Veleia, an ancient town of Aemilia, situated about 20 miles south of Placentia. It’s not a town worth a visit in itself, but it has a feature that makes the name known around the world…
Veleia is the name of a city that comes from Veleiates, cited as a Ligurian population in the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder. The city disappeared without a trace in the third century until 1747, when the Tabula Alimentaria Traianea emerged in the area near the church; after that finding, systematic excavations began that unearthed the structure of the ancient city.
Veleia was founded in 158 BC, after the final subjugation of the Ligurians in Rome and became the most important city between the Trebbia and Val Taro, as the municipality was enrolled in the Galeria tribe (Genoa, Luni, Pisa). The period of greatest economic and social development was due to the Augustan age, as evidenced by the many inscriptions and the series of statues of the Julio-Claudian family of the basilica, on display in the Archaeological Museum of Parma. The town was also very popular for its spa waters rich in bromide and iodine, frequent throughout the low hill areas.
From the III century AD on, the crisis became clear: life in the city continued until the V century AD at least. The end of Veleia can be placed in the general trend of depopulation of that time, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, when a lot of Italian cities were abandoned. A parish church devoted to Saint-Anthony has been erected on the area of ancientVeleia, now completely buried.
Every year in July, thanks to Festival Teatro Antico, tragedies and comedies (Latin or Greek) are performed inside the forum (square).
Excavations begun on the site in 1760, and were at first successful; the forum and basilica, the thermae and the amphitheatre and private houses with many statues (twelve of marble from the basilica, and a fine bronze head of Hadrian) and inscriptions were discovered. Pre-Roman cremation tombs have also been found, with objects of bronze and iron of no great value. But later excavations which were carried on at intervals up to 1876 have given less fruitful results. The oldest dated monument is a bronze tablet with a portion of the text of the Lex Rubria of 49 BC which dealt with the administration of justice in Cisalpine Gaul in connezion with the extension to it of the privileges of the Roman franchise, the latest an inscription of AD 276. How and when it was abandoned is uncertain: the previously prevalent view that it was destroyed by a landslip was proved to be mistaken by the excavations of 1876. Most of the objects found are in the museum at Parma.
At the end of the 18th century, to the west of the basilica, the housekeeper’s house was erected; then, in the first half of the 19th century, a building intended for the curator was built next to it and was to receive, besides the cast of the Trajan tabula and the Lex de Gallia Cisalpina, a group of findings that represents the most significant moment in the history of Veleia. In 2010, the archaeological site was improved by adequate road signs, an identification road sign with the name of the place outside the area, and panels inside the area explaining archaeological finds written in Italian, English and Braille. Picnic areas have been added with benches and tables and visit routes suitable for disabled people (who can’t walk properly or who are blind) have been created.
Tabula alimentaria, the largest inscribed bronze tablet of antiquity (4 ft. 6 in. by 9 ft. 6 in.) contains the list of estates in the territories of Veleia, Libarna, Placentia, Parma and Luca, in which Trajan had assigned before AD 102 72,000 sesterces and then 1,044,000 sesterces on a mortgage bond to forty-six estates. The total value of which was reckoned at over 13,000,000 sesterces (~I3o,ooo), the interest on which at 5% was to serve for the support of 266 boys and 6 girls, the former receiving 16, the latter 12 sesterces a month.
We’ve been there many times (with my daughter’s classroom when she was a kid) and later with friends (it’s not too far from home) and I collected a few photos over the years, but I bet it’s time for a come back….