The name is said to mean "stag\'s head" in the Messapian dialect, in allusion to the shape of the harbour. Tradition varies as to its founders; but we find it hostile to Tarentum, and in friendly relations with Thurii. With a fertile territory round it, it became the most important city of the Messapians, but it was developed by the Romans, into whose hands it only came after the conquest of the Sallentini in 266 BC. They founded a colony there in 245 BC, and the Via Appia was perhaps extended through Tarentum as far as Brundisium at this period. Pacuvius was born here about 220 BC.
After the Punic Wars it became the chief point of embarkation for Greece and the East, via Dyrrachium or Corcyra. In. the Social War it received Roman citizenship, and was made a free port by Sulla. It suffered, however, from a siege conducted by Caesar in 49 BC (Bell. Civ. i.) and was again attacked in 42 and 40 BC. Virgil died here (19 BC) on his return from Greece.
Trajan constructed the Via Trajana, a more direct route from Beneventum to Brundisium. The remains of ancient buildings are unimportant, though a considerable number of antiquities, especially inscriptions, have been discovered here: one column 62 ft. in height, with an ornate capital, still stands, and near it is the base of another, the column itself having been removed to Lecce. They are said to have marked the termination of the Via Appia.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.