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An oppidum of the Bituriges Cubi and center of the W section of the territory of the civitas that formerly made up Bas-Berry and is now the department of Indre, Argentomagus gave its name to Argenton sur Creuse. However, as the city was transferred from one bank of the Creuse to the other at the end of the Classical period, the ancient site today has hardly been built on at all; the village of Saint Marcel occupies only the NW quarter of it, outside the Gallic rampart. It is the only ancient city in central France of which this is true, hence its exceptional archaeological importance.

Argentomagus lay at the junction of two important routes: N-S, from Cenabum (Orléans) to Augustoritum (Limoges); W-E, from Limonum (Poitiers) to Avaricum (Bourges). The Gallic oppidum was set up on the rlght bank of the Creuse, on the Plateau des Mersans, which is bounded to the S by the river valley and to the E and W by the valleys of two lesser tributaries. An earth vallum, still partly recognizable, barred access from the N.

Occupation of the Mersans plateau dates from the Neolithic age, as evidenced by flints found in deep strata. But as far as we now know, the settlement does not appear to have been established definitively before the 2d c. B.C., the date of the earliest stratified archaeological layers excavated in the center of the Mersans plateau, immediately W of the monumental fountain.

At that time the settlement consisted of huts made of light materials; their foundations, which sometimes were paved, can be recognized quite clearly. Scraps of smelting iron and crucibles attest the working of iron and gold, and there is evidence of vigorous commercial activity in the many coins that have been found, belonging not only to the Bituriges but to the Pictones, Lemovici, Carnutes, and Arverni, as well as some semi-oboles from Marseille and some denarii of the Roman Republic. After the Roman Conquest, which apparently inflicted no serious damage on the city, life seems to have gone on for a long time without much change. Indeed, in the area W of the fountain, there is evidence that huts made of light materials continued to be used throughout the pre-Claudian period, and the coinage is still almost exclusively Gallic. On the other hand, dumps excavated at various spots in the Mersans plateau, some dating from Augustus' reign, others from the Claudian era, contain not only local pottery—typified especially by long-necked white jugs, several of them bearing the name INDUTOLLA—but also terra sigillata from Arezzo or Lyon, and oil lamps. The most curious of these imported articles is a bronze amulet shaped like a purse and decorated with a miniature but very finely executed bust of a pharaoh, which was found in an Augustan stratum. A cavalryman's spearhead and the soles of a caliga studded with nails lead one to suppose that a military detachment passed this way, possibly at the time of the revolt of the Turones, in A.D. 21. Furthermore, osteological analyses provide information on the stock-farming and dietary habits of the citizens of Argentomagus, whose meat came mainly from the domestic pig.

A small Augustan cemetery lies directly N of the vallum, proving that at that time the settlement had not yet spread beyond the Gallic rampart. However, at the beginning of Augustus' reign a theater was erected outside the city limits, on the S slope of a hill overlooking the Creuse, W of the Mersans plateau. The fact that the monument was located so far from the city center is hard to explain, unless there was a sanctuary in the area that has not yet been found. This first theater, shaped like a horseshoe, was extremely rustic; the seats were set directly on the hillside slope. If there was a stage building, it has completely disappeared.

A number of public buildings were erected in the center of the city from the 1st c. on; these are now being excavated. There was a monumental fountain, consisting of a rectangular basin hollowed out to ca. 3 m below the ancient ground level. On all four sides of the pool are stone steps, which to the E and W form monumental staircases starting from the city ground level, but to the N and S stop at the foot of walls bounding the fountain area. The steps may have been used as seats, perhaps for people taking part in a ceremony of some sort, as well as for stairs. The chronology of the fountain, which was redesigned many times, is still uncertain. A very large overflow channel was built, probably in the late 1st or early 2d c., as a vaulted passageway 2 m high leading E. It is still intact and may be followed for more than 100 m.

The pool, however, was clearly already there before the underground channel was built because a drain-well has been found on its path, near the entrance, which drained off the water in the Augustan period, as the objects discovered there show. Among the most interesting of these are a miniature hexagonal bronze shield with a hanging ring, and a sword, also miniature. In the layers above the fountain more than 500 coins were found, the majority minted in the 3d c., mainly in the reign of Tetricus; also some coins with the heads of 2d c. emperors, and a few minted under the Constantinian dynasty. At this stage it is impossible to state that the coins represent offerings since most of them appear to have been thrown there when the basin had already been filled in. It would also be rash to say that the animal horns found in profusion in the basin itself and in the channel are ex-votos. Only one inscription has so far been found in the basin, a dedication Numini Augustorum et Minervae, which, however, may have come from another monument. Nor can we as yet identify the provenance of the columns and the Tuscan capital that were lying in the basin and on the steps. In spite of these uncertainties, we can now be sure that this was a sacred fountain of great religious importance and architectural originality.

During the 1970 excavations a sacred area consisting of two sanctuaries was identified ca. 100 m W of the fountain. The larger of these, E of the temenos, is a square fanum with a gallery around it. In its latest form (which, however, was destroyed) it apparently went back to a period no earlier than the 3d c. A.D., but this late sanctuary was built on the ruins of an earlier monument. An important series of religious sculptures was found here. The most unusual is a stone statuette whose geometric form recalls the wooden ex-votos found at the sources of the Seine and at Chamallières; it may possibly date from the 1st c. A.D. A statue of a god, crouching (the head is missing), it had an inscription on the base; only the word AUG can be made out today. Two damaged stone statues represented Apollo, draped and playing his lyre, and Venus (?), naked. There was also a head—somewhat unusual in a Gallic sanctuary—belonging to a statue of Serapis, and finally a life-size bull's head was found in the foundations of the 3d c. temple. Probably it was in this temple that two inscriptions, reused in a monument nearby, originated; this latter monument apparently was not religious in purpose. The texts of the inscriptions are practically identical: Numinibus Aug(ustorum duorum) et deo Mercurio Felici Q. Sergius Macrinus aedem d(ei?) nov(am) donavit v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito). Hitherto, the only known instances of the use of the epithet Felix for Mercury were on some coins of Postumus and on médaillons d'applique from the Rhône valley, contemporary with the Gallic emperors. G. Sergius Macrinus must have rebuilt the temple after it had been torn down, probably in the Germanic invasions of 259-260.

The 1970 excavations in the same area revealed a great E-W street and its open sewer with wooden culverts, as well as a number of complex buildings whose function is as yet undetermined.

The importance of the cult of Mercury at Argentomagus is confirmed 1) by an inscription reused in the facade of the church: (Deo Mercu) rio et de(ae) / . . . Aug(ustae) Ates/ . . . (Ae)liani (filius), 2) by a small statue, the lower part of which survives, representing the seated god accompanied by a goat; it was discovered in 1969 between the temples and the fountain. Also possibly associated with the cult are two images of the god crouching, found in 1969 and 1970 in a street and a garden in Saint Marcel. They may represent Mercury himself or his companion, Cernunnos.

The theater of Le Virou was completely rebuilt at the end of the 1st c. The enlarged building had a cavea with maeniana, the lowest resting directly on the ground, the second on a framework, the third supported by an embankment across which ran four vaulted vomitoria, and the fourth again resting on a frame. The horseshoe-shaped orchestra was reached by two open gates at either end of a straight rear wall decorated only by Tuscan pilasters. We know the date the theater was rebuilt from coins found in the earth bank supporting the third maenianum: two of them were minted in the last year of Nero's reign. The reconstruction should therefore be dated in the Flavian period, and this is confirmed by a study of the stonework—a core of mortared rubble faced with small stones, but as yet without courses of brick. Other changes were made later, the most important being the erection of a little rectangular stage building alongside the orchestra.

Some of the architectural features of this monument are reminiscent of theater-amphitheaters, particularly that at Sanxay. But the Virou theater, without a podium, could be used neither for venationes nor for gladiatorial combat, and Argentomagus already had an amphitheater (still relatively well preserved) at the NE edge of the settlement. Judging from its masonry, that monument must be contemporary with the second Virou theater.

In the 2d c. the settlement spread over all the Saint Marcel territory to the N and reached as far as the Creuse to the S. This expansion is marked to the NE by the amphitheater mentioned above and by a large unexplored monument known as Les Palais; in it was found a colossal head whose style shows certain Celtic characteristics. The great cemetery of the Champ de l'Image, which marks the N boundary of Argentomagus, has recently been excavated; it is a cremation necropolis, most of the tombs dating from the 2d c. and first half of the 3d. The ashes, in many cases those of children, are placed in glass or pottery urns, or often enclosed in wooden or stone caskets together with various kinds of offerings, including many statuettes of white Allier clay. The most noteworthy of these burials consist of an urn of imitation Lezoux ware made in Marcus Aurelius' reign; above it were six statuettes, arranged in a circle: three of Venus, two of horses, one of a mother goddess. Some of the tombs had carved stelai, only fragments of which have been found.

On the S side of the city, in what is now the Argenton suburb of Saint Étienne, were baths. They were destroyed in the 19th c. when the Argenton railroad station was built. Their plan was drawn, but is difficult to interpret; there is a pillar decorated with dense foliage in the Chateauroux museum, which dates from the first half of the 2d c. The N necropolis was beside the Limoges road, which crossed the Creuse over a bridge whose piles are still standing. From this necropolis come some funerary stelai and epitaphs preserved in the Chateauroux museum. And it was here that the cult of St. Étienne originated: a church (now secularized) was dedicated to him.

According to the Notitia Dignitatum, Argentomagus had state-owned workshops for making armaments; the site has not yet been located. Nor do we know in what period the Mersans site was abandoned. Nevertheless, it is certain that the site was not fortified at the end of the 3d c. Possibly at that time a fortress was built on the left bank of the Creuse, on the spur where the statue of La Bonne-Dame stands today; it must have been the forerunner of the Chateau d'Argenton, which was finally destroyed under Louis XIII. One of the towers of this castle still bears the name Tour d'Héracle, a link with the story of St. Marcellus. According to legend, Marcellus was a preacher who was beheaded during the Valerian persecution for destroying idols, on the order of the governor Heraclius. Quite possibly this tradition originated in the destruction of the Temple of Mercury (under Valerian, in fact) which G. Sergius Macrinus had sought to remedy.


E. Hubert, Le Bas-Berry, Histoire et Archéologie, 15ff; J. Allain et al., “Deux dépotoirs galloromains à Argentomagus,” Rev. Arch. du Centre 3 (1964) 341-56; “Un dépotoir augustéen à Argentomagus,” ibid. 5, 1 (1966) 3, 16; 5, 3 (1966) 195-219; J. Allain, “Argenton, Histoire dun site urbain,” Archeologia 23 (1968) 341ff; G. C. Picard, Gallia 24, 2 (1966) 248-53; Gallia 26, 2 (1968) 327-37; CRAI (1967) 30-42; CRAI (1969) 153-61.


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