A new beginning
Towards the end of the third century AD, Paestum began to display increasing signs of political and social decadence.
The problems caused by the flow of the river Salso, which ran close to the city, forced the inhabitants to raise the levels of the thresholds to their houses.
Between the fifth and the sixth century AD, the city no longer seems to have had a harbour for its port: once it was isolated from trade routes, the city was forced to change its role.
The residential area became much more restricted and was situated on the higher ground where the temple of Athena stands. Incorrectly but traditionally known as the “Temple of Ceres”, the temple was transformed into a Christian church and was surrounded by a series of burials.
The houses of this period were made from materials taken from abandoned older structures.
Nevertheless, towards the end of the sixth century AD, Paestum still seems to have maintained an extremely important role since the Christian basilica, built on the ruins of the temple of Athena, was chosen as the bishop’s see. The church’s cemetery function was transferred to another newly constructed building nearby, known as the “early Christian basilica” (the present-day church of SS. Annunziata).
Despite surviving the war between the Goths and the Byzantines (535-553 AD), Paestum was profoundly affected by the barbarian invasion. In the seventh century AD, the Lombards moved into the plain of Paestum before conquering Salerno. Then, in the ninth century AD, the Saracens devastated the city and inflicted such damage that the city was abandoned by part of the population who sought refuge in the higher inland areas. The bishop’s see was transferred from Paestum to the new town of Capaccio which was founded on the hills to the east of the ancient city.