Key to Umbria: Perugia

Etruscan Perusia

Link to Ancient Perusia 


Link to: Ancient Perugia; Roman Conquest of Perugia; Roman Perusia; Perusine War; Perusia in the Roman Empire

Early Christianity

Bishop Maximilian of Perugia attended the synods of 499, 501 and 502, all of which related to the papal schism.

According to the ‘Liber Pontificalis’, Bishop John of Perugia was among the bishops who consecrated Pope Pelagius I in 556.

In 591, Pope Gregory I wrote to the clergy and people of Perugia to express his amazement that they had been without a bishop for “tanto tempore” (such a long time). In 599, Gregory I wrote to Bishop Venantius of Perugia.


Almost nothing is known about the history of Perugia from the formation of Perusia Augusta in ca. 30 BC until the Byzantine re-invasion of Italy in 536.  Belisarius' garrison at Perugia formed part of a defensive ring that he threw around Rome when he captured it in 536. 

When Spoleto and Assisi fell to Totila in 545, he sent an agent to murder the Byzantine general Cyprian at Perugia, but despite this, the city resisted his advance.  He therefore left a force to besiege it, while his main army marched on Rome.  In 547, a Byzantine force managed to escape from Perugia and to join a force from Rome in a successful attack on the fortifications that the Goths had recently built at Spoleto.  Totila retaliated by reinforcing the siege of Perugia, and matters deteriorated further when Belisarius was recalled to Byzantium. 

According to the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I, St Herculanus, the bishop of Perugia led the city's resistance during the siege (which Gregory I believed had begun in 542).  In 549, as starvation took hold, he fattened a lamb with the last remaining grain in the city and threw it over the wall to convince the Goths that their siege would fail.  However, the Totila was not deceived and the city fell.  St Herculanus was beheaded on a spot near the Porta Marzia and his body was thrown into a ditch.  When his body was recovered after his execution, the head was found to be re-attached.  According to the Dialogues, the relics were interred at San Pietro. (This is the earliest reference to a church on the site of the present Abbazia di San Pietro).  St Herculanus later became the most important of the patron saints of Perugia. 

The Byzantine general Narses effectively ended the Gothic rule of Italy in 552, when he defeated and killed Totila at the Battle of Taginae (near modern Gualdo Tadino).   He then marched along Via Flaminia, towards Rome.   Procopius reports that Narses:

  1. “... took Narnia by surrender and left a garrison at Spoletium, which was then without walls, ordering them to rebuild as quickly as possible such parts of the fortifications as the Goths had torn down.  And he also sent some men to make trial of the garrison in Perusia” (‘History of the Wars’, VIII xxxiii 9).

At this time, Perusia was in the hands of the renegade Roman soldier Uliphus, who eight years before had murdered Cyprian and taken the city for Totila.  His fellow-deserter and deputy, Meligedius changed sides once more: he had Uliphus murdered and surrendered Perusia to Narses.

Lombards and the Duchy of Spoleto

In 592, shortly after he succeeded his father as Duke of Spoleto, the Lombard Ariulf seized Perugia, while Duke Arichis of Benevento threatened Naples.  In the face of this duel threat to Rome itself, Pope Gregory I hastily agreed a truce with the Ariulf, without the permission of the Emperor Maurice (who accused him of having fallen for deception).  The Exarch Romanus (the representative of Byzantium) refused to recognise this truce, and withdrew forces from Narni and Rome in order to retake Perugia.  Gregory I bitterly described Romanus’ action as “abandoning Rome so that Perugia might be held”.  In fact, Romanus managed to take a number of cities from the Lombards (including, according to Paul the Deacon, Todi and Amelia as well as Perugia). 

Since a large stretch of the Via Flaminia lay in the Duchy of Spoleto, the Via Amerina (which had originally swung west from Perugia to Chiusi) was subsequently extended to the north east to provide an alternative route from Rome to Ravenna through what is usually called the Byzantine corridor.  This territorial division between:
  1. the Lombard Kingdom to the north;

  2. the Byzantine corridor from Rome to Ravenna; and

  3. the independent Lombard duchies of Spoleto and Benevento;

provided the backdrop to the history of central Italy for the next two centuries.  

Perugia became a garrison town at the heart of a newly constituted duchy, an administrative division administered by a duke who reported to the exarch at Ravenna.  One noted historian regarded it “something of a historical accident, whose only reason for being was to secure communications between Rome and Ravenna”.  However, the Byzantine corridor and the Duchy of Perugia within it also served to separate the Lombard kingdom from the Lombard duchies of Spoleto and Benevento.

In ca. 594, King Agilulf retook Perugia and marched on Rome.  However, Gregory I persuaded him to withdraw, and then began a diplomatic initiative aimed at securing a wider peace between the Lombards and the Byzantines.  The exarch Romanus died in 597, and was replaced by the more amenable Callinicus, who finally agreed a truce with Agilulf in 598.  This led to a long period of uneasy peace that nevertheless lasted for more than a century.

Two bishops of Perugia attended synods that were held in Rome in the 7th century to condemn Monothelitism: Bishop Lorenzo, in 649; and Bishop Benedetto, in 680.

After the Italian revolt of 726, the Duchy of Perugia came effectively under the direct control of the papacy and, together with the Duchy of Rome, formed the kernel of the emerging Papal States.  King Ratchis besieged the city in 749 but Pope Zacharias was able to persuade him to relent. 


The city remained under nominal papal control throughout the Frankish period.

The church of San Prospero, which was founded in the 7th or 8th century, offers a glimpse of the culture of the early Christian community in the city.

Perugia was named in the donations of the Emperor Louis I in 817. 

The priest Giovanni represented Bishop Benedetto II at the synod that Pope Leo IV held at Rome in 853.

Bishop Ruggiero translated the relics of Sant’ Ercolano from San Pietro to San Lorenzo in ca. 936.

In 964, Bishop Onesto gave San Pietro to St Peter Vincioli.

Early Christian Foundations:

  1. Santa Maria in Valdiponte

  2. San Paolo in Valdiponte

  3. San Romualdo and the Camaldolesians - San Severo

  4. San Salvatore di Monte Corona/ San Fiorenzo

12th Century

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13th century


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14th Century


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15th Century


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16th century


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Later History


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