Pre-Roman History of Pompeii


Pompeii was an old city situated in Pompei’s commune near Naples in the Campania province of Italy. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and numerous other towns in the neighboring area (e.g., at Stabiae, Boscoreale), was buried under 13 to 20 f) of pumice and volcanic ash in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79CE.

The Roman history of Pompeii has been widely recorded, but let’s look at Pompeii from the Pre-Roman Era.

Ancient History

The first stable settlements on the site record back to the about 800BCE when the Oscans, a central Italian tribe, established five villages in the region.

With the appearance of the Greeks in Campania from around 740 BCE, Pompeii started the course for the Hellenic people, and the most influential building of this time is the Doric Temple, constructed away from the center in what would later become the Triangular Forum.

At the same time, the cult of Apollo was introduced. Phoenician and Greek sailors used the location as a safe port.

In the early 600 BCE, the town merged into a single community centered on the critical crossroad between Nola, Cumae, and Stabiae. A tufa city wall surrounded it.

The first wall unusually included a much greater area than the early town together with much farmland. That such a great wall was built indicates that the settlement was already wealthy and important. The city began to prosper, and maritime trade started with making a small port near the river’s mouth. The oldest settlement was centered in regions VII and VIII of the town (the old town).

In 524 BCE, the Etruscans settled in the area, including Pompeii, finding a transmission route between the interior and the sea. Like the Greeks, the Etruscans did not capture the city militarily but merely controlled it, and Pompeii enjoyed a kind of autonomy and freedom. Nevertheless, Pompeii became an authority in the Etruscan League of cities. Discoveries in 1980–1981 have shown the presence of Etruscan writings and a 600BCE necropolis. Under the Etruscans, a simple market square or a primitive forum was constructed, as well as the Temple of Apollo, in both of which Maiuri found things including fragments of bucchero. Several homes were constructed with Tuscan atrium, typical of these people.

The city wall was restored in the early-500BCE with two façades of comparatively thin, vertically installed, slabs of Sarno limestone some four meters apart filled with earth.

In 474 BCE, the Greek city of Cumae, joined with Syracuse, destroyed the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae and won power over the region.

The Samnite period

Between about 450–375 BCE, the era witnessed large areas of the city being evacuated, while famous sanctuaries such as the Temple of Apollo show an unexpected lack of votive matter remains.

The Samnites, people from the areas of Molise and Abruzzo, and partners of the Romans conquered Greek Cumae between 423 and 420 BCE. It is likely that all the neighboring region, including Pompeii, was already captured around 424 BCE. The new rulers slowly expanded the town and imposed their architecture.

From 343–341 BCE in the Samnite Wars, the first Roman army entered the Campanian plain bringing with it the tradition and customs of Rome, and in the Roman Latin War from 340 BCE, the Samnites were loyal to Rome. Pompeii, although administered by the Samnites, entered the Roman orbit, to which it remained true even during the third Samnite war and in the battle against Pyrrhus. In the late 4th century BCE, the city expanded from its nucleus and into the open-walled area. The street plan of the new regions was more popular and more conformal to Hippodamus’s street plan. The city walls were strengthened in Sarno stone in the early 3rd century BCE (“first Samnite wall” or the limestone enceinte). It created the basis for the currently visible walls with an outer wall of boxy limestone blocks as a terrace wall supporting a large agger, or earth dam, behind it.

After the Samnite Wars from 290 BCE, Pompeii was forced to allow socii of Rome’s status, maintaining, however, administrative and linguistic autonomy.

The Temple of Jupiter

From the Second Punic War (218–201 BC) in which Pompeii remained loyal to Rome, an additional internal wall was constructed of tufa, and the in-house agger and outer façade raised, resulting in a second parapet with a wider wall-walk. Despite the political risk of these events and the increasing migration of wealthy men to quieter cities in the eastern Mediterranean, Pompeii continued to thrive due to the trade of wine and oil with Spain and Provence and intense agriculture on farms around the town. Excavations have also found an ivory figurine of what is now called Pompeii Lakshmi – a Hindu and Jain goddess of fertility, beauty, and wealth discovered in ruins recording an Indo-Pompeii trade relation from this era.

In the 2nd century BCE, Pompeii improved itself by taking part in Rome’s triumph of the east, as shown by Apollo’s statue in the forum built by Lucius Mummius in recognition for their support in the raid of Corinth and the eastern campaigns. These riches allowed Pompeii to expand and bloom to its ultimate limits. The forum and many private and public buildings of high architectural quality were built, including Teatro Grande, the Basilica, the Temple of Jupiter, the Stabian Baths, the Comitium, and a new two-story entrance.

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