Omnium non modo Italiae, sed toto orbe terrarum pulcherrima Campaniae plaga est. Nihil mollius caelo: denique bis floribus vernat. Nihil uberius solo: ideo Liberi Cererisque certamen dicitur. Nihil hospitalius mari: hic illi nobiles portus Caieta, Misenus, tepentes fontibus Baiae, Lucrinus et Avernus, quaedam maris otia. Hic amicti vitibus montes Gaurus, Falernus, Massicus et pulcherrimus omnium Vesuvius, Aetnaei ignis imitator. Urbes ad mare Formiae, Cumae, Puteoli, Neapolis, Herculaneum, Pompei, et ipsa caput urbium Capua, quondam inter tres maximas numerata.
Lucius Annaeus Florus - Epitomae de Tito Livio Bellorum Omnium - I:16
The district of Campania is the fairest of all regions, not only in Italy, but in the whole world. Nothing can be softer than its climate: indeed it has spring and its flowers twice a year. Nowhere is the soil more fertile; for which reason it is said to have been an object of contention between Liber and Ceres. Nowhere is the coast more hospitable, which contains the famous harbours of Caieta, Misenus, Baiae with its hot springs, and the Lucrine and Avernian Lakes where the sea seems to enjoy perpetual repose. Here are the vine-clad mountains of Gaurus, Falernus and Massicus, and Vesuvius, the fairest of them all, which rivals the fires of Etna. Towards the sea-coast lie the cities of Formiae, Cumae, Puteoli, Naples, Herculaneum and Pompeii, and Capua, queen among cities, formerly accounted among the three greatest in the world.
The Epitome of Roman History by Florus published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1929
Think what a capacity of nutriment lies in the fish-abounding sea, of whose products the people in these parts are required to eat so many days a week, what an abundance of fruit and garden growths of all kinds are to be had at all seasons of the year, how the country in which Naples is situated goes by the name of Terra di Lavoro (the land, not of labour, but of agriculture), and how for centuries the whole province has been distinguished as the "happy land" (Campania Felix), and you will readily comprehend what an easy life is here to be enjoyed.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Italian Journey - May 1787 - translation by Charles Nisbet
Museum of Campania at Capua: Hall of Mater Matuta with statues from the VIth century BC onwards
The plain that reaches from the bridge of Capua
to the foot of the Falernian hills, is, if possible,
richer than that which lies south of the river; I never saw
any land that can be compared to it for beauty and luxuriance of productions. (..) Thick waving
crops of corn cover all the flat, except where some spreading single trees shade small patches of pasture; the sea
appears over the corn, and on every other side a border
of mountains at different degrees of distance encircles the
Various are the encomiums lavished in all ages on this
happy tract of cultivation by every author, that has had
occasion to mention it. The repeated crops which it produced in the course of each year, without being exhausted;
the fruit, with which its orchards were loaded, superior in flavour to all others; the wine that flowed from the vineyards of the surrounding hills, and the exquisite perfumes
and ointments, capital appendages of ancient luxury,
extracted from its innumerable beds of fragrant flowers,
were subjects on which historians and poets expatiated with
Henry Swinburne - Travels in the Two Sicilies. 1777-1780
In 1845 chance excavations near ancient Capua led to the discovery of a shrine to a goddess of fecundity where a very high number of votive statues were found. The symbolism of the statues, which are carved in a volcanic rock, is not limited to human childbirth, but it encompasses the fertility of the soil.
The votive statues are almost identical, the only variation being the number of babies (from one to twelve) held by the goddess. Small inscriptions were written in the language of the Osci, an ancient Italian tribe living on the Apennines. The goddess has been associated to Mater Matuta (Mother of Morning) whom the Romans worshipped in a temple near Foro Boario. Similar, but more elaborate votive statues were made by the Etruscans (you may wish to see also a statue of Nutrix, another goddess of fecundity, at ancient Neapolis in today's Tunisia).
Museum of Campania at Capua: votive terracotta statues: (left) young woman wearing a "polos", a sort of crown (Vth century BC); (centre) young woman offering a pomegranate, a symbol of fecundity (and immortality) (IVth century BC); (right) one of the Dioscuri (IIIrd century BC)
Capua was a settlement of the Osci known before the foundation of Rome; as the amazing fertility of the land and a lucrative commerce poured immense wealth upon its inhabitants, it became one of the most extensive and magnificent cities in the world. With riches excessive luxury crept in, and the Capuans grew insolent; but by their effeminacy they soon lost the power of repelling those neighbouring nations, which their insolence had exasperated. For this reason Capua was continually exposed to the necessity of calling in foreign aid, and endangering its safety by the uncommon temptations it offered to needy auxiliaries. Swinburne
The riches of Campania Felix attracted the attention of the Etruscans who controlled the Italian peninsula north of Rome. They possessed advanced metalworking techniques and many of the bronze exhibits at the archaeological museums of Capua and S. Maria Capua Vetere are either Etruscans or show Etruscan influence (see Chimera and the She-wolf of Rome, two very famous Etruscan bronze statues).
Bronze was a very expensive material and the Etruscans managed to produce a pottery which resembled bronze. These black vases (see those in Cerveteri) were given a glossy appearance by a particular method of firing. According to historians the Etruscans of Capua exercised a supremacy over the population belonging to Italian tribes.
Museum of Campania at Capua: IVth century BC vases: (left) Abduction of Orithyia by Boreas, the north wind; (right) Punishment of Ixion by Zeus who ordered Hermes to bind Ixion to a winged wheel that was always spinning, because he had twice violated the Greek hospitality rules (more on Ixion)
The Etruscans were not alone in being interested in Capua and the surrounding district. The Greeks had established colonies along the coast of Campania at Cumae, Naples and Paestum and their trade expansion inland was accompanied by a cultural one. The local deities were associated to the Greek ones. Greek funerary vases portraying mythological episodes were much sought after; eventually they were made by local artisans who used other colours in addition to black, red and white. Some of the episodes depicted on the vases are not among the best known ones, which shows the level of penetration of the Greek culture.
Boreas unfurled his wings, by whose beating the whole world is stirred, and made the wide ocean tremble. Trailing his cloak of dust over the mountain summits, he swept the land, and, shrouded in darkness, the lover embraced his Orythia, with his dusky wings, as she shivered with fear. As he flew, his own flames of passion were fanned, and burned fiercer.
Ovid - Metamorphoses - Book 6 - translation by A. S. Kline
Terracotta "antefix", decorations of roofs (Vth century BC): (left) Archaeological Museum of Ancient Capua at S. Maria Capua Vetere with a head of Gorgon; (right) Museum of Campania at Capua
The rivalry between Etruscans and Greeks in Campania ended in open warfare in 524 BC. In 474 BC the Greeks, with the support of a fleet sent by Hiero, tyrant of Syracuse defeated the Etruscans and checked their expansion southwards in the Italian peninsula. The Greeks however were divided by internal conflicts and were unable to effectively control the rich territories near their coastal settlements.
(left) Decorated interior of a reconstructed Samnite tomb near the Amphitheatre of Capua; (right) Archaeological Museum of Ancient Capua at S. Maria Capua Vetere: IVth century BC tomb. The image used as background for this page shows another painting from a tomb at the Museum of Campania at Capua
Two emerging powers set their eyes on the rich towns of Campania: Rome and the Samnites. The latter controlled the southern Apennines and in particular Maleventum (Benevento), an inland town not far from Capua. The citizens of the latter sought the protection of Rome; they were given Roman citizenship, but without the right of electing magistrates and officers (civitas sine suffragio). In 290 BC, at the end of three wars, the Samnites had to accept the hegemony of Rome in southern Italy.
Museo Archeologico di Cassino - from the Samnite necropolis of Omini Morti (Dead Men) at S. Biagio Saracinesco on the mountains east of Cassino (Vth-IVth century BC): (left) bronze belt; (right) swords, sheathes and tip of a javelin
The belt was the symbol that a boy had reached manhood and its size and decoration were evidence of wealth and rank; the inside of the belt was of leather. A belt was often the prize given to the winner of an athletic game. The Samnites fought with long swords and short javelins. For their bravery and skill "Samnite" was a synonym of gladiator for the Romans.
Via Appia at "Minturnae"
Here stood the city of Minturnae, one of the stations on the Appian Way and rendered interesting to us even though in ruins by the local history and classical anecdotes connected with it. In traversing a country like Italy the tourist should not only see, but also reflect and the mind should have its enjoyment as well as the eye. The pleasure derived from travelling in this classical country is very considerably enhanced by the recollection of those events that transpired on such or such a spot and which have been thought worthy of record in the annals of history.
Sir Richard Colt Hoare - A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily - Journey from Rome to Beneventum on the Appian Way in 1789 - 1819
In 312 BC the Romans began the construction of Via Appia, a military road to Capua. Eventually it became known as Regina Viarum (Queen of the Roads) because it reached Brundisium (Brindisi), a port on the "heel" of the Italian peninsula which was the gateway to the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. The Romans chose to build the road along the Tyrrhenian Sea where the Samnites could not ambush them. South of Minturnae it turned inland towards Capua.
During the second half of the XVIIIth century many foreign travellers reached Naples from Rome by following the route of ancient Via Appia so that we have many accounts of the status of the road and of the towns it crossed at that time.
Museum of Campania at Capua: dishes for fish with a central cavity for a sauce (IVth century BC); they might have been used by the Carthaginians during their stay at Capua in 215 BC (see a similar dish which was found in Kerkouane, a Carthaginian town in Tunisia)
Through well-founded jealousy of the ambition of Rome, or as Livy, and other partial writers term it, natural inconstancy, the Capuans warmly espoused the quarrel of Carthage: Hannibal made Capua his winter quarters after the campaign of Cannae, and there, if we are to believe historians, his rough and hitherto invincible soldiers were metamorphosed by pleasure and indolence into soft minions, never after fit to cope with the Romans in the field. (..) There is much rhetorical misrepresentation and hyperbole in the accounts given us by Roman historians, and indeed I suspect their whole history from a dearth of records and chronicles to be strangely interwoven with fiction. When through a failure of supplies from Carthage Hannibal was under a necessity of (..) leaving the Capuans to defend themselves, this city, which had been long invested, was surrendered at discretion to the consuls Appius Claudius and Q. Fulvius Flaccus. The senators were put to death, the nobles imprisoned for life, and all the citizens sold and dispersed. (..) The buildings were spared by the victor, and Capua was left to be merely a harbour for the husbandmen of the plain, a warehouse for goods, and a granary for corn; but so advantageous a situation could not long be neglected; colonies were sent to inhabit it, and in process of time it regained a degree of importance. Swinburne
I walked across the
isthmus, between Cape Procida and the Baian hills, under a
continued canopy of vines; (..) at the extremity rises the solitary promontory of Miseno; the ruins of a city of that name
are scattered at its foot, and the remains of a theatre are
very apparent. (..) When the second triumvirate perceived that their
usurped power could never acquire consistency without
the command at sea, they set about creating a maritime
force; Classis above Ravenna was appointed to be the
station of the fleet that was to overawe the Adriatic, while
an arsenal and rendezvous were established at Misenum
for the defence of the Mediterranean; in the infancy
of their project the navy of Octavianus Caesar was
almost annihilated off this very cape by the fleet of Sextus
Pompeius, a misfortune that served only to urge the cool
persevering genius of the triumvir to redouble his activity in the pursuit of so great an object: he converted the natural cavities of Misenus into magazines, and by means
of new roads opened a communication with the circumjacent country; wholesome waters, which were not to be
found on the spot, were collected at various distances, and
brought upon aqueducts into immense reservoirs. (..)
The channel, where the fleet of Agrippa moored, has
now but one crazy cobble. Swinburne
In 79 AD Pliny the Elder was the admiral of the Roman fleet of Cape Miseno; he died in trying to help the inhabitants of the coastal towns which were impacted by the eruption of Vesuvius.
Archaeological Museum of Formia: statues found at Formia or in the many villas which surrounded it: (left) young satyr holding a pomegranate; (centre) Mars; (right) Leda and the Swan
Eventually the scars left by the Second Punic War healed and Capua became one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire. Many wealthy Romans, including Cicero and Emperors Augustus and Hadrian chose Campania Felix as their winter residence and built there villas by its coastline (see the villa of Emperor Tiberius near Gaeta and that of Empress Poppaea near Pompeii).
The wealthy of Campania Felix in Roman times is testified to by the many ancient columns and capitals which were employed in the construction of the medieval cathedrals of Gaeta, S. Maria Capua Vetere and New Capua.
Amphitheatre of Capua
Other Monuments of Roman Capua
Ancient Capua at New Capua
Grand Tour Travellers' Formia
Formia - Other Monuments
Grand Tour Travellers' Gaeta
Gaeta - Churches