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VELIA (Ὑέλη or Ἐλέα: Eth.Ὑελήτης or Eth. Ἐλεάτης, Eth. Veliensis: Castella Mare della Brucca), one of the principal of the Greek colonies in Southern Italy, situated on the shores of the Tyrrhenian sea, about midway between Posidonia and Pyxus. There is some uncertainty respecting the correct form of the name. Strabo tells us that it was originally called Hyele (Υ̓έλη), but was in his day called Elea (Ἐλέα), and Diogenes Laertius also says that it was at first called Hyele and afterwards Elea. (Strab. vi. p.252; D. L. 9.5.28; Steph. B. sub voce But it is certain from the evidence of its coins, which uniformly bear the legends ὙΕΛΗ and ὙΕΛΗΤΩΝ, that the name of Hyele continued in use among the people themselves as long as the city continued; while,on the other hand, the name of Ἐλέα is already found in Scylax (p. 4.12), and seems to have been certainly that in use among Attic writers from an early period, where the Eleatic school of philosophy rendered the name familiar. Strabo also tells us that some authors wrote the name Ele (Ἔλη), from a fountain of that name; and this form, compared with Ὑέλη and the Latin form Velia, seems to show clearly that the diversity of names arose from the Aeolic Digamma, which was probably originally prefixed to the name, and was retained in the native usage and in that of the Romans, while it was altogether dropped by the Attics. (Münter, Velia, p. 21.) It is not improbable that the name was derived from that of the neighbouring river, the Hales of Cicero (Alento), of which the name is written Ἐλέης by Strabo and Βελέα by Stephanus of Byzantium. (Cic. Fam. 7.2. 0; Strab. vi. p.254.) Others, however, derived it from the marshes (ἕλη) at the mouth of the same river.

There is no trace of the existence of any town on the site of Velia before the establishment of the Greek colony there, and it is probable that this, like most of the Greek colonies in Southern Italy, was founded on a wholly new site. It was a colony from Phocaea in Ionia, and derived its origin from the voluntary expatriation [p. 2.1267]of the inhabitants of that city in order to avoid falling under the Persian yoke, at the time of the conquest of Ionia by Harpagus, B.C. 544. The Phocaean emigrants proceeded in a body to Corsica, where they had already founded the colony of Alalia about 20 years before; and in the first instance established themselves in that island, but, having provoked the enmity of the Tyrrhenians and Carthaginians by their piracies, they sustained such severe loss in a naval action with the combined fleets of these two powers, that they found themselves compelled to abandon the colony. A part of the emigrants then repaired to Massilia (which was also a Phocaean colony), while the remainder, after a temporary halt at Rhegium, proceeded to found the new colony of Hyele or Velia on the coast of Lucania. This is the account given by Herodotus (1.164-167), with which that cited by Strabo from Antiochus of Syracuse substantially agrees. (Strab. vi. p.254.) Later writers have somewhat confused the narrative, and have represented the foundation of Massilia and Velia as contemporaneous (Hygin. ap. A. Gell. 10.16; Ammian. Marc. 15.9.7); but there is no doubt that the account above given is the correct one. Scylax alone represents Velia as a colony of Thurii. (Scyl. p. 4.12.) If this be not altogether a mistake it must refer to the admission at a later period of a body of fresh colonists from that city; but of this we find no trace in any other author. The exact date of the foundation of Velia cannot be determined, as we do not know how long the Phocaeans remained in Corsica, but it may be placed approximately at about 540 B.C.

There is no doubt that the settlers at Velia, like those of the sister colony of Massilia, followed the example of their parent city, and devoted themselves assiduously to the cultivation of commerce; nor that the city itself quickly became a prosperous and flourishing place. The great abundance of the silver coins of Velia still in existence, and which are found throughout the S. of Italy, is in itself sufficient evidence of this fact; while the circumstance that it became the seat of a celebrated school of philosophy, the leaders of which continued through successive generations to reside at Velia, proves that it must have been a place of much intellectual refinement and cultivation. But of its history we may be said to know absolutely nothing. Strabo tells us that it was remarkable for its good government, an advantage for which it was partly indebted to Parmenides, who gave his fellow-citizens a code of laws which the magistrates from year to year took an oath to obey. (Strab. vi. p.254; D. L. 9.3.23.) But the obscure story concerning the death of Zeno, the disciple of Parmenides, who was put to death by a tyrant named Nearchus or Diomedon, would seem to show that it was not free from the same kind of violent interruptions by the rise of despotisms as were common to most of the Greek cities. (D. L. 9.5; Cic. Tusc. 2.22) Strabo also tells us that the Eleans came off victorious in a contest with the Posidonians, but of the time and circumstances of this we are wholly ignorant; and he adds that they maintained their ground against the Lucanians also. (Strab. l.c.) If this is correct they would have been one of the few Greek cities which preserved their national existence against those barbarians, but their name is not found in the scanty historical notices that we possess of the wars between the Lucanians and the cities of Magna Graecia. But the statement of Strabo is in some degree confirmed by the fact that Velia was certainly admitted at an early period (though on what occasion we know not) to the alliance of Rome, and appears to have maintained very friendly relations with that city. It was from thence, in common with Neapolis, that the Romans habitually derived the priestesses of Ceres, whose worship was of Greek origin. (Cic. pro Balb. 24; V. Max. 1.1.1.) Cicero speaks of Velia as a well-known instance of a “foederata civitas,” and we find it mentioned in the Second Punic War as one of those which were bound by treaty to contribute their quota of ships to the Roman fleet. (Cic. l.c.; Liv. 26.39.) It eventually received the Roman franchise, apparently in virtue of the Lex Julia, B.C. 90. (Cic. l.c.) Under the Roman government Velia continued to be a tolerably flourishing town, and seems to have been from an early period noted for its mild and salubrious climate. Thus we are told that P. Aemilius was ordered to go there by his physicians for the benefit of his health, and we find Horace making inquiries about it as a substitute for Baiae. (Plut. Aemil. 39; Hor. Ep. 1.15. 1.) Cicero's friend Trebatius had a villa there, and the great orator himself repeatedly touched there on his voyages along the coast of Italy. (Cic. Ver. 2.40, 5.17, ad Fam. 7.19, 20, ad Att. 16.6, 7.) It> appears to have been at this period still a place of some trade, and Strabo tells us that the poverty of the soil compelled the inhabitants to turn their attention to maritime affairs and fisheries. (Strab. vi. p.254.) It is probable that the same cause had in early times co-operated with the national disposition of the Phocaean settlers to direct their attention especially to maritime commerce. We hear nothing more of Velia under the Roman Empire. Its name is found in Pliny and Ptolemy, but not in the Itineraries, which may, however, probably proceed from its secluded position. It is mentioned in the Liber Coloniarum (p. 209) among the Praefecturae of Lucania; and its continued existence as a municipal town is proved by inscriptions. (Mommsen, Inscrip. R. N. 190, App. p. 2.) It became an episcopal see in the early ages of Christianity, and still retained that dignity as late as the time of Gregory the Great (A.D. 599). It is probable that the final decay of Velia, like that of Paestum, was owing to the ravages of the Saracens in the 8th and 9th centuries. The bishopric was united with that of Capaccio, which had succeeded to that of Paestum. (Münter, Velia, pp. 69--73.) During the middle ages there grew up on the spot a fortress which was called Castell‘ a Mare della Brucca, and which still serves to mark the site of the ancient city.

The ruins of Velia are situated on a low ridge of hill, which rises about a mile and a half from the mouth of the river Alento (the ancient Hales), and half a mile from the coast, which here forms a shallow but spacious bay, between the headland formed by the Monte della Stella and the rocky point of Porticello near Ascea. The mediaeval castle and village of Castell‘ a Mare della Brucca occupy the point of this hill nearest the sea. The outline of the ancient walls may be traced at intervals round the hill for their whole extent. Their circuit is not above two miles, and it is most likely that this was the old city or acropolis, and that in the days of its prosperity it had considerable suburbs, especially in the direction of its port. It is probable that this was an artificial basin, like that of Metapontum, and its site is in all probability marked by [p. 2.1268]a marshy pool which still exists between the ruins of the ancient city and the mouth of the Alento. This river itself, however, was sufficient to afford a shelter and place of anchorage for shipping in ancient times (Cic. Att. 16.7), and is still resorted to for the same purpose by the light vessels of the country. No other ruins exist on the site of the ancient city except some masses of buildings, which, being in the reticulated style, are unquestionably of Roman date: portions of aqueducts, reservoirs for water, &c. are also visible. (The site and existing remains of Velia are described by Münter, Velia in Lucanien, 8vo. Altona, 1818, pp. 15--20, and by the Duc de Luynes, in the Annali dell' Instituto, 1829, pp. 381--386.)

It is certain that as a Greek colony Velia never rose to a par with the more opulent and flourishing cities of Magna Graecia. Its chief celebrity in ancient times was derived from its celebrated school of philosophy, which was universally known as the Eleatic school. Its founder Xenophanes was indeed a native of Colophon, but had established himself at Velia, and wrote a long poem, in which he celebrated the foundation of that city. (D. L. 9.2.20.) His distinguished successors Parmenides and Zeno were both of them born at Velia, and the same thing is asserted by some writers of Leucippus, the founder of the atomic theory, though others represent him as a native of Abdera or Melos. Hence Diogenes Laertius terms Velia “an inconsiderable city, but capable of producing great men” (9.5.28).



hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 16.7
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.167
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.164
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 9.5
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 9.2
    • Diogenes Laertius, Vitae philosophorum, 9.3
    • Cicero, For Cornelius Balbus, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 39
    • Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, 2.22
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 1.1.1
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