Chapter III - Abruzzo Peoples: the Paeligni

«The region of the Paeligni was enclosed by natural boundaries of rivers and mountains. It was placed in the middle between the Vestini, Marsi and Samnites on the one side, and the Marrucini and Frentani on the other. It was surrounded in the north by the Aterno, in the east by the Sangro river; on the other side of the Aterno there were the Vestini, and on the other side of the Sangro the Frentani.»

From Enrico Abbate's "Guida d'Abruzzo", Rome 1903.

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In the west and the south the Apennines divided them from the Marsi and partly from Samnium and finally the Maiella was the boundary with the Marrucini. From the Sangro river, near Castel di Saro, the boundary line moved westward and followed the mountains through steep Mount Chiarano or Argatone mount, comprising Scanno, Villalago and Cocullo and, following through Forca Caruso, where the Arch of Livia Augusta was built, the boundary line continued from Forca northward and came down through Gagliano and then Secinaro, where it touched the Aterno river: from here the border cut north to south through the summits of Mount Morrone and the Maiella massif to include Pacentro, Campo di Giove and Palena, and turning at Pizzoferrato joined the Sangro river again in a place called Castel di Saro.

According to these boundaries, which are derived from the three populations united in the Paelina alliance, that is the Superaequani, the Corfinienses and Sulmonenses, so called from their three main towns and, according to the bordering populations, it is clear that the Paeligni occupied the districts of Sulmona, Popoli, Scanno, Pratola, Acciano and partly Pescina. The Paeligna region was surrounded on every side by high mountains, covered for the largest part of the year by snow, and was described by the ancients as the coldest region of all. Horace said:

"...Quo praebente domum, et quota Pelignis caream frigoribus, taces" [Hor. Car. iii. Od. xix. 3.]
(Translation: and in whose house, and when I may escape from the Pelignian cold, you do not mention.")

And Ovid, born in Sulmona (Note of Translator: Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 BC – AD 17/18, a Roman poet best known as the author of the Ars Amatoria and Metamorphoses) says :

"Hunius erat Solymus Phrygia comes unus
ab Ida, a quo Sulmonis moenia nomen habent;
Sulmonis gelidi, patriae, Germanice, nostrae.
Me miserum, Scythico quam procul illa solo est!" [Fasti, lines 79-82]
(Translation: Aeneas had among his companions one,
native of Ida, from whom the walls of Sulmona
are named: Sulmona the cold, my homeland, o Germanicus.
How far, alas, from the Scythian land

However, amid these mountains and canyons, a wonderful plain extended out of the narrow valley just below the plateau of the Cinquemiglia and reached beyond Corfinio, surrounded by high mountains and watered by four rivers: the Gizio, Aterno, Sagittario and Vella or Avella; this plain probably in prehistoric times was a lake, since ethymological studies derive the word Peligno from the greek Pelinè, that is mud, with a possible reference to the muddy region period left when the waters retreated. This part of the region in ancient times was celebrated for the flourishing vegetation and Peligni linen, wines, cereals, olives and honey were highly prized. "arva pererrantur Paeligna liquentibus undis, et viret in tenero fertilis herba solo. ferax Cereris multoque feracior uvis dat quoque bacciferam Pallada rarus ager." [Ovid Amor. Lib. II eleg. 16] (Translation: the Peligni lands are crossed by liquid waves
and fertile grass rises green in the tender soil
the fruitful land of Ceres much more prolific of grapes
gives also, more rare, the olive of Pallas.

"Uva nec in Tuscis nascitur ista iugis." (Martial, Lib. I epig. 26).
(Translation: such grapes are not born even in Tuscan fields.) The territory of the Paeligni must have always been important as a communication route among the various peoples of central Italy. The mountain pass of mons Imeus (Forca Caruso) enabled communications between the Paeligni and Marsi on the one side, and on the other side the Aterno canyon or Intermonti offered a straight line communication with the sea.

The Paeligni are the first inhabitants that we know in this territory, and like the Frentani and Marrucini were, according to Strabo, of Samnitic race. Ovid accepted this opinion calling the Paeligni descendants of the Sabines, who in their turn were the acknowledged ancestors of the Samnites:

"Et tibi cum proavis, miles Peligne, Sabinis
Convenit hic genti quartus utrique deus.
(Translation: And to you, o Peligni soldier, with Sabine forefathers, comes here to both peoples the fourth god - March is called by them the fourth month.)

And though Niebhur considers them of Illyric origin, following the tradition of Festus (Note of Translator: Sextus Pompeius Festus, a Roman grammarian of the 2nd century AD.), who traced the origin of the Paeligni from an Illyric colony that left Yugoslavia under the leadership of King Volsinus, they must have descended like the other populations from the Italic branch called Umbrian Samnitic. As a matter of fact there were always very close relations between the Paeligni and the Samnites and they shared customs and religion. We cannot however ignore that Ovid says Sulmona was founded by one Solimus from Phrygia, and Silius Italicus attributed to its founder a Dardanic origin, which would confirm the tradition that Phrygians and Illiryans had a role in establishing a primitive settlement in the Paeligna region. However, the passage of Illyrian peoples does not contradict the true Sabellic origin of these ancient inhabitants, since the Umbrians, forefathers of the Sabini, were maybe Illyrians, or possibly an Illiric colony came down south and intermingled with them.

As far as the origin of the Paeligni name is concerned, some historians believed this name to be derived from a place which was already destroyed before written history began, or from the ancient Palenum, of which the small village of Palena remains; and others place the ancient Paeligni capital at San Pelino. Leaving aside the question of the ethymology of their originary capital, which is impossible to locate either geographically or historically, others derived the name Paeligni from the muddy nature of the soil, especially in the beautiful Sulmona valley. This derivation is however unacceptable, since there is no Greek influence in the territory or in the origin of the Paeligni.

Others attempted to find the origin of this name in the ancestral place of the Paeligni. And they supposed the name came from I, which in the Macedonian language is translated as rock or stone, others from Beleno or Belino, that is Apollo or the Sun, worshiped at Aquileia by the Armorici and in the Norico, from which the worship of the Pelina Goddess was derived, common to the Paeligni and the Frentani. What is certain is that the Paeligni also worshiped Jupiter Paleno or Pelino, and maybe the Illyrians applied this name to the rocks of the region where they settled, and expressed this cult in the Goddess Pelina and in Jupiter Pelino; consequently from the original name of Pelini, meaning inhabitants of mountainous lands, with a change of pronounciation they were called Paeligni.

Whatever their origin or the ethymology of the name, it seems that among all the peoples of the Umbrian-Samnitic race, famous for their courage and bravery, considering their behaviour with the Romans first as enemies, later as allies, and finally in the Social War to obtain the rights of autonomous peoples and Roman citizens, the Paeligni surpassed in military strength all their neighbours, which was why perhaps their capital Corfinium was chosen as the centre of the social war.

The Paeligni nation, surrounded by mountains, consisted of three different groups of peoples: the Corfinienses, the Sulmonienses and the Superequani, each population with their own separate territory. Apart from the main cities, from which the name of the three groups derived, there were many hamlets, according to the custom of all those inhabitants of mountainous territories. The union of these three populations produced the Paeligna confederation, so celebrated in antiquity for their strength and courage, so much so that Plinius called them the strongest, and Silius wrote: "... Coniungitur acer Pelignus,
gelidoque rapit Sulmone cohortes."(Silius It. VIII, 508-509)
(Translation: They are joined by the fierce Pelignus,
leading his troops from freezing Sulmona.

Their political structure was based on freedom and did not differ from the organization of the Samnites and other Abruzzese peoples. Each district lived separated from the other, as far as their economies were concerned, the chiefs were chosen among the strongest in the population: the confederation was enabled only when it was necessary to come to common decisions, to wage war, or to defend themselves against an aggression. But we know nothing of their internal proceedings, apart from what is included in the history of Rome, since Roman historians were not interested in recording the glory of other peoples, but only in showing the rise of their own nation.

The first time we find the Paeligni on the battlefield is when, after the famed battle between Romans and Samnites, in the year 412 from the foundation of Rome, near Suessola, many frightened Italic peoples ask for peace, among them the Falisci and the Latins, who then moved their army from the Roman territory to the Paeligni territory, but were defeated. In 445 the Paeligni and Marsi joined the Samnites against Rome, and were defeated by consul Fabius. We do not know if there were more wars with their neighbours, since there was no connection with the Romans and therefore historians do not mention anything. We only know that when the defeat of the Equi in 449 was announced, the Paeligni made a seemingly defence treaty with Rome, together with their neighbours, the Marsi, Marrucini and Frentani.

From this treaty the second period in the history of the Paeligni begins, when they were often associated to the Romans, especially in the two famous Samnitic wars and in the Punic war. Livius tells that in 457, when the Samnites were defeated by Decius, a group of prisoners were able to escape but, passing through the Paeligni territory, were all killed. He also says that they did not accept the prizes and friendship promised by Hannibal, so that the African leader, crossing their region, caused enormous damage and came back later when, with a mind to cheat Roman general Fabius, he pretended he was passing from Samnium to Rome, bur only moved as far as the Paeligni, where he plundered and destroyed again.

Finally, in the year 663 from the foundation of Rome, the third period begins, when the Paeligni, a great flourishing people, rebelled against the Romans asking for citizenship, and joined the famous conspiracy organized by the Marsi, which was called Social or Marsian War. At that time Corfinium was chosen as the common capital of the allied peoples and the general meeting place, and in that occasion Corfinium was re-named Italia, as can still be read in the inscriptions made in the coins of that time, and it was established as the capital of the new Italic Republic that they wanted to found. The rebels organized a Senate with 500 senators, all noble men and worthy counsellors for the safety of the Republic; among them every year two consuls would be chosen. The conclusion of this war is well-known: Roman Florus exaggerated the rebellion, saying it was much more disastrous than the Punic wars, so the Italic peoples obtained Roman citizenship and were ascribed to new tribes; the Paeligni in 89 BC were assigned to the Sergia tribe by the lex Pompeia.

The Paeligni appeared again at the time of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, when Corfinius was occupied by Domitius Enobarbus with twenty battallions, mostly collected among the Marsi and Paeligni. Like other mountain peoples, for a long time the Paeligni maintained their national feeling, long after they had began Roman citizens, and in the civil war between Vespasianus and Vitellius they sided with the former. This is the last information we find in history: but all geographers describe them as a separate people. Augustus, administratively, included them in the fourth region, and in Roman times in the final division of this part of Italy their territory was included with the Marsian territory in the province called Valeria.

It seems the Paeligni had only three great cities: Superequum, Corfinium and Sulmona. Where their region bordered Marsica and the Vestini territory along the Aterno river, there was Superequum, whose inhabitants Plinius calls Superequani, because they were placed above the plain (Super aequum) relative to the Corfinienses and the Sulmonenses, who occupied instead a lower territory.

Nothing more is known of the Superequani, only that a part of their territory was given to a Roman colony by order of Augustus, and divided among the Roman veterans. From the inscriptions found it is clear that Superequo existed, and that it was located near Castelvecchio, which is still called Subequo, a short distance from the Aterno and exactly in the plain of Macrano, where many remains of walls, buildings and tombs can be found.

At the narrow canyon of Forca Caruso, along the border with the Paeligni and Marsi, the Superequani built an arch in stone, in honor of Livia Augusta. This arch is mentioned in the life of San Rufino, and that narrow passage, a frightening canyon in winter, is still today called "all'arco". Departing from the arch of Livia, seven miles from Corfinio, there was Statulae, a village which gave the name to a station along the Via Valeria, where it was placed. It seems it rose near Goriano Sicoli, on the steep mountains through which the ancient road once passed, and where today a modern road connects Forca Caruso and Pentima. The many remains of walls and an inscription make us believe that Statulae, whose origin is unknown, may have had some importance.

Only Strabo mentions Cuculo as a town of the Paeligni, near the via Valeria (Note of Translator: in 350 BC the Via Tiburtina was extended to the territories of the Equi and then the Peligni, and was made into a consular road by Marcus Valerius Maximus in 286 BC. From his name the extension was originally called Via Valeria, then the whole street was renamed Tiburtina Valeria.) after Carseoli and Alba Fucens, and exactly where today Cocullo lies, on the mountains that divided the Paeligni from the Marsi.

The noblest Paeligna town was undoubtedly Corfinium, their capital. A rich important center for all our ancestors, both for its position and for the strength of its walls and its territory, it was considered the emblem of Italic liberty at the time of the social war. It rose near present day Pentima. Seven miles from Corfinium the Paeligni had another famous town, Sulmo, present day Sulmona, which dominated the third part of the Paeligni territory and, a little further away, Pacino (Pacentro) of which we don't know if it was a big center or a borough. In the territory of Sulmona there was also the village (pagus) Fabianus, just outside the via Claudia, where today we find Popoli. Seven miles from Sulmona, finally, on the via Numicia there was a mansion called Jupiter Palenus.