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OLBIA (L'Almanarre) Var, France.

Olbia (“the Fortunate”) is located near Hyères, 65 km from Marseille. According to ancient authors (Pseudo-Skymnos 215; Strab. 4.1.5 and 4.1.9; Ptol. 239.1; Steph. Byz. s.v.), it was one of four large fortified settlements established by Massilia on the Mediterranean coast E of the Rhône. Like Tauroention, Antipolis, and Nikaia, it was intended to contain the ascendancy of the Celto-Ligurian tribes of the confederation of the Salyes. It was founded at the end of the 4th c. B.C. and may have been taken by the Romans at the time of the siege of Marseille (49 B.C.). Later it was included within a larger built-up area. It is impossible, however, to affirm with certitude that this was the Pomponia mentioned by the Maritime Itinerary and by Pliny. The occupation seems to have lasted until the Early Christian period. In the Middle Ages the site was occupied by a monastery (12th to 15th c.).

The location of Olbia, for a long time not known for certain, was determined by the discovery on the site of a dedication to the Genius Viciniae Castellanae Olbiensium. Excavations have reconstructed the general features of the Greek settlement. The founding of Olbia is well dated stratigraphically to ca. 330-300 (there are no sherds earlier than the 4th c. B.C. and Etrusco-Campanian black-finish ware predominated). These years correspond to the economic renascence of Marseille. At this time the town was provided with a strong cyclopean rampart of large polygonal stones. This was later replaced, or perhaps supplemented, by a second enceinte of large ashlar (2d c. B.C.). From the beginning the town was organized according to a rigorous orthogonal plan: the ramparts form a square, 160 m on each side; the S flank is next to the seashore. It was defended by square towers (which are still in place on the N and W sides). The wall was pierced by gates of which the main one, to the E, led to the port.

The urban area was divided into quarters by two wide streets, one E-W 5 m wide, the other N-S 4 m wide. Streets parallel to these axes and 2.20 m wide delimited rectangular blocks 11 m wide (in other words, exactly five times the width of the streets). There are 36 blocks of dwellings in all, divided into nine series of four blocks each. The location corresponding to a last series along the W sector of the ramparts was reserved for a group of buildings arranged around an interior courtyard. It has only been partially cleared, but it may be supposed to be public, and probably religious, in character.

The blocks of dwellings and the streets include several Hellenistic levels. These more or less preserved the original city plan. There are many shops and private houses, carefully built of small ashlar, an intricate network of streets, a large square-sectioned well built in opus quadratum with sharp corners. But the most interesting building is a square monument, 5 m on each side, which leans directly on the N flank of the oldest rampart. Its nature has been revealed by a building block bearing the name of the goddess ἈΦΡΟΔΙΤΗΣ. Under the lowest floor there appeared well-aligned piles of terracotta cups, bases uppermost. Nearby, three lead plates were found which carry the inscriptions LVNAE, MERCVRIO, VENERI. A stone encased in a wall of the same block carries another Greek inscription: ΗΡΩΣ. It follows that this block is religious in function. Curiously, it contains installations which show that it was also used for crafts: rooms, basins, water channels. (Could purple have been manufactured under the patronage of the goddess?) Also to be noted is the inscription ΜΗΤΡΩΝ, of the 3d or 4th c. B.C., found on a milestone at the E gate.

The Roman stratum is placed on top of a destruction level dating to about the middle of the 1st c. B.C. The new built-up area overflowed the original enclosure and extended beyond the ramparts. The most important monument is a complete set of baths. Other remains have been noted at various localities, notably those of port installations on the modern beach of l'Almanarre.

Of the mediaeval level, remains can be seen of a chapel with an apse, a church and its sacristy, and a cemetery.


Forma Orbis Romani II: Var (1932); J. Coupry, “Les fouilles d'Olbia,” CRAI (19$); “Chronique des circonscriptions arch.,” Gallia (1965ff).


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