The derby between Pompeii and Nocera resulted in a brawl… 2000 years ago!

by Roberto Iossa

Many think stadium brawls are a recent phenomenon, but they are wrong! About two thousand years ago there was a historical scuffle between the inhabitants of Pompeii and Nocera which remained in the legend. Could this be the first clash between fans in history?

poppea ottone nocera pompei museo
Nocera Inferiore, Provincial Archaeological Museum of Agro Nocerino, statue of Athena commissioned by the emperor Ottone, seventh Roman emperor and husband of Poppea. The work was found in the Nocerina locality of Pareti and testifies to the importance of the territory in Roman times

Pompeii and Nocera on the brink of the crisis

The first to narrate the brawl between Pompeii and Nocera was Tacit in his Annales. Before reading it, however, it is useful to make a small introduction to the context. In 1st century AD the relationship between Pompeii e Nocera Constantia it wasn't idyllic at all. The Pompeians recriminated a series of agricultural territories that Nero he had stolen them in favor of Nocera himself. The Nocerini, on the other hand, while remaining faithful to the emperor, poorly digested their downgrading to a Roman colony (with the consequent change of toponym of the famous Nuceria Alfaterna in Nuceria Constantia). Moreover, Nocera envied the great amphitheater of the Pompeians, of which it was devoid.

In short the situation was on the verge of a crisis and was just waiting for a spark to finally break out. In 59 AD Livineio Regulus, a man with a reputation that is not exactly upright (Orlando describes him as a "bad guy, a brawler, a little good"!) organized one gladiatorial show in Pompeii, inviting some citizens of Nocera to assist you. The playful occasion, however, was the pretext for the intensification of tensions between the two peoples and from the terraces of the Pompeian amphitheater a brawl which over time assumed considerable dimensions.

pompei nocera rissa
The amphitheater of Pompeii where the clashes took place

Word of Tacitus!

... of a small dispute between the Nocerini and the Pompeians, a lot of blood came out in the feast of the stabbings that Livineio Regolo was doing [...] from the castellan insolences they came to the villains, to the stones, to the weapons, and the Pompeian plebs won, who had the party in the house . Many Nocerini were brought to Rome fediti or maimed or dead, and mourned by their fathers and sons.

These are the words that Tacit uses in his Annales to describe the episode of the fight. As other sources also tell, the Pompeians had the better as they played "in home“. Several nocerini lost their lives, others were seriously injured and were forced to flee.

The story certainly did not go unnoticed by the senate which, somewhat like modern sports courts, issued a series of sanctioning measures: first of all, the organization of similar events in the city was forbidden for good ten years (a sort of disqualification of the field then reduced to two years); almost all collegia (associations, corporations and the like) were dissolved; Livineio Regolo, considered the real culprit of the affair, was exiled together with his collaborators.

A "photograph" of what happened

The fight had a great echo at the time, as evidenced by numerous sources, not only literary. Famous is thefresco, now preserved at National Archaeological Museum of Napolthe, coming from a Roman house in Pompeii Archaeological Park. The title of the fresco is Scuffle between Pompeii and Nocera and it is a unique work of its kind.

pompei e nocera
Scuffle between Pompeii and Nocera, fresco of the first century. AD Naples, National Archaeological Museum

One of its peculiarities lies in portraying an event that actually happened a few years earlier. It represents the already advanced phase of the clash, with the riots spread even outside the amphitheater. It's a real one antique photography in which they can be seen lots of details: the faux marble decorations of the arena, the external stalls, the inscriptions of the entertainment companies on the right, the exact structure of the building that we find today. A truly exceptional, unprecedented work. A living testimony of a tragic but at the same time curious story.

The parochialism is resisting even today, that's for sure. But such a heated derby between Pompeii and Nocera is really difficult to repeat, and thank goodness!

Sources

  • G. Orlando, History of Nocera de 'Pagani, Editrice Gaia, 2018.
  • Tacit, Annales
  • M. De Bernardi, The brawl of 59 AD in the Pompeian amphitheater in the light of a new archaeological find, in "RatioIuris.it", March 26, 2019.

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