: Eth. Umber
, Eth. Umbri
), was one of the principal divisions of Central Italy, situated to the E. of Etruria, and extending from the valley of the Tiber to the shores of the Adriatic.
The name was, however, at different periods applied within very different limits. Umbria, properly so called, may be considered as extending only from the Tiber, which formed its W. limit through the greater part of its course, and separated Umbria from Etruria, to the great central range of the Apennines from the sources of the Tiber in the N. to the Monti della Sibilla
in the S.
But on the other side of this range, sloping down to the Adriatic, was an extensive and fertile district extending from the frontiers of Picenum to the neighbourhood of Ariminum, which had probably been at one time also occupied by the Umbrians, but, before it appears in Roman history, had been conquered by the Gaulish tribe of the Senones. Hence, after the expulsion of these invaders, it became known to the Romans as “Gallicus ager,” and is always so termed by historians in reference to the earlier period of Roman history. (Liv. 23.14
; Cic. Brut. 14
, &c.) On the division of Italy into regions by Augustus, this district was again united with Umbria, both being included in the Sixth Region. (Plin. Nat. 3.14. s. 19
But even Pliny, in describing this union, distinguishes the “ager Gallicus” from Umbria Proper ( “Jungitur his sexta regio Umbriam complexa agrumque Gallicum
circa Ariminum,” Ib.
): it is evident therefore that the name of Umbria did not at that time in common usage include the territory on the shores of the Adriatic.
In like manner Ptolemy designates the coast from Ancona to Ariminum (termed by Pliny the “Gallica ora” ) as “the land of the Senones” (Ptol. 3.1.22
), a term which had certainly become inappropriate long before his time.
It was according to Pliny (l.c.
) this portion of the Gaulish territory which was properly designated as Gallia Togata, a name afterwards extended and applied to the whole of Cisalpine Gaul. (Hirt. B. G.
8.24; Cic. Phil. 8.9
It was not, therefore, till a late period that the name of Umbria came into general use as including the whole of the Sixth Region of Augustus, or the land from the Tiber to the Adriatic.
Umbria, in this more extended sense of the name, was bounded on the W. by the Tiber, from a point near its source to a little below Ocriculum, which was the most southern city included within the province. Thence the E. frontier ascended the valley of the Nar, which separated Umbria from the land of the Sabines, almost to the sources of that river in the great central chain of the Apennines. Thence it followed a line nearly parallel with the main ridge of those mountains, but somewhat farther to the E. (as Camerinum, Matilica, and other towns situated on the E. slopes of the Apennines were included in Umbria), as far as the sources of the Aesis (Esino
), and then descended that river to its mouth. We know that on the coast the Aesis was the recognised boundary between Umbria and Picenum on the S., as the little river Rubicon was between Umbria and Gallia Cisalpina on the N. [p. 2.1315]
From the mouth of the latter stream the frontier must have followed an irregular line extending to the central range of the Apennines, so as to include the upper valleys of the Sapis and Bedesis; thence it rejoined the line already traced from the sources of the Tiber.
All ancient authors agree in representing the Umbrians as the most ancient people of Italy (Plin. Nat. 3.14. s. 19
; Flor. 1.17
; Dionys. A. R. 1.19
), and the traditions generally received described them as originally spread over a much more extensive region than that which ultimately retained their name, and occupying the whole tract from sea to sea, including the territories subsequently wrested from them by the Etruscans.
That people, indeed, was represented as gaining possession of its new settlements step by step, and as having taken not less than 300 towns from the Umbrians. (Plin. l.c.
) This number is doubtless fabulous, but there seems to be good reason for regarding the fact of the conquest as historical. Herodotus, in relating the Lydian tradition concerning the emigration of the Tyrrhenians, represents the land as occupied, at the time of their arrival, by the Umbrians. (Hdt. 1.94
The traditions reported by Dionysius concerning the settlements of the Pelasgians in Italy, all point to the same result, and represent the Umbrians as extending at one period to the neighbourhood of Spina on the Adriatic, and to the mouths of the Padus. (Dionys. A. R. 1.16
In accordance with this we learn incidentally from Pliny that Butrium, a town not, far from Ravenna, was of Umbrian origin. (Plin. Nat. 3.15. s. 20
The name of the river Umbro (Ombrone
), on the coast of Etruria, was also in all probability a relic of their dominion in that part of Italy. On the whole we may fairly assume as a historical fact, the existence of the Umbrians at a very early period as a great and powerful nation in the northern half of Central Italy, whose dominion extended from sea to sea, and comprised the fertile districts on both sides of the Apennines, as well as the mountains themselves.
According to Zenodotus of Troezen (ap. Dionys. A. R. 2.49
), the powerful race of the Sabines itself was only a branch or offshoot of the Umbrians; and this statement is to a great extent confirmed by the result of recent philological researches. [SABINI
If the Umbrians are thus to be regarded as one of the most ancient of the races established in Italy, the question as to their ethnological affinities becomes of peculiar interest and importance. Unfortunately it is one which we can answer but very imperfectly.
The ancient authorities upon this point are of little value. Most writers, indeed, content themselves with stating that they were the most ancient people of Italy, and apparently consider them as Aborigines.
This was distinctly stated by Zenodotus of Troezen, who had written a special history of the Umbrian people (Dionys. A. R. 2.49
); and the same idea was probably conveyed by the fanciful Greek etymology that they were called Ombricans or Ombrians, because they had survived the deluge caused by floods of rain (ὄμβροι; Plin. Nat. 3.14. s. 19
). Some writers, however, of whom the earliest seems to have been one Bocchus, frequently quoted by Solinus, represented the Umbrians as of Gaulish origin (Solin. 2.11
; Serv. ad Aen. 12.753
; Isidor. Orig.
9.2); and the same view has been maintained by several modern writers, as the result of philological inquiries. Researches of this latter kind have indeed of late years thrown much light upon the affinities of the Umbrian language, of which we possess an important monument in the celebrated tables of Iguvium. [IGUVIUM
] They have clearly established, on the one hand its distinctness from the language of the neighbouring Etruscans, on the other its close affinity with the Oscan, as spoken by the Sabellian tribes, and with the old Latin, so that the three may fairly be considered as only dialects of one and the same family of languages. [ITALIA
p. 86.] The same researches tend to prove that the Umbrian is the most ancient of these cognate dialects, thus confirming the assertions of ancient writers concerning the great antiquity of the nation.
But, while they prove beyond a doubt that the Umnbrian, as well as the nearly related Oscan and Latin, was a branch of the great Indo-Teutonic family, they show also that the three formed to a great extent a distinct branch of that family or an independent group of languages, which cannot with propriety be assigned to the Celtic group, any more than to the Teutonic or Slavonic.
The history of the Umbrians is very imperfectly known to us.
The traditions of their power and greatness all point to a very early period; and it is certain that after the occupation of Etruria as well as of the plains of the Padus by the Etruscans, the Umbrians shrunk up into a comparatively obscure mountain people. Their own descendants the Sabines also occupied the fertile districts about Reate and the valley of the Velinus, which, according to the traditions reported by Dionysius, had originally been held by the Umbrians, but had been wrested from them by the Pelasgians (Dionys. A. R. 2.49
At a much later period, but still before the name of the Umbrians appears in Roman history, they had been expelled by the Senonian Gauls from the region on the shores of the Adriatic. Livy indeed represents them as having previously held also a part of the territory which was subsequently occupied by the Boians, and from which they were driven by the invasion of that people (Liv. 5.35
It was not till the Romans had carried their arms beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the city, and penetrated beyond the barrier of the Ciminian forest, that they came into contact with the Umbrians. Their first relations were of a friendly nature.
The consul Fabius having sent secret envoys through the land of the neighbouring Etruscans into Umbria, received from the tribe of the Camertes promises of support and assistance if he should reach their country. (Liv. 9.36
But the Umnbrian people seem to have been divided into different tribes, which owned no common government and took different lines of policy. Some of these tribes made common cause with the Etruscans and shared in their defeat by Fabius. (Ib.
This disaster was followed by two other defeats, which were sustained by the Umbrians alone, and the second of these, in which their combined forces were overthrown by the consul Fabius near Mevania (B.C. 308), appears to have been a decisive blow.
It was followed, we are told, by the submission of all the Umbrian tribes, of whom the people of Ocriculum were received into the Roman alliance on peculiarly favourable terms. (Liv. 9.39
From this time we hear no more of hostilities with the Umbrians, with the exception of an expedition against a mere marauding tribe of mountaineers (Liv. 10.1
), till B.C. 296, when the Samnite leader Gellius Egnatius succeeded in organising a general confederacy against Rome, in which the Umbrians and Senonian Gauls took part, as well as the Etruscans [p. 2.1316]
and Samnites. (Liv. 10.21
.) Their combined forces were, however, overthrown in the great battle of Sentinum (Ib.
26, 27; Plb. 2.19
); and this is the last time that the Umbrians, as a people, appear in arms against the Roman power. We are indeed told in the epitome of Livy that the Umbrians were again defeated, and reduced to submission at the same time as the Sallentines, in B.C. 266 (Liv. Epit.
xv.); but there seems no doubt that this refers only to the outlying tribe or people of the Sarsinates (on the N. of the Apennines, and adjoining the Boian Gauls), as the Fasti, in recording the events of the year, mention both consuls as triumphing only “de Sarsinatibus” (Fast. Capit.
) We have no account of the terms on which the Umbrians were received into submission, or of the manner in which they passed, like their neighbours the Etruscans, into the condition of dependent allies of Rome: it is certain only that the different tribes and cities were, according to the usual Roman policy, admitted on very different terms. Ocriculum, as already mentioned, enjoyed special privileges; and the same was the case with the Camertes, who, even in the days of Cicero, retained a peculiarly favoured position, and had a treaty which secured them a nominal independence and equality. (Liv. 28.45
; Cic. pro Balb. 20
) The fertile district of the “Gallicus ager” was in great part occupied by Roman colonies, of which Sena Gallica was founded as early as B.C. 289, Ariminum in B.C. 268, and Pisaurum in B.C. 183.
But besides these, a considerable part of that territory was divided among Roman citizens, by a law of the tribune, C. Flaminius, in B.C. 232. (Cic. Brut. 14
) The other Umbrians continued in the position of dependent allies of Rome, and appear to have remained uniformly faithful to the powerful republic. Thus, in B.C. 282, we are told that they were solicited by the envoys of the Tarentines (Dio Cass. Fr.
144), but apparently without effect: nor does it appear that their constancy was for a moment shaken by the successes of Hannibal; and before the close of the Second Punic War we find them coming forward with the offer of volunteers for the army of Scipio. (Liv. 28.45
In the Social War they are said to have for a time broken out into revolt, and were defeated in a battle by the legate C. Plotius; but it is probable that the defection was a very partial one, and the Romans wisely secured the fidelity of the Umbrians as well as of the Etruscans by bestowing on them the Roman franchise, B.C. 90. (Liv. Epit.
lxxiv.; Oros. 5.18
; Appian, App. BC 1.49
From this time the name of the Umbrians as a nation disappears from history, though it continued, as already mentioned, to be well known as one of the territorial divisions of Italy. (Tac. Hist. 3.41
; Jul. Capit. Gordiani,
In the early ages of the empire it was still one of the districts which supplied the most numerous recruits to the praetorian cohorts. (Tac. Ann. 4.5.
) As long as the division of Italy into regions subsisted, the name of Umbria continued to be applied to the sixth region; but from an early period, certainly long before the time of Constantine, it was united for administrative purposes with Etruria, and its name seems to have become gradually merged in that of the more important province. Thus Servius tells us that Umbria was a part of Tuscia (Serv. ad Aen. 12.753
), and the Liber Coloniarum includes the ancient Umbrian cities of Hispellum, Tuder, Ameria, &c., among the “Civitates Tusciae.” (Lib. Colon.
p. 224.) On the other hand, the district E. of the Apennines, the ancient Ager Gallicus, was now again separated from Umbria, and became known by the name of Picenum Annonarium. (Mommsen, de Lib. Cot.
Of the Umbrians as a nation during their period of independence we know almost nothing. We learn only that they enjoyed the reputation of brave and hardy warriors; and the slight resistance that they opposed to the Roman arms was probably owing to their want of political organisation. So far as we learn, they appear to have been divided into several tribes or “populi,” such as the Camertes, Sarsinates, &c., each of which followed its own line of policy without any reference to a common authority. No trace is found in history of the existence among them of any national league or council such as existed among the Etruscans and Latins; and even where the Umbrians are spoken of in general terms, it is often doubtful whether the whole nation is really meant.
The physical characters of Umbria are almost wholly determined by the chain of the Apennines, which, as already described, enters the province near the sources of the Tiber, and extends thence without interruption to the lofty group of the Monti della Sibilla
(the ancient Mons Fiscellus) at the sources of the Nar, and on the confines of Picenum and the land of the Sabines. The Apennines do not rise in this part of the chain to so great an elevation as they attain farther south, but their, principal summits within the Umbrian territory range from 4000 to 5500 feet in height; while their numerous ramifications fill up a space varying from 30 to 50 miles in breadth.
A very large portion of Umbria is therefore a mountain country (whence it is termed “montana Umbria” by Martial, 4.10
), though less rugged and difficult of access than the central regions of Italy farther to the S. On the W. the mountain district terminates abruptly on the edge of a broad valley or plain which extends from near Spoleto
to the neighbourhood of Perugia,
and is thence continued up the valley of the Tiber as far as Città di Castello.
But beyond this plain rises another group of hills, connected with the main chain of the Apennines by a ridge which separates Spoleto
and which spreads out through almost the whole extent of country from the valley of the Nar to that of the Tiber.
It is on the outlying hills or underfalls of this range that the ancient Umbrian cities of Tuder and Ameria were placed.
The broad valley between this group and the main mass of the central Apennines is a fertile and delightful district, and was renowned in ancient times for the richness and luxuriance of its pastures, which were watered by the streams of the Tinia and Clitumnus. Here we find within a short distance of one another the towns of Treba, Hispellum, Mevania, and Assisium.
This district may accordingly be looked on as the heart of Umbria properly so called.
On the E. of the central chain the Apennines descend more gradually to the sea by successive stages, throwing off like arms long ranges of mountains, sinking into hills as they approach the Adriatic.
The valleys between them are furrowed by numerous streams, which pursue nearly parallel courses from SW. to NE.
The most considerable of these are the AESIS
), which formed the established limit between Umbria and Picenum; the SENA
which flowed under the walls of Sena Gallica (Sinigaglia
); the far more celebrated METAURUS
which entered the sea at Fanum Fortunae (Fano
); the PISAURUS, which gave name to the city of Pisaurum [p. 2.1317]
); the CRUSTUMIUS
now called the Conca;
and the ARIMINUS (Marecchia
), which gave its name to the celebrated city of Ariminum, and seems to have been regarded by Pliny as the northern boundary of Umbria, though that limit was certainly marked at an earlier period by the farfamed though trifling stream of the RUBICON
The river SAPIS
also flowed through the Umbrian territory in the upper part of its course, and gave name to the Sapinia Tribus, mentioned by Livy as one of the divisions of the Umbrian nation,
All the waters which descend on the W. of the Umbrian Apennines discharge themselves into the Tiber. None of them are considerable streams, and the TINIA
are the only two the ancient names of which have been preserved to us. The NAB, a much more important river, the sources of which are in the Sabine territory, seems to have formed the boundary between Umbria and the land of the Sabines, through a considerable part of its course; but it entered the Umbrian territory near Interamna (Terni
), and traversed it thence to its junction with the Tiber.
Two principal passes crossed the main chain of the Apennines within the limits, of Umbria, and served to maintain the communication between the two portions of that country.
The one of these was followed by the main line of the Flaminian Way, which proceeded almost due N. from Forum Flaminii, where it quitted the valley of the Clitumnus, and passed by Nuceria, Tadinum, and Helvillum, to the crest of the mountain chain, which it crossed between the last place and Gales (Cagli
), and descended by the narrow ravine of the Furlo
(Intercisa) into the valley of the Metaurus, which it then followed to the Adriatic at Fano
This celebrated road continued throughout the period of the Roman Empire to be the main line of communication, not only from the plains of Umbria to the Adriatic, but from Rome itself to Ariminum and Cisalpine Gaul. Its military importance is sufficiently apparent in the civil war between Vitellius and Vespasian. (Tac. Hist. 1.86
, &c.) Another line of road given in the Antonine Itinerary, quitted this main line at Nuceria, and, turning abruptly to the E., crossed a mountain pass to Prolaqueum (Pioraco
), in the valley of the Potenza,
and descended that valley to Septempeda in Picenum (S. Severino
), and thence to Ancona.
This pass has been in modern times wholly abandoned.
The present road from Rome to Ancona turns to the E. from Foligno
(Fulginium) and crosses the mountain ridge between that place and Camerino,
descending to Tolentino
in the valley of the Chienti
The towns of Umbria were numerous, though few of them were of any great importance.
- 1. On the W. of the Apennines, and beginning with those nearest to Rome, were: OCRICULUM near the left bank of the Tiber; NARNIA and INTERAMNA on the banks of the Nar; AMERIA and CARSULAE a few miles to the N. of Narnia; TUDER on a hill on the left bank of the Tiber; SPOLETIUM in the hills which separate the valley of the Maroggia from that of the Nar; TREBA, MEVANIA, HISPELLUM, FULGINIUM, and ASSISIUM, all situated in or bordering on the broad valley above mentioned; ARNA and TIFERNUM TIBERINUM in the upper valley of the Tiber, and IGUVIUM in the mountains at a short distance from it. VESIONICA was probably situated at Civitella di Benezzone, also in the valley of the Tiber. On the Flaminian Way, exactly at the entrance of the mountains, stood FORUM FLAMINII and higher up, on the same line of road, NUCERIA, TADINUM, and HELVILLUM
- 2. On the E. of the central ridge of the Apennines, but still high up among the mountains, were situated CAMERINUM near the sources of the Flusor; PROLAQUEUM (Pioraco), near those of the Potentia; PITULUM (Piolo), in the same valley; MATILICA and ATTIDIUM both in the upper valley of the Aesis; SENTINUM in a lateral branch of the same valley; TUFICUM and SUASA both of them in the valley of the Cesano; CALLES (Cagli), on the Flaminian Way; TIFERNUM METAURENSE and URBINUM METAURENSE, both of them in the upper valley of the Metaurus; FORUM SEMPRONII (Fossombrone), lower down in the same valley; URBINUM HORTENSE (Urbino), between the valleys of the Metaurus and the Pisaurus; SESTINUM (Sestino), near the sources of the latter river; PITINUM PISAURENSE, probably at Piagnino in the same valley; SARSINA in the upper valley of the Sapis; and MEVANIOLA which is fixed by Cluverius, on the faith of inscriptions discovered there, at Galeata, in the upper valley of the Bedesis or Ronco (Cluver. Ital. p. 623), and is therefore the most northerly town that was included in Umbria.
- 3. Along the coast of the Adriatic were the important towns of SENA GALLICA, FANUM FORTUNAE, PISAURUM, and ARIMINUM To the above must be added AESIS or AESIUM (Jesi), on the left bank of the river of the same name, and OSTRA the ruins of which are said to exist between the rivers Cesano and Nigolo. (Abeken, Mittel-Italien. p. 41.)
In addition to the above long list of towns, the position of which can be assigned with tolerable certainty, the following obscure names are enumerated by Pliny among the towns or communities of Umbria still existing in his time: the Casuentillani, Dolates surnamed Salentini, Forojulienses surnamed Concubienses, Forobrentani, Pelestini, Vindinates, and Viventani.
The above towns being totally unknown, the correct form and orthography of the names is for the most part uncertain.
The same is the case with several others which the same writer enumerates as having in his day ceased to exist. (Plin. Nat. 3.14. s. 19
.) Strabo also mentions a place called Larolum as being situated on the Flaminian Way, in the neighbourhood of Narnia and Ocriculum (v. p. 227), which is otherwise wholly unknown, and the name is probably corrupt.
Of the natural productions of Umbria the most celebrated were its cattle, especially those of the valley of the Clitumnus [CLITUMNUS
]; but its mountain tracts afforded also pasturage to flocks of sheep, which were driven southwards as far as Metapontum and Heraclea. (Varr. R. R.
The lower portions of the country abounded in fruit-trees, vines, and olives; but when Propertius terms his native Umbria “terris fertilis uberibus,” this can be understood only of the tracts on the W. of the Apennines, of which he is there speaking (Propert. 1.22. 9), not of the more extensive mountain regions.
The name of Umbria is still given to one of the provinces of the Papal States, of which Spoleto
is the capital; but this is merely an official designation, the name having been wholly lost in the middle ages, and being no longer in use as a popular appellation.