Although traces indicate that man has inhabited this place since prehistory, the city of Spoleto was founded by the Umbrians in the VIII Century B.C. In the 3rd century B.C. the city came under the influence of Rome as a colony named Spoletium; it became municipium after 82 B.C.
Rome took control of the region nonetheless during the third century B.C. and in 241 B.C. founded a colony in Spoleto, governed by Latin law. Having become a stronghold for the romans in their expansion towards the north, consolidated through the construction of the Via Flaminia (220 B.C.), the city assumed great importance in the control of internal central Italy, a role it continued to fulfill throughout history until the end of the 19th century.
Under the Empire it seems to have flourished once again, also thanks to its strategic location on the Via Flaminia, but is not often mentioned in history (Martial speaks of its wine). The foundation of the Episcopal seat dates from the 4th century A.D.
During roman times, the area now occupied by the Basilica of San Salvatore, to the north of the city and at the feet of the hill known as “Colle Ciciano” or “Luciano” and cut through by the Via Nursina, was also used for funereal purposes.
This tradition ran without interruption from Late Antiquity up until the Early Middle Ages when the hill became an important centre of martyr worship, based on the Civitas of Spoleto, of Longobard origin.
Between the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century, written testimonies and the number of churches constructed outside the urban area are testament to the increasingly important role played by the Church and the considerable status of the Bishops of Spoleto.
The city must also have occupied a position which was far from marginal within the framework of more long-distance relations: a significant indication of this is the fact that, at some point during the third decade of the 6th century, the Hermit monk, St. Isaac, came to Spoleto from Syria.
Owing to its elevated position Spoleto was an important stronghold during the Vandal and Gothic wars; its walls were dismantled by Totila (Procop., Bell. got. III, 12).
The presence of Ostrogoths in Spoleto was a determining factor in the transformation of the amphitheatre into a fortress, as recorded by Procopius, in addition to works probably carried out on the Roman theatre, as suggested by the fact that the church later constructed on the site was dedicated to Saint Agatha.
The constitution of the Longobard Duchy of Spoleto, the work of Faroald, may date to a time shortly after the Longobards’ arrival in Italy.
Like the Duchy of Benevento, this Dukedom in central Italy with its capital in Spoleto remained largely independent until 729 A.D. when it came under the rule of the Longobard King.
After having been a feudal stronghold of the Franks, at the fall of the Carolingian Empire, the Dukes of Spoleto namely Guido III (890) and his son Lamberto (892) succeeded in conquering the Imperial crown.
Even though Spoleto was involved in the struggling fights between the Papal seat and the Empire, to the point of being destroyed by Frederick I in 1155, and in spite of the fierce fights between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, Spoleto managed to continue its urban development during the Late Middle Ages and especially during the Romanesque period.
In 1213 it was definitely occupied by Pope Gregory IX.
By 1296 a new circle of walls, which we see today, had to be built to include the larger city. During the absence of the papal court in Avignon, Spoleto was prey to the struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines, until in 1354 Cardinal Albornoz brought it once more under the authority of the Papal States.
Besides the vast Albornoz Fortress, erected between 1359 and 1370, numerous masterpieces of inestimable architectural and pictorial value were produced (the Cathedral, S. Pietro, S. Eufemia, S. Paolo, S. Gregorio, S. Ponziano and the frescoes in S. Paolo).