Key to Umbria: Massa Martana

History of Massa Martana

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The Statio ad Martis, which was probably named in honour of Mars, developed in ca. 220 BC as a way station beside the Via Flaminia, near the present site of the church of Santa Maria in Pantano, some 8 km from modern Massa Martana.  The settlement developed into a village known as Vicus Martis.

For more detail, see the page on Roman Vicus Martis.

Early Christianity

By the end of the 3rd century, a Christian community had begun to thrive at Vicus Martis, and this may well account for a change in its name to Civitas Martana.   The only Christian catacomb to be discovered in Umbria was excavated in 1940 at nearby Villa San Faustino.  It contained some 300 graves from the 4th and 5th centuries that must have served the Christian community of  Civitas Martana.  Traces of a small funerary basilica (4th or 5th century) were found outside the catacomb.  Its floor contained a number of tombs, some of which were relatively sophisticated and had probably belonged to some of the rich Romans who had rural villas nearby.

In the hagiographical sources, St Felix is mentioned as bishops of Civitas Martana (and St Brictius as another bishop who was martyred there).  There is no other evidence that it was ever a diocese but it could have been.  In that case, it ceased to be so in the late 5th century, when the settlement was destroyed and the region was split between the dioceses of Spoleto and Todi.

For more detail, see the page on Early Christian Civitas Martana.


Like nearby Carsulae, Civitas Martana was destroyed the 5th century.


The first settlement on the site of Massa Martana was probably built in the 6th century, when it formed part of the Lombard Duchy of  Spoleto.   The word “Massa” in Lombard documents means "a group of fortified buildings".   The land around the old Roman settlement seems to have reverted to marshland.


In the 10th century, Massa Martana formed part of the Terre Arnolfe.  In 1094, Raniero di Bonaccorso established the branch of the Arnolfe family that became the lords of Massa Martana.   He built the Turris montis Martani, a castle on the top of the Monte Martani that is documented in 1115.

12th Century

The Bonaccorsi counts sold a number  of their properties with the abbot Beraldo of Farfa.

13th century

Bishop Bentivegna of Todi amplified Massa Martana and built a new circuit of walls in 1277. 

14th century

Todi, which had traditionally been a strong Perugian ally, seems to have been taken by a Ghibelline faction in ca. 1300.  Massa Martana, was on the border of the spheres of influence between Todi and Perugia, was badly affected.  Tension became evident in 1303, when an army from Todi laid siege the town.  Perugia lifted this siege and a number of others in 1304-5 before declaring war on Todi.  The parties were temporarily reconciled in 1306.

In 1397 Pope Boniface IX freed the town from the jurisdiction of Todi and placed it under the protection of the Holy See.

15th century

In 1403, Pope Boniface IX reversed his policy and gave the castle and its lands back to Todi.  This led to revolts in 1432 and in 1469. 

16th Century

The papal governor of Todi sacked Massa Martana in 1516, when it refused to quarter some military units of the church.  Massa Martana finally escaped from the control of Todi in 1571.

Later History

The papacy offered to sell Massa Martana to Todi in 1656, but they offered a counter-bid that kept them in papal hands.  Pope Pius V remitted some of this money and was consequently  honoured as joint patron saint of Massa Martana.

The town remained subject to the papacy until the unification of Italy.

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