previous next


BRUNDI´SIUM or BRUNDU´SIUM1 (Βρεντέσιον: Eth. Βρεντεσῖνος, Brundusinus or Brundisinus: Brindisi), one of the most important cities of Calabria, situated on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, 50 miles from Hydruntum, and 38 from Egnatia. It was distant from Tarentum 44 miles; but the direct distance across the peninsula to the nearest point of the Gulph of Tarentum does not exceed 30 miles. (Itin. Ant. pp. 118, 119.) Its name was derived from the peculiar configuration of its celebrated port, the various branches of which, united into one at the entrance, were thought to resemble a stag's head, which was called, in the native dialect of the Messapians, Brention or Brentesion. (Strab. vi. p.282; Steph. B. sub voce Βρεντέσιον.2) It appears [p. 1.445]to have been in very early times one of the chief towns of the Sallentines: hence tradition generally ascribed its foundation to a colony from Crete, the same source from whence the origin of the Sallentines themselves was derived. (Strab. l.c.; Lucan 2.610.) An obscure and confused tale related by Justin (12.2) represents it as founded by the Aetolians under Diomed, who were, however, expelled by the native inhabitants of the country, whom he calls Apulians. Both legends point to the fact that it was in existence as a Messapian or Sallentine city before the settlement of the Greek colonies in its neighbourhood. According to Strabo, it had long been governed by its own kings, at the time of the foundation of Tarentum by Phalanthus, and afforded a place of refuge to that chieftain himself when expelled by civil dissensions from his newly founded city. Hence the monument of the hero was shown at Brundusium. (Strab. l.c.; Just. 3.4.) We have very little information concerning its history prior to the Roman conquest; but it seems to have been a place of comparatively little importance, being obscured by the greatness of its neighbour Tarentum, which, at this period, engrossed the whole commerce of this part of Italy. (Pol. 10.1.) Brundusium, however, appears to have retained its independence, and never received a Greek, colony. Hence Scylax, though he notices Hydruntum, makes no mention of Brundusium, and Scymnus Chius terms it the port or emporium of the Messapians. (Scyl. § 14; Scymn. Ch. 363.) The name is only once mentioned incidentally by Herodotus (4.99), but in a manner that shows it to have been familiar to the Greeks of his day.

But the excellence of its port, and its advantageous situation for the purpose of commanding the Adriatic, both in a commercial and naval point of view, appear to have early attracted the attention of the Romans; and the possession of this important port is said to have been one of the chief objects which led them to turn their arms against the Sallentines in B.C. 267. (Zonar. 8.7.) But though the city fell into their hands on that occasion, it was not till B.C. 244 that they proceeded to secure its possession by the establishment there of a Roman colony. (Liv. Epit. xix.; Vell. 1.14; Flor. 1.20.) It is from this period that the importance of Brundusium must be dated: the new colony appears to have risen rapidly to wealth and prosperity, for which it was indebted partly to the fertility of its territory, but still more to its commercial advantages; and its importance continually increased, as the Roman arms were carried in succession, first to the opposite shores of Macedonia and Greece, and afterwards to those of Asia. Its admirable port, capable of sheltering the largest fleets in perfect safety, caused it to be selected as the chief naval station of the Romans in these seas. As early as the First Illyrian War, B.C. 229, it was here that the Romans assembled their fleet and army for the campaign (Pol. 2.11); and during the Second Punic War it was again selected as the naval station for the operations against Philip, king of Macedonia. (Liv. 23.48, 24.10, 11.) Hannibal, on one occasion, made a vain attempt to surprize it; but the citizens continued faithful to the Roman cause, and at the most trying period of the war Brundusium was one of the eighteen colonies which came forward readily to furnish the supplies required of them. (Id. 25.22, 27.10.) During the subsequent wars of the Romans with Macedonia, Greece, and Asia, the name of Brundusium continually recurs: it was almost invariably the point where the Roman generals assembled the fleets and armies with which they crossed the Adriatic; and where, likewise, they landed on their return in triumph. (Id. 31.14, 34.52, 37.4, 44.1, 45.14, &c.) After the Roman dominion had been permanently established over the provinces beyond the Adriatic, the constant passage to and fro for peaceful purposes added still more to the trade and prosperity of Brundusium, which thus rose into one of the most flourishing and considerable cities of Southern Italy.

The position of Brundusium as the point of direct communication between Italy and the eastern provinces, naturally rendered it the scene of numerous historical incidents during the later ages of the republic, and under the Roman empire, of which a few only can be here noticed. In B.C. 83 Sulla landed here with his army, on his return from the Mithridatic war to make head against his enemies at Rome: the citizens of Brundusium opened to him their gates and their port, a service of the highest importance, which he rewarded by bestowing on them an immunity from all taxation, a privilege they continued to enjoy during a long period. (Appian, App. BC 1.79) In B.C. 57 they witnessed the peaceful return of Cicero from his exile, who landed here on the anniversary of the foundation of the colony (natali Brundisinae coloniae die, Cic. Att. 4.1), a day which was thus rendered the occasion of double rejoicing. During the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Brundusium became the scene of important military operations. Pompey had here gathered his forces together with the view of crossing the Adriatic, and a part of them had already sailed, when Caesar arrived, and after investing the town on the land side endeavoured to prevent the departure of the rest. For this purpose, having no fleet of his own, he attempted to block up the narrow entrance of the port, by driving in piles and sinking vessels in the centre of the channel. Pompey however succeeded in frustrating his endeavours until the return of his fleet enabled him to make his escape to Illyricum. (Caes. B.C. 1.24--28; Cic. Att. 9.3, 13, 14, 15; Lucan 2.609-735; D. C. 41.12; Appian, App. BC 2.40.) After the death of the dictator, it was at Brundusium that the youthful Octavius first assumed the name of Caesar; and the veteran cohorts in garrison there were the first that declared in his favour. (Appian, App. BC 3.11.) Four years later (B.C. 40) it was again besieged by Antony and Domitius Ahenobarbus, and Octavian in vain attempted to raise the siege: but its fall was averted by the intervention of common friends, who effected a reconciliation between the two triumvirs (Id. 5.56, 57--60; D. C. 48.27-30). The peace thus concluded was of short duration, and in B.C. 41 Antony having again threatened Brundusium with a fleet of 300 sail, Maecenas and Cocceius proceeded thither in haste from Rome, and succeeded once more in concluding an amicable arrangement. It was on this last occasion that they were accompanied by Horace, who has immortalised in a well-known satire his journey from Rome to Brundusium. (Hor. Sat. 1.5; Plut. Ant. 35; Appian, App. BC 5.93.) In B.C. 19, Virgil died at Brundusium on his return from Greece. [p. 1.446](Donat. Vit. Virgil.) At a later period Tacitus has left us an animated picture of the mournful spectacle, when Agrippina landed here with the ashes of her husband Germanicus. (Tao. Ann. 3.1.) Under the empire we hear comparatively little of Brundusium, though it is certain that it retained its former importance, and continued to be the point of departure and arrival, both for ordinary travellers and for armies on their way between Italy and the East. (Capit. M. Ant. 9, 27; Spartian. Sev. 15.) The period at which the Appian Way was continued thither, and rendered practicable for carriages is uncertain: but the direct road from Rome to Brundusium through Apulia, by Canusium and Egnatia, which was only adapted for mules in the time of Strabo, was first completed as a highway by Trajan, and named from him the Via Trajana. The common route was to cross from hence direct to Dyrrhachium, from whence the Via Egnatia led through Illyricumn and Macedonia to the shores of the Bosporus: but travellers proceeding to Greece frequently crossed over to Aulon, and thence through Epeirus into Thessaly. During the later ages of the empire Hydruntum appears to have become a frequent place of passage, and almost rivalled Brundusium in this respect; though in the time of Pliny it was reckoned the less safe and certain passage, though the shorter of the two. (Strab. vi. pp. 282, 283; Itin. Ant. pp. 317, 323, 497; Plin. Nat. 3.11. s. 16; Ptol. 3.1.14; Mel. 2.4.)

After the fall of the Western Empire Brundusium appears to have declined in importance, and during the Gothic wars plays a subordinate part to the neighbouring city of Hydruntum. Its possession was long retained by the Byzantine emperors, together with the rest of Calabria and Apulia; but after they had long contested its possession with the Goths, Lombards, and Saracens, it was finally wrested from them by the Normans in the eleventh century.

The excellence of the port of Brundusium is celebrated by many ancient writers. Strabo speaks of it as superior to that of Tarentum, and at a much earlier period Ennius (Ann. 6.53) already called it

“Brundisium pulcro praecinctum praepete portu.”

It was composed of two principal arms or branches, running far into the land, and united only by a very narrow strait or outlet communicating with the sea. Outside this narrow channel was an outer harbour or roadstead, itself in a great degree sheltered by a small island, or group of islets, now called the Isola di St. Andrea; the ancient name of which appears to have been Barra. (Fest. v. Barium, p. 33.) It was occupied by a Pharos or lighthouse similar to that at Alexandria. (Mela, 2.7.) Pliny speaks of these islands as “forming the port of Brundusium.” Hence he must designate by this term the outer harbour; but the one generally meant and described by Caesar and Strabo was certainly the inner harbour, which was completely landlocked and sheltered from every wind, while it was deep enough for the largest ships; and the narrowness of the entrance rendered it easily defensible against any attack from without. This channel is now almost choked up with sand, and the inner port rendered in consequence completely useless. This has been ascribed to the works erected by Caesar for the purpose of obstructing the entrance; but the port continued in full use many centuries afterwards, and the real origin of the obstruction dates only from the fifteenth century. Recent attempts to clear out the channel have, however, brought to light many of the piles driven in by Caesar, and have thus proved that these works were constructed, as he has himself described them, at the narrowest part of the entrance. (Caes. B.C. 1.25; Strab. vi. p.282; Lucan. Phars. 2.610, &c.; Swinburne's Travels, vol. i. pp. 384--390.)


1 Concerning the orthography of the name in Latin see Orell. Onom. Tullian. p. 98; Cortius ad Lucan. 2.609; Tzschucke ad Melam. On the whole, the preponderance of authority appears to be in favour of Brundisium.

2 It seems probable that the real native word was Brendon or Brenda (see Hesych. sub voce Βρένδον), whence Festus tells us (p. 33) that Brenda was used by some writers as a poetic form for Brundusium.

hide References (19 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (19):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 4.1
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.13
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.14
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.15
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.3
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.99
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.10.93
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.9.79
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 2.6.40
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 3.2.11
    • Lucan, Civil War, 2.735
    • Lucan, Civil War, 2.609
    • Lucan, Civil War, 2.610
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 48
    • Plutarch, Antonius, 35
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: