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VESO´NTIO

VESO´NTIO (Οὐισόντιον, Ptol. 2.9.21: Besançon), in Gallia, the chief city of the Sequani. The name occurs in Dio Cassius (38.34, 63.24),> where Reimarus has written Βεσοντίωνα for the MSS. reading Οὐεσοντίωνα, without any reason. In Ausonius (Gratiarum Act.) the form Visontio occurs, and he speaks of a “municipalis schola” in the place. The orthography of the word varied, as we might expect; and other forms occur in Ammianus. D'Anville says that the name is Vesant on a milestone which bears the name of Trajan, and was found at Mandeure [EPAMANDUODURUM in which article the name is incorrectly printed Vesont].

When Caesar (B.C. 58) was marching through the country of the Sequani towards the German king Ariovistus, he heard that the German was intending to occupy Vesontio, but Caesar got there before him (B. G. 1.38.) He describes the town as nearly surrounded by the Doubs [DUBIS], and he says that the part which was not surrounded by the river was only 600 Roman feet wide. This neck of land was filled by an eminence, the base of which on each side was washed by the river. There was a wall along. this neck of land, which made it a strong fortress, and the wall connected the heights with the town. Caesar's description is exact except as to the width of the neck of land, which D'Anville says is about 1500 Roman feet; and accordingly either Caesar was mistaken, or there is an error in his text in the numerals, which is always a possible thing. Vesontio when Caesar took it was well supplied with everything for war, and its position made it a strong place. Caesar set out from Vesontio to fight the German king, whom he defeated in the plain between the Vosges and the Rhine. The battle-field was only 5 miles from the Rhine (B. G. 1.53, in which passage the true reading is “milia pasuum ... circiter quinque,” not “quinquaginta.” ) In the winter of B.C. 58--57 Caesar quartered his men among the Sequani, and we may assume that Vesontio was one of the places where he fixed his troops.

Vesontio has been several times sacked and destroyed by Alemanni, by Huns, and others, It is a town built on the ruins of former towns. The ground has been raised above 20 feet, and where it has been dug into, Roman remains, medals, and other antiquities have been discovered.

The modern town of Besançon consists of two parts. The upper town, once called La Ville, is built on the peninsula, and the citadel stands on the steep [p. 2.1282]rock which Caesar describes as occupying the neck of land, where the river does not flow. The lower town is on the other side of the river opposite to the peninsula, with which it is connected by a stone bridge, the foundations of which are Roman.

There is a Roman triumphal arch with a single passage. The date of its construction does not appear. This arch which was nearly hidden by rubbish and buildings has been partially uncovered and restored within the present century. It is decorated with sculptures. There are some remains of the aqueduct which supplied Vesontio with water from a distant source. It was constructed of a soft stone. It terminated in the town in a vast reservoir of an oval form, which was covered by a roof supported by columns. The water was distributed from the reservoir all through the town: and in many parts of Besançon there have been found traces of the conduits which conveyed the water to the private houses. (Penny Cyclopaedia, art Besançon; Richard et Hocquart, Guide du Voyageur.)

[G.L]

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