The Byzantine historian Joannes Zonaras stated that the Etruscan Volsinii (Velzna or Velusna) lay on a steep height (Zonaras, Ann. viii. 7; cf. Aristot. Mir. Ausc. 96); while Bolsena, the representative of the Roman Volsinii, is situated in the plain. There is considerable difference of opinion as to where this height should be sought. Wilhelm Ludwig Abeken (Mittelitalien, p. 34 et seq.) looks for it at Montefiascone, at the southern extremity of the lake; whilst Karl Otfried Müller (Etrusker, i. p. 451) seeks it at Orvieto, and adduces the name of that place in Latin, Urbs Vetus, the old city, as an argument in favor of his view; but British explorer and writer George Dennis (Etruria, vol. i. p. 508) is of opinion that there is no reason to believe that it was so far from the Roman city, and that it lay on the summit of the hill, above the amphitheater at Bolsena, at a spot called Il Piazzano. He adduces in support of this hypothesis the existence of a good deal of broken pottery there, and of a few caves in the cliffs below. Bolsena is 6 km from Montefiascone, and 20 km from Orvieto.
Etruscan Volsinii (Velzna or Velusna; or sometimes in Latin Volsinii Veteres – Old Volsinii) appears to have been one of the most powerful cities of Etruria, and was doubtless one of the 12 which formed the Etruscan confederation, as Volsinii is designated by Livy (x. 37) and Valerius Maximus (ix. 1. extern. 2) as one of the capita Etruriae. It is described by Juvenal (iii. 191) as seated among well-wooded hills.
We do not hear of Volsinii in history till after the fall of Veii. It is possible that the success of the Roman arms may have excited the alarm and jealousy of the Volsinienses, as their situation might render them the next victims of Roman ambition. At all events, the Volsinienses, in conjunction with the Salpinates, taking advantage of a famine and pestilence which had desolated Rome, made incursions into the Roman territory in 391 BC. But they were easily beaten: 8,000 of them were made prisoners; and they were glad to purchase a twenty years' truce on condition of restoring the booty they had taken, and furnishing the pay of the Roman army for a year. (Liv. v. 31, 32.)
We do not again hear of Volsinii till the year 310 BC, when, in common with the rest of the Etruscan cities, except Arretium (modern Arezzo), they took part in the siege of Sutrium (modern Sutri), a city in alliance with Rome. (Liv. ix. 32.) This war was terminated by the defeat of the Etruscans at the First Battle of Lake Vadimo (310 BC), the first fatal shock to their power. (Ibid. 39.) Three years afterwards we find the consul Publis Decius Mus capturing several of the Volsinian fortresses. (Ibid. 41.) In 295 BC, Lucius Postumius Megellus ravaged their territory and defeated them under the walls of their own city, slaying 2,800 of them; in consequence of which they, together with Perusia (modern Perugia) and Arretium, were glad to purchase a forty years' peace by the payment of a heavy fine. (Ibid. x. 37.) Not more than fourteen years, however, had elapsed, when, with their allies the Vulcientes, they again took up arms against Rome. But this attempt ended apparently in their final subjugation in 280 BC. (Liv. Ep. xi.; Fast. Cons.) Pliny (xxxiv. 7. s. 16) tells an absurd story, taken from the Greek writer Metrodorus of Scepsis, that the object of the Romans in capturing Volsinii was to make themselves masters of 2,000 statues which it contained. The story, however, suffices to show that the Volsinians had attained great wealth, luxury, and art. This is confirmed by Valerius Maximus (l. c.), who also adds that this luxury was the cause of their ruin, by making them so indolent that they at length suffered the management of their commonwealth to be usurped by slaves. From this degrading tyranny they were "rescued" by the Romans. (Flor. i. 21; Zonaras, l. c.; A. Victor, Vir. Illustr. 36; Oros. iv. 5.)
The Romans, when they took Volsinii, razed the town, and compelled the inhabitants to migrate to another spot. (Zonaras, l. c.) This second, or Roman, Volsinii (sometimes called Volsinii Novi – New Volsinii) continued to exist under the Empire. It was the birthplace of Sejanus, the minister and favorite of Tiberius. (Tac. Ann. iv. 1, vi. 8.) Juvenal (x. 74) alludes to this circumstance when he considers the fortunes of Sejanus as dependent on the favor of Nursia, or Norsia, an Etruscan goddess much worshipped at Volsinii, into whose temple there, as in that of Jupiter Capitolinus at Rome, a nail was annually driven to mark the years. (Liv. vii. 3; Tertull. Apol. 24.) According to Pliny, Volsinii was the scene of some supernatural occurrences. He records (ii. 54) that lightning was drawn down from heaven by king Porsenna to destroy a monster called Volta that was ravaging its territory. Even the commonplace invention of hand-mills, ascribed to this city, is embellished with the traditional prodigy that some of them turned by themselves (Id. xxxvi. 18. s. 29.) Indeed, in the whole intercourse of the Romans with the Etruscans, we see the ignorant wonder excited by a cultivated people in their semi-barbarous conquerors.
No definite traces of the Etruscan Volsinii have been identified. Of the Roman city, some remains are still extant at Bolsena. The most remarkable are those of a temple near the Florence gate, commonly called the Tempio di Norsia. But the remains are of Roman work; and the real temple of that goddess most probably stood in the Etruscan city. The amphitheater is small and a complete ruin. Besides these there are the remains of some baths, sepulchral tablets, and a sarcophagus with reliefs representing the triumph of Bacchus. The Monti Volsini mountain range in northern Lazio takes their name from the ancient city.