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Journal of  Archaeology, History, and Exploration


Bibracte

Mount Beuvray rises some 820 m in the Sud Morvan, in the region of Bourgogne. Today the hill is covered with forests, and lies some 4 km from any habitation. In the Late Iron Age, however, it was the setting of Bibracte, capital of the Aedui and one of the most important hillforts in Gaul.

The Aedui and their allies: When the Romans arrived in Gaul in the mid-1st century BC, the region was occupied by about 60 different tribes speaking Celtic languages. While politically autonomous, most were part of Late Iron Age, La Tène culture, and were linked to the Graeco-Roman sphere by economic and military alliances. Three of the most prominent tribes in central Gaul were the Sequani, the Arverni and the Aedui. As early as 125 BC, due to their strategic links with other Celtic tribes, the Aedui were given the prestigious title of "brothers of Rome" by the Roman senate. Aedui alliances with the Bituriges, the Helvetii (Swiss Celts who migrated eastward in 58 BC until stopped by Caesar),  and the Boïens (allies of the Helvetii), were supported by Rome to counterbalance the Arverni, a powerful tribe southwest of the Aedui.   Bibracte was declared by Caesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars to be the largest and richest of the Aeduan towns. At the time, the Aedui servred as middlemen in  trade between the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, as attested by numerous amphorae and other ceramics originating in various parts of the Roman Empire found at Aeduan sites. The Aedui minted their own coins between the 3rd century BC and 50 BC. At first using gold currency, by 120 BC they created a silver coinage aligned with the Roman denarius, facilitating commerce with Rome. Certain Aeduan silver coins can be identified by the inscriptions EDVIS and ORCETIRIX. After 50 BC, native coinages were restricted to local usage and Roman coins were employed for long-distance trade.  

 The Gallic Wars: In 61 BC, Diviciacus, a member of the Aeduan ruling class, was sent to Rome to ask for assistance against the Suebi, an invading Germanic tribe under the leadership of Ariovistus. While the Senate declined aid, three years later the proconsul Julius Caesar seized upon a similar incident to commence his operations in Gaul. The Helvetii, living north of Lake Geneva, had begun a mass migration across Gaul, burning their homes and extra supplies. Presuming that this migration threatened Roman interests in southern Gaul, Caesar undertook to turn them back. The final battle in the Helvetii campaign took place in 58 BC about 16 miles south of Bibracte, near Toulon-sur-Arroux.  

Later in the Gallic Wars, the Aedui renounced their long-term allegiance to Rome.  At this point, in 52 BC, Bibracte hosted the election of Vercingetorix, an Arverni nobleman, as leader of the combined Gallic armies. This Gallic resistance was eventually defeated by Caesar at the battle of Alésia. In 52-51 BC, just after the final battle with Vercingetorix, Caesar wintered at Bibracte and wrote the first volumes of his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, the most important written source on the region.   Generations after the defeat of Vercingetorix, Gallic resistance to the Romans flared up again. In AD 21 the Aeduan nobleman Sacrovir led a revolt against the Romans, protesting high taxes and the brutality of Roman governors. The Romans retaliated with the Second Legion and defeated the Gallic rebels. Sacrovir committed suicide.

The site of Bibracte: By its peak in the 1st century BC, Bibracte encompassed about 330 acres within a 5 km long rampart. This well-fortified site was typical in its organization of many other Celtic oppida throughout Europe. It fulfilled many of the political, religious, and economic functions of a large town. Different quarters of the settlement had specific functions, including residential, craft, religious, and necropolis areas (fig.1). The aristocratic residential quarter of the Parc aux Chevaux contained houses built in the Graeco-Roman style.   Within fifty years of the Roman conquest, the emperor Augustus, in his reorganization of Gaul, created a new, thoroughly Romanized capital for the Aedui. Sometime between 12 and 7 BC the entire population of Bibracte was moved by the Romans to a new city on the plain called Augustodunum (the modern Autun). Even after this dispersement, however, Bibracte was not entirely abandoned. A fair continued to be held there in honor of the goddess Bibracte, and horse-corrals and tradesmen's booths from the later, Roman period have been found. The re-use of a Gallo-Roman temple as a Christian oratory and still later a Franciscan convent bear witness to the long-term importance of the site.

Archaeology at Bibracte: The Celtic site of Bibracte was rediscovered in the late 19th century by Jacques-Gabriel Bulliot and Joseph Déchelette. Their investigations on Mont Beuvray between 1867-1907 definitely established the hill as the site of the oppidum or hillfort. Since 1984, the site has undergone a large international program of research, refining the site's interpretation, while uncovering part of the oppidum's ramparts, along with streets, public buildings, and residential and artisans' quarters including bronze, copper, iron and enamelmakers' workshops. Artifacts from Bibracte are on display at the newly created Musée de la Civilisation Celtique at the site.


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