Key to Umbria: Spello

Ancient History

Ancient History   

  1. Colonia Julia Hispellum

  2. Seviri and Seviri Augustales at Hispellum

  3. Sanctuary at Villa Fidelia after Colonisation

  4. Sanctuary at Villa Fidelia in the 4th Century AD

Rescript of Constantine (ca. 335 AD)

Main Page       

Flavia Constans;  

Templum Flaviae Gentis

Theatrical Shows and Gladiatorial Games

Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus

Early Christian Era

The chronicles of Spello claim that Attila attacked their city in 450.

Bishops of Spello who attended early synods in Rome included Epiphanius (in 487) and Veneriosus (in 501 and 502).  No other bishops are known.

In 546 Totila devastated Spello as he marched on Rome.

In 571 the town was ravaged and conquered by the Lombards, who added it to the lands of the Duchy of Spoleto under the authority of a chamberlain.  They built a fortress on the site that later was used for the Rocca del Albornoz.  The diocese of Spello was probably absorbed into that of Spoleto at this time.

Frederick I

According to tradition, the Emperor Frederick I built a fortress on the ruins of the Lombard castle near the Porta dell’ Arce.  This suggests that the city formed part of the Duchy of Spoleto under Duke Conrad of Urslingen (1177-98),  Foligno was the pre-eminent city in the region at this time, and it may well have held sway over Spello.


In 1198, it submitted to Pope Innocent III.

Spello became a commune in ca. 1200, perhaps like Assisi in the period of confusion that followed the death of the Emperor Henry VI in 1198.  It had a Podestà that was elected for periods of 6 months at a time by 12 “boni homines”.

Foligno was at war with Spoleto and Spello in 1200-1, and it was Perugia rather than Innocent III that acted as intermediary, staging the reconciliation of Spoleto and Foligno in the piazza in front of the Duomo there.

The Emperor Frederick II [controlled the city in 1222-8 and sacked it in 1238.

The town was at war with Assisi in 1293; with Spoleto in 1298; and with the Anastasi lords of Foligno in ca. 1300.

Spello fought for Perugia in 1310 against Spoleto.  It joined the Guelf League in 1315 and supported Perugia once more against Spoleto in 1322 and against Assisi in 1330.

Spello suffered a period of civil war from 1330 until 1346, when the factions of Spello fought a battle under the Torre dell’ Olmo (demolished in 1457).  According to tradition, this battle ended abruptly when a cross of fire appeared in the sky, and the erstwhile enemies made peace.  (In later versions of the legend, the fight occurred at the instigation of a vicious old lady called Gabrina.)

Cardinal Albornoz

The Ghibellines of Spello gained the ascendency when Bartoluccio di Giacomo Urbani was elected as “gonfaloniere perpetuo” in 1351.

The mercenary Fra Moriale returned to Umbria in June 1354, and laid siege to Spello.  This may have been instigated by Bishop Paolo Trinci of Foligno, who had agreed to supply the mercenary army in return for an undertaking that Moriale to leave Foligno unharmed and to pay fair prices.  Cardinal Gil Albornoz, who had recently recovered the Patrimony of St Peter for the papacy, took advantage of the withdrawal of Fra.  Moriale to order Bishop Filippo dell’ Antella of Florence (whom Pope Clement VI had appointed as rector of the Duchy of Spoleto in 1353) to attack it.  It duly fell after a siege of six days.   Bartoluccio di Giacomo Urbani was able to occupy nearby Collepino in 1357.  Forces under Filippo dell’ Antella and Trincia Trinci of Foligno expelled him.

Two fortresses were built at Spello soon after its submission to Albornoz:

  1. According to the chronicles of the Olorini family, Albornoz built a fortress on the site of the old Roman citadel, near San Severino.   The date was recorded as 1374: however, Albornoz died in 1367, and the date should probably have been 1354, shortly after Spello submitted to him.  Filippo dell’ Antella, who was recorded in Spello on a number of occasions in 1356-7, presumably resided here on those occasions.    

  2. Filippo dell’ Antella commissioned a new fortress at the centre of the town in 1358, which later became known as Rocca Baglioni.  In fact, Filippo dell’ Antella left the duchy in January 1358 to take up his appointment in Florence, so the commissioning of this fortress must have been among his last acts as rector.  In 1359, the papal podestà of Spello recorded that the purpose of the fortress was “pro statu pacifico tranquillo dicte terre” (to maintain the peace and tranquility of this territory).

Pope Innocent VII referred to these two fortresses as (respectively) Rocca del Castello and Rocca di Piazza in a bull of 1406 (see below).

An group of armed men from Assisi murdered Bartoluccio di Giacomo Urbani and his associate, Vico di Chiatti in 1373.

Chaos (1389-1425)

In 1389, Pope Boniface IX appointed Pandolfo Baglioni of Perugia as papal vicar of Spello.  Pandolfo died in 1393. 

Spello fell to Biordo Michelotto in 1394, and to Gian Galeazzo Visconti, in 1400.

In 1406, Pope Innocent VII agreed that the position podestà and of castellan of the two fortresses of Spello (Rocca del Castello and Rocca di Piazza - see above) could be held by the same person, in order to reduce costs.

[Spello fell to Giovanni Pucci in 1409, who delegated control of it to Ceccolino Michelotto (the brother of Biordo Michelotto). ]

Guidantonio da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino took the town in 1411.  He held on to Assisi in 1416 by giving Spello to Braccio Fortebraccio.

[The Trinci of Foligno were appointed as papal vicars of Spello in 1420.]

Pope Martin V regained control of Spello in 1425.

Baglioni Control

Martin V gave Spello to Malatesta Baglioni, (the son of Pandolfo) in 1426 as a reward for his help in subduing Perugia after the death of Braccio Fortebraccio.  Pope Eugenius IV confirmed this in 1433.  Spello now became an important base for the Baglioni family. 

When Malatesta Baglioni died in 1437, the control of Spello was contested between his brother, Nello and his son, Braccio.  Pope Eugenius IV supported Nello, who prevailed.

In 1442, some exiles from Spello persuaded Assisi to attack Spello, but this failed.

When Nello died in 1451, his sons Pandolfo and Galeotto suppressed the news for a few days in order to secure Spello from their cousin, Braccio Baglioni.  They succeeded until 1460, when Braccio orchestrated the murders of Pandolfo and Galeotto, together with that of Pandolfo’s son, Nicolò.  The only survivor from the carnage inflicted on the descendants of Nello was Atalanta, Galeotto’s daughter. 

Braccio, who arranged Atalanta’s marriage to his son Grifone, thus became the effective Lord of Spello in 1460.   Pope Pius II confirmed his position in 1463, after Braccio I had suppressed an attack by exiled enemies.   [Braccio built San Girolamo for the Observant Franciscans in 1474.]

Grifone died in 1477, followed by his father, Braccio in 1479.  Braccio’s brothers, Guido and Ridolfo Baglioni, now took his place at the head of the family, leaving Federico, the posthumous son of Grifone, effectively excluded from power albeit that he was immensely rich, having been the sole heir of both his father and his grandfather.  He adopted his father’s name, as a sign of defiance, in ca. 1489 and was subsequently known as Grifonetto Baglioni.  At some time during the following decade, he commissioned frescoes for the Cappella del Salvatore in Sant’ Andrea. 

Troilo Baglioni, son of Ridolfo, became Prior of Santa Maria Maggiore in 1499 and held the post until 1501, when Pope Alexander VI appointed him as Bishop of Perugia.  During his period as Prior, he commissioned the frescoes of Cappella Bella from Pintoricchio.

The famous Wedding of Blood in 1500 saw Grifonetto and his associates attack the men from the main branch of the family as they slept after the celebrations following the wedding of his cousin, Astorre (son of Guido).  Astorre, Guido, Gismondo (Astorre’s brother) and Simonetto (Astorre’s cousin, son of Ridolfo) were all murdered.  Gian Paolo, another of Ridolfo’s sons, escaped and managed to join forces with three of his allies that had already left the wedding: his brother Troilo, and his cousins (other sons of Guido): Gentile and Adriano I (known as Morgante, who had been at Spello).  They called for help from Vitello Vitelleschi of Città di Castello and retook Perugia.  Grifonetto paid for his treachery with his life.

[Gentile Baglioni was Prior of San Lorenzo from 1498 and nominal  Bishop of Orvieto  from 1505 until 1511, when Pope Julius II allowed him to renounce the position in favour of his nephew, the illegitimate Ercole.  This was necessary because he was the only surviving legitimate son of Guido, and this branch of the family might otherwise have expired.  He married in 1513 as he approached his 50th birthday.  He became estranged from Gianpaolo Baglioni in 1520, and might have played a part in securing his execution by Pope Leo X.  The vendetta continued with  Gianpaolo’s sons, Malatesta and Orazio until the latter murdered him in 1527.]

Spello was caught up in the complex politics that followed the sack of Rome and the subsequent papal/imperial alliance.  This threatened Malatesta’s hold over Perugia, and he resumed his condotta from Florence in order to defend it from Pope Clement VII, the Medici pope.  He sent an army under Philibert di Chalons, prince of Orange into Umbria.  Braccio II Baglioni (the son of Grifonetto and thus an enemy of Malatesta), who defected to the imperial side in June 1527, duly joined this expedition.  The Prince of Orange quickly took Bevagna, Montefalco and Assisi.  He then marched on Spello, where Leone Baglioni (the illegitimate son of Gian Paolo Baglioni, who was Prior of San Lorenzo from 1528 until 1539) led the brave but unsuccessful defense.  Malatesta managed to negotiate an honorable withdrawal from Perugia, and secured a promise from  the Prince of Orange that Braccio II and the other exiles would not be allowed to return.

In 1534, when Perugia rose in revolt against the salt tax imposed by Pope Paul III, Ridolfo II Baglioni marched on the city and murdered the papal governor, Cinzio Filonardi.  He could not hold Perugia, and the new legate Marino Grimani exiled him and confiscated his property.  Paul III ordered the destruction of the walls of Spello to help ensure that Ridolfo II could not return.

In 1559, Pope Pius IV restored Spello and Bastia Umbra to Adriano II (died 1574) and Astorre Baglioni.  Adriano restored and extended the Rocca Baglioni in what is now Piazza della Repubblica  in 1561-4.

Papal Control

When the branch of the Baglioni family that ruled Spello became extinct on the death of Guido, the son of Adriano II in 1583, Spello passed under direct papal control.

In 1772, Pope Clement XIV transferred Spello from the diocese of Spoleto to that of Foligno.

A Jacobin faction controlled Spello in 1798-9.

It was governed by representatives of Napoleon in 1809-14.

Pope Leo XII gave Spello episcopal status in 1829.

Piedmontese soldiers took Spello on 14 September, 1860 and it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

Return to the home page on Spello.

History of Spello

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