Caere (mod. Cerveteri, i.e. Caere vetus, see below), an ancient city of Etruria about 5 m. from the sea coast and about 20 m. N.W. of Rome, direct from which it was reached by branch roads from the Via Aurelia and Via Clodia. Ancient writers tell us that its original Pelasgian name was Agylla, and that the Etruscans took it and called it Caere (when this occurred is not known), but the former name lasted on into later times as well as Caere. It was one of the twelve cities of Etruria, and its trade, through its port Pyrgos (q.v.), was of considerable importance. It fought with Rome in the time of Tarquinus Priscus and Servius Tullius, and subsequently became the refuge of the expelled Tarquins. After the invasion of the Gauls in 390 B.C., the vestal virgins and the sacred objects in their custody were conveyed to Caere for safety, and from this fact some ancient authorities derive the word caerimonia, ceremony. A treaty was made between Rome and Caere in the same year. In 353, however, Caere took up arms against Rome out of friendship for Tarquinii, but was defeated, and it is probably at this time that it became partially incorporated with the Roman state, as a community whose members enjoyed only a restricted form of Roman citizenship, without the right to a vote, and which was, further, without internal autonomy.
The status is known as the ius Caeritum, and Caere was the first of a class of such municipalities (Th. Mommsen, Römische Staatsrecht, iii. 583). In the First Punic War, Caere furnished Rome with corn and provisions, but otherwise, up till the end of the Republic, we only hear of prodigies being observed at Caere and reported at Rome, the Etruscans being especially expert in augural lore. By the time of Augustus its population had actually fallen behind that of the Aquae Caeretanae (the sulphur springs now known as the Bagni del Sasso, about 5 m. W.), but under either Augustus or Tiberius its prosperity was to a certain extent restored, and inscriptions speak of its municipal officials (the chief of them called dictator) and its town council, which had the title of senatus. In the middle ages, however, it sank in importance, and early in the 13th century, a part of the inhabitants founded Caere novum (mod. Ceri) 3 m. to the east.
The town lay on a hill of tufa, running from N.E. to S.W., isolated except on the N.E., and about 300 ft. above sea-level. The modern town, at the western extremity, probably occupies the site of the acropolis. The line of the city walls, of rectangular blocks of tufa, can be traced, and there seem to have been eight gates in the circuit, which was about 4 m. in length. There are no remains of buildings of importance, except the theatre, in which many inscriptions and statues of emperors were found. The necropolis in the hill to the north-west, known as the Banditaccia, is important. The tomb chambers are either hewn in the rock or covered by mounds. One of the former class was the family tomb of the Tarchna-Tarquinii, perhaps descended from the Roman kings; others are interesting from their architectural and decorative details. One especially, the Grotta dei Bassirilievi, has interesting reliefs cut in the rock and painted, while the walls of another were decorated with painted tiles of terracotta. The most important tomb of all, the Regolini-Galassi tomb (taking its name from its discoverers), which lies S.W. of the ancient city, is a narrow rock-hewn chamber about 60 ft. long, lined with masonry, the sides converging to form the roof.
The objects found in it (a chariot, a bed, silver goblets with reliefs, rich gold ornaments, etc.) are now in the Etruscan Museum at the Vatican: they are attributed to about the middle of the 7th century B.C. At a short distance from the modern town on the west, thousands of votive terracottas were found in 1886, some representing divinities, others parts of the human body (Notizie degli Scavi, 1886, 38). They must have belonged to some temple.
See G. Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, i. 226 seq.; C. Hülsen in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, iii. 1281.