the legend, Herculaneum was founded by Heracles
(Hercules) on his way back from Spain to Greece.
While in the gulf of Naples, he fell in love with the nymph Sebetis (the beautiful daughter of the mythical river Sebeto) but, unfortunately, she did not return his love and she preferred to be transformed into a rock which Heracles decided to name Heraclea (Herculaneum). Upon that rock, which was flanked by two streams and ejected towards the sea, an hamlet was built and it became the first nucleus of “Hercules' city”.
name of the town suggests a Greek foundation, and the
city presented the typical Greek town layout, probably
due to the influence of the Greek people living in the
nearby Greek settlement of Parthenope, most
archaeologists, basing their theories on the current
archaeological findings, advocate that an hamlet was
settled, during the 6th century b. C., by the Oscan
(Opician) people that inhabited the Campania plain.
It has been
presumed that Etruscans and Samnites also resided here,
until the town came under the influence of Rome, after
the Samnites wars, during the 4th century b.C. In
effect, it became a Roman municipium in the year
89 b.C. but, thanks to its ideal location in the middle
of the wonderful gulf of Naples, Herculaneum was soon
transformed into a purely upper-class Roman resort town
and magnificent dwellings were built along the coastline
as the hamlet had been built up on a bluff overlooking a small
harbour by the sea.
Several illustrious roman gentries had their own gorgeous villas built here and among those the most remarkable one is the notorious Villa of the Papyri, part of which was uncovered in 1752. It belonged to very important families, surely the Pisoni gentry. The archeologists think that the beautiful dwelling was a sort of cultural centre as they brought to light an enormous library and several carbonised papyri scrolls, placed in different bookcases along the walls.
According to Seneca and other contemporary malicious poets, like Lucian, it was a fashion to own a private library, during the Roman Empire. In fact, they both considered the owners of those libraries like simple uncultured “book clubs”. The papyri scrolls found at Herculaneum, however, prove that they were related to the epicurean philosophy and many scholars today think that the precious library might give back missing books from the past.
burial of the town under liquid hot pyroclastic
material, has well preserved organic materials, like
wooden objects and furnitures, dried fruits, eggs and
even clothes. The pyroclastic flow, entering the houses
of Herculaneum, preserved them for us to see nowadays.
Thermal bath complexex, homes, shops, thermopoliums, temples and a gym (palestra) are all still in such good conditions that it is possible to immagine clearly what sort of life was the population living two thousand years ago.
A walk through the ruins of ancient Herculaneum will surely bring us back in time.
For a walking
tour of the ancient town with a qualified tourist guide,
please contact me at belsannino@gmail.