If anyone recalls the book and film series The Chronicles of Narnia, you may be surprised to learn that its namesake derives from Italy. The author, C. S. Lewis, wanted to find a name for his fictional world and actually used an atlas for help. In Murray’s Small Classical Atlas he saw the town of Narni in central Italy and liked it enough to use it for the basis of the name Narnia (1,2). Thus, the Chronicles of Narnia began.
Narni is a town located in Umbria, Italy, roughly around the center of Italy. It was originally called Nequinum and sat on a hill as a large fortress to the north of the Romans. In the year 300, Nequinum was attacked by the Romans but withstood a siege until two defectors showed the Romans a secret passage into the fortress which they used at night to take the city (5).
The Romans decided to make the city a municipium to counter the Umbrians, a rival tribe, and renamed the city Narnia, apparently after the nearby Nar River (3, 5). From something that I read, I found that the name change was also due to nequeo meaning, “I’m unable” and nequitia meaning, “worthlessness” which made the name a bit awkward for the Latin speakers.
The town was later used as a stop for the road Via Flaminia to connect Rome to the Adriatic Sea. The Roman Emperor Nerva was born there in 30 AD (6); Nerva’s Narni has a certain charm to it. It played various roles throughout the Middle Ages and today is a small town containing a large bridge, castle, church and museum. I wonder what a Chronicles of Nequinium would have looked like?
- C.S. Lewis: A Biography, Roger Lancelyn Green, Walter Hooper pg. 306
- Murray’s Small Classical Atlas
- Strabo, Geography – Book 5, Chapter 2 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=5:chapter=2&highlight=narnia
- Pliny the Elder, The Natural History – Book 3, Chapter 19
- Livy, The History of Rome – Book 10, Chapters 9-10 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0026:book=10:chapter=9&highlight=nequinum
- The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
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