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CA´PUA (Καπύη: Eth.Καπυανὸς, or Eth. Καπυήσιος: in Latin Capuensis and Capuanus; but originally, Campanus, which is the only form found in Livy or Cicero: Sta Maria di Capoua), the capital of Campania, and one of the most important and celebrated cities of Italy. It was situated about 2 miles from the river Vulturnus, and little more than one from the foot of Mount Tifata. The origin and etymology of the name are much disputed. The most probable derivation is that adopted by Livy, from “Campus,” on account of its situation in a fertile plain; it is certain that the name of Capua is found inseparably connected with that of Campania: the citizens of Capua are constantly called Campani, and the territory “Campanus ager.” Thus also Virgil uses “Campana urbs” for Capua. (Aen. 10.145.) Strabo, on the other hand, derives it from “caput,” as the chief city or head of the surrounding region; while others, according to custom, derived it from a founder of the name of Capys, whom some represented as the leader of the Samnite conquerors in B.C. 423, while others made him a contemporary of Aeneas, or connected him with the kings of Alba Longa. (Liv. 4.37; Strab. v. p.242; Festus, s.v. Capua; Verg. A. 10.145; and Servius ad loc.; Stat. Silv. 3.5. 77.)

There is much uncertainty also as to the time when the city first received this name: Livy expressly tells us that its Etruscan name was Vulturnum, and that it first received that of Capua from the Samnites: other writers represent Capua itself as a word of Tuscan origin. (Intpp. ap. Serv. l.c.) The name must certainly be of greater antiquity than the date assigned to it by Livy, if we may trust to the accuracy of Stephanus of Byzantium, who cites it as used by Hecataeus, and it is not improbable that it was the Oscan name of the city long before the period of the Samnite conquest, and was only revived at that period.

Ancient writers are generally agreed in ascribing the foundation of Capua to the Etruscans: this was the statement of Cato, as well as of those authors who differed from him widely as to its date (Vell. 1.7); and is confirmed by Strabo (v. p.242); at the same time it is not improbable that there was already an Oscan town upon the site which was selected by the Tuscans for that of their new capital of Vulturnum. The period of this foundation was a subject of great uncertainty among the ancients themselves. Cato, as we learn from Velleius, referred it to so late a period as B.C. 471; while other authors (whose names are not mentioned) assigned to it a greater antiquity than Rome, and placed the foundation about 800 B.C. The latter may very probably have been adopted with a view to make it agree with the supposed date of its heroic founder Capys; but, on the other hand, it is almost impossible to reconcile the date given by Cato with what we know from other sources of the Etruscan history, or to believe, as Velleius himself observes, that Capua had risen within so short a period to so high a pitch of prosperity and power. The earlier date is adopted by Miller (Etrusker, vol. i. p. 172), while Niebuhr follows Cato (vol. i. p. 75). It seems certain that under the Etruscan rule Capua was not only the chief city of the twelve which are said to have been founded by that people in this part of Italy, and as such exercised a kind of supremacy over the rest (Strab. l.c.); but that it had attained to a degree of wealth and prosperity surpassing that of most cities in Italy. But the luxurious and effeminate habits which resulted from their opulent condition, unfitted the inhabitants for war, and they were unable to cope with their more hardy neighbours the Samnites, who harassed them with continual hostilities. The Etruscans were at length reduced to purchase peace by admitting the Samnites to all the privileges of citizens, and sharing with them their lands as well as their city. But the new comers were not long contented with a part only of these advantages; and they took the opportunity of a solemn festival to surprise and massacre their Tuscan associates, and thus became sole masters of the city, B.C. 423. (Liv. 4.37, 7.38.) The circumstances of this revolution, as related to us, would in themselves prove that the Etruscan. occupants of Capua were little more than a dominant aristocracy: the original Oscan population were so far from being expelled or destroyed by the Samnites, that they were probably restored to greater liberty, and were blended together with their new rulers into the Campanian people. Thus it is clearly to this event that Diodorus refers when he uses the phrase that the Campanian nation now first rose into being (συνέστη, Diod. 12.31). He places it, however, seventeen years earlier than Livy, or in B.C. 440.

Capua from henceforth became an essentially Oscan city; but it is probable that the difference of origin between the Samnite rulers and the purely. Oscan populace continued to influence its political, condition, and that the strongly marked opposition which we find existing on many occasions between the knights or aristocracy and the popular party, in this as well as other cities of Campania, proceeded originally from this cause. The change of rulers did not affect the prosperity of the city, which appears to have continued to exercise a kind of supremacy over those in its neighbourhood, and increased so much in wealth and population that it is called by Livy, in B.C. 343, “urbs maxima opulentissimaque Italiae.” (Liv. 7.31.) But this wealth was not without its disadvantages: eighty years' possession of Capua and its fertile territory reduced the Samnite conquerors to a state of luxury and effeminacy similar to that of their Etruscan predecessors, and rendered them equally unfit to contend with their more hardy brethren who had continued to inhabit their native mountains. (Liv. 7.29-32.) Hence, when in B.C. 343 their assistance was invoked by the neigh-bouring petty tribe of the Sidicini, to protect them against the aggressions of the Samnites, though, they readily undertook the task, they were totally defeated by the Samnites in the plain between Mt. Tifata and their city; and compelled to shut themselves [p. 1.511]up within their walls, and in their turn implore the assistance of the Romans. The latter speedily relieved them from their Samnite enemies; but the citizens of Capua were very near falling victims to the treachery of a Roman garrison stationed in their city, who are said to have meditated making themselves masters of it by a massacre similar to that by which the Samnites had themselves obtained its possession. (Liv. 7.38.) The subsequent revolt of the Campanians, their alliance with the Latins, and the defeat of their combined armies have already been related under CAMPANIA By the treaty which followed, Capua lost the possession of the rich Falernian plain; but obtained in return the right of Roman citizenship; the knights, who had been throughout opposed to the war, receiving apparently the full franchise, while the rest of the population obtained only the “civitas sine suffragio.” (Liv. 8.11, 14; Madvig, de Colon. pp. 240, 241.) At the same time it is clear that Capua did not (like some of the cities in this condition) lose its separate municipal organisation; it continued to be governed by its own magistrates, the chief of whom bore the Oscan title of “Meddix Tuticus,” and though we are told that in B.C. 317 they were reduced by internal dissensions to apply for the interference of the Roman senate, the new regulations then introduced by the praetor L. Furius appear to have been successful in restoring tranquillity. (Id. 9.20.)

There was nothing in the condition of Capua as thus constituted to check its internal prosperity, and accordingly it was so far from declining under the Roman rule that it continued to increase in opulence: and at the period of the Second Punic War, was considered to be scarcely inferior to the two great rival cities of Rome and Carthage. (Flor. 1.16.6). But this very power rendered its dependent condition more galling, and there were not wanting ambitious spirits who desired to place it on a footing at least of equality with Rome itself. The successes of Hannibal during the Second Punic War appeared to open to them a prospect of attaining this object: and shortly after the battle of Cannae (B.C. 216), the popular party in the city, headed by Pacuvius Calavius and Vibius Virrius, opened the gates of Capua to the Carthaginian, general. (Liv. 23.2-10.) Such was the power of Capua at this time that (including the forces of her dependent cities) she was deemed capable of sending into the field an army of 30,000 foot and 4000 horse (lb. 5): yet Hannibal seems to have derived little real additional strength from her accession: the other most considerable cities of Campania, Nola, Neapolis, and Cumae, refused to follow her example, and success-fully resisted the efforts of Hannibal. The ensuing winter spent by the Carthaginian troops within the walls of Capua is said to have produced a highly injurious effect upon their discipline, and though there is the grossest exaggeration in the statements of Roman writers on this subject, it is certain that Hannibal would never again expose his soldiers to the luxuries and temptations of a winter in the Campanian capital. The operations of the following campaigns were on the whole favourable to the Roman arms: and instead of the citizens of Capua finding themselves as they had hoped placed at the head of the cities of Italy, in the spring of B.C. 212, they were themselves besieged by the Roman armies. The arrival of Hannibal from Apulia this time relieved the city, and compelled the Romans to retreat: but no sooner had he again withdrawn his forces than the consuls Fulvius and Appius Claudius renewed the siege, and invested the city, notwithstanding its great extent, with a double line of circum-vallation all round. All the efforts of Hannibal to break through these lines or compel the consuls to raise the siege, proved fruitless: famine made itself severely felt within the walls, and the Capuans were at length compelled to surrender at discretion B.C. 211.

The revolt of the faithless city was now punished with exemplary severity. All the senators, and other nobles, were put to death, or thrown into dungeons, where they ultimately perished : the other citizens were removed to a distance from their homes, the greater part of them beyond the Tiber; and the whole territory of the city confiscated to the Roman state: all local magistracies were abolished, and the mixed population of strangers, artisans, and new settlers, which was allowed to remain within the walls was subjected to the jurisdiction of the Roman praefect. (Liv. 26.15, 16, 33, 34; Cic. de Leg. Agr. 1.6, 11, 28, 32.) The city itself was only spared, says Livy, in order that the most fertile lands in Italy might not be left without inhabitants to cultivate them: but its political importance was for ever annihilated, and the proud capital of Campania reduced to the condition of a provincial town of the most degraded class. The policy of the Romans in this instance was eminently successful: while the advantages which Capua derived from its position in the midst of so fertile a plain, and on the greatest high road of the empire, soon raised it again into a populous and flourishing town, and virtually, though not in name, the capital of Campania, it continued to be wholly free from domestic troubles and seditions, and its inhabitants were remarkable for their fidelity and attachment to Rome, of which they gave signal proof during the trying period of the Social War. (Cic. de Leg. Agr. 2.3. 3) It is probable that they were on this occasion restored to the possession of municipal privileges, for though Velleius represents them as first recovering these, when they became a colony under Caesar, they certainly appear to have been in possession of them in the time of Cicero. (Vell. 2.44; Cic. pro Sest. 4, in Pison. 12.) Its importance at this period is sufficiently attested by the repeated notices of it that occur during the Civil Wars of Rome. Thus it was at Capua that Sulla had assembled his army for the Mithridatic War, and from whence he turned the arms of his legions against Rome: it was here, too, that the next year Cinna first raised the standard of revolt against the Senate. (Appian, App. BC 1.56, 57, 63, 65.) Again, on the outbreak of the war between Caesar and Pompey, the partisans of the latter at first made Capua a kind of head-quarters, which they were, however, soon constrained to abandon. (Id. B.C. 2.29, 37; Caes. B.C. 1.14; Cic. Att. 7.1. 4) It is also mentioned on occasion of the conspiracy of Catiline, as one of the places where his emissaries were most active: in consequence of which, after the suppression of the danger, the municipality spontaneously adopted Cicero as their patron. (Cic. pro Sest. 4.)

Capua is at this time termed by the great orator “urbs amplissima atque ornatissima.” (Id. de Leg. Agr. 28.) But the territory which had once belonged to it, the fertile “ager Campanus,” was retained by the Romans as the property of the state, and was guarded with jealous care as one of the [p. 1.512]chief sources of the public revenue: so that it was exempted even in the general distributions of the public lands by the Gracchi, and by Sulla (Cic. de Leg. Agr. 1.7), though the latter seems to have at least trenched upon some portions of it. (Lib. Colon. p. 232; Zumpt, de Colon. p. 252.) In B.C. 63, the tribune, Servilius Rullus, brought in an agrarian law, of which one of the chief objects was the division of this celebrated district: but the eloquence of Cicero procured its rejection. (Cic. in Pison. 2; Plut. Cic. 12.) A few years later, however, the same measure was carried into effect by the Lex Julia Agraria passed by Caesar in his consulship, B.C. 59, and 20,000 Roman citizens were settled in the “ager Campanus,” and the adjoining district, called the Campus Stellatis. (D. C. 38.7; Caes. B.C. 1.14; Suet. Jul. 20; Appian, App. BC 2.10; Veil. Pat. 2.44; Cic. Att. 2.1. 6

Capua thus became a Roman colony, and from henceforth continued to enjoy a dignity corresponding to its real importance. But the colonists settled here by Caesar were not long permitted to retain their lands in tranquillity. Among the cities of Italy, the possession of which the Triumvirs were compelled to promise to their legions in B.C. 43, Capua held a prominent place (Appian, App. BC 4.3): it appears to have fallen to the lot of the veterans of Octavian, on which account the latter made it the head-quarters of his army previous to the war of Perusia, B.C. 41. (Id. 5.24.) We learn also that he further increased it by the establishment of fresh bodies of veterans after the battle of Actium: in consequence of which repeated accessions, the city appears to have assumed the titles of “Colonia Julia Augusta Felix,” which we find it bearing in inscriptions. On the last of these occasions Augustus conferred an additional boon upon Capua (which he seems to have regarded with especial favour) by bestowing upon the municipality a valuable tract of land in the island of Crete, and by constructing an aqueduct, which added greatly to the salubrity of the city. (Vell. 2.81; D. C. 49.14.)

Under the Roman Empire we hear comparatively little of Capua, though it is clear from incidental notices, as well as from still extant inscriptions, that it continued to be a flourishing and populous city. Strabo calls it the metropolis of Campania, and says that it so far surpassed the other cities of the province, that they were merely small towns in comparison (v. p. 248). It received a fresh colony of veterans under Nero; but during the civil wars of A. D. 69 its steadfast adherence to the party of Vitellius involved many of the chief families of its citizens in ruin. (Tac. Ann. 13.31, Hist. 3.57, 4.3.) At a much later period Ausonius speaks of it as having greatly declined from its former splendour, but he still ranks it as the eighth city in the Roman Empire, and it is evident that there was no other in Southern Italy that could for a moment dispute its superiority. (Auson. Ord. Nobil. Urb. 6.) Its prosperity, however, probably rendered it an especial object of attack to the barbarians, who desolated Italy after the fall of the Western Empire. It was taken by Genseric, king of the Vandals, in A.D. 456, and, as we are told, utterly destroyed (Hist. Miscell. xiv. p. 98, ed. Mur.; Const. Porph. de Adm. Imp. 27); but though it appears to have never recovered this blow, it figures again, though in a very reduced condition, in the Gothic wars of Belisarius (Procop. B. G. 1.14, 3.18, 26), and must, have subsequently much revived, as P. Diaconus in the eighth century terms it one of the three most opulent cities of Campania. (Hist. Lang. 2.17.) Its final destruction dates from its capture by the Saracens in A. D. 840, who are said to have reduced it to ashes. Its defenceless position in the midst of the plain caused it to be at this period altogether abandoned, its inhabitants taking refuge in the neighbouring mountains: but a few years after-wards (A.D. 856) they were induced, by their bishop Landulfus, to return, and establish themselves on the site of the ancient Casilinum, a position which they converted into a strong fortress, and to which they gave the name of their ancient city. (Chron. Casinat. 1.31, ap. Murat. Script. vol. ii. p. 303; Constantin. Porphyr. l.c.) It is thus that the modern city of Capoua (one of the strongest fortresses in the Neapolitan dominions) has arisen on the site of Casilinum: that of the ancient Capua being occupied by the large village or Casale, called Santa Maria di Capoua, or Sta Maria Maggiore, which, though it does not rank as a town, contains near 10,000 inhabitants.

Ancient writers abound in declamatory allusions to the luxury and refinement of the Capuans, which is said even to have surpassed the fabulous extravagance of the Sybarites (Polyb. ap. Athen. 12.36); but they have left us scarcely any topographical notices of the city itself. We learn from Cicero that in consequence of its position in a perfectly level plain, it was spread over a wide extent of ground, with broad streets and low houses. (Cic. de Leg. Agr. 2.3. 5) Two of these streets or squares (plateae), called the Seplasia and Albana, are particularly celebrated, and seem to have been the most frequented and busy in the city. The former was occupied to a great extent by the shops of perfumers (unguentarii), a trade for which Capua was noted, so that the most luxurious Romans derived their supplies from thence. (Cic. l.c. 34; pro Sest. 8, in Pison. 11; Ascon. ad Or. in Pis. p. 10; V. Max. 9.1, Ext. 1; Athen. 15.288e. The “Unguentarii Seplasiarii” are mentioned also in inscriptions.) The aqueduct constructed by Augustus, and named the Aqua Julia, was a splendid work, and the pride of the town, for its magnificence as well as its utility. (D. C. 49.14.) The amphitheatre, of which the ruins still remain, was certainly not constructed before the time of the Roman Empire: but Capua was already at a much earlier period celebrated for its shows of gladiators, and appears to have been a favourite place for their training and exercise. It was from a school of gladiators here that Spartacus first broke out with 70 companions; at the commencement of the civil war there was a large body of them in training here, in the service of Caesar. (Cic. Att. 7.1. 4; Caes. B.C. 1.14.) We learn from Suetonius that Capua, like many other cities of the Roman empire, had its Capitolium in imitation of that of Rome. (Suet. Tib. 40, Cal. 57.)

The existing remains of Capua are, for the most part, of but little interest, and though covering a great space of ground, are very imperfectly preserved. Some portions of the ancient walls, as well as the broad ditch which surrounded them, are still visible, and by means of these and other indications the circuit of the city may be traced with tolerable certainty. According to Pratilli, it was between five [p. 1.513]and six miles in circumference, and had seven gates; the site of most of which may be still determined. The name of the Porta Jovis has been preserved to us by Livy (26.14), but without indicating its situation: it was probably on the E. side of the town, facing Mt. Tifata, on which stood a celebrated temple of Jupiter. The situation of the Porta Vulturnensis, Atellana, and Cumana, mentioned in inscriptions, is sufficiently indicated by their respective names. The remains of a triumphal arch are still visible near the amphitheatre, and those of another subsisted till the middle of the seventeenth century. Some slight traces only are found of the theatre, the existence of which is also recorded by an inscription. The ruins of the amphitheatre, on the contrary, are extensive, and show that it must have been, when perfect, one of the most magnificent structures of the kind existing in Italy. Mazzocchi, a Neapolitan antiquarian, has given an elaborate description of it, in a dissertation on the inscription which records its restoration by Hadrian. The date of its original construction is unknown. (Mazzocchi, In mutilum Amphitheatri Campani Titulum Commentarius, 4to. Neap. 1727.) The other remains at Capua are described by Pratilli (Via Appia, p. 260--318) and by Romanelli (vol. iii. p. 578--584); but neither the descriptions of the former writer, nor the inscriptions which he cites, can be received without caution. All the inscriptions found at Capua are collected by Mommsen (Inscr. Regn. Neap. p. 284--322).

Capua was possessed in the period of its prosperity and power of an extensive territory, extending apparently as far as the mouth of the Vulturnus. Of this the portion S. of that river was distinguished, in later times at least, by the name of the AGER CAMPANUS, as the proper territory of the city, while that on the N. side of the Vulturnus was known as the FALERNUS AGER a name sometimes applied to the whole of the fertile tracts between the Vulturnus and the mountain ranges that bound the plain on the N.; sometimes restricted to the western portion of this tract, at the foot of the Massican Hills; while the eastern half of the plain, at the foot of Mons Callicula, extending from Cales to Casilinum, was distinguished as the CAMPUS STELLATIS (Liv. 22.13; Cic. de Leg. Agr. 1.7, 2.31; Suet. Jul. 20.)

The coins of Capua, with the name of the city, have all of them Oscan legends: they are almost all of copper, those of silver being of extreme rarity. But numismatists are agreed that certain silver coins which are found in considerable numbers, with the legend “Roma” and “Romano,” but are certainly not of Roman fabric, were coined at Capua during the period between its obtaining the Roman Civitas and the Second Punic War. (Mommsen, Römisch. Münzwesen, p. 249; Millingen, Numismatique de l'Italie, p. 213.)



hide References (36 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (36):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 2.1.6
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 7.1.4
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.31
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.7.57
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 4.1.3
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.7.56
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.7.63
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.8.65
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 2.2.10
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 1.6
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 1.7
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 2.3.3
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 2.3.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 37
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.145
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 40
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.31
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 38
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 16
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 15
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 31
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 32
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 33
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 34
    • Plutarch, Cicero, 12
    • Statius, Silvae, 3.5
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 9.1
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 15
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