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Ferentum and Ferentinum

Ferentum or Ferentinum, or variants of these names, may refer to at least five places in Italy, causing endless confusion among writers and readers both; and the confusion had already started in Antiquity. This page is designed to help untangle them, as a sort of public service: it is by no means exhaustive and may itself fall into confusion, so tread with caution; in fact, the most useful thing I've done here is to alert you that we should do so: the more assertive some source is — especially loose webpages out there, in any language — the less likely it is to be right.

In the collection below, the two main places by the name are listed as #1 and #2; an interesting note by George Dennis connects the two somewhat more organically than on the mere ground that the names are similar.

1. The Hernican Ferentinum

Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 ed., Vol. X, p270

Ferentino (anc. Ferentinum, to be distinguished from Ferentum or Ferentinum in Etruria), a town and episcopal see of Italy, in the province of Rome, from which it is 48 m. ESE by rail. Pop. (1901) 7957 (town), 12,279 (comune).​a It is picturesquely situated on a hill 1290 ft. above sea-level, and still possesses considerable remains of ancient fortifications. The lower portion of the outer walls, which probably did not stand free, is built of roughly hewn blocks of a limestone which naturally splits into horizontal layers; above this in places is walling of rectangular blocks of tufa. Two gates, the Porta Sanguinaria (with an arch with tufa voussoirs), and the Porta S. Maria, a double gate constructed entirely of rectangular blocks of tufa, are preserved. Outside this gate is the tomb of A. Quinctilius Priscus, a citizen of Ferentinum, with a long inscription cut in the rock. See Th. Mommsen in Corp. Inscrip. Lat. X (Berlin, 1883), No. 5853.

The highest part of the town, the acropolis, is fortified also; it has massive retaining walls similar to those of the lower town. At the eastern corner, under the present episcopal palace, the construction is somewhat more careful. A projecting rectangular terrace has been erected, supported by walls of quadrilateral blocks of limestone arranged almost horizontally; while upon the level thus formed a building of rectangular blocks of local travertine was raised. The projecting cornice of this building bears two inscriptions of the period of Sulla, recording its construction by two censors (local officials); and in the interior, which contains several chambers, there is an inscription of the same censors over one of the doors; and another over a smaller external side door. The windows lighting these chambers come immediately above the cornice, and the wall continues above them again. The whole of this construction probably belongs to one period (Mommsen, op. cit. No. 5837 seq.). The cathedral occupies a part of the level top of the ancient acropolis; it was reconstructed on the site of an older church in 1099‑1118; the interior was modernized in 1693, but was restored to its original form in 1902. It contains a fine canopy in the "Cosmatesque" style (see Relazione dei lavori eseguiti dall' Ufficio tecnico per la conservazione dei monumenti di Roma e provincia, Rome, 1903, 175 seq.). The Gothic church of S. Maria Maggiore, in the lower town (13th‑14th century), has a very fine exterior; the interior, the plan of which is a perfect rectangle, has been spoilt by restoration. There are several other Gothic churches in the town.

Ferentinum was the chief town of the Hernici; it was captured from them by the Romans in 364 B.C. and took no part in the rising of 306 B.C. The inhabitants became Roman citizens after 195 B.C., and the place later became a municipium. It lay just above the Via Latina and, being a strong place, served for the detention of hostages. Horace praises its quietness, [but see below, #3] and it does not appear much in later history.

See further Ashby, Röm. Mitteil. XXIV (1909).​b

[T. As.]

Thayer's Notes:

a In 2008, the population of the comune (website) stood at 20,985, with about 12,000 in the town, the rest in the surrounding township.

b For an atmospheric and anecdotic account of the town, see Gregorovius, Wanderjahre in Italien, Ch. 50 (tr. Roberts, pp146‑153).

2. The Etruscan Ferentum

Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 ed., Vol. X, p270

Ferentum, or Ferentinum, an ancient town of Etruria, about 6 m. N of Viterbo (the ancient name of which is unknown) and 3½ m. E of the Via Cassia. It was the birthplace (32 A.D.) of the emperor Otho, was destroyed in the 11th century, and is now entirely deserted, though it retains its ancient name. It occupied a ridge running from east to west, with deep ravines on three sides. There are some remains of the city walls, and of various Roman structures, but the most important ruin is that of the theatre. The stage front is still standing; it is pierced by seven openings with flat arches, and shows traces of reconstruction. The necropolis was on the hill called Talone on the north-east.

See G. Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria (London, 1883), I.156; Notizie degli scavi, 1900, 401; 1902, 84; 1905, 31.

3. The Latin Ferentinum

Ferentinum in Latin territory is mentioned four times by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (III.34 and 51, IV.45, V.61): although we don't know exactly where it was, it naturally cannot be either the Etruscan or the Hernican town. At any rate, this town seems to have some connection with an aqua Ferentina (aqueduct? spring? river??), a lucus Ferentina (a grove, which in English we might call the Ferentine Woods), and a gate mentioned by Plutarch, Romulus, 24.2, as still existing in his time, but mentioned by no other ancient writer: modern speculations are rife but, so far, sterile.

This Ferentinum is also very likely the one meant by Horace (Ep. I.17.8), despite the citation in #1, above, and the frequent opinion of scholars on which it is based: some scholars see otherwise ("The Ferentinum of Horace", TAPA 43:67‑72) and I think they got it right.

4. A Samnite Ferentinum?

Ferentinum is mentioned twice by Livy (X.17 and 34) that seems to be in Samnite territory; or at least, in connection with the Samnite Wars. Various Italian authors have connected it with ruins in equally various places; the commonest identification online seems to be with Oppido Vetere in the comune of Lioni in Avellana province: see for example Lioni On The Web. See, however, #6, below.

5. The Puglian Ferentinum

Gaetano Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica, Vol. XXIII (1843), p301

For students of Antiquity, this isn't a legitimate Ferentinum since it was founded in the Middle Ages; but that doesn't prevent us from meeting with its Latin name in medieval documents and subsequent authors, and then even in writers confusing it with the others. Moroni's original Italian first, then a translation:

Ferentinum, Farentinum, o Florentinum. Città vescovile distrutta, della Puglia piana, nel regno delle due Sicilie, sei miglia lungi da Lucera dalla parte di occidente, giaceva quasi a piedi del Corvino, nel distretto e cantone di s. Severo, nella provincia di Capitanata. Fu edificata dal Catapano, o sia greco preside della Puglia, nell' anno dell' era cristiana 1022, come si ha dalla cronica cassinese. Altri la chiamano Fiorenzuola, o Fiorentino, e presso il Biondo è detta Ferunzuola. Non è d'altro celebre, se non che il famoso Federico II imperatore, e re delle due Sicilie, vi morì ai 13 dicembre 1250, avvelenato, come credesi, dal suo figlio naturale Manfredi. Si narra che gl' indovini avevano avvertito l'infelice principe, che si guardasse da Firenze, ed egli supponeva che intendessero quella di Toscana. Vi fu la sedia vescovile suffraganea della metropoli di Benevento, come rilevasi dagli scrittori, e dal Sarnelli nella Memorie cronol. degli arciv. di Benevento, dicendoci a pag. 247, della sua mentovata fondazione, e che il primo vescovo di cui si ha memoria è Ignizzo, che sottoscrisse la bolla del Papa Giovanni XIII sull' erezione dell' arcivescovato di Benevento l'anno 969; l'ultimo de' quali, al dire dell' Ughelli, fu fr. Melio, eletto vescovo di Fiorentino nel 1391 da Bonifacio IX. Aggiunge che della cattedrale si vedevano le rovine, e che divenne feudo del duca di Torremaggiore. Abbiamo da Commanville, che si chiamò Florentia, che nel 1410 fu unita a Lucera, e che la sua chiesa principale era uffiziata da un arciprete. Al presente è un borgo.

Ferentinum, Farentinum, or Florentinum. A destroyed city and bishopric, of Puglia Piana [the area of Puglia that includes Bari and Otranto], in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, six miles west of Lucera. It lay very near the foot of the Corvino, in the district and canton of S. Severo, in the province of Capitanata. It was built by the catapan, the Byzantine governor of Puglia, in the year 1022 of the Christian era, as we are told in the chronicle of Cassino. Others call it Fiorenzuola or Fiorentino, and in Biondo it is called Ferunzuola. It is famous only in that the celebrated emperor Frederick II, king of the Two Sicilies, died there on December 13, 1250, poisoned, as it is thought, by his natural son Manfred. The tale runs that the soothsayers had warned the unhappy prince to beware of Florence, and he supposed that they meant the one in Tuscany. It was the seat of a bishop, a suffragan of the metropolitan see of Benevento, as we read in the authors, and in Sarnelli's Memorie cronologiche degli arcivi di Benevento, that on p247 recounts its foundation, and gives the first of its bishops of whom we have record as Ignizzo, who subscribed to the bull of Pope John XIII that erected Benevento as an archbishopric in the year 969; the last of these bishops, according to Ughelli, was Melio, chosen bishop of Fiorentino in 1391 by Boniface IX. He adds that from the cathedral the ruins can be seen, and that it became a feudal possession of the duke of Torremaggiore. Commanville tells us that it was called Florentia, that in 1410 it was united to Lucera, and that its principal church was served by an archpriest. It is now a neighbourhood of the town.

(my translation)

6. Forentum

One vowel doesn't make that much of a difference when someone is hell-bent on mixing things up; after all, that's what emendation is for, so that even when manuscripts read Ferentum or the equivalent, they can be changed to Forentum or vice-versa, as we like. How this kind of tangle can occur may be seen in the following communication — complete with a geyser of name-dropping that remains irritating after all these years — to a weekly journal called The Academy, Aug. 22, 1885, No. 694, pp125‑126:

 p125  The site of Ferentum (or Forentum)

Combe Vicarage, near Woodstock: Aug. 15, 1885.

In Dr. W. Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, vol. II (1854), Mr. E. H. Bunbury writes thus as to the site of Ferentum or Forentum, a town of Apulia, about ten miles south of Venusia:

"It is still called Forenza; but from the expressions of Horace ("arvum pingue humilis Forenti," Carm., III.iv.16), to whom it was familiar from its proximity to Venusia, the ancient town appears to have been situated in a valley, while the modern one stands on the summit of a hill."

On June 1 Cav. Avv. Alessandro Bozza (formerly in the Italian Ministry) — in whose house at Barile, a town just below Monte Vulture (the ancient Vultur), and between it and Venosa (the ancient Venusia), I had, by his kind invitation, stayed since the evening of May 30, — took me to Venosa, and to its old castle, which belongs to a brother of my Barile host. From the top of the castle I had a fine view, comprising Monte Vulture (which I had ascended on May 30), Forenza, and Acerenza  p126 (the ancient Acherontia). While Acerenza, situated "like an eagle's nest" (to use the expression of Macaulay) on its lofty island-like rock, is admirably described, with his "curiosa felicitas," by Horace ("celsae nidum Acherontiae," loc. cit.), Forenza is not "on the summit of a hill," but on a plain lying at the foot of a high ridge. In comparison with Acherontia, Ferentum (or Forentum), if on the site of Forenza, might be spoken of as "humile." Mr. Bunbury goes on thus:

"According to local writers, some remains of the ancient Ferentum may be found in a small plain two miles nearer Venosa (Romanolli, vol. II, p236)."

The following is the passage referred to:

"Secondo la riportata topografia Oraziana, nella quale Ferentum è riposta presso Bantia ed Acheruntia, non possiam dubitare, che sia l'odierna Forenza, circa otto miglia al mezzogiorno di Venosa. Essa peroº era situata alquanto più lontana nel mezzo di una pianura verso Venosa, dove se ne ravvianno i segni, e non giaº sull' erto colle, dove oggi s'alza Forenza, da non combinare colla descrizione di Orazio, da cui si appellò umile, o bassa per la sua situazione" (Antica Topografia Istorica del Regno di Napoli dell' Abate Domenico Romanelli, Prefetto della Biblioteca de' Ministeri e Socio di varie Accademie, Parte Seconda. Napoli, 1818).

Orelli, who substituted the "Forentum" of Livy (IX.16.20) and Pliny (III.11) for the "Ferentum" of Horace — Diodorus Siculus having Φερέντη — writes thus:

"Forentum, hodie, ut videtur, vicus dictus i Castellani sive i Castelli, tria vel quattuor mill. pass. ab hodierna Forenza."

Perhaps Ferentum (or Forentum) was originally on the site of the small place spoken of by Orelli. [. . .]

J. Hoskyns-Abrahall.

There have now been excavations in the area; the Italian archaeological authorities identify Forentum with Lavello, a spot about 700 meters N of Forenza. (There was once a rather good webpage on the place and its Roman remains, but with the continued shrinkage of the Web, the page and the whole domain have gone belly‑up; a summary page can be found on the official site of the comune of Lavello.) Be that as it may, I'd be tempted to say that the place has nothing to do with any Ferentum, other than as a canvas for further confusion, were it not that the passage in Diodorus (XIX.65.7), at least in the Loeb edition translation, refers to "Ferentum, a city of Apulia" (Ῥωμαῖοι μὲν διαπολεμοῦντες Σαμνίταις Φερέντην, πόλιν τῆς Ἀπουλίας, κατὰ κράτος εῖλον) in connection with the Samnite Wars.

Our correspondent's citation of Pliny, however, seems to have got garbled; Pliny mentions Ferentinum at III.v.52 and Ferentinates at III.v.64 but neither of these seems relevant or properly numbered; III.xi.98 covers the area and mentions the Bantini — but the nearest match to Ferentani or Ferentini offered by the Loeb text is only Potentini.

7. Ferentillo

This one, in Umbria at the edge of Sabine territory, does not ever seem to have been a Ferentinum at all, but here and there on the Web I've seen it confused with the above; and Moroni (Vol. XXIII, p288) writes that others connect the placename: "Its name would derive from the first inhabitants of the place, who are said to have come from the city of Ferentinum in the Roman Campagna" (i.e. my #3, above).

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Page updated: 13 Mar 23