History of Tarquinia


See Tarquinia guide for highlights and historic monuments

Tarquinia is located about 200 meters above sea level in Maremma (Latium), near Viterbo. Recent discoveries of Archeology in Tarquinia go back to a very ancient time. In the past, scholars believed that the city dated back to the 7th century BC, but apparently it should go further back in time, even to the 9th-10th century BC, as some “Villanovian” tombs have been identified.

Scholars agree about recognising Tarquinia as the ancient Etruscan city of “Tarchna" or "Tarchuna", the etymology of which refers to the noble “Tarquinius”. There is general agreement on this etymology, though one scholar [1] has raised a concern, because, in his opinion, "Tarchna" should be translated into Latin as “Tarqui-t-ius”, and not “Tarqui-n –ius”; however, the relation "Tarchna"-"Tarqui-n-ius" is generally accepted.

Tarquinia from Etruscan times

The city was inhabited by the Etruscans, and it is remembered in history as one of the most important Etruscan settlements, once situated on a hill called “La Civita”, which corresponds to the present “Colle Monterozzi” [“Monterozzi Hill”] .

Until the early 6th century BC the city was a center of secondary importance. After that, thanks to the intensification of business contacts with Greece, it grew in importance to become, in the 4th century BC, one of the major cities of the Etruscan League. Between the end of the 4th century and the beginning of the 3rd century BC Tarquinia, at the height of its power, clashed repeatedly with Rome, losing out from these wars (281 BC).

After the fall of the Roman Empire the barbarian invasions forced the inhabitants to move onto the hill opposite, where the current city now stands.

From the Middle Ages to 1922 it was called "Corneto" [“Cornetum”]. The etymology of this medieval name was probably suggested by the “cornel-tree”, a tree of hard wood, in which the area is very rich. The medieval town is mentioned in 649 in a document signed by Severinus Boethius (480 ca.-524 ca.), and its existence is corroborated by some evidence from 743 and 861 which referred, respectively, to the Bishops Lando and Paul.

Tarquinia rose to prominence in the 9th and 10th centuries AD, when it was surrounded by fortified walls, of which there are still important remains.

Tarquinia in the Middle Ages

By the second half of the 11th century Tarquinia belonged to the Countess Matilda of “Canossa” (1046-1115). It later became a municipality and, as an independent municipality, it strenuously set itself against the siege of Frederick II (1194-1250), in 1245.

Even the internal political life of the city was not quiet; in fact, there were several popular revolts, one against the Podesta Pietro Falcone, and another in 1330, when the people rose up against the Lord Matteo Vitelleschi. In 1345 the Pope Eugene IV (1383-1447) granted Corneto the title of City.

The city was fought for and subdued by Cardinal Albornoz (1310-1367) in 1367. In 1393 the city was besieged by the Britons, who were rejected but not without severe losses. Next, in 1413 the inhabitants offered their obedience to Ladislaus, King of Sicily and Hungary (1376-1414), but, four years later, the city returned to Pope Martin V (1368 ca.-1431). In 1418, the Roman senate, in homage to Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi  (?-1440), a native of Corneto, granted Roman citizenship to the population.

In 1487 Corneto (Tarquinia) suffered from a major wave of plague, as a result of which it was almost completely depopulated.

In the 16th century Tarquinia came under the dominion of Church State, until the 18th century, when it was occupied by French troops. After the Congress of Vienna, itbecame part of the Church State, until 1870, when there was the conquest of Rome, and then it entered the Kingdom of Italy.

See the guide for Tarquinia before a visit.

References

1. See G. de Santis, “Scritti minori”, Ediz. di storia e Letteratura, 1970: 342