(Alba) Ardèche, France.
The capital of the Helvii, in Gallia Narbonensis.
Their territory on the right bank of the Rhône corresponds almost exactly to the department of Ardèhe.
A Roman colony under Augustus, the Alba prospered
from the 1st c. until it was sacked by the Alemanni in
the 3d c. The city owed its prosperity to its location in
the fertile plain below the basalt massif of the Coiron,
which shields it on the N and makes it a rich wine-growing region; Pliny (HN 14.43
) mentions a local wine of
good repute. It was also important as a road junction:
three major roads go from Alba to Lugdunum, Nemausus, and Gergovia. A Christian community grew up there
in the 4th c.; it was the seat of the first five bishops, but
in the 5th c. the bishopric was transferred to Viviers. At
that time the city belonged to the Viennoise province.
The earliest of the principal monuments, excavated
1935-39 and from 1964 on, is a theater (65 m in diam.)
built under Augustus. It could hold 5000-6000 spectators.
The cavea, which is built against a hill, is edged by two
parallel semicircular walls; five entrances give access
from the top. Between the radiating walls piles of basalt
blocks supported the seats, which have nearly all disappeared. The orchestra level was recently determined
by the discovery of a number of stone slabs. The scena
has mostly disappeared, but the back wall of the stage
qas uncovered in 1968. On the W side of the two lower
qntrances are some unusual semicircular abutments. Behind the scena is a large monument, not yet identified; in
the Late Empire some little shops were put up against
its S wall.
At the spot known as La Planchette are some small
baths consisting of five adjacent rooms (apodyterium,
frigidarium, two tepidaria, caldarium) with apsidal and
kidney-shaped pools. A curious water system 150 m W
of the theater includes a principal main, one wall of which
has small openings in its upper section while the other
discharges at floor level into small, steeply sloping arched
channels. This arrangement made it possible to recover
the infiltrating water and use it for irrigation elsewhere.
The forum has been only partly uncovered. On a slight
rise 150 m NW of the theater, it is a huge esplanade
42.8 m wide, with porticos the back walls of which are
decorated with alternately rectangular and semicircular
exedras. The W side of the piazza is lined with shops and
to the N is a large monument (temple or curia?).
In the center of the city are two houses, separated by
a road running E-W. One of them has 13 rooms, seven
of them with mosaics; it is set in the middle of a peristyle
with an oblong pool. The cardo maximus has been
located for 150 m, and one section paved with massive
polygonal stone slabs has been uncovered. The sidewalks
are made of the same hard limestone blocks as the curbstones. The road crosses the city N-S and runs along
the W side of the forum. The forum and all other monuments excavated or located have the same orientation—Alba was laid out on a grid.
At the spot called Saint-Pierre, NW of the town, is a
monument built over two others. At the bottom level is a
Severan building with a portico 3.5 m wide, which has been
traced for over 23 m. It has a gutter on either side, and
runs around an esplanade with a large pool (10.75 x 7 m).
The portico opens onto some large rooms, many of them
with mosaic floors; according to two inscriptions citing
the presence at Alba of four corporations associated with
viticulture—the dendrophori, fabri, centonarii, and utriclarii—this may have been a building reserved for collegia, possibly a meeting-place for corporations. This
monument was destroyed at the end of the 3d c. In the
4th-5th c. an Early Christian group of buildings was
erected: a baptistery (?) approached by a corridor and a
small courtyard, both paved; adjacent to it and reached
by a long paved corridor, a central building (18 x 17 m)
which has a raised presbyterium with a flat chevet (martyrium?); and N of this monument and reached by the
same corridor, the cathedral with three aisles, the floor
crammed with tombs. These tombs are on two levels:
some are tile-covered tombs in the Roman tradition,
others are Merovingian sarcophagi, nearly all made of
reused material. Finally, a Romanesque chapel was added
in the 12th c. over the N part of the church.
A small museum is being set up to house the mosaics,
inscriptions, and other objects. Various finds are in the
British Museum, the Musée Calvet at Avignon, and in
C. Filhol, “Alba Helviorum,” Rhodania
1243 & 1245 (1927); F. Delarbre, Alba Augusta Helviorum
(1958); H. P. Eydoux, Lumières sur la Gaule
(1960) 295-306; M. Leglay, “Las fouilles d'Alba Augusta
Helviorum (Ardèche),” CRAI
(1964) 401-15; id., “Autour des corporations d'Alba,” BAntFr
id., “Informations,” Gallia
24 (1966) 522-25; 26 (1968)
596-99; id. & S. Tourrenc, “Le forum d'Alba Augusta
Helviorum,” Hommages à M. Renard
III, Coll. Latomus
103 (1969) 346-59PI
; id., “Alba Augusta Helviorum: un
curieux ouvrage hydraulique,” Hommage à F. Benoît
IV (1972) 131.