Hannibal in Nocera. Story of the terrible siege that destroyed the city

by Roberto Iossa

This is the story of the terrible siege that Hannibal implemented against the ancient city of Nuceria Alfaterna. It is one of the episodes of the second Punic war, during which Campania became a strategically ideal terrain for the expansionist aims of the Carthaginian leader. A figure, that of Hannibal, who still hovers, after thousands of years, in the territories of Nocera Inferiore and Superiore.

assedio annibale nocera nuceria alfaterna
Henri Paule Motte, Hannibal crossing the Rhine, 1878.

The Second Punic War: a general in the limelight

If the Second Punic War, fought between Rome and Carthage from 218 BC to 202 BC., is also called "Hannibal war"There must be a reason! Hannibal Barca, in fact, was the real protagonist of this bloody conflict, succeeding his father Hamilcar as leader of the Carthaginian empire. Eager to avenge the defeat of the First Punic War and the loss of Sardinia and Corsica, he marched with his army.

From that moment began a slow and inexorable advance towards Italy that did not stop even in the face of the numerous losses of men among its ranks. Hannibal tried to convince the peoples subjected to Rome to rise up by rebelling. In the 218 BC the famous happened crossing of the Alps and within two years the general arrived in the territories near Rome.

assedio annibale nocera nuceria alfaterna
The map shows Hannibal's unstoppable march to Capua and Nocera.

Hannibal obtained a very important victory in Rods. Convinced, however, that he did not have sufficient forces to attack the capital directly, he thought of encircling it, conquering two of the most powerful Roman cities in Campania: Capua e Nuceria Alfaterna.

The powerful Nuceria Alfaterna

Nuceria Alfaterna (corresponding today to the territory of Nocera Inferiore e Nocera Superiore) allied himself with Rome starting from 307 BC, always showing a certain loyalty to the capital. Its importance in certain historical periods was almost equal to that of Pompeii, even going so far as to mint its own currency and use a specific alphabet (nucerino alphabet).

Annibale assedio Nocera Nuceria Alfaterna
The position of Nuceria Alfaterna on the Peutingerian Table, a 12th-13th century copy of an ancient Roman map showing the roads of the Roman Empire.

In September 216 BC Hannibal's army focused its attention on Nuceria, considered by some historians as a "city surrounded by impregnable walls". Initially Hannibal's troops settled outside the city walls, with the intention of preventing any type of external supply, leading the population to starvation.

The citizens of Nocera, despite a strenuous initial resistance, were forced to yield and negotiate. Hannibal allowed them to leave the city with one (or perhaps two) robes per person. The fugitive Nocerini wandered around the region in search of a new home. For other sources, however, Hannibal he had the senators killed in the baths, slaughtered anyone who tried to escape and he put the city to fire and sword, destroying it completely (Acerra also had the same sad fate).

Like so many other authors, also the Roman historian Valerio Massimo will talk about this sad episode in his own Factorum et dictorum memorabilium books IX:

Hannibal, having persuaded the inhabitants of Nocera, whose walls made it impregnable, to leave the city carrying two robes each, when they were released he made them suffocate in the steam and smoke of the bathrooms.

The testament of Hannibal in Nocera: between history and legend

"Hannibal himself, however, after some time, seeing all his efforts to tame the Romans useless, said, with a sigh, that the sieges of Naples, Nola, and Cumae had cost him too dear and that they had taken the empire out of his hands of Rome, if he had known how to profit from the dismay that came after the battle of Cannae "

Hannibal, against the initial predictions, lost the Second Punic War. The Roman Senate conceded the territory of Atella as a temporary home, waiting for the reconstruction of the real Nuceria. Despite the passage of Hannibal in those areas it was rather quick and painful, still today it is possible to admire historical testimonies (often tinged with legend) that refer to the facts narrated.

According to many historians, Hannibal reached Nuceria by crossing a pass that crept between two adjacent mountains. This path (not surprisingly called by the citizens "The split mountain") is known as "Campanile dell'Orco" (for the discovery of a stone mausoleum) or "Passo dell'Orco" and quickly connects Nocera Inferiore to its neighbor Castel San Giorgio. According to some, the toponym "Ogre" would have to do with Hannibal, known for the violence with which he hurled himself at his enemies.

annibale assedio nocera nuceria alfaterna
The caves of Hannibal in the mountains of Nocera Superiore where, according to legend, the leader rested during his march. Photo by Salvatore Anaclerico from the Facebook group "Trekking in Campania"

Another testimony, more or less truthful, is located in the mountains of Nocera Superiore. Here are the so-called "Caves of Hannibal". According to legend, these rocky coves, which overlook the hamlets of Pucciano and Pareti, were used by the Carthaginian leader as a temporary refuge during his unstoppable march.


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