From prehistory to the Romans in Tolentino

The old town of Tolentino - called originally Tolentinum - is situated on a hill with a round base, at the foot of which the Chienti River flows. Tolentino is in a territory of ancient settlement, and archaeological studies show the presence of hunters here in the Lower Paleolithic era.

Local civilization is also well attested in the Iron Age necropolis of Tolentino (sixth century BC), which has funeral finds giving signs of the presence of a warrior society, for example with weapons, bronze vessels, potteries and various ornaments in tombs.

The ancient cemeteries of the Marches were well described by archaeologists: they consist of non-overlapping graves with the deceased placed in a crouching position with his head resting on a stone.

As regards the Roman penetration of the area, studies indicate colonies in the Marches including "Tolentinum", around the third century BC [1].

With regard to ancient “Tolentinum”, the question of its origins is quite complex. Pliny the Elder mentions the inhabitants of Tolentino, calling them Tolentinates, but it had already been inhabited by peoples from various places of origin; in fact, scholars suggest several different races have been present in Tolentinum: the Illyrians, Ligurians, Umbrians, Picenes, and also the Etruscans.

In past centuries, a famous humanist who was also a native of Tolentino, Francesco Fidelfo (1398-1481), studied the etymology of the name and stated that Tolentino had Greek origins: "[...][I think] Tolentino was a colony founded by the Greeks, like Ancona, Osimo, and many other cities of ‘Piceno’. The name also says it clearly, because 'Tolentino', in Greek, means 'tending to round' and in fact, the site of the city is just like that, because it tends to round ..." [2].

G. Semmoloni notes, however, that "[...] the most widely accepted etymology is from the Illiric 'tul-in' and Etruscan 'tular-', meaning 'border' and it alludes to the border to which trans-Adriatic migrations came. However, the term 'Taulentinoi' is attested in Illyrian documents [...]" [3].

In accordance with this interpretation Tolentinum means a "border town" and not, as proposed by F. Fidelfo, a "City tending to be round".

In Roman times the city was at first a Colony and then a more important "Municipium".

Middle Ages in Tolentino

In the Middle Ages, Tolentino was constituted as a municipality in the mid-twelfth century - in fact the documents mention the presence of consuls around 1170 [4]. Tolentino was then subject to the Lordship of da Varano, Vicar of the Pope.

It is said that in 1260 Pope Alexander IV (1199 ca.-1261) had already granted the vicariate to Gentile da Varano (died in 1294), but it is doubtful, because the actual granting of the vicariate was formally around 1355 with a Papal Bull of Pope Urban V (1310-1360) in favour of Rodolfo II da Varano (died in 1384).

As early as the 14th century the institution of "vicariate" in the territories under the rule of the Church State was a way to legalize various lords, who had seized some cities often by force, while keeping them under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the Pope. With the vicariate, the Pope did not have the "direct" domain of these cities, but while making many concessions to the Vicar (collection of taxes and the possibility of appointing  a “Podestà”) he also safeguarded their power.

This was because, first, the Vicar could not sell or dispose of property or land; and, second, normally, the vicariate was an institution of "fixed" length (it usually lasted three years). So much so that Tolentino then returned to the direct dominion of the Church State.

The Church State developed it until the 15th century, especially with the enlargement of the walls. In the 15th century Tolentino was considered one of the most important cities of Marches, especially for its crenellated walls, built in many forms, square, polygonal and round, according to the different strategies implemented to defend themselves from external attacks.

However, the 15th century was a very difficult period for Tolentino. The power of da Varano was thrown into crisis by the Sforza lords of Milan and the city was involved in continuous wars among the great Soldiers of Fortune for its possession, such as the Mauruzi, Piccinino and Bracci [5].

Overall, under papal rule the urban development, especially during the Renaissance, was modest, except for a strengthening of the walls built by Francesco Sforza (1401-1466), who commissioned the military engineer Giovanni Sodo (considered a precursor of Sangallo, 1445-1516) to build a new Fortress [6]. G. Sodo had a reputation for being an excellent professional, so that he was entrusted to the restructuring of  the “Loggia dei Mercanti” of Ancona, built in 1443 [7].

Further building between the 19th and 20th century included the development of major industries such as leather processing, and even today Tolentino is a city with a significant industrial development, and tourism related activities based on its artistic and archaeological heritage.

See also our travel guide for Tolentino


1. For these aspects, see G. Buti-G. Devoto, “Preistoria e Storia delle Regioni Italiane” [" The Prehistory and History of Italian Regions"] , Florence, Sansoni, 1975, pp. 81-86

2. the document is in Carlo Santini, “Saggio di Memoria della Città di Tolentino” [" An Essay of Memories of the Tolentino City] , Macerata, 1789, pp. 4-5

3. See Giorgio Semmoloni, “Tolentino. Guida all'arte e alla storia” ["Tolentino. Guide to art and history,"] Tolentino, 1988

4. “Federico II e le Marche”, atti del convegno...["Frederick II and the Marches ", Conference Proceedings ...], Jesi, Palazzo della Signoria, 2-4 December 1994. p. 428

5. For more about the rule of Francesco Sforza in Tolentino and the continuing wars in which the city was involved in the fifteenth century see Giovanni Benadduci, "Della Signoria di Francesco Sforza nella Marca," Tolentino, 1892

6. G. Benadduci, pp. 132-133

7. G. Benadduci, pp. 132-133, footnote 2