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Ancient Naples

The collection, arranged in chronological order, contains some of the most important finds from the cemetery of Parthenope, the first Rhodian or more probably Cuman settlement situated on the hill of Pizzofalcone - which was occupied from the mid-seventh century to the mid-sixth century BC - and from Greek and Roman Naples, a colony founded by Athens and Syracuse with the support of Pithecusae between the end of the sixth and the beginning of the fifth century BC, an area which coincides with the old town centre of Naples.

History and formationThe collection, opened in 1999 and arranged on the first floor of the museum in rooms CXVIII - CXX, contains some of the most important finds from Greek and Roman Naples -arranged in chronological order - taken from archaeological material from the oldest Greek site of Parthenope, the area of Neapolis, the “new city”, coinciding with the present-day old town centre. The settlement of Parthenope, situated on the hill of Pizzofalcone and on the islet of Megaris, a site now occupied by Castel dell’Ovo, takes its name from the siren of the same name whose tomb, according to ancient tradition, was located nearby. Some traditions attribute the foundation of Parthenope to Rhodian navigators while others link it to Cuma and its policy of expansion to the bay of Naples. The discovery of a cemetery during the 1950s in Via Nicotera on the hill of Pizzofalcone seems to indicate the site of one of the Cuman port-fortresses placed along the coasts of the bay of Naples, a settlement which the tombs show lasted from the mid-seventh century BC to the mid-sixth century BC. RouteThe evidence of the cemetery, from which it has not been possible to reconstruct the associations of the various grave assemblages, is illustrated through the selection of materials of Greek origin (in particular products from Corinth or of Ionian type) or of Italo-Geometric origin. The room also contains pottery fragments found in Via Chiatamone, which very probably had slid down from the overlying hill of Pizzofalcone, including Italo-Geometric and Corinthian material (impasto and bucchero ware). The sources do not indicate the date of foundation of Neapolis, but it is mentioned by ancient authors: the historian Strabo, for example, writes that after Dicearchia (Pozzuoli) came Neapolis, originally in the hands of the Cumans but which was later peopled by settlers from Chalcis, Pithecusae and Athens, and for this reason it became known as Neapolis, “the new city”. Neapolis was therefore strictly related to Parthenope and both depended on Cuma and the Euboean colonial sphere. The main cults of the city, dedicated to Hercules, Apollo and Dionysus, are of Euboean origin as are the names of the phratries, a sort of tribe into which the inhabitants of the city were divided. The oldest evidence from the cemetery and from coins suggests that city was founded in the years immediately following the naval battle of Cuma (474 BC) in which Cuma and its allies, together with Syracuse, defeated the Etruscans. However, recent excavations have brought to light a stretch of fortification wall datable to between the end of the sixth and the beginning of the fifth centuries BC in vico Soprammuro a Forcella. There is also further archaeological evidence from material found in sectors of the fortifications of the fifth, fourth and third centuries BC including a fragment of an Attic black figure Droop cup from Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, fragments of impasto and bucchero ware and a Corinthian kotyle from San Marcellino, a fragment of a small late Archaic votive head from Sant’Aniello a Caponapoli. This evidence would seem to date the foundation of the city to at least the late sixth century BC. Room CXX contains some of the finest examples of Attic pottery found in the cemetery of Castel Capuano, the old law courts of the Aragonese city, including a red figure pelike with Silenus figures dating to the early fifth century BC and attributed to the Walters Painter, a red figure kylix by the Clinic Painter dating to between 475 and 450 BC. In the second half of the fifth century BC the custom spread of placing the crater - the vase used to mix the wine during the symposium - by the feet of the deceased. This custom, which was alien to the Greek world, can be related to the Etrusco-Campanian world, highlighting the mixed cultural models caused by the presence in the city of different ethnic groups, those of Greek and Campanian origin. Among the various splendid bell craters or calyx craters, the crater by the Christie Painter (450 - 425 BC), and the one by the Kadmos or Pathos Painter (425 - 400 BC) are on display. The other large Neapolitan cemetery was the northern one in Via Santa Teresa, whose material was largely lost. The vases on display include an Attic red figure lekythos with Eros and a girl dating to the end of the fifth century BC. There is a particularly beautiful Attic red figure pelike showing the birth of Helen from the egg with her brothers the Dioscuri - Castor and Pollux; attributed to the Nicias Painter and dated to the late fifth century BC, it comes from a tomb in Via San Tommaso d’Aquino. The same room contains ceramic female busts and heads probably connected to the cult of Demeter from Sant’ Aniello a Caponapoli, datable to between the late fifth century BC and the late fourth century BC. Room CXIX contains material from tombs of the fourth century BC, including Cuman or Capuan red figure pottery and, much more rarely, Attic red figure pottery such as a red figure hydria in relief applied with a stamp depicting Eleusinian deities dating to the mid-fourth century BC. The Hellenistic phase of the cemeteries is extremely interesting, in particular the monumental tombs, dating to between the fourth and third centuries BC, excavated from the tuff of the hill that rises up towards Capodimonte. These include the extraordinarily well-preserved complex of Via Cristallini, consisting of four adjoining hypogea with a barrel-vaulted vestibule or vestibule with sloping roofs, and an entrance flanked by two semicolumns. Various types of sarcophagi were arranged inside the burial chamber with a barrel-vaulted roof, the entrance to which was provided by series of steps; the most complex types of sarcophagi imitate klinai (funeral beds) and have a mattress, pillow and richly decorated feet. The walls, both of the vestibule and the burial chamber, had important architectural and pictorial decoration with clear Greek influences (Macedonia and Asia Minor). The material discovered in the tombs includes Campanian red figure and black slip pottery, unpainted pottery with overpainted tendrils and linear decoration of the “Kemai” style, statuettes, terracotta fruit and eggs, unpainted pottery or glass unguentary vases, thin walled pottery, Italic sigillata ware and, in particular, numerous inscriptions with the names of the deceased or decorated slabs decorated with depictions linked to the funerary world such as the leave-taking of the deceased. Room CXIX also contains finds related to private houses of Roman Neapolis (virtually nothing remains from the Greek period) such as plaster of the First Style and fragments of floors in opus signinum dating to between the first century BC and the mid-first century AD from the steps of San Marcellino, plaster of the Second and Third Style belonging to a rich domus from Palazzo Corigliano and ceramic material indicating that the area was occupied from the fifth century BC to the first century AD. The complex of Carminiello ai Mannesi has yielded a headless statue of a satyr and a head of Mercury with petasus dating to the first century AD. The large room CXVIII houses a series of very important sculptures, in particular the splendid acephalous marble statue of Nike from the area close to the Church of S. Agata agli Orefici, the funerary inscription of the imperial period, dedicated to an athlete with the wreaths depicting each of his victories from Sant’Anna alle Paludi, both pointing to the existence of buildings for athletic games, the headless statue of Diadumenus from Castel Capuano, the torsos of the Dioscuri discovered in 1972 in the Church of S. Paolo Maggiore, the ancient Capitolium, a statue of Isis of Antonine date and a bass relief of Mithras killing the sacred bull from the Crypta neapolitana. The relief dates to the late third/early fourth century AD and, together with the mithraeum of Carminiello ai Mannesi, indicates the presence of this eastern cult in Naples. The statue of a black fisherman from the seaside villa of La Gaiola and a statue of a Nereid riding on a sea monster, a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original, found in Posillipo, illustrate the use of the coastal area from Posillipo to the Phlegrean area during the Imperial period as the ideal location for the construction of imposing residential buildings.

Further information
Collection data

Napoli antica 1985; Neapolis 1994; De Caro 1999; Napoli greca e romana 2000.

Location: First floor; rooms CXVIII-CXX