Herculaneum and Oplontis

Herculaneum, after the hero Hercules


Herculaneum, named after the hero Hercules, was a small town in Campania on the west coast of central Italy, located some 8 km south-east of present-day Naples.

Boasting only a small harbour, its main advantages were its excellent climate and its seaside position. It grew into a holiday resort and luxurious retreat for the wealthy landowners who built and bought estates there. The largest villa, the so-called Villa of the Papyri, is widely believed to have been owned by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus.

The origins of Herculaneum are unclear: the name and the regularity of the urban planning suggest that it may have been connected with the Greek settlement at Naples, but the recorded languages used in the town are Oscan and then Latin, both native Italic languages.

As elsewhere in southern Italy, an originally Greek foundation may have become ‘Italicised’ through conquest or assimilation. In the fourth century BC Herculaneum was a member of the Samnite league but was later allied to Rome, although it sided with the Italian allies in the Social War of 91-87 BC.



Oplontis was an ancient Roman site near Pompeii in Italy. It is best known today for the sumptuous Roman Villa Poppaea which is open to visitors.

As with other Roman sites in the area, such as Herculaneum and other villas, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried it under a deep layer of ash on August 24, AD 79.

The name “Oplontis” most likely referred originally to the baths in the area of Campo Oncino, but today the name commonly covers the group of villas in the middle of the modern town of Torre Annunziata (Torre Nunziata in the local Neapolitan dialect).

The villa was excavated in the mid-20th century up to 1984 and is associated with Poppaea, the second wife of Emperor Nero
A second villa, the Villa of L. Crassius Tertius, was discovered in 1974, 300 metres east of the Villa Poppaea  during the construction of a school. A bronze seal bearing Crassius’ name was found at the site.

A large number of artifacts from Oplontis are preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.