History of Sorano - origins and etymology

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Soranus is the ancient name for the hill town of Sorano, in Tuscany, Italy.

Origins of the name Sorano

With regards to the etymology of Sorano, studies point to a noble family name, "Soranus", and nothing more; but it should be noted that Sorano was an Etruscan area, as amply demonstrated by the cemetery surrounding the village, and the Etruscans had a deeply rooted worship of their God "Soranus", a cult that was practiced in the mountainous and inaccessible areas.

In an important article, Domenico Bassi said that:

"Soranus" "[...] was a hellish deity, as highlighted by its close union with the 'Diis Manes'; it was also the Italic 'Dis Soranus', to which the Etruscans and Falisci devoted the cult on the hill 'Soracte' [...]" [1].

We also add two other considerations. The first is that "Soranus" seems to have its roots in the Etruscan name "Suri" [2]; the second is that among the Latin there was reference to a wolf, known as "Lupus Soranus", which translates the Etruscan expression “Lupuce Surnu”.

The issue is important because the name "Soranus" could refer to the possible presence on the hill of Sorano of a cult dedicated to Etruscan “Dis Soranus”. Incidentally, we note that the Etruscan "lupus" referred to "the dead", as explained Elia Lattes:

"[...] 'Lupu' and 'lupuce' meaning 'dead' or 'he died', as evidenced by the many epitaphs, under which it is said about the deceased: ‘Lupu or lupuce of years ...’ (i.e., 'he died at the age of years ...') [...]" [3].

With these important data, I believe that we can formulate a very credible hypothesis, because the Romans, when they conquered this part of Etruria (3rd century BC), named the place “Soranus”. If the term has to do with "the dead", note that an important feature of Sorano ais the so-called "Colombari" (“Dove-Cots”) or rooms dug into the tufa. Scholars are divided about the use that the Romans made of these "dove-cotes"; some believe that they were used for the housing of pigeons, but others think that the "columbaria" are used for placing the ashes funeral for the dead.

Indeed, in Latin, the term "Columbarium" does not mean only "dove-cot", but also "cineraria", "urn". If the Romans used the "columbaria" with this second purpose, we would understand very well because they define the place, full of "columbaria", "Soranus": this term meant to indicate "the place of the dead;" and with that, perhaps, the etymology of “Soranus” is also explained.

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1. See “Rivista di Filologia e Istruzione classica” [“Journal of Philology and Classical Education”] , 1895, Vol. 23, p. 149

2. see "Mélanges de l'Ecole Français de Rome", 1992, Vol. 104, p. 164

3. See Elia Lattes,  “Rivista di Filologia e Istruzione classica” [“Journal of Philology and Classical Education”], 1895, Vol. 23, p. 477 *.

* I quote here, for interested readers, some remarkable notes of Domenico Bassi about the "Lupus Soranus":

"[...] This 'Dis Soranus' was during that time identified with the Greek Apollo ... One of the  most important symbols of Greek Apollo was the wolf and the wolf was, at the same time, the symbol of 'Dis Soranus', the god of the over-grave, of death, which, by the plagues, as Apollo, snatches men in the same way ... the wolf snatches the sheep. 'Dis Soranus Apollo', 'Sancti custos Soractis' [ "Keeper of the Holy Mount Soratte"], whose head we see portrayed on some coins of the 'Gens Valeria', had as its emblem, in fact, the wolf [...]" , p. 149.