In 186 BC there was an invasion by Transalpine Gaul towards the “Venetia” region. As a result they built an “oppidum” (a "fortified city") and in 183 the Roman Senate decided on the foundation of Aquileia.

Creation of Aquileia in the 2nd century BC

So Aquileia was founded in a strategic location to control the critical boundaries of the second century BC, the so-called "Amber Road", which connected the trans-alpine world with the sea and the karst area, that could be subject to invasions from the East.

Created as the easiest way to defend the eastern area from barbarian populations, in 181 BC Aquileia was established as a colony under Latin Law (that is, a city with its own senate, but depending on foreign policy from Rome), to which a large number of soldiers and their families were immediately transferred.

Aquileia was founded in a strategic place on the banks of the river Natissa (the ancient River Akilis), once navigable, as evidenced by the presence of the port, that was connected to the “Amber Road”. Aquileia was also the central point of three very important roads: the “Via Postumia”, starting from Genoa, the “Via Annia” from Padua, and the “Via Popilia”, which started from Rimini.

Aquileia in Roman times

In the Age of Augustus (63 BC-14 AD), Aquileia became the capital of the “X Regio Venetia et Histria”. This was the time that the city flourished most flourishing for the city, which was totally renovated with the construction of many imposing buildings in public places.

The city in Roman times was equipped with the forum, amphitheatre, circus, theatre and several small and large “thermae”, which are now the primary attraction for tourists.

The life of Aquileia continued to be very hard, because of its characteristic of being a border city subject to invasion. Indeed, in 169 AD it was invaded by barbarians from the north-east, the Quad and the Marcoman.

The city suffered a fatal blow when attacked by Attila (the Hun) in the 5th century - Attila arrived in 452 and set the city on fire.

From this time onwards Aquileia was devastated by continual invasions, including the Lombards, after which the patriarch and the inhabitants moved to Grado

Origins of the name Aquileia

According to an etymology established among scholars, it seems that the city's name has its roots in "Akilis," a  pre-Roman term of Celtic origin, indicating that the river "[...] probably gave rise to the name of Aquileia […]”.

The basis of the name comes from the term "wara" ("water"), which is precisely the root of Aquileia, from 'Aquilis', the name of a river, with similarities in other regions, including Istria [1].

Some scholars say that the name derives from the “Eagle that the Roman legions carried as ensign" [2]. In any case, accepting the first hypothesis, which seems to be shared more effectively and also the most significant, Aquileia means "City of (or on) the River Aquilis."

Moreover E. Campanile [3] also noted that the hydronym “Aquilis” has a good comparison with the Slovenian term “vup-”, which means "river". Confirming the hypothesis related to the concept of "river", even the “American Name Society” [4] wrote:

"[...] The name ‘Akilleus’ is a Pelasgian word containing ‘Ak’, from Latin ‘aqua’ (‘water’), and identical in formation with the Venetic ‘Aquileia’, ‘Akulis’, 'Aquilis' and Illyrian Aquilo’[...]".

Prof. Semerano also agrees with this solution, and after saying that the Roman eagle “has nothing to do with the etymology of Aquileia”, adds some other details about the origin of the Celtic name:

"[...] Some Celtic finds, effigies of Celt Kings, the cult of Belen and the hydronym 'Aquilis', show that the name ... is a pre-Roman and Celtic term[...]" [5].

Also see our detailed Aquileia travel and information.


1. See AA.VV., AA.VV., “Centro di antichità alto-adriatiche”, “Il territorio di Aquileia nell'antichità”, Arti Grafiche Friulane ["Centre of Ancient Upper-Adriatic", "The territory of Aquileia in antiquity," Friulian Graphic Arts], 1979:126

2. See G. Geromet, “Aquileia, la grande metropoli Romana” ["Aquileia, the great Roman city”], Fondazione della Società per la conservazione della Basilica di Aquileia , 1996: 16

3. See "Linguistic and Cultural Relations between the Peoples of Ancient Italy, Giardini, 1991, p. 74

4. State University College, 1961, p. 94

5. See G. Semerano, “Le Origini della Cultura Europea” [" The Origins of European Culture "], Olschki, 1984, p. 644 and note 90