Velathri (Volterra)

Volterra's Etruscan walls date from the 5th - 3rd century BCE. With a total length of 7.3 km and an enclosed area of 116 hectares, they protected vital fields, temples and housing for about 25 000 people.

The Porta all'Arco, the Porta di Diana and impressive remains of the walls survive to this day.
(Left) The Porto all'Arco, repaired 2nd century BCE.

Note the three badly eroded stone heads. Theories on their meaning abound. They may represent the decapitated heads of former adversaries, portraits of former prominent citizens, or most likely, the Etruscan "trinity" of Tinia, Uni and Menrva,

The Etruscan city of Velathri, (Volaterrae, or modern Volterra) is located in Pisa provincia, Toscana (Tuscany) regione, northwest of Siena.

Velathri became one of the wealthiest cities of the Etruscan league thanks to its mineral wealth and the trading of metals such as iron, copper and tin (with the latter two used to make bronze)


The first signs of the Etruscans in Velathri were during the early 7th Century BCE, with inscriptions found on artifacts and steles. During the Orientalizing period, there were growing economical and cultural ties with the Phoenicians, and Greeks. From that time until the 4th Century BCE, Velathri's territory spread to the west as far as Elba, rich in iron deposits, to the north as far as the Arno, to the south as far as the territories of of Vetulonia and Russellae while to the east it bordered on Faesulae, Arezzo and Chiusi.

Initially the growth of Velathri was relatively peaceful, but the territorial expansion was a major contributing factor to conflicts such as the battle of Cumae. Following the 4th century Etruscan influence began to decline, and Velathri lost Populonia (Fufluna) and with it, an important sea port. In later times, Vada, located north of the mouth of the Cecina became the principal port.

According to Livy, Scipio gained a victory in Velathri over the Etruscans in 298 BCE, causing severe destruction in the process.

The city supported Rome with military aid and supplies during the Second Punic War in 205 BCE.

Owing to the extension of the Via Aurelia along the coast up to Pisa, Velathri was even more cut off from the main arteries of commerce. The city was loyal to Rome during the social war and in 90 BCE Julius Caesar granted Voltaterrae the right of Roman Citizenship as token of gratitude.

During the civil war between Marius and Sulla (88 B.C.) Volterra sided along with Faesulae, Arezzo and Populonia, and supported Gaius Marius against Sulla. Sulla won the war and his troops besieged Velathri. After a siege of two years the city was finally taken by Sulla and was given Roman citizenship along with the new name of Volaterrae.

The Lauchum was replaced by a body of four persons (the quadrumvirate) who exercised administrative and legislative powers. In spite of its defeat, Volterrae maintained most of its territory though compelled to cede the colony of Saena Julia (Siena).

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