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Eth. VOLSINII or VULSINII (Οὐολσίνιοι, Eth. Volsinienses, Strab. v. p.226; Οὐολσίνιον, Ptol. 3.1.50: Bolsena), an ancient city of Etruria, situated on the shore of a lake of the same name (Lacus Volsiniensis), and on the Via Clodia, between Clusium and Forum Cassii. (Itin. Ant. p. 286; Tab. Peut.) But in treating of Volsinii we must distinguish between the Etruscan and the Roman city. We know that the ancient town lay on a steep height (Zonaras, Ann. 8.7; cf. Aristot. Mir. 96); while Bolsena, the representative of the Roman Volsini, is situated in the plain. There is considerable difference of opinion as to where this height should be sought. Abeken (Mittelitalien, p. 34, seq.) looks for it at Monte Fiascone, [p. 2.1324]at the southern extremity of the lake; whilst Muller (Etrusker, i. p. 451) seeks it at Orvieto, and adduces the name of that place==Urbs Vetus, “the old city,” as an argument in favour of his view; but Mr. Dennis (Etruria, vol. i. p. 508) is of opinion that there is no reason to believe that it was so far from the Roman town, and that it lay on the summit of the hill, above the amphitheatre at Bolsena, at a spot called Il Piazzano. He adduces in support of this hypothesis the existence of a good deal of broken pottery there, and of a few caves in the cliffs below.

Volsinii appears to have been one of the most powerful cities of Etruria, and was doubtless one of the 12 which formed the Etruscan confederation, as Volsinii is designated by Livy (10.37) and Valerius Maximus (9.1. extern. 2) as one of the “capita Etruriae.” It is described by Juvenal (3.191) as seated among well-wooded hills.

We do not hear of Volsinii in history till after the fall of Veii. It is possible that the success of the Roman arms may have excited the alarm and jealousy of the Volsinienses, as their situation might render them the next victims of Roman ambition. At all events, the Volsinienses, in conjunction with the Salpinates, taking advantage of a famine and pestilence which had desolated Rome, made incursions into the Roman territory in B.C. 391. But they were easily beaten: 8000 of them were made prisoners; and they were glad to purchase a twenty years' truce on condition of restoring the booty they had taken, and furnishing the pay of the Roman army for a twelvemonth. (Liv. 5.31, 32.)

We do not again hear of Volsinii till the year B.C. 310, when, in common with the rest of the Etruscan cities, except Arretium, they took part in the siege of Sutrium, a city in alliance with Rome. (Liv. 9.32.) This war was terminated by the defeat of the Etruscans at lake Vadimo, the first fatal shock to their power. (Ib. 39.) Three years afterwards we find the consul P. Decius Mus capturing several of the Volsinian fortresses. (Ib. 41.) In 295, L. Postumius Megellus ravaged their territory and defeated them under the walls of their own city, slaying 2800 of them; in consequence of which they, together with Perusia and Arretium, were glad to purchase a forty years' peace by the payment of a heavy fine. (Id. 10.37.) Not more than fourteen years, however, had elapsed, when, with their allies the Vulcientes, they again took up arms against Rome. But this attempt ended apparently in their final subjugation in B.C. 280. (Liv. Ep. xi.; Fast. Cons.) Pliny (34.7. s. 16) retails an absurd story, taken from a Greek writer called Metrodorus Scepsius, that the object of the Romans in capturing Volsinii was to make themselves masters of 2000 statues which it contained. The story, however, suffices to show that the Volsinians had attained to a great pitch of wealth, luxury, and art. This is confirmed by Valerius Maximus (l.c.), who also adds that this luxury was the cause of their ruin, by making them so indolent and effeminate that they at length suffered the management of their commonwealth to be usurped by slaves. From this degrading tyranny they were rescued by the Romans. (Flor. 1.21; Zonaras, l.c.; A.Victor, Vir. Illustr. 36; Oros. 4.5.)

The Romans, when they took Volsinii, razed the town, and compelled the inhabitants, as we have already intimated, to migrate to another spot. (Zonaras, l.c.) This second, or Roman, Volsinii continued to exist under the Empire. It was the birthplace of Sejanus, the minister and favourite of Tiberius. (Tac. Ann. 4.1, 6.8.) Juvenal (10.74) alludes to this circumstance when he considers the fortunes of Sejanus as dependent on the favour of Nursia, or Norsia, an Etruscan goddess much worshipped at Volsinii, into whose temple there, as in that of Jupiter Capitolinus at Rome, a nail was annually driven to mark the years. (Liv. 7.3; Tertull. Apol. 24.) According to Pliny, Volsinii was the scene of some supernatural occurrences. He records (2.54) that lightning was drawn down from heaven by king Porsenna to destroy a monster called Volta that was ravaging its territory. Even the commonplace invention of hand-mills, ascribed to this city, is embellished with the traditional prodigy that some of them turned of themselves! (Id. 36.18. s. 29.) Indeed, in the whole intercourse of the Romans with the Etruscans, we see the ignorant wonder excited by a cultivated people in their semi-barbarous conquerors.

From what has been already said it may be inferred that we should look in vain for any traces of the Etruscan Volsinii. Of the Roman city, however, some remains are still extant at Bolsena. The most remarkable are those of a temple near the Florence gate, vulgarly called Tempio di Norsia. But the remains are of Roman work; and the real temple of that goddess most probably stood in the Etruscan city. The amphitheatre is small and a complete ruin. Besides these there are the remains of some baths, cippi, sepulchral tablets, a sarcophagus with reliefs representing the triumph of Bacchus, &c.

For the coins of Volsinii, see Müller, Etrusker, vol. i. pp. 324, 333: for its history, &c., Adami, Storia di Volseno; Dennis, Etruria, vol. i.; Abeken, Mittelitalien.


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.1
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 32
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 32
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 37
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 31
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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