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TURNACUM (Tournai) Belgium.

A large Gallo-Roman vicus of the civitas Menapiorum, on the Bavai-Cassel (Castellum Menapiorum) road, where it crosses the Scheldt. The heart of the vicus was on the left or Menapian bank of the Scheldt, but there were important bridgeheads on the night or Nervian bank of the river, notably at St. Brice and at Le Luchet d'Antoing. The beginnings of the center go back to the Iron Age. Some huts of that period, found and excavated on the slope between the Scheldt and the hill of La Loucherie, were cabins of wattle and daub containing coarse pottery decorated with fingernail, comb, and stick impressions. Some Celtic coins found at Tournai date to the period of the Roman conquest.

During the Roman period Tournai developed rapidly, both because of its favorable position at the intersection of a large road and a navigable river, and because of the intensive working of limestone quarries. The limestone, exported over a radius of more than 100 km, was used as building material and in ironworks. The growth of the vicus dates mostly to the period of Claudius. Probably Caligula and Claudius concentrated here the troops intended for the invasion of Britain. A V-shaped ditch, sectioned in 1954 and 1955, dates to Claudius and seems to have belonged to the defenses of a temporary camp. The building of a large part of the road network in NW Gaul also dates to this time. The Tournai limestone was very intensively used in the construction of these roads. The first quarries worked in this period were located in the center of the modern town on the site of the cathedral. Limekilns, several of which have been excavated, were placed all around this pit. The kilns were circular (4 m in diameter) and looked like a hemispherical tub with clay walls furnished with an air vent 40 cm wide. In the 1st c. the center was provided with a checkerboard street plan. Under the streets conduits were found, both for bringing fresh water (masonry channels 30 to 35 cm wide and 35 to 90 cm high with walls coated with red plaster) and for taking away waste waters. The growth of the vicus also led to the filling of the first quarry mentioned above. (Houses were built on the fill.) The stone industry was relocated on the outskirts of the vicus in the district of Bruyelles-Antoing. Possibly the quarries were nationalized and put under the direction of an imperial official. The foundations of a barrow were discovered at Antoing. Its structure included a circular enclosing wall of carefully fitted large stones and a dromos leading to a double funerary chamber, recalling Roman mausoleums of Etruscan tradition. The barrow may be the mausoleum of an imperial official.

The vicus continued to grow at the end of the 1st c. and during all of the 2d. The destruction of a part of Tournai in 1940 made possible the excavation, unfortunately in rather scattered and incomplete fashion, of a certain number of buildings of the Gallo-Roman vicus. The dwellings of this period were characterized by the use of very fine masonry with fine outside facings. The interiors were enhanced by painted plastering. The paving was of cement, the roofing of imbricated tiles. A number of these dwellings were heated by hypocausts. They were provided with masonry cellars with storage niches set in the walls. The largest edifice found to date (52 m long) was on the summit of the hill of La Loucherie. It may have been a public building. Two large rooms at the wings were separated by a gallery with columns, which opened on a vast courtyard. This building was enhanced by figurative frescos and by columns whose capitals were topped by a cornice with modillions.

A dwelling excavated in 1942 had a bath building with plunges lined with marble. Large necropoleis have been found all around the vicus, for example, under the modern Grand-Place (hundreds of tombs), under the Rue de Monnel (ca. 100 tombs). Tournai was not only an industrial center but also the commercial center for all the surrounding region, a very fertile area with many rich villas. The town, sacked during the invasions of the Chauci in 172-74, rose from its ruins, but was not very prosperous in the Severan period although some fine artifacts (splendid jet medallions, for example) date to that time.

The town was destroyed a second time during the first invasions of the Franks just after the middle of the 3d c. Many hoards of coins, found at Tournai and neighboring villages (Howardries, Beloeil, La Hamaide, Basecles, Ellezelles, Bailleul), were buried between 258 and 268. At the end of the 3d c. Tournai was turned into a fortress. Residential districts were leveled and the materials from these demolitions were used to build a rampart 2.4 m thick. It included the building of La Loucherie, whose corners were furnished with towers 1.45 m thick. This rampart can be traced for ca. 100 m. During the administrative reorganization under Diocletian, Tournai replaced Cassel as the caput of the civitas Menapiorum. A gynaecum (a workshop for military equipment) was installed at Tournai. The military garrison consisted of Germanic Laeti, and their tombs have been found in the town hall park. The grave goods of these tombs are characterized by belt trimmings with excised decoration with geometric and animal motifs.

In the 4th c. there still was a large civilian population whose necropoleis have been found at Grand-Place, the Rue Perdue, and St.-Quentin Church. In 407 the town was ravaged again, this time by the Vandals. Shortly thereafter it was reoccupied by the Salian Franks, who repaired the fortifications and made Tournai the capital of their kingdom. It was the residence of Clodion, Merovaeus (who, allied with the Romans, conquered Attila), and Childeric, who died at Tournai in 481. His tomb, with its very rich and famous grave goods, was found in 1653 near the church of St.-Brice. The artifacts from that tomb are kept at the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris. Clovis, Childeric's son and successor, moved the capital to Paris.


M. Amand & I. Eykens-Dierickx, Tournai romain, Dissertationes Archaeologicae Gandenses v (1960)MPI; M. Amand, “Les véritables origines de Tournai,” Helinium 3 (1963) 193-204; id., “Un nouveau quartier romain à Tournai. Les fouilles du Luchet d'Antoign,” Arch.Belgica 102 (1968)PI; id., “L'approvisionnement en eau du Tournai Romain,” Arch.Belgica 143 (1973)PI.


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