The ancient city has several notable claims to fame. In Roman times, Cicero wrote that the fleshpots of Capua defeated Hannibal because his Carthaginians became soft due to the high living in the city. At the time, Capuan residents were considered wealthy, well-groomed, and always perfumed. The city was also called the terra di lavoro or land of work due to its cornucopia of agriculture, metal-working, pottery, ceramics and extensive trade in other goods. The ancient writer Livy referred to Capua as the granary of Rome due to its abundant wheat crop.
The visitor to Capua easily finds the amphitheater at the center of the city. It's the second largest in Italy next to the Coliseum in Rome. Built in the late second century B.C., the well-preserved ruins once held up to 60,000 spectators. The amphitheater is open for roaming the vaulted corridors, the gladiator field, and the underground tunnels where once elaborate stage machinery as well as caged animals used to be kept. During Roman times, the shows at the amphitheater admitted both men and women for free. Exotic animals and fantastic scenery made the events extremely popular.
A Gladiator Museum next to the amphitheater contains two rooms of artifacts as well as a display of fighting gladiators. At one time, Capua boasted the best gladiator schools that trained both slaves and freemen. The gladiators were divided into categories according to the type of armor used and their combat specialty. The amphitheater put on two kinds of shows: the munera where gladiators fought each other to the death and venationes where gladiators fought against wild animals, sometimes even being thrown unarmed into the arena. Spartacus, the leader who led the slave revolt in 73 BC against Rome, first distinguished himself as a gladiator in the Capua amphitheater.
Before leaving the amphitheater, visitors should ask to see the Sanctuary of Mithras. (It's the only way to gain access.) The nice gentleman at the entrance window disappears for a moment, returns with a key, and tells you to follow him by car. You drive through the bustling streets of Capua where signs for the sanctuary appear and then vanish. The museum custodial stops his car at a dead-end road, in the middle of which a red-brick building with a Latin placard marked 'Mithraevm' squishes between apartment houses. He unlocks iron double doors and takes you down a flight of stairs until you enter a vestibule. A rectangular vaulted room has a ceiling with vestiges of red and green stars on a yellow background. In the front niche a fresco depicts the god Mithras slaying a bull.
The cult of Mithras originated in Persia during the 14th century B.C. His cult traveled across Asia Minor to Greece and then Rome where by the 1st century A.D. it gained popularity, especially among the common people. Scholars have written quite a bit about the syncretism between Mithraism and Christianity due to the many Christian churches that were former Mithraean and the fact that Christ's birthday coincided with the birthday of Mithra -- December 25th.
Capua holds more ancient wonders if you have the patience to wind through the streets asking for directions at every block. The Etruscan Furnace still remains from the Archaic period, the Carceri Vecchie is the old jail whose inmates included gladiators, and further afield are the Temples of Diana Tifatina (now a Christian basilica) and the Temple of Jupiter Tifatina (merely stones wedged into a mountain).