(the form Herculanum
appears to be erroneous: in the passage of Cicero (ad Att
. 7.3.1) generally cited in support of it, the true reading seems to be “Aeculanum:” see Orell. ad loc. Ἡράιξλειον,
Dio Cass.: Eth. Herculanensis
), a town of Campania, situated on the gulf called the Crater (the Bay of Naples
), and at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius.
The circumstances attending its discovery have rendered its name far more celebrated in modern times than it ever was in antiquity, when it certainly never rose above the condition of a second-class town.
It was, however, a place of great antiquity: its origin was ascribed by Greek tradition to Hercules, who was supposed to have founded a small city on the spot, to which he gave his own name. (Dionys. A. R. 1.44
.) Hence it is called by Ovid “Herculea urbs” (Met.
But this was doubtless a mere inference from the name itself, and we have no account of any Greek colony there in historical times, though it is probable that it must have received a considerable mixture at least of a Greek population, from the neighbouring cities of Neapolis or Cumae: and there is no doubt of the extent to which Greek influences had pervaded the manners and institutions of its inhabitants, in common with those of all this part of Campania. Strabo's account of its early history is confused; he tells us it was at first occupied (as well as its neighbour Pompeii) by Oscans, afterwards by Tyrrhenians and Pelasgians, and after this by the Samnites. (v. p. 247.)
It is doubtful whether he here means by Tyrrhenians the Etruscans, or rather uses the two names of Tyrrhenians and Pelasgians as nearly synonymous: but there seems no reason to doubt the fact that Herculaneum may have been at one time a Pelasgic settlement, and that its population, previous to its conquest by the Samnites, was partly of Pelasgic and partly of Oscan extraction Its name, and the legends which connected it with Hercules, may in this case have been originally Pelasgic, and subsequently adopted by the Greeks.
It fell into the hands of the Samnites in common with the rest of Campania (Strab. l.c.
): and this is all that we know of its history previous to its passing under the Roman dominion. Nor have we any particular account of the time at which this took place; for the; Herculaneum mentioned by Livy (10.45
) as having been taken by the consul Carvilius from the Samnites in B.C. 293, must certainly be another town of the name situated in the interior of Samnium, though we have no further clue to its position.
The only occasion on which it plays any part in history is during the Social War, when it took up arms against the Romans, but was besieged and taken by F. Didius, supported by a Hirpinian legion under Minatius Magius. (Vell. 2.16
It has been supposed that a body of Roman colonists was afterwards established there by Sulla (Zumpt, de Cot.
p. 259), but there is no proof of this.
It seems, however, to have [p. 1.1053]
been certainly a place of some importance at this time: it enjoyed the rights of a municipium and appears to have been well fortified, whence Strabo calls it a fortress (φρουρίον
): he describes it as enjoying a peculiarly healthy situation, an advantage which it owed to its slightly elevated position, on a projecting headland., (Strab. v. p.246
The historian Sisenna also, in a fragment preserved by Nonius (iii. p. 207. s. v. Fluvius), describes it as situated on elevated ground between two rivers. Its ports also were among the best on this line of coast. (Dionys. A. R. 1.44
It is probable that, when the shores of the beautiful bay of Naples became so much frequented by the Romans, many of them would have settled at Herculaneum, or in its immediate neighbourhood, and its municipal opulence is sufficiently proved by the results of recent discoveries; but though its name is mentioned by Mela and Florus, as well as by Pliny, among the cities of the coast of Campania, it is evident that it never rose to a par with the more flourishing and splendid cities of that wealthy region. (Mela, 2.4.9; Flor. 1.16.6
; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9
It is important to bear this in mind in estimating the value of the discoveries which have been made upon the site.
In the reign of Nero (A.D. 63) Herculaneum suffered severely from an earthquake, which laid great part of the city in ruins, and seriously damaged the buildings that remained standing. (Senec. N. Qu.
This was the same earthquake which nearly destroyed Pompeii, though it is referred by Tacitus to the preceding year. (Ann.
15.22.) Sixteen years later, in the reign of Titus (A.D. 79), a still more serious calamity befell both cities at once, the memorable eruption of Vesuvius in that year having buried them both under the vast accumulations of ashes, cinders, and volcanic sand poured forth by that mountain. (D. C. 66.24
.) Herculaneum, from its position at the very foot of the mountain, would naturally be the first to suffer; and this is evident from the celebrated letter of the younger Pliny describing the catastrophe, which does not however mention either Herculaneum or Pompeii by name. (Plin. Ep. 6.16
.) But Retina, where the elder Pliny first attempted to land, but was prevented by the violence of the eruption, was in the immediate neighbourhood of the former city. Its close proximity to Vesuvius was also the cause that the bed of ejected materials under which Herculaneum was buried assumed a more compact and solid form than that which covered Pompeii, though it is a mistake to suppose, as has been stated by many writers, that the former city was overwhelmed by a stream of lava.
The substance with which it is covered is only a kind of volcanic tuff, formed of accumulated sand and ashes, but partially consolidated by the agency of water, which is often poured out in large quantities during volcanic eruptions. (Daubeny on Volcanoes,
p. 222, 2nd edit.)
The destruction of the unfortunate city was so complete that no attempt could be made to restore or rebuild it: but it appears that a small population gradually settled once more upon the site where it was buried, and hence we again meet with the name of Herculaneum in the Itineraries of the 4th century. (Tab. Pent.
) This later settlement is supposed to have been again destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 472; and no trace is subsequently found of the name.
Though the position of Herculaneum was clearly fixed by the ancient authorities on the coast between Neapolis and Pompeii, and at the foot of Vesuvius, its exact site remained long unknown; it was placed by Cluverius at Torre del Greco,
nearly two miles too far to the E. (Cluver. Ital.
But in 1738 the remains of the theatre were accidentally discovered in sinking a well, in the village of Resina;
and excavations, being from this time systematically carried on, have brought to light a considerable portion of the ancient city, including the Forum, with two adjacent temples and a Basilica. Unfortunately, the circumstance that the ground above the site of the buried city is almost wholly occupied by the large and populous villages of Resina
has thrown great difficulties in the way of these excavations, which have been carried on wholly by subterranean galleries; and even the portions thus explored have been for the most part filled up again with earth and rubbish, after they had been examined, and the portable objects found carried off.
The con sequence is, that while the works of art discovered here far exceed in value and interest those found at Pompeii, and the bronze statues especially form some of the choicest ornaments of the Museum at Naples, the remains of the city itself possess comparatively little interest.
The only portion that re mains accessible is the theatre, a noble edifice, built of solid stone, in a very massive style; it has 18 cunei,
or rows of seats, and is calculated to have been capable of containing 8000 persons. Fragments discovered in it prove that it was adorned with equestrian statues of bronze, as well as with two chariots or bigae in gilt bronze; and several statues both in bronze and marble have been extracted from it. For this splendid edifice, as we learn from an inscription over the entrance, the citizens of Herculaneum were indebted to the munificence of a private individual, L. Annius Mammianus Rufus: the date of its erection is unknown; but it could not have been earlier than the period of the Roman empire, and the building had consequently existed but a short time previous to its destruction. From the theatre a handsome street, 36 feet in breadth, and bordered on both sides by porticoes, led to a large open space or forum, on the N. side of which stood a Basilica of a noble style of architecture.
An inscription informs us that this was erected at his own cost by M. Nonius Balbus, praetor and proconsul, who at the same time rebuilt the gates and walls of the city. No part of these has as yet been discovered, and the plan and extent of the ancient city therefore remain almost unknown. Not far from the Basilica were discovered two temples, one of which, as we learn from an inscription, was dedicated to the Mother of the Gods (Mater Deum), and had been restored by Vespasian after the earthquake of A.D. 63. Another small temple, at a short distance from the theatre, apparently dedicated to Hercules, was remarkable for the number and beauty of the paintings with which the walls were adorned, and which have been from thence transported to the Museum at Naples.
At some distance from these buildings, towards the W., and on the opposite side of a small ravine or watercourse, was found a villa or private house of a most sumptuous description; and it was from hence that many of the most beautiful statues which now adorn the Neapolitan Museum were extracted. Still more interest was at first excited by the discovery in one of the rooms of this villa of a small library or cabinet of MSS. on rolls of papyrus, which, though charred and blackened so as to be converted into a substance resembling charcoal, were found to be [p. 1.1054]
But the hopes at first entertained that we should here recover some of the lost literary treasures of antiquity have been signally disappointed, the works discovered being principally treatises on the Epicurean philosophy of very little interest.
A full account of the early excavations and discoveries at Herculaneum will be found in Venuti (Prime Scoverte di Ercolano,
4to. Roma, 1748), and in the more recent work of Iorio (Notizie sugli Scavi di Ercolano,
8vo. Naples, 1827).
The works of art and other monuments discovered on the site, are figured and described in the magnificent work of Le Antichità di Ercolano,
in 8 vols. folio, published at Naples, from 1757 to 1792.
The inscriptions are given by Mommsen (Inscr. Regn. Neap.
pp. 122--127); and an account of the papyri will be found prefixed to the work entitled Herculanensium Voluminum quae supersunt,
of which only two volumes have been published, in 1793 and 1809.
A summary account of the general results will be found in Romanelli (Viaggio ad Ercolano,
8vo. Naples, 1811), and in Murray's Handbook for Southern Italy.
It is much to be regretted that the superior facilities afforded by Pompeii have for many years caused Herculaneum to be almost wholly neglected: even the excavations previously carried on were conducted without system, and no regular plans were ever taken of the edifices and portions of the city then explored.
The modern village of Resina,
which now covers a large part of the ruins of Herculaneum, has evidently retained the name of RETINA, a place mentioned only in the letter of Pliny describing the great eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. (Plin. Ep. 6.16
It appears to have been a naval station, where a body of troops belonging to the fleet at Misenum (Classiarii) were at that time posted, who applied in great terror to Pliny to extricate them from their perilous position. Hence, it is clear that it must have been close to the sea-coast, and probably served, as the port of Herculaneum.
The exact position of this cannot now be traced, for the whole of this line of coast has undergone considerable alterations from volcanic action.
The point of the promontory on which the ancient city was situated is said to be 95 feet within the present line of coast; and the difference at other points is much more considerable. We learn from Columella (R. R.
10.135) that Herculaneum possessed salt-works, which he calls “Salinae Herculeae,” on the coast to the E., immediately adjoining the territory of Pompeii. The Tabula marks a station, which it calls “Oplontis,” between Herculaneum and Pompeii, 6 miles from the former town; but the name, which is otherwise unknown, is probably corrupt.