previous next


SURRENTUM (Συρρεντόν, Strab.; Σούρεντον, Ptol.: Eth. Surrentinus: Sorrento), a city on the coast of Campania, on the southern side of the beautiful gulf called the Crater or Bay of Naples, about 7 miles from the headland called Minervae Promontorium, which forms the southern boundary of that bay. We have very little information as to its early history: its name is never mentioned till after the Roman conquest of Campania. Tradition indeed ascribed the foundation of Surrentum to the Greeks, but whether it was a colony from Cumae, or an earlier Greek settlement, we have no account: and there does not appear any evidence that it had, like many places in this part of Italy, a distinctly Greek character in historical times. Strabo calls it a Campanian city (Strab. v. p.247), but this may very probably refer to its not being one of those occupied by the Picentines. According to the Liber Coloniarum a great part of its territory, and perhaps the town itself, was considered in a certain sense as consecrated to Minerva, on account of its proximity to her celebrated temple on the adjoining promontory, and was for that reason occupied by Greek settlers (Lib. Col. p. 236). It nevertheless received a partial colony under Augustus (Ib.), but without attaining the rank or character of a Colonia. Numerous inscriptions record its existence as a municipal town under the Roman Empire, and it is noticed by all the geographers: but its name is rarely mentioned in history (Strab. l.c.; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9; Mel. 2.4.9; Ptol. 3.1.7; Orell. Inscr. 3742; Mommsen, Inscr. R. N. 2111--2125). It was, however, resorted to by wealthy Romans on account of its beautiful scenery and delightful climate; among others Pollius Felix, the friend of Statius, had a villa there, which the poet has celebrated at considerable length in one of his miner poems (Silv. 2.2). We are told also that Agrippa Postumus, when he first incurred the displeasure of Augustus, was ordered to retire to Surrentum, before he was consigned to more complete banishment in the island of Planasia (Suet. Aug. 65).

But the chief celebrity of Surrentum was derived from its wine, which enjoyed a high reputation at Rome, and is repeatedly alluded to by the poets of the Empire. It was considered very wholesome, and was in consequence recommended by physicians to convalescents and invalids. Tiberius indeed is said to have declared that it owed its reputation entirely to the physicians, and was in reality no better than vinegar. It did not attain its maturity till it had been kept 25 years (Plin. Nat. 14.6. s. 8; Athenae. i. p. 126; Ovid. Met. 15.710; Martial, 13.110; Stat. Silv. 3.5. 102; Strab. v. p.243; Colum. R. R. 3.2.10). We learn from Martial also (13.110, 14.102) that Surrentum was noted for its pottery. The hills which produced the celebrated wine were those which encircle the plain in which the city was situated ( “Surrentini colles,” Ovid. Met. l.c.), and separate it from the gulf of Posidonia on the other side These hills form a part of the ridge which descends from the lofty mountain group of the Monte S. Angelo between Castellamare and Amalfi, and is continued as far as the headland opposite Capri This point, now called the Punta della Campanella, the ancient Promontorium Minervae, was known also by the name of Surrentinum Promontorium, from its close connection with the town of Surrentum (Tac. Ann. 4.67; Stat. Silv. 5.3. 165). The celebrated sanctuary of the Sirens, from which Surrentum itself was supposed to have derived its name, seems to have been situated (though the expressions of Strabo are not very clear) between this headland and the town (Strab. v. p.247). But the islands of the Sirens (Sirenusae Insulae) were certainly the rocks now called Li Galli, on the opposite side of the promontory. The villa of Pollius, which is described by Statius as looking down upon the deep Gulf of Puteoli, stood upon the headland now called Capo di Sorrento, on the W. of the town, separating the Bay of Sorrento from that of Massa: extensive ruins of it are still visible, and attest the accuracy of the poet's description. (Stat. Silv. 2.2; Swinburne's Travels, vol. i. pp. 88--90.)

The other ruins still visible at Sorrento and in its neighbourhood are of no great interest: they present numerous fragments of buildings of imperial times, to some of which the names of a temple of Hercules, temple of Neptune, &c. have been applied by local antiquarians, with no other foundation than the fact that we learn from Statius the existence of temples to those divinities at Surrentum. The most considerable relic of antiquity is a Piscina of large dimensions, which is in such good preservation that it still serves to supply the inhabitants with water. The modern town of Sorrento is a flourishing and populous place with a population of above 6000 souls: it is much resorted to by strangers on account of its mild and delicious climate, for which it is already extolled by Silius Italicus ( “Zephyro Surrentum molle salubri,” Sil. Ital. 5.466.)


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.67
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 65
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 14.6
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Statius, Silvae, 2.2
    • Statius, Silvae, 3.5
    • Statius, Silvae, 5.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.110
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: