History of Amelia, Italy


See Amelia guide for highlights and historic monuments

Early history of Amelia

The first document, in which Amelia appears as "Ammeline", dates back to 1145, and in which the sale of certain lands is quoted:

"In the name of our Lord Jesus, in the year 1145 of his incarnation at the time of  Pope Lucius [1100-1185], on Sunday in the month of August, during the eighth indiction, I John, a resident in the town of Amelia, of my own free will and no force, sell to you Guidone Gerardo de Pinzo a piece of land that I own in the hamlet called ‘Foris Pontis', in the place called ‘between two rivers', situated in the territory of Amelia".

Leone Mattei Cerasoli, historian

With regard to the history of Amelia, it was once written by Leone Mattei Cerasoli, an archivist of Saint Paul outside the walls of Rome, in the introduction to his edition of the parchments of S. Magno and St. Giacomo de Redere of Amelia that he:

"noted with pride that his work would contribute to the knowledge of the affairs of the territory of Amelia in the Middle Ages"

... and in fact he was right, and those documents are the main source about Amelia in the Middle Ages.

Other sources on the medieval history of Amelia exist only since 1210, and most of them are kept at the Municipal Archives. These are 328 parchments dating from 1210 to 1852, among which are the statutes of 1330 and the first volume of 'reforms' of the years 1326-133" [1].

Despite the absence of substantial written documentation, it is nevertheless possible to reconstruct an outline of Amelia in antiquity. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), for example, stated:

“Cato wrote that Amelia was built 964 years before the war against Perseus. In fact, Amelia, among the Romans called "Ameria", has very ancient origins. [2].

As the war against Perseus occurred in 959 BC, the founding of Amelia dates back to 1135 BC, and therefore, as F. C. Marmocchi  wrote, it:

"would be more ancient than Rome. According to Festus, its founder was Amirus" [3].

With regard to the evidence of Cato (234-149 BC), G. Bradley wrote:

“Cato is known to have used local sources for the 'Origines', and this notice, together with the record of the epitomator of Festus [2nd century AD] of the name of its founder, Amirus, suggests that there was a local myth that the city originated in a period well before the foundation of Rome ...

... With regard to the record in Cato of the foundation of Ameria, little emphasis should be put on the actual date; nevertheless, this strongly suggests that the inhabitants believed in the continuity of the site before the Roman conquest” [4].

According to archaeological data, Amelia was an ancient settlement of the Umbrians, and the most striking feature of it consists of the really powerful walls.

Pre-Roman Amelia

In pre-Roman times Ameria developed on the limestone outcrop that is still occupied by the modern city. Archaeological evidence shows that it was inhabited from the Bronze and Iron Age, especially in the so-called “Grotta Bella” [Beautiful Cave] where settlements were found covering the period from the Neolithic until the Roman Age.

The cave shrine of “Grotta Bella” originally had a great political, economic and social importance, under the control of a ruling class which exercised its control over the surrounding territory. The image of the ruling class is expressed symbolically with figures of heavy warriors.

Many other materials were also found in the city centre, including a necropolis and a sanctuary. The necropolis, according to historical and archaeological data, was used from the 6th century BC until the 4th century AD. The cemetery was divided into chamber tombs preceded by 'dromos' [corridors] with gold and ceramic works from Attica.

The types of tombs and the quality of the materials suggest an early, embryonic Umbrian urbanization of the city, inhabited by a community ruled by an aristocratic class, which used luxury goods.

Undoubtedly the Umbrians had a considerable fascination with ancient authors, especially because of their age [5], since it was believed that they were the only survivors of the Flood. In fact, Pliny the Elder wrote:

“The race of the Umbrians  is considered very ancient because the Greeks attest that the Umbrians were the only ones who survived the flood of the earth caused by the rains. We also know that the Etruscans defeated 300 Umbrian towns" [6].

The Umbrians were a people readily permeable to other cultures like those of the Etruscans and the Romans. The antiquity of Amelia is also attested by the coins, as demonstrated by those which have the inscription of the ancient Umbrian name, that is "Amer" and "Amed" [7].

Roman Amelia

The Romanization of Amelia was constant and culminated with the construction of the mighty city walls, as the Romans fortified the city, making it an important outpost for military control of the territory. The Roman city was built on the site of the ancient Umbrian settlement, and its most important remains are constituted by these walls, preserved to the south of the city.

To the north-west the remains of other walls were found which seem older than the Roman walls. The city was provided with several gates, including the modern Roman Gate to the south and another to the south-east: aerial photography has shown that the city had a lot of other gates, now disappeared.

The structure of the roads inside the city demonstrates the fact that Ameria was inhabited by the Umbrians, because the streets do not have the typical Roman plan. In the south several cisterns were found, which have a rectangular shape, thick walls and roof with a barrel vault [8]. On the structure of the ancient city, Frezza writes:

"[...] The first variant of  the name of the ancient Umbrian town was ‘Amer’ and ‘Amed’; the name was written from right to left, as in the Umbrian language, alliteration of Ameroe or Amirus, son of Peony and Atlas, the mythical king whom the tradition pointed out as the founder of the city (VI-V century BC)...

... Amelia was an important city of the Umbrians, a city-state with a polygonal defensive apparatus, which is still partly preserved: the oldest part is situated to the north-west (...) The most important walls are on the southern front, and they covered 719 metres (…)  The towers of the Middle Ages are three, located to the east side of the city [...]" [9].

The construction of the Amerina Road played an especially important role for the Romanization of the territory: the "Tabula Peutingeriana" mentioned Ameria as a city (on the road) situated between the so-called "Castello Amerino" and Tuder (the modern Todi).

The complete Romanization of Amelia took place after the Social War (90-88 BC), when Ameria became a "Municipium", as Cicero (106-43 BC) testified (Sextus Roscius, 6, I.5), and who defined Ameria as "Municeps Amerinus":

"The Lex Julia of 90 BC sanctioned a thriving municipium. The splendor of that epoch is proved by many interesting findings, such as capitals, remains of columns, a thesaurus, an altar with garlands, marble altar with a Greek bas-relief figures, fragments of statues, a mausoleum, and along the “Via Giove”, there is a sepulchre called 'Trullo', probably the tomb of Gentiliana Roscia, a noble woman who founded an academy, learned in philosophy and Greek language ...

... The city was incorporated in the Augustan Age into the Clustumina Tribes belonging to the "Regio VI": “The territory of Amelia was mentioned in a law of Augustus [63 BC-14 AD], who gave the land to the veterans" [10].

Ameria was also mentioned by Strabo [58-25 BC] (V, 2, 10) as one of the most important cities of Umbria. During the Roman period in Umbria, we have no evidence of specific opposition to Ameria, which probably established good relations with the Romans:

"A clear indication of a non-conflictual relationship is the help that the inhabitants of America gave the Romans during the Second Punic War" [17].

As a "Municipium" the city was ruled by the so-called “quattuorviri iure dicundo” [judicial magistrates] and "quattuorviri aediles," whose activity was controlled by the local Senate called "Ordo decurionum". We have no record in Ameria about members of the Senatorial class, but the some local families were of 'equestrian rank', such as the "Gens Roscia", mentioned by Cicero, whose members occupied the more important magistracies of the city.

Ameria under the Roman rule became a very rich city, as evidenced by the remains of the sumptuous "Domus" [palaces] and the construction of the theater [11].

The early spread of Christianity in Amelia, which became a Bishopric, was very quick:

“With the edict of Constantine the Great [272-337 AD] Christian faith was liberalized and Amelia had its Bishopric, from about 364. The first bishop was Hilary; however, other documents mentioned a Bishop named Orthodulphus. The diocese was important, so Bishop Hilary attended a Roman council, in 465" [12].

After the Romans: Barbarians, Goths and Lombards in Amelia

The barbarian invasions started with the Goths and had devastating consequences for the city, which was destroyed. Speaking of the Goths, in an old Chronicle we read:

"The Goths, after killing the Bishop of Perugia Ercolano and his brothers, besieged Amelia, which was taken after five days and given to the soldiers as booty after the destruction of some buildings" [13].

The Lombards arrived in 579 and they took the city, which was in their power for four years. In 593 it was taken by the Exarch of Ravenna and it remained under him until 716. In 739 Amelia was taken by Liutprand (690-744 AD), and then it returned  to Pope Zacharias (679-752) in 742, and it remained under the rule of the Church.

The Vatican Secret Archives (arm. I capsa III, No. 1) preserve the original diploma of Otto the Great [912-973] given to Pope John XII [937-964], February 13, 962.” [14].

It seems that in 1160 the city had been destroyed by Frederick Barbarossa (1122-1190), but according to contemporary studies, the destruction occurred at the time of Frederick II (1194-1250). The citizens of Amelia soon divided into Guelphs and Ghibellines, and in medieval times there were also struggles between Amelia and Todi, until the intervention of Cardinal Egidio Albornoz (1310-1367).

Amelia since the Renaissance

The city was also troubled over the centuries by natural disasters such as famine, but the Renaissance period was very important because of the presence of distinguished noble families. The Renaissance was a period of great magnificence; in fact, many nobles settled in Amelia, such as the Geraldini family, which enjoyed significant ties with Rome, including the Orsini, the Colonna, and the Borgias.

Amelia during the 15th and 16th century was visited by popes, cardinals and bishops, who attracted many artists to decorate their palaces, and it was in this context that painters such as Pier Matteo d'Amelia emerged.

In the following centuries Amelia belonged to the Papal States, until the Risorgimento and then the Unification of Italy in 1861.

Origins of the name Ameria / Amelia

With regard to the etymology of Ameria, according to U. Gnoli:

"Amelia was once known as 'Ameria', from the Greek 'ameròs' [= what can not be divided], and it is a compound word by the particle 'a' privative, negative, and the name 'meros' [= part] . From this comes the sense of the previous Latin name: 'Amelia', meaning “rush”, because it is hard to break, since it is very flexible" [15].

The interpretation by Gnoli, accepted by other scholars, is perfectly consistent with one of the productions for which Amelia was famous since ancient times, the osiers, which were used for viticulture. We recall also the interpretation of G. Semeraro, according to whom:

"The Ancient Ameria, bordered by the 'Fosso Grosso', is one of the oldest towns in Umbria, located at 406 metres between the Tiber and the Nera ... The name meant 'community of the river', deriving from the Akkadian ‘Ammu’ (= people), and from Hebrew 'am', Akkadian 'jarrum' and Hebrew 'j'or' (= river)." [16].

See also the Amelia travel guide.

References

1. See M. Voltaggio, “Le più antiche carte della chiesa e ospedale di S. Giacomo de Redere di Amelia (1145-1199)”, in "Scrineum", 2008, No. 5, pp.. 1-2 and p. 38

2. Pliny the Elder, "Naturalis Historia", III, 14, 19

3. See F. C. Marmocchi, “Dizionario di geografia universale”, Torino, 1854, Vol I, p. 378

4. See G. Bradley, “Ancient Umbria”,  p. 47

5. See Dionysius of Alicanassus [60-7 BC] I.19

6. Pliny the Elder (Nat. Hist., 3, 112-113)

7. About the coins of Ameria,  See D. Monacchi, “Note sulla stipe votiva di Grotta Bella”, in  “Studi Etruschi”, 1986, p. 97 footnote 150

8. See L. Maraldi, “Considerazioni sull'urbanistica romana di Amelia”, in “Architettura e pianificazione urbana in età antica”, Roma,  1997, pp.. 91-104

9. See Frezza I. Federici, “Amelia. L'uomo e il paesaggio”,  Preface by M. Bellucci, Morlacchi, 2005, p. 4

10. Frezza, p. 5 note 6

11. See D. Monacchi, “Storia e assetto in età antica del territorio in cui ricade la Villa di Poggio Gramignano”, in “A Roman Villa and a Late Roman Infant Cemetery”, Roma, 1999 , pp. 26 ff.

12. Frezza, pp. 6-7

13. This document in quoted in Cesare Orlandi, “Delle città d'Italia”, 1772, Volume II, p. 4

14. Frezza, p. 8

15. See Gnoli, “Su due iscrizioni umbre del secolo XII”, in "Augusta Perusia ", 1907, II, p. 28

16. See G. Semeraro, “Le origini della cultura europea”, Olschki, 1984, Part II, p. 619

17. Silius, VIII, 462