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CAPUA (S. Maria Capua Vetere) Campania, Italy.

A settlement that showed Villanovan characteristics toward the middle of the 9th c. B.C. The funerary furnishings have comparisons in the area of Etruria from Tarquinia to Bisentium. Capua became an Etruscan city during the 7th c. B.C., a period well documented by funerary paraphernalia that confirm the date of the traditional founding (Vell. Pat. 1.7.2). From this time, Capua had a prominent role in the history of ancient Italy, often in competition with Rome, and it maintained its position until the final years of the Empire.

The Etruscan city was conquered by the Samnites about the middle of the 5th c B C- ca 338 B.C. it entered into the sphere of Roman political interests. After the battle of Cannae (216 B.C.), it surrendered to Hannibal and became the center of the Carthaginian struggle against Rome. In 211 it was recaptured by the Romans and severely punished. In 83 it became a colony and regained citizenship in 58, returning to its former prosperity and maintaining it in the centuries that followed. In the 4th c. A.D., Ausonius Magnus numbered it among the great cities of the Empire, remarking that at one time it had been a second Rome (Ordo nob. urb. 8). In late antiquity the city was devastated and almost depopulated until, nearly destroyed by the Saracens in 840, the inhabitants abandoned it and migrated to Casilinum (Capua).

The city spreads out on a plain, as do many other Campanian centers (Atella, Acerra, Nola, Calatia). Its perimeter in the Samnite and Roman periods may be reconstructed from various elements (the necropolis and the line of the Via Appia) but without complete certainty.

We know from the literary sources the names of the two principal areas of the city, Albana and Seplasia, as well as the names of gates and of temples. The E gate on the Via Appia has been recognized in recent excavations. On the W side of the city, remains of a limestone gate decorated with a Doric frieze have recently been discovered. The most noteworthy of the monuments which remain are: the amphitheater, built in the 2d c. A.D. and rivaling the Colosseum at Rome in grandeur and importance; the theater, of which the few ruins remaining date to at least the 2d c. B.C.; baths, with a cryptoporticus, which were incorporated in the modern jail; the Mithreum of the 2d-3d c. A.D. decorated with panels depicting the rites of initiation; an honorary arch with three brick vaults on the Via Appia in the direction of Capua Nuova; and two monumental tombs, the so-called Conocchia and Carceri Vecchie, on the Via Appia in the direction of Caserta. Excavation has often brought to light ruins of private homes, tombs, bath complexes, and suburban villas of the Samnite and Roman periods. Although the state of these ruins shows the profound upheaval and massive destruction which the city suffered after it was abandoned, it is possible from the various interesting discoveries to draw certain conclusions about the type of private buildings and their decoration and to make useful comparisons with other Campanian cities (Herculaneum, Pompeii, etc.) and with Ostia.

The inscriptions that the magistri Campani set up to commemorate the public works carried out by them are additional evidence toward a knowledge of the building development in the 2d and the 1st c. B.C. In the immediate suburb (the Patturelli area), a sanctuary was uncovered which dates at least to the middle of the 4th c. B.C. and has provided numerous architectural terracottas, Oscan inscriptions, and tufa statues—the so-called mothers. Another large sanctuary connected with the city was that of Diana on Mt. Tifata. Recent studies have identified the remaining sections of the sanctuary, today part of the Basilica di Sant'Angelo in Formis.

Tombs dating to various periods have been uncovered in the necropolis outside the inhabited area. For the first centuries of the city, the necropolis to the W of the amphitheater (in the Fornaci area) is noteworthy and excavations are still in progress. Among evidence for the Christian period are a cemetery (in the Sant'Agostino area) and a large basilical complex, probably of the Constantine period.

From various discoveries it is known that in the archaic and Classical periods Capua imported articles of Etruscan and Hellenic manufacture, but it was also an active center of production and developed its own art. Its bronzes were celebrated in antiquity and its bronze vases were produced during a long period dating at least from the 6th c. B.C. The production of architectural terracottas and vases is also local and extends from the 7th c. B.C. (Campanian bucchero) until the Roman period (black glaze ware with stamped decorations). Our knowledge of Samnite painting has been enlarged through the tomb paintings.

A local style may be discerned in the characteristic tufa sculptures of the Patturelli sanctuary as well as in the funeral stelai of the Roman period, some of which have been preserved in the local antiquarium and in the Museo Campano. Although taking its impetus from Hellenic mastery (specifically in bronze vases and in architectural terracottas), artistic skill seems to have developed along naturalistic lines (lively notations, hints of color schemes, a sense of volume) which brought it rather close to Etrurian and then to Roman art.

The discoveries made in the area have been preserved in various museums of Italy and of other countries. The major portion may be found in the Museo Campano, whose holdings include architectural terracottas, votive pottery, votive tufa sculptures, materials coming primarily from the Patturelli sanctuary, in addition to funeral stelai, inscriptions, Greek and local ceramic ware, decorative elements of the amphitheater, sculptures and mosaics of the Roman period, and coins.


J. Beloch, Campanien (1890) 205ff; C. Hülsen, RE III, 1555ff; J. Heurgon, Recherches sur l'histoire, la religion et la civilisation de Capoue préromaine (1970); EAA 2 (1959) 335-36 (A. de Franciscis); J. Vermaseren, Mithriaca I, The Mithraeum at St. Maria Capua Vetere (1971); A. de Franciscis, Templum Dianae Tifatinae (1956).


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