History of Roccagloriosa

See Roccagloriosa guide for highlights and historic monuments

Ancient origins of Roccagloriosa

The village of Roccagloriosa that we see today is situated on a hill around the ruins of the castle that was built by Narseh (478-574 AD) during the Gothic-Byzantine war.

However, the actual history of Roccagloriosa takes us far back in time, to the 4th century BC, when the village was built by the old Leukanians, one of the most combative Italic peoples, who collided hard with the Greeks and the Romans. According to Strabo (58-25 BC) the Leucani were Samnitae in race.

The continuous wars effectively led to the construction of mighty fortresses throughout the territory:

“the settlement structures in Lucania changed remarkably from the beginning of the 4th century BC. A dense network of settlements developed. They were situated only a few kilometers from each other and have in common that each of them is situated either on a plateau or on high peaks according to the nature of the terrain. They are all surrounded by strong defensive walls...

... Due to their high position, the fortified settlements overlook a large part of the surrounding landscape to the distant plains, river valleys and even to coasts [...] Some were related to the local territory, others took on a regional function. Among them are Torre di Satriano, Roccagloriosa and Monte Coppolo” [1].

The Leukanians, although at first they fell back because of the Greek presence on the coast, were still present in the area between the 5th and 4th centuries BC, with the significant presence of Roccagloriosa, and with a series of minor settlements within the Gulf of Policastro, eventually taking over the coastal towns.

From the 5th century BC until the beginning of the 3rd century BC the Leukanian "frourion" [= Fortress] of Roccagloriosa developed, which was then abandoned with the arrival of the Romans.

Archaeological excavations have found walls, roads, residential and sacred buildings, inscriptions, tombs in princely rooms with gold and vases from the factories of Paestum. One important find is a bronze fragment with an Oscan inscription dating back to 300 BC, with reference to some judges called "meddes" [singular] and "meddices" [plural] [= Latin magistratus]:

“Judicial and civic procedures involving the meddix or meddices are included in the fragment of a lex from Roccagloriosa, which provides a snapshot of political activity and institutional organization in the centre” [2].

With regard to this inscription, M. Osanna remarked that:

"at least in one case, this judiciary was referred to in the plural, as evidenced by the adjective 'pous Osco' used in the plural, documenting the presence of two magistrates with this qualification" [3].

The site of Roccagloriosa was certainly tied to a market or other exchange of goods, and intensive exploitation of agricultural space in the 4th and 3rd century BC. Archaeological investigations have shown a farming economy based on mixed farming, with a prominent role occupied by the cultivation of the vine.

Roccagloriosa and the Romans

The Lucania was occupied by the Romans after the war against Pyrrhus and Taranto. The Lukanians, that in the sources are cited as "populus" and "Loukanoi" from the mid-5th century BC, were at war and peace gradually with Italic, Sicel, Greek and Roman people throughout the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, and they became one of the most powerful States of ancient Italy.

The Romanization of the area was completed over time, with cities, colonies, settlements, roads, bridges and structures, and there is much archaeological evidence of the Roman period.

In the third century BC, farms and villages were evenly distributed thoughout the valley, between the small Greek city of Pyxus on the coast and the Lucanian city at Roccagloriosa in the hinterland. In 194 BC, however, a Roman colony was founded at Pyxus (renamed Buxentum). During the following generation, Roccagloriosa declined and disappeared” [4].

There are many assumptions about the disappearance of the ancient Lukanian "frurion"; someone suggested that presumably the city was destroyed by the Romans because it had sided with Hannibal during the Punic Wars. According to others it disappeared because of natural causes, such as an earthquake, or maybe even because of the foundation of the Latin colony in "Paestum", with the transfer of population resulting in the end of Roccagloriosa.

However, Fracchia had stressed the importance of the fortified city of Roccagloriosa, describing it as an "oppidum" of outstanding strategic importance:

“It had a powerful effect on local settlement patterns, as demonstrated in western Lucania, where the flourishing Lucanian site at Roccagloriosa was abandoned shortly after the foundation of Buxentum and settlement density increased” [5]

It is also interesting to note that these areas were explored by the great 12th century Arab geographer Al Idrisi, who in his journey in southern Italy also reached the river where once stood the ancient "oppidum" of Roccagloriosa" [6].

History of Roccagloriosa from the Middle Ages

With regard to the Early Middle Ages we know that Roccagloriosa and the surrounding area was conquered by the Byzantine Narses, who built the first fortifications of Roccagloriosa. Today we can still see the ruins of the ancient fortress.

After many centuries of silence, the first hard information about Roccagloriosa suddenly appeared in the Middle Ages, around the mid-13th century. According to Ebner, Roccagloriosa is mentioned in some 1200 documents around the end of the 13th century. In 1271 the fiefdom was swapped for another by Onorato de Muliers. 

In 1271 the manor was sold to the Sanseverino family, and then sold to the family of Giovan Battista Carafa (1495-1541), Count of Policastro. Next, Ciccarello di Nardò, on 19 September 1417 claimed to have bought the fief from the count of Alessandro of Montefuscolo 'cum eius castro' "[together with its castle]. [7].

P. Ebner, who studied the town in depth, informs us that we have more news on the old village from the Angevin age, and we can see it changed hands on several occasions:

"In the same year King Charles of Anjou granted Roccagloriosa to Henry Fornerio de Moliers with the “decree about Roccagloriosa". Then Onorato de Moliers gave the fief to the Royal domain in exchange for the castle of Spigno. The King therefore revoked the previous concession. In that same period the inhabitants of Roccagloriosa rebelled against the King, but this rebellion was suppressed by Matteo di Fasanella and Artuso of Vinay. In 1501 Roccagloriosa became part of the domains of the Carafa family, the Counts of Policastro...

... after the incursion of Dragut in July 1552, Roccagloriosa suffered 'a serious fire and an absolute destruction', with more than 100 inhabitants killed or deported as slaves. Then the fief was put up for auction and it was purchased by Giovanni Antonio Lanario in 1576. Afterwards the Carafa returned as a possession of the fief, but they re-sold it to Pompeo Capece. Around 1618 Roccagloriosa had about 1500 inhabitants. Around 1712 the fief of Roccagloriosa had four villages [Rocca, Rocchetta, Celle and Acquavena]. [8]

The Napoleonic period was extremely harsh for Roccagloriosa, which was literally devastated and largely destroyed. After the unification of Italy, in the late 19th century, the neighboring villages (Rocchetta and Acquavena) were administratively ruled by Roccagloriosa.

Etymology of the name Roccagloriosa

As we can see, we have called "Roccagloriosa" by its modern name. But what was the ancient name of the city? In fact we do not know what it was called. However, we know that in the Middle Ages, at the time of Emperor Frederick II (1094-1250), who ordered the maintenance of castles, Roccagloriosa was called "Castrum Rocce de Gloriosa:

“Castrum Rocce de Gloriosa debet reparari per homines eiusdem Rocce" [Roccagloriosa Castle must be renovated by workers in the same Fortress] [9].

The absence of a specific name for the ancient Roccagloriosa could mean that it was defined simply as an "Oppidum", that is a fortress. Indeed, presumably Roccagloriosa was "The Oppidum" par excellence, in the sense that it was the "most important" fortress among the other forts that lined the area. In fact, the major scholars of the city, M. Gualtieri and H. Fracchia write that:

“the Roccagloriosas’s landmark interested a vast territory and a specialized craft production including ceramic and artefacts in bronze and iron were placed in a very important trading system" [10].

On the other hand, contemporary studies have shown that the "oppidum" was the "normal form" of Lukanian fortified settlements in this area. T. D. Stek writes:

“The west-Lucanian hill-fort of Roccagloriosa has been thoroughly investigated using a combination of excavation and field survey in the territory. Roccagloriosa is often evoked as a model for hill-forts within Samnite society. According to this model local elites from within the walls controlled a community living dispersed in the direct territory of the hill-fort. Hill-forts would thus have assumed a centralising role in the formulation of institutional and political structures.” [11].

Moreover, Roccagloriosa was also well known for its ceramic artifacts:

“The artisans at Roccagloriosa may also have produced red figure pottery [...] these depictions incorporate a hybrid mixture of Apulian and Paestum” [12].

On the other hand, the term "Rocca" remained through the millennia, and the epithet "glorious" was added to "the rock", in honour of the Virgin. In fact, P. Battaini wrote that:

"the village had the nickname 'Glorious' from an image of Madonna in a chapel of the Castle." [13].

Moreover, the oldest part of Roccagloriosa is the so-called "Rocchetta", a hamlet of Roccagloriosa whose name refers to a fortification.

See the travel guide for Roccagloriosa for more information.


1. See A. Henning, "Lucania in the 4th and 3rd Century BC. Articulation of a New Self-awareness Instead of a Migration Theory", in “Bollettino di Archeologia...”, Roma, 2008, p. 6 and p. 3 [Strabo]

2. See J. Jolylon at al. “Inside Ancient Lucania: Dialogues in History and Archaeology”, University of London, 2007, p. 128

3. See M. Osanna, “Verso la città: forme insediative in Lucania e nel mondo italico fra IV e III secolo BC”, 2009, p. 132

4. see H. Flower, “The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic”, 2004, pp. 209-210

5. Fracchia, 1983, p. 168

6. See F. F. La Greca, “ Paestum e il suo territorio nella geografia storica medievale e moderna”, in “Annali storici del Principato Citra”, 2012, X, 1, p. 61

7. See P. Ebner, “Economia e società nel Cilento medievale”, 1979, Vol. I, p. 282

8. ref 7, p. 423

9. ref 7, p. 417, [14])

10. See M. Gualtieri- H. Fracchia et al., “L'Oppidum lucano e il suo territorio”, 2008, p. 76

11. See T. D. Stek, “ Cult Place and Cultural Change in Republican Italy”,Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2009, p.38

12. See N. Bonacasa et al., “La Sicilia dei due Dionisî: atti della Settimana di studio…”, Roma, 2002, p. 260, footnote 32

13. P. Battaini et al., “La Nuova Italia: dizionario amministrativo, statistico, industriale, commerciale ...”, Vallardi, 1901, p. 61