History of Sarnano: from the Picentes to the birth of the Comune

The municipality of Sarnano may just have celebrated its750th birthday, but its history has far more ancient roots, interwoven with known events of national and transnational interest.

The age of the Picentes

The territory of Sarnano has been inhabited for many, many centuries and numerous populations have left their traces. The Umbri and the Picentes lived in this area, rich in natural resources such as natural springs, forests and meadows. Moreover, Sarnano was a compulsory gateway for anyone crossing the Apennines. Toponyms such as Valle Jana and Tennacola can be traced back to the ancient pagan gods Janus (Sun god of the Picentes) and Tinia (Etruscan Zeus). Moreover, in the countryside around the town, an oval stone was found, probably a pagan altar, known today as Pietra di Terro or Uovo di Sarnano (a large white egg-shaped stone).

The age of the Roman Empire

The discovery of Roman centuriation stones from the age of Augustus corroborate the theory of the praedial origin of the name of Sarnano. From the inscription on a boundary stone (Decumano IIII, Cardo I-II-III), found between Sarnano and Amandola, it can be deduced that the land was divided into a centuriated and a non-centuriated area: the latter corresponded with the mountain territories covered with meadows and forests and intended for use by the entire community.

The age of Charlemagne

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the lands were invaded by Goths, Langobards and Franks, who introduced the feudal system.

By the beginning of the year 1000, the Roman Empire and its cities was a distant memory: the centre of medieval life was now the castle, usually perched on a hill at the intersection of two rivers, and not far from the main roads.

Of all the Frank families, we are particularly interested in the Mainardi, from whom the castle above Sarnano takes its name. The character that we are the most curious about is Fidesmido, who, by means of armed attacks and money, was able to subjugate the lords of the Castel of Malvicino and gain possession of the lands between Sarnano and Gualdo. In 1244, the mountain lands were given to his son Rinaldo, who settled in Brunforte Castle and became the famous forefather of the Lords of Brunforte.

The age of Brunforte

The area of Sarnano had several castles: in addition to Brunforte and Malvicino, we also find  Poggio San Michele, Schito, Castelvecchio, Bisio, Balzo, Terro, Poggio San Costanzo, Castel Mainardo, Garulla, Galgino and San Savino. The inhabitants who fled from these castles would have given birth to the Comunanza di Sarnano, but let us continue in the right order.

The events related to the birth of the Comune di Sarnano fit into the better known and bigger picture of the battles between the Papacy and the Empire. In fact, Rinaldo di Brunforte was considered by Federico Barbarossa (Frederick I of the Holy Roman Empire) as one of the most precious and loyal Ghibellines of the Marca, to the point that he was treated as an imperial legate even though he had no  formal nomination. When Federico II died in 1250, the power of the Ghibellines in the Marca began to waver and dissatisfaction, which had started spreading in the previous decades, gained the upper hand forcing Rinaldo to seek out new alliances in the Papacy. In 1260, following the accomplishments of Manfredi, Rinaldo switched sides again, gaining several areas of land. In 1264, Pope Urban IV sent Cardinal Simone Paltinierito the Marca, threatening Rinaldo and others to show their respect under penalty of excommunication and loss of territory as a sanction for supporting the imperial cause. Rinaldo of Brunforte refused to obey.

The birth of the Comune

On the 1st of June 1265, Cardinal Paltinieri freed the inhabitants of the Comunanza of Sarnano from the subjugation of the Lords of Brunforte, but, only one year after this event, with the defeat of Manfredi and the support of Carlo D’Angiò, the political strategy of the Church changed again. The  new Papal Legate, Fulcone di Poggio Ricardo, returned Sarnano to the Brunforte without cancelling the measures enacted by Paltinieri. The political paradox gave rise to a fight between Rinaldo of Brunforte and the inhabitants of the new Castle of Sarnano.

The quarrels were put to an end on the 19th of June of 1281, when, at the suggestion of Fulcone, the Sarnanesi and Rinaldo decided to come to terms with the situation by entrusting the resolution of the quarrel to two abbots: Giovanni of the Abbey of San Vincenzo and San Anastasio from Amandola, and Mauro of the Abbey of Piobbico. On 14 July, the agreement was signed by no fewer than four notaries and on 23 of November, Rinaldo, after being elected as “podestà” (a high official in the Middle Ages) in Pisa, authorised his sons to free every vassal, including the inhabitants of Sarnano. Whether this decision was based on the wish to preserve his lands or on the knowledge that times where changing is hard to tell.

On the23rd of June of 1282, the Abbots Mauro and Giovanni issued their final verdict: the Lords of Brunforte must acknowledge the commune of Sarnano, considering themselves as its châtelains and destroy all their castles, except for the Brunforte castle. This act officially put an end to the age of the Brunforte and ushered in the era of the Comune di  Sarnano. Rinaldo, the last representative nobleman  of a world now in decline, died on August 30 of the same year.

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