1)      Who You’ll Meet

The people you’d meet in Ancient Siena depended on what time you arrived

Stone from Poggio Civitate site

Stone from Poggio Civitate site

there.  The original inhabitants of the area were Etruscans. The identity of the specific kingdom or state located around the area in the seventh century BCE and earlier is unknown, but he presence of the famed Poggio Civitate building complex 25 kilometers to the south, as well as the materials left behind at the site the region was prominent and powerful.[1] However, the thorough and planned destruction of Poggio Civitate in the mid-6th century was likely carried out by Chiusi, among the most powerful of the twelve main Etruscan city-states.[2]  For the rest of the Etruscan period, Siena and the areas around it were, at best, an unremarkable settlement. By the late 2nd century BCE, the area was a Roman Colony, but it did not become truly prominent until Augustus founded “Saena Julia” in 30 BCE. From that period on, visitors to the area now called Siena would find a small but stable, if somewhat rambunctious, city of Roman colonists.[3]

Fun Fact: According to Medieval legend, Siena was named after Senius, the son of Remus and nephew of Romulus, who fled Rome in his father’s murder.[4] Sadly, no ancient sources can confirm or refute this belief.

2)      How You’ll Get There

With difficulty. Although situated somewhat close to the Via Cassia during Roman times, it was not directly on the road, nor was it close to any Roman or Etruscan ports. Ironically, when the Via Cassia was replaced by the Via Francigena, Siena became a vital stopping point, helping to link the West with the Silk Road, and the Asian and Near Eastern trade goods that came with it;[5] this new road is arguably the best explanation for the city’s Medieval-era prominence.  It is also notable that the lack of roads did not completely prevent travel to Siena in antiquity. Romans came to the city to visit or trade, and the presence of Greek goods in Poggio Civitate during the Etruscan period indicates that the region around Siena was part of the Etruscan trade network as well.[6]

3)       Why You’d go there

For most people, the likeliest reason you would have for going to Ancient Siena was trade, as is true for most small cities and colonies. However, people also regularly came into Siena during times of upheaval. During the social wars of 91-89 BCE, Roman soldiers likely used the settlement at Siena as a friendly stronghold during the Social Wars, as it did much of the rest of Etruria.[7] Their aid to the Roman government’s cause seems to have resulted in their receiving Roman citizenship afterwards. In the 3rd century CE, a visitor came in response to a different kind of strife: St. Ansanus came to the city in order to spread Christianity, an action which ultimately contributed to his execution under Diocletian.

4)      What was Siena like?

Due to factors including its continuous habitation, there has been very little Modern SienaRoman era material found from Siena.[8] However, since Siena is mentioned in Pliny (Natural History 3.55), Ptolemy (Geography 3.1), and Tacitus (Histories 4.45), it seems that it was a fairly well known location, at least in the first century CE.[9] It was also an absolutely gorgeous place to spend some time, as it is today. If you want to see Siena in person, you can join UTSA’s Summer Seminar in Siena here.

5)     Sources

Benes, Carrie. Urban Legends: Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250-1350. State College: Penn State Press, 2011

Bonfante, Larissa. Etruscan Life: A Handbook of Etruscan Studies. Michigan: Wayne State University Press. 1986

Bosi, Enrico and Gianluigi Scarfiotti. From Castle to Castle: A Journey in Chianti. Italy: Giunti Editore, 1990.

De Puma, Richard and Jocelyn Penny Small, eds. Murlo and the Etruscans: Art and Society in Ancient Etruria. Madision; University of Wisconsin Press, 1994

Philips Jr., Kyle M. In the Hills of Tuscany: Recent Excavations at the Etruscan Site of Poggio Civitate (Murlo, Siena). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993
Prazniak, Roxann. “Siena on the Silk Roads: Ambrogio Lorenzetti and the Mongol Global Century, 1250-“1350.” Journal of World History  Volume 21, Number 2, p. 177-217
Schevill, Ferdinand. Siena: The History of a Medieval Commune. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909.





[1] Detailed information about Poggio Civitate is available in De Puma (1994) and Philips Jr. (1993). A full account of current activities at the site can be found on Poggio Civitate Excavation Project web page (

[2] Phillips Jr. (1993) 56. More about the Chiusi, and other major Etruscan peoples and the materials they left behind, can be found in Haynes (2000), among other places.

[3] Schevill (1909) 8-11. Schevill is admittedly old, but his statements have not been challenged, and they come with the amusing tale of the way the population of Siena badgered a disgraced senator.

[4]See Benes (2011) 89-114 for a full account of the story, taken from Tacitus Histories 4.45.

[5] Prazniak (2010) 178.

[6] Phillips Jr. (1993) 65. This should not be taken as an argument that all of the art around Estruscan Siena was purchased from or copied off of Greeks. Phillips’ work at Poggio Civitate in particular refuted this once common allegation.

[7] See Schevill (1909) 8-9 for a discussion of Siena’s role, and Bonfante (1986) 60-1 for the Etrurians generally.

[8] Bosi and Scarfiotti (1990) 60-1.

[9] Schevill (1909) 9. Schevill makes claims about Siena beyond this, but I have not been able to confirm them.

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