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Eth. PELIGNI (Eth. Πελίγνοι) a people of Central Italy, occupying an inland district in the heart of the Apennines. They bordered on the Marsi towards the W., on the Samnites to the S., the Frentani on the E., and the Vestini to the N. Their territory was of very small extent, being confined to the valley of the Gizio, a tributary of the Aternus, of which the ancient name is nowhere recorded, and a small part of the valley of the Aternus itself along its right bank. The valley of the Gizio is one of those upland valleys at a considerable elevation above the sea, running parallel with the course of the Apennines, which form so remarkable a feature in the configuration of the central chain of those mountains [APENNINUS]. It is separated from the Marsi and the basin of the lake Fucinus on the W. by a narrow and strongly marked mountain ridge of no great elevation; while towards the S. it terminates in the lofty mountain group which connects the central ranges of the Apennines with the great mass of the Majella. This last group, one of the most elevated in the whole of the Apennines, attaining a height of 9100 feet above the sea, rises on the SE. frontier of the Peligni; while the Monte Morrone, a long ridge of scarcely inferior height, runs out from the point of its junction with the Majella in a NW. direction, forming a gigantic barrier, which completely shuts in the Peligni on the NE., separating them from the Frentani and Marrucini. This mountain ridge is almost continuous with that which descends from the Gran Sasso towards the SE. through the country of the Vestini, but the great mountain barrier thus formed is interrupted by a deep gorge, through which the Aternus forces its way to the sea, having turned abruptly to the NE. immediately after receiving the river Gizio [ATERNUS]. The secluded district of the Peligni was thus shut in on all sides by natural barriers, except towards the N., where they met the Vestini in the valley of the Aternus.

A tradition recorded by Festus (s. v. Peligni, p. 222), but on what authority we know not, represented the Peligni as of Illyrian origin; but this statement is far outweighed by the express testimony, [p. 2.567]of Ovid, that they were of Sabine descent. (Ovid, Fist. 3.95.) The authority of the poet, himself a native of the district, is strongly confirmed by the internal probabilities of the case, there being little doubt that all these upland valleys of the Central Apennines were peopled by the Sabines, who, radiating from Amiternum as a centre, spread themselves towards the S. and E. in the same manner as they descended towards the valley of the Tiber on the W. and SW. Hence the Peligni were of kindred race with their neighbours, the Vestini, Marrucini, and Marsi, and this circumstance, coupled with their geographical proximity, sufficiently explains the close union which we find subsisting in historical times between the four nations. It is probable, indeed, that these four tribes formed a kind of league or confederacy among themselves (Liv. 8.29), though its bonds must have been somewhat lax, as we find them occasionally engaging in war or concluding peace singly, though more frequently all four would adopt the same policy.

The first mention of the Peligni in Roman history occurs in B.C. 343, when we are told that the Latins, who had been threatening war with Rome, turned their arms against the Peligni (Liv. 7.38); but we have no account of the causes or result of the war. Soon after we find the Peligni, as well as their neighbours, the Marsi, on friendly terms with the Romans, so that they afforded a free passage to the Roman army which was proceeding through Samnium into Campania (Liv. 8.6); and even when their neighbours the Vestini declared themselves in favour of the Samnites, they seem to have refused to follow the example. (Id. 8.29.) In B.C. 308, however, they joined the Marsi in their defection from Rome, and shared in their defeat by Fabius (Id. 9.41); but a few years afterwards (B.C. 304) they were induced to sue for peace, and obtained a treaty, apparently on favourable terms. (Ib. 45; Diod. 20.101.) From this period they became the faithful and steadfast allies of Rome, and gave a striking proof of their zeal in B.C. 295, by attacking the Samnite army on its retreat from the great battle of Sentinum, and cutting to pieces 1000 of the fugitives. (Id. 10.30.) After the subjection of Italy by the Romans, the Peligni are seldom mentioned in history; but it is certain that they continued to furnish regularly their contingents: to the Roman armies, and, notwithstanding their small numbers, occupied a distinguished position among the auxiliary troops, the Pelignian cohorts being on several occasions mentioned with distinction. (Dionys. xx. Fr. Didot; Ennius, Ann. viii. Fr. 6; Liv. 25.14, 44.40.) Their name is omitted by Polybius in his catalogue of the forces of the Italian allies in B.C. 225 (Pol. 2.24), but this is probably by mere accident. During the Second Punic War they maintained unshaken their fidelity to Rome, though their territory was repeatedly ravaged by Hannibal; and besides furnishing their usual quota to the Roman armies, they were still able in B.C. 205 to raise volunteers for the armament of Scipio. (Liv. 22.9, 26.11, 28.45.) At the outbreak of the Social War, the Peligni, in conjunction with their neighbours and confederates the Marsi, were among the first to declare themselves against Rome; and the choice of their chief city, Corfinium, to be the capital of the confederates, and therefore the destined capital of Italy, had their plans proved successful, at once assigned them a prominent place among the nations arrayed against Rome. (Appian, App. BC 1.39; Liv. Epit. lxxii; Oros. 5.18; Vell. 2.16; Diod. 37.2.) The choice of Corfinium was probably determined by its strength as a fortress, as well as by its central position in regard to the northern confederates; at a later period of the war it was abandoned by the allies, who transferred their senate and capital to Aesernia. (Diod. l.c.) The name of the Peligni is not often mentioned during the war, though it is certain that they continued to take an active part in it throughout, and it is probable that they were almost uniformly associated with the Marsi. But in B.C. 90 we are told that they sustained a severe defeat by Ser. Sulpicius Galba (Liv. Epit. lxxiii.); and before the close of the following year they were received to submission, together with the Marrucini and Vestini, by Cn. Pompeius Strabo, B.C. 88. (Liv. Epit. lxxvi;) It is certain that the Peligni, as well as their neighbours, were at this time, or very soon after, admitted to the Roman franchise, for the sake of which they had originally engaged in the war: they were enrolled in the Sergian tribe, together with the Marsi and Sabines. (Cic. in Vatin. 15; Schol. Bob. ad loc.) The Peligni again figure in the history of the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey, B.C. 49, when their chief town, Corfinium, was occupied by Domitius Ahenobarbus with twenty cohorts, which he had raised for the most part among the Marsi and Peligni, and with which he at first checked the advance of Caesar; but the rapid spread of disaffection among his own troops quickly compelled him to surrender. (Caes. B.C. 1.15--23.) Sulmo, which had been also garrisoned by Domitius, yielded without resistance to Caesar. (Ib. 17.) The Peligni, in common with the other mountain tribes, seem to have retained to a considerable extent their national character and feeling, long after they had become merged in the condition of Roman citizens, and as late as the civil war between Vespasian and Vitellius (A.D. 69) they are mentioned as declaring themselves, as a people, in favour of the former. (Tac. Hist. 3.59.) This is the last notice of them which occurs in history; but they are described by all the geographers as a distinct people, retaining their separate nationality. (Strab. v. p.241; Plin. Nat. 3.12. s. 17; Ptol. 3.1.64.) For administrative purposes they were included in the Fourth Region of Augustus (Plin. Nat. 1. c.); and in the later division of this part of Italy, their territory was comprised, together with that of the Marsi, in the province called Valeria. (Lib. Colon. p. 228). It now forms a part of the province of Abruzzo Ulteriore.

The position of the Peligni, surrounded on all sides by the loftiest ranges of the Apennines, while the valley of the Gizio itself is at a considerable elevation above the sea, naturally rendered the climate one of the coldest in Italy. Horace uses the expression “Peligna frigora,” as one almost proverbial for extreme cold; and Ovid, who was a native of Sulmo, repeatedly alludes to the cold and wintry climate of his native district. (Hor. Carm. 3.19. 8; Ovid, Ov. Fast. 4.81, 685, Trist. 4.9.) On the other hand, it derived from the same cause the advantage of being watered by numerous and perennial streams, fed by the snows of the neighbouring mountains, where they are said to linger throughout the summer. (Ovid, Amor. 2.16, Fast. 4.685.) The broad valley of the Gizio was, however, sufficiently fertile; it produced considerable quantities of corn, and wine in abundance, though not of superior quality, and a few sheltered spots would even admit [p. 2.568]of the growth of olives. (Ovid, Amor. 2.16. 6, 7; Martial, 1.27. 5, 13.121.) Of the character of the Peligni, we know only that they were esteemed as rivalling in bravery their neighbours the Marsi (Plin. Nat. 3.12. s. 17; Cic. in Vatin. 15; Sil. Ital. 8.510), and that from their secluded position they always retained the primitive simplicity of their habits. From an expression of Horace it would appear also that they shared with the Marsi the reputation of skill in magical incantations. (Hor. Epod. 17. 60 )

The Peligni had only three principal towns, CORFINIUM, SULMO, and SUPERAEQUUM of which the two first only are known historically, and were doubtless much the most important places. But Pliny notices all three in his list of towns; and the same names are found also in the Liber Coloniarum. (Plin. l.c.; Lib. Cones. pp. 228, 229.) Hence these are obviously the three alluded to by Ovid, when he calls his native town of Sulmo “Peligni pars tertia ruris” (Amor. 2.16); and it thus appears there were no other places in the district which enjoyed municipal rank and had a territory of their own. CUCULUM mentioned only by Strabo (v. p.241) as situated to the right of the Via Valeria, is evidently the modern Cocullo, and must have been in the territory of the Peligni, but was probably an insignificant place. STATULAE, known only from the Tabula as a station on the Via Valeria, 7 miles from Corfinium, on the E. of the Mons lines, must have been situated at or near the village of Goriano.

The territory of the Peligni must always have been an important point in regard to the communications of the different nations of Central Italy. On the one side a natural pass, now known as the Forca Caruso, called in the Tabula the MONS IMEUS, connected the basin of the Gizio and lower valley of the Aternus with the land of the Marsi and basin of the lake Fucinus; on the other the remarkable pass or gorge through which the Aternus forces its way just below Popoli, afforded a natural outlet, through which these upland valleys had a direct communication with the sea. These two passes, in conjunction with that which led from the basin of the Fucinus to Carseoli, formed a natural line of way from Rome and the Tyrrhenian sea to the Adriatic, which was undoubtedly frequented long before the Romans subdued the several nations through which it passed, and ages before the Via Valeria was laid down as an artificial road. That highway, indeed, was not continued through the land of the Peligni, and thence to the sea, until the reign of the emperor Claudius [CERFENNIA]. In tie other direction also the valley of the Gizio, opening into that of the Aternus, afforded direct means of communication with Reate, Interamna, and the valley of the Tiber, while at its southern extremity a practicable pass led through the heart of the Apennines into the valley of the Sagrus, and thus opened a direct line of communication with the interior of Samnium. The importance of this line of route, as well as the early period at which it was frequented, is shown by the circumstance that it was followed by the Roman armies in B.C. 340, when the Samnites, as well as the Marsi and Peligni, were friendly, and the revolt of the Latins cut off their natural line of march into Campania. (Liv. 8.6.)

This line of, road, as given in the Tabula, led from Corfinium by Sulmo to Aufidena, and thence to Aesernia and Venafrum. At the distance of 7 miles from Sulmno that itinerary places a station called “Jovis Larene,” evidently the site of a temple, on the highest part of the pass. The spot is still called Campo di Giove, and it is probable that the true reading is “Jovis Paleni,” the adjoining mountain being still called Monte di Palena, and a village or small town at the foot of it bearing the same name. (Cluver, Ital. p. 759; Holsten. Not. ad Cluver. p. 145; Romanelli, vol. iii. p. 165.) It thus appears that the ancient road followed a more circuitous but easier line than the modern highroad, and thus avoided the passage of the Piano di Cinque Miglia, an upland valley at the, highest part of the pass, much dreaded in winter and spring on account of the terrific storms of wind and snow to which it is subject. (Craven's Abruzzi, vol. ii. pp. 45--50.)


hide References (16 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (16):
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.5.39
    • Cicero, Against Vatinius, 15
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 3.59
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 28, 45
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 38
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 25, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 44, 40
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 20.101
    • Ovid, Fasti, 4
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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