previous next

BAETERRAE (Baitera) Dept. Hérault, Béziers, France.

Situated in the place where the Herculean Way crosses the Orb river, Béziers has been inhabited at least since 750-650 B.C. Its pre-Roman name of Besara is attested in an account of a journey to Marseilles made by Festus Avienus in the 6th c. Black- and red-figure Attic pottery has been found there, besides some Campanian pottery, which shows old and lasting commercial ties with Marseilles, through Agde, 22 km SW of Béziers. Its people, at first Iberian, came little by little under Celtic influence. Starting from about 250-230, the city comprised part of the territory of the Volcae Tectosages.

Conquered by the Romans at the time of the annexation of Transalpine Gaul, it was at first a city of those indigenous to the region, and issued bronze coins in the names of the Longostaletes, a Volcian tribe, of Gallic chiefs or chiefs of Bétarratis. In 36-35 a Roman colony was founded there for veterans of the Legio VII, Colonia Urbs Julia Baeterrae Septimanorum, whose citizens were numbered in the tribe Pupinia. The city, which commanded a rather large and prosperous region, experienced remarkable growth under Augustus because of special ties established with the family of the local ruler. These bonds are shown in the patronage C. Caesar bestowed on him and by the early appearance of the imperial cult. Its prosperity, which lasted throughout the Early Empire, was founded on profitable farming of the rich land (the wine amphorae of Béziers were known at Monte Testaccio in Rome in the 2d c.), on the working of copper and lead mines of the outlying regions, on trade encouraged by an important network of roads of which it was the center, and by the nearness of the ports Agde and Narbonne. Ravaged by the invasions of 276, it erected fortifications for the first time at the end of the 3d c. It was from the time of Diocletian onward one of the five cities of the first Narbonensis. Christianity appeared toward the middle of the 3d c., and expanded so much that a synod was held there in 356. It was overtaken by waves of Vandals and Alans (406-9), and then conquered in 412-13 by the Visigoths, who held it for three centuries, until the Arab conquest of Anbasa ibn Suhayn.

Béziers was an acropolis, well defended by nature. It was a secure city according to Strabo (4.1.6). The Romans had some trouble establishing a uniform grid, whose orientation, NW-SE, is clear, however, in ancient maps and also today in aerial photographs. The NE quarter, however, is arranged around an oblique axis, which is the same as that of the road from Pézenas and of the start of the aqueduct, 30 km long, which brought water from higher reaches, from the Libron and the Lenne. The route of Domitian ran along the edge of the city below and crossed the river by a bridge some of whose structure the present Pont Vieux preserves.

The forum (77 x 129 m) is off-center in relation to the cardo maximus which borders it at the E whereas the decumanus maximus ends in the middle of its largest side. From the rather inconclusive diggings which have been done there, and from some of the finds (a colossal head of Jupiter; a colossal statue of Apollo mentioned in the 17th c. description of A. de Rulman; a head of Hercules preserved in the same area; a series of portraits from the beginning of the 1st c.), one can presumably locate a Doric portico, the Temples of Jupiter, Apollo, and Bacchus, a sanctuary of the imperial cult; and a market where an inscription from Severian times mentions improvements.

From a municipal arch there remains a certain number of sculptured pieces (friezes of arms, quoins, and paneled arches decorated with military motifs). it seems to have been an arch with a flat top (like that of the Gavii at Verona), and was constructed in the Augustan era at the W edge of the city where the decumanus maximus ends in a terrace overhanging the Orb (the site of the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire). in the same area the Temple of Bacchus is assumed to be located, from the discovery there of a head of the god and a statue of a satyr.

A sanctuary of indigenous gods has been identified at the edge of the city, on the far side of the route of Domitian, the present Plateau des poètes. it includes votives to some Celtic deities (the Mothers, the Menmandutiae and Ricoria, and Dioskouroi, the Digines) and a Mars in a clearly autochthonic style.

The amphitheater rises beyond the route of Domitian, next to the hill Saint-Jacques. The remains are very few; however, they do allow one to recognize rather modest dimensions (74 x 103, 60 m) and the plan of its construction (an oval formed by successive arcs of circles). it seems to go back to the first part of the 1st c. A.D. The aerial photograph shows a theater 35 to 40 m in diameter next to the amphitheater.

The fortification of the end of the 3d c. has a perimeter of ca. 1570 m. Four sectors are still visible. The wall is made of two ashlar facings without mortar joined together by rubble, and rises from a large foundation showing scattered fragments of reused stone. Some round towers, constructed also of medium-sized ashlar fortified it: two were still visible in the 17th c., as were the gates, which have also disappeared.

Béziers has left a large number of Latin inscriptions. Among the most noteworthy pieces of sculpture are a statue of Augustus now called Augustus Pépézuc, and the series of busts of the imperial family already mentioned (now in the Museum Saint-Raymond in Toulouse) representing Augustus and Livia, Octavia, Agrippa and L. Caesar, Tiberius and Drusus the Younger, Germanicus and Antonia the Younger. This group, which dates from the last years of the reign of Augustus seems to have been erected by a citizen, L. Aponius, produumvir of C. Caesar in his country and linked closely to the family of Augustus. Also worthy of attention are a fine marble torso of Venus, some funerary statues, corresponding to the customs and tastes of different social classes, in general remarkable for their restraint, a beautiful intaglio showing the three-horned bull of the Celts, some geometric mosaics, much Roman pottery. There is little evidence of early Christianity except some tombs grouped ad sanctos around the church dedicated to St. Aphrodise, the first bishop of Béziers, and a fine sarcophagus of the school of Aquitaine in the same church.

Two museums in Béziers itself preserve the antiquities: le Musée du Vieux Biterrois and le Musé épigraphique, in the cathedral cloister.


Bull. Soc. arch. de Béziers (1836 et seq)I; L. Noguier, Béziers colonie romaine (1883); J. Dardé et J. Sournies, L'histoire de Béziers racontée par ses pierres (1912)I; M. Clavel, Béziers et son territoire dans l'Antiquité (1970)MPI.


hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: