Key to Umbria: Carsulae

History of Carsulae

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Early History

Carsulae was first mentioned in the surviving sources by Strabo in the late 1st century BC:

  1. “The cities [of Umbria west] of the Apennines that are worthy of mention are: first, on the Flaminian Way itself: Ocricli,  ...  Narnia, ... Carsuli, and Mevania ...”, (‘Geography’, 5:2:10).

There is no doubt that Carsulae was on Via Flaminia, albeit that it is not mentioned in any of the surviving itineraries (which, between them, span the imperial period until 330 AD).  According to Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2006, at p. 181):

  1. “... it seems to have grown up ex novo, not earlier that the 2nd century BC, and probably as a centre  for the scattered viritane settlers in the surrounding territory ...” (my translation).

Surviving inscriptions suggest that Carsulae was a municipium administered by duoviri in the late 1st century BC

  1. CIL XI 4575, which dates to the late 1st century BC and which is now in Palazzo Cesi, commemorates  ‘[---]lius Ti(beri) f(ilius) Pup(inia) Clemens’ as ‘IIvir iure dicundo Carsulis sex(ies?)’.  Note that:

  2. The father and brother of this individual, who were both recorded in the inscription, both belonged to the Clustumina while he belonged to the Pupinia.  This suggests that he belonged to a local family but that, for whatever reason, he had changed his tribe.

  3. If the completion ‘sex(ies)’above is correct, then he had served as IIvir iure dicundo at Carsulae six times.

  4. EDR138898, which Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, at p. ??) dated to ca. 35 BC and which was found and is displayed locally, commemorates two duoviri quinquennales:

  5. Coelius Titianus, son of Lucius; and

  6. Egnatius Apicula, son of Caius.

  7. Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, at p. ?) referred to a third inscription that is about to be fully published for the first time by Elena Roscini, which commemorates the duovir Lucius Furius Clemens, and which indicated that the duovirale administration continued until at least the middle of the first century AD.

The presence of the duovirate is usually taken to indicate that the centre in question was municipalised following the Lex Iulia Municipalis (probably 49 BC).  However, Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, at p. ??) suggested that the municipalisation of Carsulae might have been slightly later, possibly associated with:

  1. “... the deduction of the colony of Todi [probably in 27 BC]: this would be consistent with urbanisation of Carsulae, which is generally dated to the Augustan period.  The [inscriptions above] are consistent with this hypothesis” (my translation).

A series of inscriptions attests the subsequent introduction of a quattuorviral administration at Carsulae.  The earliest of these (CIL XI 4572), which dates to the 2nd half of the 1st century AD probably came from a mausoleum at Carsulae and is now in Palazzo Cesi:

  1. it commemorates a father and son, both called Caius Furius Tiro and assigned to the  Clustumina, each of whom had served as quattuorvir quinquennalis; and 

  2. the dedicants included Lucius Nonius Asprenas, who had served as quattuorvir.

Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, at p. ??) suggested that this change of administration:

  1. “... might be attributed to the involvement of [Carsulae] in the events of the winter of 69 AD [when Vespasian’s army camped here, as described below] and to be understood as a reward for the support that the city provided to the Flavians in the civil war: the introduction of the quattuorvirate might indicate  the restitution, by Vespasian, of lands taken from the city after the Perusine War [of 41-40 BC]” (my translation).

Carsulae and the Emperor Augustus

Pliny the Elder included the Carsulani among the people of Umbria, the Augustan Sixth Region. Most of the public buildings of which traces survive date to the reign of the Emperor Augustus: they were probably built shortly after he restored Via Flaminia in 27 BC. 

The buildings from this period that have been excavated were arranged around the forum and along  Via Flaminia, which formed the cardo maximus of the settlement.    

Carsulae in the Later Roman Empire

Carsulae was probably extended in the following three centuries, but these outer areas have yet to be excavated. It might be the place to which Pliny the Elder (Natural History, Book 17, Chapter 35) referred in an account of the cultivation of vines in the 1st century AD.  It is certainly one of the places in which Pompeia Celerina, the rich mother-in-law of Pliny the Younger, had a  villa.

Tacitus recorded that Marcus Antonius Primus, the general of the Emperor Vespasian, camped here in 69 AD as he prepared to march on Rome to secure the Imperial title for his master.  Tacitus explained that he:

  1. “... regarded with favour the actual situation of their camp, which had a wide outlook, and secured their supply of stores, because of the prosperous towns behind them” (‘Historiae’, 3: 60).

Recovered inscriptions document the vibrant civic life of Carsuale until at least the reign of the Emperor Diocletian.  

[The Strada del Carre, the road from Carsulae to Spoleto over Monte Torre Maggiore, passed the Roman temples there that were in use until the 3rd century AD.]

There is no evidence that Carsulae was ever a diocese.  However, hagiographical sources refer to St Volusianus as a priest here in the reign of the Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-3). 

Decline of Carsulae

The city must have declined as the western branch of Via Flaminia fell into disuse in the 3rd century BC.  It was abandoned in the middle of the 4th century AD, perhaps after an earthquake, and its people probably moved to San Gemini.

The Chiesetta di San Damiano (11th century) was built on the foundations of a Roman building many centuries after the site had been abandoned.

History of the Excavations

Duke Federico II Cesi organised the first excavations on the site in the 16th century.  His primary aim seems to have been to secure Roman artefacts with which to adorn Palazzo Cesi, Acquasparta and some important finds from the site are still to be found there (see the page on Finds from Carsulae).  A fresco (16th century) of Carsulae that is still in Palazzo Cesi, Rome shows the state of the excavations at this time: the remains of the Arco di San Damiano, the amphitheatre, the Chiesetta di San Damiano and the forum are all identifiable.

Pope Pius V organised a major excavation of the site in 1783 under Sebastiano Graziani in order to obtain exhibits for the new Museo Pio Clementino at the Vatican.  This work uncovered:

  1. the remains of the baths, with a mosaic floor depicting marine scenes [now in Spoleto ?];

  2. the theatre; and

  3. the amphitheatre (which was already known from the 17th century).

The work was abandoned after a relatively short period when more extensive finds were discovered at Ocriculum

Egidio Antonio Milj, who was a Capuchin monk also known as Fr. Antonio da San Gemini, published one of the first guide books on the site (“Carsoli: rediviva ovvero storiche ricerche intorno all'antichissima città di Carsoli nell'Umbria”, Macerata, 1800).

[A bust attributed to Maecenas, which was found on the site in 1829, is now in Palazzo Vescovile, Spoleto ?]  The Archbishop of Spoleto organised more systematic excavation in 1851, but many of the finds were sold to recoup the cost of the campaign.

The area passed to the Commune of Cesi in 1860 and was largely abandoned.

The site took on its present appearance during systematic excavation under Umberto Ciotti, the Soprintendente ai Beni Archeologici Umbri, in 1951-72.  These excavations concentrated largely on the area of the forum, the amphitheatre and the theatre.  The long stretch of Via Flaminia that forms the cardo maximus of Carsulae was discovered at this time.

Read more:

E. Zuddas, “Dal Quattuorvirato al Duovirato: gli Esiti del Bellum Perusinum e i Cambiamenti Costituzionali in Area Umbra”, in

  1. S. Evangelisti and C. Ricci  (Eds), “Le Forme Municipali in Italia e nelle Province Occidentali tra o Secoli I AC e III DC: Atti della XXIe Rencontre Franco-Italienne sur l’ Épigraphie du Monde Romain (Campobasso, 24-26 settembre 2015)”, (2017) Bari, at pp. 121-32

S. Sisani,  “Umbria Marche (Guide Archeologiche Laterza)”, (2006) Rome and Bari

Proceed to the Walk around Carsulae.

Return to the home page on Carsulae.