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Naples “in the Time of Cuma": The Old Town: Nero and Augustus

The ancient town of Cuma was situated close to the current city of Naples, and traces of the earlier city can still be seen nearby. The setlement was founded by the ancient Greeks in a location that had been occupied since prehistoric times, and is notable as being the first Greek settlement in Italy.

The families and descendants from the original settlement at Cuma went on to create further towns and villages, including the one that was later to become Naples.

For years people talked about the opportunity to visit an “Underground Naples,” with evidence of Naples in its first period when it was founded by people from Cuma - in fact, there is an “Underground Naples”, which today can be visited by tourists interested in antiquities. The brief historical notes below may be useful to those who would like to explore Naples as it was "in the time of Cuma".

Cuma: early origins

During the mid-seventh century BC the Coumans built the Greek city of Parthenope between the hill of “Pizzofalcone” and the “Megaride” island, once connected to the mainland and now the seat of the “Castello dell’Ovo”, on a promontory overlooking the sea, where there was the port. The settlement of Parthenope, as we can see from ceramic materials found in a necropolis of the city, seems to have been a lively place from the first half of the 7th century to the second half of the 6th century BC.

At the end of the sixth century BC the Coumans founded "Neapolis" on a plain sloping from north to south towards the sea. The place where the "first" Napoli was located is now included in the heart of the Old Town of Naples. The walls were arranged around the perimeter of the plain, and cemeteries surrounded the city on three sides. The oldest part of the city walls dates back to the early 5th century BC.

The walls were reinforced at the end of the 4th and at the end of the 3rd century BC, with further additions in the early Middle Ages. The acropolis of the Greek city shows the agora, the forum, the Odeon and the "macellum" with business functions, while the shrines were located in the higher part of the hill, with the Temple of Castor and Pollux.

The best preserved structures date back to the Flavian age, and, in any case to the imperial age, with references to outstanding figures of emperors such as Augustus and Nero.

In fact, thanks to archaeological excavations a Marblehead dating from the middle of the first century came to light, which, according to some scholars, represents the Emperor Nero. From the historical point of view, this is proof that the excavation area was once a place of imperial cult.

Not far away there are the remains of the theatre where the Emperor Nero performed in front of audiences from Naples with poetry readings and musical exercises. In fact, the Emperor Nero was in Naples in 64 AD to preside over the so called “isolympic” games [equal to Olympic Games] remaining then in Benevento to attend the Gladiatorial games. Naples was also a favourite city of the Emperor Augustus.

By the will of Augustus, the cult of the emperor was banned in Italy. The only exception was Naples, which was a "Roman city" in the first century BC, but remained a "Greek city" for all practical purposes. In the city a series of Olympics games, like athletics, heavy athletics, horse racing, art, poetry, theatre and music took place.

After Augustus, Naples remained a reference point for the emperors and the Roman ruling classess, who built villas of extraordinary beauty, and, of course, with “sea views.” [2].


Neapolis, Parthenope and Naples in the time of Cuma

When we say that Naples was a colony of Cumae, that is correct - but the history of the origins of Naples has long been controversial, since Naples was known by two names, "Parthenope" and "Neapolis." The issue of the "names of Naples" dates from antiquity.

Strabo [58 BC-25 AD], in the fifth book of his “Γεωγραφικά” [Geography], wrote that the colony founded by the Coumans was called "Neapolis" [= New City]. However, some ancient historians like Pliny the Elder [23-79 AD] said that Naples was also called Parthenope, because the sepulchre of the siren "Parthenope" was here. For Pliny, Parthenope and Naples were the same city.

However, Lutatius Catulus [consul in 102 BC] wrote that Parthenope was located in a different area than Naples, and that Parthenope was older than Naples:

Lutatius wrote in the fourth book that some Cumaean colonists were moved away by their parents and they founded the city of Parthenope, so named because of the sepulchre of the siren Parthenope. Later on (the new city), thrived for fertility and beauty of the landscape, and attracted more immigration, and Cuma, for fear of depopulation, decided to destroy Parthenope. After that, however, the Cumans were struck by a plague and, on the instructions of the oracle, restored the city and also the worship of Partenope. Because of its recent foundation, the city was called ‘Neapolis’ that is ‘the New City’” [1]

The most recent archaeological excavations have shown that, in reality, the Cumans first founded Parthenope and then later founded "Neapolis".

See also the history of Cuma to learn more about the ancient origins of the town.


  • See “F 9 (Schol. Vatic. in Verg. Georg. 4,563 = F 7 Peter HRR = F 2 Funaioli GRF“ in „Die Communes Historiae des Lutatius: Einleitung, Fragmente, Übersetzung, Kommentar“ von Uwe Walter, Bielefeld, in „Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft (GFA)“, 12, 2009, , p. 11).
  • On these aspects of the historic centre of Naples, See C. Negro, “Neapolis. Le ultime scoperte archeologiche”, in “La Rassegna d'Ischia”, 2005, n. 1, pp. 17-24

You can find more local travel ideas in and the Campania guide.

See also: 

Map of Cuma and places to visit


Cuma places to visit



The small island of Procida, in the Gulf of Naples, has some pretty marinas and spectacular sea views to enjoy

Procida guide


A large and busy city, Naples also has many important historic monuments

Naples guide


Ischia is a lovely scenic island in the Bay of Naples

Ischia guide


Herculaneum near Naples was a town buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD

Herculaneum guide


In Capua you can visit the Museum of the Palazzo Antignano with its many ancient artefacts as well as the local cathedral

Capua guide
Santa Maria Capua Vetere

Santa Maria Capua Vetere

At Policastro Bussentino you can see the large amphitheatre and a frescoed 2nd century temple of the Mithraeum cult

Santa Maria Capua Vetere guide

...or see all our recommended places to visit in Campania