Key to Umbria: Spoleto

Spoleto under King Theodoric (493-526)

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The Gothic King Theodoric established Spoleto as the administrative heart of central Italy, and this probably marks the start of Spoleto's period of dominance over the region.  He restored the city walls and may have renovated other buildings, although there is no evidence (pace local tradition) that he built a palace here.

The city is specifically referred to in four of his letters:

  1. A letter addressed to John, the Departmental Officer, related to delays on the draining of a marsh near Spoleto.  Theodoric had granted the land to “two distinguished gentlemen, Spes and Domitius”, allowing them to profit from it provided that they undertook the expensive business of draining it.  Spes had complained that Domitius was reluctant to meet his share of the expense.  King Theodoric  ruled that: “If he [Domitius] cannot perform what he asked for, he should allow his partner in the gift [Spes] to increase the glory of my reign”.  Scholars have associated that the ancient drainage system at Madonna di Luga (4 km north east of Spoleto) with this project.

  2. A letter addressed to the Senate of Rome announced that Honoratus, who had been an advocate at Spoleto, would replace his recently-deceased brother  Decoratus as Quaestor (chief legal officer) in Rome.  In commending Honoratus, Theodoric observed that enforcing justice in a place like Spoleto, “where provincials were behaving with erratic freedom”, was much harder than performing similar work among the “men of high character” in Rome.

  3. Two letters refer to the baths of Spoleto:

  4. A letter addressed to the Deacon Elpidius gave him permission to pull down a portico behind the Baths of Turasius and to build a new edifice (perhaps a church) on the site, provided that the building to be demolished (which he had been told was “covered with the squalor of age”) was of no public utility.  Unfortunately, the location of the baths is unknown.

  5. A letter addressed to Faustus, the Praetorian Prefect, also probably refers to these baths: “As our Kingdom and revenues prosper, we wish to increase our liberality.  Let your Magnificence therefore give to the citizens of Spoletium another "millena" [an amount of money] for extraordinary gratuitous admissions to the baths.  We wish to pay freely for anything that tends to the health of our citizens, because the praise of our times is the celebration of the joys of the people.”

The remains of baths probably relate to the structure excavated next to the ex-church of Sant' Angelis de' Gilibertis in Piazza Mentanta.  They were built by Gaius Torasius Severus in the 2nd century AD, restored by the Emperor Constantius II in ca. 360 - see the double-sided inscription described in the page on the Museo Archeologico).

Bishop Amasius

Bishop Amasius of Spoleto is known from an inscription [CIL XI 4972] that was found under the pavement of the apse of San Pietro in 1650 (but was subsequently lost).   It recorded that Amasius died in 489 (the year of the Consul Petronius Probinus) aged 85, after having been bishop for 13 years.    

Bishop John

John probably became Bishop of Spoleto after the death of Bishop Amasius in 489.  Two letters that he received from Pope Gelasius I (492-6) give an idea of his role in the diocese:

  1. The first, which was also sent to Bishop Cresconius of Todi and another bishop, required them to resolve a complaint from a layman called Festus, who claimed  that the recently deceased Bishop Urbanus of Foligno had wrongfully taken property from him. 

  2. The second directed him to settle a complaint from a female hermit called Olibula, who claimed that her sisters and their husbands had unfairly excluded her from her parents’ will. 

Pope Anastatius II (496-8) sent John to Constantinople in 496 to announce his election to the Emperor Anastasius I (491-518).  He attended synods in Rome in 499, 501 and 502. 

A bishop of Spoleto called John appears in the legend of St John Penariensis: according to this legend, St John Penariensis, a monk from Syria settled outside Spoleto and Bishop John gave him permission to establish a hermitage there.  The church of San Giovanni di Panaria (12th century), between Perchia and Baiano (some 10 km south west of Spoleto), is usually said to stand on this site.

According to the legend of St John of Spoleto, which was written in the reign of the Emperor Otto II (967-83), he was eventually executed by the Goths, and this is generally thought to have occurred in 546, when the city surrendered to Totila (see below).  The legend was written at about the time of the miraculous discovery of the relics, and formed the basis of the cult of St John of Spoleto .

Return to the page on the History of Spoleto.