previous next


HYDRUNTUM called in Greek and sometimes also in Latin HYDRUS (Ὑδροῦς: Eth. Ὑδρούντιος; Hydruntinus, but an inscription has Hudrentinus: Otranto), a city of Calabria, on the coast of the Adriatic, and a port of considerable importance, for which it was indebted to the circumstance of its being the nearest point of Italy to the coast of Greece, the passage being shorter even than that from Brundusium. (Cic. Att. 15.2. 1) We have very little information as to its early history; but it seems probable that it was a Greek city, or at least had received a Greek colony, though the tradition related by Stephanus of Byzantium (s. v. Βίεννος), which represented it as founded by Cretans, is probably connected with the legends which ascribed a Cretan origin to the Sallentines and Messapians, rather than to any historical Greek colony. But Scylax distinctly notices “the port of Hydrus,” in a passage where he is speaking only of Greek towns (Scyl. p. 5.14); and though he there seems to imply that it was not an independent city like Metapontum or Tarentum, he elsewhere (p. 11.27) calls it πόλις ἐν τῇ Ἰαπυγίᾳ: hence it seems highly probable that it was at that time merely a dependency of Tarentum. Nor do we hear anything of Hydruntum for some time after it had fallen, with the rest of the Messapian peninsula, under the Roman yoke; the establishment of the Roman colony at Brundusium and the increasing importance of that port having, doubtless, tended to throw Hydruntum into the shade. But as early as B.C. 191 we find that it was a customary place of landing in Italy, for those who came from Greece and crossed over from Corcyra (Liv. 36.21); and this probably continued to be a route much frequented, while Brundusium was the point of communication with Apollonia and the coast of Epirus. Cicero, however, recognises the fact, that the shortest passage from Italy to the opposite coast was from Hydruntum, which for that reason he himself seems to have preferred to Brundusium; though Pliny tells us that the latter route, though longer, was the safer of the two. (Cic. Att. 15.2. 1, 16.6, ad Fam. 16.9; Plin. Nat. 3.11. s. 16.) All the ancient geographers mention Hydruntum as situated [p. 1.1102]at the mouth or entrance of the Adriatic: Pliny states the width of the strait which separated it from the opposite coast near Apollonia at 50 M. P., which is just about the truth; and this accords also with Strabo's statement, that it was 400 stadia (50 M. P.) from Hydruntum to the island of Sason near the Acroceraunian Promontory. Pliny adds a strange story, that Pyrrhus had at one time formed the project of closing up the passage with a bridge of boats, and that the same idea had been taken up at a later time by M. Varro, in the war against pirates. (Plin. Nat. 3.11. s. 16; Strab. vi. p.281; Mel. 2.4.7; Ptol. 3.1.14.) Strabo speaks of Hydruntum as in his time but a small place (πολίχνη, l.c.); but it seems to have risen into a considerable municipal town under the Roman empire (Orell. Inscr. 2570; Lib. Col. p. 262), and increased gradually in importance as Brundusium declined. [BRUNDUSIUM.] In the fourth century it appears to have become the usual place of passage, not only to Greece, but to Apollonia, Dyrrhachium, and thence to Constantinople; so that the Itineraries all give the routes of communication between Italy and the East upon this supposition. (Itin. Ant. pp. 115, 323, 329; Itin. Marit. p. 489; Itin. Hier. p. 609.) The same state of things continued also after the fall of the Western Empire: hence, during the wars of the Goths with Belisarius and Narses, Hydruntum as sumes an importance very different from what it possessed in Roman times. (Procop. B. V. 1.1, B. G. 3.30, &c., where the name is corruptly written Δρυοῦς. It was one of the last cities in the S. of Italy which remained in the hands of the Greek emperors, from whom it was not finally wrested till the 11th century. The modern town of Otranto is a poor decayed place, though still the see of a bishop: it was taken and plundered in 1480 by the Turks; a calamity which it has never recovered. Galateo, a local historian, who saw it previous to that event, describes it as then a flourishing and populous place, though, like Taranto, occupying only the citadel or arx of the ancient city: the circuit of the ancient walls could be distinctly traced, inclosing a space of 11 stadia, and fortified with towers; but, he adds, “all this is now levelled with the ground.” Recent travellers have found no vestiges of antiquity but the pavement of the Via Trajana, and some marble columns and mosaic pavements in the present cathedral. A ruined church of St. Nicholas is supposed to occupy site of an ancient temple. (Galateo, de Situ Iapygiae, pp. 47--50; Romanelli, vol. ii. pp. 110, 111; Craven, Travels, pp. 142--144.) Though in such a decayed condition, Otranto still gives name to the province, which is known as the Terra di Otranto, and includes the whole of the Iapygian or Calabrian peninsula.

The little river Idro, the sluggish waters of which enter the harbour of Otranto, is evidently the stream called in ancient times the Hydrus, whose name has been preserved to us in a line of Lucan (5.375).


hide References (5 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (5):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 15.2.1
    • Lucan, Civil War, 5.375
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 21
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: