Abruzzo History III
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(from prehistory to the modern age)




Translation by Abruzzo 2000


A special thanks for help with the English text to Peter A. Ianni

  Extract from Guida dell’Abruzzo, Rome 1903

Published by Adelmo Polla - Second Italian Edition 1998





There is no doubt about the existence of prehistoric man in the first period of the quaternary* age. Surely man witnessed the majestic progress of glaciers; but maybe his appearance is more ancient and might go back to the tertiary age. From many discoveries it seems that man lived all over Europe fighting for his space in nature. Stone findings from the period, the manufacts of these primitive men, have been unearthed along with  bones of now extinct animal species, and such findings allow us to establish the places and the periods of our earliest ancestors.

There is no trace in Abruzzo of palafittes*, among the most important of prehistoric monuments, because of the nature of the territory[1]; however, many lithologic findings show that Abruzzo was inhabited by man in prehistoric times.

Prehistory is divided into four different time periods, which are together known as archeolitic, when man was a witness to all the stages of the glacier age and a contemporary to the the cave bear (Ursus Spelaeus), mammooth (Elephas Primigenius), rhinoceros (Rhinoceros Thichorinus) and bison (Bison Europaeus), animals which, when the glacial age was over, either migrated elsewhere or became extinct.

In this first period man, who had not yet discovered metals, made utensils with materials he had nearby and used stones and especially flints, since they were the hardest and,  thanks to their shape, the best to make sharp tools. In the Vibrata Valley, south of Civitella del Tronto, a great number of such tools, typical of prehistoric industry, were found by Concezio Rosa[2], who described their use extensively. The mountain range to which the Montagna dei Fiori belongs, supplied the right stones; in the limestone, of which the range is formed, there were large siliceous[3] veins from which axes, arrows and knives were made; from the cretaceous[4] sandstones, which are found in the Vomano valley, man made the stones for his fireplace and other tools. The main sites where such findings are recorded are San Giuseppe, Ravigliano and Gabbiano, in the municipality of Corropoli (Vibrata valley), where Dr. Rosa found flat, oval axes, other larger triangular axes, whitish flint knives, very primitive battle-axes, which were probably used to beat, by hand, arrows made with pieces of grey piromaca, which were then finished to make the point sharp and to give them an oval, long shape, useful for knives and cutting tools.

These tools belong to the earliest archeolithic period, a time to which therefore the existence of prehistoric man in the Vibrata valley can be dated.

It is certain that among the migratory tribes coming from Central Asia before the glacial period, many moved west and reached Eastern Europe, where they proceeded in different directions; some tribes followed the Danube valley, others went south leaving the Alps to their right, continued towards the Danube countries and, from there, followed the northern Adriatic coast and settled in the large Po valley. The Apennines, little affected by the climate of the glacial period, and the whole region of Abruzzo, which had very recently surfaced from the wide tertiary sea, offered an easy, pleasant life; these tribes found all the necessary land attributes to spread all over the coastline and at the mouths of the large rivers, which were at that time much wider than now. These tribes probably settled in different places and, whenever the population grew, some groups moved upstream along the river banks towards the mountains and occupied the valleys.

In the Vibrata valley the first settlers found very favorable conditions: virgin fertile lands, temperate climate, moist atmospheric conditions; they built battle-axes, arrow points and other tools, living at first without permanent homes or just in simple leaf huts. But when the snows and the glacial period began, they, who did not yet know the art of constructing homes, took refuge in the many caves available in the mountains of Civitella and Montagna dei Fiori, caves from which they expelled bears and hyenas. Dr Rosa found 45 of these caves in that area of Abruzzo. Most of these caves look to the south, very few to the north; in the latter  there are no traces of prehistoric man, while in the former many artifacts witness his presence. Also in later periods caves continued to offer shelter to man, and were still used as living places in the metal age, and, when agricolture developed, they became the refuge of shepherds up to the present age. Some of this caves were also used in Christian times by hermits.

The stone age objects found in these caves are better finished than those unearthed from the ground. Along with primitive axes, also pointed tools and grating tools were found, which were used to make clothes from animal skins as protection against the cold.

But though also in our region there was a progress of glaciers, it is difficult to establish the ages that are generally used to divide the archeolithic period, because, thanks to the special positions, it was possible for man to go on living here. The objects found show a progress in prehistoric industry, thanks to the introduction of such new materials  as bone and horn, which are however found in very limited amounts because they degrade more easily than stone tools. Most of these objects have been found in caves, which shows that also in the third period of the archeolitic age man continued to live in caves, and still lived there in the following period, since also ornaments typical of the last period have been found there.

In the Vibrata valley also fragments of primitive kitchen tools have been found, which shows that prehistoric man here worked clay, first baking it under the sun, then in the fire.

There are also traces of the neolithic period in the caves of Salomone and Sant’Angelo, such as bone tools and refined kitchen tools. In that period man left the caves and started to build his home in the open air; such homes were found by Dr Rosa on hills in the Vibrata valley. This shows that, after leaving the caves, those men did not go down to the valley bottoms, which were still covered by water, and chose instead the summits and built their huts among the hills of Corropoli, Controguerra and Colonnella; doctor Rosa found 203 such huts, and on their floors the remains of the cooking activities and the tools used in the kitchen.

No metals had yet been discovered, and man continued to use stone to make his his tools; but the objects show a more refined working; primitive axes disappear and there are smooth axes, decorated graters and pointers, and also shells with holes obviously used as pendants. There are also saws and hammers, weapons, fishing tools, arrow points in many shapes (oval, triangular, moon-shaped), javelins and sling stones, as well as many clay tools made with dark or black paste, composed of clay with the addition of sand and quartz, high vases, bowls and large flat-bottomed pots with the borders turned outward and handles made from an addition of the same material,  or rounded  with holes.

In no object there are traces of drawings as elsewhere in Europe, maybe other supports – e.g. bone or wood - were chosen, which decay more easily.

The abundance of weapons found in many of the above places, and their good conditions, led scholars to believe that such a great quantity exceeded the requirements of the community pointing towards the existence of some form of trade or exchange with nearby tribes. Apart from the Belvedere village, Dr Rosa found 11 more such ‘workshops’, which supplied a large quantity of very small weapons.

The archeological monuments of the archeolithic and neolithic periods are very rare, because it was easy for subsequent generations to destroy them; but there is no doubt that the whole Abruzzi region, not only the Vibrata valley, was inhabited by prehistoric man. Here and there other settlements have been recorded, though no studies have been made so far. And very little is known of the period that followed, i.e. the metal age, which is important to follow man in his progress and describe his history until the moment when other documents or findings are available. Recent excavations in the Tortoreto area have given traces of the metal civilization in the region, but there are not yet enough elements for a comprehensive study, and we can only hope that other scholars follow the example of Dr. Concezio Rosa.[5]






There is very little information about the most ancient period when strong peoples inhabited Abruzzo before the expansion of Rome. There is no legend which tells about the first migration of the human race here. The discoveries described in the previous chapter made by Concezio Rosa in the Vibrata valley between Corropoli and Cassone, the prehistoric tombs near Lama dei Peligni, the dolmens[7]  that can be found here and there, especially in the eastern Maiella hills, to which popular imagination gave names derived from medieval legendary tales, show the existence of disappeared primitive people in Abruzzo at the beginning of known history, in the paleolithic and neolithic periods. These earliest inhabitants, whose earliest traces are found in the Tortoreto area, departed before agriculture developed and the fusion of metals was discovered.

But we know nothing about these primitive populations, and history can only begin when man, joining in communities, develops customs, a religion and a language. But even in this latter period archeological findings are very scanty. History cannot show which races inhabited Abruzzo and only theories can be developped. There are two basic currents of thought about the earliest civilized inhabitants of Abruzzi, which are based on assumption that Italic peoples originated the Roman civilization, more than the Greeks or the Egyptians. One theory says that the first inhabitants were the Sabines, either native or coming from Asia, and says that the Pelasgi and the Tyrreni were one people called with these two different names according to their different civilization degree. The second theory, following the famous sentence by Roman historian Titus Livius

“Thuscorum ante romanum imperium lata terra marique opes patuere”[8]

 believes that the Etruscans were the first inhabitants of central Italy and that the remains of ancient civilizations are to be ascribed to the Etruscan people. Between the two theories, there is another hypothesis which joins both saying that in the mountains areas there were the Sabini* aborigines and in the coastal lands the Etruscans and Liburni* known for their swift sailing ships.

The Sabini might be descended from the earliest inhabitants of central Italy, who were called in the north Umbrians (ethimologically the word comes from the Greek ombros, imber which means deluge). From the Sabines or Sabellians came the many powerful, warlike tribes that we find in our territory at the dawn of the Roman civilization.

In the south these earliest inhabitants received the name of Osci* (Opici from Opi, the Earth Goddess). The Osci might have also been the ancestors of the many peoples that populated a large part of Central and Southern Italy.

A short while after the great deluge (which the Greeks called Deucalione and the Bible also mentions) the Oenotri came to occupy the lands of the originary Osci tribes, and later more peoples came and called the originary Umbri, Osci and Oenotri as Aborigines[9] all together, a name which is still given to the primitive peoples coming from Asia. These ancestral inhabitants of Central Italy, from Campania to Latium and the Adriatic sea, who occupied in a very remote age a large part of the Peninsula, were later defeated by the Sabellians tribes, but their language remained even in later periods, since the language spoken by the Campanians* and the Samnites* is of Oscian origin. We don’t know whether this language remained pure or was modified by the Sabellic language, because all of the so far known written documents follow the Sabellian conquest.

With the help of stone inscriptions, among which the one found by Professor De Nino* near Castel di Ieri (which has not yet been deciphered), we can establish the limits where the Osci language was spoken: that is Campania, Samnium, Irpinia, Frentania and Northern Apulia. And this language, which is strictly connected and similar to Latin, and not mysterious like the language of the Etruscans, was the language that continued to be spoken in Central Italy even after the Roman conquest and is found in the medal inscriptions coined by the Samnites in our region during the social war*.

With all these names of peoples and the uncertain historical tradition  mostly coming from unsure information and legends, the only certainty is that the peoples living in Abruzzo (when contacts with Rome began), represented one of the two branches of the Italic people. Traditionally the passage from pastoral life to agriculture is credited to king Italus (or Vitalo or Vitulo), but this is another version of the Samnitic fable, that says that their aratore (ploughman) was the head of the colonies. In the same way the most ancient Latin names call the Siculi or Sicani field workers (Opsci).

The two branches of the Italic peoples were the Latins and the Umbrians; from the latter came the Marsi, Samnites or Osci, and from these ones all the nations that in historic times occupy the various territories in Central Italy.





The provinces that today are collectively known as are Abruzzo did not form originally a political or ethnograpical unit. The name Abruzzo is a corruption of an ancient word deriving from the population of the Praetutii whose capital was Interamnia (present day Teramo), though it is uncertain when in history the name was extended and  applied to nearby territories. Originally the name of the territory corresponding to present Abruzzo and Molise was known as Savinium or Samnium. The italic peoples that inhabited this large territory occupied the whole of present day Abruzzo, and were surrounded by the Aequi and Ernici, Sabinia, and Campania. They were divided into tribes called Praetutii, Vestini, Marrucini, Frentani, Paeligni and  Marsi. Their economy was both agricultural and pastoral. The sea did not invite them to trade nor did it attract foreign peoples to establish colonies along the coast: the harbors were better suited to fishing than trade.

The earliest Abruzzese towns must surely have been small settlements which formed autonomous political communities including the fields around (agri). If there existed an originary culture, it was soon influenced by more civilized nearby populations such as the Etruscans, the Campani or the Magna Grecia colonies, from where other colonizers came. Hadria (Atri) for example was founded – or already existed and was occupied - by an Etruscan colony. For centuries Rome strived to conquer or tame these fierce tribes, which were later to help Rome greatly in its future enterprises.

Whenever we attempt to speak about these groups individually, we not only find it difficult to trace their separate histories but also to identify the area they inhabited and the sites of their settlements. However, we shall endeavour to reconcile all of the different and contrasting historical opinions and etsablish some firm points also on the basis of the latest discoveries.





In the present province of Teramo there were three different territories known as Palmense, Praetutianum and Adrianum, whose boundaries were the Adriatic in the north and east, the Tronto river in the south and the Gran Sasso massif and the Piomba river in the west. Before the Roman conquest these territories, though small, were three different independent regions, added later by Augustus to the Picenum. The connection with the ancient Picentes in the north and these populations is still to be established: The peoples living in the present province of Teramo and those north of the Tronto were probably quite different, even though they are often known under the common name of Picentes.

The Palmensi, whose territory was named after a kind of vine called palme producing an exquisite wine, occupied (according to Plinius topography) the land south of the Tronto river bordering the Adriatic coast as far as the Elvino river, today called Vibrata. Therefore, the Palmensi were bordered by the Adriatic sea in the east, in the west by the Apennines, in the north by the Tronto river which divided them from the Picenum. On the left bank of the river Truentus, nowadays Tronto, the Palmensi had a town which Strabone describes under the name of  Civitas Truentina and Plinius with the name of the river itself, Truentum.

The Helvinus river, which is surely present-day Vibrata or Ubrata, flowing from from Garrufo as far as the sea, divided the territory of the Palmensi from the territory of the Praetutii, which was larger, bordering in the north the right bank of the Elvino and the Agrum Palmense and Agrum Ascolanum, and in the south the Vomano river; having its natural limits in the Adriatic in the east and in the west the main Apennine range with the mountains of Pizzo di Sevo, Pizzo di Moscio, Montagna di Roseto and Valle Chiarina, where the Sabinum territory began. Nowadays all these territories correspond to the districts of Giulianova, Notaresco, Teramo, Montorio, Campli and Civitella del Tronto.

But what is the origin of this name Praetutious? It is uncertain, as we already said: the territory may have derived its name from the main town which was in antiquity called Petrut.

The Praetutii, beyond the Salino river (Salinum flumen), had in their hinterland a town called Beregra, of which we only know for certain that it was occupied by a Roman colony under Augustu; we ignore where it was situated, though some scholars think it was Garrufo, near Nereto, others place it in the Fano plain, while still others identify it with either Bisegna or Civitella del Tronto.

Another Praetutii town was Castrum novum, rising 12 miles from Truentum, along the Salaria, which was not – as the name castrum suggests - a mere citadel, but a real town; but nothing is known about its ancient name or history. In the Middle Ages it was called Castrum divi Flaviani and in the XV century the inhabitants were moved three miles to the hinterland, where Giulianova now rises.

But the most important Praetutii city was Interamnia (present-day Teramo), their capital at the junction of the Albula (Vezzola) and the Batinus river (Tordino).

As far as the Adriani are concerned, their region was narrower. The Vomano river (Vomanus fluvium) separated it in the north from the Praetuitii and the Matrino (or Piomba), the terrible river about which Silius said

Stat, fucare colus nec Sidone vilior ancon

Murice nec Libyco; statque humectato Vomano

Hadria, et inclemens hirsuti signifer Ascli. [10]

                                                                                (Lib. VIII)

divided it from the Vestini, with the Apennine range and the Gran Sasso in the south and the west; so that this territory only covered the districts of Atri and Bisenti. But it is doubtful whether these were also the limits of the ancient Hatriana region before the Roman occupation; maybe the opposite is true since Adria, the only city described in this region by ancient geographers, was larger in antiquity, for population and importance, than Interamnia, from which it was 15 miles away. The Atriani had a trade point which later on became castle and was called Matrinum or Macrinum Oppidum; some scholars place it at the mouth of the Piomba, others on the other bank of the Vomano river, where nowadays Scerne is situated.

The Adriani territory also comprised Mons Cunarus which, according to Cluverius, was Monte Corno, the highest peak in the Gran Sasso.

In order to briefly summarize the histories of ADRIANI, PRAETUTII and PALMENSI, we have to say that, apart from the occupation of the Umbri, Siculi and Liburni and possibly other populations called together as Pelasgi, and the wars between all these peoples and other more ancient populations, nothing is known before the Roman occupation. The destiny of the Praetutii seems to have been decided in 461, when Curius Dentatus defeated the Sabines for the second time, and the Samnites accepted his conditions: but the occupation of Castrum and Adria by Roman colonizers shows that maybe they were possibly occupied earlier than that. The Praetutii were allies to the Romans against Hannibal, who maybe for this reason plundered the Agrum Praeututianum and Adrianum. In order to obtain revenge, the Praetutii fought courageously along with the Frentani and the Marrucini  against the Carthaginians and contributed to the victory of Roman general Nero at the Metaurum river.

In later times the devastations of the Social War also touched Praetutium and when the Italic allies obtained the Roman citizenship the Praetutii were included with the Piceni to bring votes to Rome. Then a number of noble families went left Rome to live in Praetutium, which had already become a part of the Roman Republic, shared the first Roman successes and adopted Roman language and customs. From those families the names of many modern villages in this territory are derived.





South of the Adrianum territory, in the valleys dominated by the highest Apennine mountains, there was the Vestine region, whose boundaries were in the east the Adriatic coast, as far as modern Città Sant’Angelo, in the north the Vomano and Piomba rivers, beyond which there was the territory of the Adriani; then following the Matrino river for a short distance the Agrum Vestinum was separated from the Adrianum by Bisenti and Colli, and in the west by the Gran Sasso. From the foothills of this mountain range ran the boundary ran through Prifernum (Assergi) and Amiternum (San Vittorino), which belonged to the Sabini and, crossing the Aterno river, proceeded through Furconium (Civita di Bagno), near Aquila, and Aveia (Fossa) on the same river. From here it proceeded towards the Marsi mountains through Rocca di Mezzo and Rovere, and again followed the Aterno river at Secinaro, where the territory of the Marsi began. Then the vestine territory followed the left bank of the river throughout its course as far as the town of Aterno. The Vestini, therefore, occupied all the lands comprised in the present day territory of Penne and Aquila, that is the provinces that were later in the 19th century  called I and II Abruzzo ulteriore. But these were the boundaries before the Roman conquest, when the Picenum reached only as far as the Elvino river (Vibrata), while after the Roman conquest the whole Agrum Vestinum was included within the Picenum.

Also the origin of the Vestines in unknown; in his description Strabo[11], after listing them along with the Marsi, Paeligni, Marrucini and Frentani, unites all all of them under a common ancestral race: the Samnites. According to Strabo their common origin was proved by the frequent communications, the similar customs, forms of government and religion, and the main current of thought nowadays follows him in considering the Vestini as derived from the Umbrians-Samnites of sentral Italy.

As to the ethimology of the Vestini name, we shall not list the stranger theories, but we shall restrict ourselves to the inscriptions and medals which they made probably following the examples of the Adriani or Latins, from whom they derived the best of their civilization and arts, since such medals are not found among other populations inside the Apennine. It is possible that the name derives from the cult of Vesta, the goddess of the family, whose temple before than in Rome was originally in Alba, and whose cult the Romans and the Sabellians derived probably from the East. Apart from the medals, a great many inscriptions bear the name of Vesta, and one can still be seen just outside the city  door of Penne. But we sould also record the opinion of other writers who say that the name of Vestini derives from their position between the Piomba and the Aterno, that is from the Celtic words ves (meaning river) and tin (meaning country); so that Vestini would mean “inhabitants of the country of the waters”, and they would have originated from the Illyrici, Celtic populations who were the earliest inhabitants of the Adriatic coast, and moved in later periods to the interior.

The history of the Vestini, as well as the nearby Sabellic federations, is very mysterious because there are no documents. They did not write their name in history and their wars were confused with the wars of the nearby Marsi, Paeligni, Marrucini and Frentani, to whom they were always allied; and if it was not for the wars, maybe we would not know anything today about them. The first date recorded in their history is the year 430 b.C., when they were allied with the Samnites against Rome. Few in number and living more in villages than in towns, they were courageous and warlike. They lived in the mountains and were protected by the land features of the Gran Sasso area, where the snowy clifts, the rocks, the abyss, streams and woods were difficult to cross. They were accustomed to hunt animals and covered themselves, like the Marrucini and Frentani, with the skins of  bears, then abundant in the Apennines. The weapons of a typical Samnite were a light crooked javelin and a sling used to hit flying birds:

Haud illo levior bellis Vestina juventus

Agmina densavit venata dura ferorum

Quae Fiscelle tuas arces, Pinnomque virentem,

Pascuaque haud tarda redeuntia tondet Abellae,

Marrucina simul Frentanis aemula pubes

Corfini populos, magnumque Teate trahebat.

Omnibus in pugna fertur sparus, omnibus alto

Assuetae volucrem coelo demittere fundae

Pectora pellis obit coesi venatibus ursi.[12]

(Silio Italico, Lib. VIII)

The alliance between the Vestini and Samnites so worried the Roman people and Senate, that they stressed the importance of the war, and divided the provinces between thetwo consuls: the Vestina was given to D. Giunio Bruto who, after many battles and plunders, having destroyed houses and burnt the fields, obliged his enemies to meet his armies in the open fields, where they were defeated. The Vestini took refuge in their citadels Cutina and Cingilia, but also there they were attached and the citadels were sieged, without any help from the Samnites. The next historical information we have about them is a Treaty with Rome in 301 b.C. From then onwards the Vestini were faithful allies of the Roman Republic.

While listing the forces of the Italic allies in 225 B.C., Polibius[13] mentiones the Vestini and their army as consisting of 20,000 foot-soldiers and 4,000 horses.

The Vestini were faithful to this alliance, and also offered help together with the nearby peoples in the wars against Hannibal, until the famous social war, when they rebelled to defend their native rights. There is no doubt that, since the beginning of the social war, the Vestini joined the Marsi, but their name is mentioned only about the end of the war, when historians say they were defeated and subdued shortly before their other confederates. At that time they were certainly given Roman citizenship and when the new citizens were ascribed to the different Roman gentes, the Vestini received the Quirina, as it appears in various inscriptions found in Penne.

The Vestine territory was included in the Fourth Augustan region (Quarta Regio), but in a further divisions the coastal areas were united to the Picenum, and the interior (or Aterno valley) included, with the Sabines and Paeligni, in the Valeria province.

Juvenal[14] says that the Vestini continued to keep their primitive simplicity and customs also under the Roman Empire. Silius Italicus, as we reported, speaks of them as a courageous race, warlike, used to hunting in their rugged mountains, which certainly hosted ferocious animals. The innermost parts of their territory were covered with good pastures and, according to Plinius[15] and Martial[16], the Vestini cheese was much appreciated in Rome.

Though the Vestini preferred to live in open places, the following centers are associated to them, and certainly these centres grew in Roman times, when, after renouncing their political independence, they were obliged to share their territory with the Roman colonists and had to obey the harsh rule of the Praefecti.

Plinius mentions four Vestini cities. The most important was Pinna called virentem (=green) , because of the rich olive trees and vineyards covering the plains and hills. This town rose where Penne (Province of Pescara) is today. In the south, a little further away, there was a spring of mineral waters called Acqua Ventina et Virium, which was much appreciated and visited in Roman times. This second city is Angulus, where today is Città Sant’Angelo. Aternum, at the mouth of the river of the same name, now called Pescara, was the Vestini harbour and the only harbour for a very long distance on the Adriatic coast, so that it was also used by the Marrucini.

Another city mentioned by Plinius rose beyond the Saline river: it was the city of the Pleninensi or Planiensi, listed by Plinius among the other Picenum populations, but originally comprised in the Vestini. But just as the true name of this population is uncertain, also the location of their city Plenina or Plania is unknown: some historians say it can be identified with Pianella, situated between the Saline and Pescara rivers, where very ancient walls can still be found.

Livius[17] tells that the Vestini, attacked by consul Decius Brutus in 430, found refuge in their fortified city of Cutina or Cytina, which was later conquered. But since no other historian or geographer mentiones this town, we don’t know anything about its origin or history. As to its location it is believed to have arisen on the site of present Civitaquana, where there are also ancient ruins; if so it might have been one of the fortresses that defended the frontier with the Marrucini and Frentani. Other sources, however, place this ancient town near Paganica (Province of L’Aquila), and find a trace of the name Cutilia in a nearby mountain called Cuticchio. But these are only theories.

We do not have much more information either about the other fortress, also conquered by consul Decius Brutus, that of Cincilia, which overlooked the Vestini territory on the side bordering the Paeligni and Marrucini peoples; from the advantage position of Civita Aretenga, near Navelli and Capestrano, and from some ruins found there, some historians have said that the fortress rose in that place. Others, instead, would like to place it in Celiera, a small village near Penne. Another Vestini town was Aufina or Aufinum, whose inhabitants Plinius calls Aufinates. Aufina is identified in present-day Ofena, which was called Offene in the Middle Ages, and is situated near Capestrano. Near Ofena there are many ruins which witness ancient settlements.

Another town was Pitinum (Torre di Pitino, about 3 km north of Aquila), along the branch of the Salaria Road going from Interocrea to Alba and Peltuinum and whose ruins can still be seen on a plateau 14 miles from Aquila, between Prata and Castelnuovo, which site is now called Ansidonia. Near Peltuinum there was also Vicus Furfo where nowadays Furfona lies.

The Vestini also had Aveia near Fossa and Frusterna (two miles from Aveia), though we do not know if this was a village or a simple oppidum, and which was identified with the land of Ocre. There is also mention of a Vicus Ofidius, where Bazzano is nowadays, which however rose in later times, of a Vicus Pagnius (Bagno) and a Vicus Sinitius, between San Demetrio and San Nicandro.

Another important Vestini town was Prifernum, near nowadays Assergi, at the western foot of the Gran Sasso, in a place which is called Forno today.

A Vestini settlement which seems to have risen near the temple of the Goddess Feronia, east of the place where later Monticchio was built (3 miles east of Aquila), and now called Civita di Bagno, was Furconium, of which however there is no mention made by ancient geographers. Ruins were found near Bagno and it seems to have been an important town only in the early Middle Ages.





It is not easy to establish the exact geographical location of this people, who occupied part of Latium, part of the present province of Perugia, and part of the Abruzzi. Roman historian Strabo says:

"The Sabina, situated between the Latini and the Umbri, extends towards the Samnitic mountains, but it is nearer to that part of the Apennines bordering on the Vestini, Peligni and Marsi and elsewhere. The Sabini live in a very narrow land, which covers one thousand stadia in lengtht (125 miles) from the Tiber and the small town of Nomentum, as far as the Vestini".

 On the other hand, Dionisius[18] from Alicarnaxus, quoting more ancient Cato[19], ascribed to the Sabina region a smaller surface, saying they occupied lands 280 stadia away from the Adriatic and 240 from the Tyrrhenian sea. These two different views can be both valid if we consider that the distance stated by Dionisius was referred to length, while that quoted by Strabo to width; therefore the land of the Sabini was compared to the point of a lance, extended towards the sea between the Tiber and the Teverone rivers. These are the most certain boundaries of this region, included between the Apennines on the one hand for about a hundred miles, surrounded by Umbria, Picenum, the Vestini and the Marsi, while the Tiber and Aniene were the natural limits on the side of Etruria and Latium. This land therefore began at the junction of the Tiber and Aniene rivers, and followed the right bank of the Aniene as far as Varia (Vicovaro), entering the region of Aequi. The boundary line crossed the Telonio river , or Salto, which divided the Sabini from the Marsi and, following the same side, reached present day Fossa, 8 miles east of  Aquila. Then the Samine jurisdiction embraced Foruli and Amiternum and, going towards the sea, Falacrine, between Cittareale and Amatrice, and Nursia (Norcia) as far as the Monti Sibillini. On this other side the Sabines bordered Umbria and Picenum. Then the boundary line turned back towards Rome, following the left bank of the Nar river (Nera), leaving however Narni and Otricoli to the Umbri, then followed the Tiber as far as Fidene. But of this wide territory crossed by the Imella, the Fabari, the Allia and the Velino rivers, only the Velino basin was comprised in present[20] Abruzzo Ulteriore II, where today there is the district of Cittaducale and part of the district of Aquila, from the springs of the Velino, in the territory of Cittaducale, as far as the mountain canyons Esta, or Lista. Therefore, in the most ancient times the territory of the Sabines was placed in the north of Abruzzo,  where the Apennines were steeper and higher. In this mountainous land, where the highest peaks of the Apennines (Pizzo  di Sevo, Terminillo, Maiella) can be found, was the first settlement of the ancient tribes, probably called Aborigines, who gave way to the warlike Sabines.

The Sabines were one of the most ancient peoples of Italy, so ancient that Strabo considered them native; and from them many other Italic populations were derived. The Sabines also were an Umbrian tribe; according to some sources they crossed to Italy from the vicinity of the Sabi river in Peonia, Illiria, though others would have liked to consider them as originating from Sparta.

Their national God was Sabo, or Sabino, who was the considered their original ancestor. In their wild lands they had so grown in numbers that the history of this population is rich with the names of tribes derived from them, and who drifted apart by way of different migrations. Sacred animals, according to ancient historians, led the young homeless Sabellians in their migrations. In this way the Sabines moved and spread to Latium and nearby lands. Since these tribes were very warlike, they easily subdued nearby populations, until with the rise of Rome, two cities and two rising civilizations melded into one (Albani, Latins ans Sabines) to conquer the world.

Since the earliest Roman times the Sabines were a population rich with warriors, famous for their love of battles, harsh spirit and their toughness and resistance. Hardened by work and cultivating their lands, like the Etruscans they could drive a plough and hold a sword. They joined their ancient origin with the veneration of traditional values and the finest institutions. No other people could emulate them in justice, honesty, love for their homeland, parsimony and modesty. Among the ancient, Sabine women were held as models of honesty and prudence.

Valiant and warlike, the Sabines showed their courage in the long wars against the Romans. As Rome increased in power, the long peace with the Sabines was broken. But in Rome they introduced their patriarcal and warlike habits and their religious character was symbolized in King Numa[21]. With the story of the alliance of two cities, a Latin city on the Palatino hill and a Sabine city on the Quirinale and Capitolino, both legend and history show the importance that the mountainous Sabines had in the foundation of Rome.

Ancient stories, such as the rape of the Sabine women, which possibly point to the moment of fusion of the two peoples, the war that broke out between them with the sovereignty divided between Romulus and Titus Tatius, the religious and political laws passed by king Numa, certainly pertain only to the Sabines living in Latium, while those who remained among the mountains of Abruzzo were not included in the early history of Rome. But with the growing of the new state, which became powerful and menacing for its neighbours, at the time of Tullius Hostilius, the Sabines from the mountains of Abruzzo made war to the Romans. They were defeated twice and obliged to a truce, which they broke only to be defeated a third time by king Ancus Martius. They made peace with Rome again, but this friendship lasted only for a short time: before Tarquinius Priscus became the king of Latium, they joined the Etruscans against the Romans. Near Fidene there was a terrible defeat, followed by a six years' truce. Finally they were defeated by Tarquinius the Proud at Ereto and Fidene, and became subjects and tax-payers of the Romans.

When the kings were expelled from Rome[22], and the Sabines saw Rome weakened by the wars with the Etruscans, they set out to wage war again: and the frequent wars created desolation in the Sabine territories. In 404, according to Velleius, they obtained Roman citizenship without suffrage: twenty-two years later, in the same year when a colony from them was sent to Benevento, they obtained full citizenship. But Niebuhr[23] is not so sure about this, for thirty years later the two tribes Velina and Quirina were created, comprising the Sabines living around the Velino and Cure; Cicero instead, states that the Sabines were included with the rustic tribe called Sergia, one of the most ancient in Rome. Not all of the Sabine population enioyed  Roman citizenship from the start.

Some towns remained prefecturae, and Amiternum and the settlements of the Sabine lands, enjoyed the same right, since they offered their alliance to Scipio during the war against Carthago, but the Roman dictator was not allowed to enroll soldiers from their tribe. The Sabines did not take part to the social war, which saw only the participation of the Marsi and Samnites who, however, had taken origin from the Sabines. Such was the origin of this famous nation that, since time immemorial, was already civilized, and when obliged to accept the Roman supremacy, did not renounce their pristine simplicity or change their customs, so much so that in the most corrupted periods of Roman history they maintained a reputation of honesty, rude simplicity and manly courage. Horace[24] said:



Quod si pudica mulier in partem juvet

Domum, atque dulces liberos

Sabina qualis.                    Epod. II.


And elsewhere:

Sed rusticorum mascula militum

Proles sabellis docta ligonibus

Versare glebas, et severae

Matris ad arbitrium recisas

Portare fustes…                  Lib. III od. 6


The Sabines governed their towns more with their austere customs than with institutions, more with ethics than laws, and they loved the simple countryside life better than the chaotic, easy town life; for these reasons their towns were few in number and small in size. The greater part of the population was dispersed into villages and boroughs built on mountain tops. According to the scanty memories left by ancient historians and geographers and with the evidence of usual travel routes, the small towns and villages of the Sabines in Abruzzo were the following.

First of all, a short distance from the left bank of the Aterno, in the eastern end of the region, they had Amiternum, one of the most ancient cities in Italy, where now the village of San Vittorino rises.

A short distance from Amiternum there was Foruli, at the beginning of the Via Claudia Nuova and where now there is Civitatomassa.

Two miles from Foruli, in the vicinity of the Imella river, there was another Sabine town, mentioned by Virgil[25] under the name of Casperia, and by Silius Italicus as Casperula; but other sources located that settlement outside our boundaries, and exactly at Aspra, on the bank of the Aia river between Tivoli and Terni; others in the plain called Presenzano and still others, maybe with more reason, at Crespiola or Crispiola, a short distance from L'Aquila.

Near Amiternum they had a village called Testrina or Cestrina, where Cato said was the ancestral capital of this people, which has been identified in the territory of a castle at Vigliano, a place called Le Cisterne, 10 miles from Interocrea and 3 from Foruli. A very ancient borough was also Interocrea, present Antrodoco. A market place for the Sabines was Forum Decii, situated where now is Santa Croce, about 4 miles from Bacugno.

Another Sabine vicum, acknowledgedly famous as Emperor Vespasianus’ birthplace, was Falacrine (Civitareale). Two miles north-east from Accumoli they had another village called Cose, and nearer to Accumoli another village called Badio.

Another important town was Tiora, famous with nearby Matiena for an ancient oracle of Mars, which rose where now we can find Teora. In the present valley of Sant’Anatolia there was the ancient town of Lista, once capital of the Aborigines, later occupied by the Sabines, a town which others identify  instead as Lisciano; and Cotilia, whose foundation goes back to the most ancient of times in Italy, a little far away from present Cittaducale and not far from Paterno, in a place that is still today called Cotilia.

Apart from the described cities ant towns, there were surely more inhabited settlements in Abruzzo whose names never reached us. Borghetto, a small place near Antrodoco, was certainly a place inhabited by the Sabines, as shown by ancient epigraphs found there. Especially at Amatrice there are still remains of walls, a fortress, a covered street which led to the Castellano stream. This borough was believed to coincide with the Sabine town called Scaptia, but Plinius, at the time when this town was already in ruin, said it was in Latium.

We shall finish now citing the mountains known to the Sabines, first of all Mons Fiscellus, which Plinius placed at the springs of the Nar river (Nera), which is still today called Fiscello, in the municipalities of Leonessa, Labbro, Morro and Piediluco, where this mountain join the chain of the Tetrici mountains, the “montes Gurgures” at Poggio Bustone, between Reate (i.e. Rieti)) and Leonessa, and where the sheep migrated to the pastures of Apulia: the mons Severus described by Virgil:

Qui Tetricae horrentes rupes, montemque Severum[26]

and identified with the mountains of Cantalice, now Cima di Monte, monte Corno and Tilia, which join mount Fiscello being divided only by a valley, and finally mons Tetricus, the wild mountain, which seems to be present Terminillo.





The Paeligni region was enclosed by natural boundaries of rivers and mountains. It was placed in the middle between the Vestini, Marsi and Samnites on the one side, and the Marrucini and Frentani on the other. It was surrounded in the north by the Aterno, in the east by the Sangro river; on the other side of the Aterno there were the Vestini, and on the other side of the Sangro the Frentani. In the west and the south the Apennines divided them from the Marsi andpartly from Samnium and finally the Maiella was the boundary with the Marrucini. From the Sangro river, near Castel di Saro, the boundary line moved westward and followed the mountains through steep Mount Chiarano or Argatone mount, comprising Scanno, Villalago and Cocullo and, following through Forca Caruso, where the Arch of Livia Augusta was built, the boundary line continued from Forca northward and came down through Gagliano and then Secinaro, where it touched the Aterno river: from here the border cut north to south through the summits of  Mount Morrone and the Maiella massif to include Pacentro, Campo di Giove and Palena, and turning at Pizzoferrato joined the Sangro river again in a place called Castel di Saro.

According to these boundaries, which are derived from the three populations united in the Paelina alliance, that is the Superequani, the Corfinienses and Sulmonenses, so called from their three main towns and, according to the boundaring populations, it is clear that the Paeligni occupied the districts of Sulmona, Popoli, Scanno, Pratola, Acciano and partly Pescina. The Paeligna region was surrounded on every side by high mountains covered for the largest part of the year by snow, and was described by the ancients as the coldest region of all. Horace said:


…quota Pelignis caream frigoribus                              (Od. 111. 19)


And Ovidius born in Sulmona:

Sulmonis gelidi patriae, Germanice, nostrae.

However, amid these mountains and canyons, a wonderful plain extended out of the narrow valley just below the plateau of the Cinquemiglia and reached beyond Corfinio, surrounded by high mountains and watered by four rivers: the Gizio, Aterno, Sagittario and Vella or Avella; this plain probably in prehistoric times was a lake, since ethymological studies derive the word Peligno from the greek Pelinè, that is mud, with a possible reference to the muddy region period left when the waters retreated. This part of the region in ancient times was celebrated for the flourishing vegetation and Peligni linen, wines, cereals, olives and honey were highly prized.


Terra ferax Cereris multoque feracior

Dat quoque bacciferam Pallada uvae rarus ager (Ovid Amor. Lib. II eleg. 16)


Non haec Pelignis agitur vindemia praelis,

Uva nec in Tuscis nascitur ista iugis. (Marziale Lib. I epig. 26).

The territory of the Paeligni must have always been important as a communication route among the various peoples of central Italy. The mountain pass of mons Imeus (Forca Caruso) enabled communications between the Paeligni and Marsi on the one side, and on the other side the Aterno canyon or Intermonti offered a straight line communication with the sea.

The Paeligni are the first inhabitants that we know in this territory, and like the Frentani and Marrucini were, according to Strabo, of Samnitic race. Ovid accepted this opinion calling the Paeligni descendants of the Sabines, who in their turn were the acknowledged ancestors of the Samnites:

Et tibi cum proavis, miles Peligni,

Convenit, hic genti quartus utrique deus.

And though Niebhur considers them of Illyric origin, following the tradition of Festus who traced the origin of the Paeligni from an Illyric colony that left Yugoslavia under the leadership of King Volsinus, they must have descended like the other populations from the Italic branch called Umbrian Samnitic. As a matter of fact there were always very close relations between the Paeligni and the Samnites and they shared customs and religion. We cannot however ignore that Ovid says Sulmona was founded by one Solimus from Phrygia, and Silius Italicus[27] attributed to its founder a Dardanic origin, which would confirm the tradition that Phrygians and Illiryans had a role in establishing a primitive settlement in the Paeligna region. However, the passage of Illyrian peoples does not contradict the true Sabellic origin of these ancient inhabitants, since the Umbri, forefathers of the Sabini, were maybe Illyrians, or possibly an Illiric colony came down south and intermingled with them.

As far as the origin of the Paeligni name is concerned, some historians believed this name to be derived from a place which was already destroyed before written history began, or from the ancient Palenum, of which the small village of Palena remains; and others place the ancient Paeligni capital at San Pelino. Leaving aside the question of the ethymology of their originary capital, which is impossible to locate either geographically or historically, others derived the name Paeligni from the muddy nature of the soil, especially in the beautiful Sulmona valley. This derivation is however unacceptable, since there is no Greek influence in the territory or in the origin of the Paeligni. Others attempted to find the origin of this name in the ancestral place of the Paeligni. And they supposed the name came from Pela, which in the Macedonic tongue is translated as rock or stone, others from Beleno or Belino, that is Apollo or the Sun, worshiped at Aquileia by the Armorici and in the Norico, from which the worship of the Pelina Goddess was derived, common to the Paeligni and the Frentani. What is certain is that the Paeligni also worshiped Jupiter Paleno or Pelino, and maybe the Illyrians applied this name to the rocks of the region where they settled, and expressed this cult in the Goddess Pelina and in Jupiter Pelino; consequently from the original name of Pelini, meaning inhabitants of mountainous lands, with a change of pronounciation they were called Paeligni.

Whatever their origin or the ethymology of the name, it seems that among all the peoples of the Umbrian-Samnitic race, famous for their courage and bravery, considering their behaviour with the Romans first as enemies, later as allies, and finally in the Social War to obtain the rights of autonomous peoples and Roman citizens, the Paeligni surpassed in military strength all their neighbours, which was why perhaps their capital Corfinium was chosen as the centre of the social war.

The Paeligni nation, surrounded by mountains, consisted of three different groups of peoples: the Corfinienses, the Sulmonienses and the Superequani, each population with their own separate territory. Apart from the main cities, from which the name of the three groups derived, there were many hamlets, according to the custom of all those inhabitants of mountainous territories. The union of these three populations produced the Paeligna confederation, so celebrated in antiquity for their strength and courage, so much so that Plinius called them the strongest, and Silius wrote:


Coniungitur acer

Pelignus, gelidoque rapit Sulmone cohortes.(Silio It. VIII, 508-509)[28]

Their political structure was based on freedom and did not differ from the organization of the Samnites and other Abruzzese peoples. Each district lived separated from the other, as far as their economies were concerned, the chiefs were chosen among the strongest in the population: the confederation was enabled only when it was necessary to come to common decisions, to wage war, or to defend themselves against an aggression. But we know nothing of their internal proceedings, apart from what is included in the history of Rome, since Roman historians were not interested in recording the glory of other peoples, but only in showing the rise of their own nation.

The first time we find the Paeligni on the battlefield is when, after the famed battle between Romans and Samnites, in the year 412 from the foundation of Rome, near Suessola, many frightened Italic peoples ask for peace, among them the Falisci and the Latins, who then moved their army from the Roman territory to the Paeligni territory, but were defeated. In 445 the Paeligni and Marsi joined the Samnites against Rome, and were defeated by consul Fabius. We do not know if there were more wars with their neighbours, since there was no connection with the Romans and therefore historians do not mention anything. We only know that when the defeat of the Equi in 449 was announced, the Paeligni made a seemingly defence treaty with Rome, together with their neighbours, the Marsi, Marrucini and Frentani.

From this treaty the second period in the history of the Paeligni begins, when they were often associated to the Romans, especially in the two famous Samnitic wars and in the Punic war. Livius tells that in 457, when the Samnites were defeated by Decius, a group of prisoners were able to escape but, passing through the Paeligni territory, were all killed. He also says that they did not accept the prizes and friendship promised by Hannibal, so that the African leader, crossing their region, caused enormous damage and came back later when, with a mind to cheat Roman general Fabius, he pretended he was passing from Samnium to Rome, bur only moved as far as the Paeligni, where he plundered and destroyed again. Finally, in the year 663 from the foundation of Rome, the third period begins, when the Paeligni, a great flourishing people, rebelled against the Romans asking for citizenship, and joined the famous conspiracy organized by the Marsi, which was called Social or Marsian War. At that time Corfinium was chosen as the common capital of the allied peoples and the general meeting place, and in that occasion Corfinius was named Italia, as can still be read in theinscriptions made in the coins of that time, and it was established as the capital of the new Italic Republic that they wanted to found. The rebels organized a Senate with 500 senators, all noble men and worthy counsellors for the safety of the Republic; among them every year two consuls would be chosen. The conclusion of this war is well-known: Roman Florus exaggerated the rebellion, saying it was much more disastrous than the Punic wars, so the Italic peoples obtained Roman citizenship and were ascribed to new tribes; the Paeligni in 666 were assigned to the Sergia tribe  by lex Pompeia.

The Paeligni appeared again at the time of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, when Corfinius was occupied by Domitius Enobarbus with twenty battallions, mostly collected among the Marsi and Paeligni. Like other mountain peoples, for a long time the Paeligni maintained their national feeling, long after they had began Roman citizens, and in the civil war between Vespasianus and Vitellius they sided with the former. This is the last information we find in history: but all geographers describe them as a separate people. Augustus, administratively, included them in the fourth region, and in Roman times in the final division of this part of Italy their territory was included with the Marsian territory in the province called Valeria.

It seems the Paeligni had only three great cities: Superequum, Corfinium and Sulmona. Where their region bordered Marsica and the Vestini territory along the Aterno river, there was Superequum, whose inhabitants Plinius calls Superequani, because they were placed above the plain (Super aequum) relative to the Corfinienses and the Sulmonenses, who occupied instead a lower territory.

Nothing more is known of the Superequani, only that a part of their territory was given to a Roman colony by order of Augustus, and divided among the Roman veterans. From the inscriptions found it is clear that Superequo existed, and that it was located near Castellvecchio, which is still called Subequo, a short distance from the Aterno and exactly in the plain of Macrano, where many remains of walls, buildings and tombs can be found.

At the narrow canyon of Forca Caruso, along the border with the Paeligni and Marsi, the Superequani built an arch in stone, in honor of Livia Augusta. This arch is mentioned in the life of San Rufino, and that narrow passage, a frightening canyon in winter, is still today called "all'arco".

Departing from the arch of Livia, seven miles from Corfinio, there was Statulae, a village which gave the name to a station along the via Valeria, where it was placed. It seems it rose near Goriano Sicoli, on the steep mountains through which the ancient road once passed, and where today a modern road connects Forca Caruso and Pentima. The many remains of walls and an inscription make us believe that Statulae, whose origin is unknown, may have had some importance.

Only Strabo mentions Cuculo as a town of the Paeligni, near the via Valeria after Carseoli and Alba Fucense, and exactly where today Cocullo lies, on the mountains that divided the Paeligni from the Marsi.

The noblest Paeligna town was undoubtedly Corfinium, their capital. A rich important center for all our ancestors, both for its position and for the strength of its walls and its territory, it was considered the emblem of Italic liberty at the time of the social war. It rose near present day Pentima.

Seven miles from Corfinium the Paeligni had another famous town, Sulmo, present day Sulmona, which dominated the third part of the Paeligni territory and, a little further away, Pacino (Pacentro) of which we don't know if it was a big center or a borough.

In the territory of Sulmona there was also the village (pagus) Fabianus, just outside the via Claudia, where today we find Popoli.

Seven miles from Sulmona, finally, on the via Numicia there was a mansion called Jupiter Palenus.


[1] Actually palafittes have been recently found in the area of the former Lake Fucino




[5] This was written almost one century ago, and archeology has recently made giant steps in establishing the presence of a flourishing civilization in Abruzzo in the metal age

[6] This chapter is nowadays mostly interesting under a historical perspective. Recent studies have shown that the Piceni who inhabited the Adriatic territories and the Etruscans were two separate civilizations

[7] Stone monument typical of the Celtic populations

[8] “Before the Roman Empire the Etruscans dominated by land and sea”

[9] aborigines comes from the Latin and means “since the very beginning”.

[11] Roman historian

[12] traduzione

[20] when Enrico Abbate wrote this seminal book the names of the Abruzzese Provinces were Primo Abruzzo Ulteriore (Province of L’Aquila), Secondo Abruzzo Ulteriore (Province of Chieti), Abruzzo Citeriore (Province of Teramo),