Roman Republic

Rome in the Early Republic (509 - 241 BC)

Temple of Vortumnus

Sources for the Roman Temple of Vortumnus

Adapted from Francesco Marcattili( referenced below, para. 3, fig. 1)

The location of the Temple of Vortumnus on the Aventine is unknown, but it was probably near the Armilustrium

The dies natalis of the Temple of Vortumnus was recorded as 13th August in the fasti Antiates Maiores (ca. 60 BC) and in many of the later fasti, including three that indicated its location:

  1. the fasti Allifani and the fasti Amiternini refer to Vortumno in Aventino ; and

  2. the fasti Vallenses refer to Vortumno in [Vicus] Loreto Maiore (see the map  above).

Three surviving sources throw some light on the precise location of this temple:

  1. according to Varro

  2. “On the Aventine is the Lauretum (Laurel-Grove), which is so-called:

  3. because King [Titus] Tatius was buried there, [after he had been] killed by the Laurentes; or else

  4. from the laurel wood there that  had been cut down, and a street run through with houses on both sides”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 152, translated by Roland Kent, referenced below, at p. 143);

  5. according to Festus (in his epitome of the lexicon of the Augustan grammarian M. Verrius Flaccus):

  6. “Tatius, who was killed at Lavinium, ... was buried in Aventiniensi laureto” (in the laurel grove on the Aventine)”, (‘De verborum significatu’, 496 Lindsay, my translation); and

  7. according to Plutarch:

  8. “Romulus brought the body of Tatius home and gave it honourable burial, and it lies near the so‑called Armilustrium, on the Aventine”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 23: 3).

As Adam Ziolkowski pointed out, epigraphical evidence suggests that the present Via di S. Sabina was the forerunner of the Vicus Armilustri (see the map above).  Thus, the likelihood is that the Temple of Vertumnus stood on the northwestern part of the Aventine, near the Temple of Juno Regina.

The only other surviving reference to this temple is from Verrius Flaccus (as epitomised by Festus): he recorded that:

  1. “The toga that is now called picta ... [is] depicted in the temples of Vertumnus and Consus, where [two commanders]:

  2. M. Fulvius Flaccus in the former; and

  3. [L.] Papirius Cursor in the latter;

  4. are depicted in that way [i.e. wearing this type of toga] during their triumphs”, (‘De verborum significatu’, 228 Lindsay, translated by Eric Moorman, referenced below, at p. 20).

These frescoes are usually associated with two triumphs that are recorded in the Augustan fasti Triumphales:

  1. the triumph of L. Papirius Crassus over the Tarentines in 272 BC; and

  2. the triumph of M. Fulvius Flaccus over the Volsinians in 264 BC.

M. Fulvius Flaccus and the Fall of Volsinii

Orvieto: the site of Etruscan Velzna (Roman Volsinii)

Etruscan Volsinii was almost certainly located on the site of modern Orvieto, which rises on a cylindrical tufa cliff that would have controlled a vast territory in the plain below.  It seems that the Romans agreed a foedus (treaty) with Volsinii after defeating them in 279 BC.  It seems that the slaves at Volsinii revolted against their owners in 265 BC, following which, according to Cassius Dio (as summarised by John Zonaras):

  1. “... the Romans] made an expedition to Volsinii to secure the freedom of its citizens (since they were under treaty obligations to them)”, (‘Roman History’, 10 - search on “Volsinii”).

Cassius Dio then described how the Romans besieged Volsinii, which was eventually forced to surrender in 264 BC.  The consul, M. Fulvius Flaccus, then:

  1. “... razed the city to the ground; the native-born citizens, however, and any servants who had been loyal to their masters, were settled by him on another site”, (‘Roman History’, 10 - search on “Volsinii”).

As we have seen, the “fasti Triumphales” record that Flaccus as awarded a triumph over the “Vulsinienses”.  The history of Etruscan Velzna effectively ended at this point (which accounts for the fact that thee are no significant Roman remains on the site of modern Orvieto).  The surviving population was moved to the ‘new’ Volsinii, at modern Bolsena, some 20 km to the southwest, on the shores of what became know as the lacus Volsiniensis

Livy had recorded a series of meetings of the ancient Etruscan Federation at the fanum Voltumnae in the period 434-389 BC but he never specified its location.  However, Propertius, in an elegy that took the form of a monologue delivered by a statue of Vertumnus in Rome, had this statue insisting:

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

Scholars reasonably assume that the fanum Voltumnae had been located in the territory of Volsinii, and that a cult statue of Voltumnus/ Vertumnus that had adorned it had been ritually called to Rome after the sanctuary itself was destroyed in 264 BC.  Thus, the events at Volsinii in 264 BC marked not only the end of an ancient Etruscan city: they made manifest the end of anything resembling a confederation of independent Etruscan city states.

Propertius, in the elegy already quoted in part above above, had the statue of Vertumnus in Rome insisting:

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

Volsinii had been the last of the Etruscan cities to fall to Rome (in 280 BC).  The Romans sent the consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus to suppress slave revolt that broke out there in 264BC, after which he razed Volsinii to the ground and moved its surviving people to a new and less defensible site on the shores of Lake Bolsena.  Festus (‘De verborum significatu’, 228 Lindsay) recorded that Flaccus was portrayed in the temple of Vertumnus on the Aventine Hill, wearing the purple toga that signified his triumph of 264 BC.  Thus, we might reasonably assume that:

  1. the fanum Voltumnae, which had been presided over by the Etruscan precursor of Vertumnus, had been near Volsinii;

  2. like Volsinii itself, it had suffered at the hands of Marcus Fulvius Flaccus in 264 BC; and

  3. Flaccus had appropriated its presiding deity, who did not regret his move to Rome, where he had been absorbed into the Roman cult of Vertumnus. 

The subject of the location of Etruscan Volsinii has long been debated by scholars.  In 1828, Karl Otfried Müller (referenced below) expressed the opinion that it had stood on the naturally-fortified site of modern Orvieto (illustrated above).  A number of significant Etruscan remains were discovered there in the following two years and, by the time that George Dennis (referenced below) visited Orvieto in 1842, the city’s Etruscan roots were beyond doubt.   However, as Dennis observed (at p. 527), there was still no consensus as to the original name of this Etruscan city:

  1. “The antiquity of Orvieto is implied in its name, a corruption of Urbs Vetus.  But, as to its original appellation, we have no clue ....: 

  2. Müller [as above] broaches the opinion that this Urbs Vetus was none other than the ‘old city’ of Volsinii, which was destroyed by the Romans on its [re-]capture [in 264 BC].  But the distance of 8 or 9 miles from the new town [i.e. Bolsena, the site of what Müller  had dubbed the ‘new’ Roman city of Volsinii] is too great to favour this opinion.

  3. Niebuhr [Barthold Georg Niebuhr, referenced below] suggests, with more probability, that [the annular cliff on which Orvieto stands] may [have been] the site of Salpinum, which [according to Livy]  ... assisted Volsinii in her war with Rome [in 392 BC].”

William Harris (referenced below, at p. 113) revisited this question in the light of the more extensive archeological record that had become available by 1965:

  1. “Orvieto is probably the site of Etruscan Volsinii.  This identification, which goes back to K. O. Müller, has been assailed by Raymond Bloch in a series of articles on the archaeology of Bolsena.  It is, however, supported by the evidence of both sites: the finds at Orvieto, notably the rich groups of  6th and 5th century tombs recently excavated by Mario Bizzarri in the Crocefisso del Tufo cemetery, easily outweigh the small quantity of early material which has emerged from the Bolsena site.”

The question is still not completely resolved: see, for example, this book by Angelo Timperi (which is sadly out of print and which I have not been able to consult).  However, it is probably fair to say that most scholars now accept Müller’s intuition: for example, Pierre Gros (referenced below), who is an expert in the archeology of Bolsena, presented the arguments for Orvieto in persuasive terms.  He concluded (at p. 20) that:

  1. “... the body of evidence [that he had presented in his paper] makes it likely that Etruscan Volsinii was located on the rock of Orvieto.  [However], this does not mean that Roman Volsinii [on Lake Bolsena] was established in a previously-unoccupied location.”

Francesco Roncalli (referenced below) referred to three inscriptions from Volsinii that recorded other ‘double’ names for Tinia:

  1. “... two altars [bear] the formula tinia tinscvi ...:

  2. -one, in tufa, from the area of [the church of] San Giovanni Evangelista; and

  3. -the other in nenfro [a volcanic rock], probably from under the transept of the Duomo” (my translation, from p. 221); and 

  4. “... [the formula tinia calsuna] is painted under a black glazed drinking cup of [the 3rd century BC ?] that was found in the area of the [so-called] Tempio del Belvedere” (my translation, from p. 222).

It is important to note that Livy is the only source we have for the existence of the fanum Voltumnae, and that his records all date to the period 434-389 BC.  We do not know whether this was the only location used for the meetings, even during this period.  In addition, although Livy says that the assemblies at the fanum Voltumnae involved 12 states, he only mentioned three of them (Veii, Capena, and Falerii) by name in this context: thus,  he recorded that, in 397 BC:

  1. “... the national council of Etruria met at the fanum Voltumnae.  The [people of Capena and Falerii] demanded that all the peoples of Etruria should unite in common action to raise the siege of Veii; they were told in reply that ... unfortunate circumstances ... compelled [the other participants] to refuse.  The Gauls, a strange and unknown race, had recently overrun the greatest part of Etruria, and they were not on terms of either assured peace or open war with them.  They would, however, do this much for those of their blood and name ... if any of their younger men volunteered for the war they would not prevent their going” (‘History of Rome’, 5: 17: 7-10). 

  2. In fact, despite their stout support of Veii, the people of Capena and Falerii were ethnically distinct from the Etruscans, and spoke a dialect of Latin known as Faliscan.   Furthermore, we have no record of the Etruscan federation taking concerted military action: thus, after the appeal described here, Rome was able to take Veii, Capena and Falerii in successive years in 396-4 BC. Livy last reference to this federal sanctuary related to 389 BC, when:

  3. “... some traders brought [intelligence to Rome] that a conspiracy of the leading men of Etruria from all the states had been formed at the fanum Voltumnae”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 2: 2).

As Howard Scullard (referenced below, at p. 174) observed:

  1. “Vortumnus (Vertumnus) was an Etruscan god, worshipped at Volsinii, which was captured by M. Fulvius Flaccus who celebrated a triumph in 264 BC.   It was probably he who built the temple on the north-west part of the Aventine in the Vicus Loreti Maioris (Loretum was an ancient laurel grove); it contained a portrait of Flaccus in his triumphal robes.”  

Cult of Vortumnus in Rome

Signum Vortumni on the Vicus Tuscus

Adapted from Tara Welch (referenced below, fig. 2, at p. 39)

The earliest surviving reference to the cult of Vortumnus in Rome is from Varro (ca. 45 BC), who believed that:

  1. “ ...the Caelian Hill [was] named from Caeles Vibenna, an Etruscan leader of distinction, who is said to have come with his followers to help Romulus against King Tatius.  It is said that, after Caeles’ death, his followers were brought down [from the Caelian]  to the level ground, because they were in possession of a location that was too strongly fortified and their loyalty was somewhat under suspicion.  It is said that the Vicus Tuscus  was named for them and that there, Vortumnus [or, more precisely, his statue] stands, because he is deus Etruriae princeps (the chief god of Etruria)”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 46, translated by Roland Kent, referenced below, at p. 43). 

A short time later, the Umbrian poet Propertius (who had settled in Rome as an adolescent in ca. 40 BC, after his family had lost most of their land in the triumviral programme of veteran settlement in Umbria and Octavian’s siege of the nearby Etruscan city of Perusia) wrote an elegy in the form of a monologue that was delivered by this statue (which Propertius knew as a statue of Vertumnus) In it, ‘Vertumnus’ explained how he came to be in Rome:

  1. “... you, Rome, rewarded my Etruscans at the time that Lycomedius came with armed allies and crushed fierce Tatius (which is why the Vicus Tuscus now has this name).  I saw the broken ranks, the abandoned weapons, and the enemy turn their backs in shameful flight”, (‘Elegies’, 4: 2: 49-54)

Both of these sources refer to the same tradition, albeit that Varro’s Caeles Vibenna was replaced by Propertius’ Lycomedius.  For our purposes, the key points are that, by the late Republic, it was believed that:

  1. the cult of Vortumnus had arrived in Rome with the Etruscans who had settled in the City soon after its foundation;  and

  2. the presence of these early Etruscan immigrants  accounted for

  3. the name of the ancient Vicus Tuscus; and

  4. the presence there of the signum Vortumni (statue of Vortumnus).

Propertius then had ‘Vertumnus’ set out his history:

  1. “Six verses remain ... :

  2. I used to be a maple sapling, cut by a swift sickle

  3. Before the days of Numa, I was a poor god in a grateful city 

  4. May the Oscan earth never spoil your skilful hands

  5. You, Mamurius, divine sculptor of my bronze form

  6. You who were able to cast me for so many roles

  7. It was a single work, but it received many honours”, (‘Elegies’, 4: 2: 58-63). 

Mamurius is well known in Roman tradition as the Oscan craftsman who had cast the bronze shields of the Salii that hung in the temple of Mars in the time of Numa.

The most important part of Propertius’ poem for our purposes is the line in which “Vertumnus’ introduces himself:

  1. “I am an Etruscan, born of Etruscans, and do not regret deserting Volsinii’s hearths in battle.  This crowd of mine delights me.  I enjoy no ivory temple: it’s enough that I can see the Roman forum”, (‘Elegies’, 4: 2: 3-6). 

It seems to me that:

  1. the ivory temple in this passage was probably built on the Aventine by M. Fulvius Flaccus after his victory at Volsinii;

  2. it contained another statue of Vertumnus, which Flaccus had removed from that city before he destroyed it (see below).

This would explain why the archaic ‘Vertumnus’ claims not envy the new arrival: he prefers to remain among the Roman crowds around the forum rather to languish among the gods (e. g., Diana, Juno, Consus and the Vortumnus from Volsinii) who had been brought to the Aventine from cities that the Romans had conquered.

End of the Etruscan Federation

The Roman conquest of Etruria began with the fall of Veii in 396 BC (as mentioned above) and ended with the fall of Volsinii in 280 BC.  It is possible that the Etruscan Federation survived in some form during this period, even though its component cities were falling  like dominoes before the Roman advance.  If so, it could surely not have survived the destruction of  Volsinii after the slave rebellion of 264 BC: as Marco Ricci (referenced below, at p. 17) observed:

  1. “Given the purpose for which the confederation was formed, it could not, of course, survive 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). 

Fate of Voltumna  

As noted above:

  1. Propertius was surely referring to the battle of 264 BC when he had Voltumna/ Vertumnus assert:

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

  3. Festus (‘De verborum significatu’, 228 Lindsay) recorded that Flaccus was portrayed in the temple of Vertumnus on the Aventine Hill, wearing the purple toga that signified his triumph of 264 BC.  

As Giorgio Ferri (referenced below, at pp. 138-9) has pointed out, it is possible that Flaccus had “called” Voltumna to Rome in the ritual known as evocatio deorum.  The aftermath of the fall of Veii in 396 BC would have provided a precedent:

  1. In his account of the closing stages of the final siege of Veii, Livy recorded that:

  2. “... the dictator [Marcus Furius Camillus] ... vowed, according to a decree of the Senate, that he would celebrate the great games on the capture of Veii, and that he would repair and dedicate the temple of Mother Matuta, which had been formerly consecrated by King Servius Tullius”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 19: 6). 

  3. In his prayers before the final assault, Camillus included the following:

  4. “Queen Juno, who inhabits Veii [and whom the Etruscans worshipped as Uni], I beseech you to accompany us, when we are victors, into our city [i.e. to Rome], soon to be thine, where a temple worthy of your majesty shall receive you”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 21: 3).

  5. The city of Veii duly fell:

  6. “When all human wealth had been carried away from Veii, [the Romans] began to remove the offerings to their gods and the gods themselves, but more after the manner of worshippers than of plunderers.  For youths selected from the entire army, to whom the charge of conveying queen Juno to Rome was assigned, after having thoroughly washed their bodies and arrayed themselves in white garments, entered her temple with profound adoration, applying their hands at first with religious awe, because, according to the Etruscan usage, none but a priest of a certain family had been accustomed to touch that statue.  Then when someone ...  asked, ‘Juno, art thou willing to go to Rome?’ the rest joined in, shouting that the goddess had nodded assent.  To the story an addition was afterwards made, that her voice was heard, declaring that ‘she was willing’.  Certain it is .. that, having been raised from her place by machines of trifling power, she was light and easily removed ... [and] safely conveyed to the Aventine Hill, her eternal seat, whither the vows of the dictator had invited her; where the same Camillus who had vowed it, afterwards dedicated a temple to her, [the Temple of Juno Regina], (‘History of Rome’, 5: 22: 3-8).

  7. Dionysius of Halicarnassus gave an almost identical account:

  8. “This same Camillus, when conducting his campaign against Veii, made a vow to Queen Juno of the Veientes that if he should take the city he would set up her statue in Rome and establish costly rites in her honour. Upon the capture of the city, accordingly, he sent the most distinguished of the knights to remove the statue from its pedestal; and when those who had been sent came into the temple and one of them ... asked whether the goddess wished to remove to Rome, the statue answered in a loud voice that she did. This happened twice; for the young men, doubting whether it was the statue that had spoken, asked the same question again and heard the same reply” (‘Roman Antiquities’,  13: 3). 

On this precedent, Voltumna would have willingly abandoned Volsinii’s hearths (as Propertius recalled) and taken residence in Flaccus’ temple on the Aventine.   The ritual would have graphically underlined the demise of the Etruscan Federation, over which Voltumna had previously presided.  

Cult of Voltumnus in Etruria

Bronze mirror (early 3rd century BC) from Tuscania (now in the Museo Archeologico, Florence)

A = ‘Pava Tarchies; B = ‘Avl Tarchunus’ ; C = ‘Veltune’ (C); D = ‘Ucernei’ ; E = ‘Rathlth’

Adapted from Nancy Thomson de Grummond (referenced below, fig. III.4, .at p. 30)

According to Nancy Thomson de Grummond (referenced below, at p. 29), the god Veltune, who was identified by inscription on the mirror above is:

  1. “... often equated with the Etruscan god whom the Romans called Vertumnus [or Voltumnus].”

She described the scene depicted in this mirror as follows: 

  1. At the centre, a young haruspex, who is identified by inscription as ‘pava tarχies’ and who wears wearing a conical cap, ritually examines the liver of an animal. 

  2. He is watched intently by an older priest to his right, whose similar conical hat is pushed back and who is identified as ‘avl tarχunus’. 

  3. At the extreme right of the composition, Veltune, who stands behind ‘pava tarχies’ and looks over his shoulder, is depicted as nude and bearded and holds a spear vertically in his right hand. 

She observed that:

  1. “No better explanation has been found [for this iconography than that of Massimo Pallottino, referenced below]: we have here the myth of Tages (pava may mean puer or child [and] tarχies could become Tages in Latin) instructing Tarchon [the legendary founder of Tarquinia], or perhaps his son, whose name would then be avl, in haruspicina [the art of divination using animal entrails].”

She cited (at p. 27) Verrius Flaccus, epitomised by Festus, to the effect that the founder of the Etruscan religion was:

  1. “... a boy named Tages, the son of Genius, [and] grandson of Jupiter, [who] is said to have given the discipline of divination to the twelve peoples of Etruria” (‘De verborum significatu’, 492 Lindsay).

She therefore pointed out (at pp. 29-30) that:

  1. “... [since] some have argued that Veltune is simply another name for [Tinia/Jupiter - see below], it is possible that we have [in the figure of Veltune in the mirror] the god who was the grandfather of [‘pava tarχies’, the young Tages].”

She also reproduced (as source II: 1, at p. 191) a surviving fragment of a Latin translation of one of the prophecies of the Etruscan nymph that the Romans called Vegoia, which was addressed to an Etruscan called Arruns Veltymnus, pointing out (at p. 30) that:

  1. “The name ‘Veltymnus’ is remarkably similar to Veltune on the [mirror from Tuscania]: perhaps ... Arruns had a special relationship with this god.”

Tinia Velthumna ?

The Etruscans shared with the Romans the belief that the most important of the of the gods was Tinia/Jupiter: Seneca, for example, was explicit:  

  1. “The ancient sages recognised the same Jupiter that we do, the guardian and ruler of the universe, its soul and breath, the maker and lord of this earthly frame of things, to whom every name of power is appropriate.  ... The Etruscans thought so too: they said [that thunder] bolts were sent by Jove, just because nothing is performed except by his power” (‘Naturales Quaestiones’, 2:45, search on ‘Etruscans’).

However, as we shall see, according to Varro, the Vicus Tuscus in Rome had been named for the Etruscans who lived in the city in the archaic period and:

  1. “... it is said that the statue of Vortumnus stands there because he is ‘deus Etruriae princeps’ (‘the most important god of Etruria)”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 46, translated by Roland Kent, referenced below, at p. 43). 

Gérard Capdeville (referenced below. at p. 122), who questioned Varro’s assertion, asked rhetorically:

  1. “... who else [but Tinia] could be the supreme god of the Etruscans, and how should we situate [Voltumnus] ... in relation to him?” (my translation).

He pointed out that some scholars resolved this by proposing that Voltumna was an epithet applied to Tinia at the fanum Voltumnae (see below).  Capdeville himself (at p. 124) rejected that suggestion and alternatively suggested (at p. 126) that, when Varro used the word ‘princeps’, he was simply recording that Vortumnus/ Vertumnus had been the first Etruscan deity to be introduced at Rome.  However, later scholars have tended to accept the earlier hypothesis:

  1. Francesco Roncalli (referenced below, p 220) concluded that:

  2. “Today, the opinion most widely held by scholars (albeit that it is not unanimous) is that the term ‘Velthumna’ belongs in realty in the full name of the deity: [it was] not isolated ... but rather combined with the name Tinia ...(thus Tinia Velthumna)” (my translation). 

  3. Giorgio Ferri (referenced below, at p. 143), who acknowledged (in note 137) Capdeville’s contrary view, nevertheless asserted that:

  4. “Voltumna is ... very probably to be identified as none other than Tinia, the supreme Etruscan deity and the counterpart of Roman Jove.  Voltumna perhaps originally constituted only an epithet (as in Tinia Velthumna) that was applied to Tinia in order to characterise his particular function at Volsinii ...” (my translation).  

  5. Giovanni Colonna (referenced below, at p. 205) referred to the:

  6. “... substantial accord [among scholars] in considering ... Voltumna ... to be an Etruscan epithet of Tinia ... that alludes to the chtonic character of the deity [i.e. his role at Volsinii - deduced by Colonna - as a god of the underworld]” (my translation).

However, the fact remains that the fanum Voltumnae is only known from three references by Livy to meetings of the Etruscan Federation ad Voltumnae fanum  in the last three decades of the 4th century BC (see below) constitute the only surviving evidence for an Etruscan deity that the Romans knew as Vertumnus/ Voltumnus/ Voltumna.

Livy’s records of the fanum Voltumnae are also the only surviving evidence for an Etruscan deity that the Romans knew as Voltumna.

A statue of Vortumnus stood in the Vicus Tuscus, and Propertius describes the offerings made to him there. The origin of the name of this Etruscan god is uncertain: it may derive from a family name, though the Romans connected it with vertere (to turn).”

Carlos Machado  “Religion as Antiquarianism: Pagan Dedications in Late Antique Rome” (2009)

A marble statue-base was discovered in the area of the ancient vicus Tuscus, near the basilica

Iulia, bearing the inscription Vortumnus temporibus Diocletiani et Maximiani.  It is not clear

who dedicated the statue, but the most likely context is the imperial rebuilding of the neighbouring

Forum. Writers such as Propertius and Varro connected the cult of Vortumnus to Etruria, and

dated the introduction of the deity in the Roman pantheon to the period of the monarchy

60 CIL VI 804; for the statue of Vortumnus, see J. ARONEN, ‘Signum Vortumni’, LTUR IV (1999) 310f.

61 See references in ARONEN, cit. n. 60.

Veltune/ Voltumna

Federal Meetings at the Fanum Voltumna

Etruria before the Roman Conquest

Meetings of 434 and 432 BC

As noted above, the first of these meetings recorded by Livy took place in 434 BC, when:

  1. “The capture of Fidenae [by the Romans] created alarm in Etruria”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 23: 3).  

The strategically-located settlement at Fidenae, which had long been a bone of contention between Rome and Veii, seems to have been under Veientine control for decades prior to this Roman success.  Livy noted that:

  1. “Not only were the Veientines apprehensive of a similar fate, but the Faliscans too had not forgotten the war that they had  .... [frequently supported Veii and Fidenae against Rome].  The two states [i.e. Veii and Falerii] sent envoys to the twelve cantons and, at their request, a meeting was proclaimed of the national council of Etruria, to be held at the fanum Voltumnae”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 23: 4-5).  

Livy seems to suggest that Falerii was, like Veii, was a member of the putative Etruscan League.  However, this is most unlikely: as Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at p. 313) pointed out, the people of Falerii and nearby Capena :

  1. “... spoke a dialect of Latin and were ethnically distinct from the Etruscans.”

News of the imminent meeting caused alarm at Rome, an:

  1. “As a great struggle seemed imminent, the Senate ordered that Mamercus Aemilius [Mamercunis] should again be nominated dictator. Aulus Postumius Tubertus was appointed master of the horse.  Preparations for war were made with all the greater energy now than on [earlier occasions], since the potential danger from the whole of Etruria was greater than from only two of its towns”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 23: 5-6).  

However, this proved to be a false alarm:

  1. “The meeting [at the fanum Voltumnae] passed off more quietly than anybody expected.  Information was brought by traders that help had been refused to the Veientines; they were told to prosecute with their own resources a war that they had begun on their own initiative, and not, now that they were in difficulties, to look for allies amongst those whom, in their prosperity, they refused to take into their confidence”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 24: 1-2).  

The Veientines apparently tried to incite pan-Etruscan action against Rome in 432 BC, again without success:

  1. “Projects of war were discussed ...  in Etruria at the fanum Voltumnae”.  There, the question was adjourned for a year and a decree was passed that no [subsequent] council should be held until the year had elapsed, in spite of the protests of the Veientines, who declared that the same fate which had overtaken Fidenae was threatening them”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 25: 6-9).  

Meeting of 428 BC

The Romans seem to have sent colonists to Fidenae after their victory of 434 BC, but it retained its nominal independence.  This situation was destabilised in 428 BC, when Fidenae supported a Veientine incursion into Roman territory, and a Roman attempt to retaliate in 326 BC by sending out an army under three consular tribunes ended in defeat. According to Livy, the Veientines, who were:

  1. “... elated by their success, ... sent envoys round to the peoples of Etruria, boasting that they had defeated three Roman generals in a single battle.  Although they could not induce the national council to join them, they attracted volunteers from all quarters by [holding out] the prospect of booty”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 31: 6-7).  

The Romans engaged with and comprehensively defeated this Etruscan army at Fidenae, which was destroyed, Veii then agreed a 20-year truce with Rome.

Meetings of 406, 403 and 397 BC

The Veientines’ 20-year truce withe Rome ended in 407 BC and, according to Livy, the Romans besieged Veii in the following year.  Yet again, the putative Etruscan league decided not to intervene:

  1. “Immediately after the start of the siege, a well-attended meeting of the national council of the Etruscans was held at the fanum Voltumnae,  but no decision was made as to whether the Veientines should be defended by the armed strength of the whole [Etruscan] nation”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 61: 2-3).

As the siege continued, the Veientines tried again in 403 BC.  Livy’s account of this meeting is particularly illuminating:

  1. “The Veientines, ... [who had become] tired of the annual canvassing for office, [had] elected a king.  This gave great offence to the Etruscan cantons, owing to their hatred of monarchy and also to their  aversion to the particular individual who was elected.  He was already obnoxious to the nation through his pride of wealth and overbearing temper, for he had put a violent stop to the festival of the games, the interruption of which was an act of  impiety.  When his candidature for the priesthood had been unsuccessful and another was preferred by the vote of the twelve cantons, ... he suddenly withdrew the performers, most of whom were his own slaves, in the middle of the games.  The Etruscans as a nation were distinguished above all others by their devotion to religious observances, because they excelled in the knowledge and conduct of them, so they decided that no [military] assistance should be given to the Veientines as long as they were under a king.  The report of this decision was suppressed at Veii through fear of the king; he treated those who mentioned anything of the kind ... as ringleaders of sedition”, (History of Rome’, 5: 1: 2-8).

From this, we learn that:

  1. by this time, most of the Etruscans had eschewed rule by kings, presumably in favour of rule by annually-elected magistrates;

  2. although there was (apparently) no longer an overall king of the Etruscans, the 12 cities now elected a sacerdos (priest) from among their respective magistrates during their annual assemblies;

  3. these annual meetings also involved games and theatrical performances, over which the newly-elected priest presumably presided; and

  4. these games and theatrical performances were held to be sacred (since the disruption by the king of Veii was considered to have been impious).  

Veii continued its lone resistance, and Roman support for the siege dwindled when it was realised that it was to be continued through another winter.  However, Appius Claudius Crassus, one of the military tribunes of 403 BC,  successfully dispelled dissent, warning (inter alia) that:

  1. “... there are frequent meetings of the national council of Etruria to discuss the question of sending succours to Veii.  Do these allow us to forget the danger we incur by prolonging the war [by abandoning the siege] ?  As matters now stand, [the majority of the Etruscan peoples] are angry [with Veii] ... and say that ... , as far as they are concerned, [it] may be captured.  But, who will guarantee that, if the war is prolonged, they will continue in the same mind ? For, if you give the Veientines a respite, they will send a more numerous and influential embassy, and what now gives such displeasure to the Etruscans, namely, the election of a king, may after a time be annulled, either by the unanimous act of the citizens in order to win the sympathies of Etruria, or by voluntary abdication on the part of the king himself, through his unwillingness to allow his  crown to endanger the safety of his people. See how many disastrous consequences follow from the policy you recommend: the sacrifice of [siege] works constructed with so much trouble; the threatening devastation of our borders; and a war with the whole of Etruria instead of one with Veii alone”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 5: 8-12).

In 402 BC, aid for Veii arrived, not from fellow Etruscans, but from the peoples of Falerii and Capena.  Livy explained that, since:

  1. “... these two states were nearest to [the theatre of war], they believed that, if Veii fell, they would be the next on whom Rome would make war.   ... So, they ...  swore alliance with each other, and their two armies arrived unexpectedly at Veii.

  2. It seems that their sudden arrival:

  3. “... created great alarm, for the Romans were convinced that all Etruria had risen and was present in great force.  The same conviction roused the Veientines in the city to action ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 8: 4-7). 

The result for the Romans was an ignominious (albeit not definitive) defeat.

The Romans nevertheless managed to continue the siege of Veii despite the continuing internal tensions at home.  Finally, in 397 BC:

  1. “... the national council of Etruria met at the fanum Voltumnae.  The [people of Capena and Falerii] demanded that all the peoples of Etruria should unite in common action to raise the siege of Veii; they were told in reply that ... unfortunate circumstances ... compelled [the other participants] to refuse.  The Gauls, a strange and unknown race, had recently overrun the greatest part of Etruria, and they were not on terms of either assured peace or open war with them.  They would, however, do this much for those of their blood and name: ... if any of their younger men volunteered for the war they would not prevent their going” (‘History of Rome’, 5: 17: 7-10). 

Henk Versnel (referenced below at pp. 275-6) drew together the information from this passage and from the other sources on the federation (many of which are set out above).  He concluded that the cities of the federation:

  1. “... met annually, on a date unknown to us.  ... The object of the annual meeting was the election of what in the republican period is called a sacerdos ...  Since, according to Livy, it was a king of Veii who once competed for this office, the ambiguous nature of this function is at once clear.  Here we see in one person two spheres overlapping: the religious and the political.  During the royal period, the twelve cities ... elected one supreme king who, by having twelve lictors carrying fasces, one on behalf of each city, united the authority in one hand.  The sacerdos was the religious successor of this supreme king.”

Marco Ricci (referenced below, at pp. 16-7) summarised Livy’s accounts as follows:

  1. “The picture that emerges 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).

Campo della Fiera


        Orvieto, with the excavated sanctuary at                         Aerial view of the excavated site at

            Campo della Fiera in the foreground                                         Campo della Fiera      

A candidate for the site of the fanum Voltumnae emerged in 1876, when archeologists first discovered signs of important ancient cult site at Campo della Fiera, on the plain below Orvieto.  The extensive excavations that have been carried out on this site in recent years have revealed that the sanctuary contained at least four temples, three of which  seem to have been destroyed in the late 4th or early 3rd century BC: Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2013, at p.651) suggested that this occurred in the period from 308 BC, when Decimus Mus first attacked the city, until 280 BC, when it finally fell to Rome.  She commented:

  1. “The clashes with Rome cannot have left the sanctuary unscathed: what seems certain is that neither in Temple B nor Temple C did the cult continue to function into Roman times [i.e. after 264 BC, when] worship was reserved for Temple A, where the temenos wall was restored several times.”

A number of scholars agree with Giovanni Colonna (referenced below, at p. 204) that:

  1. “...we might reasonably assume, albeit that definitive proof is lacking, that [the sanctuary of the Etruscan Federation at the fanum Voltumnae] can be identified as the sanctuary .... at Campo della Fiera” (my translation).

Lammert Bouke van der Meer (referenced below, at p. 105) accepted that this was probable, but he cautioned that:

  1. “...  we cannot be sure until an inscription mentioning Veltumne or Veltune [the Etruscan names for the deity to which the fanum Voltumnae was presumably dedicated] is found ....”

In fact, the name of one of the deities worshipped here was scratched on the inside of the base of a bucchero cup (ca. 400 BC) according to Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2013, at p. 636) it was found near the tufa altar in the sacred area of Temple A.  This graffiti read: “apas” (of the father), the counterpart of the another inscription, “atial” (of the mother) found near Temple C (below)..  This graffiti read: “apas” (of the father), the counterpart of the another inscription, “atial” (of the mother) found near Temple C. Claudia Giontella (referenced below, 2011, at p. 291) observed that:

  1. “... [the word] “apas” (of the father) probably indicates ownership by the father par excellence, Tinia, to be identified with ... Voltumna deus Etruriae princeps [(Voltumna, the principal god of the Etruscans)]” (my translation). 

In other words, this cup could have been offered to Tinia Velthumna, the god known to Livy as Voltumna.


                    Bust of a divinity from Campo della Fiera                                   Comparison with Veltune

                          Museo Archeologico, Orvieto                                            S. Stopponi (ref. below, 2014, Fig. 33)

It is also important to note that there might be relevant evidence from the terracotta bust illustrated above, which was found under the tufa altar in the sacred area of Temple A when the altar itself was removed for restoration (as described by Simonetta Stopponi at the end of this videoclip).   The bust had been carefully buried there so that it looked up at the altar (as illustrated in the photograph above, on the left, which was taken from above, after the altar had been removed, but while the bust was exposed but still in situ).  Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2014, at p. 85) dated it to ca. 400 BC.  She argued that this was the head of a god, as evidenced by its similarities with a bust (ca. 350 BC) of Hades from Morgantina in Sicily, which was recently returned to Sicily by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu.  She tentatively suggested (at p. 86 and at Figure 33, reproduced above) that the bust from Campo della Fiera might depict Veltune,  as evidenced by its similarities to the head of figure of this god on the mirror from Tuscania described above.  It is tempting to think that the statue had been ritually buried under the altar here in 264 BC so that Flaccus could not send it to Rome.

None of this constitutes the kind of definitive proof that Lammert Bouke van der Meer (above), for example, was looking for.  Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence for the proposition that the fanum Voltumnae was at Campo della Fiera is arguably compelling.

Rite of the Clavus Annalis

As discussed below, according to Livy:

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

This passage formed part of Livy’s account of the ancient rite of the clavus annalis at Rome, which is discussed further below. In the opinion of Henk Versnel (referenced below, at p. 276):

  1. “... it seems only natural that the clavus annalis was fixed during the [annual meetings of the Etruscan Federation at the fanum Voltumnae] ...”

The sections below explore the analysis that underlies Versnel’s important suggestion.

Rite of the Clavus Annalis at Rome

The Livian passage quoted above formed part of a digression on the ancient rite of the annual ‘hammering in of the nail’:

  1. There is an ancient law, written in archaic letters, that reads: ‘Let him who is the praetor maximus [the original name of chief magistrates of the Republic] fasten a nail on the Ides of September’.  This notice was fastened up on the right side of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, next to the ‘temple’ of Minerva.  This nail is said to have marked the number of the year (written records being scarce in those days) and was, for that reason, placed under the protection of Minerva because she was the inventor of numbers”, (‘History of Rome’, 7: 3: 5-7).

This is consistent with the definition of Verrius Flaccus, 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 in Rome] every year, so that the number of years could be reckoned ...” (‘De verborum significatu’, 49 Lindsay).

Livy explained:

  1. “The consul Horatius established the [ancient] law and dedicated the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in the year following the expulsion of the kings”, (‘History of Rome’, 7: 3: 8).

Henk Versnel (referenced below, at p. 270 ) pointed out that the rite of the clavus annalis was carried out on:

  1. “... the dies natalis [anniversary of the day of dedication] of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, [which was also] the day regarded as the beginning of the Roman Republic, since, according to tradition, M. Horatius, one of the [five men traditionally named as consuls during] the first year after the expulsion of Tarquin [the last Etruscan king of Rome], had dedicated the temple [on this day in 509 BC].”

In other words, the annual hammering in of the nail at the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus had once provided a measure of the number of years that had passed since the start of the Republic. 

As we have seen, Livy noted that:

  1. “Cincius, ... asserts that, at Volsinii , nails were fastened in the temple of Nortia, an Etruscan goddess, to indicate the number of the year”, (‘History of Rome’, 7: 3: 7-8)

Thus, it is possible that the ancient annual rite had been brought to Rome by the Etruscans.  Stephen Oakley (referenced below , 1998, at p. 81 observed that this ‘Cincius’ is almost certainly the antiquarian Lucius Cincius, and that the source is probably the ‘mystagogicon’, which he probably wrote prior to the burning of capitol in 83 BC.  He also argued (at p.75) that the information above from both Livy and Festus derived from the same passage of Cincius.  The important point is that, according to all of these sources, the annual hammering of the nail in the ancient past, at Volsinii and (from 509 BC) at Rome, had served the purpose of marking the passage of the years.

Francisco Pina Polo (referenced below, at p. 39) observed that:

  1. “Livy understood [the one-off appointment of the dictator clavi figendi causa of 363 BC to be] an attempt at recovering a lost [and previously annual] rite.  Perhaps this was indeed the case and, maybe, the clavus annalis had ceased to exist, at least from the beginning of the 4th century BC.  However, this could [alternatively] be a case of incorrect interpretation on the part of Livy, who may have [believed incorrectly] that the [occasional] appointment of a dictator specifically for fixing the nail [for expiatory purposes] meant that the annual ritual [for the continual recording of time] had ceased to exist.”

Unfortunately, we have no basis upon which to decide between these alternatives and, if Livy had made a mistake, we have no way of knowing when the annual rite was actually abandoned in Rome.  It is, however, clear that it had been abandoned by the time that Livy was writing, since:

  1. he was reliant on Cincius’ record of the archaic inscription in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus; and

  2. he seems to have written his account for an audience that had never come across it.  However, a few years earlier, Cicero had begun a letter to Aiiicus as follows:

  3. “I arrived at Laodicea on the 31st of July [51 BC].  From this day, ex hoc die clavum anni movebis (you should move the nail of the year”, (my translation of  ‘Letter to Atticus’, 5:15)”. 

Here, Cicero suggested that Atticus should measure the year of his (i.e. Cicero’s) stay in Laodicea in the ancient manner.  The casual nature of this suggestion indicates that the rite of the clavus annalis was still recalled, at least in some quarters at this time.

Rite of the Clavus Annalis at Volsinii 

Remains of the so-called Tempio del Belvedere (ca. 500 BC) at Orvieto

We can now return to Livy’s assertion that, according to Cincius:

  1. “... there were seen at Volsinii ... nails fixed in the temple of Nortia, an Etruscan goddess, to indicate the number of years”, (‘History of Rome’,  7: 3: 7).

Since Livy included Cincius’ account within his own account of the practice at Rome in the early Republic, it would be natural to assume that Cincius was referring to Volsinii before its destruction in 264 BC.  Henk Versnel (referenced below, at pp. 273-4) was clearly of this opinion: referring to Livy’s summary of Cincius’ information, he asserted that:

  1. “This is a highly significant statement.  We learn from it that the clavi fixatio, like most of the rites around the idus septembres [at the the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus], was an Etruscan usage, associated with the goddess Nortia and taking place in or near Volsinii.”

As noted above, Volsinii was almost certainly on the later site of Orvieto before it was destroyed in 264 BC.  There is evidence there for two ancient temples there at which a goddess akin to the Greek Athena (whom the Romans had absorbed as Minerva) was venerated:

  1. According to Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2003, at p. 247), fragments of a frieze (ca. 500 BC) from the temple in Vigna Grande that are preserved [in museums ??] at Orvieto and Toronto came from a relief that:

  2. “... [depicted] the Gigantomachy of Athena [the mythical battle in which the Athena defeated the giant Enceladus] and probably related to the dedication of the temple” (my translation). 

  3. A bronze votive offering (ca. 450 BC) in the Museo Civico, Orvieto, which  came from the so-called Tempio del Belvedere (illustrated above), represents Athena holding a spear: she is wearing the aegis (cape) that her father Zeus had given her, which is adorned by a gorgon’s head and a fringe of snakes.  

These temples were close together on the northeast edge of the cliff, probably outside the urban centre of the Etruscan city.

As Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2017, at note 37) pointed out, we have no hard evidence to confirm that this deity was explicitly identified as Nortia at either temple.  However, Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2003, at p. 257) suggested that the votive bronze from the Tempio del Belvedere represented a goddess of fate who was associated with:

  1. “... the tradition [derived from Cincius] that attributes to Volsinii the ceremony of the clavus annalis ... at the temple of Nortia, [which was] repeated at Rome in the cella of Minerva at the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus; the goddess at the Tempio del Belvedere could therefore be a ‘Minerva Nortina’ ...” (my translation).

The tri-partite structure of the Tempio del Belvedere and the fact that its dedication seems to have been to Tinia/ Jupiter are certainly obvious parallels of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in Rome: we can reasonably assume that Tinia shared this temple with the Etruscan goddesses Uni (Roman Juno) and Nortia (Roman Minerva).

Simonetta Stopponi suggested that:

  1. “It is ... probable that the cult of Minerva, in her various aspects, had its [main Volsinian] seat at the temple at Vigna Grande, where the deity was portrayed in battle with the giants [as mentioned above]” (my translation).

However, it seems to me that, if Cincius was indeed describing the situation at Volsinii before 264 BC, his Volsinian  “temple of Nortia” in which the rite of the clavus annalis took place would probably have been the cella of the goddess in the tripartite  Tempio del Belvedere. 

Rite of the Clavus Annalis at Campo della Fiera ? 

Satellite view showing the route from the Tempio del Belvedere at Volsinii/ Orvieto

to the nearby sanctuary at Campo della Fiera

It is now time to return to the opinion of Henk Versnel (referenced below, at p. 276), that:

  1. “... it seems only natural that the clavus annalis was fixed during the [annual meetings of the Etruscan Federation at the fanum Voltumnae] ...”

He began his reasoning (at pp. 272-3) by pointing out that, in Rome:

  1. “On [the ides of September]:

  2. -the magistrates of the initial period of the Republic entered into their office;

  3. -the day was taken as the dies natalis of the state god Jupiter; [and]

  4. -the clavus annalis was driven into the wall of the cella of Minerva [in the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus]. 

  5. There is no room for any doubt: for some time in the [early] Republic, the idus septembres were taken as the calendrical New Year’s Day, and the celebration of this day took place in [the form of] a New Year Festival of the type ... [known to have take place in] Egypt, Mesopotamia and other Near Eastern countries ...”

He suggested (at p. 273) that these rites had reached Rome via Etruria:

  1. “When, immediately after the regal period, the Roman magistrate entered upon his office on September 13th in a ceremony attended by games [the ludi Romani], ... this procedure was not [newly-invented], but was taken over from the period of the kings, notably the Etruscan kings.  It is probable, therefore that the investiture of this magistrate on the idus septembres goes back to an Etruscan ritual.”

He continued by asserting that:

  1. “The usage of the ‘clavus annalis’ as part of these rites [at Rome] ... will be found to settle this issue [i.e. that the celebration at Rome was a New Year festival of Etruscan origin].”

To justify this assertion, he turned to Cincius’ information that the rite of the ‘clavus annalis’ was  celebrated at Volsinii.  He asked rhetorically (at pp. 274-5):

  1. “Was the clavi fixatio at Volsinii part of a more comprehensive annual ceremony?  I think that this can indeed be made plausible.  In or near Volsinii, another very important politico-religious ceremony took place: the annual meetings of the Etruscan Federation.”

He concluded (at p. 276) that:

  1. “... we [thus] find a number of ceremonies at Volsinii [i.e. the clavus annalis at Volsinii itself and the annual meetings of the Etruscan Federation at the nearby fanum Voltumnae] uniting into a whole ... that so closely corresponds to the rites around the idus septembres at Rome that coincidence is out of the question: 

  2. in both instances [i.e. at Rome and at Volsinii], we see the clavi fixatio, one of the best arguments for the theory that the ceremonies bore the character of a New Year ritual;

  3. in both instances, a leading functionary enters into his one-year period of office; and

  4. in both instances, this magistrate is the leader of the annual games that form the religious centre of the complex [i.e. ritual ??].

On this basis, he suggested that the ides of September (i.e. the autumnal equinox) might have been the first day of the Etruscan year.

As far as I can see, Versnel offered only the circumstantial evidence (in the form of the geographical proximity of two important annual festivals) for his claim that the rite of the clavus annalis at Volsinii was part of the ritual at the the annual meeting of the Etruscan Federation at the fanum Voltumnae: Cincius himself had apparently not made this connection.  However, Francesco Roncalli (referenced below, p 225-7) pursued this line of enquiry from a different direction.  He started with the following observation:

  1. “Each of the Etruscan cities must have had its own place where the passing years ... was officially registered and ritually sanctioned.  It seems significant that only the tradition at Volsinii and the custodian of the rite there, Nortia, whom Livy promoted to the rank of  ‘Etruscan goddess, achieved fame in this context in the Roman world” (my translation).

Roncalli makes a powerful point: as Versnel pointed out (at p. 274):
  1. “... the goddess Nortia, ... it seems, was worshipped only at Volsinii ...”

We know of at least one other example of the rite in which it was associated with neither Nortia  nor Volsinii: Nancy Thomson de Grummond (referenced below, at pp. 52-3) pointed out that the naked goddess who drives the nail in the relief on this mirror (ca. 320 BC) from Perugia (now in the Antikenmuseum, Berlin) is identified by inscription as ‘Athrpa’:

  1. “... a name coming from ‘Atropos’, [a] Greek goddess of fate.”

Her vocation as a goddess of fate was underlined in the mirror by placing her between two pairs of lovers who were about to be separated by death.  We might reasonably assume that the Perugians used the name ‘Athrpa’ for the goddess who presided over the rite of the clavus annalis there.

If the rite was widely celebrated in Etruria, we must return to the question that Roncalli prompted us to ask: why did Cincius single out the practice at Volsinii and why did Livy (perhaps following Cincius) promote the very ‘Volsinian’ Nortia to the rank of an ‘Etruscan goddess’?  Roncalli himself made two related suggestions:

  1. -“Perhaps this was because the recording of time at Velzna [i.e. at Volsinii before 264 BC] had pan-Etruscan relevance, possibly because it recorded, among other things, the annual pan-Etruscan councils? 

  2. -Perhaps the role of the priest who was elected by the ‘twelve people’ to preside over these annual councils was analogous to that of the “praetor maximus”at Rome, who - probably following the Etruscan tradition - drove the nail in the cella of Minerva, thereby entrusting ‘his’ year, its collegiate discussions and his own authority, to the inscrutable immutability of destiny ?” (my translation).

Again, this is not hard evidence: as discussed below, Cincius could have had other reasons than these.

If Versnel and Roncalli were correct, and Cincius was describing part of the rite that attended the annual federal meetings at the fanum Voltumnae before 264 BC, we must assume that:

  1. the rite was celebrated at an (as-yet unidentified) temple of Nortia at the fanum Voltumnae; or

  2. this part of the annual federal meeting took place in Volsinii.  (I have illustrated above the route from the Tempio del Belvedere to Campo della Fiera via the  Strada Fontana del Leone and  the  Strada dell’ Arcone, which might have provided a reasonably convenient (i.e. not too steep!) ‘ritual link’ of some 3 km between the two locations.) 

Either of these scenarios is possible. 

However, there is still the conundrum of Cincius: if he was describing a rite that took place at the federal sanctuary, one wonders why he did not say so (particularly since Nortia was closely associated with Volsinii, but was not, as far as we know, with the Etruscans more generally).  We only have Livy’s précis but, had Cincius provided this additional information, Livy would surely have seized on it to explain what he clearly considered to be an opaque situation in Rome.  I suggest below that Cincius might alternatively have described the situation at the ‘new’ Volsinii after 264 BC: this city was, after all, renowned as the city of Nortia (still in her Etruscan form) well into the 4th century AD.  Perhaps Cincius’ account reflected the fact that the rite also survived there long after it had been abandoned elsewhere ?? 

If I am correct, this does not rule out the idea that the rite had been celebrated at the fanum Voltumnae; it simply means that Cincius’ account cannot necessarily be taken as evidence that it was.  I think that the circumstantial evidence adduced by (inter alia)  Henk Versnel, Francesco Roncalli and Simonetta Stopponi (above) remains compelling.  In my view, the most likely scenario prior to 264 BC is that the newly-elected sacerdos at each year’s meeting at the fanum Voltumnae travelled in a ritual procession to what is now called the Tempio del Belvedere, where he drove a nail to mark the start of his year of office. 

Nortia and the Clavus Annalis After 264 BC

Inscription (CIL I 2836) from one of two statue bases from the 

Sanctuary of Mater Matuta and Fortuna Virilis, Rome 

[Now in the Musei Capitolini, Rome ??].

Drawing in M. Torelli (1968), referenced below

Pliny the Elder recorded that:

  1. “... Metrodorus of Scepsis, who had his surname from his hatred of the [Romans], reproached us [i.e. the Romans] for having pillaged the city of Volsinii for the sake of the 2,000 statues that it contained” (‘Natural History’, 34:16).

The figure of 2,000 is likely to have been an exaggeration.  Nevertheless, Flaccus must have taken a large number of cult statues to Rome (in addition to that of Voltumna).

Some of these statues seem to have represented Nortia, as evidenced by three donaria (votive altars) that were found in 1961 on the site of the sanctuary of Mater Matuta and Fortuna Virilis (later Sant’ Omobono) in Rome.  These comprised

  1. a large circular altar with holes that would have accommodated statues of some 3 feet high; and

  2. two flanking rectangular altars with holes that would have accommodated statues of some 2 feet high, both of which carried the following inscription (CIL I 2836):


  4. M Fulvius, son of Quintus, consul, dedicated [it] after Volsinii had been captured

Katherine Welch (referenced below, at p. 502) described the evolution of this site:

  1. “One of the kings [of Rome] ... had built a temple here ... Shortly after the founding of the Republic, this temple seems to have been intentionally demolished and covered with a massive earthen deposit, presumably as a symbolic gesture commemorating the expulsion of the kings.  A platform of tufa was later constructed over it, probably by Furius Camillus, who won Rome’s first victory over the Etruscans at Veii, in  396 BC.  Two temples were built upon the platform:

  2. -one commissioned by Camillus [himself, which housed the statue of Juno that Camillus had ritually ‘called’ from Veii]; and

  3. -the other [commissioned] by Fulvius Flaccus, who defeated Volsinii in 264 BC.  Flaccus’ temple precinct is notable for its display of scores of looted bronze statues, only 3 feet high (a common statuary size at the time).

  4. These temples, dedicated to Mater Matuta and Fortuna respectively, continued to adhere to traditional Etrusco-Italic architectural forms.”

Since Flaccus’ donaria were in the precinct of the Temple of Fortuna, and since Fortuna (like Minerva) was a Roman deity akin to Nortia, we may reasonably assume that some or all of the statues that they displayed were of Nortia , and that these were votive statues that Flaccus had looted from the temple in Vigna Grande and/or or the Tempio del Belvedere at Volsinii. 

Temple A Rededicated to Nortia?

Donative altar (ca. 264 BC), in the sacred area in front of Temple A

Much of the sanctuary at Campo della Fiera was probably destroyed at in the havoc of 264 AD.  However, as noted above, the area around Temple A remained in cult use.  This is evidenced, for example, by the donarium (illustrated above) that has been excavated in the sacred area in front of this temple, which was closely aligned with the temple itself.  According to Alba Frascarelli (referenced below, at p 141):

  1. “Definitely, in view of the fact that the Sant’ Omobono altars [above] provide a close comparison for the mouldings of [the donarium at Campo della Fiera], it can be concluded that there is a narrow and precise correspondence between [all four altars], such as to allow us to hypothesis not only the same chronology but also a shared [programme of] planning and commissioning” (my translation). 

In other words, Frascarelli suggested that Flaccus had commissioned all four of these donative altars after his triumph. 

One wonders what exactly Flaccus donated to the temple at Volsinii, which he had probably just despoiled??   The upper surface of the altar here, like those of his altars at Rome, was  equipped with holes that probably accommodated bronze votive offerings (albeit those at Volsinii would have been significantly smaller).  I suggest that:

  1. Flaccus commissioned the donarium at Campo della Fiera for other votive statues of Nortia that he had taken from Velzna (and/or possibly from a temple of Nortia elsewhere in the sanctuary that has yet to be identified); and

  2. these statues, which he donated to the now-empty Temple A, signified that it had been re-consecrated to Nortia. 

[Enrico Zuddas (referenced below, 2017, at pp. 224-7) noted that:

  1. “... Nortia, the goddess of fate who was closely linked to the ambient of Volsinii, according to [Mario] Torelli, would have received the legacy of Veltumna after the destruction of the [fanum Voltumnae]” (my translation).

I have not yet tracked down the relevant paper by Mario Torelli. ]

I suggest below that Flaccus rededicated this temple in reaction to the Carthaginian invasion of Sicily in 264 BC, in order placate Nortia, the goddess of fate: he had, after all,  just destroyed her temples at Volsinii and, without a suitable placatory intervention, she the might have rushed to the aid of the Carthaginian invaders in order to extract her revenge.

Extra-urban Temple of Nortia at Campo della Fiera?

Excavated site at Campo della Fiera

We might also wonder about the status of Temple A, now the putative temple of Nortia: as noted above:

  1. -the fanum Voltumnae had probably lost any vestige of its federal character by this time and much of it was no longer in cult use; and

  2. -the old city of Volsinii had been razed to the ground.

The obvious scenario is that this temple now served as an extra-urban sanctuary for the resettled people at Volsinii/ Bolsena. 

The aerial view above shows the remains of paved road that ran southwest from this temple (picked out by two parallel white lines): according to Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2013, 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. 

If Temple A had indeed been re-dedicated to Nortia, this nostalgia would explain why she continued to be venerated  in her Etruscan form well into the 4th century AD, not only at   Volsinii but also by Volsinians who had moved to Rome.

Rite of the Clavus Annalis at the Rededicated Temple A ?

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

Simonetta Stopponi (referenced below, 2013, 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 the nails is for architectural terracottas, but the presence of such a large number of specimens raises the appeal to the Volsinian tradition of the clavus annalis, which was [originally] affixed to the temple of the goddess Nortia, recognised by some in the Orvietan Belvedere temple.”

I would like to suggest that these nails might be associated with the transfer of the rite of the clavus annalis from the Tempio del Belvedere to Temple A after the former had been destroyed in ca. 264 BC and the latter had been rededicated to Nortia. 

We might note in this context that the last-known appointment in Rome of a ‘dictator clavi figendi causa’ (a dictator appointed to fix the nail) occurred at about this time: as noted above, Cn. Fulvius Maximus Centumalus was appointed to this post in 263 BC, just after the outbreak of the First Punic War.  Scholars seem to be at a loss to explain this appointment:

  1. Francisco Pina Polo (referenced below, at p. 38) pointed out that the three other such appointments of which we have a record (in 363, 331 and 313 BC) had all been for specific for expiatory purposes, before observing that:

  2. “... the fasti allude, for the year 263 BC, to Cn. Fulvius Maximus Centumalus as dictator clavi figendi causa, without, however making any reference to the reason for such an appointment.”

  3. John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 17) simply said:

  4. “The dictatorship [in all its forms] was, by its nature, an irregular office and often the duties [associated with it] were quite trivial, [albeit that] the appointment was a high honour.  Cn. Fulvius Maximus Centumalus, for example, was appointed in 263 BC to carry out the religious ceremony of the ‘banging of the nail’ (clavi figendi causa) ...”

It seems to me that the appointment in 263 BC was not trivial: like the commissioning of the donative altars at both Rome and Volsinii, it was probably deemed necessary in order to placate Nortia, the goddess of fate, whose temples at Volsinii had just been destroyed, and who might otherwise have rushed to the aid of the Carthaginian invaders.  Perhaps the introduction of the rite of the clavus annalis at Temple A also formed part of this placatory programme?

Was Cincius Describing the Situation at Volsinii after 264 BC?

We can now return for the last time to Livy’s assertion that, according to Cincius:

  1. “Cincius, a careful writer on such [inscriptions or monuments], 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”, (‘History of Rome’, 7: 3: 7).

As discussed above, I doubt (pace Henk Versnel and Francesco Roncalli) that Cincius was describing a rite that took place before 264 BC as part of the annual federal meetings at the fanum Voltumnae.  Rather, I would like to suggest that he was describing the rite at the extra-urban sanctuary of Volsinii/ Bolsena thereafter. 

To pursue this line of enquiry, we need to think about Cincius himself.  Ronald Syme (referenced below, at p. 114) suggested that the nomen of the Cincii was Etruscan, which might explain his knowledge of the ritual practices at Volsinii.  Unfortunately, his identity, and thus the time at which he was writing, are both problematic:

  1. Jacques Heurgon (referenced below) suggested that he was the antiquarian Cincius who was Livy’s contemporary.

  2. Gary Forsythe (referenced below, at p. 62, note 20), who did not accept Heurgon's arguments, alternatively identified him as L. Cincius Alimentus, the historian who had written in Greek in the late 3rd century BC.

  3. For Timothy Cornell and Edward Bispham (in T. J. Cornell (Ed), referenced below, I:183), Jacques Heurgon had proved that Cincius was the antiquarian who was broadly a contemporary of Livy:

  4. “... beyond all reasonable doubt.”

Given this difference of view, we must consider both of these possibilities:

  1. If Cincius and Livy were broadly contemporaries, then Livy would have had a good idea of the historical framework within which Cincius was writing: the fact that he quoted Cincius to illuminate his own account of the situation at Rome in the early Republic implies that he knew (or could assume with confidence) that Cincius was referring to the situation at Volsinii as it had existed before 264 BC. 

  2. However, if Cincius had written his account in the late 3rd century BC, he could have been describing the situation in or shortly before his own time, when Volsinii would have been the city on Lake Bolsena.  Livy might have included his account: because he assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that it related to the time of the early republic. 

There is, of course a third possibility: it might have been clear to Livy that Cincius (whenever he wrote his account) described the situation at Volsinii/ Bolsena after 264 BC: Livy might have quoted him simply because this was the oldest evidence that he could find to support the information contained in the archaic inscription from the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.  In short, this digression as to the identity of Cincius takes us no further in elucidating the precise significance of his account.

For what it it is worth, I think that Cincius described the rite at the Campo della Fiera after 264 BC:

  1. In answer to Francesco Roncalli’s rhetorical questions (above), I think that he:

  2. probably focussed on the situation at Volsinii because the rite of the clavus annalis continued there (we know not for how long) after it had ceased to be celebrated elsewhere; and

  3. probably ‘promoted’ Nortia, its presiding deity, to the status of an Etruscan goddess because the Volsinians preserved her Etruscan identity long after most other Etruscan cults had been Romanised or simply abandoned. 

  4. This does not rule out the possibility that the rite had its roots in the annual festival at the fanum Voltumnae.  Again, for what it is worth, I think that this was probably the case.  However, had Cincius been referring to this ancient pan-Etruscan celebration, I think that he would have said so.

Fanum Voltumnae

Livy recorded located a series of meetings of the putative Etruscan Federation at a place that he called the fanum Voltumnae in the period from 431 to 389 BC.  This must have been a federal sanctuary that was dedicated to an Etruscan deity whose name Livy transliterated as Voltumna (see below).  However, it is important to note that;

  1. Livy is the only surviving source for the existence of the fanum Voltumnae;

  2. he never recorded its location;

  3. his records of its existence all date to the period 434-389 BC and almost all relate to the conquest of Fidenae and Veii; and

  4. he only mentioned one of the participating city states, Veii, by name.

Read more:

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  1. della Fina G. (editor, “Il Fanum Voltumnae e i Santuari Comunitari dell’ Italia Antica”, Annali della Fondazione per il Museo ‘Claudio Faina’, 19 (2012) 203-26

Moormann, E. M., “Divine Interiors: Mural Painting in Greek and Roman Sanctuaries”, (2011) Amsterdam

Ferri G., “Tutela Urbis: Il Significato e la Concezione della Divinità Tutelare Cittadina nella Religione Romana”, (2010) Stuttgart

de Grummond N. T., “Prophets and Priests”, in:

  1. de Grummond N. T. and Simon E. (editors), “Religion of the Etruscans”, (2006) Austin, Texas, pp. 27-44

Welch T., “The Elegiac Cityscape: Propertius and the Meaning of Roman Monuments”, (2005) Columbus, OH.

Roncalli F., “I Culti’, in:

  1. della Fina G. and Pellegrini E. (editors), “Storia di Orvieto: Antichità”, (2003) Perugia, pp 217-34

Capdeville G., “Voltumna ed altri Culti del Territorio Volsiniese, in:

Volsinii e il suo Territorio”, Annali della Fondazione per il Museo ‘Claudio Faina’, 6 (1999) 109-36 S

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Kent R. G. (translator), “Varro: On the Latin Language, Vol. I: Books 5-7”, (1938) Cambridge MA

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  1. Cecconi G. A. et al. (editors), “Epigrafia e Società dell’ Etruria Romana (Firenze, 23- 24 ottobre 2015)”, (2017) Rome

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Frascarelli A., “Un Donario Monumentale a Campo della Fiera”, in:

  1. della Fina G. (editor, “Il Fanum Voltumnae e i Santuari Comunitari dell’ Italia Antica”, Annali della Fondazione per il Museo ‘Claudio Faina’, 19 (2012) 131-60

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