La Storia Di Calitri


Storia di Calitri

By Vito Acocella

(1951: Naples, Casa Editirce Federico & Ardia)

A Translation/Adaptation By

Mario Toglia

Vito Acocella is the author of a book that all of us of Calitrian descent should read. It wasn’t until after the first earthquake of this century in 1910 that he decided to preserve the legacy of his beloved hometown in written form. His research united numerous documents, archeological finds, and traditions which have withstood the elements of time. The book is called simply Storia di Calitri. In it, Acocella takes our ancestral town from the first traces of Neolithic civilization, through the medieval and feudal periods, to the years of social awakening and finally to the World War I era. He mentions the many familiar surnames of our ancestors and they are all our ancestors because the history of this town is long, so long that all of us of Calitrian blood can - if we were to climb the family tree back far enough - eventually be able to call ourselves cugini.

In the very first chapters of his book, Acocella discusses the origin of Calitri. Inhabited over 2000 years ago, the toponym Aletriom - as Calitri was known then - first appeared in a 17 volume book entitled Geographia. The author was a Greek historian and geographer by the name of Strabo (64?B.C. - 23? A.D.), who gathered his information largely from his extensive trips. In his book, Strabo gives a detailed description of the peoples and countries of the Mediterranean world in the early first century A.D., noting the customs and religious practices of each society and even recording the distances from one town to another.

Aletriom was a mountain top town nestled in an Apennine region of southern Italy known as Samnium. the people of Aletriom were members of the Hirpini tribe, who together with three other eastern Italic tribes had formed a confederation in opposition to the increasingly powerful Romans. the people, known as Samnites, had fought numerous wars against the expansion of Rome and were finally defeated in 290 BC when they came under its rule. Titus Livy in his book Historia ab Urbe Condita makes note of how Hirpini people had wisely built their towns on the top of steep hills. the inaccessibility of a mountain top had always provided a natural and secure means of defense as well as an excellent watch tower.

Still in the first century AD, the name of our ancestors is mentioned in a 37 book masterpiece, Historia naturalis, considered the pinnacle of ancient encyclopedias. the author was the Roman Pliny the Elder (23AD - 79AD) who in Book III listed the Aletrini together with all the subjects of the Roman Empire. In this extensive work, the community is referred to as Aletrium.

It wasn’t until 1140 that the spelling Caletrum appeared for the first time on a diplomatic feudal document known as il Catalogo dei baroni. It came as no surprise to linguists that the spelling of the town had changed. The Roman Empire had fallen in 476 AD and with the subsequent invasion of various barbarian hordes, the classical Latin language had slowly been changed into new spoken languages. Acocella, in his book, discusses at length the various linguistic reasons for the changes in pronunciation and spelling from Aletriom to Calitri.

Although the name of our ancestral town is first mentioned in the book Geographia, Acocella firmly believes that Calitri had existed centuries before as a community. the first known name, Aletriom consisted of two parts: the prefix ale + the generic suffix tri (om). According to linguists the meaning of ale is not known, but the suffix tri(om) means locality, site, district. The suffix tri(om) was characteristic of Etruscan toponyms such as Cervetri, Sutri, Arcetri, Giannutri. However, Acocella mentions other communities elsewhere in Italy that ended in the suffix -tri and that were not inhabited by the Etruscans. He concludes that Calitri and all those towns ending in -tri had existed prior to the emergence of the Etruscan civilization on the Italian peninsula in the 8th Century BC. He uses as his argument the fact that the names of rivers, mountains and other toponyms basically remain the same and are adopted into the spoken language of the various waves of people who come in and conquer and occupy the land. The Etruscans had to have borrowed this ending tri(om) from a pre-existing society.

Yet, Acocella is not content in letting us think that Calitri might have been "founded" by the preceding civilization. Archeologists, he mentions, had discovered many Stone Age artifacts in the nearby natural caves of the Upper Ofanto River valley. And he reminds the reader that the local herdsmen and shepherds, forgoing the local dress of the epoch, had always worn animal hides and sheepskins much like the first inhabitants of Calitri. As far as Acocella was concerned, Calitri can trace its origin and settlement to these first inhabitants - our prehistoric ancestors.