Nuceria. The ancient history of a powerful city in Campania

by Roberto Iossa

From sarrasti to the Romans, passing through the Etruscans and beyond. The territory that corresponds to the current Nocera Inferiore e Nocera Superiore it was once known as Nuceria. A powerful city with an ancient tradition, which for many centuries was one of the most important urban centers in all of Campania.

The foundation: between myths and testimonies

The toponym Nuceria it is clearly derived Latin, but the foundation of the city is much more remote. Legend has it that the town was founded by the people of you sarrasti, descendants of pre-Hellenic populations. In reality, the foundation took place between the seventh and sixth centuries BC, when the native populations decided to settle towards the sea.

Archaeological finds exhibited in the first room of the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Agro Nocerino

The origin of Nuceria is therefore attributable to the peoples oschi and Etruscans (two of the Italic peoples who inhabited the peninsula before the advent of the Romans). The ancient name of Nuceria seems to have therefore been "Nuvkrinum"Which literally means"new fortress“.

Many other legends are the basis of the foundation. A Greek epigraph from the 1st century AD preserved at Provincial Archaeological Museum of Agro Nocerino claims that the city had been founded by a god. Another tells of one Etruscan princess who, having escaped from her native city for love, would have come to die in these areas. In his memory his father would have erected a city with his name: Nuceria, precisely!

Epigraph of the 1st century AD preserved in the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Agro Nocerino

Etruscans, Samnites and Romans: all the peoples of Nuceria

In Etruscan times Nuvkrinum was part of the Dodecapolis, the union of the twelve most important Etruscan cities in the area. He was at the head of a confederation that also included Pompeii and Sorrento, beating its own currency and using its own alphabet: thenucerino alphabet.

Bucchero oinochoe (jug) with inscriptions in the Nucerian alphabet

In the 5th century BC, however, the city passed under the control of the Samnites. The toponym changes: from Nuvkrinum it becomes Nuvkrinum Alafaternum from the name of the tribe of Alfaterni. During Samnite wars, which took place at the end of the fourth century. BC, the city, proud of its origin and independence, openly sided against the Romans. But despite this it was defeat, entering the Roman orbit by Latinizing his name in Nuceria Alfaterna.

Until the end of the first century. BC the city was an important Roman cultural and political center. In this period the terrible happened siege of Hannibal, Carthaginian leader, who destroyed Nuceria Alfaterna. It was then rebuilt by the will of the Roman Senate, renewing it in the urban layout.

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

From Nuceria Alfaterna to Nuceria Constantia

Towards the end of the 1st century BC, in the Augustan age, Nuceria Alfaterna became a Roman colony, changing its name to Nuceria Constantia, greatly reducing its geo-political importance. Despite this, it was still the protagonist of important events.

It gave birth to an emperor: Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Augustus, eighth emperor of Rome and predecessor of Vespasian. These he was brutally slaughtered on the streets of Rome after only eight months of regency. In 59 AD, however, the famous brawl with the Pompeians in the amphitheater of the city of Pompeii.

Coin with the profile of Emperor Vitellius, a native of Nuceria Constantia

The end of the Roman Nuceria

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Nuceria passed into the hands of the empire Byzantine. On the occasion of the third gothic war (553 AD), fought in the territory, the Byzantine general Narsete defeated the Gothic ruler Teia. The spectacular was erected to celebrate the victory Baptistery of Santa Maria Maggiore. The building, also known as "The Rotonda“, Is located in the territory of Nocera Superiore and represents an important architectural testimony of the early Christian period on the Italian peninsula.

Baptistery of Santa Maria Maggiore, 6th century A.D

Over the years, Nuceria passed into the hands of the Longobards and then to the Normans, marking the decline of the mighty Roman city. We then enter the period medieval e Renaissance when the city underwent numerous upheavals, starting from the name which, Italianized, became "Nocera“, As we now know it.

Mosaic floor emerged from the excavations of the baptistery of Santa Maria Maggiore. It belongs to a house of the ancient Nuceria

The story of the great Nocera certainly does not end here, and perhaps in another article we will talk about the events that interested Nocera from the Middle Ages to the present day. On many occasions, in fact, the territory has been theater of important events that affected the entire history of the Italian peninsula.

But even just by reading the events of the ancient Nuceria we can understand the importance that this city has assumed in every phase of history. A source of pride for those who, today, live in the Agro Nocerino-Sarnese area.


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