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CUMAE (Κύμη, Strab., Thuc., &c.; Κοῦμαι, Ptol.: Eth. Κυμαῖος, Adj. Cumanus: Cuma), a city on the coast of Campania, about six miles N. of Cape Misenum. It was one of the most ancient as well as celebrated of the Greek colonies in Italy, and Strabo expressly tells us that it was the earliest of all the Greek settlements either in that country or Sicily (Strab. v. p.243), a statement which there is no reason for rejecting, although we may safely refuse to receive as historical the date assigned it by the later Greek chronologers, who would carry it back as far as 1050 B.C. (Hieronym. Chron. p. 100; Euseb. ed. Seal. p. 135.) Velleius Paterculus (1.4), who mentions its foundation next to that of Magnesia, and before the Aeolic and Ionic migrations, must have adopted a similar view, though he does not venture to fix the year. The statements of a mythical character connected with its foundation, which represent the fleet of the colonists as guided by a dove, or by the nocturnal sound of brass cymbals, in themselves point to a very early period, which would leave room for such fabulous embellishments. (Vell. Pat. l.c.; Niebuhr, vol. iii. p. 177.) There is some discrepancy in regard to the people by whom it was founded, but there is little doubt that the statement of Strabo may be relied on, who describes it as a joint colony of the Chalcidians in Euboea, and the Cymaeans of Aeolis: the two founders being Hippocles of Cyme, and Megasthenes of Chalcis, and it being agreed that the new settlement should bear the name of one of its parent cities, while it ranked as a colony of the other. (Strab. v. p.243.) Hence we always find Cumae termed a Chalcidic, or Euboean city, though its name, as well as local traditions, preserved the recollection of its connection with the Asiatic Cyme. (Thuc. 6.3; Liv. 8.22; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9; Virg. A en. 6.2; Ovid, Ov. Met. 14.155; Stat. Silv. 4.3. 24,118.) Velleius however, as well as Dionysius, drops all mention of the Cymaeans among the original colonists, and speaks of Cumae as founded by the Chalcidians, under Hippocles and Megasthenes, while Dionysius calls it a Greek city founded by the Eretrians and Chalcidians. Those writers indeed who adopted the very early date assigned to its settlement by the Greek chronologers, which placed it before the Aeolic migration, were compelled to exclude all co-operation on the part of the Asiatic Cyme: and it was probably in order to overcome this difficulty that Scymnus Chius represents it as colonised first by the Chalcidians, and afterwards by the Aeolians. (Vell. 1.5; Dionys. A. R. 7.3; Scymn. Ch. 236-239.) According to Livy (8.22) the original settlement was made in the island of Aenaria, but the new comers found themselves so much disturbed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, that they removed from thence to the mainland. Strabo (v. p.247) also notices the establishment of a colony of Eretrians and Chalcidians in Aenaria, but without indicating its date.

Whatever may have been the real epoch of the foundation of Cumae, it is certain that it rapidly rose to great wealth and prosperity. The extraordinary fertility of the surrounding country, as well as the excellence of the neighbouring ports, gave it immense advantages, and the native population of the interior seems to have been too scanty or too feeble to offer any obstacle to the progress of the rising city. The period of its greatest prosperity was probably from 700--500 B.C.: at this time it was incontestably the first city in this part of Italy, and had extended its dominion over a great part of the province subsequently known as Campania. The fertile tract of plain called the Phlegraean fields was included in its territory, as well as the vine-growing hills that separate this plain from the Bay of Naples, on which Cumae possessed the two excellent ports of Misenum and Dicaearchia. (Dionys. A. R. 7.3.) A little more distant it had planted the flourishing colony of Neapolis, which was doubtless at this time still dependent upon its parent city: and the statement which calls Abella and Nola Chalcidic towns (Justin, 20.1) evidently indicates that Cumae had not only extended its influence over the interior, but had sought to strengthen it by the establishment of regular colonies. The great extent of its walls still attested in the Augustan age its former power: and all accounts represent it as almost rivalling the Achaean colonies of Crotona and Sybaris in wealth and population. The government, like that of most of the Greek cities in Italy, was aristocratical, and continued so until the overthrow of its liberties by Aristodemus. (Dionys. A. R. 7.4.) The decline of Cumae was probably owing in the first instance to the increasing power of the Etruscans, and especially to the maritime superiority established by that people in the Tyrrhenian Sea. But the Etruscan conquest of Campania soon brought them into hostile collision by land also: and the first event in the history of Cumae that has been transmitted to us, is that of the successful opposition which it was able to offer to a vast host of invaders, consisting (it is said) of Etruscans, Umbrians, and Daunians (?). Exaggerated as are the numbers of these enemies, who are said to have brought into the field 500,000 foot, and 28,000 horse, there seems no reason to doubt the historical fact of the invasion and its repulse. (Dionys. A. R. 7.3, 4.) According to Dionysius, it took place about 20 years before the usurpation of Aristodemus, who first rose to distinction upon this occasion, and was subsequently appointed to command the auxiliary force sent by the Cumaeans to assist the Aricians against Aruns, the son of Porsena. (Liv. 2.14; Dionys. A. R. 5.36, 7.5, 6.) His success in this expedition paved the way to his assumption of supreme power, which he attained by the same arts as many other despots, by flattering the passions of the multitude, and making use of the democratic party to overthrow the oligarchy, after which he proceeded to surround himself with a guard of hired partisans, and disarm the rest of the people. Dionysius has left us a circumstantial account of the rise, government, and fall of Aristodemus (7.3--11; Diod. vii. Exc. Vales. p. 547), which, notwithstanding the scepticism of Niebuhr (vol. i. p. 554, vol. iii. p. 178), may probably be received as historical, at least in its main outlines. According to that author his usurpation may be dated in B.C. 505, and he appears to have retained the sovereign power for above 20 years, when he was expelled by the descendants of those whom he had put to death or [p. 1.717]driven into exile. It was during this period that Tarquinius Superbus, the exiled king of Rome, took refuge at Cumae, where he shortly after ended his days, B.C. 496. (Liv. 2.21; Dionys. A. R. 6.21.) Aristodemus was still ruler of the city when the Roman republic sent an embassy to beg for supplies of corn in time of a great famine (B.C. 492), but the ships, which had been already loaded with grain, were seized by the tyrant and confiscated, as an alleged equivalent for the property of Tarquin. (Liv. 2.34; Dionys. A. R. 7.2, 12.)

A despotism such as that of Aristodemus is represented, and the civil dissensions that must have attended its overthrow as well as its establishment, could not but weaken the power and impair the prosperity of Cumae, and render her less able to cope with the increasing power of the Etruscans. Hence, the next time her name is mentioned in history, we find her invoking the aid of Hieron, the then powerful despot of Syracuse, against the combined fleets of the Tyrrhenians and the Carthaginians, who had attacked her by sea, and threatened her very existence. The victory of Hieron on that occasion (B.C. 474) not only delivered Cumae from immediate danger, but appears to have given a severe blow to the maritime power of the Etruscans. (Diod. 11.51; Pind. P. 1.136-146, and Schol. ad loc.) Nor do we hear of the latter any further molesting Cumae by land; and that city appears to have enjoyed an interval of repose, which, so far as we can judge, would seem to have been a period of considerable prosperity: but a more formidable danger now threatened it from the growing power of the Samnites, who, in B.C. 423, made themselves masters of Capua, and. only three years afterwards, after defeating the Cumaeans in the field, laid siege to their city, and after repeated attacks succeeded in carrying it by assault. No mercy was shown by the conquerors: the unfortunate city was given up to pillage, many of its citizens put to the sword, and the rest sold into slavery, except such as were able to make their escape to Neapolis: while their wives and daughters were forced to cohabit with the Campanian conquerors,who established a colony in the city. (Liv. 4.44; Diod. 12.76; Strab. v. p.243.) The date of this event is given by Livy as B.C. 420; and the archonship of Aristion, to which it is assigned by Diodorus, would give the same date (B.C. 421--420), but the Roman consulship, to which the latter refers it, is that of B.C. 428: the former date is probably the true one.

From this period Cumae ceased to be a Greek city, though still retaining many traces of Hellenic rites and customs, which subsisted down to the Augustan age: but a fatal blow had been given to its prosperity, and it sank henceforth into the condition of a second-rate Campanian town. Having shared in the general defection of the Campanians from Rome and in their subsequent defeat, it was in B.C. 338 admitted to the Roman franchise, though at first without the right of suffrage (Liv. 8.14): at what time it obtained the full franchise we know not, but it seems at a later period to have not only enjoyed the fullest municipal privileges, but to have been regarded by the Romans with especial favour, on account of its unvarying fidelity to the republic. (Liv. 23.31; Vell. 1.4; Cic. de leg. Agr. 2.3. 1, ad Att. 10.13.) In the Second Punic War Hannibal made an attempt upon the city, but was repulsed from its walls by Sempronius Gracchus, and obliged to content himself with laying waste its territory. (Liv. 23.36, 37, 24.13.) From this time we hear but little of Cumae, but the circumstance that, in B.C. 180, the citizens requested and obtained permission to use the Latin language in their public documents, shows the continually decreasing influence of the Greek element in the city. (Liv. 40.42.) We may probably infer from the expressions of Velleins (1.4) that it continued faithful to the Romans during the Social War. In the latter ages of the Republic its neighbourhood began to be frequented by the Roman nobles as a place of retirement and luxury; but these established their villas rather at Baiae and Misenum than at Cumae itself, the situation of which is far less beautiful or agreeable. Both these sites were, however, included in a municipal sense in the territory of Cuma (in Cuemano), and hence we find Cicero applying the name of Cumanum to his villa, which was in full view of Puteoli (Acad. 2.25), and must therefore have been situated on the Bay of Baiae, or at least on the E. side of the ridge which separates it from Cumae. The same thing is probably true of the villas of Catulus, Pompeius, and Varro, mentioned by him. (Cic. Ac. 1.1, 2.25; ad Fam. 16.10; ad Att. 4.10.) At an earlier period Sulla retired to the neighbourhood of Cumae after his abdication, and spent the last years of his life there. (Appian, B. Co 104.) The increasing popularity of Baiae, Bauli, and Misenum, under the Roman Empire, though it must have added to the local importance of Cumae, which always continued to be the municipal capital of the surrounding district (Orell. Inscr. 2263), was unfavourable to the growth of the city itself, which appears to have declined, and is spoken of by Juvenal as deserted (vacuae Cumae, Sat. 3.2) in comparison with the flourishing towns around it. Statius also calls it the quiet Cumae (quieta Cyme, Silv. 4.3. 65). But the expression of the satirist must not be taken too strictly: the great extent of the ancient walls, noticed by Velleius (1.4), would naturally give it a deserted appearance; but we know that Cumae had received a colony of veterans under Augustus, which appears to have been renewed by Claudius (Lib. Colon. p. 232), and though Pliny does not give it the name of a colony, it bears that title in several inscriptions of Imperial date (Orell. Inscr. 1857, 2263, 2533). We learn from various other sources that it continued to exist down to the close of the Roman Empire (Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9; Ptol. 3.1; § 6; Itin. Ant. pp. 122, 123; Tab. Peut.), and during the wars of Belisarius and Narses with the Goths, it re-appears as a place of importance. At this time, however, the city appears to have shrunk, so as to be confined to the ancient citadel or arx (still called the Rocca di Cuma), an isolated and precipitous rock, very difficult of access, and which on that account was regarded as a very strong fortress. It was chosen by the Gothic kings as the depository of their regalia and other valuables, and was the last place in Italy that held out against Narses. (Procop. B. G. 1.14, 3.6, 4.34; Agath. 1.8--11, 20.) This citadel continued to exist till the 13th century, when having become a stronghold of robbers and banditti, it was taken and destroyed: and the site has remained desolate ever since.

Under the Roman Empire Cumae was noted for a manufacture of a particular kind of red earthenware. (Mart. 14.114.) Its territory also produced excellent flax, which was especially adapted for the manufacture of nets. (Plin. Nat. 19.1. s. 2; Grat. Falisc. Cyneg. 35.) Of the fertility of the adjoining plain, [p. 1.718]or the wines of Mt. Gaurus, it is unnecessary to speak, but the latter was in the time of the Romans probably dependent on Puteoli.

Inseparably connected with the name of Cumae is that of the Sibyl who, according to the general tradition of antiquity, had her abode there. There is little doubt that the legends connected with her were brought by the Greeks from Cyme in Asia Minor, and were transferred from Gergis or Gergithes in the Troad to the Italian Cumae. (Grote's Greece, vol. iii. p. 472; Klausen, A eneas und die Penaten, vol. i. pp. 209, 210.) Similar peculiarities in the nature of the soil and localities seem to have contributed to this: it was doubtless also owing to the striking physical characters of the adjoining region that the myths connected with the entrance to Hades became permanently localized about Lake Avernus: and the idea of placing the Cimmerians of the Odyssey in the same neighbourhood was probably an afterthought in later times. It seems likely, indeed, that the Cumaeans were one of the main channels by which the Trojan and Greek legends were transferred to this part of Italy, and the names of Aeneas and Ulysses inseparably associated with the coasts of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The cave of the Sibyl was still supposed to exist in the historical period; the cavern shown under that name was a vast subterranean chamber or grotto, hewn out of the eastern side of the rock on which stood the citadel. ( “Excisum Euboïcae latus ingens rupis in antrum,” Verg. A. 6.42; Pseud. Arist. Mirab. 95; Lycophr. 1278--1280; Ovid, Ov. Met. 14.104.) Justin Martyr, who visited it about the middle of the second century, describes it as like a great hall or basilica, artificially excavated, containing three reservoirs of water, and with an inner chamber or recess, from which the prophetess used to deliver her oracles. (Just. Mart. Paraen. 37.) Agathias, in relating the siege of Cumae by Narses, also mentions the existence of this great cavern, of which that general availed himself to undermine the walls of the citadel, and by this means caused them to fall in, together with the roof of the cavern: and thus destroyed the abode of the Sibyl, though without effecting the capture of the fortress. (Agath. B. G. 1.10.) On the summit of the arx was a temple of Apollo, whose worship here seems to have been intimately connected with that of the Sibyl, though legends gave it a still more ancient origin, and ascribed the foundation of the temple to Daedalus. (Verg. A. 6.14-19, and Serv. ad loc.; Sil. Ital. 12.85-102; Juv. 3.25.) Some obscure ruins on the summit of the hill are supposed to have formed part of this ancient edifice: and the remains of a cavern on the E. face of the cliff are believed to have belonged to that of the Sibyl. The true situation of this was first pointed out by Cluverius: earlier commentators and topographers had confounded the cave of the Sibyl herself with the entrance to the infernal regions near the Lake Avernus, and hence the name of Grotta della Sibilla is still popularly given to an artificial excavation on the banks of that lake, which has the appearance of an imperfect tunnel, and is in all probability a work of Roman times. (Cluver. Ital. pp. 1107--1113; Romanelli, vol. iii. p. 517.)

The existing remains of Cumae are inconsiderable: the plain around the rock of the citadel, in which the ancient city spread itself out in the days of its greatness, is now covered with a royal forest: some remains of an amphitheatre however still exist, and numerous other masses of masonry, most of them of Roman construction. To the same period belongs a picturesque archway in a massive and lofty wall of brick, called the Arco Felice, which stands on the road to Pozzuoli, and is supposed by some to be one of the gates of the ancient city, but the nature of its construction renders this almost impossible. Between this and the foot of the rock are the remains of a small temple, popularly known as the Tempio dei Giganti. This is all that remains of Cumae above ground, but excavations at different periods have brought to light numerous architectural fragments, vases and statues, many of them of the best period of art, and it is probable that few sites would better reward more systematic researches. (Romanelli, vol. iii. pp. 501, 502; Eustace's Classical Tour, vol. ii. pp. 427--434; Iorio, Guidas di Pozzuoli, pp. 102--125; Bull. dell Inst. 1842, pp. 6--10.)



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  • Cross-references from this page (26):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.51
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.76
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.3
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 2.3.1
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 14.104
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 14.155
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 6.14
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 6.19
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 6.42
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 19.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 21
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 34
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 31
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 37
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 36
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 40, 42
    • Cicero, Academica, 1
    • Statius, Silvae, 4.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.114
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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