Capua is a city and comune in the province of Caserta, Campania, southern Italy, situated 25 km (16 mi) north of Naples, on the northeastern edge of the Campanian plain. Ancient Capua was situated where Santa Maria Capua Vetere is now. The name of Capua comes from the Etruscan Capeva. The meaning is ‘City of Marshes’. Its foundation is attributed by Cato the Elder to the Etruscans, and the date given as about 260 years before it was “taken” by Rome. If this is true it refers not to its capture in the Second Punic War (211 BC) but to its submission to Rome in 338 BC, placing the date of foundation at about 600 BC, while Etruscan power was at its highest. In the area several settlements of the Villanovian civilization were present in prehistoric times, and these were probably enlarged by the Oscans and subsequently by the Etruscans.
Etruscan supremacy in Campania came to an end with the Samnite invasion in the latter half of the 5th century BC.About 424 BC it was captured by the Samnites and in 343 BC besought Roman help against its conquerors. Capua entered into alliance with Rome for protection against the Samnite mountain tribes, along with its dependent communities Casilinum, Calatia, Atella, so that the greater part of Campania now fell under Roman supremacy. The citizens of Capua received the civitas sine suffragio (citizenship without the vote). In the second Samnite War with Rome, Capua proved an untrustworthy Roman ally, so that after the defeat of the Samnites, the Ager Falerus on the right bank of the Volturnus was confiscated. In 318 BC the powers of the native officials (meddices) were limited by the appointment of officials with the title praefecti Capuam Cumas (taking their name from the most important towns of Campania); these were at first mere deputies of the praetor urbanus, but after 123 BC were elected Roman magistrates, four in number; they governed the whole of Campania until the time of Augustus, when they were abolished. It was the capital of Campania Felix. In 312 BC, Capua was connected with Rome by the construction of the Via Appia, the most important of the military highways of Italy. The gate by which it left the Servian walls of Rome bore the name Porta Capena; perhaps the only case in which a gate in this enceinte bears the name of the place to which it led. At what time the Via Latina was stretched to Casilinum is doubtful (it is quite possible that it was done when Capua fell under Roman supremacy, i.e. before the construction of the Via Appia); it afforded a route only 10 km (6.2 mi) longer, and the difficulties with its construction were much less; it also avoided the troublesome journey through the Pontine Marshes. The importance of Capua increased steadily during the 3rd century BC, and at the beginning of the Second Punic War it was considered to be only slightly behind Rome and Carthage themselves, and was able to furnish 30,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry. Until after the defeat of Cannae it remained faithful to Rome, but, after a vain demand that one of the consuls should always be selected from it or perhaps in order to secure regional supremacy in the event of a Carthaginian victory, it defected to Hannibal, who made it his winter quarters: he and his army were voluntarily received by Capua. Livy and others have suggested that the luxurious conditions were Hannibal’s “Cannae” because his troops became soft and demoralized by luxurious living. Historians from Bosworth Smith onwards have been skeptical of this, observing that his troops gave as good an account of themselves in battle after that winter as before. After a long siege, it was taken by the Romans in 211 BC and severely punished (Second Battle of Capua); its magistrates and communal organization were abolished, the inhabitants who weren’t killed lost their civic rights, and its territory was declared ager publicus (Roman state domain). Parts of it were sold in 205 BC and 199 BC, another part was divided among the citizens of the new colonies of Volturnum and Liternum, established near the coast in 194 BC, but the greater portion of it was reserved to be let by the state.
Considerable difficulties occurred in preventing illegal encroachments by private persons, and it became necessary to buy a number of them out in 162 BC. It was, after that period, let, not to large but to small proprietors. Frequent attempts were made by the democratic leaders to divide the land among new settlers. Brutus in 83 BC actually succeeded in establishing a colony, but it was soon dissolved; and Cicero’s speeches De Lege Agrania were directed against a similar attempt by Servilius Rullus in 63 BC. In the meantime the necessary organization of the inhabitants of this thickly populated district was in a measure supplied by grouping them round important shrines, especially that of Diana Tifatina, in connection with which a pagus Dianae existed, as we learn from many inscriptions; a pagus Herculaneus is also known. The town of Capua belonged to none of these organizations, and was entirely dependent on the praefecti. It enjoyed great prosperity, however, due to their growing of spelt, a grain that was put into groats, wine, roses, spices, unguents etc., and also owing to its manufacture, especially of bronze objects, of which both the elder Cato and the elder Pliny speak in the highest terms. Its luxury remained proverbial; and Campania is especially spoken of as the home of gladiatorial combats. From the gladiatorial schools of Campania came Spartacus and his followers in 73 BC. Julius Caesar as consul in 59 BC succeeded in carrying out the establishment of a Roman colony under the name Julia Felix in connection with his agrarian law, and 20,000 Roman citizens were settled in this territory. The number of colonists was increased by Mark Antony, Augustus (who constructed an aqueduct from the Mons Tifata and gave the town of Capua estates in the district of Knossos in Crete valued at 12 million sesterces) and Nero. In the war of 69 it took the side of Vitellius. Under the later empire it is not often mentioned; but in the 4th century it was the seat of the consularis Campaniae and its chief town, though Ausonius puts it behind Mediolanum (Milan) and Aquileia in his ordo nobilium urbium.