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On the small Italian island of Capri (located about 25 miles south of Naples), there is a 2700-plus year old stone stairway which was literally carved into a small mountain. These "921 steps" begin at the Marina and finish at the top of Anacapri (the island's main town). However, these are not ordinary "steps"; that is to say, when climbing to the top of the "Scala Fenicia", one is greeted with a commanding panorama of the Mediterranean sea, as well as seeing the Italian mainland in the distance. However, the aesthetics of this particular stone stairway were likely a clever front which served as a strategic lookout point for incoming pirates and invading navies dating back to Ancient times.

What's interesting though is the origin of the Stairway's name...."Scala Fenicia" (or "Phoenician Steps"). It is an interesting (and perhaps misleading) name, since the Phoenicians (or their North African descendants, the Carthaginians) never settled on the island of Capri during Antiquity.

The Greeks, however, did settle on the island of Capri 2800 years ago and even founded the island's most famous town, Anacapri. The Greeks lived on the "Magna Grecia" island for nearly 800 years until the arrival of Augustus Caesar (around the 30's or 20's BC/BCE). With the arrival of Augustus, Capri was essentially dehellenized and subsequently (as well as universally) Latinized.

Having said this, where exactly do the Phoenicians come in? If Capri's early history dates back to Greek and Roman times, with no historical or archeological evidence that proves any Phoenician settlement on the island, then why were these famed stone steps (which were actually built by the Greeks 2700 plus years ago), called the "Phoenician Steps"? Did Augustus Caesar, out of revenge or spite against the Greeks, deliberately attempt to take away the Stone Stairway's Hellenic origin by arbitrarily assigning it a new name; more specifically, the name of a civilization and peoples who had no historical connection to the island-(such as the Phoenicians)?

In other words, why were these steps referred to as "Phoenician Steps", instead of being referred to as "Greek Steps"?

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  • Why do you assume that the island of Capri was conquered or otherwise annexed to the Roman Republic/Empire as recently as the reign of Augustus, and that Latinization began that recently? Wikipedia says that Capri belonged to the city of Naples until the time of Augustus, and so was part of the Roman realm as soon as Naples was. Augustus merely made Capri imperial property. And why would Augustus have any anti/Greek feelings?
    – MAGolding
    Jan 12, 2023 at 19:11
  • To answer your last question first.....Because, maybe you have heard of The Battle of Actium?.....and maybe you have heard of Cleopartra?-(who, last I checked, was of Greek or partial Hellenic ancestry).
    – Alex
    Jan 12, 2023 at 23:14
  • With regard to your understanding of Neapolitan history, you should know that Naples, was founded by the Ancient Greeks 2700-2800 years ago during the height of the "Magna Grecia" period, whereby mostly Greek commercial colonisits-(i.e. Merchants & Tradesmen) "settled" on coastal lands throughout much of the Mediterranean sea region...including, the city of Naples-(which, when translated from the original Greek meant..."The New City"). For nearly 6 centuries, Naples was an ethnically Greek city, though by the 200's BC/BCE, a burgeoning Roman imperial power conquered (or to use Roman......)
    – Alex
    Jan 12, 2023 at 23:19
  • sounding language-(i.e. euphemisms).."liberated"), Naples from their Greek overlords and replaced them with Roman "Liberators". In reality, the so-called, Roman "Liberators", were conquerors and the conquest of Naples and the entirety of Ancient Greek Southern Italy, as well as Sicily, was essentially, a prologue to a much larger story that would become....The Roman Empire-(beginning in 27/26 BC/BCE, with the aforementioned Augustus, as its First Emperor.
    – Alex
    Jan 12, 2023 at 23:22

1 Answer 1

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Italian Wikipedia has this explanation:

Come già accennato nell'incipit, la Scala Fenicia è un residuo della presenza dei Greci sull'isola, che la costruirono intorno al VII e VI secolo a.C. L'appellativo «Fenicia», invece, è dovuto alle manie toponomastiche degli ambienti eruditi partenopei del Seicento che, nel fervore della cosiddetta feniciomania, hanno dato vita ad una serie di ricostruzioni storiche arbitrarie tese a dimostrare forzatamente la presenza di Fenici a Capri; ciò ha portato all'individuazione di presunte evidenze semitiche nell'isola, di natura etimologica, toponimica e archeologica (e, quindi, all'attribuzione della costruzione della Scala proprio ai Fenici).

DeepL translation:

As mentioned in the incipit, the Phoenician Staircase is a remnant of the presence of the Greeks on the island, who built it around the 7th and 6th centuries BC. The appellation "Phoenicia," on the other hand, is due to the toponymic manias of Neapolitan scholarly circles of the seventeenth century, which, in the fervor of the so-called Phoenicianomania, gave rise to a series of arbitrary historical reconstructions aimed at forcibly proving the presence of Phoenicians on Capri; this led to the identification of alleged Semitic evidence on the island, of an etymological, toponymic and archaeological nature (and, therefore, to the attribution of the construction of the Staircase precisely to the Phoenicians).

The source given is

  • Eduardo Federico, I Fenici e Capri: messa a punto e prospettiva, in Almanacco Caprese, n. 5, Edizioni La Conchiglia.
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  • Many thanks for the very informative answer.
    – Alex
    Jan 12, 2023 at 3:09
  • I can confirm the translation is as accurate as you can get.
    – bracco23
    Jan 12, 2023 at 14:21

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