An introduction to the pre-Roman Samnites of Molise

An introduction to the pre-Roman Samnites of Molise

Agnone, Pietrabbondante and the Sammnites - A territory rich in history.

One of the names given to the ancient town of Agnone is L’Atene del Sannio”, Athens of Sannium. Athens - because of Agnone’s rich cultural heritage, and Sannium - because Agnone is located in the heart of the Samnite territories (Sannitico in Italian).

I’d never heard of the Samnites before I went to Agnone, but then, nor have most Italians. A pre-Roman tribe, the Samnites were sophisticated and cultured. Renowned for being fearless and proud warriors, they established a vast territory from which they travelled far and wide.

A very mobile people, they were receptive to other cultures; Etruscan bronze artefacts have been found in Samnite sanctuaries, Cicero recounted that a Samnite chief travelled to Taranto in Apuglia to discuss philosophy with Archita and Plato, they exported timber and livestock. Wine was imported for their sacred ceremonies from the Bosphorus and Agean Islands, and Samnite weapons and belts found in Tunisia (Ancient Carthage), Magna Grecia and other Greek cities, are evidence of their mercenary activity.

They spoke Oscan, an adaptation of Etruscan and Greek. The famous bronze tablet, la Tavola Osca, today in the British Museum, was Pentrian Samnite, and discovered by a shepherd in the fields outside Agnone (1840). It describes the internal organisation of the sanctuary of Ceres at Pietrabbondante, and the ceremonies that took place there. The sacred inscriptions on the tablet were fundamental in helping scholars to decipher the Oscan language. Excavations of the temples and amphitheatre at Pietrabbondante began in 1843, and by 1856 had aroused such interest that the site was granted government protection by the Bourbon King Ferdinand of Naples. Very rich in artefacts, excavations still continue today.

Identifying as one people divided into tribes, the Samnites formed an organised democratic republic encouraging freedom of expression. Totally different from the politics of Rome, which was influenced and led by patrician families, the Samnites favoured an equitable society, very advanced for the time. There were no powerful landowners, the land was free for everyone to use for grazing and farming. Nor did the Samnites keep slaves.

Their tribal structure made the territory difficult to penetrate, allowing them to control large parts of southern Italy for a long time. Their forms of settlement and land use can still be seen today in an impressive system of fortifications, forming a barrier that was very difficult for the Roman army to break through. It is said that the Samnites could have been masters of Italy had they formed a united or federal state, but unlike the Romans, they valued individual freedom much more than greatness or power, and more than the permanent preservation of their state.

CREDIT: By Italy_400bC_It.svg: Decanderivative work: Richardprins (talk) - Italy_400bC_It.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Originally allied with Rome against the Gauls, the Samnites later became enemies of Rome, fighting a series of battles, known as the 3 Samnite Wars; in 343, 326 and 298BC. Despite early overwhelming victories, they were finally defeated, and so severe was their threat, that by 82BC the Roman dictator, Lucius Cornelius Sulla had subjected them to an ethnic cleansing campaign, after which the Samnites more or less disappeared from history.

They were predominantly shepherds and herders, a tradition that continued in the region long after the tribe had been destroyed. The tratturi, the wide grassy pathways that cut through Molise from the hills of Abruzzo to the plains of Puglia, were first established by the Samnites. Like the motorways of their time, these routes brought livestock to the southern plains for the winter and back to the mountains for summer grazing.

Many of the cultural traditions of Molise are rooted in Samnite history. It is a strong legacy of which the Molisani are very proud.

"The Romans' humiliation by the Samnites : Double-sided page [fol. LXXVIII, Do nun die Samnites ho[s?]teu / dal: Papirius"


Tap images for Full Size:

Date: 1505

Contributors: Anonymous Printmaker
Titus Livius Patavinus (Roman, 59 BCE-17 CE), Author
Johann Schöffer (German, ca. 1468-1531), Publisher
Bernhard Schöfferlin (German, ca. 1436-1501), Translator

Source: New York Public Library


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Live & Learn Italian Language Holidays – A taste of the 2 WEEK PROGRAMME

Live & Learn Italian Language Holidays – A taste of the 2 WEEK PROGRAMME

Agnone welcomes the first group for a beautiful summer 2019 of Italian Language Holidays.


Saturday, June 15-29, 2019

Our drivers Fernando and Donatella brought guests to Agnone in 2 batches - from Canada, Australia, the US and UK.

Sunday, we went out to Marco’s, to hear about his honey and wine production.

Marco showing the group his honey

The pollen is extracted from wild fruits giving the honey strong medicinal properties.

Learning about wine production on Marco’s farm.

Some vines were planted recently, but many have been lovingly restored.

The day also gave the teachers a chance to meet everyone, and assess 1 – 1 before lessons on Monday.

Lunch was in the very cool stone cantina, with simple food from the garden. Different varieties of Marco’s fresh honey was drizzled over ricotta, we had a selection of other piatti tipici, and, of course, home made wine.

Lessons started Monday in Palazzo San Francesco, then for coffee to Letterario to get acquainted with the staff, and work out the many different ways to order coffee in Italy.

On an afternoon walk around the centro storico Walter’s group (surprisingly popular name in this region!) stopped by one of the most beautiful of the 16 churches. Before a chance encounter with a lady called Filomena, and Guido, il fabbro.

This led to hair appointments for Anne and Sally in the salon of Filomena’s daughter… funny how conversations segue, even in another language! 

Cooking dinner with Maria is a good way to relax and unlock the tongue

While Lucrezia and Francesca like to plan lessons together with a spritz, before joining the other small group dinner in famiglia with Rosaria and Leo.

Leo’s knowledge of history is extensive, and as natives of Naples, their love for Agnone comes with an outsider’s eye.

Before lessons a small group went to sample the focaccia, hot out of Mercedes’ forno a legno – 

She told us about her daily work; the lievito madre, preparing the loaves, heating the oven, growing the grain, the stone grinding, old recipes passed down from her nonna.

And then, off we went down the mountain to her brother, Donato, making cheese, with milk from his 20 cows. The bocconcino he gave us to taste was warm.

A walk in the woods kept everyone shaded. Stefania pointed out wild flowers, and herbs and grasses used in local dishes.

Saturday evening we drove out to Sant’Onofrio for a talk about the ‘ndociatta festival; the origins and traditions, making of the torches, and careful processes of this ancient pageant. Dinner, a variety of local dishes, finishing with oven baked lamb and potatoes was prepared by Gino… and delicious vegetarian seasonal platters.

But we expired early; it’d been a full week, and this learning Italian every day is tiring – plus we had to get up early Sunday to get to Campobasso for la festa dei Misteri  – a unique event with tableaus ( – real people) enacting the lives of the saints on Corpus Domini, 40 days after Easter.

A rooftop drink on the terrace at Tonina’s B&B – not 1, not 2, but 3 men in one session! Might be a first…. Welcome to the men!

At the little borgo of Marongoni, Nicola Mastronardi explained that the beautiful room into which we assembled was once animal stalls of the family small-holding.

His talk about the transumanza explored how profoundly this ‘migration’ has influenced the cultural life of the Molisani, before we gathered with all the family for a delicious meal.

PIetrabbondante is a site we never miss – even those who’ve been with us numerous times enjoy seeing it again and again; serene, majestic, and there’s always a mountain breeze which, this June, was most welcome.

Anna Maria had obtained black truffles from a local tartufaio, and the meal she prepared was a selection of local flavours. Describing the recipes of the simple dishes, she wove in stories about the land and harvests.

it was a packed 2 weeks with wonderful weather, if a little on the hot side - and the group left for Rome with a palpable sense of achievement. Tongues had definitely been loosened, and all had enjoyed meeting and engaging with this warm community.

Preparing now for September!

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Ettore Marinelli – From precocious talent to Master Craftsmen

Ettore Marinelli – From precocious talent to Master Craftsmen

Emerging young artist of the Marinelli family, Ettore shared his work with us at the Bell Foundry this summer


The tradition of metalworking in Molise goes began three thousand years, when the Samnite tribe, once Rome’s fiercest rivals, were casting statues for their temples, making weapons and armour, and creating tools and jewellery. Later, in the middle-ages, a small group of artisans was brought from Venice to perfect this art, making Agnone a centre of excellence for metalwork.

It is documented that in the latter part of the 12th century, one Nicodemus Marinelli, in the town of Agnone, began casting bells of great refinement. At one time there were 6 foundries, and the town became known for the casting of sacred bronzes and bells. Today, only the foundry of Nicodemus remains, where generations of Marinelli’s have passed experience and skill from father to son, making it the oldest bell foundry in the world.

Ettore Marinelli Ettore Marinelli

Ettore, the youngest of this dynasty, and the 27th generation, was blessed with a unique and remarkable playground, and a precocious talent. Growing up in the foundry where methods have remained pretty much unchanged for centuries, he was encouraged to learn and explore. It takes 3 months to create a bell using artisan techniques, and no two bells are the same. The work requires enormous technical skill, and years of experience. So Ettore witnessed at first hand the application, discipline, and total dedication required for this artistic endeavour. 

Interior of the foundry

Adept at portraiture, at a young age Ettore was already making his own contribution in the foundry, sculpting images and decorations, and producing his work using the ancient process of the ‘lost wax’ method. After a period of Erasmus study in Paris, he studied sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli, receiving his degree at the very highest level.

Wax designs being applied Wax designs being applied

Today he continues to work at the Academy teaching modelling in stone, clay, and wax, using silicone and fibreglass, and experimenting with innovative casting techniques. He produces his own moulds and casts, using the ancient techniques used by his family for over a thousand years, and is always curious to experiment with new ones. He has produced work for hundreds of bells, and although still only 27, has been commissioned to create impressive works of sacred and civil art for town squares, churches, and businesses around the world. His bust of San Gennaro, for Boston Cathedral, and a very modern bronze crucifix, were blessed by Pope Francis at the Vatican this September before making their way to the United States.

Ettore with Papa Francesca, Roma July 2018, & Vittorio Sgarbi, Italian art critic and journalist, 2018

Marinelli has held exhibitions in Paris, New York, Valona, Rome, Naples, and in Abruzzo and Molise. He was chosen to present works at the 2017 Venice Biennale, sharing a platform with the Italian sculptor Nino Longobardi. The art Critic Vittorio Sgarbi visited his exhibition of fantastical animals “Metazoi’ last summer and was so impressed that he asked to meet Ettore personally, and spent time in his studio promoting his work for other exhibitions.

Bronze Crucifix, 2018 & Bronze Equus, 2016 - Ettore Marinelli

This summer Live and Learn Italian was lucky to catch him in the foundry in Agnone, and had a chance to hear about his influences and new projects. We got up-close to the beautiful collection of bronze animals, “Metozio”, and asked questions about his work. What a great Italian conversation class that one was!

Ettore, in front of the foundry with his father Armando Marinelli, Uncle Pasquale Marinelli, Mother Paola Patriarca and his brothers and cousins.


Live and Learn Italian offers you study with qualified teachers, while living and engaging with a small community. For more information, drop us a line via our secure form, or tap here to email me. 


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La ‘ndocciata, Agnone’s most famous event

La ‘ndocciata, Agnone’s most famous event

La ‘ndocciata 2018

On the 8th of December I finally saw l‘ndocciata, Angone’s most famous annual event. Believe it or not, I’d never witnessed it. High time then…

It’s the biggest ‘festival of fire’ in the world, ‘una scia di fuoco’, and allegedly the oldest – though impossible to know that for sure. Hundreds of men and boys, belonging to 5 contrade (neighbourhoods), don heavy black woollen cloaks and wide brimmed hats and load onto their shoulders enormous torches made from silver fir.

Preparations start in early spring when fallen branches are collected and stacked for drying – amazingly no trees are cut down to supply the 1200 torches, and at the same time, it’s good forest management. The silver fir is cut into pieces and bound together with 5 ties to create a torch. Burning for well over an hour, and between 2 and 4 meters high, they weigh up to 7k, and are carried single, double, and upwards, in even numbers.

Some of the big ‘fans’ of torches are carried by 2 men together, but most are carried singly, including the enormous fan of 24 that I saw being prepared on the day. Dried broom, tied to the top, is set alight with petrol to start the flames. Days and days of preparation, and years of experience passed down generations are required to pull of this event – security and risk assessment being of considerable importance.

The festival’s origins are ancient. The Samnite tribe, who populated Molise prior to Roman domination, used lit torches during tribal shifts that occurred at night. Later, torches illuminated a path from the fields to town for midnight mass on the 24th, the fire and strong smell of burning resin also serving to scare off wild animals.

In honour of these ancient traditions, a festival came to be established on the 24th of December when at the end of the procession, the lit torches were piled on a bonfire symbolising the burning of rivalries and feuds. In medieval times, young men vied to make the most spectacular torch, offering it up for show under the window of a favoured girl. If she were minded to accept his advances, she’d look out appreciatively, or, if her father disapproved, he’d douse the flames (and the young man’s ardour) with a bucket of water!

In 1996 Pope Giovanni Paolo II invited the Agnonese to stage the event in St Peter’s square on the 8th of December, for la festa dell’immacolata, and la ‘ndocciata di Agnone became one of Italy’s 34 “Patrimoni d’Italia per la Tradizione”. Since then, it has been held annually in Agnone on December 8th, when thousands pile into town to witness it. On the 24th , a smaller, more intimate procession for the townspeople is still held, preceded by a presepe vivente (nativity play).

On the morning of the 8th, I joined the men of the Campamonte e Capaballe contrada as they prepared. The torches are kept carefully hidden from view until the last moment– each contrada aiming to have the biggest and best.

Porters are chosen at an early age; carrying a single unlit torch from as young as 5, moving onto a lit torch at around 9 or 10, and then progressing upwards, subject to strength and ability to remain focused and clear headed. The porters are not otherwise ‘trained’, those carrying the heaviest loads generally come from occupations whose daily toil prepares them well.

The contrada is made up of about 200, with half carrying torches, others organising and planning, and some joining the women and children as figuranti – dressed in traditional costume, carrying utensils and items from times gone by.

We all waited as it got dark and the porters assembled. Finally, at the sounding of the bell, the procession started with the smaller boys until all torches were lit and they paraded through the town, everyone lining the streets. They were really close and it got very hot – which was a blessing as we had been waiting in the cold for a fair while. The porters twirled and spun around, causing sparks to fly and whipping up excitement. The men of the contrada kept me near, which was fantastic, as I was able to follow along with the procession and end up with them as they loaded their torches onto the huge bonfire - il falò della fratellanza, symbolizing purification. Say goodbye to ‘le cose brutte’ among the community and celebrate the beginning of the New Year together. It’s impossible to convey just how special it was. I’d heard all about it, and of course knew I’d need see it one day – but I was not prepared for just how thrilling and moving it was.

A community bound by a powerful tradition, proud of its heritage, all coming together to put on a show requiring months of preparation, supreme dedication and care, and, not to mention, enormous shows of strength! When we all piled into one of the bars at the end to shared a beer, I knew I’d have to find a way to get back next year.

See more on Agnone ‘ndocciata

CREDIT: Enrico Di Pietro - You Tube


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Guest Review of Live & Learn Italian by Joy Nash – Italian language vacations

Guest Review of Live & Learn Italian by Joy Nash – Italian language vacations

Reflections on Summer 2018

The Live and Learn Italian immersion ‘experience’ was created completely organically, and continues to grow organically. Each year I discover new local characters and regional opportunities, and so the programme develops.

It’s a language and culture programme designed to help participants gain fluency, get lots of practise using what they kind of know, and to learn useful modi di dire. Getting out and about, communicating, losing inhibitions – that’s our focus.

This review from Joy Nash, a September 2018 participant gives a great flavour:

How do you imagine your Italian-language vacation? Dodging cars and busses in a big city, or strolling the lanes of a picturesque hill town? Elbow to elbow with tour groups and commuters, or enjoying the vista of a peaceful, ancient valley? Brief words with waiters and shopkeepers, or long conversations with local residents? Making only memories - or friends, too?

I chose Option B

Live and Learn Italian looked great online, and after some deliberation, I went for it. 2 weeks in a town where no one speaks English struck me as a great idea; ancient ruins, farm and vineyard tours, pasta making, festivals… a bell foundry - artisanal bakers, cheese-makers, and candy-makers, too.

I’ve travelled all over Italy, but I’d never heard of Agnone, in the region of Molise. Not surprising. Even some Italians have only the foggiest idea of its location, and there’s a joke going around that claims “il Molise non esiste…” Not true. Molise not only exists, it was once a vital centre of commerce, overflowing with coppersmiths, goldsmiths, and ironworkers.

Renowned for its artistic past during the time of the Bourbon kings, its history is reflected in the many Baroque churches. Home to Italy’s oldest bell foundry, since AD 1040, you can step even further back in time, and find the pre-Roman Samnites, a populous tribe who left behind some truly impressive ruins.

It’s not easy to get to, but it’s worth the effort. The Live and Learn Italian family starts with Londoner Jenifer Landor, whose ancestors hailed from Agnone, and continues with her delightful collection of teachers, guides, and residents - providing a stellar experience for participants. Everyone lends time and patience to helping students improve their Italian language skills, in and out of the classroom. Our group was small, and my fellow Italy-lovers an adventurous bunch; from the US, UK, and Canada, via birthplaces as diverse as Ireland, South Korea, and Syria.

Our daily schedule went like this: wake up to the sound of church bells, then breakfast accompanied by conversation - in Italian! - with B&B hosts. Maybe stop by the shops for lunch items (we had use of our B&B kitchen), or order a panini and/or salad at a coffee bar.

Throughout the morning, we attended fantastic Italian classes in an old monastery, with qualified native-speakers, then, for the remainder of the day, and on weekends, the schedule varied: a visit to a local specialist shop, a food artisan, or museum, a tour or lecture, maybe a festival or play, or pasta-making in a local home. Students, local guides and hosts dined together in the evening, sometimes at restaurants, other times in private homes. Meals often stretched to three hours, accompanied by excellent wine and conversation - in Italian, of course.

After two weeks, I was thinking and dreaming in Italian, and my conversation and comprehension improved immensely. I learned about all kinds of other things too: bi-yearly shepherd migration, organic farming and winemaking, the secret to perfect pasta from scratch, and how to make a church bell - to name a few. Even more rewarding were the people I encountered. When the program came to an end, I was sad to leave. Now I’m enjoying connecting with my new friends on Facebook and Instagram.

If Live and Learn Italian sounds like an experience you’d enjoy, “mi raccomando” (I’m telling you) - don’t hesitate! Do it! It’s only been a month and I’m already dreaming of going back.

Joy Nash is an architect and second generation Italian-American with a love of travel, writing, and the Italian language. Read her free short fiction at or follow her wanderings on Instagram @joys_by_joy.

For further information take a look at another Guest review:

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Our Italian language teachers receive high praise from participants

Our Italian language teachers receive high praise from participants

Learning Italian with vibrant and passionate teachers

We are so lucky to have a wonderful team of teachers and praise from our guests this summer has been so strong, I wanted to dedicate a page to them. Over time we will add more and include their thoughts and comments – for now take a look at their histories and experience…

Alessandro Aucelli

Alessandro was my teacher when I first came to Agnone, and we’ve worked together ever since. From Isernia, he’s an excellent teacher, and our groups have unanimously praised his style and character. Alessandro is fond of saying, “Non ci sono errori, solo ipotesi…”

[View CV]

Filomena Caranci

With an incredibly varied and interesting CV, Filomena is from Isernia, and currently living in Milan. She has a wide experience in publishing, while continuing to teach Italian as a foreign language and working with immigrant community programmes in Europe.

[View CV]

Erminia Forte

Also from Isernia, teaching during the scholastic year in local schools, Erminia has an Arts degree and has completed internships in London at the Tate, and also in Canada. She’s enormous fun and charms everyone with her patience and calm.

[View CV]

Giovanna Di Lullo

Giovanna is from the nearby small town of Poggio Sannita. Currently working in Modena during the scholastic year, we are delighted we can grab her during her summers back in Molise. Giovanna loves working with L&LI – “meeting such interesting people and learning so much from them!”

[View CV]

Lucrezia Oddone

Lucrezia publishes a highly praised and award winning YouTube channel, Learn Italian with Lucrezia. From Rome, she jumped at the chance to join us in a part of Italy that was new to her. A vibrant and focused teacher, we will continue to work with her whenever her schedule allows.

[View CV]

Francesca Ricciardelli

Living and teaching at California State University in the US, Francesca is completing her second masters degree. A highly experienced Italian teacher, she also translates and contributes to publications and conferences. We will continue to entice her to Agnone during her summer breaks.

[View CV]

The highest quality tailored to your level

You can also find out more about our teachers by downloading their CV attached to each section above. All our teachers are of the highest quality, and, no two students are the same when it comes to speaking a second language, so we are very experienced at fitting our teaching to suit your needs.


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