Key to Umbria: Spello

This page is principally concerned with the third request made of Constantine in the rescript:

  1. The rescript first set out the background to this request:

  2. ... you have asserted that you were joined to Tuscia in such a way that:

  3. -according to istituto consuetudinis priscae [previous/ old/ ancient custom]; 

  4. -per singulas annorum vices [each year/ in alternate years];

  5. priests who are created by you and by the aforementioned offer theatrical shows and a gladiatorial contest apud [in, near] Volsinii, a city of Tuscia.”

  6. The rescript then summarised the request, which would involve significant changes to these arrangements:

  7. “... because of the steepness of the mountains and the difficulties of the wooded routes [between the two cities], you have urgently demanded that, through the grant of a remedy, your priest may not be required to travel to Volsinii in order to celebrate the games  and, specifically ...:

  8. -that the priest whom Umbria had provided anniversaria vice [annually/ in alternate years] should [in future] offer a spectacle of both theatrical shows and a gladiatorial contest [at Hispellum];

  9. -even while the same custom remains for Tuscia: that the priest created [there] should attend the spectacles of the aforementioned games at Volsinii, as was customary.”

  10. Constantine’s  reply was carefully worded:

  11. Consequenter (as a consequence) [of the erection of the Templum Flaviae Gentis at Hispellum], we ... grant you permission to host the games [at Hispellum], on the specific condition that ... the tradition of giving games shall not depart from Volsinii per vices temporis [annually/  in alternate years], where the aforementioned festival shall be celebrated by priests created from Tuscia.  In this way:

  12. -not much will seem to be diminished from veteribus institutis [previous/ ancient custom]; while 

  13. -you, who come to us as suppliants  ... will enjoy the pleasure of having obtained that  which you so urgently demanded.”

I have relied on the English translation by Noel Lenski (referenced below, at pp 118-9) here.  However, where the translation is disputed, I have given the Latin in Italics and then the alternative translations.

Before we can attempt to understand these passages, we need to establish the meaning of “Umbria” (used once in the rescript) and “Tuscia” (used four times).  The key passages in this context are as follows

  1. “... priests who are created by you and by the aforementioned [i.e. Tuscia]...”

  2. “... you have urgently demanded that ... your priest may not be requiredto travel to Volsinii ...”

  3. “... [you ask that] the priest whom Umbria had provided ... should [in future officiate at Hispellum], even while the same custom remains for Tuscia: that the priest created [there] should [continue to officiate] at Volsinii, as was customary.”

In short, on a strict reading:

  1. “you” means “Umbria” in this part of the rescript (although it meant Hispellum in the context of the other two requests); and

  2. “you were joined to Tuscia” means “you, the people/cities of “Umbria” were joined to those of “Tuscia”;

but, as discussed below, neither “Umbria” nor “Tuscia” is defined. 

Thus, we learn from the rescript that, in the period prior to ca. 335 AD (i.e. before the rescript came into effect):

  1. an annual festival was held in or near Volsinii/Bolsena, involving theatrical shows and gladiatorial games;

  2. it was officiated by two priests, one who was chosen by some means by “Tuscia”, alongside (or, perhaps, in alternation with) another who was chosen (presumably in the same way) by “Umbria”; and

  3. the people/cities of “Umbria” had been joined to those of “Tuscia”, at least for the purpose of holding this joint festival, by an established and possibly ancient tradition.

Once the provisions of the rescript were enacted, two interpretations are possible:

  1. either the festival was held annually in both centres, presided over in each by the priest chosen there;

  2. or the festival was held at Volsinii and Hispellum in alternate years, presided over by the priest chosen there. 

In my view, the first of these two interpretations is the more likely, since Constantine asserted that little would change at Volsinii, other than the end to Umbrian participation.  I am going to proceed on this basis, but readers should note that many scholars subscribe to the ‘alternating years’ hypothesis, including Noel Lenski, on whose translation of the rescript I have relied. 

The passages above are easily the most perplexing in the rescript, not least because a good deal of the background is ‘taken as read’.  For example:

  1. As note above, neither “Umbria” nor “Tuscia” is defined.  These had been the respective names of the Augustan administrative regions VI and VII, but it is unclear that they had retained any ‘official’ significance after ca. 294 AD, when the Emperor Diocletian had introduced  provincial administration into peninsular Italy: at that time, it is likely that most or all of the cities that had been assigned to the Augustan regions VI and VII had been re-assigned to the new province of Tuscia et Umbria. The separate terms could refer to these ‘ethnic’ subsets of the new province, but they could alternatively have had a more colloquial meaning.

  2. We are not told why “Umbria” celebrated the festival jointly with “Tuscia”: the rescript simply says that this was according to istituto consuetudinis priscae (previous, possibly ancient, custom or tradition).

  3. Related to this, we are not told why the joint festival had been been held at Volsinii, despite the fact that the sanctuary at Hispellum (for example) had a theatre and an amphitheatre that could (and, after the rescript, presumably did) accommodate participants from the neighbouring cities. 

  4. Finally, the rescript gives us only two clues to the nature of this joint festival: it had been held annually; and it had been presided over by two ‘sacerdotes’ (priests), one provided by Tuscia and the other by Umbria (however defined).

Given these uncertainties, it is not surprising that the published literature offers a wide variety of hypotheses that suggest answers to these questions.  Most of them can be assigned to to one of two fundamentally different schools of thought:

  1. For some scholars, the people/ cities of Tuscia and Umbria had been joined together in ca. 294 AD, when they had been assigned to the new province of Tuscia et Umbria.  The annual festival was that of the annual provincial council (see below).

  2. For others, the rescript permitted the restoration of a much earlier situation, in which the Umbrians and the Etruscans had independently held annual ceremonies (at Hispellum and Volsinii respectively) that were rooted in their cult practices in the pre-Roman period.

In the following two sections, I look first at each of these two schools of thought (relying on the opinions of a representative sample of papers from each, rather than attempting anything more comprehensive), before setting out my own conclusions (for what they are worth).

Provincial Festival ?

The most natural explanation of the phrase “you, the people/ cities of Umbria, were joined to those of Tuscia” is arguably that it refers to the creation of the province of Tuscia et Umbria in ca. 295 AD.  (The earliest known corrector Tusciae et Umbriae  (governor of the province) was Caius Vettius Cossinius Rufinus, who was recoded as such in an inscription (CIL X 5061; LSA-1978) from Atina.)  On this model, the annual festival described in the rescript would have been a provincial festival, probably associated with the provincial council that would have been held annually in the provincial capital.

Duncan Fishwick (referenced below, 2002, at pp. 301-2) assembled a large body of evidence from the analogous situation in the (older) western provinces, from which he concluded that:

  1. the provincial council was attended by legates who represented the individual cities of the province;

  2. this council elected the provincial priest from among its members, apparently without reference to the provincial governor;

  3. a provincial high priest was elected for a year, during which:

  4. his secular duties involved presiding over meetings of the council;

  5. he also officiated at ceremonies of the provincial imperial cult, which took place at various times throughout the year; and

  6. his principal financial obligation, which could be substantial, was to fund the spectacles that concluded the annual meeting of the council, (which were held in the provincial sanctuary and also devoted to the provincial imperial cult).

It is likely that these practices were broadly followed in the new provinces of Italy after ca.295 AD.

On this model, the games that had been held apud Volsinii until the issue of the rescript would have been associated with the annual meetings of the concilium Tusciae et Umbriae .  Thus, Timothy Barnes (referenced below, at p. 21) asserted that, in this third request:

  1. “... Hispellum has requested ... that the annual games associated with the imperial cult of the combined province of Tuscia et Umbria, previously held every year at Volsinii, should in future be held at Volsinii and Hispellum, in alternate years ...”

Giovanni Cecconi (referenced below, 2012, at p. 278), in a paper in which he updated the view that he had first expressed in his book of 1994 (also referenced below), similarly asserted that:

  1. “Although there are no unequivocal allusions [in the rescript] to the provincial assemblies, the text mentions the election of priests [who presided over annual gaames] with responsibilities that were not solely municipal and, when it refers to “Tuscia” or “Umbria” and mentions that [they] were ‘coniuncti’ [joined or united], this cannot make sense unless as a reference to the two official [ethnic] components of the province [of Tuscia et Umbria]” (my translation).

If the games described in the rescript were provincial games, this should indicate that Volsinii  was the provincial capital.  Thus, Timothy Barnes (referenced below, at p. 20)  asserted that:

  1. “The capital of the double province ... was the ancient Etruscan city of Volsinii, and the petition from Hispellum arises as a consequence of of this fact.”

However, there is no other evidence that Volsinii ever had this status: as Noel Lenski (referenced below, at p. 121) pointed out, the only evidence for the provincial capital (indicated by the residence there of the provincial governor) relates to Florentia (Florence) and Pistoriae (Pistoia) and dates to later in the century.  However, Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2017, at p. 227) pointed out that the hypothesis under consideration here:

  1. “... does not [in fact] require the automatic acceptance that [Volsinii] was also the capital of the new province of Tuscia et Umbria: the aged Diocletian could have chosen it [for the honour of hosting provincial games] because of its religious traditions (perhaps due to the presence in the vicinity of the ancient [pan-Etruscan] sanctuary) and perhaps also because of its location on the border of Umbria with Etruria: it was particularly convenient in this respect, despite of the statement [to the contrary] made by the Hispellates” (my translation).

Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2013, at p. 113) addressed the fact that, on this model, the province of Tuscia et Umbria had two provincial priests, one for each of its ethnic components.  He pointed out that:

  1. Until the middle of the 3rd century AD, the documentation for the western part of the Empire reveals a uniform picture: each province had a single priest who presided over a single concilium and [associated] games that were celebrated annually at the federal sanctuary” (my translation).

However, he argued that:

  1. “ ... Diocletian’s reorganisation would have had significant consequences, especially in Italy: here, the artificial fusion of different ethnic and cultural groups in the new [provinces] would have created imbalances and pressure for [a degreel of] autonomy: a remedy, albeit unusual, could have been found in the creation of a dual priesthood, which would have safeguarded the principle of equal representation [of the component ethnicities].  Unfortunately at present we have no evidence” (my translation).

He concluded (at p. 116) that he was:

  1. “... inclined to believe that the concilium remained unique [i.e. it was still held only at one location after the issue of the rescript] ... and was chaired, as before, by two priests representing the two ethnic groups” (my translation).

Thus, the only duplication after the rescript related to the annual provincial games, which were now held (in parallel or in alternate years) in two sanctuaries: one presided over by the priest elected by the cities of Tuscia, which still took place at the sanctuary apud Volsinii; and the other presided over by the priest elected by the cities of Umbria, which presumably took place at the sanctuary at Villa Fidelia.

The last issue to clarify here is the title of the provincial priests.  Duncan Fishwick established (at p. 294)  that, in the western provinces, they held the title of sacerdos (the title used in the rescript) or flamen.  However, Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2013, at p. 103) reasonably suggested that the title used for the hight priest of the province of Tuscia et Umbria was ‘coronatus Tusciae et Umbriae’, a title known from two inscriptions, each of which is on the base of a statue of a man who held it:

  1. CIL XI 5283 in the lapidarium of Palazzo Comunale, Spello (see also LSA-1638 my page Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus), which was discovered near the amphitheatre of the sanctuary at Villa Fidelia and which  dates to the period shortly after the issuing of the rescript, commemorates Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus as the holder of two priestly offices: pontifex gentis Flaviae (priest of the cult of the family of Constantine I); and coronatus Tusciae et Umbriae; and

  2. EDR135070 from Carsulae, which is now in the deposit of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Umbria and which dates to the 2nd half of the 4th century AD, commemorates a now-anonymous patron (probably of Carsulae) who was also [coro]nato Tusciae et Um[b(riae).

Thus, on this hypothesis, soon after the rescript, Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus officiated at the annual provincial games (presumably at Hispellum), and he did so in his capacity of coronatus Tusciae et Umbriae (rather than, for example, as pontifex gentis Flaviae).  Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2013, at p 115) insisted that:

  1. “... the two titles are not comparable: ‘pontifex’ never designated a provincial priest, but rather was of municipal character.  We are dealing, therefore, with a separate priesthood, held either before or concurrently with [the position of provincial coronatus], perhaps as the officiating priest at the new aedes gentis Flaviae [at Hispellum]” (my translation).

Arguments Against this Hypothesis

The ‘joining’ of Tuscia and Umbria in the context of the annual games held apud Volsinii was described in the rescript as a ‘prisca consuetudino’ (old custom).  There is a considerable literature on the question of ‘how old is old?’ in this context. 

  1. Jacques Gascou (referenced below, at p. 635) argued that the use of this terminology:

  2. “...makes it impossible to place the origin of this religious federation between Volsiniii and Hispellurn at the time of the reform. of Diocletian (or Aurelian)” (my translation).

  3. Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2001, at p. 42), among others, insisted that the phrase implied a tradition that:

  4. “... had certainly existed for centuries” (my translation).

However, Giovanni Alberto Cecconi (referenced below, 2012, at p. 283) provided examples of other legal documents from this period in which this or comparable phrases referred to practices that had existed for only a matter of decades.  As Noel Lenski (referenced below, at p. 121) summarised:

  1. “By this reading, ‘prisca consuetudino’ need not point to remote antiquity, but may simply mean ‘the previous way of doing things’ or ‘ the earlier protocol’.”

I assume that Cecconi and Lenski are correct in this respect: I would certainly not  venture an opinion on Latin ‘legalese’ in the 4th century AD!   However, it seems to me that it would be odd to describe the joining together of Tuscia and Umbria to form the new province as a matter of tradition (however old), rather than as the result of a major imperial initiative.

Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, at p. 44) also insisted that:

  1. “The ‘coronatus’ [evidenced, for example, by the inscription commemorating Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus, above)] was uno solo [by which, I think he meant that the priesthood was held by only one man at a time], and probably had nothing to do with the priests elected by the Tuscians and the Umbrians for the celebration of [the games described in the rescript]” (my translation).

Actually, I can not see anything in the inscription relating to Matrinius that would preclude his having served as one of two coronati and, in any case, in some versions of the hypothesis under discussion here, the Umbrian and Etruscan sacerdotes of the rescript  served alone in alternate years.  However, my main question here is that, if the sacerdotes of the rescript were coronati, why were they not identified as such?

Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, at p. 43) also raised a third problem, asking rhetorically:

  1. “Is it possible to imagine that the management of institutions essential to a province, such as that of Tuscia et Umbria from the time of Diocletian, was profoundly modified by means of a rescript solicited by one of the parties?”

I have to say that this seems to me to be a powerful point, particularly when one takes into account that the suppliant was a single city, Hispellum, which (according to the hypothesis) represented the ‘Umbrian’ cities of the province in relation the third request.  This seems to me to have been an unorthodox approach,  In this context, it is noteworthy that the Rescript of Ephesus of ca. 375 AD (translated by Allan Chester Johnson et al., referenced below, as Document 318), which Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2013, at p 110) cited as an example of imperial intervention in the role of coronati in provincial games (in this case, in the province of Asia), was addressed to Julius Festus Hymetius, the governor of the province. 

My Conclusions

On points of detail discussed above, I have expressed concerns about the extent to which this hypothesis - that the joint festival described in the rescript was related to the annual provincial council - fits with what the rescript actually says.  For example:

  1. the rescript describes the joining together of Tuscia and Umbria as a matter of established tradition, rather than as the result of a major imperial initiative that created a new province;

  2. it describes the priests who presided over the games as sacerdotes, not as coronati, the appropriate title if these were provincial games; and

  3. while the Rescript of Ephesus of ca. 375 AD was addressed (as one might expect) to the provincial governor, the rescript at Hispellum was addressed (as far as we can tell) only to Hispellum, despite the fact that (if this hypothesis is correct) it affected the whole province. 

More fundamentally, it is important to note that the Rescript of Ephesus governing the arrangements for the annual festival of province of Asia:

  1. names the province;

  2. is addressed to the provincial governor;

  3. defines the precise nature of the festival to which it relates; and

  4. although it does not name the four cities (Ephesus, Pergamon, Smyrna and Tralleis) in which the festival was held, carefully defined them as “metropoles of Asia”. 

None of these characteristics apply to the rescript at Hispellum:

  1. it makes no reference to the province of Tuscia et Umbria;

  2. it is addressed, as far as we can tell from the inscription, to the people or the administration of Hispellum;

  3. all it says about the games in question is that they were annual games presided over by two priests, one provided by “Tuscia” and the other by “Umbria”; and

  4. it does not specify the status of either “Umbria” or “Tuscia” within the province. 

Furthermore, it announces a major decision that apparently affected the conduct of the provincial games alongside two others that had nothing to do with the provincial affairs, but instead related to Hispellum alone. 

Thus, despite the obvious attractions of this hypothesis (to which I hope I have done justice), I think that the lack of what might be called ‘official resonance’ in the text of the rescript indicates that it was not related to the organisation of the annual provincial games, which were at the heart of the provincial administration.   I must stress that this is a matter of opinion, with which many scholars would disagree.

An Earlier Joining Together ?

As noted above, Jacques Gascou did not believe that the joining together of Tuscia and Umbria described in the rescript could have taken place only 40 years earlier, at the time of the reforms of Diocletian.  He suggested it might have dated back to administrative reforms undertaken by Marcus Aurelius in ca. 165 AD, when most of Italy was assigned to one of four iuridici (legal districts), with a fifth, the urbica dioecesis, directly responsible to the Urban Prefect at Rome.  This fifth region covered all the territory within 100 miles from Rome, and thus included both Volsinii and Hispellum.  Thus (at p. 636), he:

  1. “... put forward, with caution, the following hypothesis: it is possible that [in ca. 165 AD], Volsinii and Hispellum, probably the two most important cities the northern part of the urbica dioecesis, because they were in the same district and a short distance from each other, decided to establish ... religious federation which was described in the rescript.  They may have brought with them the Etruscan and Umbrian cities of the urbica dioecesis and chosen Volsinii as the seat of the federation because of religious prestige of this city, which was already the seat of festivals fanum Voltumnae and of [the revived Etruscan Federation]” (my translation).

John Scheid (referenced below, at p. 247) developed this hypothesis:

  1. “Volsinii was apparently chosen [in ca. 165 AD] for the seat of this [joint] festival because of the prestige of the ancient Etruscan sanctuary of the fanum Voltumnae, which was situated in its territory.  In my opinion, Hispellum was, without doubt selected, to represent the Umbrians [at this festival] because of its authority over the sanctuary of Clitumnus [which Augustus had transferred to the new colony from Spoletium] and thus over the [Augustan] Regio VI.  ...  In any case, [for whatever reason,] Hispellum represented the Umbrians in the second century [at a joint annual festival held at Volsinii].  It is not audacious to suppose that this role goes back to a tradition created by Augustus” (my translation).

Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, in the paper about to be published, at pp. 220-1) commented on:

  1. “... the symmetric role played in the Rescript by [the Etruscan and] Umbrian priests, who operated on an equal footing (except for the discomfort imposed by the journey to Volsinii, of which the Hispellates complained)” (my translation).

I think that this was not the case in the original configuration of the joint festival: rather, an Umbrian praetor had simply taken part in an annual festival associated with the rite of  the Clavus Annalis that was presided over by a praetor Etruriae.  I suggest below that this situation changed shortly before the Rescript, when the joint festival at Volsinii was re-dedicated to the gens Flavia.

Festival with Pre-Roman Roots ?

As discussed above, Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2001 at pp. 42-4) was among those who have  put forward a number of objections to the hypothesis discussed in the previous section.  His key objection was that, in his view, description in the rescript of the ‘joining together ’ of Tuscia and Umbria as a ‘prisca consuetudino’ (old custom) meant that  this situation had certainly existed for centuries: it could not have taken place as recently as ca. 295 AD.  Instead, he was inclined to accept a suggestion of Jacques Gascou (referenced below): that it had occurred in ca. 165 AD (during the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius), when most of Italy had been assigned to one of four iuridici (legal districts), with a fifth, the urbica dioecesis, directly responsible to the Urban Prefect at Rome.  This fifth region covered all the territory within 100 miles from Rome, and thus included both Volsinii and Hispellum.  However, Coarelli argued  (at p. 44) that:

  1. “It is probable that [the third request in the rescript] was aimed, in reality, at the restoration of [what must have been] the original situation, in which the two ceremonies had been separate ... [with one held] at Volsinii and [the other] at Hispellum.  The unification [alluded to in the rescript] could have reflected an original rapport between the two centres and the two [originally autonomous] ceremonies, a rapport rooted in links that were probably idealogical, cultural and, more precisely, religious in nature, rather than political or administrative”(my translation).

Thus, for Coarelli:

  1. before the “joining together” described in the rescript, “Umbria” and “Tuscia” had each held an important annual religious ceremony, at Hispellum and Volsinii respectively;

  2. these had been merged into a single ceremony held at Volsinii, perhaps in ca. 165 AD and certainly before ca. 295 AD; and

  3. the third request in the rescript led to the restoration of the original situation.

In order to date and locate these original, purely Umbrian, ceremonies, Coarelli pointed out (at p. 47) that:

  1. “It would be difficult not to connect the games mentioned in the rescript with the structure of the sanctuary [at Villa Fidelia, where the inscription recording the rescript was found: this sanctuary] included a theatre and an amphitheatre, precisely the facilities used for ludi scaenici and gladiatorum munus [such as those recorded in the rescript].  The dimensions of the theatre, excessive for a small city like Hispellum, can be perfectly explained if it was intended for use by the whole nomen Umbro.  We are dealing here with an Augustan complex ... [The third request] therefore did not constitute a novelty, but merely a return to a prior practice, which we can probably identify as the ‘istituto consuetudinis priscae’ of the rescript” (my translation). 

In other words, Coarelli suggested that the independent Umbrian games that had preceded the “joining together” described in the rescript dated back at least to ca. 27 BC, when the sanctuary at Villa Fidelia had been monumentalised on a significant scale to accommodate them.  However (he continued):

  1. “... there is more: on the basis of scant but secure [surviving archeological evidence], it seems that the [Augustan] sanctuary was nothing other than the monumentalisation of a much more ancient structure ... ; [it thus] provides another example of the antiquarian restoration of tradition that was typical of Augustan ideology.  An intervention on this scale would not have been justified if we were dealing with a local cult: we must be dealing here with the ethnic sanctuary of the Umbrians, [later] reflected in the rescript ...” (my translation).

He suggested (at pp. 48-9) that:

  1. “We can thus reconstruct with great likelihood the existence of a federal centre located [at Villa Fidelia] that was based on the model of the fanum Voltumnae of Volsinii [i.e. the federal sanctuary of Etruria in the 4th century BC, which was documented by Livy].   This too ...experienced an antiquarian restoration under Augustus [, who revived the Etruscan League, as evidenced by inscriptions from this period that recorded] praetores Etruriae quindecim populorum [priest of the 15 peoples of Etruria]” (my translation).

He summarised (at pp. 49-50):

  1. “Far from constituting a late manifestation of the imperial administrative restructuring of Italy, [the religious association of Hispellum and Volsinii evidence by the rescript] is at the end of a long historical process, the roots of which are sunk deep in the soil of pre-Roman Umbria” (my translation).

Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2012, at p. 421) was of a similar opinion, suggesting that:

  1. “... the priests elected by the Umbrian League were [originally] invited to attend pan-Etruscan games celebrated at Volsinii, without prejudice to the autonomous conduct of pan-Umbrian games at the ethnic sanctuary at Hispellum.  It is impossible to place a secure chronology on this period of close rapport between the two peoples: [however], the little that we know about [the ancient] history of the region ... suggests a stable political-military alliance between the Umbrians and Etruscans from at least the beginning of the 4th century BC until the Battle of Sentinum [in 295 BC], directed against the common enemy [Rome].  We can imagine that this was sealed in the religious sphere through the sharing of their respective federal rituals” (my translation).

He concluded  (at p. 423) that:

  1. “...the Constantinian rescript from Hispellum ... documents, in unequivocal terms, the survival, at the beginning of the 4th century AD, of pan-Umbrian games that were:

  2. -closely linked to the pan-Etruscan games [held at] the ancient fanum Voltumnae at Volsinii; and

  3. -celebrated ... at the find spot of the inscription [that recorded the rescript], which was discovered ... in the area of the sanctuary at Villa Fidelia ...”, (my translation).

On the bases of the amplification provided by Coarelli and Sisani, we can flesh out the hypothesis - that the joint festival described in the rescript had pre-Roman roots - as follows:

  1. in the pre-Roman period, the annual festival of the Etruscan Federation (described by Livy), which had been held at the fanum Voltumnae at Volsinii, provided the model for an annual festival of a putative Umbrian Federation at a putative federal sanctuary at Villa Fidelia;

  2. each of these festivals was revived at its respective sanctuary in the Augustan period;

  3. these had been merged into a single ceremony held at Volsinii, perhaps in ca. 165 AD and certainly before ca. 295 AD; and

  4. the third request in the rescript led to the restoration of the original situation.

An important difference between this and the previous hypothesis lies in deity to which the annual festival was assumed to be dedicated:

  1. the annual provincial festival was dedicated to the provincial imperial cult; whereas

  2. according to both Coarelli and Sisani, the annual Umbrian and Etruscan festivals that were reflected in the rescript were dedicated to Jupiter, a dedication that was retained , at least at Hispellum, after revivals the Augustan revival.  Thus, for example, in an earlier paper, Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2002, at p. 499) suggested, on the basis of the small votive altar found at Villa Fidelia, that the sanctuary here had probably been dedicated to ‘iuvipatre’, who represented:

  3. “... a perfect parallel to Tinia [an Etruscan deity probably equivalent to Jupiter], venerated at the [pan-Etruscan sanctuary of] fanum Voltumnae at Volsinii ... the probable model for the Umbrian sanctuary [at Hispellum]” (my translation).

  4. In his later paper (referenced below, 2012, at p. 437), he asserted that:

  5. “...  the main temple [of the Augustan sanctuary at Villa Fidelia], probably dedicated to Iuppiter, which [scholars have tried] in vain to trace on the upper terrace,  ... in my opinion should be sought below, in the vast area behind the theatre, at the centre of the whole complex and in an emphatic position... “ (my translation).


Jacques Gascou (referenced below, at p. 634) observed that:

  1. “[Those who]  want to see the traces of the Etruscan League in the rescript ..., must suppose that Hispellum and other Umbrian cities, while not a part of the Etruscan League, were associated with its ceremonies at the fanum Voltumnae.  [Furthermore, they must suppose that this Umbrian participation was almost] on an equal footing with the Etruscans, since the Umbrian priest, together with the Etruscan priest, officiated at annual ceremonies and games, albeit that the meeting place was always at Volsinii” (my translation). 

Gascou reasonably believed that this was unlikely.  He asserted (at pp. 634-5) that:

  1. “In my opinion the problem posed by the Rescript has been obscured by the fact that [many scholars have] desired to see in it a trace of the ceremonies of the fanum Voltumnae.  It is true that there were praetores Etruriae in the imperial period and, most probably, ceremonies [of the revived Etruscan Federation] at the fanum Voltumnae in Volsinian territory.  But, one cannot infer from the rescript that the ceremonies [described there as taking place apud Volsinii] were precisely the ceremonies of the fanum Voltumnae:

  2. -The ceremonies [the fanum Voltumnae] were specifically Etruscan and constitute evidence of the deep religious conservatism of the Etruscan people.

  3. -[The ceremonies that took place apud Volsinii and were described the rescript] united Etruria and Umbria, and must have a different meaning” (my translation).

My View

The most obvious point to make is that many scholars doubt that we have sufficient evidence to postulate the existence of an Umbrian Federation in the period before the Roman conquest.  For example, William Harris (referenced below, at p. 101) expressed the opinion that:

  1. “Although the Umbrian peoples naturally allied themselves for military purposes [in the pre-Roman period], there is no evidence worthy of the name that there was an Umbrian League of any importance [that was placed politically] above the individual states.”

If this is accepted, it follows that there “no evidence worthy of the name” for a pre-Roman federal sanctuary, at Villa Fidelia or anywhere else.  If, on the other hand, one allows the possible existence of a pre-Roman Umbrian Federation, it remains the case that the only evidence for a pre-Roman federal sanctuary at Villa Fidelia is Coarelli’s “scant but secure” surviving archeological evidence from the site.  As set out in my page on Bevagna: Sanctuary at Villa Fidelia before 41 BC, in my opinion, it certainly does not, on its own, indicate the presence of a major ethnic sanctuary here.

If we move now to the evidence of the Augustan monumentalisation (in ca. 27 BC) of the site at Villa Fidelia, we might usefully revisit Coarelli’s assertion  (at p. 47) that:

  1. “An intervention on this scale would not have been justifiable if we were dealing with a local cult: we must be dealing with the ethnic sanctuary of the Umbrians” (my translation and my italics).

This ‘must’ is surely too strong.  In my view, the reasoning that underpins it over-emphasises the significance of the relative size of the theatre at Hispellum: it is true that its capacity was probably two or three times that of the theatres of municipia such as Spoletium or Iguvium, which suggests that it was designed to accommodate people from Hispellum itself and from neighbouring municipalities.  However, in my view, this does not mean that it must have been designed for the use of “the whole nomen Umbro” (whatever that meant in ca. 27 BC).

We should also revisit Coarelli’s assertion (at pp. 48-9) that:

  1. “We can thus reconstruct with great likelihood the existence of a federal centre located [at Villa Fidelia] that was based on the model of the fanum Voltumnae of Volsinii   This too ...experienced an antiquarian restoration under Augustus [, who revived the Etruscan League, as evidenced by inscriptions from this period that recorded] praetores Etruriae quindecim populorum [priest of the 15 peoples of Etruria]” (my translation).

It is certainly true that existence of a revived Etruscan Federation in the Augustan period is securely attested: see, for example, the paper by Marco Ricci, referenced below.  However, I doubt that this throws much light on the motivation for the Augustan monumentalisation of the sanctuary at Villa Fidelia in ca. 27 BC:

  1. There is no surviving evidence for the location of the meeting place of the revived Etruscan Federation.  It might have met at the sanctuary at fanum Voltumnae at Volsinii, but the location of this sanctuary is still a matter for debate.   Some scholars locate it at the Campo della Fiera, below  Orvieto, which was certainly the site of an ancient and extensive sanctuary from perhaps the 6th century BC.  A small temple that still survived on this site in the Augustan period was restored at this time, but there is no evidence for a programme of monumentalisation here on the scale of that carried out at Villa Fidelia. 

  2. Furthermore, there is no surviving evidence for the existence of the revived Etruscan Federation at this early date: earliest surviving epigraphic evidence for a praetor Etruriae (Sextus Valerius Proculus, who is commemorated in CIL XI 7979 and AE 1996, 653b from Bettona) dates to the early 1st century AD.

I doubt that, in the aftermath of his victories at Actium and Alexandria in 31-30 BC and his triple triumph of 29 BC, Octavian (soon the become Augustus) gave much thought to antiquarian revivals of this nature.   For the reasons set out in my page on the Sanctuary at Villa Fidelia after Colonisation, I think that the Augustan theatre/ temple complex here should be considered as part of a “triumphal project” encouraged and quite possibly financed by Augustus, which also included the construction of the walls of the urban centre of Hispellum itself.  (There is certainly no evidence for an Augustan temple on the site that was dedicated to Jupiter).  In short, the fact that we learn from the rescript that “Umbria”, however defined, celebrated annual games at Hispellum (probably at Villa Fidelia) after ca. 335 AD:

  1. might reflect the restoration or partial restoration of a tradition that was introduced  here at the time of the monumentalisation of the sanctuary here in ca. 27 BC; but

  2. cannot (pace Coarelli) be taken as evidence of “a long historical process, the roots of which are sunk deep in the soil of pre-Roman Umbria.”

In trying to summarise my opinion on this question, I find that I cannot improve on that of John Scheid (referenced below, 2006, at p. 82):

  1. “... according to the archaeologists, the large sanctuary at [Villa Fidelia] ... could have succeeded an important supra-regional sanctuary of the Umbrians.  [As in other cases], the reason for the foundation of a colony [at the relatively small urban centre here might thus have been] the presence of [this putative] renowned Italic supra-regional cult site.  Unfortunately, all we know for certain at the moment is that this sanctuary had a supra-regional role in the [4th century AD, as evidenced by the Rescript of Constantine]” (my translation and my italics).

In Construction]

The sections below develop my opinion: that the annual festival that had previously been held at Volsinii and that was subsequently duplicated at Hispellum was dedicated to the gens Flavia, and thus that the Rescript dealt with three components of what was, in fact, a single request: that Hispellum should become the centre of a pan-Umbrian cult of the gens Flavia

My fundamental concern with this hypothesis relates to the question of how this third request related to the other two requests recorded in the rescript: that Hispellum should be given a Flavian name; and that it should be apermitted to build a Flavian temple.  In this context, it is necessary to look again at Constantine’s response:

  1. “As a consequence [of the erection of the Templum Flaviae Gentis at Hispellum], we ... grant you permission to host the festival [at Hispellum] ...”

Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2013, at p 112) was fully aware of the use of the word ‘consequenter’ here; he observed that, in the rescript, Constantine:

  1. “... welcomed the proposed erection of the magnificent aedes gentis Flaviae; in consequence (consequenter) he also allowed ... that an annual festival should be celebrated in Spello ...” (my translation, with a change of tense).

In the following paragraph (but in a different context) he expressed the opinion that:

  1. “... in order to secure a welcome for their petition [as it related to the provincial festival], the Hispellates focus on strengthening the imperial cult [in their city] ...” (my translation and my interpolations, which I hope are accurate).

Thus, in his view, the only link between the three requests was that the first two gratified Constantine to the extent that he more readily granted the third.  This perceived disjunction between the three requests is also clear in Zuddas’ observations (at p. 115, discussed above) on the two priesthoods of Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus:

  1. he officiated over the annual provincial games in his capacity of coronatus (presumably at Hispellum, after the rescript had taken effect);

  2. while he held the municipal priesthood of pontifex gentis Flaviae (previously or concurrently), perhaps as the officiating priest at the new aedes gentis Flaviae.

Thus in this model (at least as articulated by Enrico Zuddas) there was no functional connection between the construction of an aedes gentis Flaviae at Hispellum and the transfer to the city of the Umbrian part of the annual provincial games:

  1. As noted above, Filippo Coarelli pointed out that would have been odd if the transfer of part of the provincial games had decreed in a rescript issued only to a single city (the direct beneficiary, Hispellum).

  2. It seems to me that it would have been odder still if this important decision had been simply slipped into a rescript that also dealt with two other unconnected requests, which had nothing to do with the province but affected Hispellum alone. 

In fact, a number of other scholars have argued or at least assumed that all three requests were connected.  For example, John Hanson (referenced below, at pp. 91-2) , who did not speculate on the nature of the games, argued that the use of the word “consequenter” in the rescript signified that the citizens of Hispellum would not have been allowed to host the them in their own city unless they had also constructed a new temple.  In note 70, he argued that:

  1. “The relation between the two [i.e. the construction of the new temple and the duplication of the games at Hispellum] is regarded [in the inscription] ... as both topographically and logically necessary.” 

He also quoted Theodor Mommsen (1859) quoting the identical view:

  1. "In Hispellum sollen also kiinftig die umbrischen Spiele gefeiert werden.  Dadurch war es notwendig dort einen neuen Tempel zu bauen.” 

  2. “The games would thereafter be celebrated in Hispellum.  As a result, it was necessary to build a new temple there” (my translation and my italics).

A number of other scholars have drawn similar conclusions.  For example:

  1. Duncan Fishwick (referenced below, 1991, at p 576) asserted that:

  2. "Constantine entrusted an imperial priest with the provision of scenic and gladiatorial games at Hispellum in Umbria in connection with the aedes gentis Flaviae."

  3. John Curran (referenced below, at p. 181) asserted that:

  4. “An inscription from Hispellum ... records the arrangements [that Constantine] made for [his own imperial cult] there ... :

  5. -The erection of a temple in honour of members of the imperial family ... was allowed. 

  6. -Theatrical and gladiatorial games were instituted ...

  7. -The city even received a new name in recognition of its outstanding loyalty: ‘Flavia Constans’.

  8. Attached to the cult ... was a newly-created [sic] priesthood, the pontifices gentis Flaviae.  But these priests were apparently to have a role only in the administration of the festivities attached to the cult ....”

Noel Lenski (referenced below, at p. 128) drew a similar conclusion from the inscription (above) commemorating Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus, which he characterised as:

  1. “... our lone piece of evidence for the [transferred] festival in action at Hispellum [after the Rescript, and] shows that it involved:

  2. -a priest of Constantine’s family cult;

  3. -celebrating in Constantine’s family temple;

  4. -at a city now named for Constantine’s son;

  5. according to prescriptions laid down by Constantine himself.”

If this interpretation of the significance of the word consequenter’ in the Rescript is correct, then it seems to me that:

  1. the whole point of the Rescript was to establish a major locus of Constantine’s dynastic cult in Umbria, centred on the sanctuary at Hispellum;

  2. Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus probably officiated at these games as pontifex gentis Flaviae , so they the could not have been provincial games; and 

  3. he probably achieved the status of coronatius Tusciae et Umbriae (literally and metaphorically his crowning glory) as a direct result of his success in this endeavour.

Read more:

E. Zuddas, “La Praetura Etruriae Tardoantica”, in

  1. G. A. Cecconi et al. (Eds), “Epigrafia e Società dell’ Etruria Romana (Firenze, 23- 24 ottobre 2015)”, (2017) Rome, pp. 217-35

N. Lenski, “Constantine and the Cities: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics”, (2016) Philadelphia 

T. Barnes, “Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire”, (2014) Oxford

M. Ricci, “Praetores Etruriae XV Populorum: Revisione e Aggiunte all’ Opera di Bernard Liou”, Bollettino della Deputazione di Storia Patria per l’Umbria, 111:1 (2014) 5-30

E. Roscini and E. Zuddas, “Il Coronatus Ritrovato”, Epigraphica (2014) pp 231-64 

E. Zuddas, “Osservazioni sui Coronati Tusciae et Umbriae”, Hormos: Ricerche di Storia Antica, 5 (2013) 103-119

E. Zuddas, “L’ Umbria in Età Costantiniana”, in

  1. A. Bravi (Ed.), “Aurea Umbria: Una Regione dell’ Impero nell’ Era di Costantino”, Bollettino per i Beni Culturali dell’ Umbria (2012) pp 61-70

G. Cecconi, “Il Rescritto di Spello: Prospettive Recenti”, in

  1. G. Bonamente et al. (Eds), “Costantino Prima e Dopo Costantino”, (2012) Bari, pp. 273-90

A. C. Johnson et al. (Eds), “Ancient Roman Statutes: A Translation with Introduction, Commentary, Glossary and Index”, (2003) Clark, New Jersey

D. Fishwick, “The Imperial Cult in the Latin West:Provincial Cult: The Provincial Priesthood (Volume 3.2)”, (2002) Leiden 

S. Sisani, “Lucius Falius Tinia: Primo Quattuorviro del Municipio di Hispellum”, Athenaeum, 90.2 (2002) 483-505.

F. Coarelli, "Il Rescritto di Spello e il Santuario ‘Etnico’ degli Umbri”, in

  1. “Umbria Cristiana: dalla Diffusione del Culto al Culto dei Santi,” Atti del XV Congresso Internazionale di Studi sull’ Alto Medioevo, Spoleto (2001) pp. 39-52

J. Scheid, “Pline le Jeune et les Sanctuaires d’Italie: Observations sur les Lettres IV:1, VIII: 8 et IX:39”, in:

  1. A. Chastagnol, S. Demougin and C. Lepelley (Eds.), “Splendidissima Civitas: Études d’Histoire Romaine en Hommage à François Jacques”, (1996,) Paris, pp. 241-58

M. Torelli, “Studies in the Romanisation of Italy” (1995) Edmonton (English translation)

  1. The topic of the revival of the pan-Etruscan games by the Emperor Augustus is addressed in Chapter 4: “Towards the History of Etruria in the Imperial Period”.

K. Tabata, “The Date and Setting of the Constantinian Inscription of Hispellum”, Studi Classici e Orientali, 45 (1995) 369-410

G. A. Cecconi, “Governo Imperiale e Élites Dirigenti nell’ Italia Tardoantica: Problemi di Storia Politico-Amministrativa (270-476 d.C.)”, (1994) Como, pp 87-96

D. Fishwick, “Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire (Volume 2.2)”, (1991) Leiden

G. Gregori, “Amphitheatralia I”, Mélanges de l' École Française de Rome, 96 (1984) 961-85

W. Harris, “Rome in Etruria and Umbria”, (1971) Oxford 

J. Gascou. “Le Rescrit d' Hispellum”, Mélanges d'Archéologie e d' Histoire 79 (1967) 609-59

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