Key to Umbria: Perugia

Original Settlement

There are two ancient traditions that relate to the origins of Perugia:

  1. In his summary of a book written by Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus in the 1st century BC, the 3rd/4th century writer Justin asserted that “Perusia was founded by the Achaeans [i.e. the Greeks]”.

  2. In his commentary on Virgil’s “Aeneid” (9-29 BC) written in the late 4th century AD Servius makes two references to the early history of Perusia.  These relate to Virgil’s description of Ocnus, whom he cites as the founder of his native city, Mantua.  Servius’ two glosses are as follows:

  3. “ ...some consider Ocnus the son, others the brother, of Aulestes, who founded Perusia: they say that, to avoid contention with his brother, [Ocnus left Perusia and] founded the Gallic territory of Felsina, which today is called Bononia [Bologna]”.

  4. “ [Mantua] was not founded only by Ocnus, but also by others: first by the Thebans; then by the Etruscans; then by the Gauls; or, as others insist, by the Sarsinates, who had already founded Perusia:.

  5. Servius’ sources are unknown.  However, they seem to suggest that Perusia was originally in Umbrian territory, before it was settled by Etruscan colonists.  The otherwise undocumented Aulestes was later known by the Perugians as Euliste.

Writing in the 2nd century AD, Appian reported: “It is said that [Perusia] was one of the first 12 cities built by the Etruscans in Italy in the olden time”

In fact, archeological finds suggest that the area around modern Perugia was inhabited from at least the 8th century BC by people who were probably Umbrians, although their culture seems to have been influenced by their Etruscan neighbours at Volsinii (Orvieto) and Clevsin (Chiusi). 

The region to the west (between Perugia and Lake Trasimeno) and to the south has also yielded a number of finds, which include the princely tombs (6th century) at Castel San Mariano di Corciano and at San Valentino di Marsciano.  Archaic tombs in the Palazzone necropolis, outside Perugia probably relate to a settlement on the bank of the Tiber.  These indicate the presence of an aristocratic society in the region, probably before Perusia itself was urbanised.  

The urban settlement of the site of modern Perugia probably began in the 6th century BC.  Most of the evidence for this comes from the excavation of the necropoles that surround it, primarily: the Sperandio necropolis to the north; the necropoles on Monteluco, to the east; and the Frontone necropolis to the south. 

This relief on the front of the sarcophagus (ca. 500 BC) of a warrior from the Sperandio necropolis depicts a procession headed by a young man (presumably the deceased), who carries a sceptre.  Three bearded male prisoners are tied to him by ropes around their necks.  Other prisoners (two veiled women and three men) follow, together with two asses laden with goods.  Other male characters herding captured  goats and cattle end the procession. This scene has been interpreted in various ways, including: 

  1. the return of Perusian soldiers from a battle or a raid;

  2. the defeat of the Umbrians by the future founders of Perusia; or

  3. the migration of a family, perhaps from Clevsin, to Perusia. 

These interpretations are discussed in this webpage by Anna Eugenia Feruglio.  (The sarcophagus is now in the Museo Archeologico).  

Proceed to the detailed page on Literary Sources for Ancient Perugia.

Continue to the page on the  Roman Conquest of Perugia.

Return to the History of Perugia.

Ancient Perusia

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(Note that the page “Literary Sources s” expands on all the classical references in the account below)