Lucio Cocceio Aucto, the architect of eternal monuments

by Federico Quagliuolo

When we imagine eternal works like the Pantheon in Rome, the Seiano cave o the Cathedral Temple of the Rione Terra, we are amazed and enchanted by the grandeur of the ancients. Well, these three places have one name in common: Lucio Cocceio Aucto, the architect of the Phlegraean Fields who, still today, is considered a master of engineering.

Grotto of Seiano Lucio Cocceio Aucto
The Seiano cave, the work of Lucio Cocceio Aucto

Lucio Cocceio Aucto, between the Pantheon and the Duomo

By Lucio Cocceio Aucto we really know very little. We have no idea what his face is, where he was born and what his career has been. Some claim that it never even existed: however, we know that the gens Cocceia had existed for centuries in Campania (and moreover it is even at the origins ofEmperor Nerva).

Maybe just on birth we have some more details: Harvard University studies affirm with a good dose of certainty that was originally from Cuma and born in the first century BC The most ancient scholars, however, affirm that it is a native of Puteolis. Still others claim that he was not a Roman citizen, but a freedman or son of a freed slave.

What is certain is that it was highly esteemed by Marco Vipsanio Agrippa, one of the closest men and friends of the future Emperor Augustus: it was so much appreciated that in 20 BC he was entrusted with the design of the first Pantheon in the place where, hypothetically, Romulus ascended into heaven during a religious ceremony.
Attention, however: the current structure is the daughter of a reconstruction built a hundred years later, under the emperor Hadrian. The temple of Cocceio was in fact largely destroyed by a fire, but still today original elements remain.

Another work that bears his signature is the Cathedral of Pozzuoli. Compared to the Pantheon in Rome today it may seem like a second-rate monument, but in ancient times it was not so: Puteolis was in fact one of the richest and most important cities of Roman civilization. Incredibly, this building also survived to a complete reconstruction which took place in the 1600s.

In this case, in short, it can be said that the works speak for him.

Cocceio was not only an exceptional architect, but also an extraordinary civil and military engineer". The thing we remember him most for, in fact, are its road infrastructures.

Cocceio cave in Pozzuoli
The Cocceio Cave in Pozzuoli

A colossal network of infrastructures for Campania Felix

The ancient Romans, with a practical and visionary soul, immediately understood that a flourishing state is based on evolved and long-lasting infrastructures. And even here our Lucio Cocceio Aucto left us an enormous quantity of public and military works that I am survived the test of timeindeed, they have been used daily by citizens up to a century ago: this is the case of Crypta Neapolitan, which remained the final point of Viale Giulio Cesare until the construction of the Galleria Laziale.

If we think that almost all works have little more than 2000 years round, we understand the exceptional work that was done in those years. In the only province of Naples we find for example the Seiano cave, the Crypta Neapolitan, the Portus Iulius of Pozzuoli. Perhaps he also made the Crypta Romana, between Cuma and the sea, but we have no certainties.

The only infrastructure it has preserved the name of the author in its name is the "Cocceio cave“, 1 km long, which is located in the parts of Averno lake and today it is in a sad state of forgetfulness. It had an ironic destiny: it was reopened in 2018 after 73 years of neglect and today it is still to be rediscovered.
If of the Seiano cave we talked in this article, as well as of the Crypta Neapolitan, we have to imagine how much it was hard not only digging caves that are kilometers long inside the rock, without any modern tools, but the design was also very complicated: Cocceio also identified perfectly the points of light, to ensure natural lighting in the cavities, and of points in which to ensure air exchange with very long punctures, especially imagining the military use of the facilities (and the high amount of men inside the caves).

The works of Lucio Cocceio Aucto, in fact, they were not only for civil or religious purposes, but also for facilitate military maneuvers: just the Grotta di Cocceio, for example, was commissioned by Agrippa in 39 BC to allow the troops to move quickly between Pozzuoli and Cuma, without forgetting the presence of the neighbor Miliscola, where there was the Classis Misenensis.
With tragic irony, indeed the Cocceio cave was in danger of collapsing due to the military: during World War II it was used as an explosives depot and blown up by the Germans. But he survived that too.

Pantheon in Rome
The Pantheon in Rome

The aesthetics of the eternal

In times when viaducts, monuments and tunnels collapse, imagine an object that has existed for 2000 years it sends even the wildest imaginations into a tailspin.
And instead Cocceio's works are still there, scattered among the Phlegraean Fields, to inspire us with their beauty towards that sense of thrill that the eternal gives us.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Carlo Promis, architects and architecture among the Romans, Stamperia Reale, Turin, 1871
Appiano Alessandrino, Of the Civil and External Wars of the Romans, Casa de 'Figliuoli di Aldo, Venice, 1551
Scipione Maffei, Verona Illustrata Part Two, Typographical Society of Italian Classics, Milan, 1825 (there is a chapter that speaks of Cocceio's origins)
Senate of the Republic

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