Veii (Veio)

Gorgon Antefix from the temple at Portonaccio

The ruins of Veii are located about 20 km northwest of Rome. Veii was the greatest centre for the fabrication of terra-cotta sculptures in Etruria in the 6th century BCE. The town had hegemony over Rome in the 7th and 6th centuries; but a subsequent series of wars eventually ended in its destruction. In its heyday Veii was as big as Athens and had a population of about 100,000 inhabitants.

In origin, Veii appears to have been a conglomeration of Villanovan villages during the 9th and 8th centuries BCE, the graveyards of which occupied the rocky plains around the city. One of the chambered tombs, the Grotta Campana, contains the oldest known Etruscan frescoes. The ashes of the dead were stored in burial urns surmounted by archaic terra-cotta portrait heads. Nearby are the remains of the Temple of Portonaccio, home of the terra-cotta statue of the
"Apollo of Veii" by Vulca and also a temple shrine dedicated to the neighbouring Cremera River.

Although the Etruscan monarchy had been pulled down late in the Sixth Century BCE, traditionally in 509, many Etruscan city - states remained powerful for another two centuries and a threat to Rome for at least one hundred twenty years until its defeat in 396 BCE.

Veii was the only city - state in Rome's immediate vicinity considered powerful enough to be a serious threat to Rome's continued growth and expansion, and even Rome's very survival. was at stake. Rome and Veii were physically too close to one another and too well matched in strength for any treaty between the two to adequately guarantee the safety of one from the other.

In the 480's BCE, the Fabian Gens was one of the most powerful familial groups in Rome. The Fabii had major Etruscan connections and owned a considerable tract of land between Rome and Veii. A major strategic point on the Via Salaria, or Salt Road between Rome and Veii was where the stream Cremora joined the Tiber. The Fabii and the Veians came into conflict with each other during this period, mainly through mutual cattle raiding. Then, the Fabii built a defensive blockhouse at the Cremora which the Veians considered a challenge thrown in their teeth. Now the Fabii had raised a large semi - private army who owed their allegiance not to the Roman state but to the Fabian Gens. Thre hundred of the Fabii and their clients occupied the blockhouse with intentions of holding this strongpoint against Veii in 476. This led to the Battle of the Cremora in which three hundred Fabii were killed and the area was abandoned to the Veiians. Another strategic town occupied at this time by the Veiians was Fidemae, also at the confluence of the Cremora and the Tiber. The Veiians now controlled the entire west bank of the Tiber which included the Janiculum Hill which overlooked Rome. The stage was now set for a decisive showdown between the two cities.

The Romans had seen this coming for many years in advance. The new Republican government had been established under the leadership of two civilian magistrates, the Consuls for each year. In 444 BCE, they replaced the two civilian consuls with three military officers with consular powers -- the tribuni militum consularii potestate. Two other magistrates, the Censors, were instituted whose term of office lasted eighteen months. The responsibility of the censors was to examine the property rolls of the citizend of Rome and determine who had the privelege and responsibility of military service, and whether his property qualified him as an equestrian or infantry warrior. Military service was not an option to men of little or no property, a situation which Rome later found necessary to change during periods of crisis.

Less than a year after Cremora came the crushing defeat of the Etruscan navy off Cumae. Veii was forced to make a treaty with Rome in spite of the recent victory at Cremora.

Fidemae was first retaken from Veii, and then the city of Veii itself came under siege. According to tradition the Siege of Veii lasted 10 years from 406 to 396 BCE (although subsequent information indicates that it only lasted 6 years). This heroic legend was invented in order to draw a parallel with the ten year Siege of Troy of Homeric legend. The actual siege of Veii lasted probably 6 years and was broken when the Romans diverted the drainage channel that supplied water to the city. Roman soldiers sneaked under the wall through the now diverted stream bed and let their comrades in through the locked gates.

Remains of houses at Veii

The capture of the Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BC by the soldier and statesman Marcus Furius Camillus spelled the beginning of the end for Etruscan independence. The Romans destroyed much of the city of Veii, driving off the inhabitants and parceling out the captured land to their own citizens. This is in contrast to the way Rome's former rivals were treated upon their defeat, which was to incorporate the defeated city into the growing state of Rome. Veii was such a dangerous enemy that, evidently, the Romans wanted there to be no chance of their eventual recovery and renewal of their position as a threat to Rome. It set a new and more sinister precedent in Rome's treatment of vanquished enemies.


Model of the temple at Portonaccio

The podium of the temple as it is today

Although the city of Veii was well known through the writings of Dionysius of Halicarnasso and Livius, for a long time, the location of Veii was forgotten. It was only rediscovered in the 1840's. A number of tombs were discovered nearby. These included the Campana tomb, named after its discoverer the Marchese Campana; the tomb of the ducks, dated at about 680 BCE and believed to have the oldest wall paintings in Etruria.

In the early 20th Century, the temple of Portonaccia was discovered and with it such masterpieces as the Apollo of Vulca and the Mother and child statue. On discovering the Apollo in 1916, the Italian archaeologist G. Giglioli was so overcome with emotion that he smothered it with kisses. The Apollo is considered one of the masterpieces of the Etruscan sculptor Vulca, and is a formidable and moving sight in the Villa Giulia Museum in Rome.

Timeline For Veii
8th Century BCE
650 BCE :
560 BCE (approx):
483 - 474 BCE:
474 BCE:
438 - 425 BCE:
428 BCE:
406 BCE:
396 BCE :
First Settlement by Etruscans
First Necropolis built
Revolt of the Vibenna brothers
Early wars of Rome with Veii
Defeat of Etruscan fleet at Cumae
Veii's second war with Rome
Death of Lars Tolumnius, Lauchum of Veii
Start of Siege of Veii
Fall of Veii

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