Misenum

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1: Montanus Capito, Optio of the liburna ‘ Aurata ‘; second half of 1st century.

This marine junior officer is copied from his Ravenna memorial. Under bronze muscled armour with nipples of inlaid silver he wears a padded garment furnished with thick pteryges. A particularity of his hasta navaiis is the presence of two spheroids in the middle, similar to later representations of weighted pila; the spearhead visible on the memorial suggests a kind of command spear or perhaps a sort of pilum navaiis. A leather baldric with gold and silver bosses impressed with the image of the Emperor Vespasian runs over his right shoulder, supporting a Pompei-type sword. Sculpted elements on the cingulum make clear that it was a plated belt with an attached pugio and two apron straps, here all reconstructed after Pompei specimens. The open caligae, with incorporated perones, are from the Comacchio finds.

2: L. Bennius Beuza , miles gregarius liticen, c. 100 AD

The Dalmatian marine reconstructed here, from a frieze of marine musicians at Ostia, wears a tunic similar to that worn by other Dalmatian soldiers on 1st century stelae, in the colour mentioned by Plautus (this iron-grey shade in a military context is visible on some cloth fragments from Mons Claudianus). His leather belt with simple apron straps is hidden here by a satchel of a type found with the Comacchio ship. The feet are enclosed in socci – shoes without laces and with the upper part closed, low on the ankle.

3: Faber navaiis, Classis Praetoria Misenatis, 79 AD

This marine craftsman of the Misenum Fleet is based on the famous skeletal remains found on the beach at Herculaneum, whose physical aspects were reconstructed by the archaeologists; he was about 37 years old and 1.8m (5ft 10in) tall. Here he is dressed in a sleeveless leather garment based on fragments from Comacchio, with small oval or round patches sewn on to protect the weaker areas; this is worn over a subarmale. He wears a red-brown lacerna cloak fringed at the extremities. The marine has two belts, completely faced with 21 silver embossed plates, to which are attached his pugio and gladius; the apron straps terminate in hinged pendants, identical to a specimen from Tekjie. Carpentry tools found in a bag on his back included a hammer with attached adze, two chisels, and a hook.

4 & 5: Milites, Classis Praetoria Ravennatis, 103 AD

Overall these marines of the Ravenna Fleet are copied from Trajan’s Column. Their tunics are based on specimens from Dydimoi, showing the famous bunched neck knot typical of the period. One of them wears a leather belt with apron pendants copied from Tekjie specimens, just visible at the waist. On the back, attached to the belt, a small dagger (clunaculum) might be worn. The pickaxes (dolabrae) are copied from Vindonissa specimens, as is the bronze blade case (C5). Of interest is the hexagonal shield (C4), with appliques in copper alloy and embossed friezes, showing a trident and four successive floral/vegetal patterns centred on the umbo. The naval lanterna is from the Comacchio finds.

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A small promontory jutting into the Tyrrhenian Sea from the coast of Campania in Italy on the Bay of Naples. Misenum was situated in the region of Cumae, Bauli, Baiae and Puteoli. Its name was derived supposedly from Misenus, the trumpeter of Aeneas, who drowned in the waters of its bay. For many years the Campanians were threatened by pirate sorties out of the Tyrrhenian Sea. These attacks were a leading reason for Pompey’s brilliant campaign of 67 B.C. against the pirates in the Mediterranean.

Conference of Misenum

Meeting held in 39 B.C. between the Triumvirs Marc Antony and Octavian (Augustus) on one side, and Sextus Pompey, the pirate son of Pompey the Great. Sextus had proven a surprisingly successful pirate chief, whose ships commanded much of the Mediterranean, threatening all of the Italian coast as well as the provinces, and wielding the power to cut off vital shipments of grain from Africa to Rome. Following the Treaty of Brundisium in 40 B.C., both Antony and Octavian had recognized the need to deal with Sextus Pompey. They were, however, not in a position to hound him from the seas and consequently agreed to a discussion. The first encounter at Puteoli ended in nothing, but in the spring of 39, real progress in negotiations led to the Treaty of Misenum. By the terms of this agreement, Sextus promised to leave the corn supply unmolested, to respect the integrity of Italy, return all seized property and to engage in no hostile actions. In return, he received Corsica, Sardinia, Achaea and Sicily, along with vast sums of money as recompense, and a position in the triumvirate. He was also promised eventual augurship and consulship. His status was thus strengthened militarily and politically, although both of his opponents knew that the treaty would not remain intact.

Naval Base

Misenum’s strategic value was clear, and when Augustus reorganized the armed forces of Rome, he chose the spot and its bay to build an excellent harbor.

Misenum was the largest base, Portus Julius, of the Roman navy, since it was the base of the Classis Misenensis, the most important Roman fleet. It was first established as a naval base in 27 BC by Marcus Agrippa, the right-hand man of the emperor Augustus.

Misenum emerged, with Ravenna, as one of the major ports for the Roman Imperial Navy in Italy.

Portus Julius (alternately spelled in the Latin “Iulius”) was the home port for the Roman western imperial fleet, the classis Misenensis, named for nearby Cape Miseno. (The eastern fleet was in Ravenna.) The port was located at the western end of the gulf of Naples and other than the waters of the bay, itself, consisted of three bodies of water in the area: Lake Lucrino, Lake Averno, and the natural inner and outer harbor behind Cape Misenum. The port was named for Julius Caesar.

In preparation for the epochal naval battle of Actium, the Romans constructed a ship-building and training facility in the area. After the successful outcome of the battle, the facility was expanded by Caesar Augustus in 37 BC. The various lakes were linked by canals and the area was also joined to nearby Cumae by an underground passage 1 km (0.6 mile) long and wide enough to be used by chariots.

The Romans built new breakwaters and a freshwater reservoir, the Piscina Mirabilis, of unparalleled size. The outer harbor behind Cape Misenum served the active vessels of the Roman navy and provided room for training exercises, while its inner counterpart (to which it was connected by a canal crossed by a wooden bridge) was designed for the reserve fleet and for repairs, and as a refuge from storms. Because of its location, the area controlled the entire Italian west coast, the islands and the Straits of Messina.

Command of the fleet at Misenum was considered a very important step upward in a Roman career. Often marines and sailors could be transferred from Misenum to Rome for special imperial duties or as rigging operators at the Colosseum.

As was true with much of Campania, the community that developed around the bay was a favorite retreat for the most powerful people in Rome. Marius owned a villa there, which passed into the hands of Tiberius. There, in 37 A.D., Gaius Caligula looked on as the aged emperor either died of natural causes or was murdered.

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