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History of Castropignano, Italy

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Castropignano is a small town situated at an elevation of 620 meters ( 2034 ft) above sea level in the Molise region in the Province of Campobasso. Because of its elevation it is often referred to as the, “Balcony Over The Biferno River Valley”. From the town one could see a picturesque panoramic view of the surrounding towns and hillsides. For comparison purposes, the Niagara Region is at an approximate elevation of 600 feet above sea level and thousands of miles away from the sea, while Castropignano at an elevation of 2034 ft is less than twenty miles away from the sea.

 

A Brief Summary Of The History Of The Region and the Town Of Castropignano From Its Origin To The Present

 

Castle

Castello D’Evoli

The history book written by, Raffaele Sardella states that the beginning of Castropignano occurred during the Iron Age (1000 BC) when two tribes occupied two hills because it provided better defense and security. The two initial tribes occupied the hills that are now called “Colle” and “Trivecchia” At the place of the castle was a fortress where the population would gather during perilous times or times when the defense requirements reached to an extreme level. It was quite common for the Italic peoples of this age to live in open villages, to which a fortress (usually a hill-top with a rough fence of pointed stakes) might be attached as a place of refuge. Two main branches of dialects developed, the “Umbrian” of the north and the “Oscan” of the southern Appenine districts.

During the time of the Romans and the Samnites, Castropignano was surrounded by a wall with a primary and a secondary entrance. The Samnites were people of the central southern Italy, a hardy race of shepherd and farmers with no marked differences in wealth and consequently without a distinct governing class. The Romans had at least three wars with these people of the mountains and they learned some hard lessons, in fact they had to reform their military methods in order to overtake and claim a victory in the year 290. The first Samnite war ( 343 – 341 BC ) resulted in Roman control of northern Campania; the second ( 327 – 321, 316 – 304 BC ) prevented Samnite control of Apulia, Lucania, and southern Campania; the third ( 298 – 290 BC ) involved and decided the destiny of all peninsular Italy. The Samnites continued to fight in the Social War and the Civil against Sulla (138 – 78 BC) , a Roman general, provincial governor and consul who was proclaimed dictator and was deposed three years later. He slaughtered all the Samnites he could. He, after having numerous battles observed that the Samnites, almost without exception, remained in one body, and with one sole intention, so that they had even marched upon Rome itself, given them battle under the walls, and as he had issued orders to take no prisoners, many of them were cut to pieces on the field, while the remainder, said to be about three to four thousand men, who threw up their arms, were led off to the Villa Publica in the Campus Martius, and were shut in; three days after soldiers were sent in who massacred the whole; and when Sulla drew up his conscription list, he did not rest satisfied until he had destroyed, or driven from Italy, every one who bore a Samnite name. To those who reproached him for his animosity, he replied that he had learned by experience that not a single Roman could rest in peace so long as any of the Samnites survived.

Written accounts in the history of the area make it clear that during the 80 years of war between the Samnites and the Romans the area around the location of the town was found to be at the centre of destruction and many bloody battles. During the year 294 BC the town had the Roman name, “Palumbinum” ( This reference was found in Book 10, Chapter 45 of the Story of Rome by, Tito Livio ) After unifying Italy Augustus ( 63 BC – 14 AD ), Rome’s first emperor divided it into eleven administrative districts. One of the districts [ known today as eastern Campania, Molise; Abruzzo ] was inhabited by Samnites, Fretani, Marrucini, Marsi, Pelogni, Aequiculli, Vestini and Sabini. The Castropignano area was occupied by a Roman Consulate called Lucio Spurio Carvillo, whose Latin name was Castrum or Castra Pineani. The Romans brought slavery and taxes. For years after the coming of Jesus Christ the Romans continued to bring fear to the Samnites and for that reason they frequently kept in hiding. This was powerfully demonstrated on the walls of the Roman Sepino (Atilia di Sepino). Except for the Samnites no one was capable of an attack on Imperial Rome during the first century AD. A Samnite named Pentri, because of his strength and courage as a gladiator and later because of his military contribution to the extension of the Roman Empire was made a citizen of Rome.

With all probability, our faith in Christ Jesus came through our ancestors directly from Rome because half of the Samnite and Roman legions had converted to the new religion. The barbaric states of Longobardy, Normans, and Bulgarians had difficulty attracting themselves to any union because of religious differences. Since the year 1000/1200 the Castropignano area was directly connected to the Holy See and as time passed it became a dependent member of the Diocese of Trivento.

After the fall of the Roman Empire ( around 476 AD ) Castropignano was inhabited by a colony of Bulgarians who were similar in behaviour and conduct to the Slavs and Czechs. During that time a Bulgarian chief priest lived in the town and this influence from outside the town created a new class of people. Whoever entered the town from a neighboring town was welcome and was exempted from punishment for no matter what offense that he had done in the other town. For this reason the Bulgarians dominated Castropignano and at that time people referred to the town as ” Castropignano of the Bulgarians who triumph with all the bad habits of hoodlums”. The result was that during the eight century to the year 1000 two languages were spoken in Castropignano, Italian dialect and Bulgarian.

In the year 1114 a person named Gulielmo became known. His last name was not known because in those days it was customary to drop the family name and then to become known by the place of origin. For example, Leonardo da Vinci meant Leonardo from the town of Vinci. Gulielmo’s first male descendant was called “Vito di Castropignano” or Vito of Castropignano. Vito had two daughters. Tomasia was married to Petrillo Minutolo and the second daughter named Claricia was married to Giovanni D’Evoli, baron of Frosolone. An argument developed between Minutolo and D’Evoli. Eventually D’Evoli paid Minutolo off so that he could become the baron of Castropignano.The D’Evoli family had obtained the title of Duke of Castropignano to the end of the family line, about the year 1800.

 Origin Of The Name Castropignano

The name Castropignano appeared for the first time in a thesis written by Michelangelo Ziccardi, a Molisan archeologist. Ziccardi supports the theory that Castropignano as it is known today and the place Palombinum that is mentioned by Tito Livio in the Story of Rome where a war with the Samnites was described is the same place. Ziccardi also concluded in his thesis that Palombinum in the dialect day-to-day language of the Samnites at that time meant ” a fortress “. The fact that Castropignano was a fortified place is demonstrated by a natural defensive wall that exists with the rock ” La Fata “. The remains of this rock wall show that during the period of the Samnite wars, the natural position of the town and the North-West position of the castle was perfect for defensive purposes. Tito Livio described the conquest of Palombinum [ Year 459 of Rome ( 294 AD ) ] with the words, ” Carvilio has already occupied Velia ( it is questionable whether Velia meant Torella del Sanio, Casalchiprano, or S. Angelo Limosano ), Palumbino and Herculaneum ( it is questionable whether Herculaneum could be Campobasso or Oratino ). Velia was taken in a few days and within the end of this day the wall of Palombinum will be taken “.

Tito Livio writes that Palombino ( Castropignano ) opened the door to the Romans without any resistance. So, Castropignano, even with its surrounding wall and with its natural position could not fashion any absolute pressure during the one day siege. It can be argued then, that the habitants were stopped without a battle because of the large number of deaths they had suffered in a previous war or because with the fall of Herculaneum and Velia, they felt that they had lost their support so it was futile to offer any resistance.

Other studies into the history have written that Castropignano was actually derived from ” Castra Pinaria “, others say that it was derived from ” Castra Pugnarum “. Casa Pinara indicated a fortress or a fortified place for defensive purposes and was governed by a Roman military family called Pinaria. Each of the two words in “Castra Pugnarium” have a special meaning. Castra meant “a fortified place” while Pugnarium meant “an area of bloody confrontations” between the Samnite and the Romans. Early writings of a woman called Carmela Ciamarra describe an early plan of Castropignano presented by a monk from Limosano called Zagomo Iacovone to a Roman consul named ” Castrum Pineani “.

It can be concluded then that Castropignano was called;

Church

La Chiesa Madre

Finally, documentation in the parochial archives of Chiesa Madre, the main church of Castropignano exists a baptismal registration signed by a Carlo Borsella, who was bursar and parish priest of the town ” Castri Pineani ” in the year 1840. Since the church always operated in the Latin language, all writings were in Latin and so the town was referred to as ” Castri Pineani”. The final reasoning that explains why Pineani appears in the parochial register is that he was born a Roman consul and it was highly probable that the Romans abolished the Palombinum name and adopted the name Castrum or Castra Pineani which meant the ” Fortress of Pineano “. Over the years Pineano transformed to Pagnano and finally ” Castro Pignano “. (It is interesting to note that members of an immigrant family with the surname ” Castelpagano ” , now residing in San Jose California are descendants of the Roman Consul Pineano.)

 


Evoli Castle

Castropignano D' Evoli Castle

Castropignano D’ Evoli Castle

Evoli Castle, today the property of the Municipality of Castropignano, stands on a rocky sur from where it controls the valley of the biferno river near the intersection with the Ponte della Zittola-Lucera sheep-track and takes its name from the family who owned it for the longest period, from 1345 until feudality was abolished.  When the last member of the Evoli family died at the end of the 19th century the castle was abandoned and rapidly fell into ruin.  Built during the Lomard era probably on Roman ruins, it underwent its first transformation under the Normans.  However, if Castropignano corresponds to the ancient Samnite Palombinum as is presumed, the site was occupied from a much earlier age.  The floor plan of the stronghold, that was isolated from the town by a moat subsequently filled in, is quadrangular and exploits the morphology of the terrain it stands on, but its internal structuring is quite elaborate and complex and in fact it is thought to have contained numerous rooms (it is said that the fortress had a bedroom for every day of the year).  The existence of a keep and several towers both near the entrance and overlooking the Biferno Valley has been ascertained while it is thought that the apartments surrounded by the service area and the curtain wall were situated laterally further downhill.  The even curtain wall was built of calcareous stones and reveals the various solutions used in its construction, including a steep scarp wall, traces of which can be seen in several points.  Numerous holes are visible along the wall where access ramps were placed.  The entrance, (surmounted by the coat of arms of the Evoli family), was defended by a guardroom with two long loopholes.  It is known that a chapel dedicated to St. Martin once exited within the structure while nearby, on the northern side of the fortress, a mass grave has been found.  Unfortunately during the Fascist era a lot of material was ten from the castle’s ruins and used to pave the streets of the town.  A polygonal wall encircles the castle and a few of its surviving towers can still be seen near the ancient San Marco district.  Long sections of the wall have survived; on the eastern side it extends for about five hundred metres much further downhill compared to where the castle stands and incorporates an outcrop of rocks; the better conserved section on the western side is clearly visible and extends for about three hundred and fifty metres.


The Crest Of Castropignano

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It contains three towers encircled by a wall with one door. On each side of the fortress is a letter “C” and “P”. The letters indicate the name “Castrum Pineani” the Roman Consul stationed in the area at that time.

An older design of the crest can be found in the church of San Salvatore, on the left side when you enter the church. The three towers indicate the three old fortresses that existed in the old days, Trivecchia, Colle, and Castello.

* NOTE: The history book by Raffaele Sardella makes no reference as to the origin and meaning of the crown above the three towers that is now present on the town crest.

 


The english version of Castropignano was sent to me by, Nicola Ciolfi. He is a member of the Club Castropignano, Niagara.  He left Italy as a boy about 50 years ago. Nicola was hungry for information wanting to know more and more about Castropignano and his ancestors. He started with the English translation of the book by R. Sardella because he wanted his children and his grandchildren to know the written history of Castropignano. He combined the information from the book with information from other sources and put together the version I have put up on the website.  Nicola hopes that all born in Noth America descendants of immigrants who have little or no Italian literary skills will be able to read about the history of Castropignano and their ancestral town.

Thank you Nicola Ciolfi for your contribution.

 

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