Brief History

Herculaneum, named after the hero Hercules, was a small town in Campania on the west coast of central Italy, located some 8km south-east of present-day Naples.

Boasting only a small harbour, its main advantages were its excellent climate and its seaside position. It grew into a holiday resort and luxurious retreat for the wealthy landowners who built and bought estates there. The largest villa, the so-called Villa of the Papyri, is widely believed to have been owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law, L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus.



 The Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum; atrium quarter covered at far end of excavated area


The origins of Herculaneum are unclear: the name and the regularity of the urban planning suggest that it may have been connected with the Greek settlement at Naples, but the recorded languages used in the town are Oscan and then Latin, both native Italic languages. As elsewhere in southern Italy, an originally Greek foundation may have become 'Italicised' through conquest or assimilation. In the fourth century BC Herculaneum was a member of the Samnite[1] league but was later allied to Rome, although it sided with the Italian allies in the Social War[2] of 91-87 BC.

[1] The Samnites were the Oscan-speaking residents of the region of Samnium in south central Italy; their four tribes joined together in a federal league. 
[2] The Italian allies (socii in Latin) came together to challenge Roman supremacy; the war ended when Rome granted all Italians south of the River Po Roman citizenship, thus uniting the peninsula politically for the first time.