Friday, 9 March 2012

Hannibal, Capua and Spartacus

The entry of Hannibal in Capua
 (engraving from the XVII century)
After Hannibal's crushing victory at Cannae (in 216BC), the city of Capua made a major strategic decision and allied itself with Hannibal and opened its gates to his army. This was one of Hannibal's greatest political successes and he probably assumed that other cities would ally themselves with him against Rome.

It was not to be and the 'soft living' available in Capua may have diverted the almost unstoppable military momentum that Hannibal had built up.

There was also a heavy price to pay when Capua was subsequently recaptured by the Romans.

The ancient city of Capua is situated on the Volturno River and the ancient Appian Way, 16 miles (26 km) north of Neapolis (Naples) in the province of Caserta, Campania region, Southern Italy.

In ancient times it was the chief city of the Campania region of Italy and the second city of the Italian peninsula.

Ancient Capua was founded in c. 600 BC, probably by the Etruscans, under the name of Volturnum and was capital of Campania Felix, dominating many of the surrounding communities.

Capua supported the Latin Confederacy in its war against Rome in 340 BC. After Rome's victory in the war, Capua passed under Roman control as a municipium (self-governing community), and its people were granted limited Roman citizenship (without the vote).

In 312 BC Capua was connected with Rome by the Appian Way (Via Appia). Its prosperity increased and it became the second city of Italy, famous for its bronzes and perfumes.

Ancient Capua was closely linked to the nearby town of Casilinum, 3 miles (5 km) to the southeast. This town had strategic importance, controlling the bridge of the Appian Way over the Volturno River. The town was bitterly fought over by Hannibal and the Romans.

As Pliny reported (Chapter LVII):

We read in the Chronicles, that whiles Anniball lay in siege before Casilinum, a rat was sold within the towne for two hundred Denarii; the man who bought it at that price, lived; but the partie who sold it for greedinesse of mony, died for hunger.

Casilinum was captured in 215 BC from Hannibal by the Romans and served as a base of operations against Capua. 

A Capua shekel from the time of Hannibal

Capua was starved into surrender and was recaptured by the Romans in 211. Fifty-three Capuan senators who did not commit suicide were executed after bringing out 2,070 pounds of gold and 31,200 pounds of silver. The Romans deprived its citizens of political rights and replaced their magistrates with Roman prefects. The territory was declared common land (ager publicus).

The Roman colonies of Volturnum and Liternum were founded on Capuan territory in 194 BC.

Perhaps the spark of rebellion lived on in the culture of Capua. Spartacus, the slave leader, began his revolt here in 73 BC.

Although it suffered during the Roman civil wars in the last decades of the republic, Capua  prospered under the empire (after 27 BC). Cicero called Capua "altera Roma" (i.e. the biggest and richest city of Italy): in the 1st century BC, during the period of Roman domination, Capua specialised in the production of perfumed ointments and essences, which brought it wealth and prestige.

Casilinum seems to have been united with Capua by the middle of the 1st cent. A.D. The Vandals under Gaiseric sacked Capua in AD 456; later Muslim invaders (c. 840) destroyed everything except the church of Sta. Maria, which gave its name to the medieval and modern town.  The survivors founded the new town of Capua on the ruins of Casilinum, A little hamlet which took the name of Santa Maria Capua Vetere grew up on the site of the old town.

Traces of this celebrated past are preserved in the amphitheatre, originally second only to the Colosseum in size - and where Spartacus fought as a gladiator - baths, a theatre, Early tombs and traces of two 6th-century-BC temples survive, including a temple dedicated to the god Mithra, the Mithraeum, one of the best-preserved buildings dedicated to the cult of the Persian god Mithras.

Images of ancient Capua

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