The Umbrians And The Flaminian Way

North of the Sabines and of Picenum, and east of the Etruscans, was Umbria, reaching up the Adriatic seaboard as far north as Ravenna and bisected, at the time we shall visit it, by the Via Flaminia. One has an instinctive sympathy for the Umbrians because from the time we begin to know them, they are always the under dog in the clash of races, the plaything of circumstances. In earlier centuries, before Rome was, they are said to have possessed a large part of Northern and Central Italy, from sea to sea, from Alps to Apennines. Pliny remarks, with misty exaggeration, that the Etruscans had annexed three hundred of their cities. The Ligurians to westward, and the Senonian Gauls and other tribes to the eastward, had destroyed their supremacy in the north; and the Etruscans had deprived them of their possession west of the Tiber, though they continued to live in the districts they had lost.

Better than any other Italians they represent in historic times the primitive pre-Hellenic and pre-Etruscan population of Italy. Not over-troubled with idealistic heroism, with political dreams or ambitions, and preferring quiet possession of their homes to a struggle for liberty, the Umbrians became accustomed to amalgamating with their conquerors rather than to emigrating. The splendid slow moving white cattle of Umbria are a fit emblem of the race, its patience and its industry. So when the Romans, in their northward advance at the close of the fourth century, first came to grips with them they found a rather chastened and humble-minded race, easily persuaded to acquiesce in the Roman protectorate. There seems not to have been any organized league of Umbrian communities with a common policy. When a Roman army was attempting to cross the difficult passes in the Apennines of Northern Umbria in 210 in order to attack the Etruscans, the Umbrian Camertes, who commanded this district, became their allies. Yet after the Romans had defeated the Etruscans at the Vadimonian lake and had entered Central Etruria for the first time, a number of the Umbrian cities took alarm at these first signs of Roman aggression northward and gathered their forces near Mevania with the rumored intention of a march on Rome. Their defeat here in 307 opened up Umbria, and its submission was completed by the victory of Sentinum in 295.

The first Umbrian commonwealth to accept the new order was Ocriculum (307 B.C.), the modern Otricoli. This town was the gate to Umbria, standing near the Tiber at the opening of the valley of the Nar (Nera) , through which the Via Flaminia was soon to pass. The ruins of the Roman city which succeeded the Umbrian are still extensive,—a good-sized amphitheater (arena sixty-seven by forty-five meters), a theater (seventy-six meters), Thermae, forum and basilica, interesting for its well preserved plan. Some of the finest early imperial sculptures in the Vatican were found here, including the famous Jupiter of Otricoli, so long thought to represent the Pheidian type of the god.