Capua (modern Santa Maria di Capua Vetere), the chief ancient city of Campania, and one of the most important towns of ancient Italy, situated 16 miles north of Neapolis, on the Northeastern edge of the Campanian plain.

Its site, in a position not naturally defensible, together with the regularity of its plan, indicates that it is not a very ancient town, though it very likely occupies the site of an early Oscan settlement.

Its foundation is attributed by Cato the Elder to the Etruscans, and the date given as about 260 years before it was "taken" by Rome. If this be referred, not to its capture in the second Punic War (211 BC) but to its submission to Rome in, 338 BC, we get about 600 BC as the date of its foundation, a period at which the Etruscan power was at its highest, and which may perhaps, therefore, be accepted.

The origin of the name is probably Campus, a plain, as the adjective Campanus shows.

The Etruscan supremacy in Campania came to an end with the Samnite invasion in the latter half of the 5th century BC; these conquerors, however, entered into affiance with Rome for protection against the Samnite mountain tribes, and with Capua came the dependent communities Casilinum, Calatia, Atella, so that the greater part of Campania now fell under Roman supremacy. The citizens received the civitas sine suffragio.

In the second Samnite War they proved untrustworthy, so that the Ager Falerus on the right bank of the Volturnus was taken from them and distributed among citizens of Rome, the In bus Falerna being thus formed; and in 318 the powers of the native officials (meddices) were limited by the appointment of officials with the title praefecti Capuam Cumas (taking their name from the most important towns of Campania); these were at first mere deputies of the praetor urbanus, but after 123 BC were elected Roman magistrates, four in number; they governed the whole of Campania until the time of Augustus, when they were abolished.

In 312 BC, Capua was connected with Rome by the construction of the Via Appia, the most important of the military highways of Italy. The gate by which it left the Servian walls of Rome bore the name Porta Capena--perhaps the only case in which a gate in this enceinte bears the name of the place to which it led. At what time the Via Latina was prolonged to Casilinum is doubtful (it is quite possible that it was done when Capua fell under Roman supremacy, i.e. before the construction of the Via Appia); it afforded a route only 6 miles longer, and the difficulties with its construction were much less; it also avoided the troublesome journey through the Pomptine Marshes.

The importance of Capua increased steadily during the 3rd century, and at the beginning of the second Punic War it was considered to be only slightly behind Rome and Carthage themselves, and was able to furnish 30,000 infantry and 4000 cavalry. Until after the defeat of Cannae it remained faithful to Rome, but, after a vain demand that one of the consuls should always be selected from it, it transferred its allegiance to Hannibal, who made it his winter quarters, with bad results to the morale of his troops. After a long siege it was taken by the Romans in 211 B.C. and severely punished; its magistrates and communal organization were abolished, the inhabitants losing their civic rights, and its territory became Roman state domain. Parts of it were sold in 205 and 199 BC, another part was divided among the citizens of the new colonies of Tolturnum and Liternum established near the coast in 194 BC, but the greater portion of it was reserved to be let by the state.

Considerable difficulties occurred in preventing illegal encroachments by private persons, and it became necessary to buy a number of them out in 162 BC. It was, after that period, let, not to large but to small proprietors. Frequent attempts were made by the democratic leaders to divide the land among new settlers. Brutus in 83 BC actually succeeded in establishing a colony, but it was soon dissolved; and Cicero’s speeches De Lege Agrania were directed against a similar attempt by Servilius Rullus in 63 BC.

In the meantime the necessary organization of the inhabitants of this thickly populated district was in a measure supplied by grouping them round important shrines, especially that of Diana Tifatina, in connection with which a pagus Dianae existed, as we learn from many inscriptions; a pagus Herculaneus is also known.

The town of Capua belonged to none of these organizations, and was entirely dependent on the praefecti. It enjoyed great prosperity, however, owing to its spelt, which was worked into groats, wine, roses, spices, unguents, etc., and also owing to its manufacture, especially of bronze objects, of which both the elder Cato and the elder Pliny speak in the highest terms.

Its luxury remained proverbial; and Campania is especially spoken of as the home of gladiatorial combats. From the gladiatorial schools of Campania came Spartacus and his followers in 73 BC. Julius Caesar as consul in 59 BC succeeded in carrying out the establishment of a colony in connection with his agrarian law, and 20,000 Roman citizens were settled in this territory.

The number of colonists was increased by Mark Antony, Augustus (who constructed an aqueduct from the Mons Tifata, and gave the town of Capua estates in the district of Cnossus in Crete to the value of 12 million sesterces, and Nero.

In the war of AD 69 it took the side of Vitellius. Under the later empire it is not often mentioned; but in the 4th century it was the seat of the consularis Campaniae and its chief town, though Ausonius puts it behind Mediolanum (Milan) and Aquileia in his ordo nobilium urbium.

Under Constantine we hear of the foundation of a Christian church in Capua. In 456 it was taken and destroyed by Genseric, but must have been soon rebuilt: it was, however, finally destroyed by the Saracens in 840 and the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, founded about 497, alone remained. It contains 52 ancient marble columns, but was modernized in 1766. The site was only occupied in the late middle ages by a village which has, however, outgrown the medieval Capua in modern days.


No pre-Roman remains have been found within the town of Capua itself, but important cemeteries have been discovered on all sides of it, the earliest of which go back to the 7th or 6th century.

The tombs are of various forms, partly chambers with frescoes on the walls, partly cubical blocks of peperino, hollowed out, with grooved lids. The objects found within them consist mainly of vases of bronze (many of them without feet, and with incised designs of Etruscan style) and of clay, some of Greek, some of local manufacture, and of paintings. On the east of the town, in the Patturelli property, a temple has been discovered with Oscan votive inscriptions, some of them inscribed upon terracotta tablets, others on cippi, while of a group of 150 tufa statuettes (representing a matron holding one or more children in her lap) three bore Latin inscriptions of the early imperial period.

The site of the town being in a perfectly flat plain, without natural defences, it was possible to lay it out regularly. Its length from east to west is accurately determined by the fact that the Via Appia, which runs from north-west to south-east from Casilinum to Calatia, turns due east very soon after passing the so-called Arco Campano (a triumphal arch of good brickwork, once faced with marble, with three openings, erected in honour of some emperor unknown), and continues to run in this direction for 5413 3/4 English feet (= 6000 ancient Oscan feet).

The west gate was the Porta Romana; remains of the east gate (the name of which we do not know) have been found. This fact shows that the main street of the town was perfectly orientated, and that before the Via Appia was constructed, i.e. in all probability in pre-Roman times. The width of the town from north to south cannot be so accurately determined as the line of the north and south walls is not known, though it can be approximately fixed by the absence of tombs (Beloch fixes it at 4000 Oscan feet = 3609 English feet), nor is it absolutely certain (though it is in the highest degree probable, for Cicero praises its regular arrangement and fine streets) that the plan of the town was rectangular.

Within the town are remains of thermae on the north of the Via Appia and of a theatre opposite, on the south. The former consisted of a large cryptoporticus round three sides of a court, the south side being open to the road; it now lies under the prisons. Beloch (see below) attributes this to the Oscan period; but the construction as shown in Labruzzi’s drawing (v. 17) 1 is partly of brick-work and opus reticulatum, which may, of course, belong to a restoration. The stage of the theatre had its back to the road; Labruzzi (v. 18) gives an interesting view of the cavea. It appears from inscriptions that it was erected after the time of Augustus.

Other inscriptions, however, prove the existence of a theatre as early as 94 BC, so that the existence of another elsewhere must be assumed. We know that the Roman colony was divided into regions and possessed a capitolium, with a temple of Jupiter, within the town, and that the market-place, for unguents especially, was called Seplasia; we also hear of an aedes alba, probably the original senate house, which stood in an open space known as albana. But the sites of all these are quite uncertain. Outside the town on the north is the amphitheatre, built in the time of Augustus, restored by Hadrian and dedicated by Antoninus Pius, as the inscription over the main entrance recorded. The exterior was formed by 80 Doric arcades of four storeys each, but only two arches now remain. The keystones were adorned with heads of divinities.

The interior is better preserved; beneath the arena are subterranean passages like those in the amphitheatre at Puteoli. It is one of the largest in existence; the longer diameter is 185 yds., the shorter 152, and the arena measures 83 by 49 yds., the corresponding dimensions in the colosseum at Rome being 205, 170, 93 and 58 yds. To the east are considerable remains of baths--a large octagonal building, an apse against which the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is built, and several heaps of debris. On the Via Appia, to the south-east of the east gate of the town, arc two large and well-preserved tombs of the Roman period, known as la Carceri vecchie and la Conocchia.

To the east of the amphitheatre an ancient road, the Via Dianae, leads north to the Pagus Dianae, on the west slopes of the Mons Tifata, a community which sprang up round the famous and ancient temple of Diana, and probably received an independent organization after the abolition of that of Capua in 211 BC. The place often served as a base for attacks on the latter, and Sulla, after his defeat of C. Norbanus, gave the whole of the mountain. to the temple.

Within the territory of the pagus were several other temples with their magistri. After the restoration of the community of Capua, we find magistri of the temple of Diana still existing, but they were probably officials of Capua itself. The site is occupied by the Benedictine church of S. Angelo in Formisi which dates from 944, and was reconstructed by the abbot Desiderius (afterwards Pope Victor III) of Monte Cassino), with interesting paintings, dating from the end of the 11th century to the middle of the 12th, in which five different styles may be distinguished. They form a complete representation of all the chief episodes of the New Testament. Deposits of votive objects (favissae), removed from the ancient temple from time to time as new ones came in and occupied all the available space, have been found, and considerable remains of buildings belonging to the Vicus Dianae (among them a triumphal arch and some baths, also a hail with frescoes, representing the goddess herself ready for the chase) still exist.

The ancient road from Capua went on beyond the Vicus Dianae to the Volturnus (remains of the bridge still exist) and then turned east along the river valley to Caiatia and Telesia. Other roads ran to Puteoli and Cumae (the so-called Via Campana) and to Neapolis, and as we have seen the Via Appia passed through Capua, which was thus the most important road centre of Campania.

Initial text from a 1911 Encyclopedia. Please update as needed.