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History of Alatri, Italy


See Alatri guide for highlights and historic monuments

Alatri is situated on the slopes of the “Ernici” mountains, near Frosinone.

Early history of Alatri

With the Roman expansion and the entrance of the settlement in 484 BC into the "Foedus Cassianum", Alatri first became an ally of Rome, and in 90 BC it was elevated to the status of a “Municipium”.

It was a bishop's see in the age of Emperor Constantine (272-337) and in the early 6th century it was the center of one of the oldest monastic communities in the west, even before the formation of Benedictine monasticism.

During the barbarian invasions that followed the siege and sack suffered by Alatri in 543 by Ostrogothic King Totila (died in 552), Alatri strengthened its defensive structures to meet the continuing threats of the Lombards and then the Saracens.

An independent municipality from the second half of the 12th century, it has always been faithful to the Church. It was in the 13th century that Alatri reached the top of its political and cultural development, building numerous civic and religious monuments.

During the fourteenth century, after the transfer of the papacy to Avignon, it suffered under the domain of the Ceccano Counts (1334), and a diminution of its municipal autonomy by Cardinal Egidio Albornoz (1310-1367). It was later dominated by the Durazzo (1408-1414) and Visconti (1434) families, and by the Spaniards from 1556.

Recent history of Alatri

After the Napoleonic period, with the restoration of the Papal States (1815) the city had a long period of political calm, leading to an improvement in economic conditions, from the early years of national unity.

At the end of World War II the city implemented a comprehensive program of rehabilitation and social policy, the effects of which, through a vigorous development of multiple industries and cultural production, had a decisive influence on the formation of the present city.

Origins of the name Alatri

The Romans called it "Aletrium" (or "Alatrium"), but etymological studies to date have failed to produce reliable and incontrovertible results, because "Aletrium" is not of Latin origin, as noted even by the great Latin playwright Plautus (254-184 BC), who called "Alatrium" a "Barbaric Urbs", a "city of the barbarians", because it was built by people external to Italy [1].

So it is obvious that the etymology of the city was to be sought in other languages. The hypotheses proposed in the past referred to roots of Hebrew or Phoenician words. Contemporary studies suggest however a possible Etruscan and Hernician root, since "Aletrium" was an important city of Hernici.

The most compelling scientific proposals have come from scholars who, although writing over one hundred years apart from each other, have come to almost identical results, starting with the similarities between "Velatri" (“Volterra”) and “Alatri”.

The first proposal dates from 1894, when Caesar Antonio de Cara wrote that:

"[...] The city of Alatri, "Alatrium" or "Aletrium" is of Pelasgian origin, as seen with its walls and the magnificent acropolis (...) Its name was in the Semitic form "Bal-ati-ri - Val-ati-ri" (...) "Velatri" (...) is identical to the names of Alatri. Elatria and “Velitrae - "Veletri" (...) and the meaning is always the same, 'country or land belonging to ‘Ati’, i.e. to 'Hethei' or 'land of Hethei'" [2].

Alexander Crawford writes that:

"‘Velatri’ - Volterra is certainly to be connected with 'Alatrium', near Ferentino, a most ancient city of Hernici” [3].

The proto-historic origins of Alatri are therefore linked to the Hernici, to whom it was attached, around the 7th century BC, with the construction of the Acropolis and the mighty megalithic walls that surround the city.

See the Alatri travel guide to plan your visit.

References

1. See C.O. Muller, “Sur le sens du mot barbarica chez Plaute”, in “Annales de l 'institut de correspondance Archéologique”, 1832, Vol. 4: 379

2. See Cesare Antonio de Cara," The Hethei-Pelasgians " ,  Accademia dei Lincei, 1894: 432 and 444

3. See A. Crawford, , “Etruscan Inscriptions”, BiblioBazaar,  2009: 290 and note

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