ORVIETO (“Volsinii Veteres”) Although identification as Volsinii is tentative, Orvieto was a major Etruscan city; other identifications proposed for it, Fanum Voltumnae and Salpinum, are less attractive. It stands on a high, isolated tufa mesa above the plain of the river Paglia, not far from the Tiber.
Although traces of occupation dating from the Stone Age have been found, and recently Villanovan material, it is only with the appearance of the Etruscans that the city achieved brilliance. In two necropoleis, one on the S slope of the site at Cannicella, the other on the N slope at Crocefisso del Tufo, series of burials dating from the 8th to the 3d c. B.C., but of the greatest wealth from mid 6th to the end of the 5th c., have come to light. At Crocefisso del Tufo most are in small tombs of a single chamber with places for two occupants. The tombs are solidly built of tufa blocks with a name inscribed over the low door, roofed with corbeled vaults given a true keystone, and capped by low tumuli crowned with cippi of many shapes. They are laid out in straight streets meeting at right angles but seem to have been built for the most part individually. There are also a number of cremation graves a pozzetto. Most of the tombs of Cannicella were similar but could not be laid out with such regularity; these have now been reburied. There was also here a late group of tombs a cassone marked with phalliform cippi. A third necropolis at Settecamini produced three large painted tombs, late 4th to early 3d c.; the paintings have been removed to the Museo Archeologico in Florence. The contents of the tombs are often of high quality and have enriched many museums; the finds of Attic painted pottery are especially splendid. Many of the elements of the names on the tombs are not Etruscan, from which Pallottino concludes that a metic population was early admitted and then absorbed.
Of the city itself we know far less; even the general lines of its plan are unclear. A large temple was discovered in 1828 near the E end of the site (Belvedere). Since only foundations survive, it is impossible to say whether it was triple-cella or of the “ala class.” It was certainly tuscanic in effect, strongly frontal, raised on a high podium behind a forecourt. The architectural terracottas indicate a building date in the 3d c.; other material is of Early Classical date.
Other finds of temple terracottas in Orvieto have been uncommonly rich; they range in date from the late archaic period to Augustan, their concentration coming down to the 3d c., after which there is only a trickle. In no case were these found together with significant remains of construction.
Near the center of the Cannicella necropolis was found a long terrace wall against which was a sanctuary including a half life-size archaic statue of a nude goddess in Parian marble, a base with a place for offerings, and a large basin. The sanctuary had been destroyed by fire, and votive material was scattered about. This remains unique and enigmatic.
According to the historical record Volsinii fell to the Romans in 265 B.C. and was sacked (Plin. HN 34.34). The population was then transferred elsewhere (Zonar. 8.7), and the site was virtually abandoned. This is in agreement with what we know of Orvieto from archaeology. It does not reappear in history until the Gothic wars. Archaeological material from Orvieto is kept in the Museo Claudio Faina. A second important group is in the Museo Archeologico in Florence.(PECS: L. RICHARDSON, JR.)
Info: Princeton Encyclopedia
(Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, from Perseus Project)