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Benevento is a town and archiepiscopal see of Campania, Italy, capital of the province of Benevento, 32 miles northeast of Naples. It is situated on a hill 400 ft. above sea-level at the confluence of the Calore and Sabbato . Estimated population in 1997 was 63,568.

Benevento occupies the site of the ancient Beneventum, originally Maleventum or more correctly Maloeis (derived from the Greek word for apple malon). The Romans' theory that it meant "the site of bad wind" is no longer considered by historians today. Some older (and more speculative) authors also proposed it could mean "a place of crazy people", as in ancient times it was supposed that mad people had a sort of wind storm inside their head). In the imperial period it was supposed to have been founded by Diomedes after the Trojan War.



Benevento in antiquity

The site was the chief town of the Samnites, who took refuge here after their defeat by the Roman Republic in 314 BC. It appears not to have fallen into Roman hands until Pyrrhus's absence in Sicily, but served as a base of operations in the last campaign against Pyrrhus, who was defeated by the Roman army in the Battle of Beneventum (275 BC).

A Latin colony was planted here in 268 BC, and it was then that the name was changed for the sake of superstition (male = bad, bene = good), and probably then that the Via Appia was extended from Capua to Beneventum. It remained in the hands of the Romans during both the Punic and the Social Wars, and was a fortress of importance to them. After the Social War it became a municipium and under Augustus a colony.

The position is naturally strong, being protected by the two rivers, and the medieval fortifications, which are nearly 2 miles in length, probably follow the ancient line, which was razed to the ground by Totila.

Being a meeting point of six main roads, Beneventum was much visited by travellers. The Arch of Trajan erected A.D. 114 (illustration, above right) is one of the best-preserved Roman structures in the Campagna. It repeats the formula of the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, with reliefs of Trajan's life and exploits of his reign. Some of the sculptures are in the British Museum.

Duchy of Benevento

Not long after it had been sacked by Totila and its walls razed (545), Benevento became the seat of a powerful Lombard duchy, which soon converted from Arianism to Trinitarian Christianity. The Dukes immediately walled the city once more, and soon began building the church of Santa Sophia, on its polygonal groundplan, one of the most important Lombard architectural complexes. Santa Sophia ("Holy Wisdom") was a dedication acceptable to Arian and Trinitarian alike.

In the early Middle Ages, Benevento was the most important city of southern Italy. The Dukes of Benevento, part of the loosely-knit Lombard kingdom at first, were essentially independent, in spite of their common roots and similar language, law and religion with the north, and in spite of taking to wife women from the royal family. A swathe of territory that owed allegiance to Rome or to Ravenna separated the dukes of Benevento from the Lombard kings at Pavia. Cultural autonomy followed naturally: a distinctive liturgical chant, the "Beneventan chant" developed in the Duchy; it was finally entirely superseded by Gregorian chant only in the 11th century. A unique Beneventan script was also developed for writing Latin manuscripts. The great writer of the 8th century, Paul the Deacon arrived in Benevento in the retinue of a princess from Pavia, the duke's bride; he settled into the greatest of Beneventan monasteries, Monte Cassino, to write first a history of Rome, then his great history of the Lombards, our primal source.

In 758, Desiderius, king of the Lombards, briefly captured Spoleto and Benevento, but with the collapse of the Lombard kingdom in 773, Duke Arechi II was elevated to Prince under the new empire of the Franks, in compensation for having some of his territory transferred to the Papal States. Benevento was acclaimed by a chronicler as a "second Pavia"— Ticinum geminum— after the Lombard capital was lost. Arechi expanded the Roman city, with new walled enclosures extending onto the level ground southwest of the old city, where Arechi razed old constructions for a new princely palace, whose open court is still traceable in the Piano di Corte of the acropolis. Like their Byzantine enemies, the dukes linked the palace compound with a national church, also a "Saint Sophia." Benevento continued to be independent until the Normans of Sicily conquered it in 1053.

Papal Benevento

Benevento passed to the Papacy peacefully when the emperor Henry III ceded it to Leo IX in exchange for the bishopric of Bamberg. Benevento was the cornerstone of the Papacy's temporal powers in southern Italy. The Papacy ruled it by appointed rectors, seated in a magnificent palace, and the principality continued to be a papal possession until 1806, when Napoleon granted it to his minister Talleyrand with the title of Sovereign Prince. Talleyrand was never to settle down and actually rule his new principality; in 1815 Benevento was returned to the papacy. It was united to Italy in 1860.

Manfred of Sicily lost his life in 1266 in battle with Charles of Anjou not far from the town (see Battle of Benevento).


Much damage has been done by earthquakes from time to time.

The importance of Benevento in classical times is vouched for by the many remains of antiquity which it possesses, of which the most famous is the triumphal arch erected in honour of Trajan by the senate and people of Rome in 114, with important reliefs relating to its history.

There are other considerable remains:

  • The well-preserved ancient theatre.
  • A large cryptoporticus 197 ft. long, known as the ruins of Santi Quaranta, and probably an emporium. According to Meomartini, the portion preserved is only a fraction of the whole, which once measured 1791 ft. in length).
  • A brick arch called the Arco del Sacramento.
  • The Ponte Lebroso, a bridge on the Via Appia over the Sabbato, below the city center.
  • Thermae along the road to Avellino.

Many inscriptions and ancient fragments may be seen built into the old houses; in front of the church of the Madonna delle Grazie is a bull in red Egyptian granite, and in the Piazza Papiniano the fragments of two Egyptian obelisks erected in 88 in front of the temple of Isis in honour of Domitian. In 1903 the foundations of this temple were discovered close to the Arch of Trajan, and many fragments of fine sculptures in both the Egyptian and the Greco-Roman style belonging to it were found. They had apparently been used as the foundation of a portion of the city wall, reconstructed in 663 under the fear of an attack by Constans II, the Byzantine emperor, the temple having been destroyed by order of the bishop, St Barbatus , to provide the necessary material (A. Meomartini, 0. Marucchi and L. Savignoni in Notizie degli Scafi, 1904, 107 sqq.).

The church of Santa Sofia, a circular edifice of about 760, now modernized, the roof of which is supported by six ancient columns, is a relic of the Lombard period; it has a fine cloister of the 12th century constructed in part of fragments of earlier buildings.

The cathedral with its fine arcaded fašade and incomplete square campanile (begun in 1279) dates from the 9th century and was rebuilt in 1114. Its bronze doors, adorned with bas-reliefs, may belong to the beginning of the 13th century. The interior is in the form of a basilica, the double aisles carried on ancient columns, There are ambones resting on columns supported by lions, and decorated with reliefs and coloured marble mosaic, and a candelabrum of 1311.

The castle at the highest point of the town was erected in the 14th century.


The writer and artist Giovanni De Caro was born here in 1971.

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Last updated: 06-02-2005 05:27:12
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