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CASSINOMAGUS (Chassenon) Charente, France.

This commune is crossed by the D 29 road. The present village replaced the Cassinomagus of antiquity, which is mentioned in the Peutinger Table; it grew up beside the great Gallo-Roman monuments that had remained intact, and especially outside what we now know to have been a sacred area, although no texts or inscriptions have come down to us giving precise information. It measured ca. 600 m E-W, ca. 350 m N-S. The wall around this sacred area is still standing to the N and S; the latter section is 450 m long and 2 m high at certain points. Inside the wall were those elements necessary in a rural sanctuary, probably Celtic in tradition:

1. To the W: a temple, known locally as Montélu. Only its cella seems to have been excavated; we have a report dated 1844-48, and from a careful study of the remains of the monument it appears to be scientific and accurate. The author points out that “the plan of this curious building is an octagon forming a huge gallery that is reached by four ramps placed at the four cardinal points. . . . In the middle of the octagon is the cella; its wall is round inside and octagonal outside.”

2. To the NW: an amphitheater that was badly and incompletely excavated over a century ago and which has unfortunately been used as a quarry. The 1844-48 archaeologist noted that “the plan is elliptical” and that “the great diameter of the arena is 60 m, the small one 40 in.”

3. To the E: two small buildings, carelessly excavated in the past, possibly fana.

4. Equidistant (230 m) from the great temple (Montélu) and the two little fana (?), the baths, which remain nearly complete.

5. More or less in the middle, a huge esplanade or forum, probably a meeting-place for the pilgrims who came to take the waters.

Since 1958 work has gone forward on the baths, both to expose and to salvage them. Some of the walls still stand 9 m above the bed of the aqueducts, of which there is a whole network in the basements. They are double, public bath buildings, with matching rooms on either side of a central axis. Among them are the functional rooms, which are perfectly designed for their intended purposes; the furnaces, for heating by the hypocaust system; the cold pool, with its floor and facings of white marble; and part of the great swimming pool, several dozen meters long.

Vaulted and dark underground rooms occupy the greater part of the lower floor. There are ca. 20 Roman vaults, still showing traces of the planks upon which they were formed. Some of the vaults of these cellars held up the lower floor of the hypocausts, and higher ones supported the floors of the cold rooms, making it possible to pass on one level from the hot to the cold rooms. But the underground rooms clearly had another function, one that was dictated by the circulation of water, the principal element of the sanctuary. The passages linking the rooms are not only narrow and sloping, which Vitruvius recommended as the best way to decant water, but they are staggered so as to break the flow and force the impurities in the water to settle to the maximum extent. Moreover, the layer of mud, 0.8 m thick on the average, that reached the level of the aqueducts in these underground rooms confirms that water circulated in them.

The Musée de Rochechouart (Haute-Vienne) houses the finds made at Chassenon at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th c.


J.-H. Michon, Statistique monumentale de la Charente (1844) 175-92; J.-H. Moreau, Recueil de textes sur les ruines gallo-romaines de Chassenon (1958); id., Comptes rendus annuels de fouilles et recherches à Chassenon (11 have been published so far); id., Description et essai d'explication d'un ensemble gallo-romain unique en France; H-P. Eydoux, Resurrection de la Gaule (1961) 251-78; M. Vauthey et al., “A propos de certaines figurines en terre blanche: ex-voto thermal répresentant un homme le bras gauche en écharpe” (found at Chassenon), Revue Archeologique du Centre (1967) 59-65.


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