History of Camerino


See Camerino guide for highlights and historic monuments

We should mention immediately that among historians of the 18th and 19th centuries, various interpretations about the origins of Camerino arose, which involved a lot of confusion.

Early history of Camerino

The fact that many could (incorrectly) believe that the name of Camerino derived from the arms of the Lords Da Varano (see etymology further down) suggests how important this ancient family was for Camerino, who had ruled the city for several centuries.

Before the Dukes of Varano, Camerino was subjected to Roman rule. Camerino came into contact with Rome as early as 310 BC, and it was already a city of ancient settlement dating back the 6th century BC [5]. The Romans maintained excellent relations with the "Camertes" of Camerino because the city was built on a hill that was easily defensible, and so very important from a strategic military point of view.

To this we must add that the "Camertes" of Camerino were always faithful allies of the Romans, fighting bravely alongside them against the Cimbres, so they deserved Roman citizenship on the battlefield. The "Camertes" were Roman citizens in all respects. There is a short fragment in Latin which is "the ‘motto’ of Camerino - in the words of Gaius Marius (157-86 BC) "Estote Cives and Pugnate, Camertes", that is: "Be [Roman] Citizens and fight, Camertes!" [6].

For these reasons, Camerino enjoyed great respect and always had very favourable treaties and administrative autonomy from the Romans.

Life in Camerino after the Romans

After the fall of the Roman Empire the city came under the rule of the Lombard Duchy of Spoleto, and, later, became a city of considerable power, even over surrounding areas very distant from the city and its suburbs. One tragic event for Camerino was the looting that it underwent by Manfredi (1232-1266), son of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) in 1259.

Certainly, the most illustrious period for Camerino began with the government of  Da Varano. The Lordship of  Da Varano was made famous by Julius Caesar, who ruled the city from 1444 to 1502, promoting an intense artistic activity which made the Court of Camerino one of the most exciting and important centers of the Italian Renaissance.

His splendid work, however, was interrupted in 1502 when Cesare Borgia (1475-1507), the son of Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503), began his political and military expansionism in the Marche region of Italy, even with the help of his father. In this sense, Julius Caesar was in fact deprived of his city, because Alexander VI excommunicated him.

Later, the city was occupied by Oliverotto da Fermo (1473-1503) and Francesco Orsini (died in 1503), Cesare Borgia's lieutenants. With the conquest of Camerino, all members of the Da Varano family were exterminated, except for one young member, Giovanni Maria (1481-1527), who found refuge in Venice.

From the 16th century in Camerino

Things changed radically with the death of Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia, Pope Julius II (1443-1513) restored the “Signoria”  to Giovanni Maria, who gained, with Pope Leo X (1475-1521), the title of Duke. However, despite some initial success, things turned down for the Da Varano: Leo X and his successor, Pope Farnese (Paul III, 1468-1549) meant, in fact, to undermine the authority of  Da Varano and to entrust the government of  duchy to his relatives.

As a result Camerino in 1545 was subject to the dominion of  Church State, who ruled the city until unification of Italy (1861) [7]. Under the rule of the Church State the city was governed by the Papal Legate, a time of substantial political and economic decline, but, fortunately, not of cultural decline.

In fact, in 1727-1728 the University of Camerino was born which gave rise to a long tradition of higher education, which made the city famous and active, even during periods of political decline, such as the Napoleonic era and the 19th century, in which, despite the stagnation, Camerino had increased construction and the preservation of its architectural and artistic heritage.

Ancient etymology of Camerino

Today, studies have shown that the etymology of "Camerino" comes from the population of “Camertes”, which was widely scattered over a territory which belonged in Roman times to Umbria and now is now in the Marche region - but some historians confused Camerino with “Cluvius” (Chiusi), which was in Etruscan territory and once called "Camars" [1].

The confusion arose from fact that "Camars" has the same basic of “Camerinum”. GB Pellegrini writes :"[...] Chiusi was an old name of 'Camar(s)' ['Kamar(s )']...Giacomo Devoto stresses the affinity between 'Camars' - 'Chiusi' with the Umbrian 'Camertes' (Livy, IX, 36), found on the Adriatic side of  Apennines (Camerinum) [...]" [2].

Lively discussions arose among scholars about the linguistic identity "Camars" - "Chiusi" - "Camerinum", with some very extravagant solutions suggested. Today, however, studies have shown that, even before the Etruscans, "Clusium" was inhabited by “Camertes” (Umbrians), and that in those times the city was called "Camars" for this reason.

On the other hand, we must also consider the possibility that the Etruscans had a specific name to denote "Clusium", i.e. “Clevsin”. "Camars" would mean "closed" and "curved" (some thought it referred to a "closed place, surrounded by marsh") and, in fact, the Romans translated the name of "Clusium" to indicate a place that was "closed" and curvilinear.

In the 18th century Stanislao Bardetti observed: "[...] Livy shows that the city in his time called 'Clusium', was once called 'Camars'. It was close to a lagoon, or marsh, so it was called 'Palus Clusina' ("Marsh of Chiusi"). With the name 'Clusium' one expresses perfectly the other name, 'Camars', which is composed of 'ca' and 'mars', namely it means 'closed into the swamp' [...]" [3].

In other opinions about the origins of Camerino imagination played a significant role, as we can deduce from this passage of G. Colucci:

"[...] Camerino is a very ancient city, once belonging to Umbria, and today to the Piceno. This city, situated in the Apennines, was founded by Camese, who called it, from his name, 'Camesena'. Then posterity, changing the alphabet, called it 'Camerena', then 'Camerino'. Others think Camerino derives its name from its curvilinear site, because 'camurum' in Latin meaning “curved”.

Others claim that Camerino derives from 'Sea-Dog' [“Cane Marino”], which is the emblem of Dukes Varano [...] the emblem of the Varani [sic], once lords of Camerino, has a 'sea dog', but that has nothing to do with the etymology of city name, because Camerino was so named many centuries before Dukes Varani  became lords of it [...]" [4]

See also our Camerino travel information and guide.

References

1. "Ad Clusium, quod 'Camars' Olim appellabant”, Livy (59 BC-17 AD), X, 25 [" At Chiusi, which was once called 'Camars' ])

2. See GB Pellegrini,“Toponomastica Italiana”, ["Italian toponymy"] Hoepli, 1990, p. 24

3. See S. Bardetti, “Della Lingua dei Primi Abitatori dell'Italia” ["The Language of the First Inhabitants of Italy], Modena, 1772, p. 899

4. See Giuseppe Colucci, “Delle Antichità Picene”, [“About the  Antiquities of Piceno”], Fermo, 1795, Vol. X, pp. 96 - 97, note 352

5. See L. Braccesi “I Greci in adriatico”, [“The Greeks in the Adriatic Sea”] , 2004, p. 24

6. See G. Fumagalli, “The ‘Ape Latina’”, Hoepli, 1987, p. 78, n. 666

7. For these events see F. Pirani, "Camerino between the Da Varano and Occupation of Borgia" in "Alexander VI and the Church State" in Atti del convegno (Perugia, 13-15 marzo 2000), a cura di Carla Frova e Maria Grazia Nico Ottaviani, Roma, 2003