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© Jeff Matthews    entry May 2003 revise, add photos July 2014

Lucius Cucceius Auctus


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 what he left us,  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 incorrect 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.

The Cucceius Tunnel, exit on the Cuma side
(photo @ by Napoli Underground-NUg)

Cucceius 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.


references:

  • Amato, L. et al. (no date) The Crypta Napoletana; a Roman Tunnel of the Early Imperial Age. TecnoIn, S.p.A., Naples.  Department of Geotechnical Engineering, Frederick II University of Naples.
  • Gros, P. (1986) "Status sociale et rôle culturel des architects (période hellinistique et augustéen)" in Architecture et Société de l'archaism grec à la fin de la république romain. Actes du Colloque International, Rome.

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