previous next

AGATHA (Agde) Hérault, France.

Massalian trading post (Scymn. V. 208; Strab. 4.1.5-6; Plin. 3.33; Pompon. 2.5; Ptol. 2.10.2; Steph. Byz. s.v.) at the head of the delta of the Hérault on a low butte which has been inhabited continually since antiquity. It is a few km S of the important native oppidum of Bessan. While the Massaliots possessed several trading posts on the shores of Provence and the E coast of Spain, Agatha, which was founded in the 6th c. B.C. shortly after the installation of the Phokaians at Marseille, was the only town on the Gulf of Lion which was occupied by the Greeks in the pre-Roman period. There were several complementary motives for its foundation: a military one, raised by Strabo, for the protection of Greek commerce from barbarian incursions, and above all an economic reason. Agde, at the mouth of the coastal river which, with the Aude, is the most important of all Languedoc, was particularly well placed to serve as a way-station and intermediary between the Mediterranean lands and the interior of Gaul, including the Cévennes Massif, famous in antiquity for its mineral wealth. Agde was both a river and seaport, and played a commercial role of the first importance in the W Mediterranean, a role apparently maintained under the Romans, despite the fact that the town was some distance from the great highway of Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, which ran close to the neighboring city of Baeterrae (Béziers) and not far from the great port of Narbonne. In the 5th c. Agde became the center of a small diocese, and a council was held there in 506. Sporadic explorations during the last few decades have shown that the Greek town was situated on the highest (16 m) part of the site of the mediaeval and modern town. Aerial reconnaissance and study of the topography indicate that it was a true citadel, probably laid out in a checkerboard pattern measuring 200 m a side. This is very similar to the plan of Olbia in Provence and Emponon in Catalonia. It was surrounded by a rampart of which some vestiges probably remain. The few soundings which have been made confirm these observations. They have also led to the discovery of some interesting ceramics and three Greek inscriptions, the only ones so far discovered in Languedoc. The extent of the Roman town is uncertain, but appears to have been no greater than that of the Greek town. Under the Late Empire, two Early Christian funerary basilicas, St. André and St Sever, were established outside the walls, SW of the agglomeration.

The principal discoveries testifying to the commercial activity of Agde in antiquity have been made not in the town itself, but in the bed of the Héault and at sea off Cape Agde (brass and lead ingots, imported amphorae and ceramics, metal dishes, basalt millstones made near Agde). It was in the river bed at Agde that a magnificent bronze statue was discovered in 1964. It is 1.4 m high, and believed to be the portrait of a Hellenistic prince.

All the archaeological finds made at Agde, in the surrounding area, and at sea, are preserved in the local Archaeological Museum.


“Informations,” Gallia 6 (1948) 203; 7 (1950) 111; 20 (1962) 622; 22 (1964) 486-88I; 24 (1966) 462-64I; J. Jannoray, Ensérune. Contribution à l' étude des civilisations préromaines de la Gaule méri dionale (1955); M. Clavel, Béziers et son territoire dans l'Antiquité (1970).


hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Strabo, Geography, 4.1.5
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.4
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: