Athena Review Vol.1, no.4

Sites and Museums in Roman Gaul: Nice-Cimiez

A Greek stronghold was founded on the Colline du Château at Nice in the 4th century BC by Phocaeans from Marseille. Nice originally had the Greek name Nikaia Polis, or the town of victory (from Nike, victory, and Polis for city). The northern suburb of Cimiez where considerable Roman remains are located was known as Cemenelum. Ancient sources include the Peutinger Table and the Antonine Itinerary.

In the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, Cemenelum was a base of the Vediantii, a Ligurian tribe. In 154 BC Romans helped Massiliotes defend both Nikaia and Antipolis (Antibes) from Ligurian attacks, after which Cemenelum became a Roman settlement along the Via Julia, a major Roman road. Favorably located, Cemenelum was chosen as the principal seat of the province of Alpes Maritimae by Augustus in 14 BC. Later, the Romans settled further inland, on the opposite side of the river Paillon. Remains of the town on the Hill of Cimiez date to the 3rd century AD, and are now part of the archaeological park at Nice-Cimiez.

The Amphitheater at the northern end of the site was originally built of wood and seated only 500-600. It was later rebuilt in stone during the Severan dynasty (AD 193-217) with its capacity expanded to 5000 persons. The vaulted remains at Nice (fig.1) may be compared to other small amphitheaters in garrison towns in the Roman Empire including Caerleon and Caerwent in Wales, Carnuntum in Austria, and Emerita in Spain. Seating in the amphitheater reflected class distinctions between officers and enlisted men, with the structure at Nice-Cimiez divided into two sections reached by separate entrances.

[Fig.1: Roman amphitheater at north end of Nice-Cimiez archaeological park (photo: Athena Review).]

The Roman Bath Complex at Nice-Cimiez is the largest known in Gaul. First surveyed by Duval in 1943, the baths were excavated over the next 30 years by F. Benoit. During the Severan period the North or Magistrate's Bath (fig.2, left) was built, then expanded to include separate East (men's) and West (women's) bathing areas, the latter having large quantities of hair pins and earrings recovered from the drains. Bath areas identified for visitors include the cold bath (frigidarium), warm bath (tepidarium), sweat bath(laconicum), hot bath (caldarium), swimming pool (natatio), and court and exercise ground (palaestra).

[Fig.2: Frigidarium in Magistrate's Baths, Nice-Cimiez (photo: Athena Review).]

An Early Christian Basilica was erected in the 4th century AD out of remnants of the West or Women's Bath (fig.3). One room near the site of the archaeological museum served as a baptistry. By the mid 5th century AD, Cemenelum, like Nice, had its own bishop. Other Roman remains in the archaeological park include sections of the town's major roads, including the cardo and two identified decumani, and parts of a 1st century AD boundary wall possibly with an extension of the town aqueduct. The castellum or distribution tank of the aqueduct was located at the site of the Musée Matisse, featuring work of the major 20th century artist Henri Matisse.

[Fig.3: Early 4th century AD Christian Basilica in Nice-Cimiez Baths (photo: Athena Review.)

The Archaeological Museum, located at the west end of the Baths complex, displays a wide variety of artifacts from both the Bath site and the region of Nice-Cimiez.

Sculpture: Prominently featured is a1st century AD statue of Antonia Minor, daughter of Mark Antony and mother of the Emperor Claudius. Fine bronzes on display from the La Formigue "C" shipwreck (ca.80 BC) in the Golfe-Juan near Antibes include a bronze mask of Silenus, and curved fulcrums or couch fittings in the forms of a horse, donkey, and duck. Other bronze statuettes include a Hellenistic dancing faun, several figurines of Hercules, and the tiny, short-armed "Warrior of Mont Bego" from the Late Iron Age, shown among finely incised bronze bracelets.

Inscriptions include Roman milestones from the Via Julia between Cimiez and nearby Menton, on the French-Italian border. Also shown are an altar dedicated by the magistrate Lucius Blasius Cornutus; an altar inscribed to Jupiter, Best and Greatest (Jove O.M.); and a well-carved symbolic altar to Mercury with caduceus and rooster in relief, plus another inscription to the same god found in 1966.  Funerary monuments with inscribed texts include tombstones and several sarcophagi, with a fine example of a paleo-Christian sarcophagus of the 3rd century AD.

Artifacts and technology: Several examples of 5th-4th century BC Greek kraters are painted with mythological scenes. Nearby is a selection of amphorae with a chart outlining their typology. Household items include earthenware pots, bowls, cups and pitchers, and pottery lamps, with a double-beaked lamp showing the image of Jupiter and an eagle (fig.4). Terra sigillata, the fine paste, mold-decorated redware manufactured in Gaul during the 1st century AD, is also abundantly displayed. Glasswork includes Roman vials and other vessels, and decorated glass with horse designs and inscriptions. Ancient metalwork with a surprisingly familiar look is represented by an iron balance for hanging scales, hand tools (ie., chisels and knives), and an assortment of iron keys and lock parts, commonly found in ancient Roman towns.


[Fig.4: Gallo-Roman terracotta lamp of Jupiter and Eagle (Musée Arquéologique de Nice-Cimiez; photo: Athena Review).]

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