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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula

 

Marsi / Marruvii (Sabellians) (Italics)

The so-called West Indo-European tribes arrived at the eastern edge of central Europe around 2500 BC. Their northern group became the proto-Celts of the Urnfield culture while the southern group seemingly migrated westwards and southwards, reaching Illyria and northern Italy. Already divided further into semi-isolated tribes, they became more civilised in habits and technologies due to contact with southern Greeks and Etruscans. In the eleventh to eighth centuries BC, some of those groups in Illyria crossed by sea into the Italian peninsula and settled along the south-eastern coast. Those in the north Italian piedmont gradually migrated southwards to occupy much of the rest of eastern and central Italy. These tribes all formed part of a general group called Italics.

The Marsi (or Marruvii, or Marrubii as used by Virgil) were a group of Italics who, during the Iron Age, were located in central Italy, around Lake Fucino (a region known today as Marsica). They were neighboured to the west by the Latins and Romans, to the north by the Etruscans and Sabini, to the east by the Vestini and Paeligni, and to the south by the Volsci and the Carracini clan of the Samnites. Not be confused with the later Germanic tribe of the Marsi, this Marsi people were part of the Oscan-Umbrian group, largely accepted as being Indo-Europeans (perhaps proto-Celts) who migrated into the peninsula from the north. They were a warlike Italic people who settled in the region of Lake Fucino (modern Marsica), in territory that was centred on Marruvium (now called San Benedetto dei Marsi). The ancient stream called the Pitonius was nearby (now known as Giovenco).

The Marsi were a tough, enduring mountain folk whose chief divinity was Angitia, an ancient snake goddess, with snakes forming a symbol of wisdom throughout their culture. Strabo and Pliny, along with other ancient writers, state that the Marrucini, Marsi, Picentes, Sabini, Samnites, and Vestini were originally a tribe of the Sabellians, a collective of central Italian tribes during the early Iron Age.

Their language came from the Oscan-Umbrian group of Indo-European languages (P-Italic), which were widely spoken in Iron Age central and southern Italy before the rise to dominance of Latin (Latin itself was a slightly more distantly related language, coming from the Indo-European Latino-Faliscan group, or Q-Italic). Their inscriptions are dated by the style of writing used to the period 300-150 BC, before they were subsumed by Roman culture.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, Vol 3, Issue 1, James Cowles Prichard, from The Roman History: From Romulus and the Foundation of Rome to the Reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Velleius Paterculus, J C Yardley, & Anthony A Barrett, from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

Marrus

Eponymous founder of Marruvium.

c.800 BC

Although it is hard to be sure that the Marsi even exist as a separately identifiable people at this stage, they are accounted as subjects of the Etruscans and remain so for a little over two hundred years. Their chief settlement emerges at Marruvium (modern San Benedetto dei Marsi). The town is located on the eastern shore of Lake Fucinus (Lake Fucino, which is drained in the nineteenth century AD).

Other key settlements include Lecce (modern Lecce nei Marsi), Ortona (modern Ortona dei Marsi), and Trasacco. The Lucus Angitiae, a wood known as the 'sacred grove of Angitia', is a site held sacred by the Marsi for their goddess of that name, close to the later Roman town of Luco (modern Luco dei Marsi).

Map of the Etruscans
Lake Fucino
This oil on canvas depicts Lake Fucino, near San Benedetto dei Marsi, before it was drained, while above is a map showing the tribe's location in Iron Age Italy (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.580 BC

The Marsi still cannot be identified with certainty as a separate people, so they are possibly still part of the Sabellian collective. Around this time they become subjects of the Samnites, fellow Sabellians who dominate a large region of central southern Italy.

325 - 309 BC

The Marsi ally themselves with the Romans as a means of removing Samnite mastery over them, while the Dauni, Iapyges, Lucani, Messapii, and Peucetii side with the Samnites at the start of the Second Samnite War. It is in this period that the Marsi are first documented historically, when they are recorded as being confederates of the Marrucini, Paeligni and Vestini tribes. Towards the end of the war, relations with Rome become strained, so the Marsi revolt and realign themselves to the Samnites.

304 BC

Following the Roman destruction of the Aequi and the final defeat of the Samnites at the end of the Second Samnite War, the Frentani, Marrucini, Marsi, and Paeligni voluntarily accept their reintegration into Roman administrative rule.

303 - 298 BC

Rome consolidates its hold over the central Apennines by founding colonies at Sora and Alba Fucens (on the Aequi frontier with the Marsi) in 303 BC, and at Carseoli in 298 BC (modern Carsoli). A short-lived revolt by the Marsi in 302 BC results in the loss of some of their territory to Rome.

218 - 202 BC

The Second Punic War starts at Saguntum (near modern Valencia) in Hispania. Hannibal Barca attacks Roman territory, leading his armies over the Alps into Italy. While encouraging the reluctant Romans to commit to battle, he marches through the country devastating the territory of Rome's Italic allies, including that of the Marrucini, Marsi, and Paeligni. Despite winning the anticipated battle at Cannae, Hannibal is eventually defeated by Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, ending the war.

91 - 89 BC

Along with the Etruscans, Iapyges, Lucani, Marrucini, Paeligni, Picentes, Samnites, and Vestini, the Marsi fight the Social War (Italian War, or Marsic War) against Rome during which the Marsi warriors are regarded as some of the best of Rome's opponents. The war is the result of increasing inequality in Roman land ownership, and the spark for conflict is delivered by the assassination of the reforming Marcus Livius Drusus, whose efforts would have led to citizenship for all of Rome's allies.

Marsic Confederation denarius
Shown here are two sides of a silver denarius which was issued by the Marsic Confederation to support its cause against Rome

91 - 89 BC

Quintius Poppaedius Silo

Marsi leader during the Social War. Killed in battle.

91 - 90 BC

Titus Lafrenius

Marsi commander under Poppaedius. Killed.

90 - 89 BC

Fraucus

Marsi commander under Poppaedius.

89 BC

The Romans take direct control of the Marsi region. Its people are granted Roman citizenship soon afterwards (the withholding of this being one of their main causes of complaint before the war). They retain their identity well into the Roman empire period, during which their chief town, Marruvium, flourishes under the name Civitas Marsorum. Following the Lombard invasion of Italy in the sixth century AD, the Marsi territory becomes a county that is subject to the authority of the duchy of Spoleto in the south. It eventually becomes a duchy in its own right.

Duchy of Marsi (Colonna) (Italy)
AD 1459 - 1528

The town of Marsi in Italy emerged as the main settlement of the Marsi Italic tribe. During the Iron Age they were located around Lake Fucino (a region known today as Marsica) in central Italy. Eventually conquered by the increasingly dominant Latins under the leadership of Rome, they were originally part of the Oscan-Umbrian group, largely accepted as being Indo-Europeans (perhaps proto-Celts) who migrated into the peninsula from the north. Marruvium (now called San Benedetto dei Marsi) was a key settlement of theirs, while the ancient stream called the Pitonius was nearby (now known as Giovenco).

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries a line of Frankish counts emerged in Marsi as part of the duchy of Spoleto in southern Italy. They had Celano as their main seat, governing territory between Lake Fucino and the Peligni. Their origins lay in one Berardo, known as 'Francisco' as he came from Francia. He arrived in Italy as a supporter of Hugh of Arles, king of Italy, possibly from Hugh's native kingdom of Burgundy on the other side of the Alps. The later counts of Marsi referred to themselves as Berardinga or Berardings, although modern historians use the term Bosonids. The Bosonids eventually fell out amongst themselves, allowing Robert Guiscard, count of Apulia, to defeat them in piecemeal fashion and take control of large areas of southern Italy.

Marsi once again became the seat of a noble family in the fifteenth century, this time for the Italian noble family of Colonna. They had already supplied a Pope - Martin V - in 1417-1431. The duchy they controlled was short-lived, but it also served as the seat of an episcopal see. The title and the lands that came with it did survive, however, going to a different branch of the family - and still descendants of Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna. The town was known as Civitas Marsicana by the Middle Ages, although it had been destroyed in 1340 when the Angevin Normans were fighting for control of Naples, and had to be rebuilt.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Roman History: From Romulus and the Foundation of Rome to the Reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Velleius Paterculus, J C Yardley, & Anthony A Barrett, from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), and from External Links: Counts of the Marsi (Italy Heritage), and Enciclopedia.cat (Catalan Reference Search Engine), and Geni.)

? - 1423

Lorenzo Onofrio (I) Colonna

Lord of Cave and count of Alba.

1459

Thirty-six years after his death, Count Lorenzo's domains are divided between his six children, with Odoardo gaining Marsi. Alba remains the most senior of the ensuing spread of titles while Marsi remains small and apparently insignificant, poorly recorded in any great detail.

Scurcola Marsicana
The town of Scurcola Marsicana is today in the province of L'Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy which neighbours the Marsi lands

1459 - 1485

Odoardo / Edward Colonna

Son. Former count of Alba and Celano.

1485

The death of Odoardo Colonna sees the duchy passing to one of his sons. Which one, however, seems to be a small matter of confusion with a family that seems to be relatively poorly recorded in the available material. Fabrizio Colonna, the first to bear that name, would seem to be the official duke, but Giordano has also been referred to as Odoardo's successor - and also a duke in his own right. Possibly he remains in Marsi to govern while his successful brother concentrates more on his role as the first great hereditary constable of the kingdom of Naples (from 1490).

1485 - 1520

Fabrizio (I) Colonna

Son. Hereditary constable of Naples (1490).

1485 - ?

Giordano Colonna

Brother. Governed the duchy?

1520? - 1528

Prospero / Prosperetto Colonna

Son. Imprisoned. No male heir.

1528

Prospero is imprisoned in Civita Lavinia. Both his offspring are daughters so ownership of the duchy passes away from the Colonnas, and in 1540 the episcopal see moves to nearby Pescina. In the seventeenth century, the archbishop of Amasia (from 1643) and patriarch of Jerusalem (from 1638), Don Carlo, is termed the duke of Marsi. He is able to trace his origins back to Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, albeit via a different branch of the family.