Pompeii, which retains its Latin name and is known as Pumpeie in Napolitan, has origins as ancient as those of Rome: inhabitants migrating from the Valley of the Sarno, descending from the famous Pelasgi, formed a primitive settlement at the foot of Vesuvius. It may not have been a real town, more likely a small settlement at the crossroads between three major roads, modelled in historical times on the roads coming from Cuma, Nola, Stabia and Nocera.
With passage through it required to go between the north and the south, Pompeii became prey to its powerful neighbouring states. It was conquered for the first time by the colony of Cumae between 525 and 474 BC Strabo reports that Pompeii was joined to the Dodecapolis (the set of the twelve most important Etruscan cities) under the control of Nuvkrinum, a theory that has become more reliable in light of recent excavations. Several fragments of bucchero ceramics were found in the area of the temple of Apollo and at the Stabian Baths, some with Nucerine inscriptions in graphite; a sixth century BC necropolis was also discovered in the area of the Baths.
The first traces of an important centre date back to the sixth century BC, although in this period the city, which was still quite small, seems to be a rather messy and spontaneous collection of buildings.
The battle lost by the Etruscans in the waters off Cumae against the Cumans and Syracusans (mid-fifth century BC) brought Pompeii under the leadership of the Samnites. The city joined the League of Nuceria, a confederation that included Nuceria Alfaterna, Herculaneum, Stabiae and Sorrento, and used the Nucerine alphabet based on the Greek and the Etruscan alphabets. The fortification of the entire plateau with a circle of walls made from tufa probably dates from this period. This area contained more than sixty hectares, although the city itself was less than ten hectares wide.
It was hostile to the Romans during the Samnite wars. Once defeated, it became an ally of Rome as a member of the City, while preserving linguistic and institutional autonomy. The first regular urban layout of the city dates from the fourth century BC and in around 300 BC it was fitted with a new fortification in Sarno limestone.
During the Second Punic War Pompeii, which was still under the control of Nuceria Alfaterna, remained faithful to Rome as opposed to Capua and many other cities in Campania, but was able to retain partial independence.
In the 2nd century BC intensive farming of the land and the consequent massive exportation of oil and wine brought wealth and a high standard of living, as we can see by looking at the value of some buildings and their luxurious decor. The House of the Faun, for example, can rival even the most famous Hellenistic royal residences in size (almost 3000 m²).
At the outbreak of the Social War (91 BC) Pompeii was hostile towards Rome, but found it impossible to resist the latter's military force. After forcing Stabia to surrender in 89 BC, Sulla set out for Pompeii, who attempted a vigorous defense by reinforcing the city walls and with the aid of a group of Celts led by Lucio Cluenzio. Any attempt at resistance proved futile, and soon the city fell, but thanks to the fact Pompeii belonged to the Nucerine league, it obtained Roman citizenship and joined the Gens Menenia patrician house.
In 80 BC it entered the orbit of Rome once and for all, and Sulla moved a group of veterans there, calling it the Colonia Venerea Pompeianorum Sillana. Land was re-allocated from those who had most bitterly opposed Sulla and was given to the veterans. Nevertheless, the political and military events did not have a significant effect on the welfare and entrepreneurship of Pompeians, chiefly due to the export of wines from Campania, which involved even very remote areas. Due to the healthy climate and the beauty of the landscape the city and its surroundings also became a pleasant holiday spot for some wealthy Romans - even Cicero had his own plot of land.
Sources relating information on life in Pompeii in the first imperial age are rather scarce. Only Tacitus recalls the brawl between the Nucerines and Pompeii in 59 AD in the amphitheatre of Pompeii, which prompted the consuls to ban all types of gladiator games in the arena for ten years .
On February 5 of 62 AD the city was hit by a strong earthquake.