(Baitera) Dept. Hérault, Béziers, France.
Situated in the place where the Herculean Way
crosses the Orb river, Béziers has been inhabited at least
since 750-650 B.C. Its pre-Roman name of Besara is attested in an account of a journey to Marseilles made by
Festus Avienus in the 6th c. Black- and red-figure Attic
pottery has been found there, besides some Campanian
pottery, which shows old and lasting commercial ties with
Marseilles, through Agde, 22 km SW of Béziers. Its people, at first Iberian, came little by little under Celtic influence. Starting from about 250-230, the city comprised
part of the territory of the Volcae Tectosages.
Conquered by the Romans at the time of the annexation of Transalpine Gaul, it was at first a city of those
indigenous to the region, and issued bronze coins in the
names of the Longostaletes, a Volcian tribe, of Gallic
chiefs or chiefs of Bétarratis. In 36-35 a Roman colony
was founded there for veterans of the Legio VII, Colonia
Urbs Julia Baeterrae Septimanorum, whose citizens were
numbered in the tribe Pupinia. The city, which commanded a rather large and prosperous region, experienced
remarkable growth under Augustus because of special ties
established with the family of the local ruler. These bonds
are shown in the patronage C. Caesar bestowed on
him and by the early appearance of the imperial cult. Its
prosperity, which lasted throughout the Early Empire,
was founded on profitable farming of the rich land (the
wine amphorae of Béziers were known at Monte Testaccio in Rome in the 2d c.), on the working of copper and
lead mines of the outlying regions, on trade encouraged
by an important network of roads of which it was the
center, and by the nearness of the ports Agde and Narbonne. Ravaged by the invasions of 276, it erected fortifications for the first time at the end of the 3d c. It was
from the time of Diocletian onward one of the five cities
of the first Narbonensis. Christianity appeared toward the
middle of the 3d c., and expanded so much that a synod
was held there in 356. It was overtaken by waves of
Vandals and Alans (406-9), and then conquered in 412-13 by the Visigoths, who held it for three centuries, until
the Arab conquest of Anbasa ibn Suhayn.
Béziers was an acropolis, well defended by nature. It
was a secure city according to Strabo (4.1.6
). The Romans had some trouble establishing a uniform grid,
whose orientation, NW-SE, is clear, however, in ancient
maps and also today in aerial photographs. The NE quarter, however, is arranged around an oblique axis, which
is the same as that of the road from Pézenas and of the
start of the aqueduct, 30 km long, which brought water
from higher reaches, from the Libron and the Lenne. The
route of Domitian ran along the edge of the city below
and crossed the river by a bridge some of whose structure
the present Pont Vieux preserves.
The forum (77 x 129 m) is off-center in relation to
the cardo maximus which borders it at the E whereas the
decumanus maximus ends in the middle of its largest
side. From the rather inconclusive diggings which have
been done there, and from some of the finds (a colossal
head of Jupiter; a colossal statue of Apollo mentioned in
the 17th c. description of A. de Rulman; a head of Hercules preserved in the same area; a series of portraits
from the beginning of the 1st c.), one can presumably
locate a Doric portico, the Temples of Jupiter, Apollo,
and Bacchus, a sanctuary of the imperial cult; and a
market where an inscription from Severian times mentions improvements.
From a municipal arch there remains a certain number of sculptured pieces (friezes of arms, quoins, and
decorated with military motifs). it seems
to have been an arch with a flat top (like that of the
Gavii at Verona), and was constructed in the Augustan
era at the W edge of the city where the decumanus maximus ends in a terrace overhanging the Orb (the site of
the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire). in the same area the
Temple of Bacchus is assumed to be located, from the
discovery there of a head of the god and a statue of
A sanctuary of indigenous gods has been identified at
the edge of the city, on the far side of the route of Domitian, the present Plateau des poètes. it includes votives to
some Celtic deities (the Mothers, the Menmandutiae and
Ricoria, and Dioskouroi, the Digines) and a Mars in a
clearly autochthonic style.
The amphitheater rises beyond the route of Domitian,
next to the hill Saint-Jacques. The remains are very few;
however, they do allow one to recognize rather modest
dimensions (74 x 103, 60 m) and the plan of its construction (an oval formed by successive arcs of circles). it
seems to go back to the first part of the 1st c. A.D. The
aerial photograph shows a theater 35 to 40 m in diameter next to the amphitheater.
The fortification of the end of the 3d c. has a perimeter of ca. 1570 m. Four sectors are still visible. The
wall is made of two ashlar facings without mortar joined
together by rubble, and rises from a large foundation
showing scattered fragments of reused stone. Some round
towers, constructed also of medium-sized ashlar fortified
it: two were still visible in the 17th c., as were the gates,
which have also disappeared.
Béziers has left a large number of Latin inscriptions.
Among the most noteworthy pieces of sculpture are a
statue of Augustus now called Augustus Pépézuc, and the
series of busts of the imperial family already mentioned
(now in the Museum Saint-Raymond in Toulouse) representing Augustus and Livia, Octavia, Agrippa and L.
Caesar, Tiberius and Drusus the Younger, Germanicus
and Antonia the Younger. This group, which dates from
the last years of the reign of Augustus seems to have been
erected by a citizen, L. Aponius, produumvir of C.
Caesar in his country and linked closely to the family of
Augustus. Also worthy of attention are a fine marble
torso of Venus, some funerary statues, corresponding to
the customs and tastes of different social classes, in general remarkable for their restraint, a beautiful intaglio
showing the three-horned bull of the Celts, some geometric mosaics, much Roman pottery. There is little
evidence of early Christianity except some tombs grouped
ad sanctos around the church dedicated to St. Aphrodise,
the first bishop of Béziers, and a fine sarcophagus of the
school of Aquitaine in the same church.
Two museums in Béziers itself preserve the antiquities:
le Musée du Vieux Biterrois and le Musé épigraphique,
in the cathedral cloister.
Bull. Soc. arch. de Béziers
; L. Noguier, Béziers colonie romaine
Dardé et J. Sournies, L'histoire de Béziers racontée par ses pierres
; M. Clavel, Béziers et son territoire dans l'Antiquité