previous next


CRYPTA (κρύπτη parox., Ath. v. p. 205 a; διῶρυξ κρυπτή, Strab.; Ital. grotta), any long narrow vault, either dark or dimly lighted. It might be on the level of the ground, or sunk wholly or partially below it: the word did not necessarily imply, like “crypt” or “grotto,” anything subterranean.

It is used in the following specific senses:--

1. A tunnel, in the excavation of which, especially for draining purposes, the ancients had attained no mean skill [EMISSARIUM]. They were also used to shorten communications; and the neighbourhood of Naples contains no less than three well-preserved antique tunnels of this description, all probably dating from the time of Augustus. The best known of these is the grotto of Posilipo, called by the Romans Crypta Neapolitana, forming the direct communication between Naples and Pozzuoli. This is not quite half a mile in length, at present from twenty-five to thirty feet wide, and nowhere less than twenty feet high, in some places much higher. It has, however, been more than once enlarged in modern times: it was not made practicable for carriages until the fifteenth century, and only attained its present dimensions in the middle of the 18th century. It is not mentioned by Strabo, and may perhaps not have existed in his time; but in the next generation Seneca (Ep. 57) describes its darkness and dust [p. 1.569]in terms suitable to a coal mine. It was then doubtless a mere narrow passage. A second tunnel is pierced through the same ridge, but much nearer the sea, and close to the promontory now called Punta di Coroglio. It is about 500 feet longer than the Posilipo tunnel, and, though it has been cleared out in recent times, probably retains its original dimensions in width and height. This is easily identified as the tunnel described by Strabo (v. p.246), passable for carriages in opposite directions and with lateral openings for ventilation (θυρίδες) in the side of the mountain, and its present name of Grotta di Sejano is evidently a mistake. The third tunnel is that known as the Grotta della Pace, between Cumae and the Lake Avernus, nearly of the same length as the last mentioned, i. e. a little over half a mile, traversed by carriages, and lighted at intervals by vertical shafts. According to Strabo (v. p.245) it was excavated by Cocceius (probably M. Cocceius Nerva, Cos. B.C. 36), in connexion with Agrippa's artificial harbour on the Lucrine Lake.

2. A dark, vaulted passage in any building, e. g. under the cavea of an amphitheatre for the use of the spectators (see section of the Coliseum, p. 112); at the back of the scene of a theatre for the convenience of the performers, like the Crypta Balbi mentioned in the Regionary Catalogue (Reg. ix.) in connexion with the theatre of Balbus (Suet. Aug. 29; D. C. 54.25: cf. Burn, p. 313; Middleton, p. 299) ; or below the stage (proscenium), as in the theatre of Tauromenium (Taormina). A similar crypta, in the larger theatre at Pompeii, is recorded in several inscriptions (Saglio, 1.1576 a). Several such passages exist in the Palace of the Caesars on the Palatine; two of them are marked 19 and 31 on the latest plan (Middleton, Anc. Rome, p. 82); others are not yet cleared out (ib. p. 104). It was in one of these passages (probably the long straight one marked 31 on the plan) that Caligula was murdered ( “in crypta, per quam transeundum erat,” Suet. Cal. 58; ἐν στενωπῶ} τινί, D. C. 59.29; cf. J. AJ 19.1.14). This passage is almost wholly underground, and lighted by openings in the vaulted roof (Middleton, p. 114). Such places readily lent themselves to any secret worship, especially of a licentious character (Petron. Sat. 16.3 ; 17.8 ; ct. id. fragm. xiii.). By a slight extension of meaning, the branch of the Cloaca Maxima which drains the Subura is called crypta Suburae (Juv. 5.106).

3. A covered corridor above ground, dimly lighted for the sake of coolness in summer, such as was very commonly attached to the side of an open colonnade (portions) both in public and private buildings. Thus Hadrian among his military reforms demolished porticus and cryptas with other appliances of luxury in the Castra Praetoria (Spart. Hadr. 10). The more definite term cryptoporticus was, it is probable, correctly applied only to this species of crypta, not to those above described. Thus in Pliny's charming account of his Laurentine villa (Ep. 2.17) the xystus or open portico and the cryptoporticus are repeatedly contrasted (cf. 9.36.3). The latter has windows on both sides, but high up, and not too many of them, and is sheltered both from wind and sun. In the description of his Tuscan villa (Ep. 5.6) the significant expression occurs, “cryptoporticus subterraneae similis,” i. e. it is not really underground, but can be


darkened as though it were. One of these cryptoporticus has two tiers of windows; when recovering from an attack of lippitudo, he shuts the lower ones to spare his eyes (ib. 7.21). Sometimes they were lighted on one side only, as in the suburban villa of L. Arrius Diomedes at Pompeii, where there is a well-preserved cryptoporticus on one side of the court, and, on the other, the foundations both of the open and closed portico can be traced. In the interior of farm buildings such cryptae were used for the storing of grain and other produce (Vitr. 6.5.2; cf. Varro, R. R. 1.57).

The above ground-plan of the public building presented by the priestess Eumachia to the town of Pompeii will serve to illustrate both cryptoporticus and chalcidicum; for the inscription upon it, see CHALCIDICUM The crypta or covered passage AAA is lighted by numerous small windows opening into the porticus B B B, which in its turn surrounds the courtyard C.

4. Crypta seems to have been used in Christian times for a catacomb or subterranean cemetery: see Dict. of Chr. Ant. s. v. (Rich, s.v. Burn, Rome and the Campagna, p. 313; Middleton, Anc. Rome in 1885, pp. 104, 114, 299.)

[A.R] [W.W]

hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 19.1.14
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 29
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 58
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 6.5.2
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: