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CA´PREAE (Καπρέαι; Capri), an island off the coast of Campania, lying immediately opposite the Surrentine Promontory, from which it was separated by a strait only 3 miles in width. (Tac. Ann. 4.67.) Pliny tells us it was 11 miles in circuit, which is very near the truth. (Pliny, 3.6. s. 12.) Like the mountain range, which forms the southern boundary of the Bay of Naples, and of which it is, in fact, only a continuation, Capreae consists wholly of limestone, and is girt almost all round with precipitous cliffs of rock, rising abruptly from the sea, and in many places attaining to a great elevation. The western portion of the island, now called Anna Capri (a name probably derived from the Greek αἱ ἂνω Καπρέαι), is much the most elevated, rising to a height of 1,600 feet above the sea. The eastern end also forms an abrupt hill, with precipitous cliffs towards the mainland; but between the two is a depression, or saddle, of moderate height, where the modern town of Capri now stands. The only landing-places are two little coves on either side of this.

Of the history of Capreae very little is known prior to the time of Augustus. A tradition alluded to by several of the Latin poets, but of the origin of which we have no explanation, represents it as occupied at a very early period bya people called Teleboae, apparently the same whom we find mentioned as a piratical race inhabiting the islands of the Echinades, off the coast of Acarnania. (Schol. ad Apollon. 1.747.) Virgil speaks of them as subject to a king, named Telon, whence Silius Italicus calls Capreae “antiqui saxosa Telonis insula.” (Verg. A. 7.735 ; Sil. Ital. 8.543; Stat. Silv. 3.5; Tae. Ann. 4.67.) In historical times we find that the island passed into the hands of the Neapolitans, and its inhabitants appear to have adopted and retained to a late period the Greek customs of that people. But Augustus having taken a fancy to Capreae, in consequence of a favourable omen which he met with on landing there, took possession of it as part of the imperial domain, giving the Neapolitans in exchange the far more wealthy island of Aenaria. (Suet. Aug. 92; D. C. 52.43.) He appears to have visited it repeatedly, and spent four days there shortly before his death. (Suet. Aug. 98.) But it was his successor Tiberius who gave the chief celebrity to Capreae, having, in A.D. 27, established his residence permanently on the island, where he spent the last ten years of his life. According to Tacitus, it was not so much the mildness of the climate and the beauty of the prospect that led him to take up his abode here, as the secluded and inaccessible character of the spot, which secured him alike from danger and from observation. It was here accordingly that he gave himself up to the unrestrained practice of the grossest debaucheries, which have rendered his name scarcely less infamous than his cruelties. (Tac. Ann. 4.67, 6.1; Suet. Tib. 40, 43; D. C. 58.5; Juv. Sat. 10.93.) He erected not less than twelve villas in different parts of the island, the remains of several of which are still visible. The most considerable appears to have been situated on the summit of the cliff facing the Surrentine Promontory, which, from its strong position, is evidently that designated by Pliny (3.6. s. 12) as the “Arx Tiberii.” It is supposed also to be this one that was called, as we learn from Suetonius (Suet. Tib. 65), the “Villa Jovis.” Near it are the remains of a pharos or light-house, alluded to both by Suetonius and Statius, which must have served to guide ships through the strait between this headland and the Surrentine Promontory.. (Suet. Tib. 74; Stat. Silv. 3.5. 100.)

Strabo tells us that there were formerly two small towns in the island, but in his time only one remained. It in all probability occupied the same site as the modern town of Capri. (Strab. v. p.248.)

The name of Taurubulae, mentioned by Statius (3.1. 129),appears to have been given to some of the lofty crags and rocks that crown the island of Capri: it is said that two of these still bear the names of Toro grande and Toro piccolo. From its rocky character and calcareous soil Capri is far inferior in fertility to the opposite island of Ischia: the epithet of “dites Capreae,” given it in the same passage by Statius, could be deserved only on account of the imperial splendour lavished on the villas of Tiberius. Excavations in modern times have brought to light mosaic pavements, bas-reliefs, cameos, gems, and other relics of antiquity. These, as well as the present state of the island, are fully described by Hadrava. (Lettere sull' Isola di Capri. Dresden, 1794.)


hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 1.747
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.735
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 92
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 98
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.1
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.67
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 40
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 43
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 65
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 74
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.6
    • Statius, Silvae, 3.5
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