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main index © Jeff Matthews entry June 2010
Paestum. (The red line on the
map, right, indicates the approximate route.) On the
way, the Sele flows through two Campanian provinces:
Avellino and Salerno. It picks up a number of
tributaries along the way; thus, in spite of its
relatively short length (5 or 6 rivers in Campania are
longer) in terms of average water discharge of southern
Italian rivers, it is second only to the Volturno.
Although the Sele runs SW, the headwaters of the Sele
also feed the Apulian Aqueduct
by an ingenious bit of engineering that carries the
Puglia-bound water back across the watershed so it flows
onto the eastern side of the Apennines.
In ancient times, the river was known as the Silarus, and the area near Caposele was the site of two important battles in Roman military history. The first was the Battle of Silarus (in 212 BC) during the Second Punic War. Hannibal managed to remain unbeaten on Italian soil (for all the good it eventually did him!) by destroying the entire Roman army sent against him. Most sources say that of 16,000 Roman soldiers in the battle, only 1,000 survived.
The second battle was the last stand of Spartacus, the leader of the most famous slave rebellion in Roman history. In 73 BC, Spartacus, a slave-gladiator escaped with about 70 others and eventually wound up leading an army of about 100,000. They defeated Roman forces on a number of occasions, including one battle on Mt. Vesuvius (at the time, inactive) during which Spartacus' army, apparently trapped in the crater, made ladders from twisted vines, climbed out and down the other side of the crater during the night, and came around and up on the Roman attackers from the rear. Two years later, the rebellion had run its course, and the slave army was decisively beaten near Caposele and a town named Senerchia. Sources say that 6000 slaves were taken prisoner by the Roman army and crucified along the Appian Way from Capua to Rome. In spite of fictional accounts, there is no evidence that Spartacus, himself, was one of the prisoners. He most likely died in the battle, although there is a great legend that he and his lady fled to a cave in nearby Castelcivita, where they perished together.