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The Romans in Puglia
Puglia has had a very long, varied and rich history. Having been inhabited since Paleolithic times, it’s seen many rulers from the Greeks to the Byzantines and Normans.
In 272 BC, the Romans arrived in Puglia (then known as Apulia) to begin what would be 224 years of ruling. It was to be a hugely important time in Puglian history.
Puglia is hugely appealing to outside nations due to its geographical positioning. It has a thriving port capital in Lecce, right on the cusp of the Adriatic Sea. And just across the water is easy access to Croatia, Albania and the east. In fact, Puglia was known as the gateway for Greece and the Orient.
On arrival, the Romans instantly expelled the Greeks and rapidly set about colonising the region. They dramatically increased production of essential food and drink products such as wheat, olive oil and wine, which was a huge boom for the agricultural economy. At the same time, the region became known for its fish and trade.
This was transformative for the region. When the Romans arrived, the land of shepherds and farmers were known best for horse-breeding. The Romans saw the copious amounts of olive trees and perfect grape-growing conditions, and capitalised on an opportunity which is still a significant part of Puglian life to this day.
Not only did the Romans bring economic inspiration, but they also introduced Christianity. Accordingly, many bishoprics were established.
The Romans also completely revolutionised the Puglian road networks. Via Appia was one of the first roads but certainly the most famous. Named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who started the project, the 400-mile road connected Brindisi to Rome. Primarily built as a main route for military supplies, the Via Appia placed Brindisi on the map as one of the Empire’s most important cities.
They also moved to strengthen the overseas trade market by establishing Bari and Brindisi as sea ports. Brindisi became an important port for reaching nearby countries, as well as Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean.
The period of 264 and 146 BC saw the Punic Wars, fought between Rome and Carthage. In 216, Carthaginian general Hannibal blitzed Roman forces at Cannae and looked to have conquered the Romans’ beloved Apulia. However, the Romans managed to wrestle back control of the region, and eventually isolated Hannibal’s allies.
In 476 AD, Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer. Consequently, the Roman Empire fell and thus began a dark period for Puglia, with many invasions and a downturn in trade fortunes.
Current Roman remains in Puglia include the magnificent, 15,000 capacity amphitheatre in Lecce, only discovered early in the 20th century. Parts of the Via Appia are also available to walk and one of the most important symbols remains to the present day. That is, one of the two magnificent 19-metre columns which marked the point where the old Roman road ended.