History of Talamone, Italy

See Talamone guide for highlights and historic monuments

The fortified town of Talamone enjoys a superb view over an excellent natural harbour, from a headland that has been inhabited since prehistoric times - excavations have shown that the first settlements date back to the Middle Bronze Age and around the Late Bronze Age (10th-11th century BC) the first structures of the port area were formed, with a sparse population.

In the Iron Age settlements became more sparse, and this area was virtually an unsettled region. The settlements began again around the 6th century BC, with the presence of Etruscan artisan factories for the processing of minerals coming from the Elbe. In this age the famous temple of Telamon was also built [1].

Romans in Telamon

The Roman conquest of Telamon dates back to the third century BC; the Romans probably did not destroy the ancient Etruscan city (see origins of Talamone further down), but they punished severely the local aristocracy who had resisted the Roman conquest. The disappearance of luxurious Etruscan tombs since the Roman age support this hypothesis.

The Etruscan Temple of Talamone

The temple dedicated to the Etruscan God "Tinia" was not only respected but it remained intact, and its gable was also embellished and decorated with a high relief which, as we shall see, has aroused much discussion among scholars. On the contrary, the Romans completely destroyed the town of Doganella, whose survivors presumably took sanctuary in Talamone, which became a very populous and important city, especially because it would have:

"summoned the Etruscan population who escaped the destruction of Doganella" [10].

In the old part of this town, as we said, in a place called "Talamonaccio", the Etruscans built a temple, which in recent years has been the subject of extensive research. Through time, scholars have reconstructed the history of this ancient Etruscan site. In 1964, in the area of the temple a very fragmentary "krateriskos" [small vessel] was found, now in the Archaeological Museum of Florence. During the excavations emerged some very important remains, such as crude bricks reddened by fire.

Archaeological evidences show that the temple was never rebuilt, although the remains of extension works have been noticed in the temple, presumably due to the construction of a road. The destruction of the temple dates back to the Civil War between Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BC). Sulla destroyed the temple because Talamone in 87 BC had given shelter to Marius and his soldiers, supplying them with food.

According to Appian  (95-165 AD, "Bellum Civile", I, 89), the destruction of the temple and the ancient Etruscan "oppidum" would have taken place in 82 BC [11].

The destruction of the town also meant the disappearance of the harbour of Telamon:

"The destruction of 'Telamon' during the Civil War between 82 and 80 BC, opened a period in which the harbour area of the Gulf was no longer used; its function was probably replaced by the mouth of Albegna, that is the 'Albinia positio' mentioned in the ‘Itinerarium Maritimum', which was founded in the years immediately following 80 BC" [12].

Moreover, we know with certainty that Sulla radically destroyed Talamone, and the site was inhabited until Late Antiquity. From the Ealy Middle Ages until the thirteenth century, we have no particular information about Talamone.

Talamone in the Middle Ages

In the 13th century Talamone belonged to the Aldobrandeschi Counts, who sold it to the Abbey of San Salvatore, Monte Amiata. In the act of sale the Abbot noted simply that the Abbey of San Salvatore claimed a right to Talamone “for immemorial custom". The fact of the matter is that Talamone was purchased in 1303 by the city of Siena with the intent to build its own maritime and commercial outlet on the Tyrrhenian coast.

At this time Siena had bought the salts of Telamon and it was interested in the sale of salt without the intermediation of other ports, and in this sense, the city invested a lot of money in the renovation of both the fortress and port facilities, for which the purchase of Telamon seemed at first a good bargain. In 1309 Siena also built a road that went from Castelfranco di Siena to Paganico and then it continued towards Talamone [13].

In 1307 it was established that a salt Customs was to be located in Talamone to facilitate connections with Siena. The city of Siena decided to build a church and a lighthouse for greater safety of ships. In 1311 a treaty was signed between Siena and Florence for the use of the port of Telamon. The following year, with the descent of Henry VII (1275-1313) and with the help of Pisa, Siena and the Counts of S. Fiora  attacked Talamone, but they managed to win only after two years.

In 1319 the town was sacked by the Genoese because Siena had sent soldiers to help King Robert of Naples (1277-1343) their enemy. In 1328 because of the unhealthy climate and the continued attacks, the Sienese entrusted Tedigi del Fiesco to take care of Talamone, but he did not fulfil his obligations, and therefore the port was leased to the Florentines.

In the two treaties with Florence of 1331 and 1357 for the use of the port of Telamon, Siena took on the maintenance and supervision of the route. In 1361 the Sienese prearranged a plan to colonize the land, which was divided between those who decided to build a house. Talamone in the mid-14th century saw a period of economic development, because of Florence using the port of Telamon for its traffic, to the detriment of Pisa.

For these reasons, a war broken out that lasted until 1364 and that damaged the port activities, since part of the population was forced to flee. In 1376 the Pisans attacked and occupied Talamone which was sacked. Talamone came under the dominion of Siena only with the election of Pope Urban VI (1318-1389).

Talamone from the 15th century

In 1410 King Ladislaus of Naples (1377-1414), aided by the Genoese, attacked Talamone, which finally capitulated, but it returned under the dominion of the Republic of Siena after only two months.

Around the mid-16th century, the fortress was exposed to the incursions of the Turks, and in this sense we have many documents that testify to various appeals of the inhabitants of Telamon  for the renovation of the fortifications. In the State Archive of Siena are some documents in which the inhabitants of Telamon solicited funds:

"to cover their homes (...) two pieces of artillery to defend the port and the city from enemies (...) and to erect a tower to defend against the Turks" [14].

In 1526 the port was occupied by the Papal fleet commanded by Andrea Doria (1466-1560), but soon handed back to Siena. The old fortress, after many vicissitudes needed major renovations of the walls, which were confirmed by Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536), who was appointed to inspect the ports of the Maremma.

After the establishment of the so-called "Stato dei Presìdi" in 1557, formed by Orbetello, S. Stefano, Porto Ercole and Talamone, there was a progressive deterioration of the walls.

Talamone in recent centuries

The end of the 16th century marked the final disappearance of Telamon, ruled by the great European Powers, such as Spain, France and Austria. Talamone still retained its old function as a military fortress, where Giuseppe Garibaldi took in weapons during the expedition of the Thousand [(Italian “Spedizione dei Mille”)] [15].

Today Talamone is a holiday village which can offer much in terms of both cultural and ecological attractions.

Origins of the name and ancient town of Talamone

Legend of Jason and the Argonauts

With regard to the myth of the foundation of the city, according to traditional legend, Talamone was founded by one of the Argonauts who accompanied Jason in search of the Golden Fleece. On the way back from Colchis, and after having passed the "Tanais" (Don River) and the legendary Pillars of Hercules, the Argonauts were just passing through and one of them, called "Telamon" founded the city, to which he would give his name.

The legend was handed down by Timaeus [2] and Diodorus Siculus (90-27 BC):

"The Argonauts landed in a place far 800 “stadia” [a Roman measure of length] from Rome, which they called 'liména Telamòna'"

It’s obvious that the story and etymology related to Jason and the Argonauts is purely fabulous, but many assumptions of the 19th century were also very imaginative. First F.Carchidi hazarded a guess that:

"more reasonable is the opinion of those who believe that the origin of the town and the name of Telamon derives from the Etruscans, known to the Greeks as ‘Tirreni’ (...) According to the learned Mazocchi (…) the etymology of Telamon derives from  'Telam', meaning 'to tyranize', ‘to oppress’ and 'to force with violence' " [3].

E. Repetti replied:

"Carchidi believes that the name of T-e-Lamone, or T-a-Lamone derives from the Chaldean-Syriac verb 'Telam' which means 'to oppress', referring to the fact that the Etruscans were pirates, and that the harbour and the Cape of Talamone were a nest and a fortress of pirates. Abbot Lanzi replied that it was referring instead to the curvature of its harbour" [4].

The discussion on the meaning of Telamon was much longer. In the “Dizionario di Toponomastica” [5], we read:

"'Talamona', a village of the Valtellina. The name is documented since 1026 (...) However, there is a lot of similarity with 'Talamone' near Grosseto (...) It is likely that it is an Etruscan proper name, meaning 'Telamon' (...) Prati in 1936 thought it to be a pre-Latin word (= Talamo), in the sense of 'mountain' and 'cliff-face'."

With regard to this meaning of "mountain", G. Semeraro added a few other considerations: "Talamone, the ancient Telamon, was called the city of 'Telamon', one of the Argonauts who would have founded it. It seems that the Etruscan coins with the inscription 'Tla' should be attributed to it, the Etruscan ‘Tlamu’.

The ancient town was not placed on the tip of Telamon, but on the hill called 'Talamonaccio', on the eastern shore of the bay swamp. 'Telamon' corresponds to the 'Akkadian' ‘tellum’ '(= hill, ‘ruins', ‘tell'), Ugaritic 'tl' ('Hügel, Berg'), and to the Akkadian 'amum' ( 'swamp')> amun. ". Therefore, the etymology of Telamon would be the "hill above the swamps" [6].

Established that Talamone means "the hill above the swamps" (which corresponds to the nature of these places before the 18th century, and contemporaneous reclamations), it is also a verified fact that "Tlamu" is of Etruscan origin, and that it was formerly an Etruscan and then Roman harbour.

The ancient Greek and Latin writers defined Talamone as an "oppidum" [fortified town] of Etruscan origin. Stephen of Byzantium (6th century AD) spoke of "Telamon, Tyrrenìas polis" [Talamone, city of the Etruscans] and Pomponius Mela (born 43 AD) placed Talamone among the "Etruscan Loca" [Etruscan towns].

We find in Polybius (206-124 BC) the same reference to the "Tyrrhenians", that is to the Etruscans: "Perì Talamona tes Tyrrenìas" [Around Talamone, a land of the Etruscans], with reference to the battle of 222 BC between the Gauls and the the Romans. Finally Talamone was mentioned by Plutarch [46-127 AD], with reference to the Talamone landing of Gaius Marius [157-86 BC] in 87 BC [(Marius) attacked Talamone, a land of the Etruscans].

Among the Latin writers it is mentioned by Pliny the Elder [23-79 AD. Nat. Hist., 3, 51] as "Portus Telamo" [Harbour of Talamone] [7].

The numismatic sources, which the scholars of the 19th century often collected and are inscribed with the initials "TLA", interpreted as "Telamon", "are now considered forgeries or the result of incorrect interpretations" [8].

It was also proved that Talamone was under the control of Vulci. Indeed it seems that the foundation of the "oppidum" of Telamon had been due to Vulci, which was one of the most powerful cities of Etruria and which controlled a vast territory including Talamone, on the border between the territories of Vulci and the cities around the "lacus Prilis"; as M. Medrano points out:

"the attribution of Telamon to Vulci is accepted by all scholars" [9].

See the Talamone travel guide for more information.


1. About the aspects described above, See G. Ciampoltrini, “Talamone”, in “Bibliografia topografica della colonizzazione greca in Italia e nelle isole tirreniche”, edited by G. Nenci-G. Vallet, Pisa-Roma-Napoli, 2011, pp. 16-36

2. Timaeus (5th century BC. Fragmenta Hist., 566 F. 85)

3. See F. Carchidi, “Memorie storiche dell'antico e moderno Telamone”, Firenze, 1824, pp. 23-24

4. See E. Repetti, “Dizionario orografico, fisico e storico della Toscana”, Firenze, 1843, Vol. V, p. 497

5. “Dizionario di Toponomastica” (Utet, 1990, p. 760)

6. See G. Semeraro, “Le origini della cultura europea”, Olschki, 1984, Vol. II,  p. 640

7. With regard to the Etruscan inscriptions, they are collected in CIE [Corpus Inscriptionum Etruscarum] 3, III, 11458-11537. The few inscriptions of Roman age are collected in CIL [Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum] XI, 2641-2642.

8. See Ciampoltrini G., Nenci-Vallet, p . 17

9. See M. Medrano, “Sentinum 295 a.C.: Sassoferrato 2006 : 2300 anni dopo la battaglia : una città Romana tra storia e archeologia”, Roma, 2008,  p. 333 nota 11

10. See A. Carandini - F. Cambi, “Paesaggi d'Etruria. Valle dell'Albegna, Valle d'Oro, Valle del Chiarone, Valle del Tafone”, Roma, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2002,  p. 171

11. About the destruction of the Temple, See P. Puppo, “Le coppe megaresi in Italia”, Roma, 1995,  p. 136

12. See G. Giampoltrini-P. Rendini, “Il sistema portuale dell' 'ager Cosanus' e delle isole del Giglio e di Giannutri”, in “Le strutture dei porti e degli approdi antichi”, Rubbettino, 2004, p. 129

13. See Angelucci P. Mezzetti, “La gabelle du sel à Sienne au XIIIe-XIVeme siècle ...”, in “J.C. Hocquet, “Le Roi, le Marchand et le sel”, Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1987, pp. 60 ff.

14. F. Scoppola, “La rocca di Talamone”, in “Storia della città”, Electa, 1983, p. 57 note 66

15. On the historical aspects of Telamon in modern times See L. Banchi, “I porti della Maremma senese ...”, in “Archivio storico italiano”, Firenze, 1869, V. X, Parte I, pp. 58-84) and  F. Lenzi, “I porti della Maremma Toscana”, in “La Rassegna nazionale”, 1906,  pp. 43-59