History and Geography
The Umbri are one of the oldest races of indigenous people in Italy (Pliny, Natural History Vol 3. pgs 112-114). Most Umbrian cities were settled in the 9th - 4th centuries BC and were located on easily defendable hilltops. The region of Umbria is the land bordered by the Tiber and Nar rivers and the area covered by the Appennine slopes on the Adriatic. The Umbrian language is part of a group called Oscan-Umbrian which is related to Latin (Buck, 1904). Throughout the 9th-4th centuries imported goods from Greece and Etruria became more common as well as the production of local pottery.
Talking about Umbri origins, Pliny the Elder wrote:
Settlement and Religion
During the 6th – 4th centuries BC Umbriam communities constructed rural sanctuaries as locations to sacrifice to gods. People offered bronze votives shaped as animals or deities at the sanctuaries. Umbrian deities include Feronia
, Minerva Matusia and Clitumnus. Discovery of the Iguvium tables in 1444 AD occurred at Gubbio, Italy. Composed during the 2nd or 3rd centuries BC, the tables describe religious rituals involving animal sacrifice (Poultney, 1959).
The political hierarchy of Umbrian society was limited due to the size of Umbri cities. Two men held the supreme magistrate office of uhtur and were responsible for supervising rituals. Other civic offices included the marone, which held a lower status than uhtur, and a religious position named kvestur. The Umbri social structure was divided into distinct groups probably based upon military rank. During the reign of Augustus
four Umbrian aristocrats became senators and Emperor Nerva
’s family had origins in Umbria (Bradley, 2000).
The Romans first made contact with Umbria in 310 BC and settled Latin colonies there in 299 BC, 268 BC and 241 BC. They completed their conquest of Umbria approximately 260 BC. Incorporation into the Roman state occurred during the 3rd century BC when some Umbri were given full citizenship or citizenship without the right to vote. Also during the 3rd century BC about 40,000 Romans settled the region. The Via Flaminia
linked areas of Umbria by 220 BC. Cities in Umbria also contribured troops to Rome for its many wars including offering troops to Scipio Africanus
in 205 BC during the Second Punic War
. The Praetorian Guard
recruited members in Etruria and Umbria. The Umbri played a minor role in the Social War
and as a result were granted citizenship in 90 BC. Roman veterans were settled in Umbria during the reign of Augustus (Bradley, 2000).
Umbrian archaeological sites
The towns of Chianciano
) near modern Siena
have remnants of Umbrian habitation dating to the 7th or 8th centuries BC.
The Italic region of Perugia was an ancient Umbrian center until it was overrun by the Etruscans c. 5th century BC.
The old city of Assisi, called Asisium by the Romans, was an ancient Umbrian site on a spur of Mount Subasio. Myth recalls that the city was founded by Dardanus in 847 BC.
- Bradley, Guy. “Ancient Umbria. State, culture, and identity in central Italy from the Iron Age to the Augustan era.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Buck, Carl Darling. “A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian.” Boston: Ginn and Company Publishers, 1904.
- Domenico, Roy P. Regions of Italy: A Reference Guide to History and Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. pp. 367-371.
- Pliny."Natural History with an English translation in ten volumes by H. Rackham." Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961.
- Poultney, James Wilson. “The Bronze Tables of Iguvium.” American Philological Association, Number XVIII. 1959.