previous next

SAMAROBRIVA or Samarabriva (Amiens) Somme, France.

City of the Belgica province of Gaul. The Gallic city of Samarabriva (bridge over the Samara, or Somme) is mentioned several times in Caesar's Commentaries (BGall 5.24.1; 47.2; 53.3) yet its exact site is difficult to pinpoint (on a defensive site as the oppida of the Ambiani generally were, i.e. on the arms of the Somme or the high ground to the N?). It was succeeded during the 1st c. A.D. at the latest by the Roman city of the same name, built on flat dry ground on the S bank of the river. Situated at the point where the roads from Beauvais, Rouen, Senlis, and Soissons converge before they cross the Somme and continue on to Boulogne and Brittany or to the territory of the Morini and the lower Rhine, Samarobriva under the Antonines became an important regional city. ca. 277-278, after the first barbarian invasion (256), it withdrew inside a narrow surrounding wall and in the 4th c. adopted the name of Civitas Ambianensium (or Ambianorum; Not. dig. occ. 6.36), becoming an important military stronghold behind the threatened Rhine frontier. It was near one of the city gates, ca. 334, that St. Martin, who was garrisoned there, came across the beggar with whom he divided his cloak. Magnentius, the usurper, was born in Amiens and set up a mint there, and here the emperor Valentinian I, who spent several months in the city, proclaimed his son Gratianus emperor Augustus 24 August 367. The fortified city succumbed to another barbarian assault in 406. In the Merovingian period life went on in two sections: the count took over the ancient civitas, whose fortifications had been restored, while a quarter of merchants and artisans grew up around the bishop's residence, in a suburb to the E. At the beginning of the 12th c. the two were joined by a new rampart to form what was to become modern Amiens.

Very little is left of the monuments that adorned the Roman city. The Passio S. Firmini recalls temples built in honor of Jupiter and Mercury; of the altars consecrated to the eponymous goddess and a local divinity, Veriugodumnus, only the dedications remain (CIL VIII, 3490, 3487). Some traces of the harbor installations on the river (Rue des Tanneurs) and of two other buildings were discovered in excavations undertaken in the 19th c. and resumed after the last war: near the Hôtel de Ville, substructures of a nearly circular (100 x 107 m) 1st c. amphitheater; in the Rue de Beauvais, two rectangular rooms with opposed apses, the cold and heated pools (the latter with hypocausts) of a bath building from the first half of the 2d c. In the foundations of these rooms were some carved fragments originally used in a large public building of the preceding century.

The plan of the streets, however, can be traced exactly thanks to recent finds. The city was designed on a grid plan oriented N-S and E-W. This network enables us to trace the growth of the Empire city in its successive stages: a narrower grid (insulae of 100 x 80 Roman feet, or ca. 160 x 125 m) in the NE section represents the original urban center, which covered a modest area of 40 ha. This was the 1st c. city, at whose W limit stood the amphitheater. In the 2d c. the plan was modified and enlarged (to 105 ha) by the construction of new residential sections made up of larger insulae (100 Roman feet or 160 m each side), and an improved street and sewer system. The new city limits were extended W to enclose the 1st c. amphitheater which ended up in the heart of the city, a most unusual position; then to the S the city took in an area that had previously been the cemeteries, as evidenced by traces of funerary buildings uncovered in the foundations of the baths. No trace of the ancient grid has remained in the mediaeval or modern streets, except for the decumanus, which is a continuation of the road from Soissons (Rue des Trois Cailloux), and the cardo (Rue du Bloc, Rue de Flatters and Rue des Sergents).

At the end of the 3d c. the city shrank inside a rampart. This plan, too, can be traced. The walls, 1300 m long, enclosed an urban area of only ca. 10 ha. The fortified city was situated not to the E, around the cathedral, as has long been believed, but actually W of the cardo (the great Beauvais-Boulogne road), so that it overlooked the river to the N and was supported to the S by the amphitheater, now a fortress. Three of the rampart gates can be approximately located: the Porta Clippiana, mentioned in the Passio S. Firmini, stood to the S, close to the amphitheater; the W gate, near the church of Saint-Firmin-à-la-Porte; and the E gate was high up by Saint-Martin-au-Bourg (the episode of the charity of St. Martin is supposed to have taken place beside this last gate).

Fewer traces of the Roman occupation are to be found in the environs (poor remains of a dwelling near the modern Citadelle) but we know more about the series of cemeteries that surrounded the city except in the marshy areas. The cemeteries of the Empire (cremation and especially inhumation) contain some rather poor monuments and grave gifts. As usual the necropoleis were along the main access routes: to the W, along the Rouen road, to the E, on that of Noyon. To the W, along the Senlis and Beauvais roads, are two series of burials that together make up the largest cemetery, while the last one, to the N along the road to Boulogne, was used up to the Constantinian era. In the Late Empire and the Merovingian period the cemetery area shifted; as the city shrank it came closer (to the area round the cathedral) and occupied an old quarter of the Empire city that had been left outside the walls. To the E, conversely, a late Christian cemetery grew up beyond the old Empire cemetery area, near the tomb of St. Firmin at Saint-Acheul. The archaeological finds are in the Musée de Picardie at Amiens.


St. Martin: Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini 3.1; Gratianus: Amm. Marc. 27.6; barbarian invasion: Jerome, Epist. 123, 81; F. Vercauteren, “Etudes sur les civitates de Belgique seconde de la fin du IIIe siècle jusqu'a la fin du XIe siècle,” Mémoires de l'Acad. Belge 33 (1934); Fr. Vasselle & E. Will, “Les cimetières gallo-romains d'Amiens,” Revue du Nord 38 (1956) 321-30; id., “L'enceinte du Bas-Empire et l'histoire de la ville d'Amiens,” Revue du Nord 40 (1958) 467-82; id., “L'Urbanisme romain à Samarobriva-Amiens,” Revue du Nord 42 (1960) 337-52; E. Will, “Recherches sur le développement urbain sous l'empire romain dans le nord de la France,” Gallia 20 (1962) 79-101; J. L. Massy, Revue du Nord 53 (1973) 23ff; Gallia, periodic reports of the excavations.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: