Synopsis of Chapter III: The Roman Age

The Italic peoples of Abruzzo first came in contact with Rome between the 5th and 4th century BC, and the Samnites especially, whose aim was to establish their nation in the area comprised between the Sangro and Volturno rivers, were promoters of wars and rebellions against Rome for a couple of centuries.

At first the Sanniti made an alliance treaty with Rome in 354 BC, but in later wars against the Romans the Sanniti were repeatedly defeated (in 343 and 328 BC). The other peoples of the region were always somewhat hostile to an alliance with the samnitic people, though closely related to them, and preferred to make treaties with the Roman "foreigners".

The Samnite Wars

Thanks to the friendship of the people of Abruzzi, the Romans were able to attack the Samnite forces from the north but received a shameful defeat at the "forcae caudinae - where two roman legions were trapped and the soldiers obliged to pass under a yoke. A third war broke out against the Samnites and their confederates, Sabini, Galli, Etruscans and Umbrians, and on that occasion the Marsi, Paeligni, Marrucini and Vestini declared their friendship to the Romans, who finally overcome the Samnites and occupied their territory.

The Roman colonies

The Romans founded their first colonies at Carseoli and Alba Fucens, then proceeded into the Abruzzese territory founding Amiternum (where today is the city of L'Aquila) and Hatria along the Adriatic coast to the north. After finally defeating the Samnites, another colony was founded near the south-western border with Samnium, Aufidena. The Peoples of Abruzzo were treated as "socii" or foederati" by the Romans, but the colonies were mostly populated with Roman citizens speaking the Latin language and acting as a "Romanizing" influence on all nearby inhabitants.

The Punic wars

When Hannibal started to make war against Rome he tried to draw the Italic peoples to his side, but was largely unsuccessful, since the majority of Italic peoples kept their loyalty to Rome and gave and greatly helped the Romans after Hannibal won the Cannae battle. At the time of the second Punic war the Abruzzese allies fought loyally and enthusiastically with the Romans, and in many places there are traces in the place names of Hannibal's passage.

The Macedonian wars

Also during the wars against the Macedonians the Italic peoples fought courageously, and Roman historians mention the value of Marrucini, Peligni and Sanniti at Pidna in 168 BC. The macedonian king Perseus was taken prisoner snd kept until his death in Alba Fucens

The Italic question

In spite of the contribution of the Italic peoples to the wars for Roman expansion, all the wealth benefited only the Roman citizens, and their allies were kept in a condition of political inferiority. The widespread discontent against the Romans finally led to civil war.

Caius Graccus and Livius Drusus

There were some more liberal politicians in Rome who supported the request of citizenship of the Italics, among them Scipio Emilianus, Fulvius Flaccus who proposed to grant Roman citizenship to all Italics in 125 BC, and Caius Graccus, who was however killed during a riot in 122 BC. In 91 BC tribune Livius Drusus presented the petition a third time, but he was killed as well and his followers expelled from Rome.

The Social War

It was too much for the Italic allies, who started the so-called "social war" - also called Italic or Marsian war. The war started in Ascoli, when a repression of Roman magistrate Quintus Servilius excited the people, who killed the magistrate, his guards, all the Romans in town and all their supporters among the local population. The rebellion flared throughout the Italic nations, whose leaders had probably beforehand made secret agreement, and an army of 100,000 soldiers marched against the Romans.

Corfinium chosen as capital

The Italic peoples also proceeded to establish a political organization for their confederation, and chose Corfinium, the peligni center, as their capital, changing its name into Italia. They elected a Senate of 500 members and two consuls: one was Marsian Quintus Poppedius Silo, the other Samnite Caius Papius Mutilus, and it was soon clear that the conflict for supremacy between the fierce independent Marsians and Samnites would in the long run favor the Roman victory. The new confederation also chose their own coin, the denarius, representing a female head and the word "ITALIA" or in the oscan language, "VITELIU". After some early Italic victories, the Romans sent against them a powerful army under great generals: Marius, Sulla and Pompey's father.

Roman concessions

In the spring of the year 90 BC the war flared in Abruzzo and Samnium and the Romans, fearing rebellions in Umbria and Tuscany, passed a law (lex Iulia de civitate) granting citizenship to all those peoples that remained faithful to the Romans, and enlarged the right to anyone in Italy who appeared before a Roman magistrate and declared his loyalty within 60 days (lex Plautia Papiria). Being actually an acknowledgement of what the Italics had asked for so long, the two laws weakened the rebellion. In the year 89 BC Pompeius Strabo And Porcius Cato were entrusted with leading the army against the Piceni and Marsi, while Sulla was to attack the Samnites. Meanwhile another civil war divided also the Roman dictators Marius, who was more generous with the Italics, and Sulla who adamantly refused any compromise with them. The Italic armies suffered heavy losses everywhere, and the last resistance concentrated in Lucania, under the leadership of their last general, Pontius Telesinus, who was finally defeated at Preneste in 83 BC.

The municipia

Under Sulla's dictatorship, military colonies were established all over Italy, among them Interamna and Hatria, while the Italic peoples were all included among the Roman tribes and received full citizenship. All the Italic towns were transformed into municipia, organized with a kind of city assembly called comitia, a senate which was the city council and two or four executive magistrates.

Roman roads

Since the 2nd century BC Rome had started the construction of roads through Abruzzo to facilitate trade between the Adriatic and the Thyrrenian Seas, like the Via Valeria, Claudia and Caecilia, the "Traiana", an Adriatic route from Castrum Novum (Giulianova) to Aternum (Pescara), the Salaria from Reate (Rieti) to Asculum (Ascoli) and Truentum (San Benedetto del Tronto).

Caesar in Corfinio

During the civil war between Pompeius and Caesar, the Roman senate tried to resist the attack of Caesar's army with troops in Corfinium, Sulmona and Alba Fucens; Caesar sieged Corfinium for 8 days, but was generous with his enemies and the city was spared.

The Augustan era and the Empire

Under Caesar's heir, Octavianus who became the first Roman emperor with the name of Augustus, a period of peace and reforms started for Italy, which was divided administratively into 11 regions, roughly corresponding to the present Italian regions: the province of Teramo was included in the Quinta Regio or Picenum, while Abruzzo and Molise belonged to the Quarta Regio, also called "Sabina et Samnium". Each region was ruled by a magistrate until the 1st century AD, when Emperor Adrianus reorganized Italy into four great territories governed by "consulares", with the exception of Latium, Campania and Samnium which were directly under the jurisdiction of the city of Rome. In the late 3rd century AD emperor Diocletianus divided again Italy into 12 districts, ruled by "correctores" and Abruzzo was partly split between the two districts called "Flaminia et Picenum" and "Campania et Samnium". A later subdivisions increased the number of districts (called this time "provinciae" to 17, and Abruzzo belonged to the Valeria, Picenum and Samnium.

Public works

Many inscriptions throughout Abruzzo and Molise mention names of emperors, in Marruvium, Saepinum ad Peltuinum. Among the public works whose remains can still be admired in many areas (Teramo, Atri, Chieti, Iuvanum, Amiternum, Alba Fucens) were the theatres and amphitheaters, aqueducts, thermal baths and temples.

The Draining of Lake Fucino

The most famous endeavor was however the draining of the Fucino lake. The project was originally introduced by Julius Caesar, who was however murdered before he could start any of his proposed works. Nevius Sutorius Macro, native of Alba Fucens, had a great influence on Tiberius and Caligula, but he was not able to convince them to continue the works. Finally the project was undertaken by Emperor Claudius, in the year 41 AD, within a general plan of giant public works as the Ostia harbor, the aqueduct, the via Valeria. The greatest problem was where to drain the waters (the Fucino lake did not have any emissary river). The solution seemed to canalize the water through underground tunnels for 5 km into the Liri river. For 11 years 30,000 slaves worked on the excavations. The tunnels had vertical holes used to take away the excavated rock and terrain.

In the summer 52 AD the emissary was inaugurated, with a giant naval battle (naumachia) on the lake, and then the giant barriers were lifted. That time the lake was not completely emptied, and more works were necessary and a second inauguration, that was almost catastrophic due to the violence of the waters. The emissary did its job for some time, then under the following emperors, due to bad maintanance, the tunnels got filled with debris and finally closed. The prject was abandoned for 18 centuries.

The decline of the empire

In the centuries that followed, up to 476AD, when the Western Roman Empire was finally crushed by the barbarians, the history of ABruzzo was one with the history of the whole Roman provinces.

Christianity in Abruzzo

The earliest records of Christianity in Abruzzo date back to the 3rd and 4th centuries, when a great number of local martyrs are mentioned in local traditions and legends. Important figures were the abbot Aequitius, who founded religious institutions in Abruzzo, and Pope Bonifacius IV, native of Marsica.

Culture in Roman times

The best known authors from Abruzzo were Sallustius, Asinius Pollio and Ovidius.

Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86 BC - AD 34)

Born at Amiternum, Sallust was the first great Roman historian, a political enemy of Marcus Cicero and supporter of Caesar, who sent him as his envoy in Africa, where Sallustius became enormously rich and on his return built in Rome the sumptuous Hortii Sallustiani. After Caesar's death he retired from public life and worked on his monographies: De coniuratione Catilinae and the Bellum Iugurthinum.

Gaius Asinius Pollio (75 or 76 BC - AD 5)

An orator, poet and historian, Pollio was born in Teate (Chieti). He was also a follower of Caesar, and founded the first library in Rome. His son, Asinius Gallus, married Agrippina, the divorced wife of emperor Tiberius, and this cost him the jealousy of the emperor, who finally sent hit to death.

Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC - AD 17)

Born in Sulmona, spent his life in Rome and was the poet of elegant and refined life. Probably after a scandal was sent by Augustus in exile, on the coasts of the Black Sea, and there he died in loneliness. His greatest work was the poem Metamorphoses, then his love writings on the Ars Amandi, and two collections of elegies.

Vitorius Marcellus

A prominent literary figure also from Teate, though no works by him are extant. He is mentioned as a friend and inspirator by Quintilianus and poet Statius. The secondary information around his figure leads to believe that Teate (Chieti) must have been a lively cultural center in the Augustan times.

Silius Italicus (AD 25–AD 101)

An orator and state functionary, Silius was made consul in A.D. 68 and proconsul in Asia Minor in A.D. 77. Retiring to his estate near Naples, he purchased the villas of Cicero and Vergil and made them into museums. His epic on the second Punic war, Punica, is the longest surviving Latin poem. Though his native palce is unknown, many believed him to be from Abruzzo, due to his enthusiasm for the Marsi and Marrucini peoples.

Lucius Valerius Pudens

When he was fourteen years old, in the sixth games sacred to Capitoline Jupiter in 106 AD, he was crowned for his shining genius among the Latin poets by the vote of all the judges. His native Histonium (Vasto) decreed a bronze statue for him at state expense. He was later the curator of the state of the Aeserninii. The event is recorded in a stone inscription.


  • The Punic War in Abruzzo: During the second punic war Abruzzo was devastated by Hannibal's armies. The events were recorded by historian Polibius and Titus Livius.
    1. Hannibal in Abruzzo - from Polibius, Historia, book III, pages 87-88, Paris 1970
    2. Hannibal plunders Abruzzo - from Livius, Historiae, book XXII, 9, Zanichelli Bologna 1954
    3. The passage of Claudius Nero - from Livius, Historiae, book XXVII, 45, Zanichelli Bologna 1956
  • The Social War - many historians also described the social and civil wars
    1. The Revolt of the Italics - from Appianus, Le guerre civili, book I, 175-181, La Nuova Italia, Firenze 1958
    2. Causes of the civil war - from Paterculus, Storia Romana, book II, 15-16, Venezia 1839
    3. Caesar in Corfinium - from Caesar, De bello civili, book I, 15 foll., Zanichelli Bologna 1955
      During the civil war between Caesar and Popmpey, Caesar sieged the town of Corfinium.
  • Ovid and Abruzzo - Memories of his native land often appear in the poet's works: landscapes, traditions, legends - three passages are reproduced in the Italian translation:
    1. The Peligna Land - from Amores, book II, 16, lines 1-10
    2. Glory of the Peligni people - from Amores, book III, 15, lines 1-14
    3. A folk tradition - from Fasti, book IV, lines 683-712
  • The Draining of Lake Fucino - This exceptional enterprise was described by historians - two passages are reported in their Italian translation:
    1. Claudius' work - from Tacitus, Annales, XII, pages 56-57, Zanichelli Bologna 1968
    2. The inauguration of the emissary - from Suetonius, Vitae duodecim Caesarum, Claudius, 21 and 32, Zanichelli Bologna 1956

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