History of Umbertide, Italy

See Umbertide guide for highlights and historic monuments

Umbertide is located in the Upper Tiber Valley, in the province of Perugia, at a height of about 250 meters above sea level and at the center of a valley surrounded by hills.

Origins of the name Umbertide

The Latin name of Umbertide was "Castrum Fracte filiorum Uberti".

The etymology of "Fracta" refers to the concept of a "deforested place." It has been explained very well by G. Benni, who notes that:

"The name is also presented as a place name derived or formed with an adjective, 'La Fratta', that is the popular abbreviated form that derives from the Latin 'Fracta Filiorum Uberti' [ Fratta dei figli di Uberto], the ancient name of  the modern Umbertide. 'Fracta' is neuter plur. of 'fractus', from the Latin verb 'frangere' (= cut down)" [1].

This meaning is a relevant point; however, E. Sereni did a very thorough analysis of the term "fracta", which took on different meanings according to geography; for example, in Tuscany and Trentino it took on the meaning of "deforested place", while  in north and central Italy it had the meaning of 'hedge' [2].

Ancient origins of Umbertide - Pitulum

According to some scholars, archaeological data:

"has allowed us to hypothesize the identification of Umbertide with 'Pitulum', that is a Roman 'pagus' [village]" [3]. Regarding this identification with Pitulum, of Umbrian and Etruscan origin, Luigi Lanzi wrote that "Pitulum" was an Umbrian city from which derived a city called "Pila": "Perhaps 'Pitulum' was a city  of the Umbrians" [4].

Studying an Etruscan inscription found in 1573 on a statue of A. Metellus, he understood "CHISVLICS" or "PSISVLIS" as "Pitulani" [Inhabitants of Pitulum] and translated the inscription in Latin:

“PITVL. VN (una) CON (sentientibus) CIVIBUS STATUAM CONLOCAVERUNT” [The people of Pitulum [Pitulani] with the consent of all the people placed this statue].

The existence of Pitulum was also attested to by ancient literary sources, because, according to Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) [5]:

"In the first region of Latium there were distinguished cities such as Satricum, Pometia, Scaptia and Pitulum".

As we can see, Pliny the Elder sited Pitulum in Latium, which is why many scholars are doubtful about the identification of Pitulum with Umbertide. However, contemporary studies seem inclined to identify Fracta with Pitulum:

"La Fratta, between Perugia and Città di Castello, which was the ancient Pitulum, traditionally was identified with the settlement founded by the Roman army led by Scipio after the defeat inflicted by Hannibal" [6].

In essence the Umbrian name "Pitulum", according to the text of certain epigraphic inscriptions, would have been supplanted by the poleonym [city name] "Fratta."

Origins of the name Pitulum

With regard to the meaning of "Pitulum", "Pitula," there are not many studies on the subject, though the term may have its roots in the pre-Indo-European form of "Pitt" and "Piz", meaning "lump ", or "the pointed forms of summets", as is attested in a few names like"Pitula Hill" near Ravenna [7].

The hypothesis is plausible, because Umbertide is situated on a hill about 250 feet high. A quick but accurate historical profile of the city was traced by G. Moroni, who wrote that:

"Fratta, Latin "Fracta", is a town in the diocese of Gubbio, which was built 200 years before our era by the Roman army defeated by Hannibal on Trasimene. Ptolemy and other ancient authors claimed that this country was the ancient city called "Pitulum" which was destroyed during the invasions of the barbarians: after the destruction it took the name of Fracta. Tradition tells that the city was rebuilt in 796 by the sons Hubert, Duke of Bourbon, a relative of Charlemagne (742-814 AD) and  Marquis of Tuscany. The city was almost constantly subject to Perugia" [8].

The historical data provided by Moroni has been confirmed by modern studies, for which, in reality, Fratta in ancient times was certainly an important emporium on the banks of the Tiber for trades between the Etruscans and Umbrians, and also in Roman times it was known as Pitulum. Medals, inscriptions, and the archaeological excavations on Monte Acuto confirm the existence of this village later destroyed by the Barbarians of Totila.

A deep-rooted opinion stated that Umbertide had been rebuilt under the name of “Fracta” towards the end of the 8th century by the sons of Hubert, Marquis of Tuscany ["Fracta filiorum Uberti"]. We observe, however, that the traditional data relating to this foundation are not supported by any documentation, and thus they should be qualified, while, with regard to the subjection to rule by Perugia we have an extensive record.

Umbertide in the Middle Ages

According to some documents, Count Ugolino, February 12, 1189 brought the city under Perugia control. In this regard, M. Petrocchi comments:

"This subjection was made with an oath 'in comunantia Perusini civitatis' [by mutual consent with Perugia]. The Marquis also undertook to preserve and save the Perugians and their properties as it was in his power. For their part, the Perugians had to agree to safeguard the assets of the Marquis ... This subjection also opened the way to Perugia to control the domain of the Upper Tiber Valley; Fracta and Ugolino Castiglione blocked the road to Citta di Castello and Fratta also controlled the passage of the Tiber. With the subjection to Perugia, the interruption was broken" [9].

In fact, the subjection of "Castrum Fractae" was a big step forward for Perugia; in 1186, Henry VI recognized Perugia as the dominant city of a vast territory:

“except for houses and possessions of the Monastery of San Salvatore and the sons of Ugolino" [10].

In some documents from 1285 Fracta still appears among the possessions of Perugia, which ran “from the Castle of Preggio to Fratta" [11]. In 1362 the city provided itself with a statute, "then reformed by the Pope in 1521" [12].

Later the city:

"was given by Julius II to the sons of Niccolo Vitelli in 1550 and in 1610 it was damaged by the waters of the Tiber" [13].

Umbertide then remained under the dominion of the Papal States until 1860, when it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. In 1863 the city changed the old name with that of Umbertide.

See the Umbertide guide if planning a visit.


1. See G. Benni, “Umbertide ( Castrum Fracte filiorum Uberti)”, in “ Incastellamento e signorie rurali nell'Alta valla del Tevere tra Alto e Basso Medioevo: il territorio di Umbertide”, 2006, p. 96

2. See E. Sereni, “Terra nuova e buoi rossi. Le tecniche del debbio e la storia dei disboscamenti e dei dissodamenti in Italia”, Torino, 1981, pp. 14-15

3. Benni, p. 91

4. See L.A. Lanzi, “Saggio di Lingua Etrusca”, Roma,  1789, Volume II, p. 846

5. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) (Nat. Hist., III, 113)

6. See L. Pisani, “Francesco di Simone Ferrucci: itinerari di uno scultore fiorentino fra Toscana, Romagna e Montefeltro” Olschki, 2007, p. 47

7. See, “Studi di lessicografia italiana”, 1986, p. 134 and footnote

8. See G. Moroni, “Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica”, Venezia,  1851, Vol LII, p. 142

9. See M. Petrocchi, “Il simbolismo delle piante in Rabano Mauro”, Roma, Edizioni si storia e letteratura, 1982,  1982, pp. 97 ff.

10. See A. Grohmann," Perugia ", Yale University Press, 1988, p. 17

11. Grohmann, p. 17

12. See G. Mazzatinti, “Gli archivi della storia d'Italia”, 1897-1898, Vol I, p. 130. "Francis  Mavarelli attested that the Statute of Umbertide of 1521 'is nothing more than a simple extension of the one drawn up in 1362' "(See G. Mazzatinti, “Gli archivi della storia d'Italia”, 1901, p. 379

13. See A. Guerrini, “Storia della Terra di Fratta  ora Umbertide dalla sua origine fino all'anno 1845”, 1883, pp. 30 ff.