Licenza is a lovely medieval hill town (475 meters above sea level; population ca. 1000) in the valley of the Licenza River, 7.8 kilometers from Vicovaro and about 50 km. from Rome. The comune of Licenza also includes the nearby hilltown of Civitella (725 meters above sea level). The ruins of the Villa of Horace are reached about 1.5 kilometers before the town (when one comes from Rome via Vicovaro) and are indicated by a large sign on the Via Licinese (State Highway 314).
In the town of Licenza itself is a small museum of the Villa finds, located in the Palace of the Orsini. The museum is open on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. or by appointment with the guard. To make an appointment, call the Licenza City Hall several hours in advance; tel. (0774) 46031. The town sits at the entrance to the Regional Natural Park of the Lucretili Mountains, which covers about 45,000 acres of protected forests, in which hiking is allowed. For tourist information, contact the Pro Loco of Licenza; tel. (0774) 46629.
The ancient history of the Licenza area begins when the Romans defeated the Aequi in the fifth through fourth centuries BC. Colonies were established at Alba Fucens (303 BC) and Carsioli (298 BC), enrolled in the tribus Aniensis. At the same time, the Via Valeria was constructed by M. Valerius Maximus, in either 307/306 or 289/286 BC. The Via Valeria was a service road for building the first aqueducts: the Anio Vetus (272-270 BC), flowing directly from the river between Vicovaro and S. Cosimato; the Aqua Marcia (144-140 BC), starting higher up the mountainside, on the Via Sublacense near Marano. In the fourth through third centuries BC, the population of the Anio valley was "paganic-vicanic" (i.e., settlements were in small pagi and vici). Such settlements were typical of the entire Sabine-Aequicolan-Marsic region, where small scattered villages (vici), generally situated along the roads, were united into larger zones (pagi) which formed administrative and territorial units. The economy was based on shepherding, hunting, and agriculture.
The arrival of Horace in the last decades of the first century BC represented a shift in the economy of the valley from small farms to a large estate that must have dominated the valley. When Horace died, he left his property to Augustus, so we can assume that his villa became an imperial property and remained so through late antiquity.
Between late antiquity and the high middle ages, little is known about the Licenza valley. Judging by the absence of documentation and remains, the valley was sparsely settled until the beginning of the tenth century. The few settlements that did exist were centered around churches, as is attested at nearby Civitella in the early thirteenth century. From the mid-tenth to twelfth centuries, the process of "incastellamento" (settlement on fortified hilltops) occurs, as was commonly the case in central Italy. The Crescenzi achieved control of the area on the west bank of the Licenza River. Their holdings were extensive, running from Palombara to the Licenza valley. By the early eleventh century, the valley had passed to the control of the abbey of Farfa when the Crescenzi donated their land to the church in 1011. The abbey fortified its new territory in the eleventh century. In the twelfth century, lay people started coming into possession of the land. The first and most notable were the Orsini, who, as a result of a financial crisis affecting the Papal States, were able to obtain concessions of land from Pope Celestine III (1191-98) at Vicovaro, Cantalupo, and Bardela. This provided the basis for Orsini power in the entire Licenza valley, as well as their control of nearby areas in the Sabina, Tivoli, and Abruzzi. The Orsini were masters of the Licenza valley in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The monastery of Farfa retained only the small property of Petra Demone. Another important family at the time of the rise of the Orsini were the Colonna, who controlled Riofreddo and portions of the east side of the Licenza valley. Boniface VII gave the Orsini Riofreddo and other Colonna properties, causing a conflict with the Colonna that lasted throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This accelerated the process of incastellamento, as peasants fled to fortified hilltowns for security. Sites such as Macla, Spogna, and Castel del Lago were gradually abandoned, and the population fell, a process dramatically accelerated by the Black Death of 1348, which reduced the entire population of Italy and much of Europe by one-half.
As for the medieval economy of the valley, in the Farfa period, viticulture was predominant; under the Orsini, production of hemp and linen became important. In the early seventeenth century, much of the Orsini property was sold to the Borghese, and the valley enjoyed peace and security for the first time in centuries. In the eighteenth century, the comune of Licenza began to assert itself over against its feudal overlords, and documents such as the catasto of 1777 and records of official visits record tensions between the town and the Borghese over land rights.