Etruscan city and Roman
market town beside the river Cremera, a W-bank tributary of the Tiber, 16 km NW of the center of Rome.
Although there was scattered settlement here in the
Bronze Age, the establishment of a large organized community was the work of Villanovan I settlers from the Tarquinia-Vulci area, probably in the 9th c. B.C. The city was the center of a large territory (the Ager Veientanus) which at the time of its maximum extension occupied the whole of the countryside N of the Tiber, from the confines of the Faliscan cities of Capena and Falerii
down to the coastal salt marshes and extending N-NW
to Lake Bracciano and possibly, in the 5th c. B.C., to
Nepet and Sutrium. Relations with Rome were close; but
as Rome's power and ambitions grew, a clash was inevitable and in 396 B.C. the city was destroyed and its territories annexed. As the road center of a rich agricultural area the town was soon reoccupied, but it was never
again politically important. Its subsequent history was
one of steady decline, only briefly arrested by the grant
of municipal rank under Augustus (municipium Augustum Veiens). It is last heard of in the 4th c. A.D.
The site of the Etruscan town was defined by the
steep-sided and, in many places, precipitous valleys of
the Fosso della Valchetta (the river Cremera) on the N
and the Fosso Piordo on the S. Only at the NW end was
there relatively easy, level access. Here the streams are
barely 500 m apart. They then diverge to enclose a rolling promontory of high ground ca. 180 ha in extent, converging again at the SE end below the cliffs of the acropolis, the Piazza d'Armi. Except on the Piazza d'Armi
there are no traces of any artificial defenses before the
closing years of the 5th c. B.C., when the entire plateau
was strengthened with a rampart and a facing wall of
The Villanovan settlement on the Piazza d'Armi was
partially overlaid in the 6th c. by an orthogonal grid of
streets, but elsewhere there is no trace of any such orderly
plan; the plan of the town was markedly irregular, being
determined mainly by the natural configuration of the
plateau and of the roads giving access to it. One road ran
the full length of the plateau from the NW gate to the
Piazza d'Armi, where an artificial terrace carried it down
into the valley. This was the axial street, and upon it
converged a network of roads serving the Ager Veientanus and linking Veii directly with Rome, Caere, Tarquinia, Vulci, Nepet, Falerii, Capena, and the Tiber valley. Most of these roads met at a point W of the middle
of the plateau, which was successively the center of the
Etruscan city and the site of the Roman forum.
The inhabited area has been little explored, but from
surface finds it is clear that most of the plateau was occupied in Etruscan times, though in varying density. A few
houses have been excavated on the Piazza d'Armi and
beside the NW gate (both of which lie over Villanovan
settlement) and others near the NE (Capena) gate. The
principal known public monuments are the sanctuaries.
The situations of two of these are known from massive
deposits of votive terracottas, one overlooking the Valchetta near the Piazza d'Armi, the other (the Campetti
deposit) near the center of the town, on the N slopes.
The foundations of an archaic temple with associated
terracottas of the early 6th c. B.C. have been excavated
on the Piazza d'Armi. It was a simple rectangular building, possibly with a central column supporting the ridgebeam (columen) of the gabled roof. The well-known Portonaccio sanctuary occupied a terrace outside the
walls, opposite the mediaeval village of Isola Farnese.
This was probably in origin an open temenos with an
altar, to which was added ca. 500 B.C. a temple with
three cellas and a columnar pronaos. The magnificent
series of architectural terracottas from this sanctuary includes the life-sized group of the Apollo of Veii, very
possibly the work of the famous Etruscan coroplast,
Vulca. This group, now in the Villa Giulia Museum, was
displayed freestanding along the ridgebeam of the temple.
The Etruscan city was ringed around with cemeteries.
Four of these go back to Villanovan times: Grotta Gramiccia, outside the NW gate; Valle la Fata, on the S side
beside the early pack trail to Rome; and Vacchereccia
and Quattro Fontanili opposite the NE gate. To these
were added later those of Casale del Fosso and Oliveto
Grande (Pozzuola) on the W side of the city, Casalaccio
and Monte Campanile on the S, Macchia della Comunità on the E slopes of the plateau, N of Piazza d'Armi,
and Monte Michele opposite the NE gate. Among the
half dozen large outlying tumuli, princely graves of the
later 7th c., was the Chigi tomb on Monte Aguzzo.
Painted tombs were rare, a notable exception being the
archaic Campana Tomb on Monte Michele.
The city was liberally equipped with cisterns and with
underground rock-cut cuniculi both for the supply of
water and for drainage. One such channel, the Ponte
Sodo, cut out an awkward loop of the Valchetta, preventing flooding; another carried water from the Valchetta to the Fosso Piordo; a third supplied water to the Portonaccio sanctuary. An elaborate system of cuniculi
drained the cultivable valleys to the N of the town.
After the construction of the Via Cassia in the 2d c.
B.C. Veii lay off the main traffic routes, and there began
a steady drift of population away from the city to the
villas and farms of the countryside and to the road station of Ad Nonas on the Cassia. The Roman town occupied only a small area immediately adjoining the central crossroads. Inscriptions refer to a temple of Mars, a
theater, a bath building, the schola of a collegium, and a
Porticus Augusta. None of these has been located, except
possibly the last-named, which may have housed the
colossal heads of Augustus and Tiberius found in the
forum area in the excavation of 1812-17 and now in
the Vatican. From the same excavations came the twelve
Ionic columns used in 1838 for the porch of the post
office building in Rome, in the Piazza Colonna. The
Roman cemeteries are small and undistinguished, the
most notable features being a rock-cut columbarium outside the NE gate and a pair of stuccoed tombs in the Vignacce valley, S of the forum.
W. Gell, The Topography of Rome and
(1834) 320-37 (cf. Memorie dell'Istituto di
, I  3-29); L. Canina,
Descrizione dell'antica città di Veii
(1847); G. Dennis,
The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria
(3d ed. 1883) 1-42;
E. Stefani, MonAntLinc
11 (1944) 225-90 (Piazza d'Armi); id., NotSc
(1953) 29-112 (Portonaccio sanctuary);
J. B. Ward-Perkins, Veii; the history and topography of
the ancient city
29  with full previous
(1963) 77-236; (1965) 49-236;
(1967) 87-286; (1970) 181-329 (interim reports on excavation of Quattro Fontanili cemetery); M. Cristofani & F. Zevi, “La tomba Campana di Veio: il corredo,” ArchCl
17 (1965) 1-35; A. Kahane et al., The Ager Veientanus north and east of Veii
36, 1968); L. Vagnetti, Il deposito votivo di Campetti a Veio
J. B. WARD-PERKINS