Miliscola, history of the military school that has become a beach

by Federico Quagliuolo

Once Miliscola made the whole Western world tremble. Era the headquarters of the military school of the Classis Misenensis, the largest fleet that the seas had seen before then: for four centuries, in fact, the ships left from Miseno guaranteed the security, stability and military control of the Roman Empire.

However, it was not only an extraordinary place from a military point of view: Miliscola also boasted the most advanced military infrastructure of the ancient world, with its Piscina Mirabilis and the shipyards on Lake Miseno.

Classis Romana Miliscola

A new port

Miliscola was born for a serious problem that has always plagued the history of Puteoli: the bradyseism. The port of the most important city of Campania Felix (and also the most important port of the Tyrrhenian), in fact, it became impractical in the 1st century AD. Precisely for this reason it was then decided to set up in the nearby Misenus infrastructures such as to transform it into most important military base in Italy. Besides, it was also very close to Procida and Ischia, two strategic outposts.

Our main source in the narrative is the Epitoma Rei Militaris of Vegezio, a writer of the Roman nobility of the 4th century AD, but explanations of theimportance of Miseno, Miliscola and of the Classis Misenensis they can be found in practically all ancient writers.

Roman warship
A hypothetical reconstruction of a Roman warship

The Classis Misenensis, four centuries of domination of the sea

At the time of the emperors, name the Classis Misenensis meant to pronounce the name of the most absolute avant-garde in the domain of the sea. It operated for about four centuries, from 27 BC, when it was established by Augustus to defend the Tyrrhenian Sea, until 330 AD, when it was dismantled as part of the reorganization of the Empire. Throughout his period of service was the tip of the balance in the security of the Mediterranean, ensuring the prosperity and military domination of the entire Empire. In fact, it carried out not only military functions, but also activities of naval transport, exploration and communication.

The navigation began on March 5 with the feast ofIsidis Navigium, a tradition imported to Campania by the Alexandrian community and which is part of theimmense Egyptian cultural heritage ended in Italy, and ended with the arrival of autumn.

The Praefectus Classis Misenensis it was considered to be on a par with a general of the General Staff, more than an admiral. He had the delegation of the Emperor for the management of the defense affairs of the entire Tyrrhenian Sea, from Africa to Gaul. He had a villa on the present day Islet of Punta Pennata and commanded about 10,000 subordinates, among officers, non-commissioned officers, legionaries and auxiliaries.
In fact, there was in the Miseno fleet the peculiar figure of the marine infantry, that is, ground soldiers trained for combat at sea. Nothing different from the current ones marines.
To be clear, when the Misenum fleet set sail, everyone was shaking.

Among the many praefecti that they devoted their lives to the defense of the Mare Nostrum, there is an interesting name: the Como Pliny the Elder. He was a man of immense culture, a philosopher, naturalist, linguist, geographer and botanist, as well as being an art historian. His Naturalis Historia it is today one of the most important works of Latinity ever.
Curious and fearless by nature, died during the eruption of Vesuvius who destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum forever just after leaving to save Rectin, a friend of hers, and the other inhabitants of Stabia.

praefectus classis misenensis
The praefectus classis, the highest office

A state-of-the-art military school

In the meantime, they also took place in Miliscola military life lessons. It was in fact the Militum Schola where the young cadets, sayings classiarii, they practicedart of war, perfected their movements and coordination and, last but not least, they also received theoretical education on military strategies and tactics. Enter the Classis Misenensis and in his military school it was a great honor.

In peacetime the fleet was used as escort of the emperor in his numerous trips to the provinces. The soldiers of Misenus, instead, they often traveled to Rome on the occasion of the naumachia and the other games that took place inside the amphitheaters of the capital. The skill of the military in maneuver the drapes of the velarium, which was an immense canvas structure capable of covering the spectators in case of bad weather or sun, it was of rare accuracy. On other occasions they were just right the sailors who trained the protagonists of the nautical games, so as to teach them military techniques and tactics.

Miliscola, Port of Miseno and Lake
Miliscola from above, the port of Miseno and the lake of Miseno. A perfect military base

Two seas, best job

Miliscola's location is nothing short of fantastic: it is in fact one strip of beach and land in the middle of "two seas". On the one hand there is in fact the Tyrrhenian Sea, on the other hand there is the Miseno lake (formerly also called the Dead Sea). This small strip of coast allowed an exceptional strategic advantage: the transport of ships to the maintenance in the small basin of water.

Let's not forget then the infrastructure created around the military port: the Mirabilis swimming pool, which is the largest cistern in the ancient world, filled with theSerino aqueduct which brought water directly from the Irpinia mountains. It was a work of hydraulic and military engineering that still amazes contemporaries today.

And it is fascinating to imagine that, despite the millennia, generations, the epochal events that separate the Bacoli degli ancients and the modern city, there is a red thread that connects the past with the present: in fact, the shores of the military are still present today. Once here we were preparing for war, today we go on vacation with families.
A little further away, in the nearby Bay, military infrastructures, on the other hand, remained active until the 1960s. On the Phlegraean coast everything is the son of very ancient times.

-Federico Quagliuolo


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1 Comment

mario conti 25 July 2021 - 17:44

Thanks for the nice article. As a long-time vacationer in those parts, as well as a lover of Roman history and culture, I enjoyed it as and more than others on Stories of Naples; I don't know why, but the Classis Praetoria Misenensis Pia Vindex has always exerted great fascination on me right from the name.
This is one of the most detailed accounts, unless you go through the historians of the time. I'll be on the lookout for the next ones.


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