History of Arezzo, Italy


See Arezzo guide for highlights and historic monuments

Arezzo is a very old city which has its roots in prehistory: near Arezzoremains dating back to the Mesolithic and the Neolithic periods have been found, and evidence of many important human settlements.

The city itself probably dates back to Etruscan times, as attested by the legend according to which Arezzo was founded by the inhabitants of Chiusi (= Lat. "Clusium"), although we have no record of its actual origins.

The earliest written mention of Arezzo groups it with Clusium, Volaterra, Rusellae, and Vetulonia, when the town engaged to assist the Latins in a struggle against Tarquinius Priscus” [1].

The name of Etruscan Arezzo was "Aritim", as discovered on an ancient inscription referring to "an old woman, Larthi Cilnei, native of Aritim." [2].

The early historical data in our possession refers essentially to the Etruscan and Roman times. With regard to the Etruscan times, the reconstruction of the ancient face of the city was long and laborious. The first excavations date back to the 19th century, but more recent archaeological studies have achieved important results and we now have a relatively clear vision of early Arezzo.

Ancient Arezzo

It is generally accepted by scholars that the ancient Etruscan city was located on the hills of San Pietro and San Donato and the surrounding area. The first city wall dates back presumably to the 4th century BC and is composed of sandstone blocks, laid without mortar. A second wall, in brick, was mentioned by Pliny (23-79 AD) and dates from the third century BC.

Entering the Roman republic

After the fall of Volsini, the other cities of Northern Etruria surrendered to Rome and Livy (59 BC-17 AD) informs us that at this time Arezzo and Perugia, following the Volsini example, also entered into peace with Rome. There were however factions who were contrary to the presence of Rome: the People's Party was against Roman interference, while the nobility, especially the Cilni, were in favor of a pact with Rome.

The situation was thus very fluid, and during the war against Hannibal, according to Livy, Arezzo tried to rise up, but in vain, because its revolt was quickly crushed by the Romans. As  Livio (X 3, 1-3) attested:

“It was announced that the Etruria revolted because of an insurrection led by the inhabitants of Arezzo"

This interpretation of Livy of a hypothetical "revolt" by "Arretium" against Rome, was correct:

"Etruria at the beginning of the First Punic War was pacified and an ally of Rome. It remained faithful to Rome, with very few exceptions, even during the Second Punic War, so much so that in 205 BC numerous Etruscan cities provided aid to Cornelius Scipio (died 211 BC) for his expedition to Africa: Caere, Populonia, Tarquini, Volaterrae, Arretium, Perusia, Clusium, Rusellae ...

... the troubles of 208 and 204, of which Livy spoke (XXVII, 4, 86, 10-32), were probably only rebellions (…) perhaps caused by fatigue due to the long struggle against Hannibal (247-182 BC), which imposed more and more sacrifices. In fact, thay were repressed by the Romans, taking hostages and condemning citizens (who made) compromises with the Carthaginians" [3].

After these events Arezzo maintained good relations with the Romans, because there was always the looming possibility of attacks by the Celts. In fact, in 285 the Romans rushed to the aid of Arezzo, which was besieged by the Celts. Due to its position, Arezzo constantly enjoyed the protection of the Romans, who incorporated it into the Pomptina Tribe.

From an economic standpoint Arezzo in Roman times was a city of great importance. Its prestige derived from agriculture and industry, and its wine and wheat were valued on external markets. The workshops of Arezzo produced many helmets, weapons and spears, axes, spades, sickles and ladles:

“Arretine pottery takes its name from the ancient city of Arretium, the modern Arezzo, situated in the upper valley of the Arno, in Tuscany, some fifty miles southeast of Florence. Arezzo's prosperity depended, evidently, on the fertility of the surrounding territory and on its manufactures.

The vines and the wheat of Arretium are praised by Pliny, and evidence of extensive manufactures is furnished by the statement that for the equipment of Scipio's expedition to Africa the city furnished "3000 shields, an equal number of helmets, also javelins, pikes, and long spears to the number of 50,000, axes, spades, hooks, buckets, and mills, enough for forty galleys," as well as wheat and a contribution of money for the decurions and the rowers” [4].

The metal works of art such as the Chimera and Minerva, kept in the Archaeological Museum of Florence, confirm the perfection attained by the local industry, especially in technical and pottery in silver relief. Due to the activities of its workshops, Arezzo was a permanent military garrison.

In Roman times Arezzo was a municipium, and a very important road junction, which surely grew in importance in the Imperial Age, which had public buildings such as the Forum, the baths and the amphitheater, dating from the 1st and 2nd century, still clearly visible and located south-east of the city center. Two other spa buildings were reported east of the amphitheater. Its citizens were placed in the tribe Pomptina after the Social War.

The most flourishing period coincided with the age of Augustus, as the powerful Maecenas was born in Arezza. Among the most significant artistic discoveries, we mention:

“the splendid bronze statue of the chimera, the votive deposit of bronze statuettes from Fonte Veneziana, the famous bronze ‘aratore’ (ploughman) and the production of Arretine pottery have indeed given Etruscan Arezzo a recognized place in the study of ancient art and archaeology. The importance of this area of Etruria ...

... culminates in the appearance of the Brolio bronzes on the cover of the catalogue for the magnificent Etruscan exhibit at Palazzo Grassi in Venice in the year 2000. In addition, the publications of the Melone tombs at Cortona, and the newly discovered Etruscan remains at Castiglion Fiorentino have made it very clear that this area of Etruria is producing new discoveries of great historical and cultural importance” [5].

Arazzo in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages the walls of Etruscan origin were strengthened to deal effectively with the barbarian invasions. However, Arezzo passed under the dominion of the Lombards, probably in the late 6th century AD. The archaeological evidence on the presence of the Lombards in Arezzo consist of some graves near the hill of San Donato.

In the Middle Ages the history of Arezzo is characterized by the primacy of the Bishops. In fact, in the 11th century the local Bishops became the apex of political power in the city. From an urban point of view Arezzo was still confined within the ancient and late-medieval walls, while outside of them new villages were formed, some of which were later incorporated into the walls.

As a free commune, Arezzo rapidly expanded its dominance in the countryside, eroding the powers of the ecclesiastical authorities. The presence of consuls is attested to since 1098, and around 1200 urban development led to the construction of a new circle of walls.

A very important protagonist of the history of Arezzo in the first half of the 14th century was  Bishop Guido Tarlati (died in 1327), elected in 1312 and belonging to an ancient family of Lombard origin. The city was involved in the struggle between the Ghibellines, led by the Ubertini and the Tarlati, and the Guelphs, headed by the family of the Bostoli.

It was in this period that Guido Tarlati conducted a major urban redevelopment, due to the strong population growth. Under his rule, Arezzo reached the peak of power and also  its medieval urban development. The Tarlati also captured neighbouring towns and castles, and extended its influence in all four valleys.

In 1319 began the construction of new walls. The strong construction activity continued with the Tarlati successor, such as his brother Pier Saccone (1261-1356). The new ruler carried out various works including the construction of the Palazzo dei Priori in 1333.

For some time Florence tried to expand its political influence and capture new markets and in 1287 with the help of Siena it besieged Arezzo, but was unable to capture it. However, Florence defeated Arezzo in 1289, after the Battle of Campaldino, when all the Guelphs and Ghibellines of Tuscany formed a coalition against Arezzo.

The first period of control by Florence was short: in 1343 Florence was involved in internal conflicts, and Arezzo took advantage of this fact to regain its autonomy, and the city was then ruled by the Bostoli, belonging to the Ghibelline party.

The troubled life of the new republic ended around 1384, when the city was sacked by mercenary troops, and later was also taken by Enguerrand de Coucy (1339-1397) who later handed it to Florence. The city was at first under the rule of the Medici (1434-1569), then of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (1569-1737) and finally of the duchies of Lorraine (1737-1859). After the death of Grand Duke Gian Gastone (1671-1737), the succession fell to Francis III of Lorraine (1708-1765).

Under the duchies of Lorraine the town was reclaimed by the Valdichiana, whose rule lasted until 1799 and the arrival of French troops of Napoleon. In 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, the territory of Arezzo became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, until it entered the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Origins of the name Arezzo

If archaeological studies have made undoubted progress, we can not say the same about the etymology of Arezzo, which even today remains quite controversial, and on which there is no general agreement.

At first, the matter seemed settled with the hypothesis proposed by G. Devoto, who thought that the ancient city that the Romans called "Arretium" had its roots in the  Mediterranean substrate “Arra”, but with an "imprecise" meaning [perhaps a family name]" [6]. However, the explanation did not appear clear and convincing enough.

Today,  a hypothesis that has been more or less confirmed is that which relates the meaning of "Arretium" with bronze and metal, due to the fact that the city was famous for the art of metal working, and in particular in bronze. In this sense, "Arretium" would have its root in the Latin term "Aes grave" [Arretium] [= bronze coin of Arezzo].

This same root also perhaps gave rise to the German word "ERZ" (trans: 'metal, bronze, ore'). According to F. Paturzo:

"G. Bonfante proposes an interesting theory about the origin of the German word "erz" (= metal, bronze). The eminent linguist, on the basis of Schrader, derives 'ERZ' from "Arretium" through a series of transformations (…) According to Bonfante and Schrader, a German linguist, through the sequence Arretium> Arretji> Arritj> Arrizzi> Erizi> erz, from Latin Arretium we would come to the German term "ERZ", meaning bronze, metal. " [7].

So according to this widely held assumption, since antiquity Arretium was an important center of manufacturing of metals, which exported its products as far as the Germanic lands; thus, it is possible that the same German word 'ERZ' (metal) connects etymologically with “Arretium.” However, , this fascinating hypothesis can not be considered definitive, because "it is not known whether Erz (=Gernan ‘arut -i-‘) referred to Arretium or the Sumerian Urud (= copper)" [8].

Among this variety of hypotheses, we add another interesting possibility of G. Semeraro, according to whom:

“Arretium derives from a basis which is also found in 'Ardea' and 'Ardennes', corresponding to the Akkadian' term ‘aradu’ and 'eredu' (=to come down, to lower ground downhill) of which the noun is ‘arittum’ (= downstream travel, perpendicular)" [9].

See also the Arezzo visitor guide.

References

1. See G. Dennis, “The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria”, London, 1848, Vol. II,  p. 418

2. On this Etruscan inscription, with some variants, see also M. Morandi Tarabella, "Prosopographia Etrusca ", Roma, 2004, p. 130

3. See F. Panvini Rosati, “La monetazione annibalica”, in “BdN” Supplemento al n. 37.1 (2004), p. 148  e footnote 41

4. See “Catalogue of Arretine Pottery”, edited by G. H. Chase, The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1916,  p. 1

5. See S. Vilucchi-P. Zamarchi, “Etruschi nel tempo. I ritrovamenti di Arezzo dal ‘500 ad oggi”, in “Etruscan Studies”, 2001, Vol. 8, p. 159

6. See G. Devoto, “Scritti minori”,  1958, Vol. II, pp. 38-39).

7. See p. F. Paturzo, “Arezzo antica: la città dalla preistoria alla fine del mondo romano”, Calosci, 1997, p. 77

8. See A. Priebsch-W. Edward Collinson, "The German language", 1952, p. 264

9. See G. Semeraro, “Le origini della cultura europea”,  Olschki, 1984, Part II, p. 865