History of Vaglio Basilicata

See Vaglio Basilicata guide for highlights and historic monuments

Early history of Vaglio

Evidence shows that Serra di Vaglio  - the original town on the site of Vaglio Basilicata, was the capital, political and military settlement of the Lucanians (see etymology below). The city of Serra di Vaglio developed from the 8th to the 3rd century BC.

In the third century BC the Lucanians fought hard against Rome, and the data that emerges from archaeological records testifies to a serious intervention by the Romans in these territories. Some fortified towns were destroyed, including Serra di Vaglio, razed by fire in the first half of the 3rd century BC. East of Serra di Vaglio is located the Sanctuary of Rossano di Vaglio, built in the first half of the 4th century BC and dedicated to the goddess Mephitis.

Vaglio Basilicata in the Middle Ages

Vaglio in the Middle Ages was called "Terra Balii", and the place name appears in 1239, when Emperor Frederick II brought about a restructuring of the castles. The castle of Acerenza was given to the inhabitants of Vaglio [9].

Later, the place name also appears in the Angevin Registers, towards the second half of the thirteenth century, when Charles of Anjou confirmed the need for the maintenance of these castles [10]. In 1268 Vaglio was involved in the revolt against the Angevins, who imposed a strong repression.

In 1582 Vaglio was a fief of the Spinelli, and then of the Salazar. The Neapolitan branch of the family of the Salazar or de Salazar, from Cordova, was brought into the capital of the Viceroyalty by Don Alfonso de Salazar who "was secretary of the kingdom in 1600. This branch has owned since 1589 the Land of Vaglio in Basilicata with the title of Count” [11].

In the hands of the nobles...

The history of Vaglio is also related to many noble families, who over the centuries bought it and then sold it according to their financial needs. In the 15th century Vaglio belonged to the powerful Roman family of the Orsini, whose property was confiscated and entrusted to Philibert de Chalons-Orange, viceroy of Naples in the first half of the 16th century. Then the Orsini regained possession of the city, but they sold it to Giovanni del Tufo.

In 1589 the city was bought by Alfonso de Salazar for the price of 34,000 ducats, then in the second half of the 16th century the city was bought by Giovanbattista Massa from Ventimiglia, member of the Holy Royal Council, for the price of 40,000 ducats. In 1670 he gave it as a dowry to his daughter, who married Francis of Laurenzana, whose heirs ruled it until 1806 [12].

As we can see, the history of Vaglio was very troubled, made worse by other events. In the 19th century the city was subject to devastating earthquakes, which involved also a shift to safer areas of the buildings, and at the beginning of the Unification of Italy in 1861 it was subject to raids by the so-called "Briganti" [=Bandits or Brigands], who in that area were led by the famous “Brigand” Carmine Crocco, called “the scourge of Lucania.” [13].

Today Vaglio Basilicata is a center devoted to agriculture and tourism, thanks to the important archaeological sites of Serra di Vaglio and Rossano di Vaglio.

Origins of the name Vaglio

According to tradition, Vaglio, now called Vaglio Basilicata, has very ancient origins. Contemporary studies tell us that "Vaglio" derives from "Vallum", meaning fortified place: "The Italian term ‘Vaglio’ (from Vallum) was a barrier erected to protect, especially the baronial castle." [1]

Instead, according to G. B. Pellegrini, the term derives from "valleus" [= small valley] [2]. Various scholars agree with this hypothesis [3]. However, since the whole area inhabited by the ancient Lucanians was full of fortifications, the etymology most obvious and perhaps the most reliable is the one that refers to the concept of fortification.

A third hypothesis, linguistically more detailed than the others, derives the term "valleus" from an Indo-European root "Vad", with the meaning of "water", which may in turn refer to the concept of a river or ford. According to C. Beretta, "Screening" means "river" and more precisely indicates the left side [4]. This could be possible, because the place name "Vaglio" is widespread in Italy, so, for example, in South Tyrol the Latin terms "Valleus" and "Balteus" refer to the concept of "stream", and also mountain pass [5].

We conclude that all these etymologies have strong validity, and that still today it is very difficult to determine which of them may have given rise to the name "Vaglio". Among other things, it is almost impossible to determine with any degree of certainty the name of the old Lucanian city now called Vaglio, although, as we shall see, M. Lejeune has suggested a hypothesis (which, however, did not find much consensus among scholars).

In the historical documents of the Middle Ages the city was called "Terra Balii" ["Land of Balio"], and "Balio" is an obvious popularization of the Latin term "Vallum" or "Valleus." However, despite the Latin origin of the name, the area was inhabited in ancient times by the Lucanians, specifically the so-called "Utiani" (an Ethnic Lucanian name) whose relics were found at a temple at Rossano di Vaglio, a place near Vaglio [6].

In this regard, the presence of the Lucanians at Serra di Vaglio and Rossano di Vaglio was specifically asserted by many scholars, who stressed that the temple of Rossano di Vaglio was certainly the most important of those of the Lucanians for the monumental architecture, the presence of inscriptions, votive offerings and precious metals. For all these elements, the temple at Rossano di Vaglio appears to have been a place of great ethnic importance, and especially from the economic point of view.

The hypothesis that identifies Rossano di Vaglio as the federal sanctuary of all the Lucanians from the second century BC is therefore very likely:

"Among the most fine ceramic forms are the cups and ‘paterae.’ Among the objects linked to the feminine sphere amounted jewelry such as silver and bronze fibulae, rings, earrings, pendants, necklaces and tools for toiletries. Particularly significant are the so-called ‘chiavi di Tempio’ [Shrine keys] symbolizing fertility and propitiation of childbirth." [7].

Finally, we note that the ethnic "Utiani" could mean the inhabitants of the ancient city of “Serra di Vaglio”, whose name is still unknown, even if, according to M. Lejeune, the old Lucanian city was called "Utia":

"Lejeune thinks that the original name was 'Utio', the linguistic deformation of 'Utia', which might be the Lucanian place name of Serra di Vaglio" [8].

See also Vaglio Basilicata for a detailed travel guide.


1. See “Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana” [Bulletin of the Italian Geographic Society], 1971, p. 100

2. See GB Pellegrini, “Toponomastica Italiana”, Hoepli, 1990, p. 206

3. See R. Ambrogio, “Nomi d’Italia”, 2006, p. 685 and A. Falasca, “Basilicata, Calabria...”, 2001, p. 156

4. See C. Beretta, "The Names of Rivers, Mounts, Sites. Prehistoric Linguistic Structures", Hoepli, 2003, p. 100 and 280

5. See “Archivio per l'Alto Adige”, 1972, p. 115

6. See M. Bugno-C. Masseria, “Il mondo enotrio tra VI e V secolo a.C.”, Loffredo, 2001, pp. 332-344

7. See A. Russo, “Il ruolo dell'acqua nei luoghi sacri della Basilicata antica”, p. 106 e 123-124

8. See M. Lejeune, "Epigraphie d'un sanctuaire lucanien” and F. Calisti, “Mefitis: dalle madri alla madre : un tema religioso italico e la sua interpretazione romana e cristiana”, Bulzoni, 2006, p. 84

9. See T. Pedio, “La Basilicata dalla caduta dell'impero romano agli Angioini: La Basilicata da Federico II a Roberto d'Angio”, Levante editori, 1987, p. 81

10. See T. Pedio, “I giustizierati del regno di Napoli attraverso i registri Angioini. La Basilicata”, in “Archivio storico pugliese”, 1966, p. 307

11. Regio Archivio di Stato di Napoli, “Titulorum”, vol. II, fol. 156-159, 30 settembre 1623) [ See “Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana”, 1932, p. 47

12. for the history of Vaglio under the rule of the Salazar, G. See Settembrino, “I De Salazar di Cordova ed il feudo di Vaglio” in “Regione Basilicata. Notizie”, pp. 62-66, and footnote 1

13. See R. Reggiani, “Tomorrow and the next day”, Coward-McCann, 1967, p. 9