Greek in Italy

Project Research Blog

From Teano to Bacoli

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After Geoff, Livia and Katherine went home, James and I stayed in Naples for another week, to attend the 22nd International Conference of Historical Linguistics. Apart from going to lots of interesting papers, we also took the chance to do a bit more exploring, this time of places closer to Naples. Our first stop was Teano, which is a lovely hillside town: while I suspect Sunday midday is not the time to see it at its bustling best, the museum, much to our relief, was open. It’s just one floor, but it crams an amazing amount of fascinating material into the space. There’s some nice Greek-looking statuary and grave goods, but for me of course the highlight was the large number of Oscan inscriptions. Funerary inscriptions are relatively uncommon in Oscan, but there are quite a number of examples in Teano, including one of the few cases of a woman’s name (for more info on these see my post Name Games), pictured below. The inscription says Ep(pio?) Loukio daughter of Min(is).

Ep. Loukio

Teano in the late 4th century BC was also home to a family firm making plates and bowls: helpfully they were in the habit of writing variations on the information you can see in the picture below on their pots. It says: Minis Berriis. They (the pots) were made at the workshop (?) in Teanum. Note that Minis was clearly a popular name in Teano.

Minis Beriis

Next stop was the – really large – museum in Capua, which has an entire room devoted to epigraphy (bliss!) as well as lots of inscriptions scattered elsewhere about the place. For those who are slightly less one-track-minded than us, probably the most striking thing is the amazing collection of Matres Matutae: these are scores of – presumably religious – statues of seated women holding babies. The early ones (6th century BC) start off being only vaguely female and holding a couple of babies in swaddling: by the end (2nd century BC) they are distinctly beefy and unimpressed-looking matrons clutching up to twelve of the things. Very weird, especially in large numbers. Finally, via a detour to the lovely hill-side church at Sant’ Angelo in Formis, formerly a Roman temple, to Santa Maria Capua Vetere, for a few more inscriptions, and a great tomb-painting of a Samnite warrior.

Our next adventure, later in the week, was to Bacoli (ancent Baiae) where we saw the Piscina Mirabilis, which is aptly named, since it is indeed amazing. It is not a cathedral, as you might think from the picture, nor a swimming pool, but an underground reservoir which was used to collect and distribute water from the aqueducts going into Baiae. It’s a bit difficult to get into, since you have to pre-arrange an appointment with the woman who holds the keys. Fortunately we had the services of Ludovica, our superlative guide, who organised everything. Pictured are me and James pretending to say wise things about Roman brickwork, while Ludovica looks sceptical.

Piscina Mirabilis 1

Piscina Mirabilis 2

From there we went to the Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei. Like so many of the museums we’ve been to in Italy it’s brilliantly presented and full of fantastic stuff – and in an old Aragonese castle with a wonderful view over the Bay of Naples. Cumae, just around the corner, was the earliest mainland Greek colony in Italy, and the museum has a number of early Greek inscriptions, several with features which are more or less unique – it’s amazing that even in a language which we know as well as Greek, a single inscription can make a big difference to what we think we know. The inscription below is a nice example of boustrophedon writing, where the lines are written alternately left-to-right and right-to-left.


As we were leaving the museum the exhaust fell off our car, so that was the end of the ancient part of our adventures that day!

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