Key to Umbria: Cesi

History of Cesi

Umbria:  Home   Cities    History    Art    Hagiography    Contact


Cesi:  Home     History     Art     Saints     Walks     Monuments 

Pre-Roman Cesi

Giuseppe Bellucci discovered a necropolis just outside Cesi in 1881, during work on the road to San Gemini.  Grave goods from the tombs, which subsequently formed part of his collection, are now in the Museo Archeologico, Perugia.  The analysis of these objects suggests that the necropolis was in use from the 9th to the 6th century BC.  Grave goods from the tomb of a lady that were discovered nearby in 1914 are now in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia, Rome.

Votive offerings found on the an ancient cult site on the summit of Monte Torre Maggiore, above Cesi, suggest that it was in use from the 6th century BC, when it probably served as a focal point for the worship of Umbrian people from across the area.   The site remained in use into the Roman period (see below).  A room in the Museo Archeologico, Terni is devoted to finds from this site.

A terrace further down the mountain, towards Cesi,which is now the site of the isolated church of Sant’ Erasmo, is supported by polygonal walls (5th-4th century BC).  In his description of Umbria, the Augustan Sixth Region, Pliny the Elder added: In this district there exist no longer the Feliginates who possessed Clusiolum, above Interamna” (Natural History, Book 3, Chapter 19).  Some scholars have identified this terrace as the site of Clusiolum. 

There is another stretch of polygonal walls from this period at Vocabolo Pittura, just outside Cesi that seems to have supported a terraced field.

The Walk from Terni takes in the sites on Monte Torre Maggiore and Vocabolo Pittura is treated as a short detour in the Walk around Cesi.

Roman Cesi

As noted above, the cult site at Torre Monte Maggiore remained in use into the Roman period.  The built a stone podium here and two temples:

  1. temple A (ca. 250 BC) was oriented east-west; and

  2. temple B (ca. 200 BC) was oriented north west-south east.

Coins found on the site suggest that it remained in use until the end of the 3rd century AD.

A track leads down the mountain to the site of Carsulae, which probably acted as a magnet for the local people from 220 BC, when Via Flaminia was built.  There is no evidence that Cesi itself was inhabited during the Roman period or for many centuries thereafter.

Cesi and the Terre Arnolfe

A diploma issued by the Emperor Otto I in 962 refers to Count  Arnolfo: he is sometimes claimed to have been the feudal magnate who gave his name to the territory around Cesi that became known as the Terre Arnolfe. 

In 1020, the Emperor Henry II renewed the traditional imperial donation of land to the papacy, adding “illam terram quam inter Narniam, Teramnem, vel Spoletum, ex regni nostri parte habuimus” (land between Narni, Terni and Spoleto that has previously belonged to us).  These were the lands that became known as the Terre Arnolfe (or Terre Arnulphorum): they included Cesi, San Gemini, Acquasparta and Massa Martana, as well as many small settlements nearby. 

The presence of the “Arnolfe” lords in the territory was first documented in 1052, when “Albertus et Arnulfus germani” gave a church dedicated as San Salvatore “in monte super Cese, in loco .. Civitella” (possibly on the later site of Sant’ Erasmo, on the mountainside above Cesi) to Abbot Richerius of Monte Cassino.  This donation was confirmed in 1093, when Alberto, Marco and Berardo Arnulphorum also gave two churches in Cesi (San Michele Arcangelo and  Santa Maria di Fuori) to the Abbazia di Monte Cassino.  Whatever the legal niceties associated with the donation of 1020, the Arnolfe owed their allegiance to the empire. 

The inscription recording the consecration of Sant' Andrea in 1160 refers to the reign of the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa rather than to the reigning pope.   By 1198, the Rocca di Cesi, which had probably been built in the preceding decades, belonged to  Conrad of Urslingen, the imperially-appointed Duke of Spoleto.

Cesi in the 13th Century

The situation changed dramatically at this time, following the sudden death of Emperor Henry VI.  Pope Innocent III  summoned Conrad of Urslingen to Narni in 1198 and secured his complete submission, along with the surrender of the fortresses at Assisi, Gualdo Tadino and Cesi.  From this point, Cesi became the capital of the papal Terre Arnolfe: the castellan of the Rocca di Cesi was appointed by the papacy and was responsible for the collection of papal taxes.

The Emperor Frederick II took the Terre Arnolfe along with much of the rest of southern Umbria (including Terni, Narni and Amelia).  He consolidated his position when he defeated a Guelf army at Spello in 1246.  In the following year, in order to secure the loyalty of Spoleto to the papal cause, Cardinal  Raniero Capocci granted “totam terram Arnulforum” to that city.  This grant received papal confirmation from Pope Innocent IV in 1248 and from Pope Alexander IV in 1255.  However, Pope Urban IV declared the grant to be invalid in 1262, opening up a bitter dispute.  Spoleto was unable to produce the original documents and was placed under interdict until it relented in 1264.  Relations between Spoleto and a succession of papal castellans remained tense for the rest of the century. 

The first Statutes of the Terre Arnolfe were published in 1286.  These confirmed that the post of castellan of the Rocca di Cesi was a papal appointment.

Cesi in the 14th Century

The power of the papacy declined in Italy after 1305, when the popes relocated to Avignon.  The Emperor Henry VII confirmed the papal ownership of the Terre Arnolfe in 1312.  However, the larger towns in the territory, including Cesi, San Gemini and Acquasparta, increasingly asserted their independence while Todi took the opportunity to extend its influence over many of the smaller towns in the territory.  (For example, Castello di Poggio Azzuano submitted to Todi in 1316).  

In 1328, the papal rector, Bishop Guittone Farnese of Orvieto, sold Cesi to a certain “Jacobucium de Vaschia” and Pope John XXII was forced to intervene to restore the situation.  Meanwhile, Todi aligned itself with the Emperor Louis of Bavaria and Sciarra Colonna against the papacy and took San Gemini.  Cesi found it expedient to join the Ghibelline alliance in 1329.

It seems likely that Cesi featured in the system of papal fortresses that Cardinal Gil Albornoz established in the region in 1353-67.  The presence of a papal rector resident in the Rocca di Cesi is recorded in 1362.  Nevertheless,  Todi still held sway in a number of smaller towns in the territory. 

The papal schism (1378-1417) led to further confusion and Giovanni Orsini took control of the Terre Arnolfe in 1383, albeit in the name of the papacy.  In 1391, Pope Boniface IX removed Giovanni Orsini and appointed his own brother, Giovannello Tomacelli as papal rector.

Biondo Michelotti seized power in Perugia in 1393 and subsequently took control of much of Umbria, including the Terre Arnolfe.  However, he was murdered in 1398 by supporters of the papacy.

Cesi in the 15th Century

By 1409, almost all of Umbria was in the hands of King Ladislas of Naples.

In 1416, Braccio Fortebracci occupied the Terre Arnolfe, along with most of southern Umbria.  in 1420, Pope Martin V recognised him as vicar general of a large part of papal Umbria, including Cesi, for three years.

In 1433, Cesi submitted to Todi, which claimed to administer it on behalf of the papacy.

In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV appointed Domenico Gentile Riccio, the husband of his niece, Violantina Riario, as as  papal governor of Spoleto, Amelia and the Terre Arnolfe.  Domenico lost his post when Sixtus IV died in 1484.

In 1493, Terni offered a huge some to acquire the Terre Arnolfe from the papacy.  The people sought help from both Todi and Spoleto, both  of which lobbied the papal authorities on their behalf.  When King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in the following year, terni took the opportunity to invade the Terre Arnolfe.  The people of Cesi offered their submission to Spoleto: with Spoletan help, they managed to return the town and began to restore the rocca.  However, the war between Spoleto and Terni dragged on.  Spoleto employed the papal captains, Bartolomeo d’ Alviano and Paolo Baglioni to lay siege to Terni and emerged victorious.  Pope Alexander  VI duly  reaffirmed papal ownership of the Terre Arnolfe in 1502.

Cesi in the 16th Century

In 1514, Pope Leo X granted a subsidy to fund the rebuilding of Cesi after the dmage inflicted by Terni.  Santa Maria Assunta was built in 1515-25 as part of this reconstruction.

The Terre Arnolfe began to disintegrate from this time.  Thus, the Statutes of 1515 refer to Cesi as the leading town of the territory but list its dependents as only three: Poggio Azzuano; Castiglione and Rivisecco.  Macerino, Fiorenzuola, Porzano and Cisterna all submitted to Spoleto in 1527.

In 1527, papal soldiers who were supposed to be marching to the defense of Rome fro the invading army of the Emperor Charles V, sacked Cesi.  two months later, imperial soldiers fresh from the sack of Rome and of Narni, inflicted further damage on the town.  Bishop Cardinal Paolo Emilio Cesi of Todi took the news to Pope Clement VII in Orvieto and he remitted the taxation of Cesi and Narni in order to help with the necessary reconstruction.  Giovanni Giacomo Cesi (the brother of Paolo Emilio Cesi and a distinguished soldier) tried to exploit his family’s standing with the papacy by taking control of Cesi, but he met with considerable resistance.

In 1538, Pope Paul III gave nearby Acquasparta to his illegitimate son, Pier Luigi Farnese, and he exchanged it in 1540 for property owned by Isabella Liviani, the daughter of  Bartolomeo d'Alviano and wife of Gian Giacomo Cesi.  He thus became lord of Acquasparta and Portaria, which helped his designs on Cesi.  (He began the construction of Palazzo Cesi in Cesi itself  before he began the more important Palazzo Cesi, Acquasparta).   He finally achieved the title of Conte delle Terre Arnolfe in 1547.  In 1550, perhaps as a reaction, Cesi renewed its submission to Spoleto.  Pope Julius III gave his approval but Pope Pius V revoked it in 1568.

Return to the home page on Cesi.