Key to Umbria: Spello

                                          San Fedele (18th century)                        Plan: Templum Flaviae Gentis

                                              On foundations of                                    With the kind permission of

                                        Templum Flaviae Gentis                                  dott. Pietro Tamburini

In construction

The second request from the Hispellates to Constantine was made on behalf of the city itself: they asked that:

  1. “... in [Hispellum], a templum Flaviae gentis [temple of the Flavian family] should be built in very grand fashion, in accord with the greatness of its name.”

Constantine’s reply was in the affirmative, with an important (if not altogether clear) qualification:

  1. “[In Hispellum], we wish to be completed, in grand fashion, a temple ... of the Flavian family ... with the following restriction being proscribed:

  2. “... that the temple dedicated to our name [should] not be polluted with the deceits of any contagious superstition.” 

John Curran (referenced below, p 181) pointed out that the superstition in question was probably animal sacrifice, since:

  1. “... [as] one of the most objectionable acts which the pagans practiced, Constantine could not sanction it in connection with the imperial cult.”

Remains from the 4th century AD under the small church of San Fedele (in the grounds of Villa Fedelia) seem to have belonged to this templum Flaviae gentis (as discussed below).

The drafting of the Rescript implies that the construction of this temple at Hispellum was a precursor to the partial transfer of the annual festival that had previously been held at Volsinii (discussed above):

  1. Consequenter (As a consequence) [of the erection of the Templum Flaviae Gentis at Hispellum], we grant you permission for the [annual festival, previously held at Volsinii] also to be held in this city”.

John Hanson (referenced below) argued (in my view, probably correctly) that the use of the word “Consequenter” here signified that the citizens of Hispellum would not have been allowed to hold the annual festival in their own city unless they had also constructed a new temple:

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

Hanson quoted the identical view of Theodor Mommsen (1859):

  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).

This raises the question of why the Hispellates needed anew temple: the sanctuary there already had two temples that were carefully positioned in respect to the theatre, and quite possibly other beside.  The answer presumably lies in Constantine’s requirement that the new temple should not be:

  1. “... defiled by the deceits of any contagious superstition.” 


The cult was probably devoted to Constantine’s two deified ancestors:

  1. divus Constantius, his father, who had died in 306 AD; and

  2. divus Claudius (the Emperor Claudius II, 268-70 AD), whom he had first claimed (almost certainly incorrectly) as an ancestor in 310 AD.

This new temple at Hispellum is, in fact, the only securely documented temple of the cult, and we also know (from an inscription found nearby) the identity of the priest (quite probably the first priest) who officiated here: the pontifex gentis Flaviae Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus.  This is the most coherent evidence we have for this cult, although there are two other indications of its importance:

  1. Aurelius Victor’s account of the events that followed his victory over Maxentius in October 312 AD recorded that:

  2. “Then, per Africam (in or throughout Africa), a college of priests was decreed to the gens Flavia ...” (“De Caesaribus” 40:28); and

  3. another pontifex gentis Flaviae, Lucius Aradius Valerius Proculus (whom Constantine appointed as Urban Prefect in 337 AD, just before his death, and who achieved the Consulship in 340 AD under the Emperor Constans) held this priesthood in Rome from an unknown date (although he still held it at the time of his Consulship).

There is more detail on the evolution of this cult in my page on Constantine's Imperial Cult (306-24 AD).

Temple Remains under San Fedele

As Dorica Manconi (in Manconi et al., referenced below, 1996, pp 387-8) pointed out, the small church of San Fedele, on the edge of the Roman Sanctuary at Villa Fidelia, stands on the remains of:

  1. “... a structure that we can confidently date to the late Imperial period on the basis of the use of the [construction] technique of opera mixta, ....  We are dealing here with an element pertinent to a late phase of the sanctuary (3rd - 4th century AD), probably the phase recorded in the Rescript of Constantine” (my translation).  

The plan of this structure (at Figure 17 of Manconi’s paper) reveals an elongated hall with an apse (as in the illustration above), which later used as the foundations of the church .  Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2001, at p. 46) considered that:

  1. “The dating attributed to [the foundations of San Fedele] ... and the presence of an apse (which is typical of edifices of the imperial cult) allows us to identify it, without any doubt, as the temple of the gens Flavia mentioned in the Rescript, which was thus originally placed in front of [the temple that it had permitted] ...”

This last phrase by Coarelli refers to the fact that the Rescript  was discovered in 1733 in the burial ground opposite San Fedele.  Close by (near the amphitheatre) was another inscription (CIL XI 5283; EDR 123166; LSA-1638) on the base of a statue that commemorated Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus, who held (inter alia) the priesthood of pontifex gentis Flaviae (see below).   The related findspots of  these two inscriptions suggests (at least, to me) that Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus, pontifex gentis Flaviae, had been directly responsible for securing the Rescript itself and for subsequently building and then officiating at the temple. 

Festival of the Cult of the Gens Flavia??

Was there a Templum Flaviae Gentis at Volsinii?


                             Bust of Emperor Constantine                Modified Basilica Forense

                                         (recut ca. 312 AD)                            With the kind permission of

                              Museo Nazionale Etrusco, Viterbo              dott. Pietro Tamburini

One way of testing the hypothesis that the festival transferred from Volsinii as a consequence of the building the new temple at Hispellum is to look for a corresponding situation at Volsinii.  After all, Constantine had insisted that the festival would also continue there, with “little modification to previous custom”.  Thus:

  1. if the festival that transferred to Hispellum needed an associated temple to Constantine’s gens Flavia;

  2. it follows that the same must have been true of the games continuing at Volsinii, so there must also have already been a similar temple there.

As it happens, it is possible that there was!

This possibility relates to the basilica (originally 1st century AD) in the forum of Volsinii, which was modified in the 4th century AD (as illustrated above).  As a result, the width of the original structure was significantly reduced, and it was further transformed by the addition of an apse on the back wall of the nave, which projected into the adjacent street. 

  1. Some scholars date this modification to the late 4th century, and suggest that it was undertaken so that the reduced structure could be used as a church.  The outer parts of the original aisles, which were left outside the rebuilt structure, were indeed used for Christian burials from about this time.   This is the view of Pierre Gros (referenced below, 1981 and 2013): he asserted that the building of the new apse made the road that ran along this end of the forum unusable, from which he deduced that the apse could only have been built after the forum had been abandoned.

  2. However, Pietro Tamburini (referenced below, at pp. 558-61) suggested that there had actually been an intermediate stage.  He dated the restructuring to the early 4th century AD and suggested that, for a time thereafter, the erstwhile civic building functioned as a temple to Constantine’s gens Flavia (implying that the forum remained in use for a period after the modification). 

Pietro Tamburini’s supported his hypotheses with reference to a bust of the Emperor Constantine (illustrated above) that was discovered in 1981, just outside the left wall of the restructured basilica (at the place marked * in the plan above).  This bust had been recut from a bust of Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus). 

  1. According to Antonio Giuliano (referenced below), the style of the recutting is very close to the carving of the Arch of Constantine (312-5 AD) in Rome.

  2. According to Annarena Ambrogi and Ida Caruso (see references below, 2012 and 2013), the original bust of Octavian was of the so-called Béziers-Spoleto type (ca. 40 BC), and probably came from a standing figure of him wearing a toga or a cuirass. 

Of course, this recut bust could have been placed in the original civic structure before its modification (as Pierre Gros believed).  Nevertheless, the possibility that it was recut specifically for the remodelled structure is appealing.  As Pietro Tamburini summarised (at p. 559):

  1. “... it is [therefore] entirely possible that the central nave of the civic basilica of Volsinii was transformed in the first instance into a temple of the deified members of the gens Flavia, the exact pendant to the [later Templum Flaviae Gentis at Hispellum] ...” (my translation).

It is possible that two inscriptions relating to other members of Constantine’s family were associated with this putative temple to the gens Flavia in Volsinii:

  1. Luigi Sensi (referenced below) recorded a fragmentary inscription (at note 26, p. 370) that had been published in 1919 by Goffredo Bendinelli following excavations at Bolsena.  This inscription might have referred to Crispus, the eldest son of Constantine, who held the the rank of Caesar in 317-26 AD:

  2. [...]iuli/ [..].us victor [..]./ [...]s.Crispum [...]

  3. This inscription, which might have marked Crispus’  victory over the Franks in ca.320 AD, might have been erected in or near the temple, albeit that it would have been removed after his disgrace and execution in 326 AD.

  4. An inscription (CIL XI 2697; EDR 126862; LSA-1625) on the base of a statue that was found at Volsinii (unfortunately, in an unknown location - it is apparently now in the collection of the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo di Orvieto) commemorated the Emperor Constantius :    

  5. Imp(eratori) Caes(ari) / Flavio Cons/tantio Pio / Fel(ici) Invicto / Aug(usto) [...]

  6. To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantius, pious, fortunate, unconquered Augustus  

  7. It is unclear which Emperor Constantius is commemorated in the inscription:

  8. If it commemorated Constantine’s father, Constantius I (as the EDR catalogue entry in the link above assumed), it must have pre-dated the time of his death (306 AD), since he would have been given the epithet ‘divus’ thereafter.  It is most unlikely that such an inscription would have been placed in a later temple to the gens Flavia without the addition of this vital word.

  9. If it commemorated Constantine’s son, Constantius II, it must date to his reign as Emperor (337-61 AD).  It could have been placed in or near the temple at any time after 337 AD, and might well have been removed when the temple was converted into a church.

Contagious Superstition

As noted above, Constantine insisted that the new temple at Hispellum could be built only  on condition that it would not be:

  1. “... defiled by the deceits of any contagious superstition.” 

John Curran (referenced below, p 181) pointed out that the superstition in question was probably animal sacrifice, since:

  1. “... [as] one of the most objectionable acts which the pagans practiced, Constantine could not sanction it in connection with the imperial cult.”

This perhaps explains the need for two new temples ??

  1. The annual festival at Volsinii referred to in the Rescript might well have replaced an existing annual festival of the imperial cult that did indeed involve pagan sacrifice.  The existing infrastructure used for theatrical shows and gladiatorial games was sufficient for the new purpose, but the temple associated with the old festival had been (and probably still was) “polluted” by annual sacrifice.  Thus the existing civic structure in the forum was adapted to serve as a new temple that was to be used solely for the celebration of the new cult.  (This change possibly coincided with the recutting of the bust of Octavian to represent Constantine, in ca. 315 AD).

  2. At the time of the request for the transfer of the annual festival, Hispellum already had a theatre and amphitheatre, but the temples associated with them were routinely “polluted” by annual sacrifice.  Thus, the new temple at Volsinii had to be replicated at Hispellum before the transfer could take place.

Annual Festival Dedicated to an Ancient Cult ??

As noted above, a number of scholars (including Filippo Coarelli and Simone Sisani) have argued that the annual festival at or near Volsinii had ancient roots and was dedicated to an ancient cult, perhaps that of the goddess Nortia.  I explore the details of this important strand of scholarship in the next page in this website, which deals with the associated theatrical shows and gladiatorial games.  Here, I want to concentrate on the narrow question of whether the transfer to Hispellum of such an ancient festival could be reconciled with the building of a new temple to Constantine’s gens Flavia there at the time of this transfer.

Giovanni Alberto Cecconi (referenced below, 2012, at pp 278-9) asked rhetorically:

  1. “Would Constantine have enthusiastically authorised ... a festival [at Hispellum] incontrovertibly focused on the association between the imperial cult and pagan deities?  Alternatively, would Nortia or Venus have accepted public worship without sacrifice and emptied of traditional rituals, consisting of only theatrical shows and gladiatorial games ?” (my translation).

The expected answer to each question is, obviously: “probably not”. 

However, the conclusion that Dottore Cecconi drew from this, that the festival at or near Volsinii had been devoted to the imperial cult since its inception, does not necessarily follow.  I would answer his question by making the following suggestion: 

  1. Perhaps an annual festival at Volsinii that had been originally been dedicated to an ancient deity had been re-dedicated to the cult of Constantine’s gens Flavia in ca. 315 AD (as discussed above).  The existing infrastructure for its theatrical shows and gladiatorial games could have accommodated the re-dedicated festival, but any associated temples clearly could not.  Perhaps this is why an existing civic structure in the forum at Volsinii was modified: the Volsinians needed a new, unpolluted temple for this particular purpose.

This scenario would not require the closing of any existing temples: merely an end to the use of those previously associated with pagan festivals on that single annual occasion.  However, he is on stronger ground, in my view, when he asserts that the festival, as transferred, must have been in its new, ‘sanitised’ form. 

Having said that, it is hard to disprove absolutely Coarelli’s suggestion that the Rescript allowed the transfer from Volsinii to to Umbria of an ancient annual festival that had its roots there.   If it is correct, however, then the building of the new temple at Hispellum was not directly linked to the transfer of the festival from Volsinii.  In the end, it comes down to weight one places on the word ‘Consequenter’ in the Rescript, as discussed above.

Annual Festival of the Provincial Imperial Cult ??

As noted above, a number of scholars (including Giovanni Alberto Cecconi and Enrico Zuddas) have argued that the annual festival that was held at Volsinii (and, later, additionally at Hispellum) was dedicated to the provincial imperial cult.  As such, it would have been instituted when the province was created, and presided over by the first ‘coronatus’ (high priest) of the province of Tuscia et Umbria. 

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at pp. 218-9) pointed out that the original eight Italian provinces must have been created between:

  1. -290 AD, when Aelius Helvius Dionysius was ‘corrector utriuque Italiae’ (governor of both northern and peninsular Italy); and

  2. -ca. 294 AD, when Titus Flavius Postumius Titianus was ‘corrector Campaniae’ (governor of the Italian Province of Campania).

This and the other seven provinces were listed for the first time in the so-called Verona List.  Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982):

  1. -set out these eight provinces as recorded in the list (at p. 208); and

  2. -demonstrated that this represented situation in the period 303-14 AD (at p. 205).

The list included the Province of Tuscia and Umbria, which had presumably absorbed the cities of what had been:

  1. the Augustan region of Etruria; and

  2. the part of Augustan region of Umbria that lay to the west of the Apennines. 

The epigraphic record includes a series of governors of this province, covering the period:

  1. -from ca. 310 AD, when Caius Vettius Cossinius Rufinus (CIL X 5061; LSA-1978) was correctori Tusciae et Umbriae;

  2. -until at least 366 AD, when the title apparently changed from correctore or consulare.  (Two men who held the post of consulare Tusciae et Umbriae are known from the epigraphic record).

Thus, on this model, the annual festival mentioned in the Rescript was first held at Volsinii in ca. 294 AD.   Implicit in the model are the assumptions that:

  1. Volsinii was the capital of the new province (although there is no other evidence for this); and

  2. there were two coronati Tusciae et Umbriae:

  3. -one was chosen (perhaps elected), either annually or perhaps in alternate years, by the people of Tuscia; and

  4. -the other was similarly chosen (perhaps elected) by the people of Umbria. 

  5. {Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2013, at p 113) conceded, there is no other known example of a single province that comprised two ethnicities having two coronati, selected on ethnic grounds and serving either concurrently or in alternate years).

After the Rescript, the festival presided over by the Umbrian coronatus Tusciae et Umbriae (initially Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus) was held at Hispellum (presumably because it was the only Umbrian cities that had most of the necessary facilities) rather than at Volsinii,.  However, nothing else of significance changed in the way that the toe province was administered.

Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2013, at p 115) considered the possibility that Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus had held the post of coronatus Tusciae et Umbriae before the Rescript, but that he subsequently presided over the festival at Hispellum in his capacity as pontifex gentis Flaviae.  This, for example, seems to have been the view of Raymond van Dam (referenced below, at p. 117):

  1. “[Before the Rescript, Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus] had served as an official, most likely a priest, of the consolidated district of Tuscia and Umbria [by which, I think he must mean, as coronatus] when the two regions had shared a festival.  Then, he had become the priest of the imperial cult located at Hispellum [by which, I think he must mean, as pontifex gentis Flaviae].  Rather than having to make the arduous trip to Volsinii, this priest could now preside in his home town.  Umbria now had its own regional festival, and Hispellum had its own temple and priest in honour of the Flavian dynasty.” 

However, Enrico Zuddas concluded that Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus could not have changed from one title to the other simply as a consequence of the Rescript:

  1. “In fact 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 other, perhaps as the officiating priest at the new aedes gentis Flaviae” (my translation).

In other words, on this model, the new temple at Hispellum served a municipal cult, and had no particular association with the festival that had transferred there from Volsinii. 

Enrico Zuddas was fully aware of the use of the word ‘Consequenter’ in the Rescript; he observed  (at p. 112) 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).

However, he privileged what he saw as compelling evidence that the festival was a provincial festival, while the temple’s function was purely municipal.

Read more:

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

P. Gros, “La Nuova Volsinii: Cenno Storico sulla Città”, in

  1. G. della Fina and E. Pellegrini (Eds), “Da Orvieto a Bolsena: un Percorso tra Etruschi e Romani”, (2013 ) Pisa, pp 88-105

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

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

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

S. Sisani, “I Rapporti tra Mevania e Hispellum nel Quadro del Paesaggio Sacro della Valle Umbra”, in

  1. G. Della Fina (Ed.), “Il Fanum Voltumnae e i Santuari Comunitari dell’ Italia Antica”, (2012) Orvieto (pp. 409-64)

T. Barnes, “Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire”, (2011) Chichester 

R. van Dam, “Roman Revolution of Constantine”, (2007) Cambridge

P. Tamburini, “Bolsena: Emergenze Archeologiche a Valle della Città Romana”, in

  1. G. della Fina (Ed.), “Perugia Etrusca”, Annali della Fondazione per il Museo ‘Claudio Faina’, 9 (2002) pp 541-80

I. Gradel, “Emperor Worship and Roman Religion”, (2002) Oxford

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. Curran, “Pagan City and Christian Capital: Rome in the 4th Century”, (2000) Oxford

L. Sensi, “In Margine al Rescritto Costantiniano di Hispellum” in

  1. Volsinii e il suo Territorio”, Annali della Fondazione per il Museo ‘Claudio Faina’,

  2. 6 (1999) 365-71

D. Manconi, P. Camerieri and V. Cruciani (Eds),  “Hispellum: Pianificazione Urbana e Territoriale”, in

  1. G. Bonamente and F. Coarelli (Eds.), “Assisi e gli Umbri nell' Antichità: Atti del Convengo Internazionale  (Assisi, 18-21 December 1991)”, (1996) Assisi

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

A. Giuliano, “Augustus–Constantinus”,  Bollettino d 'Arte, 69 (1991) 3-10 T. Barnes, “New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine” (1982) Harvard

P. Gros and L. Mascoli, “Bolsena I: Scavi della Scuola Francese di Roma a Bolsena

(Poggio Moscini): Guida agli Scavi”, Mélanges d' Archéologie et d' Histoire, 6 (1981)

J. Hanson, “Roman Theater-Temples”, (1959) Princeton   

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Associated Inscription:   Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus 

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Flavia Constans;   Templum Flaviae GentisTheatrical Shows and Gladiatorial Games

Associated Inscription:   Caius Matrinius Aurelius Antoninus