Roman Republic

Fragment of a relief (early 1st century AD) depicting personifications of Vetulonia, Vulci and Tarquinii

From Caere, now in the Museo Gregoriano Profano, Musei Vaticani, Rome

Image of a plaster cast: the original is illustrated at p. 22 of “Cerveteri et les Étrusques, une Cité d’Italie avant Rome” 

Paolo Liverani and Paola Santoro (referenced below, at pp. 325-6) described the above relief (as exhibit 397) in their entry in the catalogue of the exhibition “Cerveteri : une des Grandes Métropoles de la Méditerranée Antique” (Paris and Rome, 2013-4).  It was found with a number of statues of members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty at Caere (Etruscan Cerveteri) in 1840-6, during excavations of what was probably the meeting place of the local Augustales (which is known from an inscription CIL XI 3614 of 113 AD).  According to Liverani and Santoro (at p. 325), the relief was:

  1. “... once perceived as a fragment of a throne, [the so-called Throne of Claudius], but it was actually from one of the sides of an altar of the Claudian era [41-54 AD].  On it were carved personifications of the people of three Etruscan cities: [from left to right], Vetulonia, Vulci and Tarquinii”, (my translation).

These figures are identified by inscriptions (CIL XI 3609):

Vetulonenses V[ol]centani Tarquinienses.

Liveroni and Santoro observed (at p. 326) that:

  1. “This is only a fragment: the complete [relief] must have included personifications of the 15 members of the Etruscan League.  This institution, whose existence is attested from the archaic period, had a religious and sometimes a religious function.  It was revived in the Julio-Claudian period for commemorative purposes”, (my translation).

In the sections below, I discuss the other (mainly epigraphic) evidence for the revival of this archaic institution and suggest the circumstances in which it might have taken place.

Original Etruscan Federation

As described in my page on the Etruscan Federation, most of what we know about the original federation comes from from Livy’s accounts of relations between Etruria and Rome in the period 434-389 BC and, in particular, from his account of the Romans’ 10 year siege of Veii (which culminated in the fall of that city in 396 BC).  Livy recorded the meeting place of the federation as the fanum Voltumnae, which (according to Propertius, mentioned below) seems to have been located near Volsinii (modern Orvieto). Marco Ricci (referenced below, at pp. 16-7) observed that:

  1. “The picture that emerges [from Livy’s accounts] is ... that of a confederation of city-states, born above all out of military necessity, essentially defensive but also sustained by deeper cultural values than those of a purely military alliance” (my translation).

After the fall of Veii, the other members of the federation successively succumbed to the power of Rome, in a process that ended in the fall of Volsinii in 280 BC.  As Ricci (referenced below, at p. 17) observed:

  1. “Given the purpose for which the federation had been formed, it could not, of course, have survived the incorporation of Etruria into the orbit of Rome.  Thus, after the fall of Volsinii and its destruction in 264 BC, it seems likely that federal meetings were prohibited” (my translation).

Ricci referred here to the Romans’ destruction of  Volsinii in 264 BC, after which they:

  1. destroyed the ancient city on the impregnable rock of what is now Orvieto;

  2. moved the surviving population to the much less defensible site of ‘Roman’ Volsinii on the shores of Lake Bolsena; and

  3. transferred the cult of Voltumna, the presiding deity of the federal sanctuary, to Rome (see below).

Revived Federation 

Epigraphic Evidence

An important paper by Bernard Liou (referenced below) drew attention to 17 surviving (or at least recorded) inscriptions that commemorated men who had held the post of “Praetor Etruriae (XV Populorum)” or, less commonly, “Aedilis Etruriae”.   It is generally agreed that these posts related to the revived Etruscan federation.

The most illustrious of the holders of this office (as far as we know) was the Emperor Hadrian (117-38 AD): Aelius Spartianus noted that, among other examples of Hadrian’s devotion to ancient Latin and Italic institutions:

  1. “In Etruria, he held a praetorship while emperor”, (‘Life of the Emperor Hadrian’, 2:19).

Liou (see his conclusions at p. 79) believed that all of the surviving inscriptions in his database post-dated Hadrian’s tenure in this office.  However,  Marco Ricci (referenced below, at pp. 7-13) recently added three inscriptions to Liou’s list and (inter alia) reviewed the dating of the others: importantly, he argued that eight of the men commemorated in his list (below) held the post prior Hadrian.

Julio-Claudian Period 

The earlier part of Ricci’s list can be summarised as follows:

  1. Sextus Valerius Proculus, known from two inscriptions from Vettona (Bettona), (CIL XI 7979 and AE 1996, 653b - see below):

  2. pr(aetor) Etruriae

  3. early 1st century AD;

  4. [Caius ?] Metellius, one of two men of this name commemorated on an inscription (CIL XI 2115), from Cortona:

  5. [pr(aetor)] Etruriae

  6. first half of the 1st century AD;

  7. Aulus Vicirius (CIL XI 1806), from Saena (Siena):

  8. [pr(aetoris)?] Etruriae

  9. after 45 AD;

  10. Titus Egnatius Rufus (CIL XI 3257), from Caere:

  11. aed(ili) Etrur(iae)

  12. from the period ca. 40-70 AD;

  13. Lucius Alfius Quietus (CIL XI 2116), from Clusium (Chiusi):

  14. aed(ili) Etrur(iae)

  15. from the period ca. 40-70 AD;

  16. ? Pomponianus ? (CIL XI 5170), from Clusium (Chiusi):

  17. aed(ili) Et[̣ruriae - - -]

  18. date uncertain, although the other known aediles (above) date to ca. 40-70 AD; 

  19. Gaius Betuus Cilo (CIL XI 1941), from Perusia (Perugia):

  20. pr(aetori) E[tr]uriae xv populorum

  21. late 1st century AD;

  22. anonymous (AE 1980, 0459), from Rusellae (Roselle):

  23. pr(aetori) Etr[uriae - - -]

  24. from the period ca. 80-150 AD.

Marco Ricci noted (at p. 18) that, on the basis of the career information contained in this group of inscriptions, the early praetores Etruriae seem to have been men who had followed municipal careers. 

After Hadrian

The subsequent inscriptions in Ricci’s list commemorated: 

  1. Publius Tullus Varro (CIL XI 3664), from Tarquinii:

  2. praetori Etruriae

  3. from the period ca. 130-50 AD;

  4. [...] Vopiscus C. Arruntius Catellius Celer, son of Pompeius, of the Pomptina tribe (AE 1980 0426), from Volsinii (Bolsena):

  5. pr(aetori) Etruriae

  6. from the period 140-56 AD; 

  7. Lucius Venuleius Apronianus Octavius (CIL XI 1432), from Pisae (Pisa):

  8. praetori Etruriae V (i.e he held the post on five occasions)

  9. second half of the 1st century AD;

  10. Quintus Petronius Melior (CIL XIV 5345), from Ostia:

  11. praetori Etrur(iae) xv populoruṃ [bis?], (the completion suggesting that he held the post on two occasions)

  12. from the period 180-4 AD;

  13. ...cus Modestus Paulinus(CIL IX 3667), from Marruvium (which was in Samnium):

  14. praetor[i] Aetrur(iae) xv popul[or(um)]

  15. from the period 200-25 AD;

  16. anonymous (CIL XI 2699), from Volsinii (Bolsena):

  17. praet(ori) Etrur(iae) xv populor(um)

  18. from the period 222-35 AD; 

  19. anonymous patron of a temple to Nortia (CIL XI 7287), from Volsinii (Bolsena):

  20. praet(ori) Etruriae] xv populor(um),

  21. impossible to date, but possibly the same person as in CIL XI 2699, above;

  22. Lucius Tiberius Maefanas Basilius (CIL XI 2115Last Statues of Antiquity: LSA 1623), from Clusium (Chiusi):

  23. ex praetoribus xv pop(ulorum)

  24. from the period 300-30 AD; 

  25. anonymous (CIL XI 5170), from Vettona (Bettona):

  26. [- - - prae]tore Aetruriae xv p(o)p(ulorum);

  27. from the mid 4th century AD; 

  28. anonymous (CIL XI 2114), from Clusium (Chiusi):

  29. pra]et(ori) xv pop(ulorum),

  30. impossible to date.

Marco Ricci (referenced above, at pp. 21-3) drew attention to the fact that Hadrian was followed in this office by men of higher social and professional standing than had previously been the case.  Clearly, the office (and hence the revived federation) continued into the 4th century AD. 

Overall Conclusions

The inscriptions in Ricci’s database yielded valuable information on the characteristics of the revived federation.  For example:

  1. the title “Praetor Etruriae XV Populorum” in some of the inscriptions indicates that the number of cities that belonged to the federation had increased from the traditional 12 to 15; 

  2. the database provides evidence for holders of the office from:

  3. nine Etruscan cities:

  4. -Chiusi (4);

  5. -Volsinii/ Bolsena (3);

  6. -Caere (1);

  7. -Cortona (1);

  8. -Perugia (1);

  9. -Pisa (1);

  10. -Rusellae (1);

  11. -Siena (1);

  12. -Tarquinii (1);

  13. Bettona (3 inscriptions, two of which probably relate to the same individual), which was in Augustus’ 6th region, Umbria) but it had belonged to Etruscan Perusia until ca. 40 BC and had shared its Etruscan culture thereafter;  and

  14. the non-Etruscan cities of Ostia (1) and Marruvium (1); and

  15. the fact that Quintus Petronius Melior (CIL XIV 5345) apparently held the office on two occasions suggests that it was held for a specific period (presumably a year) at a time.

However, perhaps the most important conclusion relates to the probably dating of the earliest of these inscriptions, which obviously provides a terminus ante quem for the revival of the federation.

Date of the Revival of the Federation

Bernard Liou (referenced below, at pp. 94-5) tended to the view that the revival of the federation had occurred under the auspices of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD).  However, Marco Ricci argued (at p. 7 and note 15 and 18) that:

  1. the first two inscriptions in his list dated to the period 1 - 30 AD, as reflected in the EDR database (see the CIL/AE links above); and

  2. they commemorated the same man, identified as:

  3. Sex(tus) Valerius Sex(ti) / f(ilius) Clu(stumina) Proculus, / pr(aetor) Etruriae/ iivir in CIL XI 7979; and

  4. Sex(to) Valerio Sex(ti) f(ilio) Clu(stumina) / Proculo, / iiviro, pontifici/ pr(aetori) Etruriae in AE 1996, 653b.

Liou, who had written prior to the discovery of the second of these, had dated the first to the late 2nd century AD, but Ricci noted that it had had been found in the Ipogeo di Colle, Bettona, and that the dating of the hypogeum itself and the other objects found inside it (which included a ring with head of Augustus on its bezel) precluded this late dating.

Mario Torelli (referenced below, at p. 91) had already argued on other grounds that Liou had been:

  1. “... prudently cautious [in dating the revival]: although he does not reject the hypothesis of an act of political restoration by Augustus, he seems to prefer ... Claudius.  I  find the Augustan hypothesis ... more suitable, [since]: 

  2. the Claudian reforms to which Liou turns to justify [his view] are generally of very limited significance and ... in direct association with the caerimoniae of Rome; and

  3. [in order to identify the emperor responsible for this revival, we should look for examples of] ... wide-ranging and deep intervention in local affairs ...

  4. Unfortunately, these examples are absent for Claudius, while, in the Augustan age, they are abundant ... In Etruria alone, one could cite the foundation of the Municipium Augustum Veiens [in 2 BC], in addition to the instances cited by [Eugen Bormann, in 1887].”

Marco Ricci (at p. 17) agreed with Torelli that:

  1. “It [must have been] Augustus who, in the context of his policy of the restoration of cults and the exaltation of the local traditions, fostered the rebirth of the ancient Etruscan league, although, of course, in a different form [from the original]. ...  It is impossible to identify a certain date [for this revival], but it seems appropriate to focus on the early years of the Christian era, perhaps close to the date of the re-founding of the municipium of Veii [in 2 BC]” (my translation).

There is indeed extensive evidence of Augustus’ interest in the revival of ancient religious practices, starting with the fact that, towards the end of his life, he himself recorded that:

  1. “I have been pontifex maximus; augur; quindecimvirum sacris faciundis (a member of the college responsible for sacred rites); septemvirum epulonum (a member of the college responsible for sacred feasts); an arval brother; a sodalis Titius; [and] a fetial priest” (‘Res Gestae’, 7).

The last three priestly colleges had fallen into abeyance by the Republic and were apparently revived by Octavian/ Augustus, along with other religious revivals documented in our surviving sources.  However, I suggest below that archeological evidence from Campo dell Fiera, below ancient Volsinii, might suggest an earlier date.  In order to pursue this line of enquiry, we need to consider how likely it is that this had been the locus for the (presumably annual) meetings of the revived federation. 

Meeting Place of the Revived Federation

Plan of the Excavated Site at Campo della Fiera, Orvieto, the likely site of the fanum Voltumnae

From M. Cruciani (referenced below, Figure 2, p. 176) , my additions in red

Marco Ricci (referenced below, p. 23 and note 83) pointed out that there is no hard evidence that allows us to identify the place at which the meetings of the revived federation were held.  Indeed, we do not even know whether there was a single location, or whether, for example, one or more meetings were held each year in the city from which that year’s praetor had been selected.  Nevertheless, as noted above, Ricci reasonably suggested (at p. 17) that Augustus had:

  1. “... fostered the rebirth of the ancient Etruscan league ... in the context of his policy of the restoration of cults and the exaltation of the local traditions ...”

This suggests that he would have favoured the fanum Voltumnae.  I argued in my page on the Etruscan Federation in favour of the hypothesis that the original fanum Voltumnae can be identified with the sanctuary that has been excavated at Campo della Fiera, outside Orvieto.  However, Propertius (in the elegy that he wrote in the form of a monologue delivered by a Roman statue of Voltumna, whom he called by its Roman name, Vertumnus) had this statue insist:

  1. “I am a Tuscan born of Tuscans, [but] do not regret abandoning Volsinii’s hearths in battle” (‘Elegies’ 4.2). 

Clearly, at least at the time of Propertius (and thus of Augustus), the fanum Voltumnae was traditionally located at Volsinii, but its presiding deity, Voltumna/ Vertumnus, resided in Rome

It seems that, before the events of 264 BC, at least four temples (labelled by the excavators as A-D - see the plan above) were in use on this site.  However, as Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2013b, at p.651) observed:

  1. “The clashes with Rome cannot have left the sanctuary unscathed: what seems certain at the moment is that, neither in Temple B nor Temple C, did the cult continued to function [thereafter]: worship [in this period] was reserved for Temple A, where the temenos wall was restored several times.”

However, with ancient Volsinii destroyed, Voltumna/ Vertumnus resident in Rome and all of Etruria now in Roman hands, any residual cult activity here would have lost all vestiges of its pan-Etruscan character.  The plan above probably holds the key to the function of the sanctuary in this later period: it shows the remains of paved road (on the left, picked out by two parallel red lines) that ran southwest from Temple A: according to Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2013b, at p. 633) this road:

  1. “... was built in the mid 3rd century BC.  The track, [which is now] exposed for more than 50 meters, was five meters wide and furrowed by the passage of wagons, connecting Orvieto with Bolsena.”

This road must have constituted an ‘umbilical cord’ some 10 km long, linking the displaced people on the shores of Lake Bolsena to what remained of their ancient city and ancient religion. 

I suggested in my page on the Etruscan Federation that Temple A was probably rededicated to Nortia in or soon after 264 BC, and that this largely accounts for the fact that the cult of this deity in her Etruscan form survived at Volsinii into the 4th century AD.   

Temple A after 264 BC

This temple seems to have been restored in the triumviral period: in particular, it was given a new pavement that Claudia Giontella (referenced below) dated to the 3rd quarter of the 1st century BC.  The sacred enclosure around this temple seems to have been reduced in size at this time in a manner that emphasised the importance of the temple itself.  Other developments that were probably or possibly associated with this restoration include the following:

  1. a large umber of ancient votive objects from elsewhere on the site were buried in a rectangular cavity and two ditches in the reduced sacred enclosure; and

  2. a number of  coins were ritually deposited in a thesaurus in front of the Temple A (as discussed below).

Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2013a, at p. 138) suggested that this restoration was:

  1. “... inspired by the political propaganda of [Octavian/] Augustus, aimed at promoting the revitalisation of ancient traditions” (my translation).

It seems to me that the restoration and associated cult activity here suggests that, even if this had not been the site of the fanum Voltumnae, later tradition assumed that this had been the case.

Thesaurus in the Sacred Area of Temple A


                                 Tufa altar in front of Temple A               Coins from the thesaurus near the tufa altar

                                          Campo della Fiera                                             Museo Archeologico, Orvieto

Samuele Ranucci (referenced below, 2009 and 2011) described the contents of a thesaurus (a stone container with an opening in its lid, often used for the collection of coins) that had been found in tact in 2008 in front of a tufa altar (illustrated on the left, above) in the sacred area of Temple A.   A thick layer of ash and coals from sacrifices that rested against the altar covered part of the thesaurus lid, including the hole through which coins were inserted.  The ash itself contained a number of coins, the most recent of which (RIC I: 389) dated to ca. 15 BC: by this time, therefore, the thesaurus was no longer in use (although, as explained below, six coins were subsequently pushed under its lid). 

The coins in the thesaurus (some if not all of which are now in the Museo Archeologico, Orvieto, as illustrate above) had been deposited in three distinct phases:

  1. Those in the lower part of the thesaurus, which were mingled with the remains of a sacrifice, comprised:

  2. 185 republican asses, with the dateable examples from the period 211-91 BC, together with:

  3. -a quiniarius (RRC 343/2a) of 89 BC;

  4. -a denarius (RRC 422/1a)  of 58 BC; and

  5. ten coins from the triumviral period, made up of:

  6. -a denarius (RRC 528/3) of 39 BC that commemorated Octavian and Mark Antony; and

  7. -9 of the 18 coins in the thesaurus that commemorated Octavian and divus Julius (referred to below as divus Julius bronzes).

  8. The coins in this lower stratum had probably been donated separately (either in the thesaurus or elsewhere in the sanctuary) and ritually re-deposited in the thesaurus in or shortly after ca. 38 BC. 

  9. The coins in the layer above this ‘single deposition’, which were obviously donated subsequently and possibly separately before the thesaurus was covered by ash, comprised:

  10. another 8 of the 18 divus Julius bronzes (as above); and

  11. 10 of the 14 asses in the thesaurus that commemorated Octavian as Augustus in ca. 16-5 BC (RIC I: 373; 376; 379; 382; 386; and 389).

  12. Six coins were subsequently pushed under the lid of the thesaurus.  These comprised:

  13. the last of the 18 divus Julius bronzes;

  14. the last 4 of the 14 asses that commemorated Octavian as Augustus in ca. 16-5 BC; and

  15. an as issued by M. Maecilius Tullus in 7 BC (RIC I 436).

This distribution suggests  two distinct ceremonies involving the thesaurus:

  1. one after ca. 38 BC, evidenced by the inclusion of 9 divus Julius bronzes from this period among the ritually-deposited coins in the lower stratum; and

  2. a second dating to ca. 15 BC, as evidenced by ten asses of this period that had been deposited in the thesaurus just prior to a sacrifice that rendered it almost unusable (albeit that six coins were subsequently pushed under its lid).

Divus Julius Bronzes in the Thesaurus at Campo della Fiera


The presence of the 18 divus Julius bronzes in the thesaurus is intriguing.  Coins with this iconography appeared in a number of issues in the short period between the Perusine War (41-40 BC) and Octavian’s victory over Sextus Pompeius at the Battle of Naulochus (36 BC):

  1. Coins using this iconography had been minted for the first time by Ti Sempronius Gracchus and  Q. Voconius Vitulus in 40 BC.

  2. The iconography made its second appearance in coins from military mints in 38-7  BC, during the wars with Sextus Pompeius.  These issues comprised:

  3. three by Agrippa as consul designate in 38 BC (RRC 534/1, 534/2 and 534/3); and

  4. two by Octavian at about this time (RRC 535/1 and 535/2).

  5. The iconography was used again in the military issue of 36 BC (RRC 540/1 and 540/2), at the time of the victory at Naulochus. 

David Sear (referenced below, at p. 192) observed that:

  1. “The bearded Octavian makes his final appearance [in these coins].  With the defeat of the last Pompeians [whose army included the last of the erstwhile adherents of Caesar’s assassins, Octavian] reverted to being clean-shaven, a sure sign that [Caesar’s murder] had at last been avenged ...”

As noted above, coins from only one of the five military issues of 38-7 BC (i.e. RRC 535/1) were found in the thesaurus, and some if not all of these were ‘imitations’: presumably this issue was replicated locally in order to pay the soldiers who were fighting in Etruria:

  1. The precise date of the official issue (and of the closely-related RRC 535/2) is still debated.  Luis Amela Valverde (referenced below, at pp. 34-5) pointed out that the coins do not identify Octavian as a triumvir: he therefore proposed a date between December 38 BC (when the triumvirs’ first five year term ended) and the summer of 37 BC (when the second five year term was ratified and probably backdated to the start of the year). 

  2. It is possible that the ‘imitations’ found in the thesaurus were minted in Etruria at a later date, quite possibly during the revolt here in August 36 BC. 

Samuele Ranucci (referenced below, 2009, at pp. 123-5) suggested an Augustan date for the ritual deposition of the coins (including the nine divus Julius bronzes) in the lower stratum of the thesaurus:

  1. “The chronological indications provided by the coins help to narrow down the time of deposition of most of them, and of the remains of piaculum, to the period  between: 

  2. -39 BC, the secure terminus post quem provided by the denarius of Mark Antony; and 

  3. -the Augustan age [i.e., 15 BC], at which date  the last asses were inserted into the container.

  4. However, the presence of numerous - and moderately worn - imitations of divus Julius  bronzes in the main core of coins and among those found on the upper part of the container and under its lid seems to argue for a later date for the votive deposition.  The dating to the Augustan age of:

  5. -the deposition of the coins with the remains of piaculum; and

  6. -perhaps also the placing of the thesaurus itself;

  7. seems more likely and could be related to the important restoration of the sanctuary between the late Republic and early principate.  In this period, in fact, the pavement of the temple was renewed and the first wall in opus reticulatum that delimited the central area of the walled temenos was erected" (my translation)

However, I think that the fact that all the bronzes belonged to a single issue, and thus (as noted above) had probably been minted locally for soldiers engaged in suppressing the revolt, argues in favour of a earlier date within this possible period.  I also think that the iconography of these coins would have lost its significance by the latter part of the period.  I would like to suggest that the ritual deposition occurred during a ceremony at Temple A that celebrated Octavian’s victory at Naulochus (September, 36 BC) and the end of the Etruscan revolt, and that it took place in 36 BC or shortly thereafter.  [Note, however, that the fact that the divus Julius bronzes were worn when they were deposited could point a later date.]

As noted above, Samuele Ranucci thought that any such deposition could have represented an act of atonement of some kind.  However, he also made another interesting observation: in his paper of 2011 (referenced below, at p. 957) he observed that:

  1. “Many aspects of the function of thesauri in sanctuaries still need to be clarified ...  [However], one piece [of evidence] in particular comes to mind, from the ‘Commentarii of Fratres Arvales’:

  2. ... item foras ad aram reversi thesauros dederunt

  3. It has been argued [that this] could describe, as late of the beginning of the 3rd century AD, the practice of giving thesauri [or the coins offered in them] to the altar.  The relationship between the altar and thesaurus is particularly evident at Volsinii.”

I wonder whether the ceremony posited above, in which coins including nine divus Julius bronzes were ritually deposited in a thesaurus next to the altar, was associated with the re-dedication of the altar itself to divus Julius. 

The putative re-dedication of the altar in front of Temple A at Volsinii to divus Julius might have been another expression of the exaltation that followed the victory at Naulochus, which would have been shared by both Octavian and his army. 

Nine of which were in the ritually deposited layer and nine of which were deposited thereafter (as described above),

Given their preponderance, it seems likely that they had particular significance for the ritual itself, presumably because of their iconography, which asserted Octavian’s descent from the deified Julius Caesar. 

It is perhaps significant in this context that the coins RRC 540/1 and 540/2 from 36 BC (the last in the list of divus Julius coins discussed above, and one of the issues that was NOT represented in the thesaurus) had obverse designs that featured: 

  1. the Temple of Divus Julius in Rome (clearly designated on the coins by the words “DIVO IVL” on the architrave), which was planned but not actually built by this time; and

  2. the altar to divus Julius that had been erected on the site in the forum in 44 BC to mark his cremation (shown to the left of the planned temple).  

In my page on the Perusine War, I described the allegation (made by both Cassius Dio and Suetonius) that, after Perusia surrendered in 40 BC, some 300 captured senators and knights were sacrificed on the ides of March on one or more altars dedicated to divus Julius.  Although there are doubts about the number of executions and about whether those that took place had a ritual character (as discussed in the link above), the story persisted: almost a century later, Seneca would include the arae Perusinae (altars of Perugia) among examples of the viciousness of Octavian.  Whether or not the allegation was true, it probably captured the spirit of vengeance that animated both Octavian and his army at that time.   This spirit was most unlikely to have permeated the atmosphere at Volsinii some four years later:  if I am correct in suggesting that the altar outside Temple A was rededicated to divus Julius, this would have symbolised the end of the era of vengeance for Caesar’s murder and the promise of a new era of peace, security and prosperity.  

I suggest in the sections below that:

  1. the first of these ceremonies was designed to promote the image of the triumvir Octavian after his depredations during the Perusine War and the rebellion in Etruria that followed it; and

  2. the second was associated with another propaganda campaign after Octavian had achieved sole rule as the Emperor Augustus; 

and that they marked two distinct phases in the process that culminated in the revival of the Etruscan Federation at Campo dell Fiera. 

In order to elucidate the role that each ceremony played in this putative process, I discuss, in turn, 

  1. the political situation at Volsinii in ca. 38 BC, (when the ritual deposition of the coins in the lower stratum took place), and

  2. the likely significance of the ceremony of ca. 15 BC as suggested by the numismatic evidence of the coins that were deposited in this later period.  

Phase I: Deposition of ca. 38 BC 


According to John Hall (referenced below, at pp. 168-9)

  1. “Approximately [six Etruscans] could be counted among his closest and most influential advisors, with Agrippa and Maecenas ultimately rising to occupy positions of great authority ...”

While there is no evidence (as far as I am aware) that Agrippa, who came from Pisa, attached particular importance to what might have been considered his Etruscan roots, the case of Maecenas, who came from Arretium (Arezzo), is very different.  Stephen Oakley (referenced below, at p. 68) summarised the evidence for his ‘Etruscan’ pretensions:

  1. “... Tacitus [‘Annals’, 6:11:2] refers to him as Cilnius Maecenas. ... it is clear that [the  equestrian Maecenas]  must have been closely related to the [noble and ancient Aretine family of the] Cilnii, and it is often argued that his mother was a Cilnia.  On several occasions, poets refer to [his] descent from [Etruscan] princes ...”

Propertius referred to:

  1. “Maecenas, Etruscan eques (knight) of royal blood, keen not to rise above your rank ...” (‘Elegies’ 3.9).

Maecenas could thus claim among his ancestors men who might have presided over the annual meetings of original Etruscan Federation, as lucumones (kings of the 12 Etruscan city states) or sacerdotes (the priests who replaced them in this capacity after the regal period).  Any thoughts of reviving the federation would have been premature at this early stage in Octavian’s career.  However, we might reasonably assume that Maecenas would already have appreciated the propaganda value of any measure that associated Octavian with the ex-federal sanctuary.

As noted above, we do not know whether Volsinii had been a centre of the rebellion.  However, whether or not this had been the case, its status as the last Etruscan city to have withstood the original advance of Rome and its ownership of the ex-federal Etruscan sanctuary would surely have made it an attractive centre for any propaganda programme in Etruria thereafter.  Furthermore, we might expect that the Etruscan Maecenas would have played a prominent role in any such programme.


On the basis of the analysis above, I suggest that, after the victory at Naulochus and the end of the Etrurian revolt, the Volsinian sanctuary at Campo della Fiera became one of the centres of a propaganda programme organised by Maecenas and Sabinus that aimed to establish a newly-benign image of Octavian in Etruria.  The surviving circumstantial evidence for this comprises: 

  1. the bust of Octavian found at Volsinii , which was probably commissioned by Sabinus and which was possibly used initially to associate Octavian with the cult of Nortia at Campo della Fiera; and 

  2. the ritual deposition in 36 BC or shortly thereafter of votive coins  in the thesaurus of one of the altars in the sacred area of the Temple of Nortia there (evidenced by the votive offering of coins that included 18 divus Julius bronzes), at which point the altar itself was possibly rededicated to divus Julius.  

Phase II: Ceremony of ca. 15 BC and the Emperor Augustus


As noted above, the slit in the lid of the thesaurus in the sacred area of Temple A was open for monetary offerings throughout the period from the time of the ritual deposition of ca. 36 BC until ca. 15 BC, when it was blocked by the ash of a sacrifice.  Each of the 18 coins deposited in this period belonged to one of the two following categories:

  1. eight of them were divus Julius bronzes (as above); and

  2. ten of them were asses (RIC I: 373; 376; 379; 382; 386; and 389) produced by the tresviri (the colleges of three moneyers) of ca. 16 and 15 BC, an example of which, from the second of these colleges, is illustrated above).

The ash that covered the slot contained a number of coins, the latest of which also belonged to this second category.  I would like to suggest that the presence of such a restricted range of coins indicates that the thesaurus was not in use on a continuous basis throughout this period.  Rather:

  1. the eight divus Julius bronzes were probably donated soon after the original ritual deposition; and

  2. the ten Augustan asses were probably donated during a second important ceremony in ca. 15 BC.

All of these asses had the same iconography:

  1. their obverses depicted the head of Augustus, with the legend


  3. their reverses had a legend identifying the moneyer of the issue in question, which surrounded the letters ‘S C’ (senatus consultum).

As noted above, the moneyers in question belonged to two consecutive colleges.  These comprised:

  1. C. Asinius Gallus Saloninus; C. Cassius Celer; and  C. Gallius Lupercus; and

  2. Cn. (Calpurnius) Piso; L. Naevius Surdinus; and C. Plotius Rufus.

While most scholars follow RIC in attributing these colleges  to the years 16 and 15 BC respectively, Cornelis Pannekeet (referenced below) gave a year later in each case. (i.e. 15 and 14 BC). 

C. H.V. Sutherland (referenced below, at p. 105) established that the asses in these issues formed part of series in three denominations by each moneyer that commemorated the fact that the Senate had conferred particular honours on Augustus: in particular, the asses in these series commemorated the Senate’s conferral of perpetual tribunician power on him in 23 BC.  According to Tacitus:

  1. “... the tribunician power..., a phrase for the supreme dignity, was invented by Augustus, who was reluctant to take the style of king or dictator but [who was nevertheless] desirous of a title that indicated his pre-eminence over all other authorities” (‘Annals’, 3:56).

Ronald Syme (referenced below, at p. 336) described this power as:

  1. “... a formidable and indefinite instrument of government ... [which would] compensate in part for [Augustus’ abdication from] the consulate and fulfil the functions (without bearing the name) of an extraordinary magistracy.  From 1st July 23 BC [see below], Augustus dated his tenure of the [tribunician power] and added the name to his titulature.  This was [Tacitus’ ‘phrase for the supreme dignity’] invented by the founder of a legitimate monarchy.”

John Rich (referenced below, pp. 67-8) had a similar view of the significance of Augustus’ perpetual tribunician power:

  1. “Down to 23 BC, Augustus [had] accepted annual election to the consulship, no doubt invariably professing reluctance.  For this to continue would have been manifestly ‘unrepublican’ ...; accordingly, in June or July 23 BC, during his absence from Rome at the Latin Festival, he resigned the consulship, enabling consequent adjustments to his powers to be put in place [through the award of perpetual tribunician power] before his return to the city.”

Syme had dated the award of these powers to 1st July 23 BC.  However, as Rich pointed out (at note 79):

  1. “The resignation [of the consulship in 23 BC] is reported by the fasti of the Latin Festival, but a lacuna leaves the date open in the period 14 June to 14 July.”

Although Rich did not address Syme’s date for the subsequent award of the tribunician power, he noted (again at note 79) that:

  1. “There is no warrant for the common view that Augustus assumed the tribunician power on 26 June [23 BC], the date on which he adopted Tiberius in 4 AD.”

Adrian Goldsworthy (referenced below, at p. 270) observed that:

  1. “In later years, great stress would be laid on [Augustus’] tribunician power, and his reign would be dated according to the number of years that he had held it, a pattern followed by his successors.”

In fact, while the practice continued unchanged in most respects after Augustus’ death in 14 AD, the date of the annual renewal changed:

  1. -for the rest of the century, emperors renewed their tribunician power on the anniversaries of their respective dates of accession; and

  2. -thereafter, most emperors renewed it each 10th December.

Returning now to the thesaurus at Campo della Fiera, it seems to me to be extremely significant that all of the coins that were deposited in it after the initial ritual deposition of ca. 36 BC, apart from 9 divus Julius bronzes, shared the TRIBVNIC POTEST/ SC iconography:

  1. most of these:

  2. 10 of the 18 coins that were deposited it through the hole in its lid in this period (as well as the most recent of the coins in the ash that covered the lid); and

  3. 4 of the 6 that were pushed under the lid thereafter;

  4. were asses from the ‘moneyer issues’ of ca. 16-5 BC (RIC I: 373; 376; 379; 382; 386; and 389; and

  5. another of the 6 coins pushed under the lid, which was an as (RIC I 436) issued by M. Maecilius Tullus in 7 BC, had the same iconography, albeit that its obverse also commemorated Augustus as pontifex maximus (the priesthood he took over on the death of Lepidus in 13 BC).

Furthermore, the college of moneyers of ca. 15 BC produced seven other issues of asses (RIC I: 390-6) with the TRIBVNIC POTEST legend - but with the the head of Numa Pompilius instead of  “SC” on their reverses - and none of these was represented in the thesaurus I believe that, given this evidence, we can reasonably assume that the ceremony of ca. 15 BC specifically celebrated the Senate’s conferral of perpetual tribunician power on Augustus in June or July 23 BC. 

More specifically, I would like to suggest that the ten asses that were deposited in the thesaurus before the sacrifice that effectively closed it commemorated ten full years of Augustus’ tribunician power.  On that basis, the ceremony can be more precisely dated to June or July 14 BC.

Rite of the Clavus Annalis at Temple A ?

Bronze nails from Campo della Fiera, now in the Museo Archeologico, Orvieto

Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, at p. 635) reported the discovery of a number of bronze nails, some of which appeared to have been unused, along the southern wall of Temple A and gave the following assessment of their significance:

  1. “The most likely interpretation of [these] nails is for [the fixing of] architectural terracottas, but the presence of such a large number of specimens raises the appeal to the Volsinian tradition of the clavus annalis [annual nail], which was [originally] affixed to the temple of the goddess Nortia, recognised by some in the Orvietan Belvedere Temple.”

The significance of this ancient rite as it was practiced in Rome was summarised by Verrius Flaccus and epitomised by Festus:

  1. “The ‘clavus annalis’ [annual nail] was so called because it was fixed into the walls of the [Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus] every year, so that the number of years could be reckoned ...” (‘De verborum significatu’, 49 Lindsay).

The existence of the rite at Volsinii was recorded by Livy, who relied on:

  1. “Cincius, a careful writer on such [inscriptions or monuments], [who] asserts that there were seen at Volsinii also nails fixed in the temple of Nortia, an Etruscan goddess, as indices of the number of years” (‘Roman History’, 7:3).

In my page on the Etruscan Federation, I suggested that, although (as many scholars have suggested) the rite probably had its roots in the annual meetings of the original Etruscan Federation at the fanum Voltumnae, Cincius was more probably describing the celebration of the rite at Temple A (now rededicated to Nortia) by the people of the ‘new’ Volsinii from 264 BC.  

There is no way of knowing whether the  rite continued to be held here into the triumviral and early imperial periods.  However, I would like to suggest that it was either adapted or revived from June or July 13 BC.  On this model:

  1. the ritual deposition of the 10 coins in the thesaurus in June or July 14 BC commemorated the first 10 years of Augustus’ tribunician power (as discussed above); and

  2. thereafter, nails of the type illustrated above were driven at Temple A to record the annual renewal of the tribunician power of Augustus and then (from his death in 14 AD) of his successors.

Maecenas (again)

Augustus was in Gaul in the period 16-13 BC, the period in which this second ceremony at Campo della Fiera took place.  Cassius Dio described his (alleged) motivation for this absence and (less contentiously) the arrangements that he had made for the administration of Italy in his absence:

  1. “[In the summer of 16 BC, Augustus] set out for Gaul ..., making the wars that had arisen in that region his excuse.  For, since he had become [unpopular in Rome] ..., he decided to leave the country, somewhat after the manner of Solon.  Some even suspected that he had gone away on account of Terentia, the wife of Maecenas, and intended ... to live with her abroad free from all gossip.   ... [He] committed the management of [Rome] and the rest of Italy to [Titus Statilius Taurus], since he had sent Agrippa again to Syria, and since he no longer looked with equal favour upon Maecenas, because of the latter's wife ...” (‘Roman History’, 54:19:3).

We need not believe all of this gossip about Augustus and Terentia, but it is certainly true that, for whatever reason, Maecenas was no longer involved in public affairs in the way that he had been at the time of the Etruscan revolt (above).  According to Kenneth Reckford (referenced below, at p. 198):

  1. “The [few] facts that we do possess point to one simple and unromantic conclusion: Maecenas went into voluntary semi-retirement after 29 BC.  [The most important reason was that], as early as 29 or 28 BC, Maecenas was a very sick man [albeit that he did not die until 8 BC].”

Semi-retirement and ill health need not have precluded Maecenas’ promotion of the ceremony at Campo della Fiera  in 14 BC, especially if (as I suggested above) he had been instrumental in the cult activity here some twenty years earlier.  We might identify his possible agent in this second endeavour as Lucius Seius Strabo.

Lucius Seius Strabo

Strabo was born in Volsinii in ca. 46 BC and was of equestrian rank.  He is first mentioned in our sources by Tacitus, in a passage that described the events that followed the death of Augustus in 14 AD:

  1. “The consuls, Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius, first took the oath of allegiance to Tiberius Caesar [Augustus’ successor].  It was [then] taken ... by Seius Strabo and Caius Turranius, chiefs respectively of the praetorian cohorts and the corn department” (‘Annals’, 1:7).

We do not know when Strabo secured the post of Pratorian Prefect (head of the imperial bodyguard), which was introduced in 2 BC.  However, its importance is clear from the career of his son, Sejanus, who succeeded him in the post and who used it to dominate Rome until his assassination in 31 AD:

  1. Tacitus recorded that Sejanus first shared the post with his father:

  2. “The commandant of the household troops, [Sejanus], who held the office jointly with his father Strabo and who exercised a remarkable influence over Tiberius, went [with the army to Pannonia in 15 AD] ... ” (‘Annals’, 1:24). 

  3. Cassius Dio recorded that Strabo was then promoted:

  4. “... Sejanus ... had shared for a time his father's command of the Pretorians; but, when his father had been sent to Egypt, ... he had obtained sole command over them ...” (‘Roman History’ 57:19).

Thus, Strabo ultimately became Prefect of Egypt, which was the pinnacle of an equestrian career.  According to Robert Rogers (referenced below, at p. 369):

  1. “Strabo appears to have died in [this] office ... [his tenure had extended from] ca. 15 until 16 or 17 AD.”

Strabo is almost certainly commemorated in two inscriptions from Volsinii.  Both of these inscriptions have been mutilated, and neither preserves (or at least fully preserves) the name of the man commemorated: we might reasonably assume that this mutilation took place after the assassination of Sejanus in 31 AD.  The surviving fragments read:

  1. CIL  XI 2707; EDR 079089 , from an unknown location at Volsinii and now lost, read:





  1. We might reasonably assume that the Praetorian Prefect [...]aboni was L. Seius Strabo, and that the inscription pre-dated his appointment as Prefect of Egypt in 15 AD.

  2. CIL  XI 7285; EDR 079090  from Poggio Moscini, now in the Museo Archeologico, Florence, reads:


praefectus Aegypt[i et]

Terentia A(uli) f(ilia) mater eiu[s et]

Cosconia Lentulii(!) Malug[inensis f(ilia)]

Gallitta uxor eius ae[dificiis]

emptis et ad solum de[iectis]

balneum cum omn[i ornatu]

[Volsiniens]ibus ded[erunt]

[ob publ]ica co[mmoda]

  1. This inscription records the fact that a now-anonymous Prefect of Egypt, together with his mother and his wife, had built and decorated a ‘balneum’ (bath house) for public use.  Some scholars have doubted that this Prefect of Egypt was Strabo (see for example, Pierre Gros,referenced below, 2013, at p. 95), but this view seems to be losing ground.  For example, Francis Cairns (referenced below, at p. 21, note 109) observed that:

  2. “[Ronald] Syme [referenced below, at pp. 301-4] convincingly recovers CIL  XI 7285 for L. Seius Strabo.”

  3. If this is correct, then the inscription dates to ca. 15 AD and reveals the following:

  4. Strabo’s wife (perhaps his second wife) was Cosconia Gallitta, the daughter of Cornelius Lentulus Maluginensis, the suffect consul of 10 AD.

  5. More importantly for our present purposes, his mother, Terentia, was the daughter of ‘Aulus’:

  6. -this was probably Aulus Terentius Varro Murena, whom Augustus executed for treason in 24 BC (see, for example, Ronald Syme, referenced below, at p. 301);

  7. -in which case, Strabo’s mother was the niece of another Terentia - the sister of the executed Murena and the apparently wayward wife of Maecenas.

Despite the family’s success in Rome, its Etruscan roots and its continuing links to  the Volsinian goddess Nortia is suggested in a poem by Juvenal, in which he muses on the behaviour of the Roman mob following the disgrace and murder of Sejanus:

  1. “But what of the Roman mob?

  2. They follow Fortune, as always, and hate whomever she condemns. 

  3. If Nortia, as the Etruscans called [Fortuna], had favoured Etruscan Sejanus;

  4. If the old Emperor [Tiberius] had been surreptitiously smothered [to clear the way for him];

  5. That same crowd ... would have hailed [Sejanus as] their new Augustus” (‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ - search this link on ‘Nortia’).

The material presented here provides only circumstantial evidence for the possible involvement of Seius Strabo in the events at Campo della Fiera  of 14 BC.  Nevertheless, I find it tempting to ‘implicate’ him, because of: the apparent rapidity of his rise under Augustus; his family connection to Maecenas; the fact that he came from Volsinii and seems to have been one of its most prominent citizens; and the fact that his family (or at least his son) was closely associated in Rome with both Etruria and Nortia. 


In the section above (headed ‘Phase I’), I suggested that, after Octavian’s victory at Naulochus in 36 BC, the Volsinian sanctuary at Campo della Fiera became one of the centres of a propaganda programme organised by Maecenas and Sabinus that aimed to establish a newly-benign image of Octavian in Etruria.  In particular, I suggested that:

  1. Octavian was formally associated with the cult of Nortia at at Temple A; and

  2. the altar in the sacred enclosure of the temple that hosted the thesaurus described above had been rededicated to his deified ‘father’, divus Julius.

In the section here (Phase II), I discussed a second ceremony that also involved the thesaurus at Campo della Fiera, this time in June or July 14 BC, by which time the triumvir Octavian had become the Emperor Augustus.  I suggested that Maecenas had once again been the instigator of this ceremony, this time in association with the Volsinian Lucius Seius Strabo.  In particular, I suggested that:

  1. the 10 coins that were deposited through the lid of the thesaurus at this time commemorated the first 10 years of Augustus’ tribunician power; and

  2. the rite of the clavus annalis at the nearby Temple A was either adapted or revived so that, thereafter, nails were driven there to record the annual renewal of the tribunician power of Augustus and (from 14 AD) of his successors.

In what follows, I suggest that this second ceremony at the sanctuary at Campo della Fiera coincided with the revival there of the Etruscan Federation.  

Revival of the Etruscan Federation   

Enrico Zuddas (referenced below) suggested that the temple at Volsinii dedicated to Nortia (wherever was its precise location) might have adopted the rite of the clavus annalis after the revival of the federation.  Specifically, he drew attention (at p. 226) to the anonymous praetor Etruriae from Volsinii in  the mid 3rd century AD who was commemorated in CIL XI 7287 (above), and pointed out that this man had also held the post of:

  1. “ ... ‘curator templi deae Nortiae’  (responsible for the maintenance, decoration and restoration of [a temple of Nortia]: this, of course, does not necessarily mean that he undertook this activity [in his capacity] as praetor ...)  He has been identified as a member of the gens of the Rufi Festi, which was particularly devoted to [Nortia]” (my translation).

Zuddas noted that:

  1. according to Mario Torelli [reference to follow], Nortia had probably ‘taken over’ from Veltumna after the destruction of the federal sanctuary at Volsinii in 264 BC; and

  2. Livy, following Cincius, had attested the rite of the clavus annalis in honour of this goddess at Volsinii.

On the basis of these observations, he suggested (at p. 227) that this rite:

  1. “... could have been reprised by the praetor Etruriae [of the revived federation], with reference to the function of the ancient presidents of the [original] Etruscan league” (my translation).

If I am correct in placing the annual meetings of the revived federation at Campo della Fiera, then we might reasonably assume that:

  1. the anonymous from Volsinii who was commemorated as the ‘curator templi deae Nortiae’ in the 3rd century AD was actually the curator of Temple A; and

  2. he presided over the rite of the clavus annalis there in the year that he held the priesthood of praetor Etruriae (albeit that, as Zuddas reasonably pointed out, the two posts were not necessarily held concurrently).

On the basis of Zuddas’ suggestion and the other material above, I would like to suggest that:

  1. the ceremony at Campo della Fiera that took place in June or July 14 BC marked both:

  2. the 10th annual renewal of Augustus’ tribunician power (as discussed above); and 

  3. the revival of the Etruscan Federation; and

  4. thereafter, each newly-elected Praetor Etruriae (XV Populorum) presided over the annual meetings of the federation there, during which he drove the annual nail to mark:

  5. the annual renewal of the tribunician power of the ruling emperor (as discussed above); and

  6. the start of his own year in office (as had apparently been the case for the sacerdotes of the original federation).

As I pointed out above, Maecenas could claim among his ancestors men who had probably attended and possibly presided over the annual meetings of original Etruscan Federation.  I also argued above that he had probably choreographed both ceremonies at Campo della Fiera:

  1. In 36 BC or shortly thereafter, any thoughts of reviving the Etruscan Federation would have been premature.

  2. However, in 14 BC, Octavian was now the Emperor Augustus and the political climate had been transformed.  In my view, it entirely possible that, in the context of the second ceremony at Campo della Fiera, he master-minded the revival of the Etruscan Federation and instituted the practice by which its annual meetings there would commemorate the annual renewals of Augustus’ tribunician power.

Annual Games and Theatrical Performances

Aerial view, with modern Bolsena (at the lower left )

The original forum of Volsinii was at Mercatello, the later the site of the Flavian amphitheatre

The site of the ‘Flavian’ forum is now the Archeological Area at Poggio Moscini

Livy recorded that, when the king of Veii had appealed to the other members of the original Etruscan Federation against Rome in 403 BC, they refused, in part because he had caused offence when, on an earlier occasion, he had:

  1. “... violently broken off the performance of some annual games (the omission of which was deemed an impiety) ... because another had been preferred to him as a priest by the votes of the 12 states: ... in the middle of the performance, he suddenly carried off the performers, most of whom were his own slaves. ” (‘Roman History’, 5:1).

From this, we learn (inter alia) that the annual meetings of the original federation involved annual games and theatrical performances.   We can therefore reasonably assume that these were also characteristic of the annual meetings of the revived federation.

However, as Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, at p. 227) pointed out:

  1. “... archaeological investigations [at Campo della Fiera] have not revealed ... facilities [for games and theatrical performances], although the wide open spaces there would have accommodated them” (my translation).

This is perhaps unsurprising in relation to the situation before 264 BC, when the facilities in question might well have been temporary structures.  However, had Campo della Fiera hosted the annual pan-Etruscan games and theatrical performances of the revived federation from the early imperial period, one might have expected to find evidence of monumentalised facilities of the kind found, for example, at the colony of Hispellum (which Augustus, then the triumvir Octavian, had established in ca. 40 BC).  I would like to suggest that there were, in fact, two loci for the meetings of the revived federation:

  1. the ritual of the federation, including the consecration to the annually elected praetor, took place at the sanctuary at Campo della Fiera; and

  2. the games and theatrical performances took place at Volsinii itself.

As noted above, these two locations were linked by the ancient road, part of which is highlighted in the aerial view of the site of Campo della Fiera.

The evidence for a theatre and amphitheatre at Volsinii is set out in my pages on Orvieto: Volsinii in the Early Empire and in the Imperial Period).  Briefly:

  1. An inscription (CIL XI 2710, EDR 127700) from località Mercatello (the site of the original forum, at the upper right in the aerial view above) reveals the existence of a theatre of some kind in the 1st century BC, albeit that no undisputed evidence exists for tits status or location.

  2. The forum was moved towards Lake Bolsena in the Flavian period (to the site marked at the centre left in the aerial view above), at which point the terrace at Mercatello was used for a new and impressive amphitheatre, the remains of which survive.

It is possible that a theatre and amphitheatre of some kind were established on the site of the original forum at the time that the federation was revived. 

  1. The amphitheatre that was built here in the Flavian period might well have served the revived federation. 

  2. The theatre that is known from the inscription here might have been demolished to make way for this new amphitheatre and rebuilt in an unknown (but possibly nearby) location. 

Thus, it is entirely possible that the ancient ‘umbilical cord’ mentioned above linked Temple A, the putative Temple of Nortia at Campo della Fiera, to the amphitheatre and theatre of Volsinii, and that, from 14 BC, this complex served the ritual needs of the revived federation.

Revived Federation and the Imperial Cult

Marco Ricci (referenced below, at p. 19) observed that:

  1. “It does not seem absurd to connect the post [of praetor Etruria], more or less directly, with the imperial cult; in favour of this hypothesis [are the following]:

  2. attestations [of the priesthood and the imperial cult ?] continued into the 4th century AD;

  3. the early holders of this office (as with provincial priesthoods of the imperial cult) had municipal backgrounds; and

  4. above all, Augustus was not reluctant to accept, even in Italy, the cult of his person, as evidenced by an Etruscan city such as Perugia [where sacred groves were dedicated to him during his lifetime, as mentioned below]” (my translation).

In this context, Ricci noted (at pp 18-19 and note 57) that two praetores Etruriae also held priesthoods that are securely linked to the imperial cult:

  1. Aulus Vicirius of Saena was a flamen augustale; and

  2. Caius Betuus Cilo of Perusia was a ‘sacerdozio trium lucorum’, a priest of three groves at Perusia that were sacred to Augustus [mentioned above]. 

He might have added that:

  1. the inscription commemorating the anonymous of Rusellae came from the so-called  ‘Vano delle Statue’, a room of that had also housed a number of Julio-Claudian statues and which had probably served as the municipal Augusteum; and

  2. the relief from Caere (illustrated at the top of the page) was found (again, near a number of Julio-Claudian statues) in what seems to have been a meeting place for the Augustales.

Marco Ricci touched on the circumstances in which the revival might have taken place: he pointed out (p. 19) that the two earliest known praetores Etruriae:

  1. Sextus Valerius Proculus, commemorated in two inscriptions from Vettona (early 1st century AD); and

  2. [Caius ?] Metellius, one of two men of this name commemorated on an inscription from Cortona (first half of the 1st century AD;

came from cities that had been:

  1. “... affected by the Perusine War [of 41-40 BC] and the viritane settlement of the triumviral and Augustan periods.  [This] suggests that the reconstituted federation was based, at least initially, on the support of the new municipal élites that had been imposed by [Octavian], which were therefore well disposed to the worship of his person” (my translation).

The scenario that I have developed above is obviously consistent with these observations.  However, I have a difference of emphasis in two main respects:

  1. I assume a more pro-active role for Octavian/ Augustus, driven by Maecenas; and

  2. I suggested that the revived federation was linked to the imperial cult by having its annual meetings celebrate the annual renewal of imperial power. 

The context for this second proposition is usefully provided by Duncan Fishwick (referenced below), who recently outlined the development of the imperial cult under Augustus.  This had begun in the east, soon after his victory over Mark Antony at Actium in 31 BC, when the koiná (ethnically-based associations of cities) of both Asia and Bithinia requested and received permission for the construction of sacred precincts for Roma and Augustus at Pergamum (Asia) and at Nicomedia (Bithinia).   Things were more complex in the west, where there was no established tradition of ruler cults: indeed, it is possible that Julius Caesar had died as a result of his attempts to move too quickly in this direction.  As Fishwick summarised in his abstract (at p. 47), Augustus, in fact, had to address three very different ‘audiences’:

  1. “Faced with the worship of the ruler in the Greek east, Augustus could do little more than regulate [and adapt] a practice that had already existed over three centuries [beginning in Asia and Bithnia, as described above].” 

  2. “His problem in Rome ... was to adapt the cult of the ruler ... to the usage of the Republic in such as way as to distance himself from Caesar ...  The system he hit upon was to emphasise republican forms, key abstractions, and the worship of state gods closely connected with his rule: in other words to establish the cult of the emperor by other than direct means.” 

  3. “In the Latin west [by which he means the western provinces], ... he was free to shape the ruler cult as he chose [since there were no earlier traditions of this kind in these regions].  His principal contribution here was to establish regional centres at Lugdunum and elsewhere for the worship of Roma and Augustus, a prescription originally laid down for non-Romans in the Greek east [as described above].”

Federal Altar at Lugdunum


Before we consider Augustus’ options in Etruria, we might usefully start at Lugdunum (modern Lyon).  An entry in the ‘Periochae’ of Livy that relates to 12 BC reads:

  1. “The Germanic tribes living on this side of the Rhine and across the Rhine were attacked by Drusus, and the uprising in Gaul, caused by the census, was suppressed.  An altar was dedicated to the divine Caesar at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône, and a priest was appointed, Gaius Julius Vercondaridubnus” (‘Periochae’, 139)

Suetonius seems to give a slightly later date:

  1. “[The future Emperor] Claudius was born at Lugdunum on the Kalends of Augustus in the consulship of Iullus Antonius and Fabius Africanus [i.e. in 10 BC], the very day when an altar was first dedicated to Augustus in that town ...” (‘Life of Claudius’, 2)

However, most scholars follow Duncan Fishwick, who  suggested (at pp.18-9) that the altar was dedicated in 12 BC, and that Claudius had probably been born two years later, on the dies natalis of the altar.  The dedication was marked by the issue of two coins from the mint at Lugdunum:

  1. a sestertius (RIC Augustus 229) and

  2. an as (RIC Augustus 230).

Both denominations had the same obverse and reverse designs:

  1. the obverse legend ‘CAESAR PONT MAX’ indicates that they post-date 6th March 12 BC, when Augustus became Pontifex Maximus; and 

  2. the reverse motif suggests that the altar was decorated with the corona civica and laurels and was flanked by figures of victory.

As Fishwick succinctly explained (at pp. 54-5):

  1. “The key event in the Augustan extension of the ruler cult in the west was the establishment of an altar that served as the focal point of the federal centre a kilometre or so upstream from the colony of Lugdunum ... [This cult site] served a region rather than a province, in this case the administrative units of Lugdunensis, Aquitania and Belgica.  ... The principal features of the altar [there] ... are familiar from coins, as is the historical context of its foundation, an attempt by Drusus [Augustus’ son-in-law, who was his legate in Gaul in 13-9 BC] to counter local discontent over the census.  As [Cassius] Dio confirms, the initiative came from the Roman side, its purpose presumably served by the prospect of the formation of a council chaired by the holder of the priesthood of the Three Gauls and attended by delegates from the three regions, who now had a central meeting place to air their grievances, praise or blame the provincial governor, and compete for the prestigious post of high priest.  The number of delegates is uncertain, since some of the 64 Gallic tribes appear to have sent more than one delegate, but a number between 100 and 300 seems a reasonable estimate. ... The date of dedication of the altar is generally taken to have been 12 BC, from which time delegates to the [annual] concilium under the presidency of the High Priest paid cult to Roma and Augustus ad aram [at the altar], just as Octavian [shortly before he became Augustus] had originally prescribed in the east.  As luck would have it, epigraphical testimony to the federal cult has survived in abundance, with the names of over 40 high priests preserved in inscriptions.”

In Etruria (and, indeed, in Italy generally), Augustus faced a situation closer to that in Rome than to that in the provinces of the west.  Thus, there are no known regional altars to Augustus in Italy that pre-date his death and formal deification (albeit that things were more relaxed in the municipal context).  Nevertheless, the revived Etruscan Federation shared important characteristics with the association of Gallic tribes based on Lugdunum:

  1. both associations were ethnically based (comprising, respectively, 15 Etruscan cities and 64 Gallic tribes);

  2. each annually selected a priest (praetor Etruriae (XV populorum) in Etruria; sacerdos (Romae et Augusti) in Gaul) from one of its constituent cities/tribes;

  3. this priest presided over an annual concilium at a federal cult site; and

  4. on the hypothesis above,  the two associations were established at about the same time (14 BC at Volsinii, ca. 12 BC at Lugdunum).

We might reasonably assume that a number of other characteristics of the ethnicly-based association at Lugdunum also applied to revived Etruscan Federation at Volsinii:

  1. that the initiative for its establishment (or rather, in this case, its revival) came from Rome;

  2. that it was closely associated with the emerging imperial cult in order to provide a ‘virtual’ imperial presence in the region; and

  3. that its other primary purpose was to create a means by which members of the local élite could gain prestige and represent the region through a direct channel of  communications with Rome.

However, an altar dedicated to Augustus himself (or even to Augustus and Roma) at the sanctuary at Volsinii would have been a step too far.  We should thus return to Fishwick’s summary of Augustus’ approach in Rome:

  1. “The system he hit upon [there] was to emphasise republican forms, key abstractions, and the worship of state gods closely connected with his rule: in other words to establish the cult of the emperor by other than direct means.”

I suggested above that:

  1. Augustus (while still Octavian) had already established an altar to divus Julius outside the Temple of Nortia at the ex-federal sanctuary at Volsinii, and that he was possibly formally associated with her cult there;

  2. he revived or adapted the rite of the clavus annalis at this temple in 14 BC, so that it now commemorated the allegedly ‘republican’ annual renewal of his tribunician powers; and

  3. he revived the Etruscan Federation at this time, replete with annually elected praetores who would (inter alia) drive the annual nail. 

If these hypotheses are correct, then Augustus arguably achieved at Volsinii what he would very shortly achieve at Lugdunum, albeit that, at Volsinii, he effectively established the imperial cult for Etruria by Fishwick’s “other than direct means”. 

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32 (2014) 47-60

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