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NOLA (Νῶλα: Eth. Νωλαῖος, Eth. Nolanus: Nola), an ancient and important city of Campania, situated in the interior of that province, in the plain between Mt. Vesuvius and the foot of the Apennines. It was distant 21 miles from Capua and 16 from Nuceria (Itin. Ant. p. 109.) Its early history is very obscure; and the accounts of its origin are contradictory, though they may be in some degree reconciled by a due regard to the successive populations that occupied this part of Italy. Hecataeus, the earliest author by whom it is mentioned, appears to have called it a city of the Ausones, whom he regarded as the earliest inhabitants of this part of Italy. (Hecat. ap. Steph. Byz. s. v.) On the other hand, it must have received a Greek colony from Cumae, if we can trust to the authority of Justin, who calls both Nola and the neighbouring Abella Chalcidic colonies (Justin, 20.1); and this is confirmed by Silius Italicus (Chalcidicam Nolam, 12.161.) Other authors assigned it a Tyrrhenian or Etruscan origin, though they differed widely in regard to the date of its foundation; some writers referring it, together with that of Capua, to a date as early as B.C. 800, while Cato brought them both down to a period as late as B.C. 471. (Vell. 1.7. This question is more fully discussed under the article CAPUA) But whatever be the date assigned to the establishment of the Etruscans in Campania, there seems no doubt that Nola was one of the cities which they then occupied, in the same manner as the [p. 2.443]neighbouring Capua (Pol. 2.17);: though it is most probable that the city already existed from an earlier period. The statement of Solinus that it was founded by the Tyrians is clearly erroneous: perhaps, as suggested by Niebuhr, we should read “a Tyrrhenis” for “a Tyriis.” (Solin. 2.16; Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 74, note 235.) We have no account of the manner in which Nola afterwards passed into the hands of the Samnites; but there can be little doubt that it speedily followed in this respect the fate of Capua [CAPUA]; and it is certain that it was, at the time of the first wars of the Romans in this part of Italy, a Campanian city, occupied by an Oscan people, in close alliance with the Samnites. (Liv. 8.23.) Dionysius also intimates clearly that the inhabitants were not at this period, like the Neapolitans, a Greek people, though he tells us that they were much attached to the Greeks and their institutions. (Dionys. Fr. 15.5. p. 2315. R.)

We may probably infer from the above statements, that Nola was originally an Ausonian or Oscan town, and subsequently occupied by the Etruscans, in whose hands it appears to have remained, like Capua, until it was conquered by the Samnites, who subsequently assumed the name of Campanians, about B.C. 440. The evidence in favour of its having ever received a Greek colony is very slight, and is certainly outweighed by the contrary testimony of Hecataeus, as well as by the silence of all other Greek writers. The circumstance that its coins (none of which are of early date) have uniformly Greek inscriptions (as in the one figured below), may be sufficiently accounted for by that attachment to the Greeks, which is mentioned by Dionysius as characterising the inhabitants. (Dionys. l.c.

The first mention of Nola in history occurs in B.C. 328, just before the beginning of the Second Samnite War, when the Greek cities of Palaepolis and Neapolis having rashly provoked the hostility of Rome, the Nolans sent to their assistance a body of 2000 troops, at the same time that the Samnites furnished an auxiliary force of twice that amount. (Liv. 8.23.) But their efforts were frustrated by disaffection among the Palaepolitans; and the Nolans retired from the city on finding it betrayed into the hands of the Romans. (Ib. 25, 26.) Notwithstanding the provocation thus given, it was long before the Romans were at leisure to avenge themselves on Nola; and it was not till B.C. 313 that they laid siege to that city, which fell into their hands after but a short resistance. (Id. 9.28.) It appears certain that it continued from this period virtually subject to Rome, though enjoying, it would seem, the privileged condition of an allied city (Liv. 23.44; Festus, s. v. Municipium, p. 127); but we do not meet with any subsequent notice of it in history till the Second Punic War, when it was distinguished for its fidelity to the Roman cause, and for its successful resistance to the arms of Hannibal. That general, after making himself master of Capua in B.C. 216, hoped to reduce Nola in like manner by the cooperation of a party within the walls. But though the lower people in the city were ready to invite the Carthaginian general, the senate and nobles were faithful to the alliance of Rome, and sent in all haste to the praetor Marcellus, who threw himself into the city with a considerable force. Hannibal in consequence withdrew from before the walls; but shortly after, having taken Nuceria, he renewed the attempt upon Nola, and continued to threaten the city for some time, until Marcellus, by a sudden sally, inflicted upon him considerable loss, and led him to abandon the enterprise (Liv. 23.14-17; Plut. Marc. 10, 11; Eutrop. 3.12; Flor. 2.6.29.) The advantage thus obtained, though inconsiderable in itself, was of importance in restoring the spirits of the Romans, which had been almost crushed by repeated defeats, and was in consequence magnified into a great victory. (Liv. l.c.; Sil. Ital. 12.270-280.) The next year (B.C. 215) Hannibal again attempted to make himself master of Nola, to which he was encouraged by fresh overtures from the democratic party within the city; but he was again anticipated by the vigilance of Marcellus, and, having encamped in the neighbourhood of the town, with a view to a more regular siege, was attacked and defeated by the Roman general (Liv. 23.39, 42--46; Plut. Marc. 12.) A third attempt, in the following year, was not more successful; and by these successive defences the city earned the praise bestowed on it by Silius Italicus, who calls it “Poeno non pervia Nola.” (Sil. Ital. 8.534.)

Nola again bears a conspicuous part in the Social War. At the outbreak of that contest (B.C. 90) it was protected, as a place of importance from its proximity to the Samnite frontier, by a Roman garrison of 2000 men, under the command of the praetor L. Postumius, but was betrayed into the hands of the Samnite leader C. Papius, and became from thenceforth one of the chief strongholds of the Samnites and their allies in this part of Italy. (Liv. Epit. lxxiii.; Appian, App. BC 1.42.) Thus we find it in the following year (B.C. 89) affording shelter to the shattered remains of the army of L. Cluentius, after its defeat by Sulla (Appian, l.c. 50); and even after the greater part of the allied nations had made peace with Rome, Nola still held out; and a Roman army was still occupied in the siege of the city, when the civil war first broke out between Marius and Sulla. (Vell. 2.17, 18; Diod. xxxvii. Exc. Phot. p. 540.) The new turn thus given to affairs for a while retarded its fall: the Samnites who were defending Nola joined the party of Marius and Cinna; and it was not till after the final triumph of Sulla, and the total destruction of the Samnite power, that the dictator was able to make himself master of the refractory city. (Liv. Epit. lxxxix.) We cannot doubt that it was severely punished: we learn that its fertile territory was divided by Sulla among his victorious soldiers (Lib. Colon. p. 236), and the old inhabitants probably altogether expelled. It is remarkable that it is termed a Colonia before the out-break of this war (Liv. Epit. lxxiii.); but this is probably a mistake. No other author mentions it as such, and its existence as a municipium, retaining its own institutions and the use of the Oscan language, is distinctly attested at a period long subsequent to the Second Punic War, by a remarkable inscription still extant. (Mommsen, Unter Ital. Dial. p. 125.) It afterwards received a second colony under Augustus, and a third under Vespasian; hence Pliny enumerates it among the Coloniao of Campania, and we find it in inscriptions as late as the time of Diocletian, bearing the titles of “Colonia Felix Augusta Nolana.” (Lib. Colon. l.c.; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9; Zumpt, de Colon. pp. 254, 350; Gruter, Inscr. p. 473. 9, p. 1085.14.)

It was at Nola that Augustus died, on his return from Beneventum, whither he had accompanied Tiberius, A.D. 14; and from thence to Bovillae his funeral procession was attended by the senators of the cities through which it passed. (Suet. Aug. 98; D. C. 56.29, 31; Tac. Ann. 1.5; Vell. Pat. ii. [p. 2.444] 123.) The house in which he died was afterwards consecrated as a temple to his memory (D. C. 56.46). From this time we find no historical mention of Nola till near the close of the Roman Empire; but there is no doubt that it continued throughout this period to be one of the most flourishing and considerable cities of Campania. (Strab. v. pp. 247, 249; Ptol. 3.1.69; Itin. Ant. p. 109; Orell. Inscr. 2420, 3855, &c.; Mommsen, Inscr. R. N. pp. 101-107.) Its territory was ravaged by Alaric in A. D. 410 (Augustin, Civ. Dei, 1. 10); but the city itself would seem to have escaped, and is said to have been still very wealthy ("urbs ditissima") as late as A.D. 455, when it was taken by Genseric, king of the Vandals, who totally destroyed the city, and sold all the inhabitants into captivity. (Hist. Miscell. xv. pp. 552, 553.) It is probable that Nola never recovered this blow, and sank into comparative insignificance in the middle ages; but it never ceased to exist, and is still an episcopal city, with a population of about 10,000 souls.

There is no doubt that the ancient city was situated on the same site with the modern one. It is described both by Livy and Silius Italicus as standing in a level plain, with no natural defences, and owing its strength as a fortress solely to its walls and towers (Liv. 23.44; Sil. Ital. 12.163); a circumstance which renders it the more remarkable that it should have held out so long against the Roman arms in the Social War. Scarcely any remains of the ancient city are now visible; but Ambrosius Leo, a local writer of the early part of the 16th century, describes the remains of two amphitheatres as still existing in his time, as well as the foundations of several ancient buildings, which he considered as temples, beautiful mosaic pavements, &c. (Ambrosii Leonis de Urbe Nola, 1.8, ed. Venet. 1514.) All these have now disappeared; but numerous inscriptions, which have been discovered on the spot, are still preserved there, together with the interesting inscription in the Oscan language, actually discovered at Abella, and thence commonly known as the Cippus Abellanus [Abella]. From this curious monument, which records the terms of a treaty between the two cities of Nola and Abella, we learn that the name of the former city was written in the Oscan language "Nuvla." (Mommsen, Unter. Ital. Dialekte, pp. 119-127.) But the name of Nola is most celebrated among antiquarians as the place from whence a countless multitude of the painted Greek vases (commonly known as Etruscan) have been supplied to almost all the museums of Europe. These vases, which are uniformly found in the ancient sepulchres of the neighbourhood, are in all probability of Greek origin: it has been a subject of much controversy whether they are to be regarded as productions of native art, manufactured on the spot, or as imported from some other quarter; but the latter supposition is perhaps on the whole the most probable. The great love of these objects of Greek art which appears to have prevailed at Nola may be sufficiently accounted for by the strong Greek predilections of the inhabitants, noticed by Dionysius (Exc. Leg. p. 2315), without admitting the existence of a Greek colony, for which (as already stated) there exists no sufficient authority. (Kramer, über den Styl. u. die Herkunft Griechischen Thongefässe, pp. 145-159; Abeken, Mittel Italien, pp. 332-339.)

Nola is celebrated in ecclesiastical history as the see of St. Paulinus in the 5th century; and also as the place where, according to tradition, the use of bells was first introduced in churches; whence were derived the names of "nola" and "campana" usually applied to such bells in the middle ages. (Du Cange, Glossar. s. v.)

The territory of Nola, in common with all the Campanian plain, was one of great natural fertility. According to a well-known anecdote related by Aulus Gellius (7.20), it was originally mentioned with great praise by Virgil in the Georgics (2.225); but the people of Nola having given offence to the poet, he afterwards struck out the name of their city, and left the line as it now stands.



hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.5.42
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.5
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 98
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 39
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 42
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 23
    • Plutarch, Marcellus, 10
    • Plutarch, Marcellus, 11
    • Plutarch, Marcellus, 12
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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