The town was founded by the Oscans, a native Italian people, in around the late 7th or early 6th century BC. It was built for defensive purposes on a steep volcanic ridge produced by an ancient lava flow. The town was probably centred on the area of Regios VII and VIII (coloured red in the plan below) as can be determined by the irregular pattern of streets that can be seen today.
Later in the 6th century BC the area was settled by the Greeks. At some point between 524 and 474 BC the Etruscans occupied the site, but their dominance was short lived. Defeated by the Cumeans and Syracusans in a sea battle off Cuma, they relinquished control of the area which thus returned to Greek rule. The Greeks extended the town with the construction of Regio VI (
coloured blue) which has a more methodical grid pattern of street layout.
Shortly after the defeat of the Etruscans, the Samnites began to move from the mountains down to the coastal plains in a slow but inexorable conquest of the entire region.
By 424BC the Samnites (known as the Campani) had conquered all of the region with the exception of Neapolis.

As a defence against its turbulent neighbours and as an insurance policy against Rome, Pompeii remained a fortified town. Between 424 and 89BC it was surrounded by increasingly solid fortifications. However, during this time Pompeii flourished, especially in the 2nd century BC when it became increasingly wealthy as a centre of trade and commerce.

In March 90BC the Samnite towns of the region rose up against Rome, and this time Pompeii joined the rebels, led by Gaius Papius Mutilus, in what became known as the Social War (also known as the Marsic War). The war against the 'allies' under the leadership of Lucius Cornelius Sulla proved difficult and prolonged for the Romans. Pompeii was beseiged, its walls bombarded by ballista. By 80BC the town seccumbed. Thereafter the town was Roman and remained so until AD79.

The Roman way of life gradually took hold. The town was extended inside the walls with the construction of residential areas (
coloured yellow). Public baths were built. The oldest of the baths were the Stabian Baths built in the Samnite era, but the Forum Baths date from the Roman occupation while the Central Baths were still under construction when Vesuvius struck.


Herculaneum was subject to the same succession of conquerors as Pompeii and as such had a similar early history. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Herculaneum was named after Hercules showing its Greek origin, although little is known of its history prior to this.
What is clear, however, is that during the Roman period Herculaneum was of some importance. Luxurious residences stood on the edge of the promontory overlooking the bay of Naples. Behind these lay more modest dwellings. By all appearances Herculaneum was a residential seaside town chosen by the populace for its tranquility and its environment.
Like Pompeii the town later came under the control of the Samnites and then Rome. While little is known of the town's participation in the uprising of 90BC it became a Roman municipium in 89 BC, when it was defeated by Titus Didius, a legate of Sulla. Since only part of Herculaneum has been unearthed, it is difficult to establish its exact size.


Stabiae was originally a small port, but by the 6th century it had already been overshadowed by the much larger port at Pompeii. As with other towns in the area Stabiae was founded by the Oscans. In 1957 three hundred tombs dating from the 7th to the 3rd centuries B.C. were found in burial grounds associated with the town.

The town was destroyed by Sulla in 89BC during the Social War. It was subsequently rebuilt and became a popular resort for wealthy Romans. There were several miles of luxury villas built along the edge of the headland, to take advantage of the views over the bay of Naples.

On the right is a photograph of a silver denarius of the Marsian Confederation, during the Social War (91-88 BC).

Pliny the Elder died at Stabiae on the 25th of August AD79, probably during the trauma of the sixth and largest pyroclastic surge caused by the collapse of the eruption plume.

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