the low ground lying between the north-west slope of the
Palatine and the Capitoline. The name is probably ancient, and originally
it may well have been given to the whole district between these two hills,
the forum valley and the river, but during the historical period it was
somewhat more restricted. It was bounded approximately by the
forum on the north, the slope of the Palatine and the vicus Tuscus on
the east, the district traversed by the vicus Iugarius on the west, while
the line of separation between it and the forum Boarium passed through
the present church of S. Giorgio in Velabro and is marked by the arcus
argentariorum (CIL vi. 1035
; cf. Varro, LL v. 43
; vi. 24
; Liv. xxvii.
. 15; Plut. Rom. 5). According to tradition, which there seems to be
no good reason to doubt, this district was originally very swampy, with
sufficient water to float small boats (Varro, LL v. 44
; Plut. Rom. 5;
Ovid. Fast. vi. 405
; Prop. iv. 9
. 5; Tib. ii. 5
. 33), until it was drained by
the construction of the cloaca Maxima and the connecting system of
sewers. It was always, however, subject to inundation when the Tiber
was very high.
The meaning and etymology of Velabrum are uncertain. Varro
(LL. v. 44
, 156) derived it a vehendo (i.e. ratibus), and Plutarch (Rom. 5)
also suggests a derivation from the vela carried in processions, but
neither these nor those of modern scholars are satisfactory (cf. Jord. i. I.
195; Gilb. i. 103
; Nissen, Templum, 84).
The Velabrum was an important centre of industrial and commercial
activity, and in particular of the trade in food-stuffs, oil and wine (Plaut.
Capt. 489; Curc. 483; Hor. Sat. ii. 3
. 229; Mart. xi. 52
. 10; xiii. 32
CIL vi. 467
, 9184, 9259, 9993, 33933). It was a locus celeberrimus urbis
(Macrob. i. 10
. 15), for all the traffic between the forum and the pons
Sublicius passed through the streets that bounded it, the vicus Tuscus
and the vicus Iugarius (cf. Liv. xxvii. 37
. 15; Suet. Caes. 37, for the
line of the pompa), but it seems to have contained only one shrine, that
of Acca Larentia (Cic. ad Brut. i. 15
. 8). In two passages in poetry (Ovid,
Propertius, locc. citt.) Velabra is used in the plural, and in Varro (LL v.
v. 156: ab his palus fuit in minore Velabro, . . . ut illud maius de quo supra
) a distinction is made between Velabrum maius and Velabrum
minus, but it is not possible to determine what this is (cf. Pais, Anc.
Legends 329, n. 49, for a misinterpretation of the Varronian passage, and
see also Eranos, 1923, 52).
Jord. i. I. 126-127, 194-195; 2. 473-474; Gilb. i. 69-70
; iii. 439
Richter 181-183. In the Middle Ages, the name was corrupted into
Velum Aureum (or avreum) (HCh 255).