Chapter III - Abruzzo Peoples: the Vestini

«South of the Adrianum territory, in the valleys dominated by the highest Apennine mountains, there was the Vestine region, whose boundaries were in the east the Adriatic coast, as far as modern Città Sant'Angelo, in the north the Vomano and Piomba rivers, beyond which there was the territory of the Adriani; then following the Matrino river for a short distance the Agrum Vestinum was separated from the Adrianum by Bisenti and Colli, and in the west by the Gran Sasso. »

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

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From the foothills of this mountain range ran the boundary ran through Prifernum (Assergi) and Amiternum (San Vittorino), which belonged to the Sabini and, crossing the Aterno river, proceeded through Furconium (Civita di Bagno), near Aquila, and Aveia (Fossa) on the same river. From here it proceeded towards the Marsi mountains through Rocca di Mezzo and Rovere, and again followed the Aterno river at Secinaro, where the territory of the Marsi began. Then the vestine territory followed the left bank of the river throughout its course as far as the town of Aterno. The Vestini, therefore, occupied all the lands comprised in the present day territory of Penne and Aquila, that is the provinces that were later in the 19th century called Abruzzo Ulteriore I and II. But these were the boundaries before the Roman conquest, when the Picenum reached only as far as the Elvino river (Vibrata), while after the Roman conquest the whole Agrum Vestinum was included within the Picenum.

Also the origin of the Vestines in unknown; in his description Strabo (Note of Translator: Strabo, born in Amasea about 58 BC, was a Greek geographer), after listing them along with the Marsi, Paeligni, Marrucini and Frentani, unites all of them under a common ancestral race: the Samnites. According to Strabo their common origin was proved by the frequent communications, the similar customs, forms of government and religion, and the main current of thought nowadays follows him in considering the Vestini as derived from the Umbrians-Samnites of sentral Italy. As to the etymology of the Vestini name, we will not list the more strange theories, but will limit ourselves to the inscriptions and medals which they made probably following the examples of the Adriani or Latins, from whom they derived the best of their civilization and arts, since such medals are not found among other populations inside the Apennine. It is possible that the name derives from the cult of Vesta, the goddess of the family, whose temple before than in Rome was originally in Alba, and whose cult the Romans and the Sabellians derived probably from the East. Apart from the medals, a great many inscriptions bear the name of Vesta, and one can still be seen just outside the city door of Penne. But we sould also record the opinion of other writers who say that the name of Vestini derives from their position between the Piomba and the Aterno, that is from the Celtic words ves (= river) and tin (= country); so that "Vestini" would mean "inhabitants of the country of waters", and they would have originated from the Illyrici, Celtic populations who were the earliest inhabitants of the Adriatic coast, and moved in later periods to inner areas.

The history of the Vestini, as well as the nearby Sabellic federations, is very mysterious because there are no documents. They did not write their name in history and their wars were confused with the wars of the nearby Marsi, Paeligni, Marrucini and Frentani, to whom they were always allied; and if it was not for the wars, maybe we would not know anything today about them. The first date recorded in their history is the year 430 BC, when they were allied to the Samnites against Rome. Few in number and living more in villages than in towns, they were courageous and warlike. They lived in the mountains and were protected by the land features of the Gran Sasso area, where the snowy cliffs, the rocks, gorges, streams and woods were difficult to cross. They were accustomed to hunt animals and covered themselves, like the Marrucini and Frentani, with the skins of bears, then abundant in the Apennines. The weapons of a typical Samnite were a light crooked javelin and a sling used to hit flying birds:

Haud illo levior bellis Vestina juventus
Agmina densavit: venatu dura ferarum.
Quae, Fiscelle, tuas arces, Pinnamque virentem,
Pascuaque haud tarde redeuntia tondet Avillae,
Marrucina simul Frentanis aemula pubes
Corfini populos, magnumque Teate trahebat.
Omnibus in pugna fertur sparus, omnibus alto
Assuetae volucrem coelo demittere fundae
Pectora pellis obit caesi venatibus ursi.
(Silius Italicus, Lib. VIII) (Approximate Translation:
Not lighter in wars the Vestini youth
filled the fights: strong because of fighting with beasts
that, Fiscelle, your citadels, et prosperous Penne,
and returning not late surronds the pastures of Avilla
the Marrucini youths and the Frentani
the peoples of Corfinio and the great Teate
they all take in battle the "sparus weapon", all throw
the expert slings at birds in the sky,
cover their chest with hunted skins of a killed bear.

The alliance between the Vestini and Samnites so worried the Roman people and Senate, that they stressed the importance of the war, and divided the provinces between the two consuls: the Vestina was given to Decius Junius Brutus who, after many battles and plunders, having destroyed houses and burnt the fields, obliged his enemies to meet his armies in the open fields, where they were defeated. The Vestini took refuge in their citadels Cutina and Cingilia, but also there they were attached and the citadels were sieged, without any help from the Samnites. The next historical information we have about them is a Treaty with Rome in 301 b.C. From then onwards the Vestini were faithful allies of the Roman Republic.

While listing the forces of the Italic allies in 225 BC, Polibius mentions the Vestini and their army as consisting of 20,000 foot-soldiers and 4,000 horses. The Vestini were faithful to this alliance, and also offered help together with the nearby peoples in the wars against Hannibal, until the famous social war, when they rebelled to defend their native rights. There is no doubt that, since the beginning of the social war, the Vestini joined the Marsi, but their name is mentioned only about the end of the war, when historians say they were defeated and subdued shortly before their other confederates. At that time they were certainly given Roman citizenship and when the new citizens were ascribed to the different Roman gentes, the Vestini received the Quirina, as it appears in various inscriptions found in Penne.

The Vestine territory was included in the Fourth Augustan region (Quarta Regio), but in a further divisions the coastal areas were united to the Picenum, and the interior (or Aterno valley) included, with the Sabines and Paeligni, in the Valeria province.

Juvenal says that the Vestini continued to keep their primitive simplicity and customs also under the Roman Empire. Silius Italicus, as we reported, speaks of them as a courageous race, warlike, used to hunting in their rugged mountains, which certainly hosted ferocious animals. The innermost parts of their territory were covered with good pastures and, according to Plinius and Martial, the Vestini cheese was much appreciated in Rome.

Though the Vestini preferred to live in open places, the following centers are associated to them, and certainly these centres grew in Roman times, when, after renouncing their political independence, they were obliged to share their territory with the Roman colonists and had to obey the harsh rule of the Praefecti.

Plinius mentions four Vestini cities. The most important was Pinna called virentem (=green), because of the rich olive trees and vineyards covering the plains and hills. This town rose where Penne (Province of Pescara) is today. In the south, a little further away, there was a spring of mineral waters called Aqua Ventina et Virium, which was much appreciated and visited in Roman times. This second city is Angulus, where today is Città Sant'Angelo. Aternum, at the mouth of the river of the same name, now called Pescara, was the Vestini harbour and the only harbour for a very long distance on the Adriatic coast, so that it was also used by the Marrucini.

Another city mentioned by Plinius rose beyond the Saline river: it was the city of the Pleninensi or Planiensi, listed by Plinius among the other Picenum populations, but originally comprised in the Vestini. But just as the true name of this population is uncertain, also the location of their city Plenina or Plania is unknown: some historians say it can be identified with Pianella, situated between the Saline and Pescara rivers, where very ancient walls can still be found.

Livius tells that the Vestini, attacked by consul Decius Brutus in 430, found refuge in their fortified city of Cutina or Cytina, which was later conquered. But since no other historian or geographer mentions this town, we don't know anything about its origin or history. As to its location it is believed to have arisen on the site of present Civitaquana, where there are also ancient ruins; if so it might have been one of the fortresses that defended the frontier with the Marrucini and Frentani. Other sources, however, place this ancient town near Paganica (Province of L'Aquila), and find a trace of the name Cutilia in a nearby mountain called Cuticchio. But these are only theories.

We do not have much more information either about the other fortress, also conquered by consul Decius Brutus, that of Cincilia, which overlooked the Vestini territory on the side bordering the Paeligni and Marrucini peoples; from the advantage position of Civita Aretenga, near Navelli and Capestrano, and from some ruins found there, some historians have said that the fortress rose in that place. Others, instead, would like to place it in Celiera, a small village near Penne. Another Vestini town was Aufina or Aufinum, whose inhabitants were called by Plinius Aufinates. Aufina is identified in present-day Ofena, which was called Offene in the Middle Ages, and is situated near Capestrano. Near Ofena there are many ruins which prove the existence of ancient settlements.

Another town was Pitinum (Torre di Pitino, about 3 km north of Aquila), along the branch of the Salaria Road going from Interocrea to Alba and Peltuinum and whose ruins can still be seen on a plateau 14 miles from Aquila, between Prata and Castelnuovo, which site is now called Ansidonia. Near Peltuinum there was also Vicus Furfo where nowadays Furfona lies.

The Vestini also had Aveia near Fossa and Frusterna (two miles from Aveia), though we do not know if this was a village or a simple oppidum, and which was identified with the land of Ocre. There is also mention of a Vicus Ofidius, where Bazzano is nowadays, which however rose in later times, of a Vicus Pagnius (Bagno) and a Vicus Sinitius, between San Demetrio and San Nicandro.

Another important Vestini town was Prifernum, near nowadays Assergi, at the western foot of the Gran Sasso, in a place which is called Forno today. A Vestini settlement which seems to have risen near the temple of the Goddess Feronia, east of the place where later Monticchio was built (3 miles east of Aquila), and now called Civita di Bagno, was Furconium, of which however there is no mention made by ancient geographers. Ruins were found near Bagno and it seems to have been an important town only in the early Middle Ages."