History of Cagli, Italy

See Cagli guide for highlights and historic monuments

Tracing the date of formation of Cagli

In ancient times the city of Cagli (Marche region of Italy) was once located on a hill called "Banderuola" - at that time it was known as "Ad Calem", "Cales Vicus" and "Mutatio ad Cale". Although the area had been undoubtedly settled in ancient times, the "Cales Vicus" can be traced back only to the the first or second century AD.

Vicus: definition

The Latin term "Vicus" specifies a type of settlement that arose between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages and was basically inhabited by craftsmen.

This idea is supported by the fact that the oldest evidence referred to '"Itinerarium Gaditanum" ["A Gades Romam" (From Gades to Rome)] in the first century AD, and Servius’ Commentary on the Aeneid (IV secoloAD). In fact, Servius, talking about places which had the same name, wrote:

“They leave Cale, a city of Campania, in fact the city located on the Via Flaminia is called Cagli. In Gaul there is also a city with this name, which, according to Sallustius, was conquered by Perperna" [1].

As A. Fabretti noted:

“Cale, now called 'Cagli', was an ancient Umbrian city  (...) In the ancient Roman road maps [“Itineraria”] it was called 'Cale' and 'Ad Calem,' in the ‘Itinerarium Antionini’ it was called 'Calle Vicus' and 'Ad Calem'" [2].

Apart from the speech of Fabretti about Cagli as an "oppidum Umbrorum" [Umbrian fortified city], for which sufficient data is lacking, in effect Cagli could also pre-date the first century AD because the "Itinerarium Ierosolimitano" also referred to it as "Mutatio Cales":

"Mutatio ad Hesis 10, Mutatio ad Cale 14" [From the trading post to 'Hesis' 10 miles, from Hesis to trading post of Cagli 14 miles" [3].

The "mutatio" among the Romans was a "trading post" and so it is very likely that it had been used for several centuries before the Romans, the city being placed on a trade crossroadsthat involved the Umbrians, the Etruscans, and finally the Romans.

In fact:

"the Museum of Archaeology in Cagli (...)  preserves a fragment of a large Etruscan trilobate jug, found in the area. This confirms the strategic location of the site of Cagli along tracks, sheep tracks and roads" [4].

Cagli after the Romans

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was involved in the conflict between the Goths and Byzantines, and it was under the control of the Exarch of Ravenna until it became part of the dominion of the Church, thanks to a donation by Pepin the Short (died in 768 AD) to Pope Stephen II (715-757). The donation included the territory of Perugia, the Duchy of Spoleto, Serra, Castel S. Mariano, Bobbio, Urbino, Cagli, Luccoli and Gubbio.

With regard to the spread of Christianity in Cagli, S. Lancioni observes:

"We assume that the Diocese of Cagli was formed on the territory of the ‘Municipium’ of 'Pitinum Mergens' (...) The diocese of Cagli arose not before the 7th and 8th centuries, near a 'mutatio' [trading post] (or vicus) on the Flaminia Road " [5]

Some scholars suggested the existence of a diocese in Cagli in the 4th century, however, S. Lancioni stresses that it is "untenable the hypothesis of the existence of an ancient municipium. In fact, G. Mochi wrote:

"We have no documents about the history of Cagli, either before or during the Roman rule until the year 359 AD" [6].

It is also untenable the presence of a Bishopric before that date. With regard to an alleged Greciano, Bishop of Cagli in 359:

"St. Hilary (300-368 AD) recalled in his fragments a speech made in Rimini (359) by Greciano at Calle (...) Rather I would look for Greciano in Cales (Calvi) in Campania. Then Bishop Greciano belonged to a different Bishopric'” [7].

With regard to St. Geronzio, the patron saint of the city, the tradition has also been partly modified. R. Gregoire said that:

"The Diocese was founded in the 8th century, and the cult of St. Geronzio, who would be perhaps a local saint, is dependent on other traditions alien to the local context of Cagli." [8].

Most of the land around Cagli belonged to the Great monasteries of Massa, St. Geronzio and Montelabbate, and to numerous castles of Lombard origin which were literally scattered throughout the territory, creating fierce battles among feudal lords and the factions of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, which heavily involved the city.

Cagli in the Middle Ages

In fact, in 1287 Cagli was completely destroyed by fire during a battle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, which took place within the city. The event was reported by A. Maestrini and cited by Agnati. According to Maestrini, in September [of 1287], the Ghibelline Trasmondo Brancaleoni, Lord of Rocca Leonella, descended on the city with an army with the help of local Ghibellines, triggering a furious battle, during which the Town Hall was burned and from where the flames spread to other parts of the city which was virtually destroyed.

Things changed with the election of Pope Nicholas IV (1227-1292) in 1288. The discerning citizens decided to change the site for rebuilding the city further down so with the Pope's consent, the city was rebuilt with a new plan, and according to various criteria. On this occasion, the city changed its name and it was called “Sant'Angelo Papale" [9].

Rebuilt in 1289, the city was ruled as a free Commune until the second half of the 14th century, when it became part of the Duchy of Urbino, ruled by the Montefeltro, who for many years wanted to expand their domains.

Federico da Montefeltro (1422-1482) took possession of Cagli for its strategic position, but the capture of the city was once again extremely bloody, and it ended with a series of brutal murders. The conquest of Cagli was told by F. Ugolini, who wrote:

"One night Federico of Montefeltro (went) with a hostile army to Cagli, and after having broken the gates and fences, they occupied the city and they gave the beginning to the murders of citizens, the burning of houses, and looting." [10].

The massacre carried out in a city belonging to the Papal States had serious consequences for the Montefeltro, who were declared "enemies of the Church" and were excommunicated. They were faced with a problem that was too big for them to handle and the Montefeltro fled the city. The government, however, was reappointed to the Montefeltro lords by Cardinal Albornoz "with the condition that they admitted their submission to the Church"

However, the domain of the Montefeltro was important from the artistic point of view. In fact, they built the fortress, of which today remains the so-called “Torrione”, and the Public Palace (now seat of the Archaeological Museum). Cagli remained under the government of the Duchy of Montefeltro up to the devolution to the Church in 1631.

Afterwards, the city was entrusted to Taddeo Barberini (1603-1647), nephew of the Pope, and the lands of the duchy became a mere province of the Papal States. The city was part of the Papal States until l860, when it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.

Origins of the name Cagli

With regard to the etymology, formerly many scholars believed that the name of Cagli was even of Greek origin and it derived from "kalos" (=beautiful). The hypothesis is explained by the fact that Cagli was located where the Flaminia Road was in contact with many people. In fact, U. Agnati observes:

“Greek influences were remarkable in Cagli, whether from the Etruscan mediation and contacts with Greek merchants and products marketed through the Adriatic” [11].

Returning to the etymology, scholars now believe that "Cales Vicus" means "cattle track", "path", "road". In this sense, U. Agnati stressed that:

"the hills and mountains that surround Cagli were suitable for grazing and transhumance (…) the name (...) derives from the Latin 'Callis', with reference to the paths” [12].

G. Semeraro breaks away (but not too much) from this interpretation, according to whom "Callis" means "bank of a river": "'kilatu' and 'kalu' (=  dam, dike irrigation) and 'mu' (water). For the basis 'Kalu' we think about 'Cale Vicus' (= Cagli)" [13].

As a whole, the meaning suggested by G. Semeraro does not depart from the concept of "path" and "sheep-track", because, after all, the bank of a river is a path suited for pasture.

See also the travel guide for Cagli.


1. See Servius, "Commentary on the Aeneid", 7, 728, in A. Trevisiol, “Ad Calem”, in “Fonti letterarie ed epigrafiche per la storia romana ...”, Roma,  1999, p. 189

2. See A. Fabretti, “Corpus Inscriptionum Italicarum”, Augusta Taurinorum [Torino], Ex Officina Regia, 1867, p. 736

3. See A. Trevisiol, p. 190

4. See U. Agnati, “Per la storia romana della Provincia di Pesaro e Urbino”, Roma, 1999, p. 513

5. See S. Lancioni, “Storia della provincia di Pesaro e Urbino”, Fano, 2000,  Cap. IV

6. 'Istoria di Cagli dalla sua origine all'anno 800 dell'era volgare', Cagli 1878, p. 18

7. Lancioni, Chapter IV, note 33

8. See R. Gregoire, “Il contributo dell'agiografia antica alla conoscenza del territorio marchigiano”, in “Atti del VI Congresso Nazionale di Archeologia Cristiana”,  1986, Vol II, p. 355-362, p. 357

9. See Agnati, p. 515

10. See F. Ugolini, “Storia dei Conti e Duchi di Urbino”, Firenze, 1859, Vol I, pp. 114 ff.

11. See U. Agnati, p. 513

12. Agnati, p. 51 and See also G.B. Pellegrini, “Toponomastica italiana ...”,  Hoepli, 1990, p. 172: "Cagli" = road

13. See G. Semeraro, “Le origini della cultura europea”, Olschki, 1984, Part 2, p. 618