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Brief History of Volterra: the Etruscans and the Romans, early Middle Ages, the Florentine periode and the modern Italian times.

Updated: May 23, 2023

The Etruscans ruled Volterra, which they called Velahtri, from the 8th century BC until the 3rd century BC. The economy thrived on the area’s copper and silver deposits, lush forests, fertile farms, and husbandry.

The Romans in Volterra

The Romans took control of the city after the Battle of Lake Vadimone in 283 BC and changed its name to Volaterrae in 260 BC. Relations with Rome were good until Volterra chose the wrong side in a civil war that ended in 80 BC after a two-year siege on the city.

Photo of the ruins of the Roman theatre in Volterra

The ruins of the Roman theatre in Volterra

Photo by Sailko CC BY-SA

As punishment, Volterra was sacked, its territory considered “ager publicus,” and its population deprived of Roman citizenship. These sanctions were reduced after Cicero spoke for the city, and Volterra prospered through the rest of the century.

The Early Middle Ages

During the Early Middle Ages, Volterra was ruled by the Bishops and became prosperous. The 12th and 13th centuries, however, were marked by power struggles between the bishops and the feudal lords.

The Florentine Period

Volterra fell to Florence in 1472. This led to a period of strife and economic decline. Although the city’s alabaster craft began to flourish in the 16th century, it wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that the economy thrived again.

The Modern Italian Period

On March 13, 1860, Volterra’s citizens overwhelmingly voted in favor of becoming part of the United Italy. During World War II, the city was attacked by German forces, but recovered post-war with an economy based largely on the alabaster craft and industry.

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