The origin of the town is not a certain one. The name comes from Latina (from Melfi, a Lucan sea village abandoned by Roman people in IV century a.C. or maybe from Roman gens Amarfia, that lived in I century a.C.). A legend tells that the name comes from Amalfi, a nymph loved by Hercules. She was buried there as a desire of the gods. Amalfi was surely inhabited by Romans, escapedon Lattari mounts to hide from Germanic and Longobard invasions. It was a castrum in defence of Byzantine ducat of Naples. The town had a privileged relation to Byzantium thanks to its ability in the commerce. Amalfi people invented the compass and spread its use in the Mediterranean sea in the first half of XIII century.The famous “mythic” inventor Flavio Gioia never existed even if a monument in the main square of Amalfi was dedicated to him by an artist from Cava de’ Tirreni, Alfonso Balzico. An ancient Amalfi tradition tells that a man, Giovanni Gioia, was the person who invented the compass. Sailors from Amalfi were able to manage commercial relations to all the towns of Mediterranean Sea, also to Saracens.
Amalfi has been an Episcopal seat since 596. On the 1st September 839 Amalfi separated from the Ducat of Naples and became an autonomous town. Longobard princes had always been interested to conquer this rich town, but Amalfi was able to resist. The small autonomous state was governed by a count, elected each year by representatives from the noble families and then it was governed by a duke. During that period the state covered the area between Cetara and Positano, together with Capri and Li Galli isles, and in the inner part it included also Lattari mounts to Gragnano, near Naples. This was the best period for Amalfi: this was also the period of the rivalry with Pisa, Genoa and Venice. Amalfi had its own currency: the tarì. Commerce was very prosperous and merchants had colonies in many places on the Mediterranean Sea. There was the institution of the maritime law code, too. It was called “Tavola amalfitana” (it is kept as a paper copy of XVII century in the Museo Civico). In 1039 Guaimario V, Prince of Salerno, subdued Amalfi for a short while. Then Roberto il Guiscardo started its domination in Southern Italy. To survive, Amalfi had to ask for its protection and the last duke of Amalfi, Marino Sebaste, was removed. The Pope formed an alliance against Roberto il Guiscardo and the Pisani, that were part of this alliance, in 1135 sacked Amalfi and the near towns. Amalfitana Coast was now a feud governed by several different noble families. It had lost its wealth and its power.
In 1131 it had been conquered by Ruggiero II, the Norman king. He protected Amalfi and its commerce that represented a very important resource for the Reign of Sicily. But in 1135 Pisani came again to Amalfi and destroyed it, while its navy was fighting against Saracens. Amalfi commercial power completely declined also because of anti-Byzantine politics of Norman rulers: Amalfi could no more trade with Byzantine towns, but only with the ports of Southern Italy. During Middle Ages Amalfi had powerful fleets: a military navy and a commercial one. The military one was very strong and defeated many times Arabs, for example in the famous battle of Ostia (849) when Amalfi navy contributed to the defence of Rome against Muslims. Amalfi built its ships in an arsenal whose ruins still remain. It is now the only survived arsenal in Southern Italy. It was restructured in 1240 and 1272. Commercial ships were built on the beaches, called for that reason with the Byzantine name of “scaria”. In the night between 24th and 25th November there was a terrible landslip that submerged the port. It was provoked by a terrible Libeccio storm.
In 1398 Amalfi became a feud of Sanseverino family, then of Colonna, Orsini and Piccolomini families. In XV century Amalfi was ruled by Aragons and there was the arrival of Catalan merchants that were in competition with the local ones. This was another period of decadence. In 1643 there was a terrible and cruel plague, a third of the population died. The coast became more and more miserable. In XVIII century Amalfi was almost uninhabited, the noble families had moved to Naples. But in this period there was the naissance of new handicraft activities: the “centrellari”, that built rivets in Pogerola, the coral-workers, the goldsmiths, the blacksmiths and the “calafati” (the workers that repaired the ships to make them waterproof). In June 1807 Giuseppe Bonaparte visiting the Coast was enchanted by it and decided to build a road from Naples to Amalfi. The road was completed in 1854 by Ferdinand II. In 1879 the famous writer Erik Ibsen, walking through the narrow streets of the Coast, had the right inspiration to complete his masterpiece “A doll’s house”. In XX century Amalfi became a famous tourist destination, the “dolce vita” arrives from Rome to Capri and Amalfi: film directors, artists, actors and actresses came to this Coast.