Origin and History of San Marino


Let’s explore the origin and history of San Marino until the WW-1 today.

San Marino, officially the Republic of San Marino, also known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, is an enclave micro-state in Southern Europe, on the northeastern side of the Apennine Mountains, completely surrounded by Italy.

The Origins

The country, whose independence has ancient origins, claims to be the world’s oldest surviving republic. According to legend, San Marino was founded in 301 AD when a stonemason Marinus (lit. from the sea), later venerated as Saint Marinus, emigrated in 297 AD from Dalmatian island of Rab, when Emperor Diocletian issued a decree calling for the reconstruction of the city walls of Rimini, destroyed by Liburnian pirates. Marinus later became a Deacon and was ordained by Gaudentius, the Bishop of Rimini; shortly after, he was “recognised” and accused by an insane woman of being her estranged husband, whereupon he quickly fled to Monte Titano to build a chapel and monastery and live as a hermit. Later, the State of San Marino would bud from the centre created by this monastery. Living in geographical isolation from the Diocletianic Persecution of Christians at the time, the mountain people were able to live peaceful lives. When this settlement of “refugee” mountain people was eventually discovered, the owner of the land, Felicissima, a sympathetic lady of Rimini, bequeathed it to the small community of mountain dwellers, recommending to them to remain always united

Evidence of the existence of a community on Mount Titano dates back to the Middle Ages. That evidence comes from a monk named Eugippio, who reports in several documents going back to 511 that another monk lived here. In memory of the stonecutter, the land was renamed “Land of San Marino”, and was changed to its present-day name, “Republic of San Marino.”

Later papers from the 9th century report a well organized, open and proud community: the writings report that the bishop ruled this territory.

In Lombard age, San Marino was a fief of Dukes of Spoleto (linked to Papal States), but the free comune dates to the tenth century.

The original government structure was composed of a self-governed assembly known as the Arengo, which consisted of the heads of each family (as in the original Roman Senate, the Patres). In 1243, the positions of Captains Regent were established to be the joint heads of state. The state’s earliest statutes date back to 1263. The Holy See confirmed the independence of San Marino in 1631.


In quick succession, the lords of Montefeltro, the Malatesta of Rimini, and the lords of Urbino attempted to conquer the little town, but without success. In 1320 the community of Chiesanuova chose to join the country. The land area of San Marino consisted only of Mount Titano until 1463, at which time the republic entered into an alliance against Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, duke of Rimini, who was later defeated. As a result, Pope Pius II gave San Marino some castles and the towns of Fiorentino, Montegiardino and Serravalle. Later that year, the town of Faetano joined the republic on its own accord. Since then, the size of San Marino has remained unchanged.

San Marino has been occupied by foreign militaries three times in its history, each for only a short period of time. Two of these periods were in the feudal era. In 1503, Cesare Borgia occupied the Republic until the death of his father some months later.

On June 4, 1543 Fabiano di Monte San Savino, nephew of the later Pope Julius III, attempted to conquer the republic in a plan involving 500 infantry men and some cavalry. The group failed as they got lost in a dense fog, which the Sammarinese attributed to Saint Quirinus, whose feast day it was, and who afterwards have been celebrated annually in the country.

San Marino faced many potential threats during the feudal period, so a treaty of protection was signed in 1602 with Pope Clement VIII, which came into force in 1631/

On October 17, 1739, Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, Papal Governor of Ravenna, used military force to occupy the country, imposed a new constitution, and endeavored to force the Sammarinesi to submit to the government of the Papal States. He was aiding certain rebels, and acting possibly contrary to the orders of Pope Clement XII. However, civil disobedience occurred, and clandestine notes were written to the Pope to appeal for justice. On February 5, 1740, 3.5 months after the occupation began, the Pope recognized San Marino’s rights, restoring independence. February 5, is the feast day of Saint Agatha, after which she became a patron saint of San Marino.

Napoleonic Campaigns

After Napoleon’s campaign of Italy, San Marino found itself on the border between the Kingdom of Italy and long-time ally, the Papal State. On February 5, 1797, when, with the arrival of a letter from General Louis Alexandre Berthier addressed to the Regents, it was required to arrest and consign the Bishop of Rimini, Monsignor Vincenzo Ferretti, accused of instigating crimes against French Empire, who fled with all his possessions to San Marino and refusal would result in the immediate intervention of French troops.

The Government of San Marino replied that it would do everything possible to fulfil the request, even though, in reality, the bishop was able to flee across the border.

A solution was found by one of the Regents, Antonio Onofri, who inspired in Napoleon a friendship and respect toward the sovereign state. Napoleon was won to the commonality in cause with the ideals of liberty and humanity extolled in San Marino’s humble founding and wrote in recognition of its cultural value in a letter to Gaspard Monge, scientist and commissary of the French Government for the Sciences and the Arts who was at the time stationed in Italy; further promising to guarantee and protect the independence of the Republic even so far as offering to extend its territory according to its needs. While grateful for the former, the offer of territorial expansion was politely declined by San Marino.

Napoleon issued orders that exempted San Marino’s citizens from any type of taxation and gave them 1,000 quintals (over 2,200 lb or 1,000 kg) of wheat as well as four cannons; although for unknown reasons, the cannons were ultimately never brought into San Marino.

The mystery behind Napoleon’s treatment of San Marino may be better understood in light of the ongoing French Revolution (1789–1799) where France was undergoing drastic political reform. At this time, the Republic of San Marino and the recently established First French Republic (est. 1792) would have been ideologically aligned.

The state was recognized by Napoleon by the Treaty of Tolentino, in 1797 and by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In 1825 and 1853, new attempts to submit it to the Papal States failed; and its wish to be left out of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Italian unification in the mid-nineteenth century was honoured by Giuseppe in gratitude for indiscriminately taking in refugees in years prior, many of whom were supporters of unification, including Giuseppe himself and 250 followers. Although faced with many hardships (with his wife Anita who was carrying their fifth child dying near Comacchio before they could reach the refuge), the hospitality received by Giuseppe on San Marino would later prove to be a shaping influence on Giuseppe’s diplomatic manner, presaging the themes and similar language used in his political correspondences such as his letter to Joseph Cowen.

Source: Wikipedia, The Croatian Adriatic Tourist Guide, “San Marino”. Catholic Encyclopedia

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