Archaeological excavations of Ercolano
Dionysius of Halicarnassus attributes the founding of Herculaneum to Hercules, on his way back from Iberia, while according to Strabo the city was first held by the Opicans-Oscans, then by the Etruscans and the Pelasgians, and finally by the Samnites. Like Pompeii and Stabiae, Herculaneum must also have been included in the sphere of the Nucerine confederation.
Having turned against Rome during the Social War, it was attacked and conquered in 89 B.C. by Titus Didius, legate of L. Cornelius Sulla. Encircled by modest walls, Herculaneum was built on a volcanic plateau overhanging the sea and at the foot of Vesuvius. A major reconstruction campaign was carried out in the city during the Age of Emperor Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.), when many public buildings were erected or substantially restored, including the Theatre, the Basilica of M. Nonius Balbus, the aqueduct, the network of public fountains and castella aquarum, the temples in the Sacred Area, the Suburban Thermal Baths, the Central Thermal Baths, and the Palaestra.
The disastrous earthquake of 62 A.D. made the walls of many buildings unsafe. Vespasian financed the restoration of the so-called Basilica (built in the Claudian Age: 41-52 A.D.) and the temple, as yet unexcavated, located near the palaestra and dedicated to the Magna Mater, but many other restorations are archaeologically documented.
The city was of fairly modest size. It has been conjectured that the overall area enclosed by the walls was around 20 hectares, and that the population numbered about 4000 inhabitants; only 4.5 hectares are exposed, while several important public buildings, excavated by means of tunnels in the eighteenth century, are now inaccessible (the Basilica of Nonius Balbus, the so-called Basilica) or are situated outside the archaeological park (the Theatre and the Villa of the Papyruses). That wealthy Romans used to spend their holidays in Herculaneum is demonstrated by the villas spectacularly looking out over the sea.
At the time Herculaneum was buried, when it was engulfed beneath layers of solidified volcanic material 16 m high on average, the very high temperature caused carbonisation to occur, resulting, in an unprecedented manner that has no equivalent in Pompeii, in the preservation of all its organic materials (vegetable matter, food, fabrics, furnishings, and the wooden parts of buildings, as well as a boat salvaged in 1982 from the ancient marina), but also, and most importantly, the upper storeys of the buildings were saved, due to the depth of the city’s burial. This site is included in the circuit campania>artecard.