Key to Umbria: Narni

History of Narni

Umbria:  Home   Cities    History    Art    Hagiography    Contact 


Narni:  Home    History    Art    Saints    Walks   Monuments    Museums

History:  Main page    Ancient History

Ancient History

See the page on Ancient History.

Early Christianity

Epitaph of Bishop Cassius (536-58) and his wife, Fausta

Screen of the Sacello di San Cassio

St Juvenal (364-71) ?

The legend (BHL 4614) claims that Pope Damasus I (366-83) appointed St Juvenal as the first bishop of Narni.  However, as set out in the page on St Juvenal, the chronological data in the legend suggests he was actually consecrated in 364, which was in the reign of Pope Liberius I.   He died on 7th August, seven years later (i.e. in 371) and was buried outside the Porta Superiore of Narni.

Bishop Maximus (371-411) ?

BHL 4614 legend purports to have been written by St Juvenal’s successor, Bishop Maximus, who also built a basilica over St Juvenal’s  grave.  It also records that Maximus held the bishopric for some 40 years (371-411).    He was mentioned in a bull (1069) of Alexander II, alongside SS Juvenal and Cassius (below), as one of the three bishops of Narni who were considered to be saints. 

Unfortunately, the earliest known version of BHL 4614 is relatively late: Edoardo d’ Angelo (referenced below, at p. 114) dated it to the early 9th century.  However, as Edoardo d’ Angelo pointed out (at p. 98), Gregory I had referred to a cult site for the holy martyr St Juvenal in the 6th century.  This might well have been in the basilica recorded in BHL 4614, in which later bishops Pancratius and Cassius (below) were probably buried (in 493 and 558 respectively).  It therefore seems likely that BHL 4614 represented the rewriting of an earlier  legend (as suggested by Edoardo d’ Angelo at p. 144) that had been written at the time of the recognition of the relics of St Juvenal and their translation to the basilica, quite possibly in in the early 5th century.


In 403, the Emperor Honorius marched along Via Flaminia, passing Narni, on his way to Rome after he had apparently defeated the Goth Alaric at Verona.  Claudianus, in his panegyric to Honorius wrote: “Next thy royal charger treads the streets of Narnia, looking out from its eminence upon the plain below: not far from there flows the strange-coloured stream which give the town its name, its sulphureous waters flowing in tortuous course between opposed mountains through dense forests of holm-oak”. 

Alaric took much the same route as he marched on Rome in 410.  According to Gibbon: “A lofty situation and a seasonable tempest of thunder and lightning preserved the little city of Narni: but the king  of the Goths, despising the ignoble prey, still advanced … and pitched his camp under the walls of Rome”, which he famously stormed and sacked.  Claudianus died in the sack.

Odoacer (476-93)


Theodoric (493 -526)


Bishop Pancratius (died 493)

The earliest securely dated bishop of Narni was Bishop Pancratius, whose epitaph in the Sacello di San Cassio in the Duomo records that he died during the consulship of Albinus iunior (i.e. in 493).  [Note that this date is sometimes given as 444, but this was the year of the consulship of the father of Albinus iunior.]  He was the son of another Bishop Pancratius and the brother of a Bishop Hercules, both of whom seem to have been alive at the time of epitaph: their dioceses are unknown.


The Byzantine soldier, Flavius Belisarius took Naples and then Rome from the Goths in 536.  According to Procopius, his general, Bessas took Narni:

  1. “... not at all against the will of the inhabitants”.  

Narni formed part of a defensive ring that he threw around Rome. 

The Goth Witges left it in Byzantine hands when he marched along Via Flaminia to begin what turned out to be a year-long siege of Rome.  Procopius explains that this was because Narni:

  1. “... was difficult of access and on steep ground besides; for it is situated on a lofty hill. And the river Narnus flows by the foot of the hill, and it is this which has given the city its name.  There are two roads leading up to the city, the one on the east, and the other on the west.  One of these is very narrow and difficult by reason of precipitous rocks, while the other cannot be reached except by way of the bridge which spans the river and provides a passage over it at that point.  This bridge was built by Caesar Augustus in early times, and is a very noteworthy sight; for its arches are the highest of any known to us”.


Following Belisarius’ withdrawal, the Goths regrouped under a new general, Totila.  He managed to retake much of the territory lost to Belisarius.  Having taken Naples in 544, he moved on Rome.  Belisarius returned to Italy, landing at Ravenna, but he had insufficient resources to stop Totila’s advance. 

In 546, the Byzantine general Herodian surrendered Spoleto to Totila, who destroyed its walls and fortified the ruins of the amphitheatre as a base for his garrison.  Totila then moved on to lay siege to Rome.  When the starving city finally fell to him in late 546, he demolished the walls and expelled the inhabitant before withdrawing to Apulia.  Belisarius managed to infiltrate a traitor into Spoleto, which he then retook.

Belisarius was recalled to Constantinople in 548 and Totila retook Rome.  Spoleto and Narni, which were subsequently in the hands of the Goths (see below), might have fallen at this time.  He then marched south to drive the remaining Byzantine forces from Italy. 

Exarch Narses

In 552, the Emperor Justinian sent the aged Narses to march against Totila.   When they engaged in battle at Tagina, near modern Gualdo Tadino, Narses emerged victorious and the wounded Totila died as he fled the field.  Narses continued with the remainder of his army along Via Flaminia.

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” (‘History of the Wars’, VIII xxxiii 9).

Narses then drove the remaining Goths from Rome. 

St Cassius

We know from his epitaph that St Cassius was bishop of Narni in the period 536-58.  Thus his appointment broadly coincided with the surrender of Narni to Belisarius.  Clearly, it subsequently fell to Totila, because it surrendered again to the Byzantines, this time to Narses, in 552. 

Probably the only record of Totila’s occupation of Narni comes in the Dialogues of St Gregory, in an account devoted to St Cassius.  Apparently, Totila despised St Cassius because his florid complexion made him look like an alcoholic.  However, when he expelled a demon that was tormenting one of Totila's guards, Totila revered him.  This implies that St Cassius was able to use his moral authority to protect the city during the occupation.

The fact that Narni was once more in Byzantine hands when St Cassius died in 558 explains why the date of his death is written in his epitaph with a Byzantine dating formula:


30th June, 17 years after the year of the [Byzantine] Consul Basil. 

The office of Consul lapsed in Byzantium in the period 542-65, so the Consul Basil was used in dating formulae throughout this period.  Thus, St Cassius died on 30th June 558.


Narni was originally part of the Duchy of Spoleto, but Byzantine forces from the newly garrisoned Perugia were able to incorporate the city into their land corridor between Rome and Ravenna in the early 590s.  Duke Ariulf of Spoleto seized the city in 592 but it returned to Byzantine control under the truce of 598. 

A letter of Pope Gregory I in 598 reveals that the Terni did not have a bishop at that time, and he placed it in the care of the Bishop Constantine of Narni.  (There is no reference to any other bishop of Terni until 1218).

The diocese of Terni, which was within the Duchy of Spoleto, was merged with that of Byzantine Narni, presumably because its bishop could no longer function.

In the 8th century, the diocese of Narni absorbed that of Otricoli.

Duke Faroaldo II seized Narni in 717 and incorporated it into the Duchy of Spoleto.  As part of the Duchy, it passed to King Liutprand in 726.  Under the truce that he negotiated in 742, Pope Zacharias secured its return papal control.


In 754, when the victorious papal protector King Pepin returned to Francia, the Lombard King Aistulf seized Narni.  Some three years later, King Pepin returned to Italy and forced Aistulf to come to terms.  Narni was almost certainly included in the so-called Donation of Pepin (756), under which Ravenna and the territory of the Exarchate was recognised as papal territory.  However, it is probable that Narni in fact remained in Lombard hands until 774, when Charlemagne finally ended the Lombard Kingdom. 

Bishop Stefano I attended a the synod in Rome convened by Leo IV in 853.

Narni repelled Saracen raiders in 876 and again in 882, when they devastated the surrounding territory.

It also suffered in 877, when Carloman marched into Italy to assert his claim as Holy Roman Emperor in defiance of Pope John VIII.  Duke Lambert of Spoleto, Margrave Adalbert of Tuscany and other allies of Bishop Formosus marched on Rome and imprisoned John VIII, who escaped and fled to Provence.

It is sometimes said that, on his way back to Lucca, Duke Adalbert stole the relics of SS Juvenal and Cassius.  Fortunately, the political situation eased when Carloman died in 879, and John VIII reached agreement with his successor, Charles the Fat.  Duke Adalbert was forced to return the relics of St Juvenal to Narni in return for absolution.  However, as set out in the page on St Juvenal, this does not fit in with the chronological data provided by the legend (BHL 4615).


Bishop John Crescentius of Narni (940-60) came from a powerful Roman family.  He became bishop after the death of his wife had married Theodora, who had belonged to the equally powerful Theophylact family.  They had five children, including:

  1. Bishop John of Narni (960-5), whom the Emperor Otto I appointed him as Pope John XIII (965-72); and

  2. Crescentius, who was the most powerful man in Rome during most of the decade before his death in 984, and who seems to have been a benefactor of San Cassiano, Narni.

Abbazia di Sant' Angelo in Massa (founded 10th century)

In ca. 996, two German monks known as Pietro and Adriano founded an abbey here (to the north of Narni, on road 3bis to San Gemini) on the ruins of a Roman villa (2nd century AD).  The present abbey, which dates to the 11th century, was first mentioned in 1037 as a dependency of the Abbazia di Farfa.  This document reveals that it was built in the reign of the Emperor Otto III.  Its first abbots, Peter and Adrian were probably German since the church resembles that at Lorsch.  Unfortunately, the church was remodelled in the 15th and 16th centuries, although traces of the original exterior decoration remain on the facade.  It is now privately owned.

Investiture Crisis

The Abbazia di Farfa seems to have established a presence in Narni at this time.  For example:

  1. Bishop Rodolfo of Narni conceded the Abbazzia di San Cassiano to Farfa in 1091;

  2. a noble couple donated the church of “Sancta Maria in Pisile” (Santa Maria Impensole) to Farfa in 1100; and

  3. a certain Beraldo di Rolando gave a piece of land in Narni to Farfa, also in 1100.  (This was described as “maccla mortua quae vocatur Ferone” (the place of the dead woman known as Ferone), the ancient cult site dedicated to the Sabine goddess Feronia, which became the site of the Sorgente di Feronia).

Farfa enjoyed Imperial patronage, and took the side of the Emperors Henry IV and Henry V in the Investiture crisis.  Its abbot, Berardus III supported the campaign of Henry V against Pope Paschal II, and a monk from the abbey (perhaps Gregory of Catino) wrote the influential Orthodoxa defensio imperialis (Orthodox Defence of the Empire) in 1111.

Narni rebelled against the papacy in 1112 - this was probably as a result of the influence of Farfa in the city.


Count Transaricus gave his castle of Miranda and all his possessions to Narni in 1143.  The document is the earliest to survive that mentions the Consuls.  Narni must have returned to papal allegiance by 1145, when the newly elected Pope Eugene III (who had been forced to flee from Rome and had been crowned at the Abbazia di Farfa) stayed briefly at Narni before taking up residence in Viterbo.  He consecrated the Duomo during this stay, and returned to Narni in 1148 to consecrate Santa Maria Maggiore (later San Domenico).

Narni was among the cities that Pope Adrian IV recognised as self-governing entities within the papal patrimony in 1157, in defiance of the Emperor Frederick I.

Narni seems to have opposed his passage of Christian of Mainz, the representative of the Frederick I, as he marched on Rome in 1167 in order to install the anti-pope Paschal III.  Christian of Mainz seems to have been based in Narni from 1174 until 1176, when Frederick I called him to Lombardy, and it is possible that the city faced reprisals for its earlier rebellion.  [Relief of eagles in architrave of Santa Maria Impensole]

The status of Narni (and that of other cities that were important for the defence of Rome)was somewhat uncertain after the Treaty of Venice (1177), which marked the reconciliation of Frederick I and Pope Alexander III.

In 1186, Frederick’s son, the future Emperor Henry VI took Narni as part of an offensive in central Italy designed to force his coronation as co-Emperor.  When he secured this objective in 1191, the city reverted, at least nominally, to papal control. 

Despite all these changes in nominal and sometimes effective control, the expansion of the Commune continued throughout the 11th and 12th centuries.  One by one, San Gemini, Stroncone, Otricoli and a host of other neighbouring towns fell under its control.

Santa Pudenziana, Visciano (11th century)

The church was built using Roman building materials and mosaics.  The portico comprises four Roman columns.   The interior is divided into three naves, and the floor contains interesting archaeological remains.  The frescoes date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and the church has an elegant crypt.

13th century

Pope Innocent III

In 1198, shortly after his election, Pope Innocent III summoned Conrad of Urslingen (whom recently deceased Henry VI had appointed Duke of Spoleto) to Narni, and secured his submission.  Conrad formally transferred to the papacy all the lands that he had administered on behalf of the emperor.

Narni was among the cities that opposed attempts by Innocent III to assert papal rights in the Papal States.  In particular, Narni denied him access to the fortress of Otricoli and defied an interdict.  Orvieto, which was at war with Todi, originally supported Narni, but Innocent III brokered a peace that brought both Todi and Orvieto into a papal alliance in August 1210.  He then sent troops from Rome to recover Otricoli and to make Narni pay for its repair. 

The disappearance of the Emperor Otto IV from Italy in 1212 did not mark the end of the problems of Innocent III in Umbria.  For example, Narni seems to have been in a state of rebellion in 1214, and Innocent III excommunicated all of its citizens, exhorting the neighbouring cities to take them captive.  Narni attacked Otricoli (again) and Stroncone in 1216, and Innocent III sent troops from Terni, Amelia and Todi to defend the two small communities.  Narni turned to Spoleto for support, at which point Terni turned to Foligno.  This led to outright war in the region, in which the two castles were destroyed and Amelia attacked.  Innocent III managed to end the war in 1216 and to force Narni to rebuild Stroncone, but the tension between the warring parties remained high.

The office of Podestà was first documented at Narni in 1215.

Pope Honorius III

Pope Honorius III was elected at the conclave held in Perugia in 1216.  Hostility between Narni and Terni resumed almost immediately, this time over the control of a bridge across the Nera.  Todi and Foligno supported Terni, while Spoleto and Coccorone (later Montefalco) supported Narni.  In 1217, Terni submitted to Todi, and Honorius III detached the diocese of Terni from that of Spoleto.  Nevertheless, the uproar in the area persisted.

As these problems mounted, Pandolfo of Anagni (Pandolfo Savelli), the papal rector of the Duchy summoned representatives of the warring cities to Bevagna in 1220 so that he could mediate their differences.  This was the preliminary to a parliament over which Honorius III presided at Orvieto in the summer of that year.  Perugia, Spoleto, Foligno, Assisi, Todi, Nocera Umbra, Terni, Narni, and Coccorone were among the cities represented at these deliberations, which achieved the recognition of papal rights over the Duchy of Spoleto, the temporary cessation of hostilities between the cities, and the return to the papacy of a number of castles and other lands that had been lost since 1198. 

In January, 1227, just before he died, Honorius III issued a bull that defined the Patrimony of St Peter in Tuscany to include land west of the Tiber from Città di Castello to Viterbo and Rome, thereby including both Orvieto and Perugia, and also Todi, Narni and Amelia to the east.  Thereafter, however, the last three cities were usually included in the Duchy of Spoleto.

Pope Gregory IX 

Pope Gregory IX bought the castle of Miranda from the city in 1234, but Offreduccio and Martuccio di Bonconte used the presence of the rebellious Emperor Frederick II in the area to take control of it.

Gregory IX was forced from Rome for a second time in 1234, when his enemy Luca Savelli became Senator of Rome.  Under Savelli, the Commune of Rome pursued a policy of expansion at the expense of the Church, securing for example the submission of both Amelia and Narni by the spring of 1235.

Narni withstood a siege by Imperial forces in the period following the death of Gregory IX (August 1241), and in 1242 joined Perugia in an alliance with Cardinal Matteo Rosso Orsini, by which time Assisi and Orvieto were the only other Umbrian cities that had not submitted to Frederick II.  However, the anti-imperial cause was boosted in early 1243 when Cardinal Ranier Capocci, a native of Viterbo, organised a rebellion in that city that led to the expulsion of its imperial garrison.

Pope Innocent IV

At the time of his election in 1243, Pope Innocent IV seems initially to have been prepared to negotiate with Frederick II.  An interim agreement was reached in March 1244, and it was decided that they should meet at Narni.  Frederick II duly travelled through Spoleto (in May) and Terni.  However, Innocent IV, who suspected that Frederick II intended to capture him, fled to Genoa (in June) and then to Lyons (in December).

In February 1251, Perugia, Orvieto, Spoleto, Narni and Assisi formed a Guelf alliance with Florence.  Innocent IV returned Italy in April 1251 and took up residence at Perugia in the following November.

Later 13th Century

In 1262, Pope Urban IV tried unsuccessfully to force Offreduccio di Bonconte to return the fortress of Miranda.  When Offreduccio died in 1268, the fortress passed once more to Narni.

In 1273, the Podestà, Alberto da Montebono and the Capitano del Popolo, Giacomo da Massa appointed an official called Berrettino to buy three tower houses in the parish of San Salvato (in what is now Piazza dei Priori).  These properties, which had belonged (respectively) to the Sinibaldi, Oddone and Omodei families, were incorporated to form the present palace.  

Narni used the vacancy that followed the death of Pope Nicholas IV in 1292 to renew its attack on the papal fortress of Stroncone, but was repulsed by Cardinal Matthew Acquasparta, with Perugian support.

Mendicant Orders

St Francis is reputed to have stayed at the Sacro Speco di Sant' Urbano outside Narni in 1213.  According to tradition, Bishop Ugolino (1208-20) called him to Narni at this time and he established a second oratory on what was to become the site of San Francesco.  The early biographies record a miracle that St Francis performed at Narni, but it is impossible to be sure that this occurred in 1213. 

Bishop Orlando (1261-1303) became a member of the new Augustinian Order of Hermits soon after its formation.  He transferred the ancient parish church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle to the  Augustinians in 1266.

The Dominicans, who settled outside Narni in 1253, acquired Santa Maria Maggiore (later re-dedicated to San Domenico) in 1303.

14th century

The inscription on the civic fountain (1303) in Piazza dei Priori gives the date of its construction and records it as the work of  Marcuccio di Todi and Giovanni di Marco.  It also names the Podestà Francesco d’ Alviano and a number of Consuls: Pellegrino, Tello, Somarucio, Gianni, Aniballo and Giovenale.

Ghibelline Revolt (1308-53)

Narni took the side of Ghibelline Spoleto in its war with Perugia in 1310, sent troops to aid the Emperor Henry VII in 1312 and aided the Ghibellines of Orvieto in 1313. 

In 1307, Narni bribed the Vicar of the Sabina and occupied the papal fortress on Miranda.

In 1318, Pope John XXII demanded the return of Miranda and insisted that the magistrates of Narni should be appointed by the papacy.

Todi, Narni and Rieti rebelled against the Papal Rector, Guido Farnese, in 1322.

Narni again supported Spoleto in its war with Perugia in 1323. 

In 1350, Giovanni di Vico helped Narni to expel the Guelfs of Terni, and the city soon fell under his control.  In February 1353 the Capitano del Patrimonio, Giordano del Monte degli Orsini drove Pietro di Vico from the city with popular support.

Cardinal Albornoz in Umbria (1353-67)

In October 1354, Narni submitted formally to Cardinal Gil Albornoz.  He appointed Enrico da Sessa, Bishop of Ascoli, as his vicar in order to effect a reconciliation with Terni.  He also finally secured Miranda for the papacy and commissioned the Rocca di Narni (ca. 1365-78).

It is likely that the nunnery was destroyed at some time during the second legation of Cardinal Gil Albornoz to make way for the present fortress.   The initial phase of its construction is associated with Giordano del Monte degli Orsini, the Capitano del Patrimonio and Ugolino di Montemarte, who was Lieutenant General of the Patrimony in 1365-6.  (These men were also associated with the construction of the broadly contemporary fortress at Orvieto).

After Albornoz

Construction of the Rocca di Narni continued during the legation of Cardinal Anglic de Grimoard, the younger brother of Urban V (from March 1368 until July 1371) and was sufficiently advanced by 1371 for the first castellan to take up residence.  In 1372, the Commune of Terni refused a papal request for men to help with its construction, pointing out that Narni was a traditional enemy and also that the available men were still at work on the new walls of Terni.  The work was completed in 1378, when the Rocca was inaugurated by Cardinal Philippe d' Alençon

The city statutes were reformed in 1371 at the behest of the Papal Legate, Cardinal Pierre d'Estaing and the Rector of the Patrimony of St Peter, Nicolò Orsini.

Narni and the Orsini

In 1373, the Orsini took Narni.

In 1375, Francesco di Vico seized Viterbo and demolished the papal fortress there.   This provoked Ghibelline rebellions at Narni, Terni and Amelia.  Cardinal Tommaso Orsini, the legate appointed by Pope Urban VI, orchestrated the murder of Francesco di Vico in 1387, occupied Narni, Terni, Amelia and Viterbo.  He reached an accord with the Ghibellines of Terni that left their ascendency over the political affairs of the city in tact.

Cardinal Orsini was incarcerated for a brief time in December 1387 [in the fortress of Amelia/ Perugia ?] for having spoken in Viterbo against Archbishop Giacomo III Fieschi of Genoa, the legate that had succeeded him.  His brother, Ugolino Orsini laid siege to the Rocca of Narni and only abandoned the siege when Urban VI freed the cardinal.

Cardinal Orsini participated in the conclave of 1389, which elected Pope Boniface IX, and he crowned the new pope on November 9, 1389.  He died in Rome in 1390.

Boniface IX stayed at the Rocca in 1392.

When the Guelfs of Narni sided with the antipope Clement VII in 1394, Boniface IX gave the Rocca to the Ghibellines.  They arranged its fall to Malatesta, the son of Pandolfo Malatesta da Rimini in 1395, although it soon returned to papal control.

15th and 16th Centuries

King Ladislas of Naples controlled Narni in 1403-14.  The Orsini returned under his patronage in 1409.

Braccio Fortebraccio took the Rocca in 1417.

In 1424, Pope Martin V installed his Colonna relatives as castellans. 

Cardinals Bessarion, Alessandro Oliva and Enea Silvio Piccolomini travelled to Narni in 1462 to bring the skull of Saint Andrew the Apostle to Rome.  Pope Pius II met the party outside Rome and accompanied it to St Peter’s.

Giuseppe Fortunati has produced this fascinating webpage on Pope Sixtus IV in Narni in 1476, during an outbreak of Plague.

In May 1492, Cardinal Jorge Costa escorted the relic of the Holy Lance from Narni to Rome.

The Spanish Pope Alexander VI appointed two of his compatriots to important posts in Narni:

  1. Pietro Perez became castellan of the Rocca di Narni in 1493; and

  2. Pedro Gormaz became Bishop of Narni in 1498.

An army of Landsknechte (German mercenaries) in the service of the Emperor Charles V, led by the Prince of Orange, sacked Narni on 17th July, 1527, as they marched along Via Amerino after they had sacked Rome.  It seems that the city refused them entry and that some of its citizens attacked the forces camped outside their walls.  The troops forced entry through Porta Pietra after a siege of three days, and spent the next two weeks intent upon its destruction.  The citizens of Terni took the opportunity for further attack, during which they stole the clock from Piazza del Lago (now Piazza Garibaldi).  An epidemic of plague then invested the territory. 

The walls of the city and the Rocca were restored in 1556-9.  Porta Nova was designed by the Florentine Nanni di Baccio Bigio (born Giovanni di Bartolommeo Lippi).

A series of papal governors stayed in Narni in the later 16th century:  Balduino Ciocchi, in 1551 and again in 1556; Alessandro Piccolomini, in 1558; Antonio della Rovere, in 1565; and Domenico Antonio Oliva, in 1576.

Later History

Bishop Raimondo Castelli (1656-70) established the diocesan seminary in 1660.

Narni fell to the French in 1798, and all the arms were taken from the Rocca to Perugia.

Narni became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.

In 1907, the diocese of Terni and Narni were united by papal decree under a single Bishop.

Read more:

E. d’Angelo, “Narni e i Suoi Santi”, (2013) Spoleto

History:  Main page    Ancient History

Return to the home page on Narni.