History of Cassano allo Ionio

See Cassano allo Ionio guide for highlights and historic monuments

The history of Cassano in ancient and Roman times is not clear or well documented so is covered separately further down this page.

History of Cassano allo Ionio

In the Middle Ages, the earliest mention of 'modern' Cassano Ionio is due to Paul the Deacon (720-799 AD), who spoke of a village called "Cass-i-anum", with the "i", rather than "Cass-a-num":

"The Lucania, in whose territory we find Paestum, Laino, ‘Cass-i-anum’, Cosenza and Reggio"

After the fallen of the Roman Empire, Cassano allo Ionio was conquered by the Lombards, who made it the seat of a "gastaldato" [= County] and a Bishopric seat.

Under the Lombards, Calabria was divided into four “gastaldati” (regions): Cosenza, Cassano, Canne and Laino.

During the Lombard and Byzantine times, Cassano Ionio was a fortified town which controlled a large area. The Byzantines made Cassano Ionio one of their most important fortresses, and then the village was undoubtedly further enhanced by the Lombards. M. Genua, after saying that Cassano Ionio was a city founded by the Lombards, recognizes that the city is much older:

“In Calabria among the towns of Lombard origin we remember the modern towns of Cassano Ionio, Laino Borgo and Mormanno, but the first two villages were already in existence, and they were regenerated by the descendants of Alboin (530-571 AD)" [8].

The Saracens and the Normans.

In 969 Cassano was the scene of one of the battles that Otto I (912-973) undertook against the Eastern Emperor Nicephorus Phocas (830-896). It suffered under the rule of the Saracens, who were defeated for the first time in 1014, but they occupied Cassano again in 1037.

The city fared better during the Norman domination and later...see the main Cassano allo Ionio guide for details.

Ancient origins of Cassano Ioinio

The territory of Cassano Ionio is rich in history and very interesting archaeological finds were found here. Thurii itself was a city dear to Pericles (495-429 BC), where there is the tomb of Herodotus (fifth century BC), and the nearby Copia was the stronghold of Spartacus (109-71 BC) when he rebelled against Rome.

The fact that Paul the Deacon spoke of the town as "Cass-i-anum" indicates that Cassano Ionio (and its etymology) might refer to a very ancient town, which perhaps was the direct heir of the old "Kossa" mentioned by Hecataeus and by other ancient sources, which in Roman times was ruled the Gens Cassia (see etymology further down).

But what do we know of the origins of ancient Cassano Ionio? Nicola Rocco, after describing the beauties of the territory where Cassano Ionio is located, described the city as: "Civitas Mediterranea in lustris" [a distinguished city of the Mediterranean]. The city was described as "distinguished" because, according to the prelate, it was an old city with origins dated back to the 4th century BC:

"Tum ratione originis, quam ab Oenotriis et Sybariticis reliquiis iactat " [ With regard to its origins, the archaeological finds show that it was a city of the Oenotri and under Sybaris]".

According to N. Rocco the ancient name of Cassano Ionio was "Cosa". In reality, "Kossa" was a very old town, which was mentioned by Hecataeus of Miletus (550-490 BC) as a city of the Oenotri* during the late 6th century BC.

* The name Oenotri derives from Enotrio, a descendant of the people of the Pelasgians, and the son of Lycaon, King of Arcadia, who led his people into Enotria [= Calabria]. According to ancient sources, Enotrio lived 17 generations before the Trojan War (between 1,400 and 1,200 BC). Thus we can place the arrival of Enotrio in Calabria around 1800 BC, that is during the Bronze Age [1].

Kossa was also under the rule of Sybaris, founded by the Achaeans between 709 and 710 BC, which was the oldest Greek colony of Brettia [=Calabria]. Sybaris had a truly remarkable size: Strabo (58-25 BC), Diodorus Siculus (90-27 BC), Pseudo-Scymnus (3rd century BC) and other old authors report that the walls ran for about 9 km, which equates to an area of about 500 hectares, in which, according to Strabo, there lived about 100,000 inhabitants [2].

After a battle on the Trionto River, Sybaris was completely destroyed together with Cassano Ionio, the ancient "Kossa," of which Hecataeus of Miletus spoke.

Roman times and Cassano

According to local history and also ancient sources, Cassano Ionio was mentioned by Caesar (100-44 BC) who referred to it as "Cosa in agro Thurino" [Cosa, located in the territory of Thurii] [3]. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) defined the city as "Castellum Carissanum". Later, Cluverius erased the syllable “ri” , obtaining a new place name, that is "Cassanum" ["Ca [ri] ssanum"]. Cluverius also supposed that Cassanum occupied the site of the ancient "Cosa [4].

The tradition was continued by Calabrian historian Gabriel G. Barrio in the 16th century [5], which identified the town of Cassano Ionio with "Kossa" according to an inscription - although this is not a fake according to some authoritative scholars it may have been interpreted incorrectly.

We can say at once that the identification of ancient Cossa with Cassano Ionio is still a controversial historical problem. Barrio based himself on an inscription that was deemed a fake made by a notorious Italian forger, Giuseppe Antonini, so many scholars have rejected the hypothesis that Cossa and Cassano Ionio are the same city.

More recently the problem was also taken up on the basis of some important literary sources. According to Cicero (106-43 BC), in the territories of Thurii there was actually a "Catius". Cicero cited Catius in relation to the territory of Thurii in a passage of the "Pro M. Tullio" [6]. Based on this data, A. Zumbo recently wrote:

"From a literary source, we have the evidence of the presence of the powerful ‘Gens Catia’ in the countryside of Thurii around 70 BC, after the terrible events related to the proscription lists of Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BC) and during the slave raids led by Spartacus, who occupied the city" [7].

On the other hand the same scholar points out how the old script of Cassano Ionio was "Cass-i-anum".

History and etymology of Cassano allo Ionio

One version of the etymology of Cassano Ionio believes it refers to a name derived from a Latin owner named “Cassius" with the suffix '-anus '; while the specification ' Ionio ', was added only in 1863" [9]. However, according to other scholars, the city was founded by the Byzantines and then regenerated under the rule of the Lombards (some other scholars think that Cassano Ionio was founded by the Lombards).

In fact, according to E. Barillari, the place name may refer to a Byzantine owner called "Kasanos" or "Kasianos". In a document of 1034 ‘Kasano’ or "Kasianos" was resident "apò tou Kasanou" [near Cassano]” [10].

However, despite the presence of the Byzantines and the Lombards, the hypothesis of A. Zumbo finds the consensus of many scholars, so it is widely accepted that Cassano Ionio inherited the name from ancient Kossa. With regard to the change from “Cass-i-anum” to "Cass-a-num," according to A. Zumbo, the change of the name "may have been in the course of the 7th century AD. The internal ‘I’ for syncope then fell, giving origin to the modern name of "Cassanum" [11].

As regards the 'Ionia' part of the name, Di Tinto, 17th-century scholar, speaking of Cassano allo Ionio, wrote:

"Sedet civitas Cassanen in Calabria, eiusque territorii Citeriori oras alluit Ionium Sea" [the city of Cassano is located in Calabria and the Ionian Sea bathes the coasts of its territory]."

Di Tinto then briefly explained why Cassano Ionio has this name; because, in fact, it overlooks the Ionian Sea.

See also the Cassano allo Ionio detailed travel guide.


1. See De Juliis, “La Magna Grecia”,1996, p. 19 and M. Nafissi, “La Magna Grecia”, 1985, p. 194

2. See J. Berard, “La Magna Grecia”, 1957,p. 149

3. “Bellum Civili”, III, 22

4. See “Notizie degli scavi di antichità”, 1970, p. 20

5. G. Barrius, "De antiquitate et situ Calabriae, prolegomena, addictiones et notae, Romae 1737, p. 787

6. See A. Zumbo, “La gens Cattia a Copia-Thurii (CIL X 14; Cic. Pro M. Tullio VII, 19

7. A. Zumbo, p. 164

8. See M. Genua, “Storia della Calabria e del Meridione d'Italia ...”, 2009, p. 106 nota

9. See R. D'Ambrogio, “Nomi d'Italia”, 2006, p. 159

10. E. Barillaro, “Calabria”, L. Pellegrini, 1972, p. 142

11. Zumbo, pp. 174-175