History of Fermo


See guide for highlights and historic monuments

Fermo, harmoniously arranged on the sides of “Sabùlo” Hill, Marche, was a place of settlement dating back to the Iron Age. The transition of Picenum (the historic region containing fermo) to the Iron Age is marked by new funeral rites of cremation, of a proto-Villanovan type, and characterized by the presence of:

“[…] urns shaped like a cylinder… We find a continuation of this type, very clearly proto-Villanovan, in the cremation tombs of  Fermo, which now is ascribed to the eighth century BC […]” [1].

Roman Fermo

After the conquest of  Picenum, around 268 BC, the Romans founded a colony under Latin Law, "Firmum Picenum", around 264, and from this territory the oldest inscription of Picenum has been handed down us [2].

Origins of the name Fermo

The etymology refers to the concept of "firmum" or "stable", "sure," "strong", which presumably refers to its function as a "fortified guard station" compared to the surrounding area. So "Firmum" has been interpreted as "Castellum", i.e. as a "fortified place" [3].

Fermo remained faithful to Rome, playing a part in many important events of the wars in which Rome was involved (the Second Punic War, the Syrian and Social Wars): the city motto was "Firmum firma fides Romanorum Colonia" ("Fermo, the Roman colony and a city of strong faith").

In Roman times it was a town of considerable importance, with the right to mint its own coins.

The dark Ages: Fermo after the Romans

With the fall of Roman Empire, Fermo suffered numerous barbarian invasions and it was devastated by Alaric (458-507) and Athaulf (374 ca.-415) and it also suffered from raids by Attila (452 AD).

In the 6th century it was also the center of the Gothic War, and, in 533 it came under the dominion of the Byzantines. In 569 Fermo came under the Lombards and the administration of the Duchy of Spoleto.

In the 8th century it was the seat of an independent Duchy. This century was a period of significant changes to the city, and the arrival in Italy of Charlemagne (742-814) in defence of Pope Adrian I (died in 795) meant the end of the Lombard Kingdom, and a subsequent submission, at least formally, to the Church State.

The ninth century was also an important period for Fermo. In 825 Lothair (795-855) made the city a very important center for the revival of studies in Italy: Fist a "Schola" was created in Fermo; then, in 1398, it became a University at the behest of Pope Boniface IX (1356-1404).

Fermo in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages Fermo was a city of major importance; it was, in fact, the Chief-Town of "Marca Fermana" as early as 920, with a large territory to administer. Still, in the 11th century, it was attacked by the Normans, who were fought under the banner of the Church State.

During the long struggle that opposed Empire and Papacy, Fermo sided with the Guelphs, followers of the Pope, and, as a municipality, with other Italian cities, it revolted against the Empire. For this it was fiercely attacked by Frederick Barbarossa (1122-1190).

For most of the 13th and 14th centuries the city was involved in bitter wars between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, which coincided with the period of the transfer of the Holy See to Avignon (1309-1377). Fermo was then entrusted to the Visconti, but struggles for dominance of the city continued uninterrupted throughout the 14th century.

Pope Eugenius IV (1383-1447) appointed Francesco Sforza (1401-1466) as Vicar of Fermo; the Sforza rule lasted until 1446, when it was overthrown by a popular revolt.

In the 16th century Fermo was subject to the Lordship of Oliverotto Uffreducci (died in 1503), who had fought, in the first instance, the orders of Cesare Borgia (1475-1507). Oliverotto seized the city around 1502 with an energetic action which involved, according to the customs of Italian tyrannies of the 16th century, extermination of all possible claimants to the city government, before later settling as Vicar of the Pope.

Oliverotto Uffreducci, however, made a mistake that cost him the Vicariate and his life, because he participated in the so-called “Magione Conspiracy”, hatched against Cesare Borgia, who revenged himself by having him strangled in prison.

After the brief dominion of Cesare Borgia, and the subsequent attempt by a relative of Oliverotto to retake the city, in 1520 Fermo returned to the Church State, under whose rule it remained until the Unification of Italy in 1861.

References

1. See G. Buti-G. Devoto, “Preistoria e Storia delle Regioni d’Italia” [“Prehistory and history of the Italy regions”], Florence, Sansoni, 1974, pp. 85-86

2. CIL I2, 383. See “XI International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy”, Quasar, 1999, p. 396

3. :"Re et nomine 'Firmum'" (“'Strong' ['Firmum'] by its nature and in the name”), Liutprand (920 ca.-972) wrote about Fermo and its castle : See G. Fatteschi, “Memorie storico diplomatiche”, 1801, p. 182