushing forward strenuously on the summit above, where he raised a shout.  The Romans thus surrounded took to flight, and there was a great slaughter among them, 3,000 being killed and 800 taken prisoners.  The remainder escaped with difficulty.  When this news reached [Rome]. they feared lest Hannibal should march against them at once.  They collected stones upon the walls, and the old men armed themselves.  Being in want of arms they took down from the temples those that had been hung there as trophies of former wars, and, as was customary in times of great danger, they chose a dictator, Fabius Maximus being selected” (11).


Literary Sources for Umbria, Etruria and the Alta Sabina Before the Social Wars