Ancient history of San Gemini

The ancient history of San Gemini was in past centuries - and still is today - a problem of considerable interest to historians.

Quickly summarizing the data of the problem, according to some historians of the 19th century (and also contemporary historians) San Gemini would be the heir to "Carsulae", of which we have a clear evidence in various ancient authors, among whom are Tacitus [56-117 AD], Pliny the Elder [23-79 AD], and Pliny the Younger [61-112 AD].

In essence the historical controversy is between those who support the identity of ancient Carsulae as San Gemini and those who have doubts about this relationship. According to recent studies, Carsulae was a Roman city, built after the construction of the Flaminia Road. Its remains were discovered since 1871, and as we shall see, it would seem (but for lack of evidence) that it had been destroyed by an eartquake.

San Gemini - the 11th to 14th century

According to canonical studies by U Nicolini, the first mention of San Gemini is in a document of 1036, when the castle of San Gemini was donated to the Abbey of San Nicolò by Nonvolia, daughter of Letona. The document said that:

“The Church of St. Agnes was built in a place called 'black fig-tree' on the hill called Arenariolo near San Gemini" [13].

The city was presumably (but with many uncertainties) a Lombard “Gastaldato” [that is, it was ruled by a  steward], and then we find it, around the 10th century, as part of the Duchy of Narni [14].

The "Castellum de Sancto Geminus" [Castle of San Gemini] was also mentioned in another document dated 1059 [15], when the Priest Giovanni, son of Guiccone and Adelberga, donated it to the Abbey of Farfa. By the document of gift it is clear that the castle was well structured, and that there was a village around it.

The name of San Gemini next appears in other documents of 1129 and 1225, in which there were mentioned some “churches situated in the estates of San Gemini" [16]. However, we know with certainty that around 1119 San Gemini:

"appears as a “Gastaldato” of the county of Narni, with its territory and its 'limites' [borders] and a large number of Counts, all descendants of Arnulf II (998-1018)" [17].

In the following years it was involved in the struggles of the Umbrian towns, among which Narni, in the county of which San Gemini was included, against the State of the Church.

Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) did everything to weaken the great Duchies, such as Spoleto and Narni. The weakening of these great Duchies was good fortune for a small castle like San Gemini, which took advantage of the crisis of Narni and Spoleto in order to set up as a Commune and to develop an autonomous policy. The new Commune managed to penetrate the various struggles between the Church and Frederick II (1194-1250) and to strengthen its own institutions.

San Gemini was not an urban Commune, but a small rural town, which controlled an area not particularly large. For this reason it was not called as a "Commune", but "Terra" [Land], or  “Comune et Terre Sancti Gemini”. Despite being a small town, it had all the institutional features of the great urban communes, so it had its own podestà, the priors, the corporation for the arts, its own army and the city walls, still the subject of careful studies.

San Gemini from the 14th century

As in all communes at that time, San Gemini was politically divided into Guelphs and Ghibellines. There is no documentation on the number of inhabitants in the earliest period, although we know that in 1402 the "Terra Sancti Gemini" numbered about 348 men. Assuming that they were all heads of the family, and that every family have at least 5 members, the total population was about 1740 inhabitants. To these we must then add the Benedictine monastic communities of men and women.

The political life of the small town in the 14th century was largely troubled by internal fighting between Guelph and Ghibelline parties, and the fighting against the neighboring cities. In 1354 the city worked with Cardinal Albornoz (died 1367) against Terni and Narni, while the city was always torn by struggles between the adverse factions.

In 1455, because of constant wars and destructions, and because of the decrease in the population, the people "decided to reduce the perimeter of the castle walls" [18].

San Gemini in 1530 was granted as a fief to the powerful Orsini family of Rome by Pope Clement VII (1478-1534). In practice, the Orsini ruled San Gemini as Vicars of the Church, but later they had the title of Dukes. In the 17th century, the Orsini, encumbered with debt, sold San Gemini to Prince Scipione Santacroce for a total of 13500 crowns.

Another key moment was the arrival of the French with Napoleon, that brought significant changes in the institutional life of the city and its territory, with the suppression of many convents and monasteries and the establishment of the Cadastre.

With the end of the Napoleonic Empire San Gemini returned to the State of the Church:

"San Gemini became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, with the appearance of a small rural community (...) From 1817 until that time it was one of the communes of the Church" [19].

In 1860 the city had about 1900 inhabitants, then the population underwent a significant increase mainly due to the industrialization of Terni, for which the city, around 1901, passed to about 2000 inhabitants, a number that remained fairly constant in subsequent years. Agriculture was the main activity of the area.

What is certain is that the roads system around San Gemini was one of the best of Umbria, and this allowed a rapid development of the tourism sector, linked to the therapeutic virtues of its mineral waters, to Carsulae, and finally to the valorization of its artistic heritage, which attract a growing number of tourists.

The link with Saint Gemini and ancient Casventum and Carsulae

A further problem arises about the modern name of the city, "San Gemini," which would have come from a Holy Hermit, "San Gemino" or "Gemine" or "Gemini", to whom, according to tradition, the name is linked.

However, there is the fact that San Gemini is a saint whose biography contains elements of doubt, including the fact that he would live for more than thirty years in a place called "Casventum", which has a certain literary tradition but finds no confirmation in archeology. The tradition presents the following framework:

"San Gemino was the son of Militianus, a General of Syria, and Beliadim, both pagans, while St. Gemino, from childhood, was  Christian. Following a military expedition against the Chaldees, which had success  thanks to the prayers of St. Gemino, Militianus and Beliadim converted to Christianism. After the death of his father, St. Gemino was invited by the king to succeed him in all tasks, but because he was Christian, he denied any collaboration...

... The king imprisoned him, even attempting to get him to marry his niece. However, an angel freed St. Gemino from prison and invited him to go to sea towards the "Provinciam Romanorum" [the Province of the Romans]. Having found a ship, he sailed and came to Fano, where he remained for some time in the monastery of St. Paterniano. From here he began his pilgrimage that took him to Spoleto and Ferento" [1].

St. Gemino would live for more than 30 years in "Casuntina", that is in "Casventum", where he founded a church. After his death in 815 or 612, Casventum and its church were destroyed by the Arabs, and "under the same hill was built a castle which derived its name in honour of St. Gemino", in the place where the modern San Gemini is located.

Nicolini concedes that the sources are rather "fanciful", both with respect to the association between Carsulae and San Gemini, and with respect to the positive existence of "Casventum"; in addition, from the etymological point of view, there remains the question of the origin of the modern name; so, ultimately, we do not know if the hypothesis of the origin of San Gemini from St. Gemino is historically acceptable.

Let's say that at present the question is insoluble. For this reason, A. Prandi rightly observes:

"Carsulae, far more than six kilometers from San Gemini (...) we do not see how it can be united with the modern San Gemini; and the existence of 'Casventum' derives from the proof of some texts, or from the literary and epigraphic sources, but not from conclusive archaeological evidences” [2].

Prandi's reasoning is scientifically indisputable, and it does allow for other considerations. Among other things, apart from Pliny’s Nat. Hist., who speaks of the "Casventulliani" [inhabitants of Casventum], we do not even know where Casventum was situated and, in addition, the only epigraphic source in our possession is the following:

“The citizens of Municipia of Narni, Casventum and Vindovaes [dedicated this statue] to their patron Titus Flavius Isidorus]" [3].

Effectively, there would be another inscription which mentions Casventum, but Umberto Ciotti considered it presumably a falsification, so the only verified inscription is that cited above. The inscription refers to a cult of Mithras and to Sextus Egnatius Primigenius [4]. Luigi Sensi pointed out that the inscription concerning Titus Flavius Isidorus may help to identify the ancient "Casventum":

"These data are of some interest, as they could allow a possible location of Casventum. Pliny the Elder reminded the inhabitants of the 'Regio VI', the 'Casventillani', while another epigraph mentions the 'Casventini' that with 'Interamnates' and 'Vindenates' honoured Titus Flavius Isidorus, a figure of equestrian rank, with a statue erected in Terni in 240 BC" [5].

However, from the etymological point of view, and apart from St. Gemino’s hagiography, some very interesting assumptions worthy of consideration have been proposed. Leaving aside the most imaginative assumptions, we will focus in particular on that suggested in 1965 by Umberto Ciotti, which still seems very relevant.

We stress the fact that in Carsulae, near the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, there are the famous "Gemini [Twin] Temples" (in Latin "Gemini"), presumably dedicated to the Dioscures, generally much revered in the folk tradition. When Carsulae disappeared presumably because of an earthquake, it is possible that the new city had been moved to a safe place, maybe five or six kilometers from Carsulae. The problem caused by the earthquake of Carsulae was very well set by D. Aringoli and alii, who wrote:

“Concerning the decline and abandoning of Carsulae several reasons have been suggested: the progressive loss of importance of the western branch of the Flaminia Road, as a consequence of a major development of the eastern one, and the possible effects of a strong earchquake, with an epicentre in the neighboring town of Todi...

... In the latter case the blocks fallen from the elevated constructions and discovered during the excavations have been considered as a clue. Bonini and al. (2003) established a connection between the seismic event and the recent activity of the Martani fault. Nevertheless different earchquake 'catalogues' (Baratta, 1901; Gruppo Lavoro CPTI, 1999) show no certain elements related to this event and are doubtful about its occurrence” [6].

The temples of the “Gemini” Gods  may be the key to understanding the ancient name of "San Gemini." Therefore, it is possible that the intuition of the scholars of the 19th century (in part accepted by many contemporary scholars), who saw San Gemini as  a natural parentage of Carsulae, has a kind of concreteness. We must keep in mind that the cult of the Dioscures ["Gemini"] is tied to the fact that they protected the sailors from the dangers of navigation.

However, the Dioscures were also associated with Poseidon, who, besides being the God of the Sea:

"was, according to Greek mythology, also the God of the earthquake" [7].

If Carsulae disappeared because of an earthquake, there is nothing strange that the name of the new city would evoke the "Gemini" Gods as protectors of the city from earthquakes. Then, it seems that the cult of the Dioscures and Poseidon was also widespread among the Celts.  In this regard, we read that:

"some recent works develop the singular theory about a Celtic Carsulae” [8].

It is also possible that with the advent of Christianity, the worship of Pagan Gods called "Gemini" was assigned to two other "twins" saints, that is the Saints Cosmas and Damian, also known as "Gemini" from the Christian tradition:

“The twin brothers Cosmas and Damian were born in the town of Egea by Theodora, a very religious woman" [9].

The similarity of the saints Cosmas and Damian with the Dioscures has been repeatedly emphasized by scholars, some of whom:

"assimilate to the Dioscures the Saints Cosmas and Damian, that is the 'twin saints' represented in Christian iconography and invoked particularly in the healing of serious illnesses , especially of the respiratory system, and also as protectors of sailors" [10].

In conclusion, it is clear that the reference to the Dioscures and the "Gemini" Cosmas and Damian best explains the origin of the "San Gemini" name. For all these reasons, we subscribe to the assumptions by Umberto Ciotti, then basically accepted by other scholars, such as V. Pirro and V. Leonelli, who observed that the name of San Gemini derives from the cult of the "Saints Cosmas and Damian, to whom the small church located just in front of the ‘Gemini Temples’ was dedicated " [11].

In reality, the derivation of "San Gemini" from "San[cti] Gemini" would be a very likely linguistic phenomenon. In this regard, A. Fabbi wrote that the derivation proposed by Umberto Ciotti about the origin of San Gemini was really "original" [12].

See the San Gemini travel guide before visiting.


1. See U. Nicolini, “San Gemini nell'età medievale e moderna”, in “San Gemini e Carsulae”, Milano-Roma, 1976, p. 142

2. See A. Prandi, “L'arte a San Gemini”, in “San Gemini e Carsulae”, p. 243

3. See Umberto Ciotti, “Due iscrizioni mitriache inedite”, in “ Hommages à Maarten J. Vermaseren: recueil d'études offert par les auteurs de la série Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l'Empire romain à Maarten J. Vermaseren à l'occasion de son soixantième anniversaire le 7 avril 1978”, Brill, 1978, p. 244

4. See U. Ciotti,  “Due iscrizioni mitriache inedite”,  p. 240

5. See Luigi Sensi, “Testi epigrafici di Montoro (Casventum?)”, in “Epigraphica”, 1997, p. 370

6. See D. Aringoli and al., “Geomorphological Evidences of Natural Disaster in the Roman Archaeological Site of Carsulae”, in “Ol' Man River”, 2009, p. 10

7. See J. Markale, “Il Druidismo. Religione e civiltà dei Celti”, Edizioni Mediterranee, 1991, p.172

8. See M. Farinacci, “Umru”, Terni 1987, passim ed Idem, “Favole o Storia di Carsulae”. Terni, 1989, passim, in A. Morigi, “Carsulae: topografia e monumenti”. Roma, 1997, p. 23 footnote 152

9. See Jacobus (de Voragine), “Legenda aurea: con le miniature del codice Ambrosiano”,  2004, Vol II, p. 1094

10. See F. Monte-L. Monte, “ L'uomo e lo zodiaco”, Edizioni Mediterranee, 1984, p. 50

11. See V. Pirro-V. Leonelli, “Interamna Nahartium: materiali per il Museo archeologico di Terni”, 1997, p. 128

12. See A. Fabbi, “Antichità umbre: (Natura, storia, arte)”, 1971, p. 242

13. ref 1, Nicolini, p. 138

14. ref 1, Nicolini, p. 143

15. ref 1, Nicolini, p. 145

16. ref 1, Nicolini, p. 146

17. ref 1, Nicolini, p. 149

18. ref 1, Nicolini, p. 177

19. See G. Mira, “L'evoluzione economico-sociale di San Gemini nell'epoca recente”, in “San Gemini e Carsulae” , p. 355