5 The  Camillo Story

The Name Camillo

The island of Samothrace is an outer island, in the north- eastern sea of Greece, close to the Turkish Gallipoli peninsular and has been traditionally considered to be “a sanctuary of the Gods”. 

Here King Philip of Macedonia met and fell in love with his wife Olympias of Epirus, who was to be the mother of Alexander the Great. The legend that Dardanos, the legendary founder of Troy, had come from Samothrace and that his descendant, Aeneas, had brought the cult to Rome, gave Samothrace a particular interest to the Romans. In fact even the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, visited Samothrace.

Greek mythology tells that the mistress of Samothrace is Elektra, the daughter of Atlas; after mating with Zeus she gave birth to Dardanos, Aetion, and Harmonia. The latter celebrated on the island her wedding to Kadmos.

This Kadmos, Cadmus, or Cadmilus, was the Son of Agenor, king of Phoenicia, and brother of Europa, husband of Harmonia, and father of Semele. He was the legendary founder of Thebes and the one who slew the dragon, planted its teeth, and built the city with the help of some of the soldiers that sprang from the teeth. He and his wife were finally turned into serpents by the gods.

Cadmilus is said to have introduced into Greece an alphabet, possibly based upon 16 characters derived from Phoenicia, as the Phoenecians were the first inventors of the alphabet as we know it.  He belongs to the class of heroes, who succeeded the reigns of the gods and demigods on earth and who were parents and instructors of mortals. His name is surely at the origin of the name Camillo.

A very strong confirmation of the "Camillo" origin in Samothraki is the very common surname "Kamil" in the nearby Istanbul and generally throughout Turkey.

Today in Italy, the name "Camillo" is generally a first name, while surnamed Camillos are not at all common and those few, are mainly from the Veneto region. There is also a sizeable branch in the Lazio region (Rome), which most likely is related, in the distant past to Camillos of the Veneto branch.

The most ancient Roman reference to "camillo" stems from the Latin ritual of designating young Roman boys to assist the high priests during sacrifices. The religious connection with the Greek mythological character Cadmilus, is significant. These camillos were required to be of pre-pubescent age, of free birth, that is, not of slaves, and with both parents still alive. They dressed in short tunics, with long sleeves and carried the sacred vessels containing incense. A bronze statue of a camillus can be seen in the Palazzo dei Conservatori at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

Camillus - in Palatine Museum - Click to enlarge  The bronze statue of a "camillus" in the Capitoline museum of Rome

It was certainly one of these boys, who slowly became known to everybody, by the name of his profession, just like the Smiths, the Bakers, etc. So that it was this first Mr. Camillo who founded a dynasty of Camillos that thrives even today.

The first recorded Camillo family was that of Marco Furio Camillo and son, Lucio Furio, Roman dictators dating from 403 B.C.

Several times Consul, Marco Furio Camillo distinguished himself as a conqueror, greatly expanding Roman territory, with the conquest of Veio. Rome was later conquered by the Gauls during his exile and when he returned, he annulled the surrender treaty with the famous words: "The homeland is saved with iron, not with gold." and hence expelled the Gauls by force. He was subsequently to be known as the Second Founder of Rome. Today in Rome there is a subway station named Furio Camillo in his honour. His son, Lucio Furio, was a no lesser figure in Roman history than his father was.

There is no direct evidence however, that there is any hereditary link with the present day Camillos. However, the fact that branches of Camillos have existed in the Lazio region and in the Abruzzo region, close to Rome, does suggest that the origin of the family may have in fact come from ancient Rome itself.

There has been a very important branch of the Camillo family in the Ligurian region: “this illustrious and noble family that from the XII century, had played a primary role in the political life of the Ligurian Republic”.

A colourful character worth mentioning was Franceschino da Camilla, who built up a considerable wealth trading with Constantinople. It is noted that in 1246 he rented two ships to King Louis IX of France for use in the crusades. He acquired fame by managing to sign a treaty in 1267 with the sultan of Constantinople, obtaining important privileges for Genoa.

On the 2nd of July 1270 a private expedition of 10,000 crusaders left Genova, via Cagliary in Sardinia, to do “Christian justice” in Northern Africa. They arrived in Tunisia and besieged the city of Carthage. The governors back home in Genoa, worried that these belligerent acts would damage their commercial relations with the Arab princedoms, nominated Franceschino da Camilla leader of all the Genoans in Africa, entrusting him “to govern them with justice”, that is, to tactfully make peace, saving face for the crusaders and reopen business relations with the Arabs. He set sail for Tunisia and arrived on the 7th of September and quickly reassured the sultan of Genoa’s peaceful intentions, ratifying the previous treaty.

All military operations were concluded by the 30th October and the deal was actually signed and sealed “on the 18th of November, on the beach of Tunisia, in the locality of Carthage, under the tent of the King...”, as wrote the notary brought over for the occasion. The sultan had to pay an indemnity and grant favourable conditions for the reopening of Tunisia to Genoan merchants. In return Genoa promised not to partake any more in armed raids of Tunisia.

On the return trip Camilla’s fleet made a call at Trapani, where it was caught by a violent storm, whereby 18 ships sank, with 4,000 victims.

In 1282 Camilla was nominated commander of a small contingent of troops, 200 horsemen, 300 lancers and 200 archers, to pacify southern Corsica. A feudal land-lord, Sinucello della Rocca, had rebelled and ran amok with his men, robbing and ravishing the countryside. Camilla set foot in Bonifacio, the southernmost port in front of Sardinia, and rode north, routing the rebels, while his ships followed him along the coast. After numerous skirmishes, he managed to re-conquer the various fortifications held by the rebels, while Sinucello fled to the mainland.

Eighty years later, Gentile Camilla, a distant relation of our previous hero, continued the family tradition of community leadership. Gentile was essentially a wise administrator and a very equilibrated person, “the typical example of the solid aristocracy that supported the Republic and ensured its continuation”.

In 1466 he was nominated consul of the Genoan colony Kafa (now Feodosija) on the Black Sea and had to travel overland for four months to get there, as the Turkish pirates made travel by sea very dangerous. He successfully governed there for two years, overcoming many difficulties. Afterwards he had several posts as commissioner, in Corsica, Massa and lastly in Lerici in 1484, to follow the war with Florence in Sarzana. In 1492 he was back in Corsica as governor.

There was also a Tuscan group of Camillos, some of whom emerged enough to be remembered in Italian history. There was a famous sculptor, born in Florence in 1530, Francesco Camilliani, also known as della Camilla, who was related to the Gucci family. His most renowned piece of sculpture was a monumental fountain, that ended up in Palermo, Sicily, in piazza Pretoria. His son Camillo Camilliani, became an important architect, who took up residence in Sicily in 1574, having been put in charge of the Royal restoration office. He followed many important commissions all over Sicily, including the renewal of the very fountain sculptured by his father and many castles, fortresses, towers, churches etc.  

An ancient presence of Camillos has been found in Spain, at the church Nuestra Senora de la Antica in Dalladalio, where the christening of Juan Camillo Angeli, son of Giovanni Camillo and Maddalena degli Angeli was registered on the 9th March 1579. Furthermore, the christening of Catalina Campo Camillo, daughter of Giovanni Campo and Catalina Camillo, was registered at San Michele, on 21st May 1671.

A certain Camillo Camilli, born either in Siena or Monte San Savino, became famous in his own time for his poems and operas, which were published in Venice from 1583 to 1607. In his later life, he lived in Ragusa in Sicily, where he died in 1615.

The Abruzzo branch has a recorded history going back to the 13th century, when the family there was called "Camilli", which is the plural of "Camillo" and is an understandable change. The family had some illustrious forebears, learned in the law, who were ambassadors to the court of Naples. At the beginning of the 15th century, the family from Aquila acquired a noble title, but from the second half of the century, further traces are lost.

It is only in 1753 that we pick up the traces again, with the birth in Beffi di Acciano, near L’Acquila, of Francesco Saverio Camilli, “of a borghese, land-owning family, relatively well-off”. He received a classical education, typical of intellectual families of the time and became dean of Greek and Latin at the Royal College of Aquila. He travelled frequently to the capital, which was then Naples, under French dominion and became politically involved in resolving the basic economic problems deriving from a monstrously rich Borbone capital, compared to the extremely poor country provinces. He battled tenaciously for the construction of roads in the country and complained of all the money wasted by the French governors on useless luxuries in the capital. His writings were forerunners to the future political policies of government spending in the poor south, the so-called “mezzogiorno”.

A certain Marcello Staglieno Camilla, distinguished himself as Bishop of the city of Turin from 1300 to 1319.

In the Dizionario Storico Blasonico of noble Italian families, there is mention of a Camilla family, originating in the Lazio area and at times having lived in Rome itself. The author, G.B.Crollalanza, carefully describes the coat-of-arms, with the crown formed of eight large pearls, only five being visible, mounted on a golden circle. This presence in Rome further strengthens the evidence of a direct Ancient Roman origin of all present day Camillos.

Today in the city of Rome, there are 70 Camillo families and also a large number of families with variables of the name Camillo, such as Camilli, Camilletti, Camillini, Camilloni, Camilleri, Camillucci etc. These names most certainly derived from the original Camillo and represent in fact common variations:  in Italy the endings “..etti”, “..ini” are usually diminutives, indicating “small Camillos”; the endings “..oni”, “..otti”: “big Camillos”; “..ucci”: “cute Camillos”; “..acci”: “nasty Camillos” etc. 
Counting all of the names, plus those with different still variations, with two “ms” or with only one “l”, the total number of Camillo families in Rome rises to fully 667. Such a large concentration of Camillos in Rome, does tend to suggest that the family may in fact have originated in ancient Rome, as we have contemplated above.  

Click here for map of distribution of Camillo's in Italy

The Camillos have migrated far and wide: there are 57 in France, 7 in Germany, 25 in Canada and 376 in the USA and there is of course a solid base in Australia as we shall see later.

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