Historical News and
Anecdotes from San Pietro Avellana - Chapter 1
Theories on the Origin of San Pietro Avellana
Translated by Lorry Labate.
The actual territory of S. Pietro Avellana at the age of Sanniti was
part of the region inhabited by the tribe Caraceni, the region which
contained the actual mountain Molise and the territory of the rare
eagle that hides itself in our province in the confines of our district.
The terrain of the site is interesting also in fact of the assurance of
the ancient origins or S. Pietro Avellana.
The opinions of historians and tellers of local lore are diverse and
discordant on the origins. Among the theories advanced by way of
explanation, the most accepted is that which places the origins of S.
Pietro Avellana at the remains of the city of of Volano, destroyed in
the Roman year 459 by the Consul Carvilio, as told by Tito Livio in
Giuseppe Galanti in "Description of the Countryside of Molise"
expresses the opinion that "before one said 'S. Pietro a Volana' by
which this word Avellana is derived. In Sannio was the city of Volano".
Of the same opinion is the lawyer Allesandro Delfine who had to defend
the community against the administration of Demonio in an important
case relative certainly to the inherent public domain vs. Feudal rights
in a part of his territory; with rare tenacity he made the most of
legal assistance of researched historical notes on the origin of our
area. In his memoirs of 1892 Delfini, in fact, referring to
Galanti's opinion, argumentally observes that the derivation of the
name Avellana from the little tree of that name is not reliable
because, "in the severe climate and rocky soil of
S. Pietro the avellano tree could not grow."
And in truth the avellano tree exists in our region but only in a
dwarfed state; it only rises from the ground a scant meter, and never
reaches notable proportions. For this very reason the statement
contained in the Abbatiarum Italae loses credibility; that is: "locus
ab enormi arbore de Avellana, quae olim iuxta constiterati S. Petrum de
Avellana nuncupationem accepit."
The "enormous tree" would contrast with the natural low-growing plant
that is actually found in Avellana.
Others infer that the designation "S. Pietro a Volana" results from the
maps of Samnium, still to be found in the geographical map room of the
Other historians offer other opinions.
Indeed Ziccardi places the city of Volano on the Vairono hills between
Campobasso and Oratino; Perrella supposes it was closer to Sepino; and
other even farther away.
On the basis of the writings of Tito Livio in Book Ten on the capture
of the Sannite cities of Ercolano, Volano and Palombino and on the fact
the legion of Consul Carvilio conquered these cities in a few days, one
should deduct that Volano could not possibly be located on the actual
territory in question, because this place was a notable distance from
the other two cities, a distance that military operations of the day
could not have overcome in such a short time, especially among people
who were opposed to their aims and were their enemies.
There is room, however, to observe that from examination of the text of
the Roman historian there is not affirmation of the military trappings
that they took to the conquest of the three cities in question. Tito
Livio says, in fact, "Jam Carvilius Volanum et Herculaneum et
Palumbinum ex Samnitibus ceperat. Volanum intra paucos dies, Palumbinum
eodem quo ad muros accessit. Ad Herculaneum etiam signis collatis
ancipiti proelio et cum maiore sua quam hostium iactura dimicavit :
castris deinde moemibus hostem inclusit ; oppugnatum oppidum captumque."
Now in the reported narration is given a hint of the time necessary for
the conquest of each of the three cities, but it is not stated exactly
how much time transpired between the siege of Volano of Palombino and
of Ercolano. It is stated only that Volano was conquered in few days'
time, Palombino, by stationing the army outside its walls and Ercolano,
after brief siege, but it is not affirmed that all three conquests took
place in few days' time . Therefore. one must conclude from the almost
simultaneous conquests, the impossibility of the site of Volano in the
territory of S. Pietro Avellana. On the other hand it seems that
Palombino was located in the neighborhood of Boiano and if that were
so, the distance between Volano and Palombino would not constitute a
completely impossible march even for the ancient Roman armies for a
rapid conclusion to military operations narrated by Tito Livio
Another consideration then for general disposition induces one to lean
toward the derivation of Avellana from "a Volana", that is, that our
territory is very close to the ancient and notable Aufidena itself:
bordered by the territory of Capracotta, in which have been found
numerous vestiges that denote the existence there of human villages of
an ancient age: and finally it is not far from ancient Aguilonia
(Agnone) and from that of Bovaianum (Pielrabbondante) and therefore
Volano located in the territory of S. Pietro Avellana would not result
in an isolated city located in an uninhabited region but would result
instead in that complex of cities and various villages that populated
this area at one time, and that were the exact theater on feats of
daring-do of Consuls Cursore and Carvilio. The other opinion that the
territory was inhabited in the long ago epochs is inarguable truth. It
was demonstrated among other things the numerous and imposing reminders
of cyclops were still existing along the edge of the Montemiglio. These
walls of many time periods still very well preserved unfold in many
degrees parallel and above the first, and wrapped all the edge of the
west of the heights that from wide expanse opposite falls sheerly tens
of meters on to the valley of rapids of the River Rio, so that from
nature and the works of man, the heights should have constituted an
inviolable asylum for its primitive inhabitants. To be sure in other
districts in our territory numerous ancient tombs have keen found.
As a matter or fact, in the area "Queen's Ditch" along the Sangro
during some road work dug some decades ago, many ancient tombs came to
light, built of terra cotta. From some of these were taken
arms and coins which were first shipped to the civil museum of Aquila
then were garnered by the Museum of Palazzo Venezia. No one knows to
which exact epoch the tomb belongs, but it is certain that they belong
to a time much before Christ. Of ancient coins, others have been found
and of considerable value. Of theses, one bears an image of Giano
Bifronte, another an inscription memorializing the ruler Attila, still
another coin is of the Emperor Augustus and others from various epochs.
Other ancient coins were polished smooth and remade in the homage to S.
M the king, who, however, ordered them restored since to add to his
value, they already figured in his numismatic harvest. Unfortunately,
these last coins have been destroyed.
Later at the site where the actual palace D'Alena was built, were found
stone slabs and stone sculptures which were recognized by the
archaeologists as belonging to the republican and imperial epochs., and
even to older epochs. From the main wall of the church were chipped
fragments of a stone slab which, it is said but not proven, was an
object of special consideration for the interest of Momsen, here taken
for his own historical research.
A burial stone was preserved intact by Baron D'Alena; this was found to
be dedicated to a Maro Lucseio, a work by one of his sons in memory of
the father. For these findings of stones, bombs, and coins, it is a
noteworthy fact that these were verified in the extension or the
territory that goes from the perifory of habitation to the shores of
the Sangro, passing the borders of S. Nicola. Now for the sake of such
a circumstance, the theory is not risked upon the idea that an ancient
habitation actually existed in such a locality; and maybe more accurate
research may give a definite and affirmative answer to this viewpoint.
Furthermore the same findings, especially of tombs and burial stones,
for some gatherers of local history, have constituted an important
reason to harden the theory, "Avellana" must derive from "avellum".
Hypotheses hardly reliable, but which points out, as we have said, the
importance of the ancient vestiges which have come to light in our
The learned archpriest D. Sabatino Frazzini in his "Life of S. Amico"
affirms then without further ado that S. Pietro Avellana may have been
the sea of the area during ancient Roman times. In fact, so states
Frazzini. "There was at S.
Pietro Avellana some villas of the noble Romans, where they came in
summer to enjoy that breath of peace and that cooling of fresh air that
was unavailable in the capital of the world, and where they then wished
to have their bones buried because they would be better preserved by
the favorable changes of weather.
The writer does not tell the source from whence he would take his
conclusion but it is certain his is not a spiritual intervention, and
from which documentation he must have had to draw to express himself
with such absolute conviction.
By how briefly it is expounded, therefore, as we have said, that the
territory of S. Pietro Avellana was inhabited surely in long ago times.
But they lean therefore to shades of argument that support that S.
Pietro Avellana was built in 1026 in territory "never before inhabited"
at the remains of the foundations of a monastery donated by Count
Odorisio Borrelli, a monastery which, as we will see, had a long
rich in important events.
The village of S. Pietro Avellana, however, discordant the opinions on
the historians, would have assumed double title from the saint for whom
the monastery was dedicated and from the particular abundance of
avellana plants in the region. In not so different a manner could other
villages have been named; some from the mountains, from the rivers,
they also could have been derived from the names of plants such ss
Salcito from saliceto (small willow), Carpinito from carpine and so on.
Opposing these theories is, however, the inarguable reality of the
ancient vestiges discovered in our area, and there stands the
unalterable fact of the existing city of Volana, likely located in that
part of Sannio that we today identify with our region. As a result, it
appears more logical and rational to theorize that a new village was
formed in 1026, that arose from the double denomination of S. Pietro
Avellana from the name of the monastery built there and from recorded
history that still preserve. from the remains of the city on Volano.
It is probable that, in the end, because of the abundance of the small
plants of avellana in the area and for the affinity of the
pronunciation of "a Volano" and "avellana", the ultimate derivation is
from the homonym of the plant named "avellana".
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