1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cumae

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CUMAE (Gr. Κύμη), an ancient city of Campania, Italy, about 12 m. W. of Neapolis, on the W. coast of Campania, on a volcanic eminence, overlooking the plain traversed by the Volturno.

There are many legends as to its foundation, but even the actual period of its colonization by the Greeks is so early (ancient authorities give it as 1050 B.C.) that there is some doubt as to who established it, whether Chalcidians from Euboea or Aeolians from Κύμη (Cyme), and it should probably be regarded as a joint settlement. It was certainly, as Strabo says, the oldest of the Greek colonies on the mainland of Italy or in Sicily. Livy tells us (viii. 22) that the settlers first landed on Pithecusae (Ischia) and thence transferred their position to the mainland, which seems a probable story. We find it in 721 B.C. founding Zancle (Messina) in Sicily jointly with Chalcis, and it extended its power gradually over the coast of the Gulf of Puteoli and the harbours of the promontory of Misenum. Puteoli itself under the name Dicaearchia was probably founded by Cumae. In the 7th century, according to the legends, Parthenope, whither the demos of Cumae had taken refuge after an unsuccessful rising against the aristocracy, was attacked by the latter and destroyed, but soon rebuilt under the name of Neapolis (New City, the present Naples).[1] The most fertile portion of the Campanian plain was also under its dominion; the name “fossa Graeca” still lingered on in 205 B.C. to testify to its ancient limits. Cumae was now at the height of its power, and many fine coins testify to its prosperity. In 524 B.C. it was the object of a joint attack by the Etruscans of Capua, the Daunians of the district of Nola, and the Aurunci of the Mons Massicus. A brilliant victory was, however, won in the hilly district outside the town, largely owing to the bravery of Aristodemus, who then led a force to the relief of Aricia, which was being attacked by the Etruscans, and, returning at the head of his victorious army, overturned the aristocracy and made himself tyrant, but was ultimately murdered by the aristocrats. These were unable to repel a renewed Etruscan attack without the help of Hiero of Syracuse, who in the battle of Cumae of 474 B.C. drove the Etruscan fleet from the sea, and broke their power in Campania.

The Samnites finally destroyed the Etruscan supremacy by the capture of Capua in the latter half of the 5th century (see Capua; Campania), and the Greeks of Cumae were overwhelmed by the same invasion, either in 420 B.C. (Livy iv. 44) or in 421 (Diodor. Sic. xii. 76), if his statement is drawn from Greek sources, 428 if it is to be dated by the Roman consuls to whose year he ascribes it. This catastrophe brought to an end the beautiful series of Greek coins from the town (B. V. Head, Historia Numorum, p. 31), and Oscan became its language, though in many respects the Greek character of the town survived (Strabo v. 4. 3, and the other references given by R. S. Conway, Italic Dialects, p. 84). One or two inscriptions in Oscan survive (id. ib. 88-92), one of which is a Iovila or heraldic dedication. The date of the general disuse of Oscan in the town appears to be fixed about 180 B.C. by the request (Livy xl. 44) which the Cumaeans addressed to Rome that they might be allowed to use Latin for public purposes. Cumae now ceased to have any independent history. It came under the supremacy of Rome in 343 (or 340) as Capua did, obtained the civitas sine suffragio and was governed after 318 by the praefecti Capuam Cumas.  (R. S. C.) 

In the Hannibalic wars it remained faithful to Rome. It probably acquired civic rights in the Social War and remained a municipium until Augustus established a colony here. Under the empire it is spoken of as a quiet country town, in contrast to the gay and fashionable Baiae, which, however, with the lacus Avernus and lacus Lucrinus, formed a part of its territory. Cicero’s villa on the east bank of the latter, for example, which he called the Academia, was also known as Cumanum. In the Gothic wars the acropolis of Cumae was, except Naples, the only fortified town in Campania, and it retained its military importance until it was destroyed by the Neapolitans in 1205, since, which time it has been deserted.

The acropolis hill (269 ft. above sea-level), a mass of trachyte which has broken through the surrounding tufa, lies hardly 100 yds. from the low sandy shore. It is traversed by caves, which are at three different levels with many branches. Some of them may belong to a remote date, while others may be quarries, but they have not been thoroughly investigated. They are famous in legend as the seat of the oracle of the Cumaean Sibyl.

The acropolis has only one approach, on the south-east; on all other sides it falls away steeply. Remains of fortifications of all ages run round the edge of the hill; some of the original Greek work, in finely hewn rectangular tufa blocks, exists on the east. The medieval line follows the ancient, except on the N.E., where it takes in a larger area.

Within the acropolis stood the temple of Apollo, erected, according to tradition, by Daedalus himself, the remains of which, restored in Roman times, were discovered in 1817, on the eastern and lower summit. On the higher western summit stood another temple, excavated in 1792, but now covered up again. This may be that of the Olympian Zeus (Liv. xxvii. 23).

There are also various remains of buildings of the imperial period, and these are far more frequent on the site of the lower town (now occupied by vineyards) which lies below the acropolis to the south. The line of the city walls can be traced both on the E. and on the W., though the remains on the E. are insignificant, and on the W. (the seaward side) only the scarping of the hill remains. To the S. of the town, just outside the wall, is the amphitheatre. To the N. of it is the point where the roads from Liternum (the Via Domitiana running along the sandy coast), Capua (a branch of the Via Campana), Misenum and Puteoli meet. The last passes through the Arco Felice, an arch of brick-faced concrete 63 ft. high which spans a cutting through the Monte Grillo, made by Domitian to shorten the course of the road, which had hitherto run farther north. The Grotto della Pace leads to the shores of Avernus. On the E. side of Cumae are considerable remains of the Roman period, among them those of the temple of Demeter, as restored by the family of the Lucceii.

The cemeteries of Cumae extended on all sides of the ancient city, except towards the sea, but the most important lay on the north, between this temple and the Lago di Licola. Excavations during the 19th century in Greek, Samnite and Roman graves have produced many important objects, now in the various museums of Europe, but especially at Naples. Recent discoveries in this necropolis (including that of a circular archaic tomb with a conical roof) have led to considerable discussion as to the true date of the foundation of Cumae, and have made it clear that, in any case, a pre-Hellenic indigenous settlement existed here—a result of great importance.

See J. Beloch, Campanien (Breslau, 1890), 145 seq.; G. Pellegrini, Monumenti dei Lincei, xiii. (1903); G. Patroni, Atti del Congresso di Scienze Storiche (1904), vol. v. p. 215 seq.  (T. As.) 

  1. Mommsen, however (Corpus Inscrip. Latin. x., Berlin, 1883, p. 170), rightly throws considerable doubt on the existence of Parthenope and even of Palaeopolis, of which there is some mention in Roman annals; under both he is inclined to trace Cumae itself.