Key to Umbria: Terni

Pre-Roman Terni

The earliest mention of the people from this area comes from the Iguvine Tables (3rd century BC or perhaps earlier), in which the “naharcer nomner”  (Naharacan name or tribe) were banished and cursed.   “Naharcer” seems to refer to the region of the river Nera, which was known as the Nar in ancient times.   Some of these people probably lived around modern Terni, which was then near a lake at the confluence of the Nera and its tributaries.

The earliest evidence for a permanent settlement of the Nera valley begins in the 10th century BC at the Acciaierie necropolis, outside modern Terni.  Some 200 tombs have been excavated  here, although it has been estimated that the total number in the necropolis might be as high as 2,500.  Cremation was sometimes used in the earliest burials, but most of the tombs found so far were inhumation tombs from a slightly later date.  The use of the Acciaierie necropolis declined in the 7th century BC, when the necropolis of San Pietro in Campo (see below) came into use.

An inscription (CIL XI 4170), which is dated with reference to the Consuls of 32 AD, celebrates the genius of what was by then the Roman the municipium of Interamna (see below) in the 704th years from its foundation: this is a reference to the tradition that the city was founded in 672 BC.  Whatever the precise truth of this assertion, traces of habitation from the 7th century BC have been found in an area to the north, along Corso Vecchio. The use of this urban settlement probably gave rise to the move from the Acciaierie necropolis to the necropolis of San Pietro in Campo mentioned above.  When this “new” necropolis was undermined by floods in the 5th century BC, the Acciaierie necropolis came back into use.  However, the urban settlement began to decline from that point and was probably subsequently abandoned.

A system of widely-distributed upland settlements also developed around Terni.  Votive offerings found on the an ancient cult site on the summit of Monte Torre Maggiore, above Cesi, suggest that it was in use from the 6th century BC, when it probably served as a focal point for the worship of Umbrian people from across the area.   It was monumentalised under Roman influence in ca. 250 - 200 BC and remained in use until the end of the 3rd century AD.

Roman Conquest

By the time of the Roman conquest of southern Umbria and the upper Sabina, whatever remained of the once-thriving Umbrian settlement at modern Terni occupied a low and comparatively defenceless site.  Although nothing is known of its fate at this time, the following facts are known about the Roman conquest of the surrounding territory:

  1. The nearby Umbrian settlement of Nequinium fell to the Romans after a siege in 299 BC and the Latin colony of Narnia (Narni) was established on the site. 

  2. The Romans gained a decisive victory over the Samnites at the Battle of Sentinum (295 BC), following which the erstwhile Umbrian and Etrurian allies of the latter effectively accepted Roman hegemony

  3. According to Florus:

  4. “During the consulship of Manius Curius Dentatus [i.e. in 290 BC], the Romans laid waste with fire and sword all the tract of country which is enclosed by the Nar, the Anio and the sources of the Velinus, and bounded by the Adriatic Sea.  By this conquest, so large a population and so vast a territory was reduced, that even [Dentatus] could not tell which was of greater importance” (‘Epitome of Roman History, 1: 10).

  5. At this time, the Velino River habitually flooded the plain of Rieti.  According to Cicero, the people of Rieti retained him in 54 BC:

  6. “... to plead their cause against the people of Interamna before the Consul and ten commissioners, because the Veline Lake, which had been drained by Manius Curius by cutting away the mountain, flowed into the Nar ... ” (‘Letter to Atticus’, 4;15;5)

  7. Manius Curius Dentatus had apparently opened an artificial channel to divert the water of the lake over a precipice and into the Nera, forming the so-called Cascata delle Marmore.  This work is usually said to have been carried out in Dentatus’ period as Censor in 272 BC.

The redevelopment of the Umbrian settlement seems to have started soon after.  According to Paul Fontaine (referenced below, at pp. 122-30) the surviving stretch of the ancient (albeit rebuilt) walls were probably originally built soon after the Roman conquest.  These walls were not polygonal, like those of Spoletium, but of large squared blocks of travertine carefully faced and cut to Roman measures.  The total enclosed area of some 35 hectares made it the largest urban areas of the region.  However, as Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2007, at p. 146) observed, these walls were initially:

  1. “... the only construction work carried out in the area of the future city, which would become urbanised only from the early 1st century BC; the walls represented, at the moment of their construction, a sort of empty shell, destined to welcome a ‘city in waiting’ (città ‘in potenza’”), [which probably functioned initially as]:

  2. -the centre of gravity for the sparse population of the territory, for whom it represented, above all, a well-defended fortress and a political and economic centre; as well as

  3. -the seat of activity for the [magistrates] sent from Rome” (my translation).

Sisani (as above) specified these magistrates as ‘praefecti’, a suggestion to which I will return below.  

Interamna Nahars is the only Umbrian urban centre that had an explicitly Latin name.  According to Varro:

  1. “The town ‘Interamna’ gets its name from its position ‘inter amnes’  - between rivers” (‘De Lingua Latina’, 5:28)

There were at least three Roman cities that had this name and the associated characteristic:

  1. Interamna Lirinas, a Latin colony established in 312 BC on the Liri River, which was later destroyed;

  2. Interamnia Praetuttiorum (Teramo), a Roman conciliabulum between the rivers Tordino and Vezzola, which was probably also constituted as a prefecture and which was colonised under Sulla in 83 BC; and

  3. ‘our’ Interamna Nahars, which was sited at the confluence of  the Nar (Nera) and the Serra (which has since changed its course).

Guy Bradley (referenced below) argued that the Roman characteristics of the new walls and the Latin name given to the settlement that they enclosed suggested that it was built to house a Latin colony.  He noted (at p. 7) the only literary evidence for such a colony:  according to Livy, as the Romans assembled an army for their war against Hannibal in 209 BC, they faced grave resistance from some of their Italian colonies to their request for more recruits:

  1. “The Roman people had at that time 30 colonies.  12 of these, for they all had embassies in Rome, told the Consuls that they had not the means to furnish either men or money.  The twelve were: Ardea; Nepete; Sutrium; Alba; Carseoli; Cora; Suessa; Cerceii; Setia; Cales; Narnia and Interamna” (‘Roman History’, 27:9).

While this “Interamna” could have been Interamna Lirenas, its pairing with Narnia might  suggest that it was Interamna Nahars.  However, as Bradley himself pointed out, this possibility is undermined by the fact that Interamna Lirenas was not included in Livy’s list of the 18 colonies that did honour their obligations to Rome:

  1. “They were:

  2. -[on the Adriatic], the people of: Signia; Norba; Saticulum; Brundusium; Fregella; Lucerium; Venusia; Adria; Firma; Ariminum;

  3. -on [the Tyrrhenian Sea]: Pontius; Paestum; and Cosa; and

  4. -in the inland parts: Beneventum; Aesernia; Spoletum; Placentia; and Cremona” (‘Roman History’, 27:10).

Since Interamna Lirenas certainly was a colony, it was almost certainly the Interamna in the list of 12.  Bradley nevertheless made the case for Interamna Nahars as a Latin colony, suggesting that the surviving literary sources were deficient in this respect.  He relied not only on the Roman characteristics mentioned above but also on the existence of rectangular insulae created by the street plan, which were, in his view:

  1. “... typical of Latin colonies on the 3rd century BC” (p. 5).

Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2007, at pp.  146-50) did not dispute the evidence put forward by Guy Bradley, but he denied that this evidence proved that Interamna Nahars had been a Latin colony.  He put forward the proposition that:

  1. “... it is likely that the centre was born as a praefectura in coincidence with viritane settlement in the 3rd century BC” (my translation).

More specifically, he asserted (at p. 214), that:

  1. “... the first viritane deductions in Umbria can be dated to the first three decades of the 3rd century BC, in strict rapport with the conquest and colonisation of the Sabina by [Manius] Curius Dentatus.  A reflection of this activity seems to be the inclusion of Interamna in the Clustumina [tribe, as evidenced by a funerary inscription (CIL IX 4763a) from Stroncone that dates to the 2nd half of 1st century BC.  This was also the assignation] of Sabine Forum Novum, the creation of which is inseparable from the politics of the conquest carried out from 290 BC.  If the creation of Forum Novum should be placed close to this date, it is possible that other contemporary deductions took place at this time in the fertile conca ternana , with the settlers assigned to the same tribe as their contemporaries in the adjacent Sabine lands: the putative praefectura of Interamna would have been created at this time” (my transaltion).

He also suggested (at p. 147) the reason that Interamna had been chosen for the site of the praefectura at this time: there was no existing settlement here:

  1. ”The original settlements that are identifiable on the future site of the urban centre of Interamna ...  had all been abandoned by the 6th century BC” (my translation).

Thus, since the Romans needed an urban settlement here for the purposes of administering the surrounding settlers, they had to create it themselves.

At p. 215, Sisani placed the events at Interamna within the wider programme of Dentatus, which involved settlement along Via Amerina and affected Ameria (Amelia), Tuder (Todi) and Vettona (Bettona).  All of the settlers here were assigned to the Clustumina tribe (see pp. 214-5 and Table 18, p. 224).

The area became even more thoroughly Romanised following:

  1. the formation of the colony of Spoletium, some 30 km to the north of Interamna Nahars, in 241 BC; and

  2. the building of the eastern branch of Via Flaminia connecting Narnia, Interamna Nahars and Spoletium, probably in 220 BC.

After the Social Wars

Like most major settlements in Umbria, Interamna Nahars, which became a municipium in ca. 90 BC.   Three inscriptions in the Museo Archeologico throw light on the history of the Municipium:

  1. An inscription (1st century BC) commemorates Aulus Pompeius, son of Aulus, who is described as a patron of the municipium of Interamnat[ium] Nahartis who had saved the municipium from the greatest dangers and difficulties.   There have been various suggestions for the nature of the danger that was averted:

  2. It might have been associated with the legal dispute between Terni and Rieta in 54 BC  in relation to the control of the Vellino river.  Cicero represented Rieti in this matter when it came before the senate in Rome, and it is possible that Aulus Pompeius represented Terni. 

  3. Another possibility is that Aulus Pompeius saved Interamna from becoming a veteran colony, perhaps under Sulla (i.e. in ca. 80 BC) or, more probably, after the Perusine War (40 BC).

  4. An inscription (32 AD) records that Faustus Titius Liberalis had financed an unknown monument at his own expense.  This inscription celebrates the genius of the Municipium in the 704th years from its foundation: this is a reference to the tradition that the city was founded in 672 BC.

  5. An inscription (1st century AD) that was found in the vicinity of the Roman theatre records that:

  6. Caius Dexius Luci, a curule aedile, built the arcade around the seating area of the theatre; and

  7. Titius Albius Cai  and his son, Caius Albius Titi, both of whom were quattuorviri, paid for its decoration.

Late Roman Empire

The Emperor Trebonianus Gallus and his son Volusianus were defeated by Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus in a battle near Interamna Nahars.  They fled and were murdered by their own guards at Forum Flaminii.

The city of Terni claims the historian Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (died in ca. 117 AD) as a native, and he gives his name to the main thoroughfare (Corso Cornelio Tacito) that links the historic city to the railway station.  There is more reason to accept another tradition that has the Emperor Tacitus (275-6 AD) and his half-brother and successor, the Emperor Florianus (276 AD) were born in the city. 

Read more:

S. Sisani,  “Fenomenologia della Conquista: La Romanizzazione dell' Umbria tra il IV sec. a. C. e la Guerra Sociale”, (2007) Rome

S. Sisani, “British Umbria: Quasi una Recensione ad uno Studio Recente” , Eutopia, 2:1 (2002) 123-39

G. Bradley, “The Colonization of Interamna Nahars', in

  1. A. Cooley (Ed.), “The Epigraphic Landscape of Roman Italy” (2000) London, pp. 3-17

P. Fontaine, “Cités et Enceintes de l'Ombrie Antique” (1990) Brussels

HistoryMain page     Ancient History

Return to the home page on Terni.


Ancient History of Terni

Umbria:  Home   Cities    History    Art    Hagiography    Contact 


Terni:  Home    History    Art    Saints    Walks    Drives    Monuments    Museums  

HistoryHistory     Ancient History