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BAGACUM (Bavai or Bavay) Nord, France.

City in the Belgica province of Gaul. Although its typically Celtic name was taken from a Gallic settlement the location of which is unknown, the city of Bagacum was a Roman creation. Searching the territory of the civitas of the Nervii for a suitable site for a capital city, the Romans chose a position overlooking strategic routes (from Tongres and Trèves on the one hand, from Cambrai and Tournai on the other); they also selected a convenient, healthy spot—the summit of a hill sloping down to the Bavai stream.

The first piece of chronological evidence is a dedication to Tiberius (A.D. 4). The city flourished from the 1st c. on, as evidenced by finds made to the S (Arretine ware) and traces of a monumental development in the city center. The construction of this huge complex, which may have been accompanied by a general reorganization of the city plan, can be dated from the 2d c., the period of the city's greatest vitality. That Bagacum was a victim of the invasions of the mid-3d c. is indicated by the very recent discovery of a large quantity of bronzes buried in haste (statuettes, handles of chests, etc.). Only a narrow urban area (4 ha) was rebuilt and walled: from that time on, Bavai was merely a fortress of minor importance; not mentioned in the later texts, it disappeared at the beginning of the 5th c.

The Roman remains make it clear that under the Empire the city covered the same area as the mediaeval city and at some points spread beyond it. Some remains of Roman structures appear outside the mediaeval embankment, to the W along the modern road to Valenciennes and E on the road to Maubeuge. To the SW, still outside the mediaeval limits, a whole series of sand-pits were worked, and this apparently gave rise to a kind of industrial suburb with a number of potter's furnaces and some fairly rich houses. These various remains, the evidence of the roads (curving as they near the settlement), and the position of certain tombs (tomb of Julia Feticula to the S, next to a vault with niches decorated with painted stuccos) indicate the approximate boundaries of the inhabited area. Bagacum extended ca. 700 m E-W and 600-650 m N-S, a total area of ca. 40-45 ha; it remained a small city and did not experience the economic expansion of Amiens. Judging from the arrangement of some of the streets that have been traced (especially the Rue des Gommeries), from that of the sewers which run parallel below ground, and from the alignment of many remains of houses, the city appears to have been designed on an orthogonal plan. Several groups of houses have been found (Rue de Valenciennes, Rue des Gommeries), some of which are fairly rich (rooms with hypocausts, mosaic floors, wall paintings, and stuccos), and an industrial quarter with poor homes S of the great complex. There is evidence of public monuments at several points: a temple was discovered in 1722 at Le Bisoir, an area unknown today but probably situated to the S; several dedications show that the wealthiest citizens of Bavai contributed their denarii to the building of useful works (for example, public scales); remains of hypocausts and mosaics have located the public baths close to the church. The water supply came from the Floursies springs by a system of aqueducts.

But most important was the large complex in the city center, which has been systematically excavated since 1942. it consists of a double forum, designed for political and commercial purposes, 95 m N-S and ca. 230 m E-W. East of it stands a building with a central nave (16 x 66 m) and two side naves (6 x 78 m), against which on three sides (N, E, and S) were built wide, deep shops. This huge monument was a basilica, originally dating from the 1st c. A.D. West of the basilica is a square, paved with blue stone and lined to N and S with a double row of shops opening on the square and street. Probably separated from this square by a N-S road is another square, extending farther W; it is edged on the other three sides (N, S, and W, each 60 m long) with a great portico the pillars of which supported a wooden frame. The N and S galleries that form the two ends of this horseshoe-shaped structure terminate to the W in an apse; the W gallery leads, through a vestibule flanked by two rectangular rooms, to a large hall (23 x 25 m); in the middle of the W wall is a flattened apse. The purpose of this last complex is hard to determine: is it a curia or perhaps some development connected with the cult of emperors.

Below the portico is a cryptoporticus, identical in plan: it has three galleries similar in arrangement and dimensions to those on the ground level, but differing in that the N and S galleries are interrupted at regular intervals by four barrel-vaulted enlargements. Covering the whole of the cryptoporticus is a groined vault supported by strong piers. To the W is a large rectangular room laid out like the one at ground level; originally it had a ceiling supported by beams, but after a fire it was split up into three vaulted naves. The function of this substructure remains uncertain; the paintings with which all the stonework was decorated seem to rule out mere cellars, which has sometimes been suggested. More likely the complex is a better protected continuation of the forum, a cryptoforum, perhaps with quarters for the collegia of artisans. Finally, in the middle of the square, with the portico galleries around it, is a foundation block 2 m high, 20 m wide, and 32 m long. A foundation of this kind and in this spot could only be that of a temple, and a large one at that; the frieze fragments and capitals discovered in the excavations probably come from it.

The city was ravaged by the 3d c. invasions, and both public and private buildings provided the materials for a double surrounding wall: the first, built hurriedly at the end of the 3d c., was followed by one more solid in the period of Diocletian and Constantine. This rampart, which enclosed the monumental complex of the Empire, took the somewhat unusual form of a very long rectangle (100 m N-S, 400 m E-W); it was divided by a N-S wall into twin castella, that to the W being the larger and stronger. The area of the city inside the wall was very small, ca. 4 ha. Thus Bagacum in the Late Empire was not only a walled city but a veritable fortress.

The large quantity of pottery and bronzes proves beyond doubt that this was a local production center (especially so-called Bavai vases). A museum is being established which will house all local finds.


H. Biévelet, “L'Exploration archéologique de Bavai,” Gallia (1944); E. Will, Bavai, cité gallo-romaine (1957); id., “Les enceintes du Bas-Empire a Bavai,” Revue du Nord 44 (1962) 391-401; id., “Recherches sur le développement urbain sous l'empire romain dans le nord de la France,” Gallia 20 (1962) 79-101; Gallia, periodic reports of the excavations.


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