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VOLATERRAE (Volterra) Tuscany, Italy.

A city on a high ridge commanding the Cecina river valley to the W, and the Era river valley to the E. In antiquity it was in Regio VII, Etruria. It is mentioned by Pliny (HN 10.29.78), by Cicero (Quinct. 6.24), by Strabo (1.1), by Rutilius Namatianus (1.453), in the Antonine Itinerary (p. 292), in the Itinerarium Marit. (p. 501) and in numerous mediaeval documents. The city was very important in the Etruscan period, when it was called Velathri, and even into the Roman period. In the Etruscan era, it was the defensive fortress of N Etruria and its influence spread from the river Pesa in the E, to the sea at Cecina and Vada in the W; from the river Cornia in the S, to the mountain stream Fine in the N. The city's influence is also documented on gravestones (from Bologna) of the 5th c. B.C., wherein the Cecina, the principal family of Volterra, are mentioned twice; it controlled, in all practical matters, the entire mid area of the river Arno.

Archaeological evidence, both in and around Volterra, begins in the Stone Age, with invasions by the Rinaldone and Remedello civilizations. In the Iron Age there was a notable increase in population, particularly between the 10th and the 7th c. B.C. to judge from tombs at Badia Guerruccia; and then, in the Late Iron Age, by numerous rock-cut tombs at Guerruccia, at Santa Chiara, and from San Giusto to Porta Diana. The empty chambers are still partially visible. From these tombs have come significant ceramic and bronze ware. In this era, the first settlement was established on the acropolis (Piano di Castello), with massive retaining walls, in an area still quite limited. Between the 6th and 5th c. B.C. an enlarging of the area, now the area of the modern city, is notable. It was a self-sustaining settlement (agricultural and mining), with only scattered traces of imports. During the first half of the 4th c. B.C. the encircling walls reached a perimeter of more than 7 km, enclosing an area of 116 ha. With mounting pressure from Rome, the city became the center for the protection of the Etruscan elements of the twelve lucumonies of which Volterra formed a part. In the 3d c. B.C. the city was very nearly subject to Rome, but preserved, by enrollment in the Sabatine tribe, its own organization and continued to exert considerable influence on a large surrounding area. The Cecina (Cic. Fam. 6.6 and Att. 16.4), owners of vast tracts of land, clay pits, kilns and salt beds, dedicated the great theater at Vallebona, N of the settlement. The city's importance outlasted the Middle Ages.

The visible monumental remains of Volterra begin with the Etruscan period. In 1926 there were brought to light the remains of a building, recognized for its sacred character, on the ancient citadel of Piano di Castello. The podium and a meager bit of wall from the building still remain. A road paved with large slabs extends outside the building, which is flanked by other structures, at least one of which is clearly recognizable as a temple. Thus a temple complex is defined which dates from the 4th-3d c. B.C., together with lower structures that have been identified as belonging to the period from the 8th c. to the 5th c. In the excavated area are private dwellings and one or more very deep cisterns probably antedating the 4th c. There seems to have been another area, perhaps sacred in character, at Vallebona, to the E of the present excavations on the Roman theater. A significant foundation of an Etruscan structure has appeared. In addition, remains of a wall probably Etruscan have come to light beneath the orchestra of the theater. The great circuit of the walls, an imposing Etruscan monument, has already been mentioned. Better preserved and visible remains are at Santa Chiara (to the SW), at San Giusto (to the N), and from San Giusto to Porta Diana (from N to E), and some minor remains also; everything is well built of squared blocks.

In the circuit of the walls are two large gates, the Porta Diana and the Porta dell'Arco (the latter entirely rebuilt during the Roman period) with three large human protomi. Notable Etruscan traces are from the necropolis, the rock-cut tombs, at Badia or Montebradoni, at Portone, Marmini, Ulimeto, and Poggio alle Croci. Among all the tombs, one of the most famous is the Inghirami, reconstructed in the National Archaeological Museum in Florence. Also from the Etruscan period came pottery and bronzes and in particular alabaster funerary urns that date from the 3d to the 1st c. B.C., well into the Roman era.

In the Roman period, the settlement was already beginning to shrink, as is evident from the cemeteries (the hypogea of the aristocracy of the Etruscan period were abandoned and the tombs were scattered everywhere, with a dirth of furnishings) and from the public buildings. However, an entire quarter developed outside the Etruscan circuit wall to the N, beginning at the mediaeval Porta Fiorentina. It included a forum, a theater, and a bath building (still another archaeological area probably exists W of the theater). From discoveries of the last few years in the area, some excellent figured mosaics have been recovered. There are remains of another bath building (mosaics and a calidarium) to the SW outside the Porta San Felice and a fine swimming pool on the acropolis of Piano di Castello which continued in use from the Etruscan into the Roman period.

The most significant building, however, is the theater. It was completely hidden, from the Middle Ages on, by the dumping of urban waste from the top of the walls. The theater building itself is now almost totally excavated. Its large cavea, facing N, is crowned to the S by a cryptoporticus to which two inner staircases give access to the theater as they descend to the upper row of seats. A fairly substantial number of the seats, reused in the area to the N of the stage building, were recovered, with names inscribed of the persons for whom they were reserved. The orchestra and the parodoi have been uncovered and, above all, the imposing structure of the stage building, which undoubtedly had two sections. As a result of different finds (busts of Augustus and Drusilla; remains of a dedicatory inscription of the Cecina from the front of the stage), it is almost certain that the theater was erected between 35 and 25 B.C. Behind the stage building, there was a large square with a portico definitely identified on three sides. But to the N, a fourth portico must have closed the square and faced the natural slope of the terrain from a terrace buttressed by a huge sustaining wall. The theater must have fallen into disuse between the 3d and 4th c. Inside the quadriportico and behind the stage building, a bath building was constructed in the square. Nearly all of the environs of the bath have been uncovered.

Most of the finds from Volterra are in the Museo Guarnacci in Volterra and in the National Archaeological Museum in Florence.


G. Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria (1848); A. Cinci, Guida di Volterra (1885); D. Levi, NSc (1928) 34-44; G. Caputo & G. Monaco in FA, vols. 4, 9-19; G. Maetzke, StEtr (Rassegna Scavi e scoperte) 25 (1957) 37 (1969) and G. Monaco, ibid., from 27 (1959) to 40 (1972); C. Laviosa, Guida alle stele arcaiche e al materiale volterrano (1962).


hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Strabo, Geography, 1.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 10.29
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