History of Stabiae

Stabiae is the ancient Latin name of Castellammare di Stabia, a small town situated between Pompeii and Sorrento whose stunning geographical position and particularly mild climate have attracted human settlements from as early as the 7th century BC. This is borne out by materials found in the vast necropolis discovered in 1957 in via Madonna delle Grazie, an area situated between today’s municipalities of Gragnano and Santa Maria la Carità. The necropolis, boasting over three hundred burial sites, has been investigated at various different stages and the significance of its finds, as well as the presence of funerary items which include some imported pottery of Corinthian, Etruscan, Chalcidian and Attic origin, clearly show that this city played a key commercial role. 
The settlement to which the Madonna delle Grazie necropolis belonged is still to be clearly identified but we may surmise that it was not too far away from it and may have been situated on the northern rim of the hill of Varano, a position that secured control over the sea port as well as the road junctions. It was most probably an oppidum, or fortified town, of some importance as can be gleaned from the fact that Sulla, the supreme commander of the Roman army during the Social War (91-88 AD), did not stop at occupying the town but went for its wholesale military and political destruction on 30th April 89 AD. 
Stabiae, however, did not completely disappear as a result: a map drawn in 1759 by Karl Weber, who directed the excavations during the Bourbon period, shows an urban plan of 45,000 sq. m on the plateau of Varano still completely buried today and most probably related to the settlement that was there prior to Sulla’s act of devastation. Moreover, some grand otium villae were built during the Roman period along the rim of the hill of Varano; these were mainly residential dwellings with vast living areas, thermal baths, porticos and nymphaeums
Of an entirely different character were the villae rusticae found inland, which were fully-fledged farms designed for the production and processing of agricultural products. The equipment and facilities in these villas, such as wine and olive presses, threshing floors and storehouses, clearly distinguished them from residential villas. They were wiped out by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius of 24th August 79 BC which buried Stabiae along with the nearby centres in the Vesuvian area. But that event did not put a definitive end to human life and activities there and, approximately forty years later, the connecting road to Nuceriawas rebuilt – as shown by the discovery of a milestone that marks the eleventh mile on that road.
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