History of Capua

Titus Livius (59 BC-17 AD) described Capua as one of the richest cities of Italy. At the time of Livius Capua extended across 200 hectares of land, and stood in the middle of a territory planted with cereals and vines, and full of trades and handicrafts, but first we need to step back even further, almost 3000 years ago...

Archaeological documents certify that the site was certainly inhabited from the 9th century BC, and that it was occupied without interruption until the Roman age.

The first phase of the settlement of Capua, by the Etruscans, is known mainly through the necropolis, the oldest part of which dates back to the middle of the 9th century BC, and was located in the north-west of the city. Already from this first stage there was some contact with the Ancient Greek world.

The territory in the  archaic age was located between the Volturno and Clanis Rivers with Mount Tifata to the north; during this period, Roman literary tradition speaks of Capua as the capital of the "dodecapoli" ("twelve cities") in Campania.

Capua's flourishing economy in the 7th and 6th century BC, was based mainly on agriculture, and an environment in which artistic handicrafts flourished, particularly of bronzes and clay objects, intended to meet the needs of the local aristocracy. Moreover, the city developed trade with other regions of southern Italy, and contact with the Greeks also grew more intense.

At the end of the 6th century BC the Etruscan hegemony underwent its first blow with their defeat at the hands of the Latins, aided by the Greeks of Cumae, at the battle of Aricia. Diodorus Siculus (90-27 BC) told how the people of Campania were formed “from the merger of the Italic tribes and those of Campania”.

In the Samnite age the shrines of “Diana Tifatina”, famous in antiquity, and one in "Fund Patturelli", from which the famous "Mothers" of Capua" come were both active. It was the Samnite wars of 343 BC and an attack by the mountain people of the Sannio, followed by the intervention of Rome in defence of the town, that marked the beginnings of the Roman domination in Campania, and the Romans in 338 BC gave Capua the privilege of “civitas sine suffragio” (i.e. "citizenship without voting").

In 314 BC Capua rebelled against Rome, but the city was forced to surrender. The defeat of Hannibal (248-183 BC), whom Capua had supported during the Second Punic War, brought in 211 BC the deprivation of the right of citizenship and the confiscation of land. The ruling class was dispersed, and the city was subdued under the jurisdiction of a "praefectus" ("Prefect", who was the representative of the Roman authority at the place).

By the end of the 3rd century BC Capua was still the most important centre of Campania, characterized by an intense construction business and a specialized agricultural production such as that of the vine, while continued the traditions of finishing bronze and iron.

The Romanization of Capua was completed by 59 BC, when it was controlled by a colony of veterans who had fought with Julius Caesar. The Roman times were a time of considerable public and private construction, and a substantial number of monuments significantly changed the town-planning aspect of Capua.

In the 4th century AD the city was still flourishing, so much so that the poet Magnus Ausonius (310-394 AD) appointed it among the eight major cities of the Roman Empire.

Later, as with the entire Roman empire, Capua suffered from barbarian assaults. In 410 it was devastated by the Visigoths of Alaric (458-507) and in 455 by vandals of Geiseric (389-477); in 476, with the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was conquered by the Heruli of Odoacer (435-493) and by Theodoric (471-526) in 493.

Under Emperor Justinian (483-565) Capua had a period of calm thanks to refurbishing works that Emperor brought to the city.

This new found calm ended with the arrival of the Lombards in Italy. In 594 Capua was the seat of a county under the dependencies of the Duchy of Benevento and for approximately three centuries it was at the center of endless struggles and devastation among the Lombard duchies.

During one of these struggles for the succession of the Duchy of Benevento the Saracens plundered and destroyed Capua (in 841), forcing the majority of the citizens to move with the town name and insignia to "Casilinum", where the escapees founded the "New Capua".

The Lombards took the place of the Normans in 1134, then the Swabians (1195) and finally the Anjevin (1268). The period corresponding to the Spanish and Habsburg domination (1516-1738) remains quite obscure.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the city had some importance as an administrative center with Gioacchino Murat (1767-1815), then after the “Risorgimento” and the Treaty of Italy it entered the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.

Etymology of the name Capua

As with many places in Italy the origins of the name are subject to much dicsussion. We mention the most important and probable possible origins of the name Capua:

With regard to the etymology of the name Capua, contemporary studies refer to ancient legends by which the name Capua derives from "Capys" [1].

This name is of Etruscan origin and corresponds to the Latin word ' Vultur' (trans: 'hawk') So according to this etymology the city name may be translated as "the city of the Hawk". [2]

G. Petrella emphasises that some scholars derive Capua from ‘Capi’, i.e. "from the omen of Falcons, which flew over this place (…) and this should not be surprising because the Etruscans were very much observers of the omens" [3].

Overall the etymology about the “falcon” would seem to be confirmed by language studies, and G. B. Pellegrini writes: "[…] Capua could be attested as 'Capulva' and as the ethnic adjective ‘Capuan’ (…)

Alessio suggests a link between Capua and the Greek 'Kapue', with the Etruscan ' Capys ' (' hawk '); in fact, according to Servius (4th-5th century) ‘falconis qui Tusca lingua ‘Capis’ dicitur "(Capua derives from ' hawk ', which is pronounced in Tuscany as 'Capi') […] [4].

On the contrary, according to a hypothesis dating from the 18th century, the name derives from the "curvature" of the site of the city. So O. Rinaldo explains the origins of Capua: “In Ancient Greek Capua was called ‘Karba’. Its name is ‘Capys’ and contains the meaning of ‘curvature’ ". [5]

See also Capua for visitor information


1. as mentioned in the 'Aeneid', V, 145 ff.. and in 'Chronicon Vulturnense ' by the Monk John

2. See G. Rinaudo, Rivista Storica Italiana” ["Historic Italian Magazine], vol. 63, 1951:  437

3. See  G. Petrella, L. Alberti, “L’Officina del Geografo” ["The Workshop of the Geographer"], ed. Vita e Pensiero, 2004: 57

4. See G.B. Pellegrini, “Toponomastica Italiana” [“Italian "Toponymy”], Hoepli, 1990: 93

5. See O. Rinaldo, “Memorie Istoriche della Fedelissima città di Capua”, 1755: 339