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Location of Veleia and other Roman cities in the context of ancient Basque tribes and the modern Basque Country

Veleia was a Roman town in Hispania, now located in the Basque Autonomous Community, Spain. The site is located in the municipality of Iruña de Oca, 10 kilometers west of Vitoria. The town was an important station on the Roman road ab Asturica Burdigalam that ran parallel to the coast of the Bay of Biscay. At its apogee, the city could have been inhabited by some five to ten thousand people,[citation needed] and apparently went through different cycles of prosperity and decline into the Early Middle Ages until it was finally abandoned.

It has been argued (e.g. J.M.Lacarra) that the location of Iruña is actually the Victoriacum founded by Liuvigild in his campaigns against the Vascones (581), since only a very small portion of the actual town has been unearthed so far by archaeologists.

The archaeological site of Iruña-Veleia is the most important from the Roman period in the Basque Country.[1] It was alleged to contain the oldest known texts written in the Basque language as well as, allegedly, the oldest representation of the crucifixion of Jesus found to date, but later it was said that the findings were forgeries.[2][3][4] Other authors favored their genuinely ancient provenance, in agreement with the stratigraphic dating performed by the archaeologists who made the discoveries.

In June 2020 the archaeologist who had made the claims, Eliseo Gil, was pronounced guilty of fraud and connivance with an external collaborator in presenting a false report. The court ruled that the pieces had been altered “by himself or through third persons with contemporary incisions to simulate that they contained inscriptions of the same ancient age as the objects in which they were engraved and that they possessed a historical and cultural value of which they were devoid.”.[5][6] The verdict was appealed by Gil, but the appeal was dismissed. Subsequently, Gil filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court.[7] In parallel to the court developments, a scholarly controversy on the authenticity of the inscriptions is taking place.


Bronze and Iron ages[edit]

The town was founded in the 8th century BC, in the Late Bronze Age. The houses from this period, rectangular and round with adobe walls and thatched roofs, are similar to those found at the nearby site of Atxa (Vitoria).

Roman period[edit]

In the first half of the 1st century some of these houses were replaced by others of Roman style (domus). This architectural romanization continued as the century advanced.

The late Roman city (3rd and 4th centuries) is better known. It shows signs of decay and the construction of a wall that encloses an eleven hectare area. The town survived into the 5th century after Roman power had disappeared from the region, but by the end of the century only burial plots in abandoned buildings are found.

Modern age[edit]

There was an abbey at the site at least since the 16th century whose buildings remained visible until the mid 19th century.

Sensational findings[edit]


The Iruña-Veleia site had been granted 3.72 million euros funding by the Basque regional government. In 2006, a series of sensational findings at Iruña-Veleia were announced to the press by the director of the archaeological mission. These included what would have been the oldest non-onomastical texts in Basque, which were hailed as the first evidence of written Basque. Also, it was announced the discovery of a series of inscriptions and drawings on pottery fragments, some of which refer to Egyptian history and even some written in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Finally, it was announced the finding of the earliest representation of the Calvary (crucifixion of Jesus) found anywhere to date.[8]

Eventually, a committee of experts, the "Comisión Científica Asesora" ("Scientific Advisory Committee") was constituted by the provincial government of Álava to study the findings.[9] The committee was originally made up of nine academics, all professors of the University of the Basque Country in Vitoria, along with three members of the provincial government of Álava, the director of the Provincial Museum of Archaeology, and the director of the excavation (Eliseo Gil), and was presided by the Culture Deputy of Álava herself. Later others, although not members of the commission were consulted from Madrid, Italy and Britain.[10] Alicia Canto, professor of classical archaeology and epigraphy at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, cast doubts over the capacity of such committee to elucidate the veracity of the sherd inscriptions based on linguistic grounds, as well as highlighting the contradictory positions shown by some of its members while noting that some claimed texts were "beyond salvation".[10]

At its fifth meeting on November 19, 2008, every report except that by Gil found problems with the so-called "exceptionals".[10] The culture deputy of Álava, Lorena Lopez de la Calle, dubbed the case the "biggest archaeological fraud in the history of the Iberian Peninsula", and demoted the chief technical official of the Archaeological Museum of Álava for her support to the authenticity of the findings.[11] Ultimately, one of the members of the committee, Julio Núñez, became the new director of the Iruña-Veleia archaeological excavations.[12]

Forgery case[edit]

The provincial government of Alava pursued legal actions against the alleged perpetrators of the supposed fraud.[1][13] The sponsors of the project (Euskotren) also brought charges against the archaeological team, but the case was dismissed, and only the lawsuit filed by the provincial government of Alava remained in force. Eliseo Gil has repeatedly denied the accusations against him, defended the authenticity of his findings, and requested that decisive physical tests be performed on the pieces to scientifically resolve the issue.[7][14][15]

In June 2020 Eliseo Gil was pronounced guilty of fraud and connivance with an external collaborator in presenting a false report. The court ruled that the pieces had been altered “by himself or through third persons with contemporary incisions to simulate that they contained inscriptions of the same ancient age as the objects in which they were engraved and that they possessed a historical and cultural value of which they were devoid.”.[5][6] The verdict was appealed by Gil, but the appeal was dismissed. Subsequently, Gil filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court.[7]

In August 2020, a group of 14 scientists published a letter in several Basque newspapers, warning that the so-called forgery is a scientific controversy that remains unresolved, and that "scientific issues must be resolved in scientific forums, such as scientific journals and conferences, not in courts of law". This letter was signed by prominent archaeologists, among others.[16]

Scholarly controversy[edit]

In disagreement with the opinions of some members of the Scientific Advisory Committee constituted by the Provincial Government of Alava, positing that the graffiti found at Iruña-Veleia are recent forgeries or cannot be ancient, a number of scholars in different fields, including archaeology, epigraphy, ancient history, linguistics, and Egyptology, from four countries, have made public their views favorable to their authenticity through reports, articles, books, and conference presentations.[17][18][19][20][21][22] They contend that the stratigraphic dating, placing the pieces in Roman times, was correctly performed, that there are parallels of the findings in ancient times, and that the linguistic features of the Basque graffiti are compatible with known historical features of the Basque language. On the other hand, linguist Joaquín Gorrochategui and epigraphist Juan Santos Yanguas, members of the Scientific Advisory Committee, have made public their arguments in support of the falsehood of the graffiti in conference proceedings, in which they contend that the graffiti show anachronistic linguistic and epigraphic features that are incompatible with an ancient date [23][24][25]

See also[edit]


  • (in Basque) Barandiaran, Alberto, Veleia afera, Elkar, 2010. ISBN 9788497839150
  • Elkin, Mike (2009): "The Veleia Affair" Archaeology Volume 62 Number 5, September/October 2009.
  • (in French) Iglesias, Hector (2009), « Les inscriptions de Veleia-Iruña » {pdf} Les inscriptions de Veleia-Iruña (version entièrement revue et augmentée d'un index alphabétique). Artxiker, bibliothèque numérique d'IKER, Centre de recherche sur la langue et les textes basques du CNRS, Baiona-Bayonne.


  1. ^ a b (in Spanish) "Álava se querella contra los responsables del fraude de Veleia", El País, 2009-03-25.
  2. ^ (in Basque) "Veleia: disparateen zerrenda", Sustatu, 2008-11-20.
  3. ^ (in Spanish) "Tres arqueólogos abandonaron Veleia tras los hallazgos de 2006", El País, 2008-11-22.
  4. ^ (in Spanish) "Iruña-Veleia, culebrón arqueológico", El País, 2008-12-06,
  5. ^ a b Ramsay, M., Woodyatt, A. (June 12, 2020). "Spanish archaeologist gets jail sentence for faking his finds". CNN.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b Diario de Noticias de Álava (June 10, 2020). "Dos años y 3 meses de cárcel para Eliseo Gil por falsedad documental y estafa" [Two years and 3 months prison sentence for Eliseo Gil for document falsification and fraud]. Diario de Noticias de Álava (in Spanish).
  7. ^ a b c El Norte Exprés (March 21, 2021). "El exdirector de Iruña-Veleia recurre ante el Constitucional" [The former director of Iruña-Veleia appeals to the Constitutional Court]. El Norte Exprés (in Spanish).
  8. ^ (in Spanish) "Un maestro entre el Nilo y el Zadorra", Diario de Noticias de Álava, 2006-06-09; "En Veleia hubo alguien muy culto y de alto 'status', que dominaba la historia egipcia y sabía escribir jeroglíficos", El País, 2006-06-09; "Aparecen en Veleia restos de inscripciones en euskera del siglo III y de temática cristiana" Archived 2007-10-06 at the Wayback Machine, Noticias de Álava, 2006-06-09.
  9. ^ López de Lacalle Arizti, Lorena. "Nota de la Diputada de Euskera, Cultura y Deportes, Lorena López de Lacalle Arizti" (PDF).
  10. ^ a b c Elkin, Mike (September–October 2009). "The Veleia Affair". Archaeology. 62 (5). Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  11. ^ (in Spanish) "La Diputación alavesa relega a Amelia Baldeón a un museo de segunda fila", El País, 2009-03-04.
  12. ^ "La UPV-EHU, con Julio Nuñez al frente, redactará el Plan Director de Iruña-Veleia". Gara. 6 November 2009.
  13. ^ (in Spanish) "La Diputación aporta al fiscal nuevas pruebas sobre el engaño de Veleia. Una empresa alemana afirma que los gráficos aportados por Cerdán para autentificar los hallazgos «son una copia» de su manual", El Correo, 2009-03-03.
  14. ^ Carrero, M.J. (November 22, 2009). "Eliseo Gil niega ser el autor de los grafitos de Veleia" [Eliseo Gil denies being the author of Iruña-Veleia’s graffiti]. El Correo (in Spanish).
  15. ^ Gil, Eliseo (February 17, 2014). "Iruña-Veleia y la responsabilidad" [Iruña-Veleia and responsibility] (in Spanish). Naiz.
  16. ^ Antonio Rodríguez Colmenero, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain;Edward C. Harris, MBE, PHD, FSA, Founding Executive Director Emeritus, National Museum of Bermuda; Xabier Gorrotxategi, Ph.D. in Archaeology; Luis Silgo, Ph.D. in History, specialty in Archaeology; Noé Villaverde Vega, Ph.D. in Archaeology with European mention, among others (31 August 2020). "La ciencia y la sentencia sobre el caso de Iruña-Veleia" [Science and the court ruling on the Iruña-Veleia case]. Diario de Noticias de Navarra (in Spanish).{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link). An English translation is available in Science and the court ruling on the Iruña-Veleia case
  17. ^ Iglesias, Hector (2012). "Les inscriptions d'Iruña-Veleira: Analyse liguistique des principales inscriptions basques découvertes" [The inscriptions from Iruña-Veleia: linguistic analysis of the main Basque inscriptions discovered] (PDF). Arse (in French). 46: 21–81.
  18. ^ Iglesias, Hector (April 22, 2016). Les Inscriptions d'Iruña-Veleia [The Inscriptions from Iruña-Veleia] (in French). Connaissances et Savoirs. Paris, France. ISBN 978-2753903159. This book is an updated and extended version of the article “Les inscriptions de Veleia-Iruña”, published in Artxiker, Archive de la Recherche pour la Langue basque et les Langues typologiquement proches, October 21, 2009.] {{cite book}}: External link in |postscript= (help)CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  19. ^ Orpustan, Jean-Baptiste. La Langue Basque au Moyen Age: IXe-XVe siècles. En annexe: Du basque médiéval au basque antique: les inscriptions de Veleia-Iruña en Alava [The Basque language at the Middle Ages: 9th-15th centuries. In annex: From medieval Basque to ancient Basque: the inscriptions from Veleia-Iruña in Alava] (PDF) (in French). Retrieved August 8, 2021.
  20. ^ Harris, Edward; Rodríguez Colmenero, Antonio; Silgo, Luis; Satué, Alicia; Fritz, Ulrike (July 5, 2017). Euskeraren Jatorria Association (ed.). Iruña-Veleia: Nazioarteko Biltzarrak. Congresos Internacionales. International Congress. I – II (in Spanish and English). ACCI (Asociación Cultural y Científica Iberoamericana). Madrid, Spain. ISBN 978-8416956623. Texts of conference presentations are also available at; {{cite book}}: External link in |postscript= (help)CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  21. ^ Harris, Edward (November 18, 2015). "Es imposible falsificar los 400 grafitos de Iruña-Veleia" [It is impossible to forge the 400 graffiti from Iruña-Veleia] (in Spanish). Gara. Retrieved August 8, 2021. English original text at {{cite news}}: External link in |postscript= (help)CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  22. ^ Elexpuru, Juan Martín (December 20, 2018). ¿Qué está pasando con Iruña-Veleia? [What’s happening with Iruña-Veleia?] (in Spanish). Editorial Pamiela. Arre, Navarra, Spain. ISBN 978-8491720775.
  23. ^ Gorrochategui, Joaquín (2012). "Las Armas de la Filología: la cuestión del Vasco Antiguo y los hallazgos de Iruña-Veleia". In Lakarra Andrinua, Joseba; Gorrochategui Churruca, Joaquín; Urgell Lázaro, Blanca (eds.). 2nd Conference of the Luis Michelena Chair - Koldo Mitxelena Katedraren II. Biltzarra - II Congreso de la Cátedra Luis Michelena: 4 (Cátedra Luis Michelena - Koldo Mitxelena Katedra) [The arms of philology: the issue of ancient Basque and the findings of Iruña-Veleia] (in Spanish). Universidad del País Vasco. pp. 41–70. ISBN 978-8498606010.
  24. ^ Gorrochategui, Joaquín (2011). "Hic et nunc. Falsificaciones contemporáneas. El caso de Iruña-Veleia". In Carbonell Manils, Joan; Gimeno Pascual, Helena; Moralejo Álvarez, José Luis (eds.). El monumento epigráfico en contextos secundarios: Procesos de reutilización, interpretación y falsificación [Hic et nunc. Contemporary forgeries. The Iruña-Veleia case] (in Spanish). Servei de Publicacions de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain. pp. 241–261. ISBN 978-8449028380.
  25. ^ Santos Yanguas, Juan (January 29, 2015). "Los 'hallazgos singulares' de Iruña-Veleia: de la ilusión al fiasco". In Marco Simón, Francisco; Pina Polo, Francisco; Remesal Rodríguez, José (eds.). Fraude, mentiras y engaños en el mundo antiguo [The ‘singular finds’ of Iruña-Veleia: from excitement to fiasco] (in Spanish). Universitat de Barcelona. pp. 295–308. ISBN 978-84-475-3889-8.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°50′32″N 2°47′15″W / 42.84222°N 2.78750°W / 42.84222; -2.78750