John Cilia La Corte

The city of Messina, with its deep and sheltered harbour, is situated on the slopes of the Peloritan Mountains overlooking the Straits of Messina at the closest point between Sicily and Italy where the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas meet. This strategic position has always given the city a two-fold importance. It dominates the shipping plying through the narrow straits and controls the interflow of commerce and migration, not always friendly, between the mainland and the island of Sicily.

Founded in 750BC by Greek colonists from Chalcis, when it was called Zancle, it was successively settled by various Greek colonists including the Messenians, who named the city Messana, from which the modern name is derived, before the Romans took over in 264BC after a brief Carthaginian occupation.

Under the Romans, Messana was proclaimed civitas foederata, “a free city allied to Rome” and was exempt from war and grain taxes. It was hailed by Cicero as the grandest and richest of cities and the autonomous stature granted Messina by the Romans was to influence the privileged status of the city under successive rulers.

This was interrupted by the Arab conquest of Sicily which finally was to overwhelm Messina in 843AD. Following the Norman conquest in 1061, Roger II de Hauteville restored Messina its ancient privileges, declared it a free city and decreed that it bore the title Caput Regni with the right to strike the coins of the Sicilian realm bearing the motto M.N.S.C. (MESSANA NOBILE SICILIAE CAPUT). The Royal mint continued to operate in Messina until as recently as 1678.

Roger II was succeeded dynastically by the Swabians through the marriage of his daughter and heiress Constance to Frederick I von Hohenstaufen. The Swabians’ love affair with Sicily and Messina, in particular, led to the consolidation of its privileges with the granting of free port status, and the consequent free import and export of goods to Messina by Henry VI, who actually died in Messina.

The vitality and prosperity of the city continued to wax to the extent that by the 15th century, then under the Crown of Aragon, it had acquired a huge arsenal and even built a fleet substantial enough to combat the Barbary pirates who roamed the Mediterranean at that time and, eventually in 1571, to form part of the great armada victoriously engaged in the Battle of Lepanto under Don John of Austria.

Later the government of the island was entrusted to viceroys. This period was scarred by fierce manoeuvring for domination between Palermo and Messina from which only Aragon benefited.

The sovereignty of Sicily was transferred to Spain following the union of Aragon and Castile under Ferdinand and Isabella, and in turn to the Hapsburgs when the Spanish throne was inherited by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Under the Hapsburgs, Messina’s status was further strengthened and its strategic position gave it a pre-eminent role in the Kingdom of Sicily.

The traditional rivalry between Palermo and Messina should be seen not so much as a clash of municipalities as a conflict between two opposite communal models or, more accurately, between two contrasting types of aristocracy, one feudal, the other municipal. Each of these sought the backing of the court in Madrid or its representative in Sicily. Typical was the dispute of 1612 between the Viceroy d’Osuna, backed by the Palermitan nobility, and the Messinese Patriciate, whose vital economic interests the viceroy particularly wished to vitiate by the imposition of excise duty on the city’s production of silk.

On that occasion the position of Messina was strongly upheld by the Italian League which based its political argument against the viceroy by adhering to Aragonese patrician tradition, respectful of the “original character of the prerogatives of the kingdom” and of the “privileges granted to the city of the Peloritan hills”. These privileges were in fact enshrined by contract and thus entrenched in the rules of private jurisdiction which not even the Spanish monarchy could bring itself to violate through its public authority; Messina, the city of merchants, had in fact “purchased” its political liberty.

The triumph of Messina over the viceroy clearly demonstrated that the city was capable of producing a strong alternative to Palermo’s attempts to create a political and economic hegemony. In the preceding years, fortified by a close acquaintance of the “tortuous meandering of Spanish politics and age-old habit of building alliances” and thanks to the “proven manoeuvrability of its ambassadors”, Messina had achieved a series of politico-diplomatic successes which, through the contract of 1591, definitively legitimised its hegemonic ambitions.

In 1591 the city had in effect entered into a solemn contract with the Spanish Crown, under the terms of which and against the payment of the considerable sum of 583,333 scudi, it obtained in concession “general confirmation of its privileges, the monopoly on the export of silk from Eastern Sicily and the obligation on the viceroy to reside for half of his mandate in the City of the Straits”.

In approving the 1591 contract, the Spanish Crown had essentially confirmed its recognition of the ancient rights of the commune of Messina, whose Senate had been endowed, from time immemorial, with the right of “fons honorum” for the creation of the Messinese Patriciate.

By the middle of the 17th century, however, the Crown was beginning to feel threatened by the municipal rights and freedoms enjoyed by the Messinese Senate and tried to suppress them. This provoked a popular uprising against Spain and in 1674 the Senate sought the aid of France in its rebellion against the Viceroy Bajona. Louis XIV sent a fleet under the command of Admiral Duquesne, with whose help Messina managed to resist for four years, only to capitulate in 1678 when the Sun King, satisfied with his victories in Northern Europe and following the Peace of Nijmegen with Spain, abandoned Messina to its fate. Spain exacted a terrible vengeance and through its Viceroy Benavides visited severe repressions upon its citizens, many of whom were forced into exile. This was followed by the complete suppression of all the privileges enjoyed by Messina. The free port was abolished, the University and Mint closed down and the Senatorial Palace razed to the ground.

Better times followed the Treaty of Utrecht of 11 April 1713 which placed Victor Amadeus II of Savoy on the throne of Sicily and, within the first year of his reign, the Senate of Messina was reinstated in its former powers and prerogatives. These were further confirmed and even enhanced under the Bourbons until they were finally suspended by Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies, on 11 April 1835. On Sicily’s inclusion in the unification of Italy in 1860, all powers then merged into the Crown of Savoy.

“European nobility, both ancient and medieval, was a unitary phenomenon which had its source in the nobilitas senatoria of the Roman Empire. It is within that political ambience that its institutional devices were formed; its legitimisation mechanisms, its role and indeed dominance in European politics, to the extent that it completely permeated public consciousness throughout the centuries. Medieval kings and emperors, even when competing with it, were part of it.”

So even if it is an established fact that only heads of sovereign states are invested with the “fons honorum” or powers to ennoble, the historical evolution of these powers from Roman tradition and practice is an important element in its development. The political landscape of Italy until its unification in the 19th century, comprising a multitude of independent states and cities meant that, not only these states but also a number of cities, such as Venice, Genoa, Novara, Florence and Pisa had enjoyed autonomy and were thereby endowed with the right to create nobility through the senatorial powers having their roots in Rome. Messina as well had in the past governed itself with its own laws on a par with that of an absolute monarchy and even when it lost its autonomy, as we have seen, these rights were upheld by successive rulers until their final suppression by Ferdinand II in 1835.

The practical aspect of Messinese ennoblement is described by Galuppi as follows:

“Apart from the ancient noble families and some foreign nobility, families were ennobled or appended to the Messinese nobility either through senatorial privilege, or by due process of the deeds of the same, that is through the Senatorial mantle (toga) as born in the Ordine Civico (Civic Order). The first method, whereby the Senate enjoyed, through the ancient privileges of the city of Messina, the distinguished prerogative exercised by a Sovereign or independent State, has had some unfortunate consequences, since with the passage of time it became somewhat too liberal, ennobling with senatorial diplomas, a number of persons who did not possess the necessary requisites to merit such honours. The other method, undertaken by due process, was more secure.

The proofs were examined by the juridical assessor on the sole order of the Noble Senators and the petitioners had to demonstrate, by the same proofs, the validity of their own nobility and that of their forefathers. In this way, many families both Sicilian and foreign were received into the Noble Patriciate, after having acquired citizenship either through residence, through privilege of the Senate, or through marriage into the nobility (ductionem uxoris).

Everyone of the citizens thus invested into the Patriciate through senatorial process, acquired immediate nobility, and it was then their choice whether to take up their rank within the nobility or to retain their commoner status, as declared in the decree of King Alfonso of Aragon signed in Pozzuolo on 10 May 1451 (14th year of Indiction).

This right of choice appears to have been included in the decree with the rule of election to the rank of Senator in mind. This rule dictated that senators had to be chosen partly from the nobility and partly from commoners in proportions which varied over the years. For this reason some ennobled families ascribed themselves voluntarily to commoner status in order to attain the senatorial grade more easily, whenever it so happened that the availability of suitable citizens was limited. At first sight it may seem strange that such a choice could be contemplated at all, were it not that the Messinese Civic Rank was so highly regarded in ancient times that it rivalled the Nobility both in power and splendour, hence its motto: Populares acquiparantur Nobilibus et pari passu ambulantSenators lived on private means without resorting to trade, in very much the same way as the nobility. They wielded powers as great if not greater; they intermarried with the nobility, and were in any case considered to have such respectable and powerful stature as to be on a par with the nobility.”

This brings us to the decisions taken by the Commissioners investigating the claims of the Maltese Nobility regarding the conferring of Patriciate titles by the Senate of Messina.

A Commission appointed by the British Crown to enquire into the claims of Maltese Nobility produced a report on 10th December 1877 which was presented to both Houses of Parliament in May 1878. (See Appendix III). The report was a meticulous and detailed instrument, running to 247 paragraphs and it solved most, if not all, disputes and uncertainties, establishing a rule of precedence which is followed to this day.

When adjudicating on the question of Patriciates awarded by various Italian cities, it had the following to say, in particular, about Messina:

  1. Now independently of the circumstance that the distinction of Messinese  patrician is a municipal concession, and that it is not derived from the Crown as the fountain of all honours, the said instruments were never registered in the Court of the Castellania  or in the Cancelleria of the Order; nor have the claimants produced any proof of its having ever been recognised by the local sovereigns.

It is fair to say that the Commissioners had been set rigorous terms of reference which restricted their findings and compelled them to arrive at conclusions at variance with the result a more pragmatic view would have reached.

Those rules established to judge the authenticity of titles created in Malta  by the sovereigns of Malta are perfectly justifiable in that context. It is an entirely different matter however when they are applied to titles granted by foreign states. Whether a title is recognised or not in Malta can in no way affect the validity or otherwise of a title created under a different jurisdiction. The laws and rules of that jurisdiction alone must be used to decide whether a claim to a title is valid or not.

In reaching the decision on the awards by the Senate of Messina, the Commissioners employed parameters derived partly from British custom and usage and partly from the registration requirements of the Order of St John for foreign title recognition.

The decision, however, should more correctly have been based on the situation applicable at the time the honour was granted in Messina which, as we have seen, enjoyed a fons honorum in its own right, acknowledged and confirmed by the sovereign powers of the day.

Appendix I

Translation of the Preface [pp. 7-12] from Giuseppe Galuppi: Nobiliario della città di Messina (Napoli 1877)

Natural catastrophes and political vicissitudes have entirely destroyed the rich deposits of documents of the communal archives of Messina. Through earthquakes, wars, the barbarism of man, the many misfortunes that have always tormented this classic land, and mainly the fire that in 1848 reduced those papers to a heap of ashes, the precious registers that legally attested to the noble antecedents of the greater part of the scions of our country were irretrievably lost; the processes of many native as well as foreign families brought into the order of patricians at various times; and above all the so-called Mastro Nobile (Noble Rolls) or Libri d’Oro (Golden Books), in which, in keeping with other Italian cities who replicated from ancient Rome the distinction of ranks within the Public Administration, known as Ordo et Populos, the nobles of Messina were listed chronologically from father to son. Of these ancient Rolls we have in part only the one which was held by the Chief Notary of the Most Illustrious Senate, Domenico Mollica, which dates from 1587 to 1610, from which Dr Francesco Castelli in 1732 published in the press the lists of the concurrent Noble Counsellors to the municipal offices, drawn from an original manuscript entitled: Liber Habilitationis et Creationis, but not necessarily including all the persons ascribed noble, as at first sight, one would be lead one to believe from the title suggested by Mastra dei Nobili della città di Messina del fuDomenico Mollica (Rolls of the Nobles of city of Messina of the late Domenico Mollica) of that, now quite rare, bad little book There were then in the Archives all the other Rolls of the Nobles which were updated from time to time, and amongst others those of 1239, 1511, 1552, 1594 known as Senza Scorza, 1622, 1644 (created by the decree of the Viceroy, Marquis de los Veles), 1649, 1658, 1676, 1706 etc of which only the names are extant, and some certificate left with particular families before the consuming flames had destroyed them for ever.

The Rolls of the Nobles currently existing were formed by Senatorial Decree in the year 1798, and bore the title Album Nobilium Messanensium ab anno Domi­nicae Incarnationis 1798, usque et per totum annum 1807. By happy coincidence, a legal copy of the rolls commonly called Mastra del 1807 (Rolls of 1807) can be found in the Grand Archives of Naples, (Section of the former Royal Commission of Titles and Nobility), and another copy extracted from the latter, now again in our Commune.

But it is well to warn that that version is inexact, since the person then charged with the extraction from the original the copy requested by the Commission in 1843, applied himself indifferently to that work, committing several clerical errors, verified by us, both from the authentic original diplomas kindly shown to us by the families who had been omitted, as well as from the total number of noble Messinese carried forward to the end as 345, which turns out to be fewer by 14, when adding the sum total under each letter

And since we have spoken with the Royal Commission of Titles and Nobility of the past regime seated in Naples, it is worth taking note that the same had undertaken to examine the Noble Rolls of some cities of Sicily, but due to political changes had no time to pronounce on such documents. Only, the Public Minister of that Heraldic Court in the charge made on 8 April 1858 advised that the two Rolls of Palermo and Messina were held as Noble; this, after all, was always considered as such in our city, where, before the Royal Commission, other nobles had been ascribed.

Setting aside the ancient noble families and some of those derived from elsewhere; the rest were ennobled or appended to the Messinese nobility either via senatorial privilege, or by due process of the deeds of the same, that is through the mantle (toga) of Senator worn in the Ordine Civico (Civic Order). The first method, whereby the Senate enjoyed, through the ancient privileges of the city of Messina, the most distinguished prerogative exercised by a Sovereign or independent State, has been most deplorable; since with the passage of time it became somewhat over liberal, ennobling in some number with senatorial diplomas, persons who did not possess the necessary requisites to merit such honours. The other way, which was undertaken by regular process, was more certain.

The proofs were examined solely on the order of the Noble Senators by the juridical assessor and the petitioners had to show, by the same, the validity of their own nobility and that of their forefathers. In this way, many houses both of the kingdom and foreign were received into the Noble Patriciate, after having acquired citizenship either through residence, through privilege of the Senate, or through ductionem uxoris.

Everyone of the citizens thus invested into the patriciate by senatorial mantle, acquired immediate nobility, and it was then their choice whether to proceed to the rank of nobility or to retain their commoner status; as declared in the decree of King Alfonso of Aragon signed in Pozzuolo on 10 May 1451 (14th year of Indiction).

This right of choice appears to have been included in the decree with the rule of election to the rank of Senator in mind, since senators had to be chosen partly from the nobility and partly from commoners. For this reason some ennobled families ascribed themselves voluntarily to commoner status in order to attain the senatorial grade more easily, whenever it occurred that the number of suitable citizens was limited. The Messinese Civic Rank was so highly regarded in ancient times that it vied with the Nobility, both in richness and splendour, hence its motto: Populares acquiparantur Nobilibus et pari pas­su ambulant. They lived on private means without trade; they wielded great powers; they appeared on a par with the nobility; they intermarried with them, and were considered such respectable and powerful families as to rise to the level of the nobility.  It often happened that several nobles through bad fortune or adverse circumstances ascribed themselves to commoner status, returning to the original class in which they had grown in better times. This is the reason why some of their offspring are seen split in both ranks. Towards 1718, due to a scarcity of ancient families within that group of citizens, persons of a lower condition, mostly from the merchant classes, were admitted, receiving the senatorial mantle by royal decree; therefore the few residual ancient families still extant demanded and obtained rehabilitation to the Mastra Nobile, since they perfectly well merited this honour.

The noble descendants of Messina, of whom most, as in most countries, are derived from diverse origins, may generally be divided into two categories. The first is Nobility by origin or blood, the other Nobility by acquisition. The nobles of the first category have been such since time immemorial, meaning that they were shown as noble from the very first moment they were recorded in history, and their origins should naturally be traced to very ancient dates, at least between the X and XIII centuries. On the other hand, the period when the nobility of the second category started, is known. Thus when the proof of nobility can be traced without interruption to ancient times, this is called Generosa in order to distinguish it from that called privilegio, as well as from the legale or civile categories. In the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies a royal despatch of 25 January 1756 explicitly declared various degrees of nobility. Herewith the dispositions:

The King, desiring to settle clearly once and for all the various doubts raised about the quality and grade of the nobility, which is necessary for those wanting to serve as Cadets in the Troops, has commanded that the following declarations be made, which are to be observed generally with the force of law, and as a positive ordinance for the future. – I. That before all else, be it known as law by everyone as an indisputable presupposition, that the nobility in his Royal domains are established in three different classes. – II. The first consists of the Nobility called GENEROSA; and this is verified whenever a family has been in possession of some Noble feud for an uninterrupted sequence of centuries, or when by legitimate proof it results that the same was admitted into the noble families of a Royal city, in which there is a real separation from civil and, even more so, common families. Or otherwise that it originates from an ancestor, who through a glorious career in the Military, the Mantle of Office (Toga), the Church, or the Court had obtained some distinguished or superior position, or dignity, and that his descendants through the course of a considerable length of time had maintained themselves nobly occupied in ancestral duties without descending to civil and popular office, or to mechanical or ignoble crafts.  III. The second class of nobility is that called PRIVILEGIO, and is enjoyed by all those persons who through their merits and personal services to the Crown, and the State, go on to be  promoted by the munificence of the Princes to high and honourable grades in the Military service, the Mantle of Office, and the Court; in this class of Nobility through privilege must be considered and comprises all major and minor military Officials, and those who also  serve in the other classes of the General Staff of the army; as well as those whose career is in the Church and in letters, and other classes of royal service, and State government, who obtain decorous positions of an impressive character, or which are in an equivalent sphere of distinction and order, that requires in its quality the various major or minor dignity of everyone. – IV. And the third class of those deemed noble is that called CIVILE or LEGALE; in which rank  are deemed to belong all those who, as had their father and grandfather before them,  appear to have always lived a civilised life with honour and in comfort, and, without exercising inferior or common careers or employment, are publicly held by all and sundry to have an honourable and well bred reputation.

 In order the better to clarify the concept of generosa which is the true nobility, we add that it is the ancestry that is so called, and not the individual, who may call himself ennobled, but not of noble family. Gentle birth determined by descent must always be maintained pure and never degenerate: quod non degenerat a sua natura, as Tiraquello says. Wherefore not only are common and mechanical crafts not to be practised, but a noble life, fame, a good reputation is called for and above all the continuous tenure, commencing  no less than two hundred years previously, of an ancient title as foundation of the proof, which, with some exceptions, such as in the case of high office of court, a grandee of Spain, etc., is ordinarily reduced to four sole sources, that is to say: the enjoyment of some Nobility separate from the people; the possession of feuds with jurisdiction; high magisterial office, on a par with royal counsellors; and military officers ranking colonel or above. They were distinguished by two Latin words nobilis et generosus as Horace points out; since the Romans bestowed the title of nobleman on a person whose father had been decorated with some curule magistracy, and by exercise of which the right to hold the decorations was derived, distinguishing themselves by matters called novi, the first of the ancestry to have ceruli. Each and everyone was different from the ignobiles, under which name were called those who had never occupied high office, as their fathers neither had before them. If the above-mentioned prerogative to be called nobile was therefore enough under Roman legislation, it was not sufficient for qualification as generosus; intending as such all those who pertained to a long series of major nobles (the word genus meaning precisely race);  thus generosus was assigned to those of noble race.

But the common origin of every nobility, in order to conclude with an illustrious writer “is labour and the saving outcome of labour. Without intellectual and manual labour, one does not acquire nobility, and if acquired it is not preserved. For however substantial the rents may be prolonged sloth consumes it, and draws the idler to misery. And if he succeeds in escaping misery he will be demeaned in public esteem, without which nobility is a vain name, a useless burden, a derisory appellation. Living idly on the proceeds of their properties, applying themselves with great assiduity to set themselves apart from those who do not pertain to their rank, not to care about anyone who does not have important titles and sizeable rents, is nowadays a bad habit of a few, to be looked upon with a compassionate smile. Abstaining from public office even without payment, not engaging in studies what small or great intellectual talents God may have granted them, conduces in the long run, as we see all too often, the members of some noble ancient families to the mental condition close to imbecility.

Notes to Appendix I

Although the personages and bodies invested to exercise the right of full sovereignty [fons honorum] have sole authority to confer nobility, the municipal body of certain prominent communes that anciently ruled over its people, such as Novara, Florence, Pisa, Livorno, and other cities of Le Marche and of Umbria, has also conserved the privilege to raise new citizens to the nobility. The same may be said of Messina which at one time governed with its own laws, almost on parity with absolute monarchy. Emperor Charles V, by decree signed in 1517, confirming the ancient attributes and powers of the Senate of Messina, declared the Mastra della Nobiltà Messinese equal to the Libro d’Oro of Bologna, Venice, Milan, to the peerage (Seggi) of the Kingdom of Naples, and the Messinese nobility therein ascribed second to none in all his states. [from p380]

This state of affairs was in force until a royal edict of 11 April 1835 concerning the publication of the laws on the Nobility suspended in the former kingdom of the two Sicilies, the registration of new families in the municipal Libri d’Oro.


In compliance with the decrees of his father, King Ferdinand IV solemnly declared on 1 December 1770 the generosa nobility as deriving from, or possessing ancient feuds, or from titles conceded by royal munificence, or from high grades in the military service, the magistracy and ecclesiastical dignity.


 Vide. Statutes of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and the Constantinian Order, apart from various Royal Orders. However dealing with Neapolitan Noble Seats a Royal Despatch of 17 August 1851 declares that induction into these orders is enough to prove the  generoso nobility of a family, even though two hundred years may not have passed since admission to the Seat, reflecting that the law of 25 January 1756 requires two hundred only for the possessors  of the feuds, and not to those ascribed to Seats which were enunciated in the same law, and that such principle was also retained by the law abolishing the Seats of 25 April 1800.


We adopt the word foundation and not principle, because it is possible that a house could have titles even more ancient and plausible than nobility, but in the event restricting ourselves to the prescribed term of two hundred years as used in the proof only for that period of time.


CIBRARIO: Notizie Genealogiche di Famiglie Nobili degli antichi Stati della Monarchia di Savoia, seconda edizione, Torino. Botta, 1866


Appendix II

Roman Patricians


William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

This word is a derivative from pater, which in the early times invariably denoted a patrician, and in the later times of the republic frequently occurs in the Roman writers as equivalent to senator. Patricii therefore signifies those who belonged to the patres “rex patres eos (senatores) voluit nominari, patriciosque eorum liberos” (Cic. de Re Publ. ii.12; Liv. i.8; Dionys. ii.8). It is a mistake in these writers to suppose that the patricii were only the offspring of the patres in the sense of senators, and necessarily connected with them by blood. Patres and patricii were originally controvertible terms (Plut. Romul. 13; Lydus, de Mens. i.20, de Mag. i.16; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, i. p336). The words patres and patricii have radically and essentially the same meaning, and some of the ancients believed that the name patres was given to that particular class of the Roman population from the fact that they were fathers of families (Plut. Dionys. l.c.); others, that they were called so from their age (Sallust, Catil. 6); or because they distributed land among the poorer citizens, as fathers did among their children (Festus, s.v. Patres Senatores; Lyd. de Mens. iv.50). But most writers justly refer the name to the patrocinium which the patricians exercised over the whole state, and over all classes of persons of whom it was composed (Plut. and Sallust, l.c.; Zonaras, vii.8; Suidas, s.v. Patri/kioi).

In considering who the patricians were, we have to distinguish three periods in the history of Rome. The first extends from the foundation of the city down to the establishment of the plebeians as a second order; the second, from this event down to the time of Constantine, during which time the patricians were a real aristocracy of birth, and as such formed a distinct class of Roman citizens opposed to the plebeians, and afterwards to the new plebeian aristocracy of the nobiles: the third period extends from Constantine down to the middle ages, during which the patricians were no longer an aristocracy of birth, but were persons who merely enjoyed a title, first granted by the emperors and afterwards by the popes also.

First Period: from the foundation of the city, to the establishment of the plebeian order. Niebuhr’s researches into the early history of Rome have established it as a fact beyond all doubt, that during this period the patricians comprised the whole body of Romans who enjoyed the full franchise, that they were the populus Romanus, and that there were no other real citizens besides them (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, ii. pp224, 225, note 507; Cic. pro Caecin. 35). The patricians must be regarded as conquerors who reduced the earlier inhabitants of the places they occupied to a state of servitude, which in our authorities is designated by the terms cliens and plebs. The other parts of the Roman population, namely clients and slaves, did not belong to the populus Romanus, or sovereign people, and were not burghers or patricians. The senators were a select body of the populus or patricians, which acted as their representative. The burghers or patricians consisted originally of three distinct tribes, which gradually became united into the sovereign populus. These tribes had founded settlements upon several of the hills which were subsequently included within the precincts of the city of Rome. Their names were Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres, or Ramnenses, Titienses, and Lucerenses. Each of these tribes consisted of ten curiae, and each curia of ten decuries, which were established for representative and military purposes [SENATUS.] The first tribe, or the Ramnes, were a Latin colony on the Palatine hill, said to have been founded by Romulus. As long as it stood alone, it contained only one hundred gentes, and had a senate of one hundred members. When the Tities, or Sabine settlers on the Quirinal and Viminal hills, under king Tatius, became united with the Romans, the number of gentes as well as that of senators was increased to 200. These two tribes after their union continued probably for a considerable time to be the patricians of Rome, until the third tribe, the Luceres, which chiefly consisted of Etruscans, who had settled on the Caelian Hill, also became united with the other two as a third tribe. When this settlement was made is not certain: some say that it was in the time of Romulus (Festus, s.v. Caelius Mons and Luceres; Varro, de Ling. Lat. v.55); others that it took place at a later time (Tacit. Ann. iv.65; Festus, s.v. Tuscum vicum). But the Etruscan settlement was in all probability older than that of the Sabines (see Göttling, Gesch. der Röm. Staatsverf. p54, &c.), though it seems occasionally to have received new bands of Etruscan settlers even as late as the time of the republic.

The amalgamation of these three tribes did not take place at once: the union between Latins and Sabines is ascribed to the reign of Romulus, though it does not appear to have been quite perfect, since the Latins on some occasions claimed a superiority over the Sabines (Dionys. ii.62). The Luceres existed for a long time as a separate tribe without enjoying the same rights as the two others until Tarquinius Priscus, himself an Etruscan, caused them to be placed on a footing of equality with the others. For this reason he is said to have increased the number of senators to 300 (Dionys. iii.67; Liv. i.35; Cic. de Re Publ. ii.20; cf. SENATUS), and to have added two Vestal virgins to the existing number of four (Dionys. l.c.; Festus, s.v. Sex Vestae sacerdotes; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, i. p302, &c.). The Luceres, however, are, notwithstanding this equalisation, sometimes distinguished from the other tribes by the name patres minorum gentium; though this name is also applied to other members of the patricians, e.g. to those plebeian families who were admitted by Tarquinius Priscus into the three tribes, and in comparison with these, the Luceres are again called patres majorum gentium (cf. Niebuhr, i. p304, and Göttling, p226, &c.). That this distinction between patres majorum and minorum gentium was kept up in private life, at a time when it had no value whatever in a political point of view, is clear from Cicero (ad Fam. ix.21). Tullus Hostilius admitted several of the noble gentes of Alba among the patricians (in patres legit, Liv. i.30), viz., the Tullii (Sulii?), Servilii, Quinctii, Geganii, Curiatii, and Cloelii, to which Dionysius (iii.29) adds the gens Metilia. Ancus Marcius admitted the Tarquinii (Dionys. iii.48), Servius Tullius the Octavii (Sueton. Aug. 1, &c.), and even Tarquinius Superbus seems to have had similar intentions (Dionys. iv.57; Sueton. Vitell. 1). We do not hear that the number of gentes was increased by these admissions, and must therefore suppose that some of them had already become extinct, and that the vacancies which thus arose were filled up with these new burghers (Göttling, p222). During the time of the republic, distinguished strangers and wealthy plebeians were occasionally made Roman patricians, e.g. Appius Claudius and his gens (Liv. x.8; compare ii.16; Dionys. v.40; Sueton. Tib. 1), and Domitius Ahenobarbus (Suet. Nero, 1). As regards the kingly period the Roman historians speak as if the kings had had the power of raising a gens or an individual to the rank of a patrician; but it is evident that the king could not do this without the consent of the patres in their curies; and hence Livy (iv.4) makes Canuleius say, “per cooptationem in patres, aut ab regibus lecti,” which lectio, of course, required the sanction of the body of patricians. In the time of republic such an elevation to the rank of patrician could only be granted by the senate and the populus (Liv. iv.4, x.8, compare especially Becker, Handb. der Röm. Alterth. ii.1 p26, &c.).

Since there were no other Roman citizens but the patricians during this period, we cannot speak of any rights or privileges belonging to them exclusively; they are all comprehended under CIVITAS (ROMAN) and GENS. Respecting their relations to the kings see COMITIA CURIATA and SENATUS. During this early period we can scarcely speak of the patricians as an aristocracy, unless we regard their relation to the clients in this light [CLIENS.]

Second Period: from the establishment of the plebeian order to the time of Constantine. When the plebeians became a distinct class of citizens, who shared certain rights with the patricians, the latter lost in so far as these rights no longer belonged to them exclusively. But by far the greater number of rights, and those the most important ones, still remained in the exclusive possession of the patricians, who alone were cives optimo jure, and were the patres of the nation in the same sense as before. All civil and religious offices were in their possession, and they continued as before to be the populus, the nation now consisting of the populus and the plebes. This distinction, which Livy found in ancient documents (xxv.12), seems however in the course of time to have fallen into oblivion, so that the historian seems to be hardly aware of it, and uses populus for the whole body of citizens including the plebeians. Under the Antonines the term populus signified all the citizens, with the exception of the patricii (Gaius, i.3). In their relation to the plebeians or the commonality, the patricians now were a real aristocracy of birth. A person born of a patrician family was and remained a patrician, whether he was rich or poor, whether he was a member of the senate, or an eques, or held any of the great offices of the state, or not: there was no power that could make a patrician a plebeian, except his own free will, for every patrician might by adoption into a plebeian family, or by a solemn transition from his own order to the plebs, become a plebeian, leaving his gens and curia and renouncing the sacra. As regards the census, he might indeed not belong to the wealthy classes, but his rank remained the same. Instances of reduced patricians in the latter period of the republic are, the father of M. Aemilius Scaurus and the family of the Sullas previous to the time of the dictator of that name (Suet. Aug. 2; Liv. iv.16; Plin. H.N. xviii.4; Zonar. vii.15; Ascon. Ped. in Scaur. p25, ed. Orelli). A plebeian, on the other hand, or even a stranger, might, as we stated above, be made a patrician by a lex curiata. But this appears to have been done very seldom; and the consequence was, that in the course of a few centuries the number of patrician families became so rapidly diminished, that towards the close of the republic there were not more than fifty such families (Dionys. i.85). Julius Caesar by the lex Cassia raised several plebeian families to the rank of patricians, in order that they might be able to continue to hold the ancient priestly offices which still belonged to their order (Suet. Caes. 41; Tac. Ann. xi.25; Dion Cass. xliii.47, xlv.2). Augustus soon after found it necessary to do the same by a lex Scaenia (Tacit. l.c.; Dion Cass. xlix.43, lii.42). Other emperors followed these examples: Claudius raised a number of senators and such persons as were born of illustrious parents to the rank of patricians (Tacit. l.c.; Suet. Oth. 1); Vespasian, Titus, and other emperors did the same (Tacit. Agric. 9; Capitol. M. Antonin. 1; Lamprid. Commod. 6). The expression for this act of raising persons to the rank of patricians was in patricios or in familiam patriciam adligere.

Although the patricians throughout this whole period had the character of an aristocracy of birth, yet their political rights were not the same at all times. The first centuries of this period are an almost uninterrupted struggle between patricians and plebeians, in which the former exerted every means to retain their exclusive rights, but which ended in the establishment of the political equality of the two orders. [PLEBS.] Only a few insignificant priestly offices, and the performance of certain ancient religious rites and ceremonies, remained the exclusive privilege of the patricians; of which they were the prouder, as in former days their religious power and significance were the basis of their political superiority (see Ambrosch, Studen und Andeutungen, &c. p58, &c.). At the time when the struggle between patricians and plebeians ceased, a new kind of aristocracy began to arise at Rome, which was partly based upon wealth and partly upon the great offices of the republic, and the term Nobiles was given to all persons whose ancestors had held any of the curule offices (Cf. NOBILES.) This aristocracy of nobiles threw the old patricians as a body still more into the shade, though both classes of aristocrats united as far as was possible to monopolise all the great offices of the state (Liv. xxii.34, xxxix.41); but although the old patricians we obliged in many cases to make common cause with the nobiles, yet they could never suppress the feeling of their own superiority; and the veneration which historical antiquity alone can bestow, always distinguished them as individuals from the nobiles. How much wealth gradually gained the upper hand, is seen from the measure adopted about the time of the first Punic war, by which the expenses for the public games were no longer given from the aerarium, but were defrayed by the aediles; and as their office was the first step to the great offices of the republic, that measure was a tacit exclusion of the poorer citizens from those offices. Under the emperors the position of the patricians as a body was not improved; the filling up of the vacancies in their order by the emperors began more and more to assume the character of an especial honour, conferred upon a person for his good services or merely as a personal favour, so that the transition from this period to the third had been gradually preparing.

Respecting the great political and religious privileges which the patricians at first possessed alone, but afterwards were compelled to share with the plebeians, see PLEBS and the articles treating of the several Roman magistracies and priestly offices. Cf. also GENS; CURIA; SENATUS.

In their dress and appearance the patricians were scarcely distinguished from the rest of the citizens, unless they were senators, curule magistrates, or equites, in which case they wore like others the ensigns peculiar to these dignities. The only thing by which they appear to have been distinguished in their appearance from other citizens, was a peculiar kind of shoes, which covered the whole foot and part of the leg, though they were not as high as the shoes of senators and curule magistrates. These shoes were fastened with four strings (corrigae or lora patricia) and adorned with a lunula on the top (Senec. De Tranquil. Anim. 11; Plut. Quaest. Rom. 76;  Stat. Silv. v.2.27; Martial, i.50, ii.29). Festus (s.v. Mulleos) states that mulleus was the name of the shoes worn by the patricians; but the passage of Varro which he adduces only shows that the mullei (shoes of a purple colour) were worn by the curule magistrates (cf. Dion Cass. xliii.43).

Third Period: from the time of Constantine to the middle ages. From the time of Constantine the dignity of patricius was a personal title, which conferred on the person, to whom it was granted, a very high rank and certain privileges. Hitherto patricians had been only genuine Roman citizens, and the dignity had descended from the father to his children; but the new dignity was created at Constantinople, and was not bestowed on old Roman families; it was given, without any regard to persons, to such men as had for a long time distinguish themselves by good and faithful services to the empire or the emperor. This new dignity was not hereditary, but became extinct with the death of the person on whom it was conferred; and when during this period we read of patrician families, the meaning is only that the head of such a family was a patricius (Zosim. ii.40; Cassiodor. Variar. vi.2). The name patricius during this period assumed the conventional meaning of father of the emperor (Ammian. Marcellin. xxix.2; Cod. 12 tit.3 §5), and those who were thus distinguished occupied the highest rank among the illustres; the consuls alone ranked higher than a patricius ( Isidor. ix.4.1.3; Cod. 3 tit.24 s3; 12 tit.3 s3). The titles by which a patricius was distinguished were magnificentia, celsitudo, eminentia, and magnitudo. They were either engaged in actual service (for they generally held the highest offices in the state, at the court and in the provinces), and were then called patricii praesentales, or they had only the title and were called patricii codicillares or honorarii (Cassiod. viii.9; Savaron ad Sidon. Apoll. i.3). All of them, however, were distinguished in their appearance and dress from ordinary persons, and seldom appeared before the public otherwise than in a carriage. The emperors were generally very cautious in bestowing this great distinction, though some of the most arbitrary despots conferred the honour upon young men and even on eunuchs. Zeno decreed that no one should be made patricius who had not been consul, praefect, or magister militum (Cod. 3 tit.24 s3). Justinian, however, did away with some of these restrictions. The elevation to the rank of patricius was testified to the person by a writ called diploma (Sidon. Apollin. v.16; Suidas, s.v. Grammatei/dion; cf. Cassiodor. vi.2, viii.21, &c.).

This new dignity was not confined to Romans or subjects of the empire, but was sometimes granted to foreign princes, such as Odoacer, the chief of the Heruli, and others. When the popes of Rome had established their authority, they also assumed the right of bestowing the title of patricius on eminent persons and princes, and many of the German emperors were thus distinguished by the popes. In several of the Germanic kingdoms the sovereigns imitated the Roman emperors and popes by giving to their most distinguished subjects the title of patricius, but these patricii were at all times much lower in rank than the Roman patricii, a title of which kings and emperors themselves were proud.

(Rein, in Ersch und Gruber’s Encyclopädie, s.v. Patricier, and for the early period of Roman History, Göttling’s Gesch. der Röm. Staatsverf. p51, &c., Becker’s Handbuch l.c., and p133, &c.).

Appendix III

Preamble to the Report submitted by the Commissioners enquiring into the Claims of the Maltese Nobility

December 10, 1877

To the Hon.

Sir Victor Houlton   G.C.M.G., M.A.,

Chief Secretary to Government,

&c   &c   &c


  1. By your letter, No. 9066, dated the 8th March 1877, enclosing a list of Maltese  “Titolati, which had been forwarded to his Excellency the Governor by the secretary of  a Committee of  Nobles  formed on the occasion of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales’s late visit to these islands,we were required to institute a careful inquiry into certain questions stated in  that letter, and into such other questions as might arise in the course of our investigation, in order to form a correct list  for submission to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, with a report showing the grounds for the inclusion in, or exclusion from that list of any gentleman claiming a title of nobility ; for which purpose we were instructed to look to the records existing in the Government  archives and also, when necessary, to call for explanations from claimants themselves or from any other person whom we might deem fit to examine.
  2. The inquiry with which we have been instructed originated in a question of precedence, for the committee aforesaid having on behalf of the Maltese nobility applied to Her Majesty’s Government claiming precedence before the Chamber of Commerce, the Right Honourable Earl of Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in reply to that representation by Despatch of the 23rd December 1876, addressed to His Excellency the Governor decided that the heads of the families who before the annexation of Malta to the British Dominions obtained titles of nobility, should take precedence of the Chamber of Commerce ; and in order to ascertain who were the gentlemen thus entitled to precedence, his Excellency had called upon that committee to transmit to him a list of Maltese  “Titolati” with the date of their respective creations.
  3. The questions to which the list forwarded by the committee may give rise are, in the letters of 8th March 1877, classed under two heads: some have been reserved entirely for the decision of Her Majesty’s Secretary of State, whilst others have been referred to the Commission, in order to be settled herein Malta.
  4. The former questions are the following two, namely :-

1st. Whether a grant made to the applicant and his successors or descendants without any express limitation, or with a limitation only to sex, is to be taken to extend the title to all contemporary successors  or  descendants, or to be restricted, to only one of them, according to the rule of primogeniture.

2nd. Whether a grant limited to male  descendants under the rule of primogeniture or otherwise, is to be taken to extend to the sons of female descendants.

  1. The other questions which have been referred to the Commission are 10 in number,   viz. :-

1st. Whether the grants mentioned in the list of the committee as emanating from other authorities than the Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, were duly registered according to the then existing law, and if they were not, whether, there are records showing such an official recognition of them by the Grand Masters as may be taken to be equivalent to that registration.

2nd. Whether the claimant of titles, under unquestionable grants, are the descendants or successors included in those grants.

3rd. Supposing that a grant made to the applicant and his successors or descendants without any express limitation, to extend to all contemporary successors or descendants, whether the list received includes all those who under such construction might claim the title, and if not, who are the gentlemen who have claims equal to those of the gentlemen included in that  list, or though they may not be disposed to claim it for themselves, whose issue may do so?

4th. In cases of grants of that description, taking the words  “head of a family” to mean the first born of the grantee of the title and his successors, by the rule of primogeniture, who among the gentlemen now claiming  the title is the head of the family?

5th. In cases of grants limited to male descendants, whether the present claimants descend from the male or from the female line of the original grantee?

6th. In cases of grants in which the holder of the title has the power to set aside the first born, and to assign that title to another member of the family, if two gentlemen claim the title, one in virtue of the rule established in the grant, and the other in virtue of nomination, which of the conflicting claims is well founded, or, in other words, whether the nomination is legally proved.

7th. On what grounds titles which appear to have been granted  to the applicant or to him and his son, exclusively, are claimed by other descendants.

8th. Whether the title of Baron claimed by several gentlemen is, in all instances, derived from a special grant of it, as a title of honour, or only the denomination of persons holding land of a superior, a word equivalent or nearly equivalent to the word  “possessor”  in the present law.

9th. Whether, according to the terms of the  grants, any of the claimants is under any disqualification:

10th. Where, in the list received, a gentleman bears two or more surnames, which of the surnames is that which, according to law, belongs to him, coming from his father, grandfather, and other male ancestors; and if one or more surnames have been taken from the original surnames of female ancestors, for what reasons, if any, those surnames have been assumed.

  1. By another letter bearing date 8th May last, we are further required to communi­cate to  his Excellency the Governor, any remarks  we might make, or any documents we might find. in the course of our  inquiry, bearing on the questions which by the aforesaid letter of the 8th March 1877, are reserved to the, Secretary of State; and which might tend to facilitate their decision.
  2. It is hardly necessary to  point out that we shall proceed to consider the foregoing questions, not in the order in which they are stated, but with reference to the claims successively inquired into, as far as they are applicable thereto.
  3. As soon as we entered upon our duties, we directed our attention to the perusal and examination of the patents or diplomas registered in the Government Archives and referred to by the Committee  in their list. We also proceeded to look to the documents existing in the said Archives, availing ourselves of the valuable assistance and co-ope­ration of the Government Archivist. Our next care was toconsider all such documents and, genealogical tablesas have been transmitted to us either by the said Committee, or directly, by several gentlemen whose names are inserted in the list.

We feel it, however, our duty to state, before entering upon the subject that we cannot assure his Excellency the Governor that  the titles included in the committee list, and upon which we are to report, correspond to all the existing titles of nobility, and still less that the thirty-one gentlemen whose names are therein inserted represent all those, who,  under certain conditions  would have the right of claiming a title by virtue of the same grant. On the contrary, as it will be hereafter remarked, many gentlemen not comprised in that list are exactly in the same condition as others therein mentioned. As no notice has appeared in the Government Gazette informing the public of the existence of our Commission, and inviting all those who might have a right to a title of nobility to lay their  claims before us,  our  inquiry must necessarily be incomplete, and limited to those titles which are included in the list, or which after its presentation have been claimed. On the other hand, we could not ascertain how far the committee are invested with a representative character, with regard to the interests of the Maltese nobility.,

  1. The Government  having left to our discretion to fix the mode of proceeding, in order to obtain the most accurate information for the dispatch of our inquiry, we  thought it advisable to request the attendance before us of the gentlemen referred to in the list (with three exceptions which will be noticed hereafter), in order to supply us with all the information and documents requisite for the careful consideration of their respective grants.
  2. It is gratifying to state thatall those gentlemen, two alone excepted, have most willingly complied with our request, and some of them have displayed peculiar attention in order to facilitate the discharge of our duties. For that purpose we have held numerous sittings in the.Government Archivist’s Office.
  3. Some of those gentlemen had, ever since the commencement of our investigation, expressed their wish that we should communicate to them some written queries respecting the information we solicited from them; but we did not deem it advisable to deviate from the practice we had hitherto pursued, and which had been accepted by the great majority of the claimants, namely, of communicating orally with them. Had we sent out written queries to each of the claimants an endless correspondence would have been opened, and no result more beneficial than that which could be obtained byviva voceinformation would have been attained. Nevertheless we have never objected to receive from the claimants memorandums containing statements of their rights;  and similar statements have, in some instances, been asked for directly by us.
  4. The two gentlemen who declined to comply with our invitation, without giving any explanation for their refusal, were Dr. Gaetano Delicata, and Dr. Giuseppe Delicata, as the legal representative of his son, Nicola Maria Delicata Carbott. Seven gentlemen, not included in the committee list, appeared in the course of our inquiry, and referred their claims to the Commission, viz., Alessandro Preziosi, Dr. Vincenzo Camilleri, Enrico Testaferrata, Maria Francesca widow of Dr. Filippo Apap, Francesco Gauci Testaferrata, Angiolino Attard Montalto, and Luisa widow of Captain Walter Strickland, R.N.
  5. The three gentlemen included in the committee list, whose attendance we did not think proper to call for are Dr. Pietro Paolo Testaferrata Abela Moroni, who claims the title of  “Barone di Gomerino,” Augusto Testaferrata Abela, who asserts a claim to the same title, and Monsignor Don Salvatore Grech Delicata de Piro who claims the, title of  “Barone di Budak”.  For this  omission we beg  to  refer to what will be hereafter remarked – we must, however, state that Monsignor Delicata did not fail  to insist on his being allowed to appear, and to have an opportunity of furnishing the Commission with the necessary information with regard to.his title.
  6. We now conclude the above preliminary observations by stating, for the clear understanding of our Report, that the number of patents or charters of titles does not and cannot correspond with the number of claimants included in the list, which amounts to thirty-one, and which added to that of the gentlemen who appeared after the presen­tation of that list, ascends to thirty-eight. This difference will be easily accounted for by the circumstance that several of these gentlemen claim the same title under the same sovereign grant. Thus Lorenzo Antonio Testaferrata, Gio Paolo Testaferrata Olivier de Puget, Lorenzo Cassar Desain né Testaferrata, Ignazio Testaferrata Bonici and Dr. Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani  presented themselves claiming the right of bearing simultaneously the title of Marquis, in virtue of the same grant originally made to one of the Testaferrata  family (Don Mario). Emmanuele Testaferrata and Lorenzo Antonio Testaferrata claim, to the exclusion of each other, the title of “Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri” granted by another patent to the aforesaid Don Mario Testaferrata. Amedeo Preziosi, Dr. Antonio Preziosi, Dr. Camillo Preziosi, Alessandro Preziosi, and Dr. Vincenzo Camilleri assert, at the same time, their claims the title of Count originally conferred upon one of the Preziosi family ; and Dr. Pietro Paolo Testaferrata Abela Moroni  and Augusto Testaferrata Abela, both claim, to the exclusion of each other, the title of  “Barone di Gomerino” which, according to the terms of the patent is to be enjoyed by only one of the descendants of the person first ennobled.
  7. The foregoing remarks on the list of the committee and on the way we proceeded with in our inquiry being premised, we beg respectfully to submit the following observationswith regard to the questions which are referred to us.
  8. The titles of Maltese nobility, which are claimed at present, have a threefold origin. Some proceed from grants made by  the Grand Masters  during the Government of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. Others have been by some of the claimants traced back to an epoch prior to the domination  of the Knights, and are presumed to have been granted by the Kings of Sicily of the  house  of Aragon, when those rulers held the sovereignty of these islands; whilst others have been by patent created by foreign sovereigns, during the Government of the order of Saint John.
  9. We purpose to follow this triple classification and to divide the present Report into three sections ;  in the first of which we shall consider the titles conferred by the Grand Masters, and in the second and third we shall proceed to inquire into the grants made by the Sicilian Kings of the house of Aragon and by foreign sovereigns. We shall subjoin a fourth section respecting certain hereditary distinctions conferred by foreign authorities during the Government of the Knights.

Appendix IV

Documents exhibited to the Commission of the Maltese Nobility relating to the Mariano Testaferrata Privilegium, of 20.12.1553

A certificate  of the aforesaid  Senate  of Messina  bearing   date  the  12th  July 1791, by which it was attested  “To whomsoever these presents shall be exhibited, whether in judicature or there out, whether in the kingdom of Sicily or elsewhere  that the  family Testaferrata of Malta,  from which Marquis  Errigo Testaferrata  dei Marchesi di  San  Vincenzo Ferreri, a nobleman of the Holy Roman Empire (the claimant’s father) descends,  is a  noble  and  patrician family of this city (and has been so)  since  the year 1553, in  virtue  of  a privilegium granted to Mariano Testaferrata  as appears from il Libro Diverso of the year 1553 .  .  .  .”

Commission on the Claims of the Maltese Nobility p.30:143

Another privilegium of the Senate of Messina, bearing date the 28th August 1792, stating, with reference to that of 1553, that Mariano Testaferrata had been elected into the “Senatorium Messinensium Ordinem inter que Nobiles Cives Mamertinos.”

Commission on the Claims of the Maltese Nobility p.48:235