Misenum and the Gulf of Naples – Italy

Historical Background

The Gulf of Naples is about 10 miles across in the southwest coast of Italy.  It opens to the west into the Mediterranean. Its northern coast includes the cities of Naples and Puteoli (modern Puzzuoli) and Misenum.  To its east is the giant volcano, Mt. Vesuvius. The Sorrentine Peninsula to the south separates the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno.  The key islands within the Gulf include Capri, Procida, and Ischia.

In 27BC, Marcus Agrippa (under the auspices of Caesar Augustus) established the “Classis Misenensis” (i.e., the Fleet of Misenum).  This served as the senior fleet of the Imperial Roman Navy. Misenum’s deep-water port (Portus Julius) and its location made it a logical place to house the Roman Fleet.  From Misenum, the fleet could more easily patrol and guard the western Mediterranean. For the next three centuries, the most sophisticated and powerful fleet in the world would call Misenum home.

Did You Know?

In the novel Ben Hur by Colonel Lew Wallace, Quintus Arius owns a villa at Misenum.  He later bequeaths this to his adopted son, Judah Ben Hur. The Ben Hur family would later relocate to Misenum.

In the novel, Ben Hur had previously received a virtual death sentence as a rower aboard one of the Roman man-of-wars.

Misenum is a peninsula that juts out as one of the arms containing Puteoli’s port.   The lake on the left in the photo below shows where Rome housed its fleet.

In 79AD, Pliny the Elder commanded the Roman Fleet.  The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was evident to all at Misenum.  Pliny the Elder tried to affect a rescue, which ultimately cost him his life. Pliny the Younger (who was his nephew) also resided in the city at the time.