Synopsis of Chapter I: Name and borders - The earliest inhabitants

The Borders

Abruzzo was administratively one region with Molise until December 1963, when a constitution law separated the two regions. Presently the area is 10,794 sq km, along the Adriatic side of the Appennine between Marche and Molise, 129 km from the Tronto to the Trigno river. To the west the Apennine separates Abruzzo from Lazio. Historically Abruzzo was always part of Southern Italy, though geographically it belongs to central Italy.

The Territory

The territory is clearly divided into two parts: a maritime region, with a regular coastline interrupted only by the mouths of the rivers flowing down from the Apennines, and an internal region of hills, plateaus and mountains rising to the highest peaks in the Apennines: Gran Sasso 2914 mt and Maiella 2739 mt. The rugged territory made communications difficult, separating the populations and isolating the region throughout its history. Only very recently the construction of modern highways and tunnels seem to have finally broken this isolation.

The name Abruzzo

The name Abruzzo appears for the first time in the Latin form Aprutium. In the late 6th century AD in a letter by Gregorius Magnus addressed to one Oportunus de Aprutio. The name Aprutium was not in use in Roman times. Originally Aprutium was applied only to the province or city of Teramo, called Interamnia Praetutia from its inhabitants, the Praetutii.

Throughout Lombard times Aprutium was one of the seven Lombard "gastaldati" south of the Tronto: Aprutium, Pinne, Teate, Marsi, Amiterno, Forcona, Valva; under the Normans the name Aprutium was used for all the lands to the Northern boundaries of the Kingdom of Sicily.

In 1176 there is mention of a "Giustizierato di Abruzzo" which under Frederick II included the seven Lombard gastaldati with capital Sulmo (=Sulmona); from that time the name Aprutium was applied to the whole region.

In 1272 Chales I Anjou divided the Giustizierato into two provinces, ultra and citra flumen Piscariae, respectively north and south of the Pescara river, with one governor in Chieti; in 1641 another magistrate called "preside" was established in Aquila and a third in 1684 in Teramo, dividing Abruzzo Ultra administratively into two parts. But the official institution of the two Provinces of Abruzzo Ulteriore I and Abruzzo Ulteriore II dates back to 1807, under the reign of Giuseppe Bonaparte.

The territory of the three Provinces of Abruzzo Ulteriore I, with capital Teramo, Abruzzo Ulteriore II with capital Aqila and Abruzzo Citeriore with capital Chieti remained unchanged up to 11 January 1927, when the fourth Abruzzese province, Pescara, was created.

Administrative organization

The history of the administrative organization of the region also explains why the word Abruzzi in the plural was used. Boccaccio in his Calandrino short story (Decameron) used the expression "farther than Abruzzi" to mean a very remote land. The Italian Constitution, art. 131, lists the region as Abruzzi-Molise. The singular form is however more correct, from the singular Aprutium.

On the etymology there are a number of contrasting theories. The most widely accepted was suggested by humanist Flavio Biondo in his "Italia Illustrata", as a corruption from Praetutium, the land of the Praetutii, which might have come from an ancient Phoenician colony, Petrut, founded on the right bank of the Albula (now Vezzola) river where today Teramo rises; this colony was then called Petrutia/Praetutia by the Romans. Another etymology is from the latin "aper" (=boar) so that Aprutium was the "land of boars" or from "abruptum" (=rugged, steep).

A more recent etymology is from the Latin expression "a Bruttiis" (from the Bruttiii) meaning the land that began from the Bruzi people, who moved south to occupy Calabria.


19th century excavations in the Vibrata valley (prof. Rosa) in Alfedena (Mariani) and Atri (Brizio) and more recent research by Radmilli confirm the presence of man inthe region since the earliest prehistory, in contrast with the Mommsen theory that Italy was inhabited by man only after agriculture and the discovery of metals. Abruzzo is one of the most interesting Italian regions for the study of prehistory; three periods were named after abruzzese localities: the Bertoniano (from Montebello di Bertona) corresponding to the upper Paleolithic, the Ripoli corrisponding to the Neolithic, and the Ortucchio to the bronze age.
  • The Paleolithic. Scientific examination date back the human presence in Abruzzo to 350,000 years ago, the early Paleolithic age. The fauna consisted of huge animals like the elephas meridionalis (one specimen was found in 1953 and is presently in the Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo in L'Aquila). Traces of the middle Paleolithic were found in Serramonacesca and Campo di Giove. The later Paleolithic or Bertonian age (from 20,000 years ago) is very rich in findings especially along the valleys of the large rivers Pescara and Sangro, where hunters followed their prey.
  • The Neolithic - Climate changes and the extinction of large animals explain the shift to fishing and small hunting. At this time more advanced peoples move to Italy from the East, bringing agriculture and ceramics, which marks the move into the Neolithic period. Man abandoned caves and built huts on hills, and made utensils and weapons in stone but also in horn, bone, clay.
  • The Ripoli culture - About 5500 AD in the Vibrata valley there was a village, Ripoli, with a typical ceramic production. That population practiced agriculture and their religion included human sacrifice, as shown by stone circles where skeletons of children were found.
  • The Eneolithic - In 4500 AD there was an invasion of other populations who introduced metals and sheep raising, establishing an economy based also on trade.
  • The Bronze Age - The earliest bronze age culture appears at Ortucchio. Hunting and fishing were practiced along with agriculture. Radmilli considered this culture still part of the Eneolithic period.
  • The Apennine Culture - This culture is typical of shepherds who migrated seasonally and was originally in the area of the Fucino lake, between 1400 and 1300 BC. The other agriculture-based cultures persisted however side by side.
  • The Iron Age - The earliest iron age findings come from tombs. It seems that burial was almost universally dominant in Abruzzo, while in other areas in Italy incineration was also common. The typical tomb is a rectangular excavation in the ground, where the deceased is placed with all the objects of his/her life and trade. These tombs show a culture of austere people, engaged in agriculture and faithful to traditions.


  • Gregorovius' Abruzzo - Ferdinando Gregorovius (Neidenburg 1821, Munich 1891) lived long in Italy and described with great love and passion the Abruzzo landscape.
  • Abruzzo mountains (Ignazio Silone) - Ignazio Silone (born Secondo Tranquilli in Pescina, 1900) lost his parents and five siblings in the 1915 earthquake. In 1921 he was among the founders of the Communist party, and worked side by side with Gramsci. In 1930 he published Fontamara, showing the dire social condition od the Marsica peasant. In the passage he descrimes the mountains of Abruzzo as one of the basic elements of the regional identity.
  • Praise of the Abruzzese (Mario Pomilio) - Mario Pomilio (Orsogna, 14 January 1921 - Napoli, 3 April 1990) was a professor of Italian literature in Naples. He wrote novels on the limited political life of the province, and the failure of the generation that followed WW2. In the passage he describes the features of the Abruzzese character.
  • Travel into the heart of the province (Michele Prisco) - Michele Prisco (Torre Annunziata 1920) is one among the best Italian novelists of the afterwar. In the passage he praises the rhythm of life of the Abruzzese towns, so far away from the alienating modern city.
  • The Abruzzi (Domenico Rea) - Domenico Rea (Nocera Inferiore, 1921) writes about the poverty and hardships of Southern people after WW2. In the passage he describes with great intensity the Abruzzese landscape.
  • Memory of Abruzzo (Biagio Marin) - Biagio Marin (Grado 1891) is among the best dialect poets in modern Italian literature. He came to Abruzzo repeatedly as member of juries for literary awards, and in the passage he describes the simplicity of the Abruzzese world.
  • Love of Abruzzo (Diego Valeri) - Diego Valeri (Piove di Sacco 1887, 1976) was a Professor of French literature in the University of Padua and a fine melancholy poet. In his pages on Abruzzo he expressed his great human love for a land where he left part of his heart.
  • On the name Abruzzo (Biondo da Forlì) - Biondo da Forlì in his Italia Illustrata introduces in the passage from "Italia Illustrata" his ethymology of the name Abruzzo.
  • Abruzzo Prehistory (A.M. Radmilli) - Radmilli, a paleo-ethnologist of the University of Pisa, studied extensively and described the village of Ripoli and the religious cults of the Neolithic farmers.
  • Bibliography

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