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OCTODURUS or Forum Claudii Vallensium (Martigny) Valais, Switzerland.

At the N foot of the St. Bernhard pass, summus Poeninus. The Celtic name is mentioned in the sources (Ptol. 2.12.3, Caes. BGall. 3.1, It. Ant. 351.5, Tab. Peut., Not. Gall. 9.13); the Roman name on inscriptions and milestones. From pre-Roman times this site controlled traffic to and from Italy, hence the unsuccessful attempt by Caesar in 57 B.C. to subdue the quattuor civitates vallis poeninae; Octodurus was the caput of one of them. Conquest by Rome, however, was achieved before 10 B.C., and the valley formed an administrative unit with Raetia and Vindelicia. When a new road over the pass was opened by Claudius, Octodurus was given the ius latinum, promoted to the status of a market town, and became the center of the new civitas Vallensium. Probably also at this time the valley was incorporated into a new province, Alpes Poeninae at Atractianae (later Graiae), together with the region at the S foot of the pass.

Octodurus was burned in the late 2d c. and again in the early 3d, but continued to flourish. In the 4th c. it was the seat of a bishop, who was transferred in the 6th c. to Sion. Dwindling traffic with Italy after A.D. 400 caused the town to decline, to the benefit of Acaunum (St. Maurice), 15 km down the Rhone.

A forum, two temples, and bits of insulae with commercial and residential quarters have been identified. The vicus lay on both sides of the river Drance, between Martigny-Bourg and Martigny-Ville. Traces of earth and timber construction of pre-Claudian times have been observed, but little is known of the Celtic and early Roman settlement except some cemeteries. Under Claudius, the vicus was rebuilt on a grid plan; the size of the insulae (90 x 70 m) is close to that of the Roman colonies in Switzerland. The forum (92 x 65 m) is a rectangular court with a monumental entrance; two sides have rows of 10-12 shops, and at the far end is a portico in front of the long side of a basilica. In its latest phase it contained, according to an inscription a fabrica, a porticus, tabernae, and an auditorium hypocaustum. Adjacent to the forum was a small temple (18 x 13 m) with an altar.

A temple of Gallo-Roman plan (12 m on a side) two insulae farther away has an orientation differing from the grid plan. It may be part of a larger sanctuary within an enclosure. At the foot of Mt. Chemain, on the outskirts of the settlement, are the remains of an amphitheater (74 x 62 m) seating ca. 6000.

The finds (inscriptions apart) are scattered among the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Geneva; the Musée Cantonal d'Archéologie in Lausanne, the Musée Cantonal de Valère in Sion, and the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum in Zurich.


E. Howald & E. Meyer, Die römische Schweiz (n.d.) no. 44 (forum inscription); C. Simonett, “Kurzer Bericht über die Ausgrabungen 1938-39 in Martigny,” ZSchwAKg 3 (1941) 77-175PI; F. Staehelin, Die Schweizin römischer Zeit (3d ed. 1948) 84-90, 158-65, 618-20; M. R. Sauter, Préhistoire du Valais des origines aux temps Mérovingiens (1950) 106-12MPI; E. Vogt, “Zwei kleine Beiträge zur römischen Archäologie der Schweiz,” ZSchwAKg 25 (1963) 101-5P.


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    • Caesar, Gallic War, 3.1
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