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MISE´NUM (Μισηνόν), was the name of a remarkable promontory on the coast of Campania (MISENUM PROMONTORIUM, Tac. Ann. 14.4; sometimes also MISENI PROMONTORIUM, Liv. 24.13; τὸ Μισηνὸν ἄκρον, Strab.; Capo di Miseno), together with the adjacent port (PORTUS MISENUS, Flor. 1.16), and a town which grew up adjoining it, after the harbour had become the station of the Roman fleet. The promontory of Misenum forms the northern limit of the celebrated gulf called the Crater or Sinus Cumanus (the Bay of Naples). It is an almost isolated headland, forming a hill of considerable elevation, and of a somewhat pyramidal form, joined to the mainland opposite to Procida only by a narrow strip of low land, between which and the continuation of the coast by Bauli and Baiae is a deep inlet forming the harbour or port of Misenum (Strab. v. p.243). A large stagnant pool or basin, still deeper in, now called the Mare Morto, communicated with this outer port by a very narrow entrance, which could be closed by a bridge or causeway. It is probable that the headland of Misenum itself at one time formed part of the encircling heights of the crater of a long extinct volcano, of which the Mare Morto occupies the centre, and the Monte di Procida (as the headland opposite to the island of that name is now called) consituted the opposite margin. (Daubeny On Volcanoes, p. 202, 2nd edit.) [p. 2.362]

The name of the promontory of Misenum was derived, according to a tradition very generally adopted by the Roman writers, from the trumpeter of Aeneas, who was supposed to be buried there (Verg. A. 6.163,212--235; Propert. 4.18. 3; Sil. Ital. 12.155; Stat. Silv. 3.1. 150; Mel. 2.4.9; Solin. 2.13). Another legend, however, seems to have represented Misenus as one of the companions of Ulysses (Strab. v. p.245). There is no trace of the existence of a town on the spot at an early period, though it is almost certain that its secure and land-locked port (already alluded to by Lycophron, Alex. 737) must have been turned to account by the Cumaeans during the period of their naval and commercial power. Before the close of. the Roman Republic the actual promontory of Misenum, as well as the neighbouring shores of Bauli and Baiae, was become a favourite site for the villas of wealthy Romans; but it was not till the reign of Augustus that any considerable population was collected there. That emperor first introduced the custom of maintaining a fleet for the defence of the Tyrrhenian or Lower Sea, of which Misenum was made the permanent station (Suet. Aug. 49; Tac. Ann. 4.5), as it continued throughout the period of the Empire. Thus we find the “classis Misenensis” continually alluded to by Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 14.3, 62, 15.51, Hist. 2.100, 3.56, &c.); and the elder Pliny was stationed at Misenum in command of the fleet, when the memorable eruption of Vesuvius broke out, in which he perished, A.D. 79, and of which his nephew has left us so interesting an account (Ep. 6.16, 20). At a much later period we find the establishment of a fleet at Misenum, with a legion specially organised for its service, referred to as a permanent institution, both by Vegetius and the Notitia. (Veget. 5.1, 2; Notit. Dign. ii. p. 118.) There can be no doubt that in consequence of this important establishment a considerable town grew up around the port of Misenum; and we learn from several inscriptions that it possessed municipal privileges, and even bore the title of a colony. (Orell. Inscr. 3772; Mommsen, I. R. N. 2575--2577.) But the “Misenates,” whose name frequently occurs in inscriptions, are in general the soldiers of the fleet (Milites classis praetoriae Misenatium, Mommsen, l.c. 2725, &c.), not the inhabitants of the town.

Before it became thus memorable as the station of the Roman fleet, Misenum was remarkable in history for the interview between Octavian and Antony and Sextus Pompeius, in which the two former were received by Sextus on board his ship, and a treaty was concluded for the division of the Roman Empire between the three contracting parties. It was on this occasion that his admiral Menas proposed to Pompey to cut the cables and carry the two triumvirs off to sea. (Plut. Ant. 32; D. C. 48.36; Vell. 2.77.) At a somewhat earlier period Cicero notices it as having been infested by the Cilician pirates, who carried off from thence the daughters of M. Antonius, who had himself carried on the war against them. (Cic. pro Leg. Manil. 12) We learn from Plutarch that C. Marius had a villa there, which he describes as more splendid and luxurious than was suited to the character of the man (Plut. Mar. 34); nevertheless it was then far inferior to what it became in the hands of L. Lucullus, who subsequently purchased it for a sum of 2,500,000 denarii, and adorned it with his usual magnificence. It subsequently passed into the hands of the emperor Tiberius, who appears to have not unfrequently made it his residence; and who ultimately died there, on the 16th of March, A.D. 37. The villa itself is described as situated on the summit of the hill, commanding an extensive view over the sea; but it is evident, from the account of its vast substructions and subterranean galleries, &c., that it must have comprised within its grounds the greater part of the promontory. (Plut. l.c., Lucull. 39; Seneca, Ep. 51; Tac. Ann. 6.50; Suet. Tib. 72, 73; D. C. 58.28; Phaedr. Fab. 2.36.) Besides this celebrated villa of Lucullus, we learn from Cicero that M. Antonius the orator had a villa at Misenum, and that the triumvir, his grandson, made it a frequent place of residence. (Cic. de Or. 2.1. 4, ad Att. 10.8, 14.20, Phil. 2.19.) At a much later period Misenum became the place of exile or confinement of the unhappy Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor of the West, to whom the villa of Lucullus was assigned as a place of residence by Odoacer after his deposition, A.D. 476. (Jornand. Get. 46; Marcellin. Chron. p. 44.) Horace notices the sea off Cape Misenum as celebrated for its echini or sea-urchins. (Hor. Sat. 2.4. 33.)

Some ruins, still extant near the summit of the bill, are in all probability those of the villa of Lucullus. Of the town of Misenum the remains are but inconsiderable; they are situated on the S. side of the Porto di Miseno, at a place now called Casaluce; while those of a theatre are situated at a spot called Il Forno, a little further to the W., just where the inner basin or Mare Morto opens into the outer port. The two were separated in ancient times by a bridge of three arches, which has recently been replaced by a closed causeway, the effect of which has been to cause both the inner basin and outer harbour to fill up with great rapidity, and the latter has in consequence become almost useless. In the sides of the hill at the head of the port, and on the N. of the Mare Morto are excavated numerous sepulchres, which, as we learn from the inscriptions discovered there, are those of officers and soldiers of the fleet stationed at Misenum. Many of these inscriptions are of considerable interest, as throwing light upon the military and naval institutions of the Roman Empire. They are all collected by Mommsen (Inscr. Regn. Neap. pp. 145--154).


hide References (16 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (16):
    • Cicero, On Pompey's Command, 12
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 6.163
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 49
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 73
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.3
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.62
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.5
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.4
    • Tacitus, Annales, 15.51
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.50
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 2.1
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 72
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 13
    • Plutarch, Antonius, 32
    • Plutarch, Caius Marius, 34
    • Statius, Silvae, 3.1
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