France, The Roman Empire

Glanum: Celts, Greeks and Romans

Glanum was founded in the 6th century BCE by the Salyens, a Celto-Ligurian tribe, on the flanks of The Alpilles, a small mountain range about 20 km  (12 miles) south of Avignon, just outside present day Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It was a  fortified town or oppidum, (a term still in use ever since Caesar’s conquest of Gaul) known for it’s healing springs. Glanum later became a Roman city in Provincia, modern day Provence, until its final abandonment in 260 CE.

It’s known for two particularly well-preserved Roman monuments, known as Les Antiques; a mausoleum and the oldest triumphal arch in France, both from the 1st century BCE. The Salyens, Provence’s largest Celto-Ligurian tribe, first built a rampart of stones on the peaks surrounding the valley of Notre-Dame-de-Laval in the 4th century BCE, then Glanum was constructed in the valley with a shrine to the Celtic god Glanis built around the spring. Glanum grew until the 2nd century BCE when another city wall was added.

The town kept a strong Celtic identity with statues and pottery telling us of residents named Vrittakos, Eporix, Litumaros, and local god Glanis and his companions the Glanicae, similar to the Roman Matres with goddesses Rosmerta and Epona. Celtic customs where upheld, such as the displaying severed heads of enemies at the city gate and cooking utensils found in the ruins shows the inhabitants favoured boiling pots over frying pans setting them apart from other Mediterranean tribes.

Glanum had early contacts with Massalia (present day Marseille), a Greek colony founded around 600 BCE, resulting in Hellenic influences in both art and architecture. 2nd century wars with Massalia however meant the Greeks soon called upon their Roman allies. In 125 BCE the Salyens were defeated by the Roman consul Flaccus, and again the following year by Sextus when much of Glanum was destroyed. The town prospered again, thanks to its popular springs, Glanum minted silver coins and new monuments were built until another rebellion against Rome in 90 BCE. This was crushed again, this time by the Roman consul Caecilius, and public buildings were yet again destroyed and replaced by more modest structures.

In 49 BCE Caesar captured Massalia, and after the civil wars a general romanization of Provence began. Emperor Augustus created the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis in 27 BCE and gave Glanum latin citizen status. This was when Les Antiques where both built, the triumphal arch built slightly after the mausoleum between 25-10 BCE. Thet are shown at the start of the film (on the top of the page).

During the late 1st century BCE, and the early first centruy CE, a forum, temples, and a curved stone arch dam was built, Glanum Dam, the oldest of its kind, along with an aqueduct, supplying the fountains and baths in the town. Glanum became less prosperous than other Roman colonies such as Arles, Avignon or Cavaillon but still had several impressive buildings clad in marble by the 2nd century CE.

Glanum was finally overrun and destroyed by the Alemanni in 260 CE and subsequently abandoned, its inhabitants moving just a short distance north into the plain to found what later became Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Glanum then became a source of stone and other building materials. Since the Roman sewers and drainage sytem was not maintained, the ruins were eventually flooded and became covered with mud and sediment. “Les Antiques,” remained famous however, and where eventually visited by Charles IX of France, who had the surroundings cleaned up and maintained in the 16th century.

Some excavations were made around the monuments by the marquis de Lagoy in the Vallons-de-Notre-Dame who found sculptures and coins. Further excavations began in the 19th century culminating in 1921, when the architect of historic monuments, Jules Foremigé began working on the site and remained there until 1941. Archeologist Pierre LeBrun discovered the baths, the basilica, and the residences of the northern town between 1928 – 1933. Henri Roland worked on the Iron Age sanctuary, to the south from 1942-69, excavating the area from the forum to the sanctuary. The objects he discovered are on display today at the hotel de Sade in the Saint-Remy-de-Provence. New excavation and exploration work began in 1982, devoted mainly to preservation of the site, and to exploring beneath sites already discovered for older works.

Sources: on site information signs and Private Tours Blog:

The songs in the film are *Volgaz’ and ’Soulburner’ both by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

France, The Roman Empire

The best Roman Theatre in Europe

Provence has much to offer history buffs interested in the Roman Empire. Several monuments are as beautiful as they are well-preserved. Pont Du Gard overlooking the Gardon River, Arles Amphitheater, the Mausoleum of the Julii and Triumphal Arch at Glanum outside Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and The Roman Theatre of Orange are some of the most magnificent Roman buildings anywhere in the world.

The Roman Theatre from the 1st century CE is a great example of this incredible state of preservation and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located in the heart of the Rhône Valley it’s particularly known for the still remaining stage wall, a feature usually lost making it the best-preserved Roman theatre in all of Europe. The original roof and marble plaques covering the structure are missing along with damages in the wall from erosion through the years but the impressive stage wall still stands. It gives a unique perspective on what these theaters would actually have looked like. The stage wall formed the backdrop for comedies, farces, musical works and tragedies during antiquity, and the theatre is still used for concerts. Its comparatively superb condition is in fact owed to that its been kept in continuous use throughout the ages.

”La plus belle muraille de mon royaume.” 

Louis XIV once described the postscaenium or the exterior facade as ”the finest wall in my kingdom.” The wall is 103 metres long,  37 metres high and 1.80 metres thick and the interior side is divided into three levels. The first comprises three doors which open out onto the stage and secondary doors which open onto the corridors or rooms without any access to the interior. On the second level, the wall is bare of any decoration. You can see the stone corbels which supported the roof structure and a deep groove, the remains of the anchoring for the tiles on the roof. A blind arcade on the wall embellishes the third level. With the exception of the central arch and the arches located in line with the basilicae (towers positioned each side of the stage), each has a cavity that lets light into the passage located inside the wall. At the top, there are two rows of 43 corbels which supported the velum, a large canvas canopy that protected spectators from the sun and rain.

In 1996 several tons of rubble were cleared and since then only a few large blocks have collapsed, caused by the constant flow of rainwater which hollow out deep fissures in the wall, damaging the stage floor as well. The first attempts at restoration began in the 19th century, and a new stage roof was later added to protect the site preserving its authenticity: sheltering the facings threatened with ruin, while strenghtening it in the more fragile parts.

It became a fortress in the Middle Ages when the town took possession of the buildings and built dwellings there. It was not until the 19th century that the Theatre was restored to its former glory thanks to major clearance and restoration works undertaken by the State. By 1869 it was ready to stage events again and function as originally intended.

The original stage roof was destroyed by fire in the 4th century, and the wooden roof was designed to protect the stage and the stone towers and walls from the elements. Rather than pay for an approximate reconstruction of the original wooden roof, a decidedly contemporary form of protection was chosen, making it possible to protect the unique facing of the wall. A project to reduce the impact on the ancient structures as far as possible was composed of a main beam 60 metres long, supporting most of the load of the rectangular 16.7 metres wide roof. A glass covering on the roof with a fine metallic fabric dressing under the roof.
The stage wall, the frons scaenae was important as it helped to properly project sound and comprised the only architectural décor in the theatre. During the performance it did not change, but some mobile items and props were installed to create the illusion of movement, space and perspective. Its original height of 37 metres has been entirely preserved. The wall was richly decorated with slabs of multicoloured marble, statues in niches, friezes and columns.

 In 1931, excavations under the stage enabled the columns currently in place to be restored to their original position. Originally there were 76 of them. The stage wall is also arranged in three levels. At the centre of the first level is the Royal Door or valva regia. Reserved for the principal actors, it was topped with a frieze decorated with centaurs, the remains of which are on display at the Museum of Orange. This door is surrounded by niches which were adorned with statues. Narrower, the side doors called “hospitable” doors were used for the actors’ entrances and exits. The second and third levels, comprising columns, are purely decorative.

The central niche houses the imperial statue of Augustus measuring 3.55 metres in height. This niche almost certainly contained a representation of Apollo and it’s likely the triumphant emperor was only substituted at a later date, replacing an original statue of Apollo. Augustus is dressed in a general’s coat, the paludamentum imperatoris, and is holding his staff. It serves as a reminder that to preserve peace throughout the Roman Empire everyone must respect its laws.

The Song in the film is ’Principles, My Ass’ by Hands Of Doom. Some images made using Google earth and illustrations by

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

France, The Roman Empire

The Pompeii of France

Vaison-la-Romaine (Latin: Vasio Julia Vocontiorum), sometimes referred to as “The Pompeii of France” is a commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France, and indeed has many wonderful Roman ruins. Both in the upper and lower parts of the city divided by the Ouvèze river, an area that has been inhabited at least since the Bronze Age. In the late 4th century BCE Vaison became capital of the Vocontii, a Celtic tribe.

The Roman conquest in (125-118 BCE) still allowed the Vocontii some autonomy as they managed to maintain their religious center in Luc-en-Diois. Vocontii authority in the Romanization of the Celtic oppidum (large fortified Iron Age settlent) meant the city plan wasn’t completely done over according to Roman orthography. Modern archeology (work done by Christian Goudineau) suggests that Vocontian aristocrats moved down from the oppidum and established villas along the river, around which the Gallo-Roman city then grew.

Vasio would become one of the richest cities of the Roman province Gallia Narbonensis, with many geometric mosaic pavements and a small theatre, probably built during the reign of Tiberius as his statue was found in a prominent place on its site. Also found in the theatre during the 19th century was The Polyclitan Vaison Diadumenos (now in British Museum) and Augustan historian Pompeius Trogus is an example of a prominent Roman born at Vasio.

Barbarian invasions then soon followed after the first raid hit in 276, from which Vasio actually recovered, but in the 5th century the state of affairs where such as the general disorder meant that Christians had began reusing the theatre benches as tombstones. Vaison then first belonged to the Burgundians, was taken by the Ostrogoths in 527, then by Clotaire I, King of the Franks in 545, and then became part of Provence.

Vaison-la-Romaine is well worth a visit, it’s obvius provencal charm aside it’s of particular interest for its geography and Roman ruins. The valley floor was safe from attacks during both Roman and modern times but during the Dark Ages attacks were frequent, and the medieval town retreated high on the rocky cliff to a more defensible position. The Roman ruins are found down in the valley on the banks of the river crossed by an ancient bridge from the 1st century CE, where the modern town is also located.

Reconstructions and fly-over shots in the film are by the Musée archéologique de Vaison-la-Romaine , Additional shots of the bridge from the film Vaison ville romaine éternelle. 

The song in the film is ’Dark Heart of the Woods’ by Hands Of Doom.

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

France, The Roman Empire

Treasures at Nîmes

The Celts of Nîmes first accepted Roman rule in 121 BCE and a century later Augustus transformed it into Colonia Augusta Nemausus (27 BCE ) making it one of the most important towns of Roman Gaul.

There are several well-preserved Roman monuments left in the area. The amphitheatre is from around the 1st century BCE, still used today for bull-fights and concerts, outside the city is the famous aqueduct Pont du Gard, and the piece de resistance is without a doubt the Maison Carrée with the most intact Roman temple façade remaining in the world.

The inscription removed in medieval times has been reconstructed:

C·CAESARI·AVGVSTI·F·COS·L·CAESARI·AVGVSTI·F·COS·DESIGNATO                                                                                                          PRINCIPIBVS·IVVENTVTIS

 ”To Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul; to Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul designate; to the princes of youth.”

It was built in 4-7 CE by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (who also built the original Panthon in Rome) and dedicated to Gaius and Lucius Caesar, grandsons and adopted heirs of Augustus who both died young.


Song used in the film ‘Hide Away (New version)’ by Hands Of Doom
Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2016

France, The Roman Empire

Roman bricks were made to last

Having been back just over a month from 10 weeks in Italy looking at everything greek, roman and etruscan, I’ve finally decided it’s time for another blog post. I have much to unbosom visavi my latest trip (84 new GB of films and photos!), but for now I’ll just rewind the clock to last summer and the warm, friendly atmosphere of southern France.

Little did I know then what would find me in these gentle surroundings, even though my first trip in 2008 to Marseille, Martigues, Aix-en-Provence and Arles had been quite promising indeed. I returned to Arles and Aix last summer also, but included quite a few other former roman colonies on my improvised route, in total an estimated 1150 km (or 714 miles) on french roads.

Right where the eastern part of Provence begins to merge into the riviera Julius Caesar once created a military harbour and founded a new market town, Forum Iulli in 49 BP. He simultaneously created a new road there connecting Italy with Spain along this part of the french coast.

After the Roman peace the Market of the Julians would suddenly lose it’s strategic importance and it gradually went into decline. Apart from the amphitheatre there is also a roman theatre and the remains of a large aqueduct that still traverse the cosy idyll of Fréjus. The reason for this is not as sentimental as some ruin enthusiast perhaps would have it.

The incredible durability of roman concrete and bricks simply make it more expensive to get rid of theses structures than to leave them standing around. Thanks to this lucky accident we can still today get a glimpse of what Rome once built on it’s then new frontiers, arguably succeeding with the apparent aim of making it indefinitely roman.

France, The Roman Empire

Pont du Gard

This marvel of Roman engineering is situated in the south of France. Pont du Gard literally means Gard Bridge and is part of the larger Nîmes aqueduct that was built during the 1st century CE. Pont du Gard stands at an impressive 48.8 m (160 ft) and a visit is highly recommend to this site. If possible also see the nearby town of Nîmes for which this aqueduct supplied water during the Roman period. Nîmes also has a wonderful temple, Maison Carrée, from the same era along with an impressive amphitheatre.

Pont du Gard overlooks the Gardon River and is one of many especially well preserved monuments from Roman times in Southern France. Others highlights include the Roman theatre in Orange, the Arles amphitheater and the mausoleum of the Julii and the Triumphal Arch in Glanum outside Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. All locations are easily accessible by car and the cost of road tolls and the slightly increased driving hazard compared to northern Europe notwithstanding, it’s still one of the most beautiful cultural landscapes anywhere. Provence is of course famous around the world for it’s special light, the many picturesqe sceneries and the regions formidable quisine and many wineries.

Song in the clip “Thou Shalt Not Stone (new version)” by Hands of Doom

Journey Thru History, Perseus Records ® 2015