History of Grumento Nova, Italy

See Grumento Nova guide for highlights and historic monuments

It is worth noting first that there are two towns to discuss: the ancient roman town of Grumentum, abandoned during the Gothic wars of the fifth century AD and also because of the Lombard conquest and the Arab invasions of the ninth century, and the town of Saponara where the residents of Grumentum took refuge, later renamed as “Saponara di Grumento” and finally “Grumento Nova.”

The history of studies about the ancient "Grumentum" (Grumento Nova) began in the 17th century, and gave rise to an intense debate among scholars from the 19th century onwards. D. Romanelli [1] laid the basis for two important problems about "Grumentum": the problem of the city’s ancient name (see etymology further down) and that of the site where it was located.

Location of ancient Grumento Nova

With regard to the site, it was pointed out that the:

"Old Grumentum was located to the east of modern Saponara, now called ‘Grumento Nova’, on the right bank of the river Agri. Even more to the east than Grumentum (about 12 km as the crow flies), on the left bank of the river, there is the modern Armento. Around it, in various places, were discovered necropolis from which came to light (...) some material such as painted vases, weapons, coins and jewelery" [11]

In fact, the archaeological finds around "Grumentum" have been studied since the 17th century, when many local scholars found remains of Roman origin here.

Coming to the most significant historical data, we note that Grumentum was mentioned as early as the first half of the 3rd century B, when the Romans founded a new colony, known as "Grumentum", after the founding of Venusia (291 BC) and Paestum (273 BC). Grumentum was also mentioned by sources at the time of the Second Punic War, when the Romans fought against Hannibal (247-182 BC), whose troops were encamped near Grumentum.

Roman Grumentum

The site where the Romans founded Grumentum was chosen for its strategic position, since the town was connected with Venosa and the Via Appia, to the north, and the Tyrrhenian coast and the Via Popilia to the south. The city became a Roman colony in 133 BC, while keeping intact the original typical Roman urban plan, characterized by longitudinal axes intersected by minor axes.

The earliest phase of the settlement is documented by some remains of the city of Roman origin. Despite the presence of powerful walls, already documented at the time of the battle against Hannibal (207 BC), the city suffered extensive damage during the siege and looting by the Italics during the Social War (91-88 BC) and during the Servile War led by Spartacus (73-71 BC).

Around 57 BC the city was refounded by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), but it lost its importance. However, after being abandoned for a decade following the crisis caused by the Social War, archaeologists have identified new centuriations  - plans for the award of lots - and the construction of walls and a tower, along with a levelling of the urban area. It was also during this period that the aqueduct was built, a prerequisite for the construction of the “Terme Repubblicane” [=Republican Baths].

After the Romans in Grumentum

With regard to the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages:

"the sources of Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Ages information available for Grumentum, although very few, provide some precise historical data, such as:

  • a public road connecting Grumentum with Potentia and Venusia to the north and Taranto to the southeast;
  • the existence of the bishopric of Grumentum, mentioned in the 5th and 6th centuries by Popes Gelasius I (died 496), Pelagius I (died 590) and Gregory the Great (540-604);
  • the hagiography of a martyr who was a native of Grumentum, St. Laviero, written by Roberto da Romana in the 12th century which mentions the date of the establishment of the bishopric in 370, and, finally,
  • the continuity of life in the city, with probable times of crisis, but without substantial interruption, until the middle of the 9th century, when it was destroyed by the Saracens.

The permanent abandonment of Grumentum came a century later, during the pontificate of Leo VIII, with the passage of the inhabitants to the hill where today Saponara is located, now Grumento Nova. After several attacks by the Saracens, the inhabitants moved to the "Castrum Arae Saponae" [fortress of the altar of Sapona], where Saponara was founded, during the pontificate of Pope Agapetus II (died 595).

Saponara - Grumentum Nova and the Middle Ages

Saponara over the centuries belonged to various families; in the Middle Ages it was under the Lombard and Norman rule; in the eleventh century, it was ruled by Robert de Hauteville (1015-1085), Count of Montescaglioso, and then it passed to the Fasanella family.

Because of a rebellion against King Roger II (1095-1154), the feud passed to the Fasanella family, and then, with the advent of the Swabians, the Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) took away the feud of Thomas Fasanella, guilty of having participated in the conspiracy of Capaccio:

"The plot was hatched by the Pope, but it was discovered just by a member of the noble family of the Sanseverino, Richard." [14].

In 1254 Saponara was assigned to the Sanseverino dynasty, with whom it remained until the 19th century when:

"The male line's of the Capua Sanseverino, Counts of Saponara, extinguished with Francesco (1803-1870)" [15].

The earthquake of 1857 burned the city to the ground, causing more than 2000 victims.

Origins of the name of Grumentum

With regard to the original name of Grado, S. Baschirotto observes:

"Since the seventeenth century, the discussion around the name of the city was quite lively among scholars (...) ranging from Drumentum, Adrumentum, Agromonte to Grumentos, Grumention or Pumentum. The name had been mentioned in the 'Itinerarium Antonini', of the 2nd century AD, and also in the Peutinger's Chart of the 5th century, where we see that Grumentum was located at the intersection of the Via Herculia and a road leading to the Via Popilia.

Therefore, the identification and location of the site of the Roman city of Grumentum were not always clear, and neither were the origins of its name.

With regard to the etymology, Roselli told a curious late legend dating back to the ‘Life of St. Laverio’ by Roberto da Romana of 1162. The legend was intended to ennoble the city's origins, deriving the name of it from the union of the name of the eponymous hero, called "Miento", son of the Assyrian king Tantane, founder of the city, and the crane [Italian ‘Gru’], from which Miento would draw the auspices of the foundation of the city.

In an attempt to further ennoble the history of Saponara and Grumentum, Roselli falsified some epigraphic evidences, claiming to have found the tomb of the Pithagorean philosopher Ocello Lucano (5th century BC). Roselli wrote:

"The name of Grumentum comes from the name of a hero named Miento, son of Tantane, king of the Assyrians. It is said that, after arriving in those regions, he founded the city (...) deriving the word ‘Grumentum’ from a crane [=gru], that is the bird which he had seen arriving at that place (...) By joining together the terms ‘Gru’ [=Crane] and 'Miento', the city was called 'Grumyento' (…) With the passage of time, the ‘y’ had been omitted for ease of pronunciation, and the city was called ‘Grumentum" [2].

It’s evident from this imaginative etymology that the multiplicity of names raised serious problems as regards the roots of "Grumentum". According to Niebuhr:

"the city was founded by the Pelasgians and the original name seems to derive from Greek 'Krumoentòs' (...) So the Greeks called the city from the coldness of its site, because it was located between the highest and coldest mountains of Lucania. For this reason the Greeks called it ‘Krumoentòs', from Greek "Krumos" [= cool]" [3].

“At the end of the century, in 1889, a local scholar, Giacomo Racioppi (…) claimed that the name derived from the Sanskrit 'gruma', with the meaning of 'pagus' or village, to which was added the suffix '-entos', such as Tar-entos [Taranto]” [4]

However, since 1944 G. Alessio [5] pointed out that the name derived from Latin "grumus" [= "terrae collectio", "pile of rocks"]:

"Grumentum is evidently connected to Latin term 'grumus', similar to the Aegean type 'Kromax-klomax' [= pile of stones]" [6].

The same G. Alessio, a few years later, confirmed the "Mediterranean origin" of the name, derived from "grumus" [7]. Of the same opinion, with variations related to the ancient Babylonian tongue, was G. Semeraro:

"The name of old Grumentum shows the corresponding base to Latin ‘grumus’ [=heap, mound], but about the Latin term 'grummus', 'grumus' we ignore the origin: but with the normal disappearance of the intermediate consonant '-n', it corresponds to the ancient Babylonian term 'guru[nn]um' ( mound, heap)" [8].

We can say that the derivation of "Grumentum" from Latin "grumus" is accepted by almost all contemporary scholars. On the other hand, carefully observing distinctive features of the landscape in which "Grumentum" is located, we can see that this part of the Lucan Apennines morphologically consists of conical hills.

However, according to other scholars, the place name derives from the Oscan form "Grum" [=inhabited place], which in turn would be influenced by the Greeks:

“Grumentum derives from the Oscan root 'Grum', which in Oscan language means 'inhabitated place' (such as 'Grumo Appula' and 'Grumo Nevano')" [9].

Various scholars basically agree on the Greek-Italic root of Grumentum, such as D. Adamesteanu, and V. Falasca (S. Baschirotto, p. 16 footnote 60). Indeed, this could be possible, because, as noted by A. Momigliano:

“Some Greek words, such as 'triumphus' [=Greek 'thrìambos'] and 'gruma' [=Greek 'g-noma'], must have come to Rome through Etruria. Greek linguistic influence in the 5th century is now clearly documented ... One has the impression that an exact demarcation line between Sabine and pure Latin elements is impossible” [10].

The place name was changed in 1863 with “Saponara di Grumento” and in 1932 with “Grumento Nova.”

Origins of the name Saponara (now Grumento Nova)

With regard to Saponara:

"it was so called for the presence of an altar in honour of Serapis, which people called 'Sapon', or 'Sapona.'" B. Petrone wrote: "Saponara derives its name from the Altar of Sapon (…) It was called ‘Ara Sapon’, and it was the castle or fortress of Grumentum defeated by Hannibal, and then destroyed by Saracens" [12].

Hence derives the etymology which explains the name of the medieval city: Saponara, from “Ara Saponae.” Other scholars, such as Caputi [13], believed that the name of Saponara derived from the term 'sablunaria-sabionaria', from "sablo-sabuum." By comparison with other names of cities, such as Savona or Saona or Saponara Villafranca, he alleged that the etymology of their name derived from the presence of sandpits.

See also Grumeno Nova for a travel guide.


1. See D. Romanelli, , “Antica topografia istorica del Regno di Napoli”, Napoli, 1815, Vol. I, pp. 395-396 and 399-400

2. See S. Baschirotto, “’Grumentum’, Storia delle ricerche”, in “Grumentum Romana”, edited by A. Mastrocinque, Molinterno, 2009, pp. 11-12

3. See N. Corcia, “Della venuta dei Pelasgi in Italia”, in “Il progresso”, luglio-agosto 1839, p. 190

4. S. Baschirotto, p. 16

5. “Studi Etruschi”, “Suggerimenti e nuove indagini sul problema del sostrato mediterraneo”, 1944, n. XVIII, p. 124

6. See G. Alessio, “Sul nome di Otranto”, in “Archivio Storico Pugliese”, 1952, n. V, p. 231

7. See G. Alessio, “Toponomastica e Etnonomastica mediterranea”, in “Giornale italiano di filologia”, 1961, pp. 238-239

8. See G. Semeraro, “Le origini della cultura europea: rivelazioni della linguistica storica”, Olschki, 1984, Vol 2, p. 509

9. See E. Schiavone, “Montemurro: notizie storiche”, 1966, p. 18 footnote 7

10. See A. Momigliano, “Terzo contributo alla storia degli studi classici”, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2007, p. 553

11. See M. Guarducci, “In margine alle 'corone d'oro': Armento e Grumentum”, in “Epigraphica: rivista italiana di epigrafia”, 1976, n. 37, p. 211

12. See Abate Pecorone [= Bonifacio Petrone], “Memorie”, Naples, typ. Vocola, 1729, p. 7

13. “Tenue contributo alla storia di Grumento e di Saponara”, Napoli, 1902

14. See N. Fierro, “La congiura di Capaccio”, in" Salternum ", 2010, n. 24-25, p. 9 -17

15. See “Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana”, 1932 , p. 109