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Nearby Cape Miseno marks the northwestern end of the Bay of Naples.
According to mythology, Misenum was named after Misenus, a companion of Hector and trumpeter to Aeneas. Misenus is supposed to have drowned near here after a trumpet competition with the sea-god Triton, as recounted in Virgil's Aeneid.
Misenum was first established as a naval base (Portus Julius) during the civil wars in 27 BC by Marcus Agrippa, the right-hand man of the emperor Augustus. It was then developed into the largest Roman port for the Classis Misenensis, the most important fleet.
With its gorgeous natural setting close to the naval base and the nearby important Roman cities of Puteoli and Neapolis, Misenum also became the site of Roman luxury villas, such as the Villa of Lucullus.
Pliny the Elder was the praefect in charge of the naval fleet at Misenum in AD 79, at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, visible to the south across the Bay of Naples. Seeing the beginnings of the eruption, Pliny left for a closer view and to effect a possible rescue, and was killed during the eruptions. The account of his death is given by his nephew Pliny the Younger, who was also resident in Misenum at the time.
It is said to be the birthplace of Saint Sossius, a deacon who was martyred with Proculus of Pozzuoli. It is also the place of death of Emperor Tiberius. The Roman empress Agrippina the Younger lived in a palace here, once owned by the orator Hortensius (then by the emperors, and some three centuries later by Symmachus) in which she resided in the months before her death.
Misenum is one of the main settings in Robert Harris' novel Pompeii, whose protagonist, Attilius, works as the aquarius at the Piscina Mirabilis (the terminal reservoir into which the Aqua Augusta aqueduct emptied).
In the novel Ben-Hur, Misenum is the location of a villa owned by Quintus Arrius later bequeathed to his adopted son Judah Ben-Hur. The Ben-Hur family would later live in Misenum.
- Tacitus Annals 6.50
- Tacitus Annals 6.50
- Tacitus Annals 14.4