Giarelli L. (Brescia) “Res publica Camunnorum”: a small Roman Republic in the Alps

L. Giarelli *



The text is given in author’s edition. Текст приводится в авторской редакции.

Valle Camonica is an Italian valley located in the central Alps, north to the city of Brescia, west of Trento, south of the Valtellina, and east of the Orobian Alps.

Here the ancient Camunian civilization developed, which expressed its culture in rock art. The prehistoric rock carvings, widespread in all valley (ca 80 km), indicate high degree of technical expertise attained by this population. Through the examination of the petroglyphs is the evidence of the influences of contacts with the major cultures of northern Italy during the late Iron Age: Celts, Raeti, Veneti, Etruscans and Romans.

Legions of the Roman Republic entered the Transpadana (north of Padus flumen, or Eridanus, currently the Po River) around the end of the 3rd century B.C., following the end of the Second Punic War.

At the time the entire Po valley was occupied by a series of peoples of Celtic lineage (qui ipse lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellamur; Caes. B.G. I. 1), particularly in the central area where Insubri and Cenomani settled. The Cenomani differs from other Gallic tribes in their good relations with the Roman Republic. During the Gallic wars, Romans, Veneti and Cenomani fought the battle of Telamone against the Celtic coalition of Gesati, Boi, Insubri and Taurisci (Polib. II. 28). The Cenomani’s capital was the city of Brescia (in vico Cenomanorum, Brixiamque, quod caput gentis erat; Liv. XXXII. 30).

The Romans stopped their northern Italy conquest at the Alps: perhaps for a fear of long and dangerous war against the barbarian peoples of the mountains, or maybe for the little gain they would have had in the conquest of the Alps. The Romans preferred to focus on the fertile fields of the Po valley. This situation of peace allowed contact exchanges between the Alpine people, still autonomous, and people of flats under the control of Rome.

The Romans built a group of cities and settlements (e.g. Turin, Ivrea, Como, Brescia, Trento and Feltre) on the edge between the valleys and plains with the aim to encompass the territories of the Cisalpine and to control the passes through the mountains.

The campaigns of Caesar in Gaul opened a new transalpine front. Around 50 B.C. the Romans came to possess vast territories beyond the Alps. But the Republic controlled only few crossings allowing the passage from one to the other side of the Alps. Because of this situation the Romans were usually forced to make agreements with the Alpine populations that lived there. Those tribes, which were autonomous and outside any control, usually would demand tolls for safe passage. Strabo listed four main passes known by the Romans to cross the Alps to central Europe: “[Polybius] only names four passes over the mountains: the pass through the Ligures (the one that is nearest the Tyrrhenian Sea), then that through the Taurini, which Hannibal crossed, then that through the Salassi, and the fourth, that through the Raeti, all of them precipitous passes” (Strab. IV. 6. 12).

Meanwhile, the integration of the peoples of the plains of northern Italy was continued: in 89 B.C. the territory between the Alps and the Po obtained the concession to ius latii (Lex Pompeia de Gallia Citeriore), while in 49 B.C. Caesar granted civitas Romana to the Cisalpine Gaul (Dio Cass. LI. 36). Only in 42 B.C. all north Italian area, from the mountains to the Po River, was joined to Italy according to the Lex Iulia de civitate Transpadanorum.

The conquest of the alpine region started under the Principate of Augustus1, in order to consolidate the chaotic conquests of the late Republican age. In 16 B.C. Publius Silius Nerva, governor of Illyricum, proceeded to the subjugation of the Alpine front, from the town of Como to Trento and the Norian. The following year Tiberius, and his brother Drusus, led a campaign against Raeti and Vindelici. The end of this war made the subjugation of all populations from the Alps to the Danube possible. In memory of those victorious battles, the Romans built a monument known as the Tropaeum Alpium near the Principality of Monaco, in the French town of La Turbie.

Ad fontes: the Camunni

The earliest mention of the Camunni people dates back to the Origines, a historical work composed in the 2nd century B.C. by Cato the Censor. In this opera the author described peoples of the ancient Italy. The work, now gone largely lost, was noted in some passages by Pliny the Elder, who wrote in his Naturalis Historia : “Verso deinde in Italiam pectore Alpium Latini iuris Euganeae gentes, quarum oppida XXXIIII enumerat Cato. Ex iis Trumplini, venalis cum agris suis populus, dein Camunni conpluresque similes finitimis adtributi municipis” (Plin. Nat. Hist. III. 133-134). In this passage the Camunni are described as one of thirty-four Euganean tribes, that after the Roman conquest were assigned to a nearby town as adtributi.

Strabo, who described Alps and the people who lived there before the Roman conquest of the area, defines Camunni as Raeti, like the Lepontii: “Ραιτοὶ […] τούτου δ΄ εἰσὶ τοῦ φύλου καὶ Ληπόντιοι καὶ Καμοῦνοι” (Strabo. IV. 6. 8).

It is particularly difficult for the modern historiography to outline in detail the differences between the Raetian and Euganean populations, mainly because the lack of clarity of the classical sources. These two peoples were described very similarly. Originally they inhabited the Po valley and later were pushed to the Alps by new ethnic groups: the Euganei – by the invasions of Veneti and the Trojans (Liv. I. 1), the Raeti – by the Gauls (Liv. V. 33).

These tribes however settled in the central part of the Alps, in a quadrilateral between Como, Chur, Verona, Feltre and territories of the Norian. R. De Marinis considers those two ethnic groups very similar and suggests that northern territory was more Raetian, while southern area – more Euganean2.

The third historical source, which cites the Camunni, is the Trophy of the Alps, built to celebrate Roman victories in 6-7 B.C. It is reported that over forty Alpine populations were subjugated: in the list of the names the Camunni are described in second position after the Trumpilini3.

The last classical historian in chronological order who wrote about Camunni was Cassius Dio, who lived between the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. He described in his “Roman History” the Καμμοὑνιοι as a warlike people, that together with Venni, “alpine tribes, took up arms against the Romans, but were conquered and subdued by Publius Silius” (Dio Cass. LIV. 20).

This description of the highlanders, very common and quite prejudicial, shows the mountain populations as barbarians dedicated to the plunder of fertile plains because of their poor lands. It probably appeared to the Romans as an enough casus belli to justify any war of subjugation.

The name of this population in works of some early modern historians appears as “Camuli”. Ph. Clüver in his “Italia Antiqua” (1624) wrote: “at in nonnullis Plinii ac Strabonis exemplaribus vetustis idem nomem per L scriptum reperitum Καμοulοι – Camuli”. This name was used before by O. Rossi in “Memorie bresciane” (1616) in a description of a medal dedicated to Camulo Invicto4. The name Camuli was used again by P.P. Ormanico in his “Considerationi sopra alcune memorie della religione antica dei Camuli, ò Camuni di Valcamonica” (1639).

From civitas to res publica: Romanization of Valle Camonica

Historical sources do not have details about the subjugation of the Camunni. Surely this population had contacted with Romanized areas before the conquest of 16 B.C.5. Strabo wrote that it was common for the mountain people to trade goods they lacked with inhabitants of plains: “in exchange they would give resin, pitch, torch-pine, wax, honey, and cheese – for with these things they were well supplied” (Strabo. IV. 6. 9).

From Pliny we know that Trumpilini, the population of Valle Trompia, a valley adjacent to Valle Camonica, after the Roman conquest were enslaved and sold. Maybe for less resistance to the occupation, the Camunni gained by Romans only the peregrini status: they were obliged to pay a tribute and were administratively assigned to the Roman city nearby. Scholars believe that this city was Colonia Civica Augusta Brixia, or Brescia, ancient capital of the Celts Cenomani. Under Augustus the Brescian area was joined in the province of Regio X Venetia et Histria.

About the middle of the 1st century A.D. the Camunni gained the ius latii, a right which allowed people to trade and marry Roman citizens (commercium et connubium). The achievement of this right is remembered by an epigraph of Tiberian age (14-37 A.D.) which bears the name of “civitas Camunnorum6.

The word civitas indicates an autonomous political entity with Rome, that did not imply the existence of a city (urbs). This term was usually used to refer to the typical organization of Gaul and Germany: these people lived in tribes without a capital as an administrative center, mainly in villages called vici, pagi or oppida.

The civitas Camunnorum is therefore not intended as a city of Cividate Camuno, the largest roman settlement in the Valle Camonica. Similar examples of the term could be found (CIL XII 136: [civ]itas Sedunorum; CIL XII 5524 or 147: civitates I]III [V]a[ll]i[s Poenin(ae)]; CIL V 7231; AE 1899 209b: [ci]v[itatium Cottianorum).

The Camunni were also associated to the tribus Quirina. They were not the only ones in northern Italy: the name of this tribe was also used for the inhabitants of Alpes Cottiae and Alpes Maritimae. There are different hypotheses about the reason for their attribution to this tribe. One explanation could be that Emperor Nero, who was recorded in Quirina tribe, granted the ius latii to some Alpine communities, among which perhaps the Camunni was.

Attribution of a tribe exclusively to the Valle Camonica marked a difference from previous subjugation, emphasizing the distance from the dominant city. For example all Brescian area was attributed to the tribus Fabia, while the city of Bergamo – to the Voturia, the area of Como – to the Ufentina, Verona – to the Poblilia and Trento – to the tribus Papiria.

From at least 96 A.D. the Camunni ruled their territory independently: some epigraphs define their political entity as res publica Camunnorum. It is important to note how, just over one hundred years from submission to the Empire, they got a respectable permission to a self-government. It happened probably thanks to the development of good relations between Rome and the alpine valley.

A good example of integration of the Camunni was Caius Pladicius Casdianus, who lived in the 1st century A.D. He reached higher public offices in Valle Camonica and in Brixia: in a commemorative plaque he defined himself as "aed(ilis) quaest(or) praef(ectus) i(ure) d(icundo) Brix(iae) iudex ex V dec(uriis) equo p(ublico)". At the same time he served also under the flags of the imperial army in the Eastern Europe7.

Judging from names of political officers of the res publica Camunnorum, it seems that the local government was completely in the hands of indigenous families, without any bond to the city to which the Camunni were previously adtributi.

The process of Romanization took place not only in the legal field, but also in religion. Through the mechanism of Roman interpretatio the conquerors associated their cults to the local deities. An emblematic example is the Sanctuary of Minerva located in Breno, a municipality next to Cividate Camuno, where Romans substituted ancient local cult with that of the classical goddess. Local deities such as Alanteloba (CIL V 4934) or Aburnus et Aburna (InscrIt-10-05 1160) were also honored in Roman age with inscriptions in Latin characters. The religious dedications are very important in the valleys nearby Brescia: they occupy a share of about 30%, while in the city area they reached 11%8.

In this climate of civil and religious harmony the presence of a priesthood class specialized in the imperial cults is not strange. An epigraph from Pisogne indicates «Ti (berio) Claudio Quir (ina) Numai (!) sacerd (oti) divi Aug (usti)» (AE 2001 1069), while another inscription is about a [I]"IIIIIvir Flavia[l(is)]" (CIL V 4968) – a very rare office.

Political institutions: civilia et militaria

We cannot know exact number of inhabitants in Valle Camonica during the Roman age. One indicator could be the estimated capacity of places of entertainment in Cividate Camuno: in the theater there are around 1700 sits, while the capacity of the amphitheater (73,20×63,60 m) is around 5500 people9.

The Romanization is highlighted in the inscriptions also by use of surnames or names of Latin origin: Albanus, Celsus, Cerialis, Faustus, Firmus, Fronto, Publius, Secuntus, Sextus, Silo, Tiro, Valentina. To them indigenous names of the valley are associated: Ambicus, Biumus, Cluvia, Endubro, Enna, Mennica, Plada, Ponticus, Sassius, Seccus, Tresus, Trimus, Vesgassis10.

Tria nomina in the Camunian epigraphs are widespread. Presumably it comes from a strong push to the assimilation, as it is evidenced in the adjacent valleys. Anauni, Sinduni and Tulliassi received the Roman citizenship from the emperor Claudius in 46 B.C. There was an “amnesty” for using the Roman naming form, because its illegal use was officially forbidden.

The seat of government of the res publica Camunnorum was certainly the Roman city actually named Cividate Camuno11. This town, situated on the border between the low and medium Valle Camonica, was redesigned according to the Roman pattern: roads were planned with orthogonal axis, a forum12, public baths, at least two necropolis and an entertainment district with theater and amphitheater were built. The main square was probably closed by a curia: Caius Claudius de pecunia sua paid for erection of the res p tribunal and columnam mutavit (CIL V 4960).

The governance structure of the res publica Camunnorum imitated that of the Roman Republic. In the epigraphs the decurions, notable people, who usually came from rich families, are recorded. They formed the curia, a sort of small senate, and issued decrees, which were indicated as D.D. (Decreto Decurionorum).

The most important figures were the duumviri, who could be compared to the consuls in Rome. They were the first in dignity and presided over the public assemblies, meetings of the curia, and trials. They were flanked by other magistrates: the aediles, who took care of public buildings, order and games, and the quaestors, who were entrusted with the finances. Under the Early Empire, some members of native aristocracy in Valle Camonica also obtained the equestrian rank13. Many equites received their title after long military career or because of personal merit, even though most had the status due to their richness.

Among political and religious positions there were "XVvir (o) [sacr(is) fac(iundis)]" (CIL V 4954); in Rome these fifteen priests observed religious duties, guarded the Sibylline Books and interpreted them at the Senate’s request. They were also responsible for supervision of foreign cults.

In the epigraphs arts or crafts names are not evidenced, except for name of the college of fabri, carpenters, and cantonarii, who were manufacturers of blankets or, sometimes, firefighters. Both of these jobs were very popular during the imperial era14.

In Roman society the army represented a great example of integration and social responsibility. Different inscriptions indicate presence of the Camunni who served in different locations under the banners of the Empire. Aforementioned Caius Pladicius Casdianus served in the Legio X Gemina Pia Fidelis, the brothers Caius Domitius Docilis and Lucius Statius Secundus (CIL V 4952) – in the Legio VI. There is also an inscription about a soldier who became centurion in Cohors Alpina (CIL V 4951).

Epigraphs of soldiers who call themselves Camunnis miles were found also in Carnutum, a Roman camp along the Danube, where Sextus Aponius recorded his presence in the Legio XIV (AE 1978 631), and in Corinth, where Caius Valerius died after having served in the Legio VIII (AE 1978 777).

Of particular interest is the epigraph found in Ravenna, where the Roman fleet was anchored. The inscription tells about a man who described himself as “nat (ione) Camunn (us)” (CIL XI 42). He lived forty-nine years, after having served twenty-four years in the army: a man born in the mountains and died on the shores of the Adriatic Sea15.

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* Luca Giarelli, Independent Researcher, head of Studio delle Tradizioni Alpine (I.S.T.A.). Лука Гиарелли, независимый исследователь, руководитель Studio delle Tradizioni Alpine (I.S.T.A.).

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1 [Alpes a re]gione ea, quae proxima est Hadriano mari, [ad Tuscum pacari fec]i. Nulli genti bello per iniuriam inlato (RgdA. 26).

2 De Marinis R. Le popolazioni alpine di stirpe retica // Italia omnium terrarum alumna. Milano, 1988. P. 101-102.

3 Imp Caesari divi f Augusto pontifici maxumo (!) imp (eratori) XIIII tribunic (ia) potestate XVII s (enatus) p (opulus) q (ue) R (omanus) quod eius ductu auspicisque gentes Alpinae omnes quae a mari supero ad inferum pertinebant sub imperium p (opuli) R (omani) sunt redactae gentes Alpinae devictae / Trumpilini / Camunni… (CIL V 7817).

4 This medal is now considered as a false: Tesei L. Fonti storiografiche documentarie dell’epoca romana in Vallecamonica in La Valcamonica romana: ricerche e studi. Brescia, 1987. P. 19.

5 Archaeological finds in Valle Camonica indicate thin-walled glasses imported from Romanized areas before the conquest (1st century B.C.). Other finds that indicate trade between Alps and the plain are coins of the 5th-4th centuries B.C. and a late Republican age axis (dated 91 B.C.) found in the Sanctuary of Minerva in Breno (Gregori G.L. Da Civitas a Res Publica: la comunità camuna in età romana // Il teatro e l'anfiteatro di Cividate Camuno. Scavo, restauro e allestimento di un parco archeologico / V. Mariotti (a cura di). Firenze, 2004. P. 19; Chiaravalle M. Le monete // Ibid. P. 196).

6 The term civitas Camunnorum appears on a plaque found in Rogno and dedicated to “Druso [Caesari] / Ti (beri) Aug (usti) f (ilio)”, who died in 23 A.D. (CIL V 4954).

7 C (aius) Pladicius C (ai) f (ilius) / Quir (ina) Casdianus / IIvir i (ure) d (icundo) / Camunnis / aed (ilis) quaest (or) / praef (ectus) i (ure) d (icundo) Brix (iae) / iudex ex V dec (uriis) equo p (ublico) / praef (ectus) coh (ortis) I / Thrac (um) equit (atae) / trib (unus) mil (itum) leg (ionis) X / G (eminae) P (iae) F (idelis) / a re p (ublica) Camunnor (um) / cui in hoc / pecuniam legavit / t (estamento) p (oni) i (ussit) (CIL V 4957).

8 Estimated in: Gregori G.L. Op. cit. P. 31.

9 Mariotti V. Il teatro di Cividate Camuno // Il teatro... P. 92, 98. The early modern age population of Valle Camonica was about 40000-50000 people. Today there are about 118000 inhabitants.

10 Gregori G.L. Op. cit. P. 20, 23.

11 In medieval documents – Civethate; between 1853 and 1887 – Cividate Alpino, later – Cividate Camuno. Some scholars believe that the name of this city before the Roman conquest was Vannia. Claudius Ptolemy said that Οὐαννία was the city of «Βεχουνῶν, οἳ εἰσιν ἀπό δύσεως Οὐενετίας» (Ptol. III. 1). According to Ph. Clüver, “in valle Camunica opidulum est, ut supra dixi, vulgari vocabolo Civedà, sive politiori ore Civedato & Civedado […] minime igitur dubite, quin haec Vannia illa sit” (Clüver Ph. Italia antiqua. Lugdunum Batavorum, 1624. P. 109).

12 The name Plaza de Foro is reported in a document of 1312, which indicates presence of the main square near the river Oglio, on the edge of town (Sina A. La pieve di Cividate Camuno // Le memorie storiche della Diocesi di Brescia. VI. Brescia, 1935. P. 58).

13 Names of equites publici in inscriptions are: Marcus Teudicius Verus (AE 2002 572), Caius Pladicius Casdianus (CIL V 4957) and Titus Laronius Primus (CIL V 8891).

14 Mem (oriae) / Medi / Crescent (is) / col (legia) fabr (orum) / et cent (onariorum) / p (edes) X (InscrIt-10-05 1211).

15 Language revision by Cynthia Giarelli.

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Chiaravalle M. Le monete // Il teatro e l'anfiteatro di Cividate Camuno. Scavo, restauro e allestimento di un parco archeologico / V. Mariotti (a cura di). Firenze, 2004.
Clüver Ph. Italia antiqua. Lugdunum Batavorum, 1624.
De Marinis R. Le popolazioni alpine di stirpe retica // Italia omnium terrarum alumna. Milano, 1988. P. 99-155.
Gregori G.L. Da Civitas a Res Publica: la comunità camuna in età romana // Il teatro e l'anfiteatro di Cividate Camuno. Scavo, restauro e allestimento di un parco archeologico / V. Mariotti (a cura di). Firenze, 2004. P. 19-36.
Italia omnium terrarum alumna: la civiltà dei Veneti, Reti, Liguri, Celti, Piceni, Umbri, Latini, Campani e Iapigi. Milano, 1988.
La Valcamonica romana: ricerche e studi. Brescia, 1987.
Mariotti V. Il teatro di Cividate Camuno // Il teatro e l'anfiteatro di Cividate Camuno. Scavo, restauro e allestimento di un parco archeologico / V. Mariotti (a cura di). Firenze, 2004.
Ormanico P.P. Considerationi sopra alcune memorie della religione antica dei Camuli, ò Camuni di Valcamonica, popoli antichi di Valcamonica. Brescia, 1639.
Rossi O. Le memorie bresciane: opera istorica et simbolica. Brescia, 1616.
Sina A. La pieve di Cividate Camuno // Le memorie storiche della Diocesi di Brescia. VI. Brescia, 1935. P. 1-82.
Tesei L. Fonti storiografiche documentarie dell’epoca romana in Vallecamonica in La Valcamonica romana: ricerche e studi. Brescia, 1987.

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AE – L’Année Épigraphique
CIL – Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
InscrIt – Inscriptiones Italiae

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L. Giarelli


Valle Camonica is a valley located in the central Alps. It was the place where the Camunian civilization developed. The Romans conquered the area in 16 B.C. and subdued the population of the Camunni. In the 1st century the Camunni were well integrated into Roman system, gained the Roman citizenship. They were assigned to the Quirina tribus and gained administrative autonomy with the institution of a republic: the res publica Camunnorum. Archaeological finds show a well Romanized population: the city of Cividate Camuno became the Roman centre of the valley, with the construction of a forum, thermae, theater, amphitheater and necropolis. Among Camunni citizens there were magistrates like duumviri, aediles, quaestors, while in military many men served in Roman army in many locations of the Empire.


Анна Николаевна Жаровская, к.и.н. (Ярославль) 05.04.12, 12:38

Dear Mr. Giarelli! Thank you for the very interesting paper. I would like to ask you a question. On the basis of Strabo's text you are stating that the inhabitants of Valle Camonica sold pitch, torch-pine, wax, honey, cheese, etc. Were these products famous outside the region? Did some of these have any specificity, including, perhaps, a peculiar palatability? What did the Camunni get in return from their «trade partners»? Thank you.

Anna Zharovskaya.

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