There was an interesting documentary on television last night about the underwater remains of Portus Iulius, the port for the Roman Western Fleet. The coastline and sea-level have changed in two-thousand years and much of the original port is now underwater in the bay of Pozzuoli. I have been scuba diving in that area and recall some of the submerged bits and pieces of what was once the most important port for the greatest fleet in the world. Then, I head a name: "Lucio Cocceio," the architect, the builder. I had heard that name before.
Indeed, Lucius Cucceius Auctus was apparently the architect, designer, and builder under Caesar Augustus. By his accomplishments, he is hardly to be matched in history. He built the original Pantheon in Rome in 27 BC. Although there is some doubt, or at least discussion, about the exact provenance of some of these structures in or near Naples, Cucceius is usually credited with at least four major tunnels in the area:
-(1) the so-called Neapolitan Crypt
(photo, right, entrance Naples side). the tunnel
that connected the port of Pozzuoli
and the adjacent area of the Flegrean
Fields with the city of Neapolis;
-(2) the Cucceius Tunnel (photo, below, right) which joined Lake Averno to the road that led from old Arco Felice to the fleet facilities at Baia, the home port for the Western Imperial Fleet and then on to Cuma (photo, below, right). (That tunnel was later also known as the "Gallery of Pace"—not Italian for "peace," but rather after a Spanish captain, Pietro de Pace, who used the tunnel in the early 1500s to plunder the ruins of Cuma);
-(3) a tunnel that joined Lake Averno to nearby Lake Lucrino (a passageway now known to scholars as the cave of the pseudo-Sybil; and
-(4) the Seiano Grotto (photo, below, left)—all this in addition to the entire Portus Iulius, itself;
-(5) It is plausible that Cucceius was also responsible for the "Roman Crypt", the tunnel that passes beneath the Cuma acropolis.
The fact the Cucceius
built so many tunnels causes some confusion, and one
is likely to hear or read an incorret
reference to the "galleria di Cocceio" (the
tunnel of Cucceius). Technically, archaeologists use
that term for number 2 on the above list. The others
are simply "another of those tunnels by Cucceius"!
Also, I was wandering around the recently
excavated old city of Pozzuoli. The cathedral of
Pozzuoli burned in 1964 and, lo and behold, they
found that it had been built over the "Temple of
Augustus" (photo, above, left). The temple was built
at the behest of a rich merchant, one Lucius
Calpurnius, during the age of the August One—and
built by Lucius Cucceius Auctus.
was somewhat the exception to the rule that ancient
architects were usually not well-known, certainly
not in the sense of modern architects who are
regarded as "artists" who design buildings. (That
situation did not change much in Europe until the
Italian Renaissance, when painters, sculptors and
architects actually started signing their names to
their creations.) Certainly, the ancient
Greeks—except for underground aqueducts—were not
great tunnel builders, not even in or near Neapolis.
The Romans were, however; they seemed to take great
pleasure in going through mountains instead of over
or around them, and at least some information has
come down to us about Cucceius.
He was a freedman of
Lucius Cucceius Nerva, a very influential Roman at
the time of the second Roman triumverate who joined
the circle allied with Octavian (later known as
Augustus Caesar). Nerva introduced his young
architect/engineer to a group involved with the
great public works projects begun by Agrippa in
connection with the campaign against Sextus
Pompeius. (Agrippa was the general responsible for
Octavian's victory at the Battle of Actium, which
defeated the forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra.)
When Nerva died, Coccieus joined the group of
architects managed by Postumius Pollio, the
architect of the Temple of Augustus at Terracina and
a number of other public buildings in Rome, Formia,
Naples and elsewhere.