previous next

MASSALIA or Massilia (Marseille) Bouches-du-Rhône, France.

Situated on the coast, E of the Rhône delta, Massalia was founded in 600 B.C. by Greek colonists from Phokaia, in Asia Minor. The marriage between Phokis, leader of the Greeks, and Gyptis, the daughter of the Ligurian king Nannus, sealed the agreement that made the settlement possible.

A favored base for the trade in rare metals, the city rapidly grew prosperous, and set up outposts in Spain (Ampurias, Hemeroskopion, Mainake), Languedoc (Agde), on the Ligurian coast (Monaco, Antibes), and in Corsica (Aléria). Becoming perhaps less prosperous in the 5th c. owing to the expansion of Carthage, it flourished once again after Pytheas' exploration of the British Isles and the Baltic (end of the 4th c.). In the Hellenistic period Massalia supported Rome against the Barcides and increased its territorial domain with the help of the Roman generals. It fortified Saint-Blaise and created a trading post at Olbia. Independent until the 1st c. A.D., Massalia was governed by a body of 600 councillors, and strict laws in the Ionian tradition. The city also kept its original religion with the cults of Artemis of the Ephesians, Apollo Delphinios, Kybele, and Leukothea, and ancient festivals such as the Anthesteria and Thargelia. Silver and bronze coins were struck with the effigies of Artemis and Apollo. In 49 B.C., after siding with Pompey, Massalia was besieged and forced to open its gates to Caesar and his lieutenant, Trebonius; yet under Roman rule it remained relatively independent. Christianized fairly early, the city preserved its Greek language until the 5th c. A.D., and remained an active cultural and commercial center.

The ancient city was N of the Lacydon (the Old Port); it straddled the rocky spur that now borders on the Eglise St. Laurent and the Hôtel-Dieu. Strabo (4.1.2) writes that the temples of Artemis and Apollo stood on this ridge. Several traces of archaic occupation have been located: at the Eglise de la Major; at the Fort St. Jean, where many sherds of Attic, Corinthian, Aiolian, and East Greek wares have been found under the 18th c. embankments. The earliest of these date from the period when the city was founded. After WW II an ancient theater in the Greek style, a few tiers of which are still standing, was found S of the Old Port, and a dock area of the Roman period with dolia still lodged in the ground (Musée des Docks Romains). A Sanctuary of Kybele has been located: some 40 stelai—archaic naiskoi with the effigy of the seated goddess—were found in the old Rue Négrel.

A fortified rampart encircled the city, passing around the Butte des Carmes to the E, from behind the Old Port to the S to the bay of La Joliette to the NW. Excavations near the Bourse confirmed this line, at least for the period from the 3d c. B.C. on, and Caesar (BCiv.) and Lucan (Pharsalia) describe such a rampart.

The necropoleis lay outside the city walls, S of the Old Port (excavations at the careening basin and lighthouse), E of the city (Rue du Tapis Vert), and along the ancient road leading N to Aix.

The principal remains now visible are on the Bourse site. To the E and S the tongue of land on which the ancient port stood has been excavated, together with a sturdy quay made of squared stones that still show the line of the ancient water level. This construction apparently dates from the 1st c. B.C. Near the quay to the S are the foundations of a warehouse from the 2d c. A.D., a huge shed with interior pillars. The bases of dolia that were stored there have been found in situ. Near the tip of this tongue of land was found a large square basin made of ashlar dating from the 1st c. A.D. It collected water for the ships; this came from a nearby spring, perhaps the spring which gave the Lacydon its name. The Rome road ended N of the basin; one of its milestones has been found.

This road entered the city on the axis of the present-day Grande Rue, through a gate flanked by two square towers. Only the foundations of one tower remain, but the other still retains part of its facade. Between the towers were, first, the axial gate, then, toward the city, two identical gates. The line follows that of a road paved with hard Cassis stone in the Roman period, which bears the marks of chariot wheels.

Both the gate and the towers probably date from the 2d c. A.D. The fortification adjoining at this point was built in the same period and of the same pink stone from Cap Couronne. To the S, near the present-day Palais de la Bourse, can be seen some curtain walls (now worn down, although their plan is still discernible) and the S tower (the best preserved of the towers) where one can still see the loop-holes from which catapults were fired. To the N near what is now the Butte des Carmes are some curtain walls with several embrasures and a well-preserved bastion. Its facing was erroneously called Crinas' wall. At the base of this wall can be seen the trademarks of the Greek contractors who delivered the stone.

In front of this fortification, in the S section, is the broken line of a forewall partly built of reused blocks; most of it was erected in the Late Empire. Behind the fortification, on the other hand, can be seen the remains of some white limestone foundations belonging to an earlier Hellenistic structure; they are now buried in the embankment.

Some remains have been found S of the city, at the Abbaye de Saint Victor. The mediaeval buildings were superimposed on a quarry of the Hellenistic period, and on an ancient monument, a necropolis, and some Early Christian churches. These last remains can be seen in the crypt of the modern church, along with some carved sarcophagi from the 4th and 5th c. A.D. which were found in situ.

Most of the archeological finds made before 1967 are housed in the Musée Borély in Marseille.


Grosson, Receuil des antiquités et monuments marseillais qui peuvent intéresser l'histoire et les arts (1773); W. Froehner, Catalogue des antiquités grecques et romaines du Musée de Marseille (1897); C. Jullian, Histoire de la Gaule I-III (1908); G. Vasseur, “L'origine de Marseille,” Annales du Musée d'Histoire naturelle de Marseille dans l'Antiquité 13 (1914); M. Clerc, Massalia, Histoire de Marseille dans l'Antiquité I (1927); II (1929); F. Benoît, Carte archéologique de la Gaule romaine V (1936); F. Villard, La céramique grecque de Marseille (1960); for excavations since WW II see “Informations,” Gallia 5 (1947), following vols., and index with vol. 20; Bourse excavations: M. Euzennat & F. Salviat, Les découvertes archéologiques de la Bourse à Marseille (1968); Gallia 27 (1969) 423-30PI.


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