This brief survey of Campania's long and complex history is oriented toward the Amalfi Coast, but the rest of Campania is covered as well. Once we hit the Renaissance, the focus shifts primarily to Naples and its surroundings, which became the center of power in the region.
After a short stop on the island of Ischia, Calcidians founded the city of Cuma in 750 B.C., the first Greek city of Magna Grecia -- the Greek cities outside the mainland. Cuma became a beacon of Greek civilization in Italy. Greek expansion into the region, though, was contested by the Etruscans. In spite of this, the Greeks established other important colonies in the current area of Naples: first Partenope around 680 B.C., then Dicearchia (Pozzuoli) in 531 B.C., and then Neapolis in 470 B.C. In the meantime, Greeks from Sibari founded Posidonia (Paestum) in 600 B.C. and Elea (Velia) in 540 B.C.
Greeks won two major battles in Cuma against the Etruscans, one in 524 B.C. and the other in 474 B.C. Weakened by their fights with the Etruscans, they could not resist the Sannite invasion in the 5th century B.C.
While the Greeks colonized Campania's coast, the Etruscans colonized the inner plains, the rich agricultural areas around Capua, which they founded in the 9th century B.C., and south all the way down to the hinterland of Paestum. They, too, were weakened by their fights for supremacy in the region against the Greeks, so that when the Sannites began their expansion, Etruscan power in the area came to an end.
This mountain people, originally from nearby Abbruzzo, had been expanding south in the Appennines, with an economy based on sheep husbandry. Also a warrior culture, they established a flourishing civilization in Benevento and then moved toward the coast in the 5th century B.C., causing conflict with both Greeks and Etruscans.
Sannite attacks were successful; they took over Capua in 424 B.C. and then took Cuma 3 years later in 421 B.C. Their influence quickly expanded to other cities, such as Neapolis, Pompeii, and Herculaneum, and gave birth to a new civilization, the Oscans.
The inland Sannites of Beneventum, in the meantime, came into opposition with the Romans who, by the 4th century B.C., had started their expansion southward. This led to the three famous Sannite wars. It took Rome from 343 B.C. to 290 B.C. to overcome the Sannites. The strongly independent Sannites, however, kept creating problems for the Romans. Finally, Beneventum was destroyed and later rebuilt as a Roman colony.
Another Italic mountain population, the Lucanians came from the nearby region of Basilicata. Slightly less belligerent than their Sannite cousins, they also started a migration toward the coast. They took over Posidonia (Paestum) in 400 B.C., but failed to overcome Elea (Velia). Like the Sannites farther north, they merged with the existing Greek population into the cultural melting pot that became the Oscans.
After their victories over the Greeks and Etruscans, the Sannites in the plains merged culturally with Etruscans and Greeks, giving birth to the Oscan civilization. This original population had strong Sannite roots, blending important cultural elements of the other two civilizations in a way that created a unique individual character with its own language. They made their capital in Capua.
Over time, the Oscans became so distinct from the original Sannites, however, that they actually shifted their support to Rome during its conquest of Campania.
The Romans took advantage of the opposition between the Oscans and the Sannites to extend their influence in the region. In exchange for allegiance to the Republic, Rome bestowed Roman citizenship, with the right to vote and decide on public affairs (but with the obligation of military service). Citizen colonies were set up as settlements of Roman farmers after the original people had given allegiance (voluntarily, or by sheer force). This worked better with the Oscans than with the Sannites, who continued to oppose Rome even after they lost the war. The Romans founded Paestum in 273 B.C., Beneventum in 268 B.C., then Salernum and Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) in 194 B.C. These cities were fortified and linked to Rome by the famous Roman roads, such as the Appian Way, which led to Capua, then Beneventum, and then all the way to Brindisi, on the Ionian Sea on Italy's eastern coast.
In this way, a stern Roman culture was added to the preexisting local mixture. The social war from 91 B.C. to 88 B.C. -- and, even more so, the civil war instigated by the dictator Sulla from 82 B.C to 81 B.C. -- caused great destruction in Campania, especially to the rebellious Sannio region, which was almost completely wiped out. Peace came again with the advent of Rome's first emperor, Gaius Octavius Augustus.
Under the empire, Campania was completely Romanized, but its agricultural strength was slowly supplanted by the production of Africa and Spain, leading to a strong local recession.
When the empire ended in A.D. 395, the richest plains of Capua and Paestum had been abandoned and were in the throes of a malaria epidemic; the population was forced to found new villages up in the mountains, a situation that would not improve dramatically until the 20th century.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.