Key to Umbria: Perugia


Polybius (ca. 203–120 BC)

Polybius was a Greek historian who worked in Rome.  He is noted for his book “The Histories”, which covered the rise of Rome in the period 264-146 BC in 40 volumes.  Only 5 of these survive in their entirety, although much of the lost content is known from excerpts.

Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC)

Diodorus Siculus was a Greek-speaking historian from Sicily.  His “Bibliotheca Historica” (Historical Library) consisted of 40 books, of which Books 1–5 and 11–20 survive.  The work covered the entire span from the mythical events before the Trojan War until Diodorus’ own times.  He gave it the name "Bibliotheca" to acknowledge the fact that he was assembling a composite work from many sources.

Propertius (ca. 50 - 12 BC)

Sextus Propertius was probably born in Assisi, although he spent most of his life in Rome, where he was appreciated as a love poet.  His surviving works are contained in four books of autobiographical Elegies, many of which are directed to his mistress, Cynthia.

Livy (59 BC - 17 AD)

Titus Livius is the most important of the Roman historians.  His "History of Rome from its Foundations" was originally in 142 books, although only 35 survive.  Fortunately, the first 10 books, which cover the period from the foundation of Rome to the conquest of central Italy in 295 BC, survive in tact.   There are on-line English translations of Books 1-8; and of the surviving parts of Books 9-26; and of Books 27-36.  There is also an on-line translation of the  fourth-century summary known as the Periochae, which contains summaries of some of the lost books.

Appian (ca. 95 - 165 AD)

Appianus of Alexandria was a Roman lawyer and historian of Greek descent who was born in Alexandria, where he held public office before moving to Rome in ca. 120.  His “Roman History” was written in Greek before 165 and was made up of 24 books, many of which survive.  Five of the later books grouped as the “Civil Wars”describe the events that led to the end of the Roman Republic.

Cassius Dio (died after 229 AD)

Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus wrote the “Roman History”, in 80 books, after 22 years’ research.  It contains a summary of the history of Rome from its foundation until the 1st century BC and a detailed account of the subsequent period, ending in 229 AD.  About a third of the original work survives.  Some other parts that have been lost are known from other sources, notably the epitomes of two Byzantine historians:

  1. the “Epitome of Dio” by John Xiphilinus (11th century); and

  2. the “Epitome ton istorion” of John Zonaras (12th century).

Justin (3rd or 4th century AD)

Marcus Junianus Justinus is unknown except for his reference to himself as the author of the “Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus”, a summary of the “Historiae Philippicae et Totius Mundi Origines et Terrae Situs” (1st century BC, now lost) by Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus.

Servius (ca. 400 AD)

The grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus is best known for his “In Vergilii Aeneidem commentarii”, a commentary on the “Aeneid” (29 - 19 BC) by Virgil.

Origins of Perugia


In the poem, Virgil claims that his native Mantua had been founded by Ocnus.  Servius provides the following glosses:

  1. “ ...some consider Ocnus the son, others the brother, of Aulestes, who founded Perusia: they say that, to avoid contention with his brother, [Ocnus] founded the Gallic territory of Felsina, which today is called Bononia [Bologna]” (10:200).

  2. “ [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 “ (10:201).


“Many Italian cities, indeed, after so long a lapse of time, still exhibit some traces of Greek manners; for the Etrurians, who occupy the shore of the Tuscan sea, came from Lydia; ....; and Tarquinii, in Etruria, as well as Spina in Umbria, has its origin from the Thessalians; Perusia was founded by the Achaeans.  Need I mention Caere?: (20:1)”.


In his account of the Perusine War in the “Civil Wars” (below), Appian reflects: “Such was the end of Perusia, a city renowned for its antiquity and importance.  It is said that it was one of the first twelve cities built by the Etruscans in Italy in the olden time” (5:49).

Roman Conquest

Perusia first appears in recorded history at the time of its defeat by Rome in the year of the consuls Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus and Gaius Marcius Rutilus Censorinus (310 BC):

  1. In his “Bibliotheca Historica”, Diodorus Siculus  recorded: “When the Etruscans had taken the field against the city of Sutrium (Sutri), a Roman colony, the consuls, coming out to its aid with a strong army, defeated them in battle and drove them into their camp; but the Samnites at this time, when the Roman army was far distant, were plundering with impunity those Iapyges who supported the Romans.  The consuls, therefore, were forced to divide their armies;

  2. -Fabius remained in Etruria,

  3. -but Marcius, setting out against the Samnites....

  4. Fabius, however, while the Etruscans were gathering in great numbers against Sutrium, marched without the knowledge of the enemy through the country of their neighbours into upper Etruria, which had not been plundered for a long time.  Falling upon it unexpectedly, he ravaged a large part of the country; and in a victory over those of the inhabitants who came against him, he slew many of them and took no small number of them alive as prisoners.  Thereafter, defeating the Etruscans in a second battle near the place called Perusia and destroying many of them, he overawed the nation since he was the first of the Romans to have invaded that region with an army.  He also made truces with the peoples of Arretium (Arezzo) and Cortona, and likewise with those of Perusia; and, taking by siege the city called Castola (possibly Carsulae), he forced the Etruscans to raise the siege of Sutrium” (10:35).

  5. In his "History of Rome from its Foundations", which was probably written a few years later, Livy had a slightly different account.  He recorded that Marcus Fabius, the brother of Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, crossed the Ciminian forest and threatened upper Etruria.  This “roused to arms, not only the states of Etruria, but the neighbouring parts of Umbria.  They came therefore to Sutrium, with such a numerous army as they had never before brought into the field ... Then, a little before day, ... the [Roman] troops rushing forth, fell upon the enemy... and these... were quickly routed... On that day, 60,000 of the enemy were slain or taken.  Some affirm that this famous battle was fought on the farther side of the Ciminian forest, at Perusia ....  But on whatever spot it was fought, it is certain that the Roman power prevailed; and, in consequence thereof, ambassadors from Perusia, Cortona, and Arretium, which were then among the principal states of Etruria, soliciting a peace and alliance with the Romans, obtained a truce for 30 years” (Book 9:37).  The truce did not initially hold, so “the consul Fabius fought with the remnants of the Etrurians at Perusia, which city also had violated the truce, and gained an easy and decisive victory.  He would have taken the town itself (for he marched up to the walls) had not deputies come out and capitulated.  Having placed a garrison at Perusia, and sent on before him to the Roman senate the embassies of Etruria, who solicited friendship, the consul rode into the city in triumph ...” (9:40).  (This and all the following references to Livy on the Roman Conquest are from in Books 9-26. )

Perusia was still as an independent and powerful state by the time of the Third Samnite War.  In 295 BC, part of the Samnite army under Gellius Egnatius marched into Etruria, planning to join with other armies of Umbrians, Etruscans, and Gauls in an attack Rome from the north.  Livy continues his account:

  1. [News reached Rome] “that Gellius Egnatius, the leader of the Samnites, was causing the Umbrians to join in the insurrection, and tempting the Gauls with high offers. Terrified at this news, the senate ordered the courts of justice to be shut, and a levy to be made of men of every description” (10:21).

  2. Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, consul for the 5th time in 295 BC, took over a Roman army stationed at “the town of Aharna [probably Arna, across the Tiber from Perusia], from which the enemy were not far distant”.  He found the soldiers there to be extremely insecure: "they had a double rampart and a trench, and, notwithstanding, were in great apprehension .... Next day the camp was moved from thence ... From that time the Romans had no fixed post, the consul affirming that it was prejudicial to an army to lie in one spot ....” (10:25).

  3. This army suffered a defeat: “The legion was ... attacked on the rear, and surrounded in the middle, when the enemy pressed it on all sides.  Some writers say, that the whole were cut off, so that not one survived to give an account of it, and that no information of the misfortune reached the consuls, who were, at the time, not far from Clusium, until the Gallic horsemen came within sight, carrying the heads of the slain ... (10:26) 

  4. Livy places the defeat itself at Clusium, at the hands of the Senonian Gauls, although he says that “others affirm that the defeat was by Umbrians, not Gauls”. 

  5. In fact, the account of this event by Polybius in “Histories” is probably more accurate: “the Samnites and Gauls made a league, gave the Romans battle in the neighbourhood of Camerium, and slew a large number” (2:19). 

  6. Livy then describes the subsequent decisive Battle of Sentium: “The consuls [Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus and Publius Decius Mus], having crossed the Apennines, came up with the enemy in the territory of Sentinum .... Several councils were then held by the enemy, and their plan of operations was thus settled: that  ... the Gauls were united to the Samnites, the Umbrians to the Etrurians.  The day of battle was fixed.  The part of maintaining the fight was committed to the Samnites and Gauls; and the Etrurians and Umbrians were ordered to attack the Roman camp during the heat of the engagement.  This plan was frustrated by three Clusian deserters, who came over by night to Fabius, and after disclosing the above designs, were sent back with presents, in order that they might discover, and bring intelligence of, any new scheme which should be determined on.  The consuls then wrote to Flavius and Postumius to move their armies ... towards Clusium; and to ruin the enemy's territory by every means in their power.  The news of these depredations drew the Etrurians from Sentinum to protect their own region”.  This tactic seems to have been decisive: Livy observes that: “In the first encounter [between the Romans and the remaining Samnites and Gauls], the action was supported with strength so equal on both sides that, had the Etrurians and Umbrians been present ... the Romans must have been defeated” (10:27).

In fact, when it seemed that the Romans might indeed be defeated, Decius “spurred forward his horse to where he saw the line of the Gauls thickest and, rushing upon the enemy's weapons, met his death.  Thenceforward the battle seemed to be fought with a degree of force scarcely human.  The Romans, on the loss of their general, a circumstance which, on other occasions, is wont to inspire terror, stopped their flight, and were anxious to begin the combat afresh”.  The result was a decisive victory, and the surviving consul Fabius returned to Rome in triumph. 

The outcome was equally bad for the Etruscans:

  1. When the Etruscan army arrived at Clusium “... matters were managed successfully by Cneius Fulvius, propraetor, who caused immense losses occasioned to the enemy by the devastation of their lands and fought a battle with extraordinary success, in which there were above 3,000 of the Perusians and Clusians slain, and 20 military standards taken” (10:30).

  2. “ Notwithstanding these successes, peace was not yet established, either among the Samnites [see below] or the Etrurians: for the latter, at the instigation of the Perusians, resumed their arms, after the consul had withdrawn his army ... In Etruria, Fabius, on the revival of hostilities, slew 4,500 of the Perusians, and took 1,740 prisoners, who were ransomed at the rate of 310 asses each.  All the rest of the spoil was bestowed on the soldiers” (10:31). 

  3. In the following year (294 BC), the consul Lucius Postumius Megellus, “having led over his forces into Etruria, first laid waste the lands of the Volsinians; and afterwards, on their marching out to protect their country, gained a decisive victory over them, at a small distance from their own walls.  2,200 Etrurians were slain; the proximity of their city protected the rest.  ... But a peace, effected that year in Etruria, was still more important and honourable than the war had been.  Three very powerful cities, the chief ones of Etruria, (Volsinii, Perusia, and Arretium) sued for peace; and having stipulated with the consul to furnish clothing and corn for his army, on condition of being permitted to send deputies to Rome, they obtained a truce for 40 years, and a fine was imposed on each state of 500,000 asses, to be immediately paid” (10:37). This sequence of events marked the end of the independence of both the Etruscans and the Umbrians.

Second Punic War (218-202 BC)


The following accounts are in Books 9-26 of the "History of Rome from its Foundations":

  1. After his victory at Lake Trasimeno (217 BC): “Hannibal, marching directly through Umbria, arrived at Spoletum, thence, having completely devastated the adjoining country, and commenced an assault upon the town, but was repulsed. ...[This gave him an insight into the problems that he would face in taking Rome.  He therefore] turned aside into the territory of Picenum” (22:9).

  2. In 216-5 BCE, during closing stages of the war, Perusia sent a cohort of 460 men to aid the Roman defense of Casilinum, after nearby Capua had revolted. (23:17).

  3. For the expedition of Scipio Africanus against Hannibal in 205 BC: “The people of Perusia, Clusium, and Rusella furnished firs for building ships, and a great quantity of corn.  ...” (28:45). 

Perusine War (41-40 BC)


Book 1, Elegy 22  refers to the ravages caused by the the Perusine War: “You ask, always in friendship, Tullus, what are my household gods, and of what people am I.  If our country’s graves, at Perusia (Perugia), are known to you, Italy’s graveyard in darkest times, when Rome’s citizens dealt in war (as, to my special sorrow, Etruscan dust, you have allowed my kinsman’s limbs to be scattered, you cover his wretched bones with no scrap of soil), know that Umbria rich in fertile ground bore me, where it touches there on the plain below”.

In Book IV, Elegy 1a, Propertius suggests that his father was killed and his family lost their extensive Umbrian lands when he was a child, probably during the Perusine War: “Ancient Umbria gave birth to you, at a noble hearth: am I lying? Or has my mouth revealed your country? Where misty Mevania (Bevagna) wets the open plain, and the summer waters of the Umbrian lake steam, and the wall towers from the summit of climbing Asisium (Assisi), that wall made more famous by your genius?  Not of an age to gather them, you gathered your father’s bones, and yourself were forced to find a meaner home since, though many bullocks ploughed your fields, the merciless measuring-rod stole your wealth of land”.


The following detailed account is from Book V of the “Civil Wars”:

  1. “ When [Lucius Antonius, the brother of Mark Antony and enemy of Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus] perceived [his enemy’s] design he did not dare to come to an engagement .. so he turned aside to Perusia, a strongly fortified city, and encamped near it, to wait there for [his ally] Ventidius.  Agrippa [Octavian’s general], Salvidienus, and Octavian advanced against him and against Perusia and ... summoned reinforcements  ...  He sent others forward to hold in check the forces of Ventidius, who were approaching.  The latter, however, hesitated ... Lucius did not go out to battle with the forces surrounding him ...; nor did he resume his march ... [Instead, he] sent Manius to Ventidius and Asinius to hasten them to the aid of the besieged army, while also sending Tisienus with 4,000 horse to pillage the enemy's supplies, in order to force him to raise the siege.  Lucius entered within the walls of Perusia so that he might winter in a strong place, if necessary, until Ventidius and Asinius should arrive” (5:32).

  2. “Octavian ... drew a line of palisade and ditch around Perusia 56 stades in circuit, on account of the hill on which it was situated; he extended long arms to the Tiber, so that nothing might be introduced into the place.  Lucius, for his part, built a similar line of countervallation, thus fortifying the foot of the hill.  Fulvia [Lucius’ wife and the sister of Mark Antony] urged Ventidius, Asinius, Ateius, and Calenus to hasten from Gaul to the assistance of Lucius, and collected reinforcements, which she sent to Lucius under the lead of Plancus.  Plancus destroyed one of Octavian's legions, which was on the march to Rome. While Asinius and Ventidius were proceeding ...  to the relief of Lucius ... Octavian and Agrippa, leaving a guard at Perusia, threw themselves in the way.  The former ... retreated: Asinius to Ravenna; and Ventidius to Ariminum.  Plancus took refuge in Spoletium. Octavian stationed a force in front of each, to prevent them from forming a junction, and returned to Perusia, where he speedily strengthened [the siege]” (5:33).

  3. “When the work of Octavian was finished, famine fastened upon Lucius, and the evil grew more pressing, since neither he nor the city had made preparations beforehand.  Knowing this fact Octavian kept the most vigilant watch.  On the day preceding the Calends of January, Lucius thought to avail himself of the holiday, under the belief that the enemy would be off their guard, to make a sally by night against their gates, hoping to break through them and bring in his other forces... But the legion that was lying in wait near by, and  ... Lucius ... was driven back ... “(5:34).

  4. “Ventidius and his officers, ashamed to look on while Lucius was starving, moved to his support, intending to overpower [the besieging army].  Agrippa and Salvidienus went to meet them with still larger forces.  Fearing lest they should be surrounded, they diverged to the stronghold of Fulginium, 160 stades from Perusia.  There Agrippa besieged them, and they lit many fires as signals to Lucius.  [There they awaited events.  The men under siege at] Perusia rejoiced when they saw the fires but, when Ventidius delayed his coming, they conjectured that he, too, was in difficulties, and when the fires ceased they thought that he had been destroyed. Lucius, oppressed by hunger, again fought a night battle ... ; but he failed and was driven back into Perusia.  There he took an account of the remaining provisions, and forbade the giving of any to the slaves, and prohibited them from escaping, lest the enemy should gain better knowledge of his desperate situation ...” (5:35).

  5. “As no end of the famine or of the deaths could be discerned, the [besieged] soldiers became restive ... and implored Lucius to make another attempt [to break out of Perusia] ... Lucius marched out at dawn ...” (5:36).

  6. [After heavy fighting, during which Octavian was able to call up fresh reserves], Lucius  ... sounded a retreat.  Then the troops of Octavian joyfully clashed their arms as for a victory, whereupon [Lucius’ men defiantly returned to the fight].  Lucius ran among them and besought them to sacrifice their lives no longer, and led them back groaning and reluctant.  This was the end of this hotly contested siege ...” (5:37-8).

  7. Octavian allowed Lucius and his army to withdraw. He then: “commanded the Perusians who stretched out their hands to him from the walls, to come forward, all except their town council, and as they presented themselves he pardoned them; but the councillors were thrown into prison and soon afterwards put to death, except Lucius Aemilius, who had sat as a judge at Rome in the trial of the murderers of Caesar, who had voted openly for condemnation, and had advised all the others to do the same in order to expiate the guilt” (5:48).

  8. “Octavian intended to turn Perusia itself over to the soldiers for plunder, but Cestius, one of the citizens, who was somewhat out of his mind ... set fire to his house and plunged into the flames, and a strong wind fanned the conflagration and drove it over the whole of Perusia, which was entirely consumed, except the temple of Vulcan.  Such was the end of Perusia, a city renowned for its antiquity and importance.  It is said that it was one of the first twelve cities built by the Etruscans in Italy in the olden time.  For this reason the worship of Juno prevailed there, as among the Etruscans generally.  But thereafter, those who shared among themselves the remains of the city took Vulcan for their tutelary deity instead of Juno.  On the following day Octavian made peace with all of them, but the soldiers did not desist from tumults against some of them until the latter were killed.  These were the chief personal enemies of Octavian, namely, Cannutius, Gaius Flavius, Clodius Bithynicus, and others. Such was the conclusion of the siege of Lucius in Perusia, and thus came to an end a war which had promised to be long-continued and most grievous to Italy” (5:49).

Cassius Dio

The following account is from the “Roman History”:

“While they were thus engaged, Lucius withdrew from Rome (as I have stated) and set out for Gaul; but finding his way blocked, he turned aside to Perusia, an Etruscan city.  There he was intercepted first by the lieutenants of Caesar and later by Caesar himself, and was besieged.  The investment proved a long operation; for the place is naturally a strong one and had been amply stocked with provisions; and horsemen sent by Lucius before he was entirely hemmed in greatly harassed the besieger, while many others besides came speedily to his defense from various quarters.  Many attacks were made upon these reinforcements separately and many engagements were fought close to the walls, until the followers of Lucius, even though they were generally successful, nevertheless were forced by hunger to capitulate.  The leader and some others obtained pardon, but most of the senators and knights were put to death.  And the story goes that they did not merely suffer death in an ordinary form, but were led to the altar consecrated to the former Caesar and were there sacrificed — 300 knights and many senators, among them Tiberius Cannutius, who previously during his tribuneship had assembled the populace for Caesar Octavianus.  Of the people of Perusia and the others who were captured there, the majority lost their lives, and the city itself, except the temple of Vulcan and the statue of Juno, was entirely destroyed by fire.  This statue, which was preserved by some chance, was brought to Rome, in accordance with a vision that Caesar saw in a dream, and it secured for the city the privilege of being peopled again by any who desired to settle there, though they did not acquire anything of its territory beyond the first mile” (48:14).


Literary Sources for Ancient and Roman Perusia

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Perusine War      Perusia in the Roman Empire