The Celts, who occupied these lands several centuries previously and arrived – as recent studies demonstrate – from the east, perhaps from Turkey, probably began to appreciate and grow vines. The wines of Friuli can certainly boast more than two thousand years of documented history, since 180 BC, when the Romans (as narrated by Titus Livius in his history of Rome) established the first colony in the countryside around Aquileia. A century later, in 53 BC, Julius Caesar founded the Forum Julii (the former name of Cividale, after which it is called Friuli): his legionaries, who had become peaceful settlers, started to develop viticulture on the sunny slopes of the Colli Orientali (eastern hills).
Over the following centuries, viticulture significantly spread to all the hills around Cividale del Friuli but, like any other economic activity, it saw hard times in the Middle Ages, largely due to the turbulent political events of these lands with perpetual frontiers. Some documents also show the importance and presence of wine in those “dark centuries”: the Pactum donationis of 762 (the period of Lombard rule) documents the commitment of “free farmers” to give one hundred amphorae of wine every year to the nuns at the monastery in Salt di Povoletto. At the end of the Middle Ages, the wine of Friuli (no longer in amphorae but in wood barrels) was transported to countries in northern Europe.
In the early centuries of the second millennium, to give new impetus to agriculture weakened by barbarian invasions, the Patriarchs of Aquileia relied on Benedictine monks. Of the many monasteries in that period, the Abbey of Rosazzo played a leading role, and specialised crops – vines and olive tree in particular – regained their important position in the local economy.
After the Romans, the Lombards and the Patriarchal State, eastern Friuli came under the rule of the Serenissima Republic of Venice, followed by the Napoleonic Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire before being re-united, in 1870, with the Kingdom of Italy. But from Julius Caesar to the present day, throughout twenty centuries of history, the cultivation vines and the production of world-famous wines represent a heritage of tradition, which has deep roots in the winemaking vocation of the Colli Orientali of Friuli. This tradition allowed producers in the 20th century to start a new prosperous period of expansion.