(Bourges) Cher, France.
chief city of the Bituriges Urbi at the time of the Gallic
wars, Avaricum gets its name from the Avara river
(modern Yèvre). The city stood on a hill 25 m high
and covering 26 ha at the heart of a complicated network of waterways: five rivers, the Yèvre, Yévrette,
Voiselle, Moulon, and Auron meet here. It was surrounded by wide stretches of marshlands, except to the
SE, where a sort of isthmus, 2 to 500 m wide today and
no doubt far narrower in antiquity, connected the hill
with terra firma. Avaricum was reputed to be the finest
city in Gaul, and its inhabitants refused to destroy it
when Caesar invaded the region in March 52 B.C. They
put their faith in their fortifications, a murus gallicus of
mixed stones and beams similar to that found in the
same tribe's territory at Chateaumeillant (Mediolanum
Biturigum); this type of fortification seems to have become widespread at the beginning of the 1st c. B.C. Caesar
set up camp on the isthmus, on the site of the modern
Place Séraucourt, 300 m S of the rampart. Vercingetorix
took up his first position 25.6 km NE of Avaricum, on
the Sancerre road; later he moved closer to the besieged
Gauls, easily communicating with them across the
marshes. After 27 days of siege the city was taken and
destroyed. No trace has been found of it and we know
nothing about its monuments, only that there was a public square in the city center, which Caesar calls a forum.
The history of Avaricum in the Roman period may be
traced stratigraphically thanks to excavations carried out
in 1964-65 near the surrounding wall built in the Late
Empire (see below) and around the site of the old church
of Notre Dame de Sales. Inside the wall five superimposed building strata were uncovered, ranging from
the Augustan period to the late 3d c. The buildings were
probably private houses, some of which retain their
During the Middle Empire the city was on the hill
where the Gallic town stood. Even today this section of
the city has extremely steep streets oriented more or less
according to the points of the compass. The Rue Moyenne, probably the old cardo inaxiinus, has remained
the principal artery; the Rue Porte Jaune runs parallel
to it on the E, and these two cardines are intersected by
three decumani, the farthest N of which corresponds to
the present Rue Coursalon.
In the basements of buildings between the Rue Moyenne and the cathedral can be seen the remains of a
large temple of the Antonine period, including fluted
Tuscan columns, elements of the stylobates and podium,
and fragments of the entablature (architraves, friezes,
In the 1st c. the W side of the hill underwent some
large-scale town planning at the point where the Argentomagus road, linking the Caesarodunuin-Cabillonuin route
to that from Limonum to Lugdunum, entered the city.
A N-S wall with a monumental gateway encircled the
foot of the hill. The gate opened onto a paved vestibule from which steps and ramps led to the upper city.
In the 2d c. the same area was redesigned on an even
more monumental scale. A series of alternately square
and semicircular vaulted chambers was built to support
the hillside; this complex, separated from the hill by a
drainage ditch 0.6 m wide and 5 m deep, was erected
in front of the 1st c. buildings, concealing them and making them unusable. The rooms are built of a core of
mortared rubble faced with small stones and banded
with brick. The facade consisted of arcades built of large
blocks of stone, supported by piers with engaged Tuscan
columns as well as fluted and cabled columns. This
facade probably extended on either side of a monumental fountain cut in the rock, a rectangular basin set in
the middle of a paved area with cippi standing on it.
The arrangement follows the formulas for building on
hills that had been perfected in the 2d c. B.C., notably
at Praeneste, and used in Imperial times, for instance at
These buildings were in turn ringed by the Late Empire rampart, and the whole complex served as a basis
for the palace of Duke Jean de Berry. When the cellars
of this palace, underneath some modern houses, were
explored in 1860 the remains described above, which are
still accessible today, were uncovered.
Avaricum's amphitheater stood NW of the city on the
site of the present-day Place de la Nation, which has
very nearly retained the elliptical plan. It was still sufficiently well preserved at the beginning of the 16th c. to
be used for theatrical productions.
The course of an aqueduct has also been located: it
came into the city from the E, N of the cathedral, and
continued up to the city center.
Avaricum's prosperity in the 2d and 3d c. is attested
by funerary monuments. An entablature fragment from
a large circular mausoleum discovered near the Porte de
Lyon is now in the museum; it had been reused in the
lowest layers of the rampart, and has a frieze with carvings of tritons above a richly decorated cornice. A number of funerary cippi have been unearthed at various
points in the city. The earliest ones are without sculptural decoration. From the second half of the 2d c. on,
rectangular cippi appear, made in imitation of a mausoleum with a gabled roof with acroteria. On the front a
niche framed by piers with carved foliage holds the image
of the deceased; his epitaph is engraved on the archivolt.
Some of these carved figures, either full- or half-length,
are good portraits in the so-called realist style of the
middle of the 3d c. Others give a very lively picture of
the activities of the deceased; one of the most remarkable and most recently discovered shows a rich man sitting jealously on his coffers.
Ravaged by the invasions of 256 and 257, Avaricum,
like most of the cities of Gaul, was forced to build a
rampart; its course has been located with certainty and
important fragments are still standing. The area it protected was more or less the same as in the Gallic city
(26 ha), which makes it one of the largest castra in Gaul,
surpassed only by Rheiins, Sens, Poitiers, and Bordeaux.
The total length of the rampart is 1830 m, and it had
46 towers. The foundations are made of courses of large
blocks, often taken from earlier buildings; the rampart
itself has a core of mortared rubble faced with small
stones and banded with brick. Two coins of Tetricus
found beneath the foundation date the construction in
the last quarter of the 3d c. The section best preserved
today is to the SE, in the area of the old church NW of
Sales. Another important portion constitutes the foundation for the palace of Jacques Coeur, to the NW.
C. Jullian, Histoire de la Gaule
(1908-55) III, 441ff; A. Grenier, Manuel d'archéologie gallo-romaine
I, 1 (1931) Travaux militaires, 415; H. P. Eydoux, Réalites et enigmes de l'archéologie
, 271-304; C. Picard, Gallia
17, 2 (1959) 293; 19, 2 (1961) 311-14; J. Favière, La vie gallo-romaine au Musée de Bourges
(1961); G. C. Picard, Gallia
24, 2 (1966) 242-47.
G. C. PICARD