Written for TimeTravelRome by Kieren Johns.

All roads lead to Rome, or so the old proverb goes. For those of us with an interest in the ancient world, it’s a saying that still very much rings true to this day. Whether it’s a chance to explore the remains of the ancient city itself in the Forum, or the opportunity to get up close and personal with the masterpieces of ancient art in the city’s many museums, there is more than enough to keep you interested for days and weeks – and probably longer!

We’ve previously explored 5 of the best sites in the north of Italy, so now we turn our attention to the south. Away from the ancient capital of Empire, there was an eclectic mix of cultures in Italy, as expanding Roman influence mingled freely – though not without controversy and conflict in some instances – with the Hellenic cultures that had been brought to Italy via Greek colonisers, whilst the influences of the Near East and North Africa were never far away either.

Below are 5 of the best sites to explore in the south of Italy.

1. Capua

Just to the south of Rome in the Campania region, the ancient city of Capua was founded – at best estimates – in around 600 BC. This is based on assertion of Cato the Elder, the staunchly conservative senator of the 3rd century BC, who also claimed that the city was founded by the Etruscans. Roman influence in the region began in earnest in around 424 BC, when the Etruscans settled here sought Roman assistance against the invading Samnites.

This connection was confirmed by 312, then Capua was connected to the city of Rome itself by the Via Appia, which leads south-east out of the capital. The prominence of the city grew significantly, and by the period of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) it was able to put significant forces into the field for battle. Originally allied to Rome, the great victory of Hannibal at Cannae in 216 BC – in which he inflicted one of the worst defeats of Roman history – prompted the Capuans to renege on their oaths to Rome and ally with Carthage. Such was the prominence of the city, that Hannibal and his men actually wintered in the city.

Of course, the Romans eventually drove the Carthaginians out of the Italian peninsula, and after this war of attrition, those who had allied with Hannibal were punished severely. Capua was no different, and following a length siege, the city was captured by the Romans in 211 BC and made an example of; its magistrates were abolished, the lucky inhabitants who survived were deprived of their civic rights, and its territory was declared to be a Roman possession.

Despite these political hardships, Capua remained wealthy. This was in part thanks to agriculture – the region was excellent for growing spelt, which had a variety of uses – whilst it was also a centre for the manufacturing of bronze. Historians, including Cato the Elder and Pliny the Elder have attested to the quality of the Capuan wares in the highest terms. Accordingly, the city remained a by-word for opulence. It features scarcely in the historical record of the imperial period; it expanded as a colony from Julius Caesar onwards, growing in size again under Mark Antony, Augustus, and Nero. It evidently remained significant, if inconspicuous, in the late antique period, with the 4th century poet and rhetorician Ausonius including the city as part of list of major Roman cities in the Ordo urbium nobilium.

DID YOU KNOW?: The poet Ausonius, who lived during the 4th century AD, produced a poem