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Decline and Disappearance

The decline of Paestum was slow. Important institutions appear to have been functioning until the 4th century CE, since inscriptions from 337 CE and 347 CE mention the election of city officials and meetings of the city senate. Of the same century are, however, signs of a breakdown of social conventions. Garbage pits were dug in the Forum, and limekilns were installed in abandoned private houses. The limekilns are a certain sign that parts of the town have been abandoned. They are used to convert limestone, including marble and travertine, into lime for use in the production of mortar and cement. Limekilns in the town means the the limestone comes from the town, i.e., they used building material and statues for the production. The town was cannibalising itself.

Temple of Athena and votive column
Temple of Athena and votive column

The reasons for the city's decline are several, but natural causes appears decisive. The natural springs around Paestum, which fed the streams around the city, are highly calciferous, and calcium incrustations slowly cover everything that comes into contact with the water. The travertine shelf on which the city was build is itself a product of the calciferous waters. In spite of the efforts of Roman engineers, the springs and the drainage channels were continuously clogged by the calcium deposits, and the area surrounding the city gradually turned into swamps, with disastrous consequences for agriculture and health. The loss of arable land and the spreading of malaria lead to a steady population decline.

As the city contracted, the inhabitants huddled together on the high ground, around the Temple of Athena. The temple was transformed in to a Christian church, but abandoned when a new church, the Annunziata, was build in the 8th century, mostly of material taken from the abandoned parts of the town.

Papal documents show that Paestum was the seat of a diocese in the 7th century, but the bishop moved to Capaccio (Caput Aquae meaning a natural source of water) in the hills above Paestum. It is probably that most of the population moved with him.

Paestum was practically abandoned, except for a few farmers, shepherds and the workers of the remaining limekilns, which kept working well into the middle ages. Much of the artistic patrimony of Paestum have probably been destroyed in the limekilns.

This article has been split into 8 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. Poseidonia - The Greek City
  3. The Lucanian Conquest
  4. Paestum - The Roman Colony
  5. Decline and Disappearance
  6. Rediscovery of the City
  7. Literature and links
  8. Photographs

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This page is linked under the names "Paestum" and "Poseidonia".

Copyright © 2005 René Seindal, last changed 2005-06-04

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