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Spello in ancient times
Spello is located on Mount Subasio, not far from Assisi, which is known in much more detail. But the old Roman "Hispellum" has an illustrious history too. It was an ancient city of the Umbrians, known to Greeks and Latins historians and geographers; Strabo (58-25 ca. BC) calls it “Eispellon”, and Ptolemy (90-168 AD) calls it “Ispellon”.
Spello was also a Roman “Municipium” mentioned by Latin writers, such as Silius Italicus (26 ca.-101 AD), who mentions it among the cities that provided soldiers to the Romans, engaged in the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), and also Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) made some notes about Spello, describing it as "Colonia Julia Hispellum" - Augustus (63 BC-14 AD) was responsible for the construction of walls and “thermae”.
The city, in an document of Emperor Constantine (274 ca.-337), who granted it the privilege of erecting a temple to "Gens Flavia," called it "Flavia Constans," while in some medieval documents dating from the ninth century AD, it was called “Spellatensis Urbs”, hence the Italian place-name “Spello”.
Origins of the name Spello
As regards the etymology, the data is not reliable; however, we quote two long standing hypothesis. One is that "Hispellum" derives from “Ipseo Pelisio”, a legendary friend of Aeneas; the other bases the name on the Latin word “speculum” (“mirror”), which even in the 18th century Ludovico Antonio Muratori referred to as a “curious etymology”. Probably, as M. Brozzi says, “Hispellum” is the Romanization of an ancient Umbrian name .
During the Imperial Age, "Hispellum" enjoyed the favour of many emperors and it was a religious place of a great importance; a temple in honour of Flavian dynasty was built in Spello, whose priests supported the cult by arranging the scenic “Ludi” (“games”) and fights among gladiators. In Spello today there are some remains of this splendid period, such as the thermae, Amphitheatre, Temple and Theater.
Spello after the Romans
Spello had a period of decline with the fall of Roman Empire and barbarian invasions. It was submitted to the Duchy of Spoleto, with the conquest by the Lombards in 576, and then to the Church State and its Vicars, but in medieval times the city had several Lords.
It probably became a municipality around the 12th century, and it was for a time governed by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1155-1190); in 1240 the city put itself under the protection of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250), but, in later years, it rebelled against imperial domination, suffering as a result from sieges and destruction.
Like all Italian towns in the Middle Ages it was involved in battles against other cities such as Assisi (1293) and the Duchy of Spoleto (1298), and in the 14th century it was subjected to various families, like the Baglioni, Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1347-1402), Braccio Fortebraccio (1368-1424).
Then in 1411 it was conquered by Guido Antonio da Montefeltro (1377-1443), until it returned to the Church State with Pope Martin V (1368-1431). After a new rebellion by the city against papal rule, the popes entrusted it to the Government of Malatesta Baglioni (1491-1631).
More years of war followed, until, in the 16th century, Spello finally came under the dominion of the Church State until the Unification of Italy in 1861.
1. See M. Brozzi, "Guida a Spello Romana”, Porziuncola, 1975