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ELEA later VELIA, Campania, Italy.

A city of the Ionian Phokaians on the coast of Lucania, founded 540-535 B.C. Following their mass flight from submission to Persia, the Phokaians first sought refuge in their colonies of Alalia (on Corsica) and Massalia (Marseilles), but the sea battle of Alalia, in which they triumphed over a combined force of Etruscans and Carthaginians, led them to abandon Alalia for a place in Magna Graecia. After a stop and reinforcement at Rhegion they sailed N along the coast to Elea, a site in the mountainous country between Cape Palinurus and Poseidonia (Hdt. 1.163-67). The foundation prospered and eventually counted among its ornaments Parmenides, the 5th c. philosopher and statesman who gave the city its constitution, and the Eleatic school of philosophy. Like Naples and Tarentum it never fell to the assault of Italic tribes (Strab. 6.254). In 387 B.C. it was a member of the Italian league against Dionysios I of Syracuse and subsequently became a faithful ally of Rome, furnishing her with ships in the Punic wars and affording a stronghold in S Italy against Hannibal. Cicero tells us that the cult of Ceres, Liber, and Libera at Rome was Greek, and that Velia was one of two cities that furnished priestesses for it (Balb. 55). In 88 B.C. it became a municipium and was inscribed in the tribus Romilia. In the civil war of 44 B.C. Brutus, who had a villa there, made it one of his bases. Thereafter we know of it only as the native city of the father of Statius and the grammarian Palamedes and famous for its school of medicine founded on Parmenides' principles. It was always fiercely independent and determinedly Greek, as the archaeological record also attests, and persisted in writing Greek well into the Imperial period. Its decline was due to isolation from the main routes inland and the silting up of its ports. Its economy had probably always been fragile, dependent on the sea traffic and fishing; there is little good agriculture in the vicinity.

The city occupied the end of a spur of the Apennines between two rivers, the Palistro and the Fiumarella S. Barbara, with an acropolis overlooking a considerable bay. Landward from this the city spread to either side over the slopes descending to the plain and the river ports, the S quarter much more important than the N. The fortifications are extremely complicated and confusing, the walls with a base in blocks of the local limestone and sandstone and upper parts in two- and three-ribbed construction bricks that are a characteristic of the city. The walls made at least two, and probably three, circuits that could be separated from one another in emergency, the largest circuit embracing the S and E quarters of the city, another around the N quarter, and probably a third enclosing the acropolis and the slope SE of it, the heart of the old city. There are some scant remains of polygonal masonry of “Lesbian” type, presumably of an early fortification, to be seen at places along the crest of the spur, but most of what can be seen today is work of the Hellenistic period, with towers protecting the gates and at fairly regular intervals along vulnerable stretches of the curtain, and a fortress at the high point inland that pains were taken to include. But the setting of certain towers still wants explanation; and the function of Porta Rosa, Velia's most conspicuous monument—both a gate between the N and S quarters and a viaduct connecting the acropolis with the inland fortifications—needs further clarification.

Excavations have been carried out on the acropolis and its adjacencies, in an area known as the agora, and in the neighborhood of Porta Marina Sud, as well as around Porta Rosa and its approaches and at scattered points in the S and E quarters. On the acropolis the most important remains are those of a large Ionic temple, now reduced to its foundations (32.50 x 18.35 m) partially covered by a mediaeval castle. This dominated the view, and around it were later constructed the terraces and porticos of an extensive sanctuary. The earliest material is of the 6th c., but the temple building is early 5th. Under it is a stretch of fine archaic work.

On the S slope of the acropolis, in part buried by a terrace wall of the early 5th c., are foundations of small buildings in “Lesbian” polygonal masonry. These seem to be remains of the first settlement, or possibly (on the evidence of pottery found here) a still more ancient station going back to the early 6th c. It is interesting that these all seem to have faced E and were aligned with a regular grid of streets.

Along the crest of the main spur a number of temples and sanctuaries of a wide range of dates have been explored. The most important are a long, narrow temenos on the minor acropolis where a stele to Poseidon Asphaleios was found and a vast terrace (ca. 110 x 100 m) near the summit of the city with a long altar (25.35 x 7 m) reminiscent of that of Hieron at Syracuse.

The agora area, on the slope S of Porta Rosa, consists of a small public square surrounded by colonnades under which passes an elaborate channel, best examined uphill from the square, that drained the surrounding slopes, taking the water to the sea. To the E are remains of a series of buildings that may be dependencies of the agora. The terrain here is steep and broken, and the area was repeatedly rebuilt, but the original plan seems to have been of high antiquity, though what can be seen today is for the most part Hellenistic and Roman. The drain is dated to the beginning of the 3d c. B.C.

In the vicinity of Porta Marina Sud a considerable area has been cleared. Here the most interesting remains are a building with cryptoporticus that fills a whole insula, apparently headquarters of a medical association, where a number of sculptures and inscriptions were recovered, and a bothros which was found full of votive material, possibly dedicated to Eros. A number of small houses belonging to the Roman period have been found in this area; these are all of peristyle plan, no atrium house being known on the site.

The excavators believe that the city was devastated by catastrophes toward the beginning of the 3d c. B.C., toward the middle of the 1st c. A.D., and toward the end of the 5th c. After the first two the city was rebuilt along its original pattern, but after the last no rebuilding was undertaken.


P. C. Sestieri, “Greek Elea-Roman Velia” Archaeology 10 (1957) 2-10I; La Parola del Passatci 25 (1970) 5-300, 21 (1966) 153-420 (articles by various authors on “Velia ed i Focei in Occidente”); M. Napoli, Guida degli scavi di Velia, Cava de'Tirreni (Di Mauro) (1972)MP.


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