History of Nocera Umbra, Italy


See Nocera Umbra guide for highlights and historic monuments

Ancient origins of Nocera Umbra

The first evidence about Nocera Umbra dates back to the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, but it is only since the Iron Age that the territory was inhabited with a certain continuity. In fact, P. Fontaine wrote:

"the name 'Nucera' does not allow us to determine the exact location of this city, and even if some of the Iron Age tombs were discovered on a hill near the promontory, the latter did not reveal any trace of an ancient settlement" [8].

Nuceria was located on the Via Flaminia, the main link road between Rome and Ravenna. Because of this position, the city was cited by several ancient sources. For example, it was mentioned by Strabo (63 BC-24 AD) because of the “craft for the production of wooden vessels”:

"There are some cities [in Umbria] that developed, rather than because of political importance, but because of the presence of the Via Flaminia, such as Nocera Umbra, where wooden vessels are built" [9].

Later it was mentioned in the "Tabula Peuntigeriana" as a very fequented "statio" ("trading post") [10].

Nocera Umbra in the Dark Ages

The arrival of the barbarians in the 5th century destroyed the Roman remains of Nocera, and the Gothic War (535-553) between the Goths and Byzantines along the Via Flaminia certainly did not spare the area of Nocera Umbra.

During the barbarian invasions, already started with the Saracens and then continued with the Goths (493 AD), there was presumably a shift uphill of the ancient city; in fact, in modern Nocera no remains have been found of Roman times. The Flaminia Road also allowed the rapid spread of Christianity in Umbria.

According to C. B. Rupp, a distinguished scholar of Nocera Umbra, presumably in the fifth century AD the city was the seat of a Diocese:

"According to a conjecture by G. Sigismondi, Nuceria Camellaria was for the time being a Bishopric. The Synod of November 502, 6, under Pope Symmachus (Pope from 498 to 514), mentioned an 'Aprilis' as Bishop of the Church of Nocera Umbra"] [11].

However:

"we have more reliable information about a Bishop of Nocera Umbra from the ninth century (823, 853 and 861 AD) (...) Anyway, the importance of Nocera Umbra in the organization of the territory is also evidenced by the fact that it was the seat of a ‘Gastaldo’ [Steward], documented in 761" [12].

In the second half of the 6th century the city was occupied by the Lombards, who came in great numbers, people who lived with an equally high number of Latin populations. The arrival of the Lombards in Nocera Umbra produced, between the sixth and seventh centuries, an essentially military settlement, as some burials in the necropolis of the area show.

In fact, the outpost of Nocera Umbra was essentially a military support for the Duchy of Spoleto, which absorbed the city in 571. On the presence of the Lombards in Nocera Umbra, exhaustive studies were made from the beginning of the 20th century, then continued with important archaeological discoveries in recent years.

The Necropolis of Nocera Umbra

Discovered in 1897 the necropolis of Nocera Umbra is located close to the modern city and it consists of more than one hundred male and female graves; the cemetery was active from the last three decades of the 6th century to the early decades of the 7th century. In particular, in the necropolis of Nocera Umbra graves of women and children were mainly discovered [13].

More recently, C. B. Rupp focused on some Roman women, noting that:

“With regard to Roman women there were found strange belts with charms and amulets with (...) buckles" [14].

Rupp, in fact, refers to a pair of zoomorphic style buckles, which are now kept in Rome at the Museum of the Early-Middle Ages. Rupp, in her work, also shows the figure of a beautiful necklace with coins discovered in tomb No. 17. Also in the necropolis many coins were found, following the typical Lombard custom called "obulus-viaticum": "The ‘obulus-viaticum’ is common in the Lombard burials, and it is a legacy of the Roman tradition.

Amante Simoni notes that of 166 graves, thirteen of them held some coins, eleven of which refer to a buried female, one to a male and a third to a child:

"with coins variously arranged on the body (on the left or right hand and some on the sternum) [15].

In addition, the importance of the necropolis of Nocera Umbra also expands to other historical and linguistic aspects, such as the terminology that the Lombards imported in the areas occupied by them. These aspects were discussed with great skill by N. Christie:

“Some toponyms appear to relate to military concerns, such as watch-posts ('warda' and 'sculca') [...] It may aid in recognising administrative and military functions, such as the 'Colle Schucula' north-west of the township of Nocera [Umbra], referring to a 'sculca' observing the approach of the 'via Flaminia'” [16].

The necropolis was abandoned around the early decades of the seventh century AD. Also be noted that not all the remains found in the necropolis of Nocera are related to the Lombards, but also to the Goths, and we cannot forget that the presence of the Goths along the Flaminia Road was important because the battle between Narses (478-573) and Totila (died 552) took place in Tagina, about ten miles from Nocera Umbra:

"the 'armour of Theodoric' is a precious relic of the barbarian Gothic jewelry” [17].

Regarding the Goths and Lombards, R. Paribeni pointed out that:

"the necropolis of Nocera Umbra shows a somewhat archaic aspect, because the Lombards were less resident and civil than the Goths" [18].

Nocera Umbra in the Middle Ages

Nocera Umbra became a free commune (city-state) around 1160, but in 1202, to have a defense against the threats of Gubbio and Foligno which tried to get its hands on this country, Nocera Umbra voluntarily submitted to Perugia, “ad honorem et salvamentum Comunis Perusiae et Nucerii” [for the honour and the salvation of Perugia and Nocera (Umbra)].

However, the domain of Perugia imposed burdensome taxes, so that a rebellion broke out around 1295 that Perugia crushed "by force of arms, and massacres" [19]. The city suffered another severe devastation in 1248 when it was attacked by Frederick II (1194-1250), who wanted to punish the city for its alliance with the Pope, involving the destruction of the Cathedral.

Between the 14th and 15th century Nocera Umbra was submitted to the Lordship of the Trinci of Foligno, who ruled the city as Papal Vicars. From the beginning of the 14th century, the Trinci ruled Foligno, and for their cooperation with Cardinal Albornoz (1310-1367), they were recognized as Papal vicars by Boniface IX (1350-1404), who confirmed the Vicariate to Ugolino Trinci (died 1415) and his descendants.

Nocera Umbra, under the rule of the Trinci, was the scene of serious family blood feuds. In fact, in 1386  Nicolò Trinci (died 1421) and his brother were killed in the Fortress of Nocera by the lord Pietro di Rasalia. However, the third brother, Corrado, survived, and he unleashed a fierce suppression on the city.

With the death of Corrado Trinci (died 1441), who rebelled against the Pope, the city was placed under Perugia control for good and it entered in the State of the Church [20]. Therefore, in the mid-16th century, and with the disappearance of the ambitions of Perugia, from the economic and social point of view, Nocera Umbra became part of the history of the Papal States until the unification of Italy in 1861.

Origins of the name Nocera

The etymology was proposed by G. Devoto, who suggested the origin from the name "Noukria', with the meaning of "The New [city]" [1]. G. Rocca observed that "'Nevkri' (= Nucerinus) is presumably a gentilial name (...) However, G. Devoto assumed it as a 'speaking name' = 'new', a name with which some towns in the Osco-Umbrian area were designated" [2].

The name of the Roman city, attested by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) was Nucera Camellaria: "Inhabitants of Nocera Umbra, called “Favonienses” and “Camellani” [3]. As we can see in the quotation from Pliny, there were two towns in Umbria with the name "Nuceria", one called “Camellaria”, and the second "Favonienses". In this regard, G. Devoto said that:

"the first corresponds to the modern Nocera Umbra, while the latter is unknown but it was probably contiguous to the first" [4].

With regard to the etymology, G. B. Pellegrini pointed out that:

"Devoto started from 'Noukria' (or 'Nouceria') (...) and 'Nukr-‘ may be a variant of Nouk(o) '[= new], in the Indo-European language 'newo'-'neiwo'" [1]. A.L. Prosdocimi proposed for 'noukria' a corrected explanation, suggesting a 'NOWO-' + 'ocri-',  meaning 'arx' (fortress, castle), so the literal meaning of "Nocera Umbra" would be "Castel-nuovo" [the new Castle] [5].

In reality, the possibility of a union of "Novus" with "acer-arx" was proposed already in the early 20th century by H. Nissen, but P. Fontaine observed that:

“The etymology of 'novus + acer' proposed by H. Nissen is less acceptable from the linguistic and etymological point of view" [6].

With regard to "Nuceria Camellaria", mentioned by Pliny, it was pointed out that this  is not a Latin, but an Umbrian term, and it derives "from a local industry that built wooden vessels ('gamella' or 'camella' = cups of liquid)" [7].

See Nocera travel guide for more information.

References

1. See G.B. Pellegrini," Toponomastica italiana ...", Hoepli, 1990, p. 67

2. See G. Rocca, “Iscrizioni umbre minori”,   Olschki, 1996, p. 78

3. ["Camellani"] (Nat. Hist., III, 114: " Nucerini cognomine Favonienses et Camellani " [Inhabitants of Nocera Umbra, called “Favonienses” and “Camellani”]

4. See G. Devoto, “Gli antichi italici”, Vallecchi, 1967, pp.. 106 ff.

5. See, “Studi etruschi”,  Olschki, 1981, p. 370 note 3

6. See P. Fontaine, “Cités et enceintes de l'Ombrie antique”, Institut historique belge de Rome, 1990, p. 362

7. F. See Ceruti, “I Greci d'Asia nella politica romana”, in “Epigraphica”,  1955, no 17, p. 135 note 1

8. P. Fontaine, p. 362

9. See Strabo," Geography ", 5, 227

10. See A. Trevisiol, “Fonti letterarie ed epigrafiche per la storia romana ...”, 1999, p. 103

11. See C.B. Rupp, "Das Langobardische Gräberfeld von Nocera Umbra," Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Bonn , 1995, pp. 5-8

12. See A.Czortek-P.L.Licciardello, “Presentazione”, in “Bollettino della Deputazione di storia patria per l'Umbria”, 2005, p. 38

13. With regard to  the first excavations of the early twentieth century, See A. Pasqui-R. Paribeni, “La necropoli barbarica di Nocera Umbra”, in “Monumenti Antichi della Regia Accademia dei Lincei” , XXV,  XXV, 1919, pp. 137-351

14. Rupp, p. 48

15. See M. de Marchi, “Il problema degli anelli in oro longobardi sigillati”, in “I signori degli anelli”, edited by S. Lusuardi Siena, Vita e pensiero, 2004, p. 51 note 17

16. See N. Christie, “From Constantine to Charlemagne: an archaeology of Italy, AD 300-800”, 2006,  p. 470

17. See“Bollettino d'arte” , 1925, p. 288

18. See R. Paribeni, “Le terme di Diocleziano e il Museo nazionale romano”,  1928, p . 335

19. See, “Nuova Antologia”,  1881, pp.. 414 ff

20. See G. Greco, “Cronologia dell'Italia moderna”, Carocci, 2003, pp. 61 ff.