Athena Review Vol.1, no.4

Sites and Museums in Roman Gaul: Saint-Raphaël

A small Mediterranean town at the foot of the Massif de l'Estérel, Saint-Raphaël today enjoys a reputation as a summer resort. The Museum is in the heart of the old Provencal village of San Rafeù, in a former presbytery rebuilt in 1782 next to the ancient Romanesque parish church of St. Pierre. It incorporated several sections of decorated Roman stonework. The first reference to the town under its present name came in the 11th century AD when the bishop of Fréjus mentioned the church in a communique to the monks of Lérins.

The Archaeological Museum (Musée Archéologique de St. Raphaël) contains compact, yet impressive exhibits on regional sites and artifacts from the Paleolithic, Neolithic- Chalcolithic, and Gallo-Roman periods. The most important of the local Paleolithic excavations were concentrated in the area of the Estérel Massif, with sites dating from 600,000 to 10,000 ago (BP). Stone tools from the earliest period made of rhyolite, a volcanic rock, have been excavated near a farm at Roussivau.  From the Upper Paleolithic, flint artifacts contemporary with the Périgordian type (ca. 25,000 BP) have been found at Gratadis. Both flint tools and faunal remains from these early periods are on display, along with a red painted hand silhouette (fig.1, left) from the EpiPaleolithic period (ca.10,000-8000 BP).

Dolmens found within the town itself have yielded dates of more than 4000 years BP, and other sites of the local Var region contain numerous dolmens and menhirs dating between 5000-3000 BP . Dolmens were stone funerary monuments, and burials within these tombs have yielded a variety of human remains and grave goods including ceramics, stone spearpoints, and jewelry. The dressed stone monoliths known as menhirs, on the other hand, are often found without burials or offerings. In the garden of the museum, there is a Gallo-Celtic menhir from Veyssières which is engraved with a human figure and a serpent. Bronze age burials are also represented, including several notable examples of skull trephanation as well as pottery and other grave goods. Several settlements of the Oxubii, the local Ligurian tribe, have also been located.

Gallo-Roman Exhibits: The museum's principal focus is its Gallo-Roman collection, mainly recovered from shipwrecks. After the founding of nearby Forum Julii (Fréjus), the Roman occupation of the surrounding area manifested itself in farms at Roussivau, Veyssières, and Suveret. At this point, Saint-Raphaël was a residential suburb of Fréjus, and due to its reputation for merrymaking, was known as Epulias ("Banquets"). A Roman villa has been found within the walls of the town, while several tombs have been discovered between the village and the sea. Four rare bronze pumps recovered from the Dramont D (1st century AD) wreck are on display. These pumps were used to empty the large storage vessels known as dolia. Anchor bases of various sizes from Roman-era shipwrecks are also exhibited (fig.2, right).

Inscriptions: Other fruits of the underwater archaeology include a display of maker's marks and stamps used to denote different Gallic, Italic and Spanish workshops where different types of amphorae were manufactured. A milestone from the cap Roux dated to 3 BC, displayed outside, attests to the fact that the coastal highway was developed during Augustus' reign.

Amphorae: On the ground floor of the museum, the Salle Fernand Benoit (named for the French archaeologist who originally worked with Jacques Cousteau) presents the typology of amphorae. These large, elongated ceramic containers, used throughout the ancient Mediterranean for transport and storage of liquids, begin with examples of the 5th-4th centuries BC from Greek Massalia (Marseille). Then follows a selection of Italian amphorae of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. Later examples of the 3rd century AD from Spain were used to store both olive oil and a fish sauce known as saumure. Also arranged on the wall of the display room are different examples of mortaria or mixing bowls used in preparing garum, another fish sauce widely traded in Gaul. The latest type of amphorae (5th century AD), from North Africa, are cylindrical with short necks and handles. An adjacent ground-floor room of the museum contains a superb collection of amphorae from the 1st century BC Dramont A shipwreck (fig.3, left).  Roman ships of this period measured 15-20 meters in length, and could carry up to 2000 amphorae (about 12,000 gallons of wine or oil).

The museum has a selection of other ceramics including household wares, tiles, pitchers, dishes, and lamps used by sailors. A terra sigillata bowl from a workshop in southern France is decorated with scenes of the wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of Rome. There is also a striking Saracen flask from the Middle Ages.

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