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NEAPOLIS (Naples) Campania, Italy.

On the W coast of Italy some 241 km SE of Rome, the city stands overlooking the Tyrrhenian sea in the N part of the Gulf of Naples. To the E lies the silhouette of Mt. Vesuvius, and to the W stretches a fertile area known to the ancients as the Phlegraean Fields because of the mineral springs, sulphur mines, and small craters it contains. To the SW is the Posillipo (the ancient Mons Pausilypos), a large hill which ends in a promontory and separates the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Pozzuoli.

Neapolis was founded ca. 650 B.C. from Cumae. Ancient tradition records that it had originally been named after the siren Parthenope, who had been washed ashore on the site after failing to capture Odysseus (Sil. Pun. 12.33-36). The early city, which was called Palae(o)polis, developed in the SW along the modern harbor area and included Pizzofalcone and Megaris (the Castel dell'Ovo), a small island in the harbor. Megaris itself may have been the site of a still older Rhodian trading colony (Strab. 14.2.10). Owing to the influx of Campanian immigrants, the town began to develop to the NE along a Hippodamian grid plan. This new extension was called Neapolis, while Palae(o)polis became a suburb. Incited to a war with Rome by the Greek elements, the city was captured in 326 B.C. by the proconsul Quintus Publilius Philo (Liv. 8.22.9), and the suburb ceased to exist. Neapolis then became a favored ally of the Romans; it repulsed Pyrrhos, contributed naval support during the First Punic War, and withstood the attacks of Hannibal. Even though it suffered the loss of its fleet and a massacre of its inhabitants in 82 B.C. during the Civil War (App. BCiv. 1.89), it became a flourishing municipium and enjoyed the favors of the Julio-Claudian emperors. Subsequently it was damaged by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

Remains of both the Greek and the Roman cities are scarce since the modern town has been built on top. Stretches of the Greek city walls have been found in various locations, and it has been possible to reconstruct the entire ring of fortifications. In the N the walls stretch from S. Maria di Constantinopoli to SS. Apostoli. Some blocks were found when the Ospedale degli Incurabili at the Piazza Cavour was demolished. On the E they run along the course of the Via Carbonara, by the Castel Capuano, and down the Via Maddalena to the church of S. Agostino alla Zecca. In the area of the former convent of the Maddalena have come to light the remains of a tower measuring 10.8 m on each face with traces of rebuilding associated with the siege by Belisarius in A.D. 536. In the S they go from S. Agostino, by the University, and finally reach S. Maria la Nuova. Under the Corso Umberto I, in the stretch between the Via Seggio del Popolo and the Via Pietro Colletta, large portions have appeared, dating from the 5th c. B.C. to the Hellenistic period. On the W side, sections were uncovered at the Piazza Bellini. Outside the ring of fortifications, in the vicinity of the Via S. Giacomo, a wall, constructed in blocks of tufa, has been discovered. It dates to the 6th c. B.C. and probably belongs to the older city of Palae(o)polis.

It is also possible to reconstruct some of the street system of Neapolis, since it is likely that many modern streets run over their ancient counterparts. Three main E x W decumani can be distinguished: the Via S. Biagio dei Librai, the Via Tribunali, and the Via Anticaglia. These were crossed at right angles by about 20 narrower N x S cardines having an average width of 4 m and forming some 100 house blocks. A stretch of one of these cardines has been located under the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore. In the Via del Duomo have been found the foundations of a small sacred edifice dating to the 5th c. B.C. and rebuilt completely in the 1st c. of our era. Parts of Greek houses have been uncovered on the Via del Duomo and on the Via Nib in the W part of the town. Graves of the Greek period are scattered throughout the city. In the region of Pizzofalcone on the Via Nicotera, part of a necropolis, belonging to the original city of Palae(o)polis, has come to light with pottery dating from the 7th and 6th c. B.C. A second early cemetery lay in the spot now occupied by the Piazza Capuana.

Evidence for the Roman buildings of Neapolis is more abundant. The church of S. Paolo Maggiore contains building materials from an earlier temple, identified by means of an inscription as sacred to the Dioscuri and of the time of Tiberius, but standing on the site of an older sanctuary. The temple itself was Corinthian hexastyle. Its front faced S and looked over the decumanus maximus (Via Tribunali). On the Via Anticaglia, between the Via S. Paolo and the Vico Giganti, are the remains of a theater, dating to the early empire. The cavea faces S towards the harbor and has a diameter of some 102 m. Beneath the level of the Early Christian basilica under San Lorenzo Maggiore have been uncovered the foundations of a large public building of the 1st c. A.D., perhaps the aerarium of the city. In various locations there are remnants of baths. Roman houses appear at the NE end of the Corso Umberto I, near the section of wall found there, and in the Via del Duomo. The cryptoporticus of a villa belonging to the 1st c. A.D. has emerged in the vicinity of the Via S. Giacomo. The Castel dell'Ovo can be identified with the site of Lucullus' villa and famous fish ponds (Plin. HN 9.170).

The most direct route from Neapolis to Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) was along a coast road named the Via Puteolana. This road passed through the Posillipo hills by means of a tunnel, the Crypta Neapolitana, located in the region of Mergellina. The crypta, built by Augustus' architect Cocceius but many times restored and remodeled, now measures 700 m in length. A second ancient tunnel, now called the Grotta di Seiano, was built at the extreme tip of the Posillipo promontory. It led from the villa of Vedius Pollio (later given to Augustus) to the Puteoli road and is a little larger than the crypta. On the Posillipo itself are the remains of a small Augustan odeum once connected with a private villa, perhaps Pollio's. Near the entrance to the crypta is a sepulcher identified by some as the tomb of Virgil, which according to Donatus (Vita Virg. 36) was located before the second milestone on the Via Puteolana. Others argue that the present tomb is too far away and that the second milestone, calculated from the Porta Puteolana, would lie on the modern Riviera di Chiaia; furthermore, they assert that the present tomb resembles a family columbarium rather than a poet's sepulcher. The grave, belonging to the Augustan period, is in the form of a columbarium, built in the opus caementicium technique. It is circular and stands on a square podium; inside are ten niches (loculi) for cinerary urns.

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples off the Piazza Cavour is one of the finest in Italy and contains extensive collections of mosaics, paintings, and sculpture.


J. Beloch, Campanien (1890)M; F. von Duhn, “Der Dioskurentempel in Neapel,” SBHeidelberg Phil-Hist. Kl. (1910) 3-20; H. Philipp, “Neapolis,” RE 16 (1933) 2112-22; H. Achelis, Die Katakomben von Neapel (1936)I; J. Bérard, Bibliographie topographique des principales cités grecques de l'Italie méridionale et de la Sicile dans l'antiquité (1941) 71; M. Napoli, Napoli greco-romana (1959)PI; W. Johannowsky, Problemi archeologici napoletani (1960)PI; A. G. McKay, Naples and Campania (1962) 109-20; M. Napoli & A. Maiuri, “Napoli,” EAA 5 (1963) 332-40PI; M. Guido, Southern Italy: an Archaeological Guide (1972) 48-63MP.


hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Strabo, Geography, 14.2.10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 22
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