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The Roman god Volturnus was one of the Dii Indigetes, and, like the other ancient Gods of Rome, he was served by a flamen, the Flamen Volturnalis. His festival, the Volturnalia, was a market day celebrated a.d. VI Kal. Sept. .



The etymology of Volturnus is uncertain. It is thought to derive from volvere, "to roll along or wind around".


Little is known about Volturnus, although scholars have attempted to reconstruct his myth and role in the cultus deorum. Volturnus is known to have been an agricultural God, and surviving fragments show he was specifically a river God. Like other ancient Gods, his cult was overshadowed and obscured by a religious reformation, probably in the 4th century BCE. By the time of Varro (116 BCE - 27 BCE), a scholar who collected the surviving materials, there were only traces left of Rome's earliest religion. He reported the survival of a Flamen Volturnalis, but found the God to be "obscure".[1]

The name Volturnus suggests a connection with the port of Volturnum (now Capua). Volturnum was a settlement of the Oscans, and later of the Etruscans. The city is situated on the Volturno (anc. Voluturnus) river, which apparently had a Samnite river God of the same name. Rome extended its borders to the Volturno during the Latin War (340-338 BCE), and decisively defeated the Samnites on the other side of the Volturno during the Third Samnite War (298-290 BCE). The Samnites were allowed to retain their independence, becoming allies of Rome. The Romans built a fort at Volturum for provisioning the army, and in 194 BCE established a colony there.

Probably, Volturnus' cult was brought to Rome in the 2nd century BCE[2] . Such removals of conquered Gods to Rome were commonplace. Then, at some unknown date, the cults of the river Gods Tiberinus and Volturnus were conflated.


No myths concerning Volturnus have survived. Some scholars argue he has always had the character of a numen, and therefore never acquired personal characteristics.

Correspondences to Other Gods


Classical scholar Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) believed Volturnus was the cult name for the tutelary deity of the Tiber river.[3]

His reasoning is straightforward: surviving fragments show Volturnus was a river God, and, being Roman, that river must have been the Tiber. Mommsen's view influenced generations of scholars[4]

, and is still presented as a fact in popular materials.

However, the identification encounters immediate difficulties. The God of the Tiber river was almost certainly named 'Tiberinus' by the Latins, while the Volturno is a river in Campania. Following an influential article by Joel Le Gall in 1953,[5]

 the identification of Volturnus with Tiberinus was largely abandoned by the scholarly community.

A minority view among scholars is that Volturnus was a generic God of rivers[6] , and gave his name both to the Tiber and the Volturno.


Mommsen also identified Volturnus with Portunus, on the basis of a late calendar where the Portinalia is also called the Tiberinalia.[7] . Further, the sacrifices on that day were held "in porto Tiberindo."[8]

Portunus was a God of harbors.


Vertumnus was the Etruscan Bacchus, God of wine and fruits. His consort Voltumna, whom the Romans equated with Pomona, was the patron of the Etruscan League. Dennis notes that Vertumnus was called Vortumnus by Varro[9]

and speculates that he was identical with the Volturnus mentioned by Festus[10]

and Varro[11]

– “though neither recognise the relation in this case."[12]

. The correspondence has not gained acceptance.


Lucretius associated Volturnus with the Tempestates: "And other Winds do follow: the high roar / Of great Volturnus, and the Southwind strong / With thunder-bolts."[13]

From this passage, it appears the Romans might have equated Volturnus with Vulturnus, one of the Venti. Vulturnus' Greek analog was Eurus (Εύρος), the God of the east wind, and a son of Eos, possibly by Astræus. In Italy, the Vulturno, now called the Scirocco, blows from the southeast. The Vulturno takes its name from Monte Vulture (anc. Vultur).

Those who equate Volturnus with Vulturnus believe that the Volturnalia was a festival to avert the drought caused by these drying winds.

However, most contemporary scholars separate Volturnus the river from Vulturnus the east wind, and point to the timing of the Volturnalia at harvest time as evidence that it would have been offered in thanks for the irrigation water drawn from rivers rather than as a supplication to avert drought.

Consorts and Children

No consorts or children of Volturnus are known.

Gens Velthurna

Velthurna, the equivalent of Voltumna or Volturna was an Etruscan family-name attested by sepulchral inscriptions at Perugia and Sovana[14] . It has been suggested that Volturnus was originally the tutelary deity of the Etruscan Velthur family.[15] .


Volturnus was one of 15 Gods served by state-sponsored flamines, in a system conventionally said to have been established by Numa Pompilius. From that fact, Volturnus was probably an agricultural deity, Although the subject is controversial, the authority of the flamines seems to have been overthrown by a pontifical revolution when the Roman religion was reconstituted along Greek lines. This reform took place at early but unknown date, perhaps about 350 BCE.

Thereafter, the original deities declined in importance. By the beginning of the Republic, the flamines seem to have been anachronistic.

Like other flamines minores, the Flamen Volturnalis could be either patrician or plebeian.



The festival of Volturnus, called the Volturnalia was celebrated on a.d. VI Kal. Sept. and belonged to the Numan calendar[16] . Details of the Volturnalia have not survived, but we have fragments addressed to Volturnus. We know that the Volturnalia was celebrated with feasting, wine-drinking and games. In the opinion of the Pontifex Maximus of Nova Roma, “At the very least a "standard" ritual of sacrifice, Roman feast, and standard Roman games would be a passable reconstruction of the day, pending the discovery of further specific information."[17]

Some scholars say Iuturna was honored the same day. However, she also had her own festival, the Iuturnalia, a.d. III Id. Ian. .

Modern Volturnalia Events in Nova Roma


   Inde aliae tempestates
   ventique secuntur, 
   altitonans Volturnus 
   et Auster fulmine pollens.
   And other Winds do follow: the high roar
   Of great Volturnus, and the 
   Southwind strong
   With thunder-bolts.[18]

In a statement lauding Domitian’s technological achievement channeling the Volturno river (95 CE), Volturnus is made to say amnis esse coepi, I have begun to be a river; meaning that he has become his true self.


A bust, identified as Volturnus and dating from the 2nd century BCE, survives at the Arch of S. Eligio in Capua.

A representation of a man having a fish offered to him survives at Corneta, in the Grotta delle Iscrizioni. Gerhard identifies this as Vertumnus[19] . Other scholars believe it represents Volturnus. More probably, it represents Volcanus. Small live fish were thrown into a fire as a sacrificial offering at the Volcanalia.


  1. Varro, Lingua Latine, 7:45
  2. Andreas Alfödi, Early Rome and the Latins. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (1971), 206
  3. Theodor Mommsen, Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), 327.
  4. Cf. Einar Gjerstad, Early Rome. Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup (1953), 25.
  5. Joel Le Gall, Recherches sur le culte du Tibre (Paris 1953), pp. 40-56, "Les prétendus dieux du Tibre". See also Georges Dumézil, Archaic Roman Religion. Johns Hopkins Univ. Pr. (1966, 1996), 388-89.
  6. Cf. Shailer Mathews and Gerald Birney Smith, A Dictionary of Religion and Ethics sub Roman Religion. Macmillan (1921), 384.
  7. CIL citing Fast. Philocal., 327
  8. Varro, Lingua Latine 6.19
  9. Varro, Lingua Latine 5.8; 6:3
  10. Festus, ap. Paul. Diac. v. Volturnalia
  11. Varro, Lingua Latine 8.45
  12. George Dennis, The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria (London: John Murray, 1848).
  13. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.742
  14. George Dennis. The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria (London: John Murray, 1848).
  15. Hendrik Wagenvoort, Pietas: Studies in Roman Religion (Boston: Brill, 1980), 237, citing Altheim
  16. Einar Gjerstad, Early Rome. Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup (1953), 246
  17. Marcus Cassius Iulianus. Message at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ReligioRomana/message/3255, message dated November 26, 2002, from Marcus Cassius Julianus, visited January 1, 2004.
  18. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.742
  19. George Dennis. The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria (London: John Murray, 1848), citing Gottheiten der Etrusker, 31

Further Reading

Primary Sources

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL).

Festus, ap. Paul. Diac. v. Volturnalia.

Lactantius, Divine Institutes.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura.

Prop. 6.2.

Varro, Lingua Latine.

Vergil, Aeneid.

Secondary Sources

Georges Dumézil, Archaic Roman Religion. Johns Hopkins Univ. Pr. (1966, 1996).

Joel Le Gall, Recherches sur le culte du Tibre (Paris 1953).

External Links

This article incorporates the text of an article of the same name, originally published in 2004 at Gens Ambrosia, http://www.ambrosii.com.

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