Paestum was a Roman city at the mouth of the Silarus River southeast of Naples on the western coast of Italy. Around 600 B.C., Greek colonists from the city of Sybaris in southern Italy founded the city as Poseidonia. These colonists expanded the city and built several magnificent temples.About 400 B.C., the Lucanians, the native people who lived in the surrounding hills, captured the city. They controlled the city for more than a century, until 273 B.C., when the Romans established a colony at the site, which they called Paestum.
Paestum successfully resisted the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who invaded Italy during the Punic Wars. The city was allowed to issue its own bronze coins during the early Roman Empire. In A.D. 71, the emperor Vespasian established a new settlement at the site with a large group of retired sailors from the Roman fleet. Paestum began to decrease in importance as the Silarus River filled with silt*, and malaria made the area unhealthy. Eventually, Paestum was abandoned.
Today Paestum is a major archaeological* site. Impressive remains from the Greek, Lucanian, and Roman periods have been uncovered, including an important group of Doric* temples. One of these temples, the Temple of Poseidon, is one of the best-preserved religious buildings from the ancient Greek world. Temples and shrines dedicated to Zeus, Hera, and Athena have survived at the site. Paestum also has painted tombs of the Lucanian people and the city walls, public baths, forum*, senate house, and amphitheater* of the Romans. (See also Archaeology of Ancient Sites; Architecture, Greek; Architecture, Roman; Colonies, Greek; Colonies, Roman; Construction Materials and Techniques; Peoples of Ancient Greece and Rome.)
* silt fine particles of earth and sand carried by moving water
* archaeological referring to the study of past human cultures, usually by excavating ruins
* Doric relating to the oldest and simplest style of Greek architecture
* forum in ancient Rome, the public square or marketplace, often used for public assemblies and judicial proceedings
* amphitheater oval or round structure with rows of seats rising gradually from a stage or central open space