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VASIO VOCONTIORUM (Vaison-la-Romaine) Vaucluse, France.

On the right bank of the Ouvèze ca. 20 km from the colony of Arausio (Orange), Vaison was the capital of the civitas of the Vocontii. These people, who occupied a large territory between the Durance and the Isère, were defeated in 124 and 123 B.C. by M. Fulvius Flaccus and C. Sextius Calvinus. They rebelled in 78 B.C. and were harshly treated by the governor, Fonteius (Cic. Font.). However, after individual favors accorded by Pompey, they obtained the privileged status of civitas foederata (Strab. 4.6.4; Plin. HN 3.37; 7.78) at an unknown date (perhaps under Caesar). The first text which mentions Vaison itself is barely earlier than the middle of the 1st c. A.D.: Pomponius Mela (2.5.75) calls it one of the urbes opulentissimne of Gallia Narbonensis. Strabo does not refer to it, although a poor reading of the text has sometimes suggested that he did. The complete name was presumably Vasio Iulia Vocontiorum.

Vaison was probably the capital of the Vocontii when they were independent. However, no prehistoric settlement has yet been found in the immediate vicinity, and the development of the town must be placed in the Augustan period. The choice of the site is something of a mystery, since Vaison is on the periphery of the territory of the Vocontii, far from the great routes, and the valley of the Ouvèze does not lead to an important outlet. Thus Vaison was supplemented by a religious capital farther N, Lucus Augusti, which during the Late Empire was replaced by Die (Colonia Dea Augusta Vocontiorum). At that time the territory of the Vocontii was split into two civitates, and Die was the larger one; both towns, however, became the seats of bishoprics. A number of well-known men were born in the area of Vaison, including S. Afranius Burrus, Nero's tutor; L. Duvius Avitus, consul and legate of Aquitaine; C. Sappius Flavius, military tribune; and the historian Cn. Pompeius Trogus, whose grandfather, according to Justinus, received Roman citizenship from Pompey.

The excavations of Vaison, conducted for half a century from 1906 onward, indicate that in size (several ha), in variety (public and private buildings), and in the richness of artistic and epigraphic finds, Vaison outstrips other Gallo-Roman sites. Unfortunately, however, it is practically impossible to reconstruct a reliable chronology for the growth of the town, because early excavations were not sufficiently concerned with method and stratigraphy.

The oldest remains have been found recently under the House of the Dolphin, where levels dating to the beginning of Augustus' rule have appeared beneath floors of the Flavian period. Terraces were found, bordered by retaining walls of irregular masonry. On one of them, utilitarian constructions (workshop, basin-reservoir) stood next to a house of Greek type: three sets of rooms arranged around a peristyle, and the fourth side closed by a blind wall. The plan is exactly like that of certain houses at Delos or Glanum (Saint-Rémy-de-Provence), but the construction resembles that of the traditional walls built by the natives of Provence. The only trace of Romanization is the use of a very thin mortar of lime and sand. The differing orientations of the terraces and the irregular masonry of the walls suggests that the first Vaison was more native than Roman; moreover its growth was not controlled as severely as that of other cities of Provence which were Roman colonies. Truly Roman techniques appeared only during the 1st c. A.D., particularly the use of opus vittatum, rubble fill faced with small stones.

These remains of the Augustan period, so far removed from traditional Roman technique and regularity, explain a number of Vaison's singular features. First, no remains of an enclosing wall have been found, probably because the Vocontii were a civitas foederata. Since it was not a colony, the town was open and had no ramparts. Moreover, since there is no regular checkerboard plan with parallel or perpendicular streets, one cannot recognize a regular cardo on the map: there are distinct differences in orientation between houses and public buildings. An attempt has been made to reconstruct the main axes and an orthogonal plan, based on the arrangement of the main public sewers, but the result is inconclusive. Only at a later date, perhaps at the end of the 1st c. A.D., was city planning attempted, and it could not entirely correct the original irregularity. The forum, for example, has not been found, and cannot be located by studying the plan. At least two sites are possible: along the S extension of the Street of the Shops or directly E of the cathedral. Finally, the Hellenistic plan of the house which preceded the House of the Dolphin may be classed with other arrangements which seem more Greek than Roman: the predominance of peristyles over atria (House of the Silver Bust with no atrium), the absence of an atrium-tablinum-peristyle axis (House of the Messii), the presence of hypostyle rooms (House of the Messii, House of the Silver Bust), and the importance of the vestibule (idem).

Apparently the earliest Roman remains are those of the bridge crossing the Ouvèze. It is a single semicircular arch with a span of 17 m, and is built of large blocks on which ruts have been found. No Gallo-Roman remains have appeared on the left bank of the river; on the right bank are two excavation zones, Puymin to the NE and La Villasse to the SW.

The largest building in the Puymin district is the theater (diam. 95.9 m). Only a few tiers of seats and the foundations of the stage wall have survived, but it has now been completely restored. It was built on bedrock in the 1st c. A.D. and was repaired in the 3d c. Several imperial statues have been found there, including those of Sabina, Tiberius, and Hadrian.

Another public building, S of the theater, is called the Portico of Pompey and is surrounded by a wall 52 m on a side. The gallery, 4 m wide, had columns with Tuscan capitals and niches holding statues, among them the statue of the Diadumena now in the British Museum. In the middle of the courtyard was a large basin.

Buildings E of the portico have been interpreted as tenements. Farther N is a monument called the nympheum (insufficiently studied), and to the NE a small district on two terraces includes a house with 2d c. A.D. mosaic floors and a series of shops opening on a street paved with stone.

The House of the Messii, named for an inscription to Messia Alpina, is W of the Portico of Pompey. Excavation is incomplete but one may note the absence of alae in the atrium (the impluvium is no longer visible), the trapezoidal vestibule, and the hypostyle room decorated with painted stucco, where the head of the Venus of Vaison was found. The house also included private baths and some marble opus-sectile, well preserved. In spite of the complete lack of stratigraphic information, the house must date from the 2d c. A.D.

Finally, two series of buildings occupy the W flank of the Puymin hill. Their plan is not clear, but they probably consist of two houses of somewhat unusual type; one has been called, without foundation, a praetorium.

The second excavation sector extends over the S flank of the Villasse hill, and is crossed by two streets, not parallel, oriented ca. NE-SW. The first, the Street of the Shops, 4.2 m wide, is paved in stone and covers a main sewer 1.1 m deep. On the E side of the street is a series of shops, and then a group composed of a large building and four smaller rooms. The large hall could not be completely cleared: only its width (12.5 m) is known. The back wall to the N is interrupted by a recess (1.5 x 5.3 m). The recess is framed by two pilasters with fluted and cabled shafts supporting an arch which once framed a statue. The building, which has been restored, has been interpreted as a commercial basilica. The very careful decoration, the floor of opus-sectile, and the architectural and sculptural fragments attest the importance of the monument, which may go back to the 1st c. A.D. The building was surrounded by a drainage ditch. Small narrow rooms bordered it to the W, among them a latrine. In contrast, to the E a spacious room with an apse probably belonged to a large bath, now buried under the modern town.

The W side of the Street of the Shops is bordered by a portico running downward, with a series of levels intended to compensate for the steep slope of the street. The bases of the columns of the portico are set in a wall which helps to support the roadway. Eight shops open on this portico, as does the door to one of the richest houses, the House of the Silver Bust. This house has a triple entrance: two lateral corridors frame a spacious vestibule with a porch in front of it. The vestibule (10.5 x 6.5 m and paved with stone) had three doors separated by two massive piers. This very un-Roman arrangement led to a peristyle of the Tuscan order, in which five altars, several oscilla, and fragments of sculpture have been found. To N and S were private apartments. A second peristyle SW of the first, more spacious but with only three branches, includes a large pool. To the N, approximately along the axis of this peristyle, are found a room with columns, an oecus with a large bay, and other fairly large rooms.

A third peristyle has been accredited to the House of the Silver Bust. It was very large (3.4 m wide and over 130 m around) with 38 Doric columns. It has an irregular plan and a large central pool. North of this portico a staircase led to a court behind which were small baths. It is far from certain that this vast construction was private.

Elements of another house have been partly cleared, S of the portico and nearly 2 m lower. It had an irregular peristyle, mosaic pavements, and frescos, and has been called the House of the Atrium. Another building farther E, has produced two rooms decorated with mosaics and frescos with figures.

Finally, the House of the Dolphin lies to the W. The original house, of Hellenistic type, was changed in the 1st c. by the addition of a tetrastyle atrium, several rooms to the W, and a series of shops, variously oriented. The floor was raised ca. 0.9 m. The remodeling can be linked to the opening of a street, called the Street of Columns because of the portico which borders it to the W. There is a perfect atrium-tablinum-peristyle axis; the atrium, however, lacks alae. Baths and latrines accentuate its Roman character. To the S a large court, adorned with a basin with niches, opens directly on the street; it could be either a public promenade or a part of the house.

An area as yet little explored extends W on the other side of the Street of Columns. It mixes elements of various periods: structures of the time of Augustus, altered or buried, and basins of later date, one of which was remodeled with a niche in the 4th c. On the N slope of the hill, N of the Château de la Villasse, some modest dwellings have been cleared, including some with irregular masonry.

Outside the two large excavation areas there are the remains of baths ca. 1.5 km to the N, which include a large portico with a mosaic floor. Three other public baths have been found: one under the Place de la Poste, another in the Roussillon district, a third in the La Tour district. Under the floor of the cathedral are large architectural fragments (column drums, double columns, capitals). There are buildings on piles on the right bank of the Ouvèze (wharves?). Finally, tombs, both cremation and inhumation, indicate the approximate boundaries of the settlement.

There is no archaeological evidence for the devastation of the city in the second half of the 3d c., although such an event cannot be ruled out. It did not, however, mark the end of the town. A bishop of Vaison was present at the council of Arles in 314, another at the Riez council in 439. In 442 a regional council was held in the town, and a bishop is recorded about 475.

Epigraphically, Vaison is rich in documents of all kinds, especially Gallo-Greek inscriptions (IG XIV, 890; CIL XII). Many of the inscriptions and artifacts are scattered in different museums, but a collection is being reassembled in a museum on the site.


J. Sautel, Vaison dans l'Antiquité, 3 vols. (1926)MPI; id., REA (1940) 600-70; id., Vaison dans l'Antiquité, Travaux et recherches de 1927 à 1940, 3 vols. (1941)MPI; id., Le théâtre de Vaison et les théâtres romains de la vallée du Rhône (1951); id., “Remarques sur les vestiges d'un grand edifice romain,” CRAI (1955) 427-32; id., Vaison-la-Romaine, site, histoire, monuments (1955)MPI; R. Ginouvès, “Remarques sur l'architecture domestique à Vaison,” RA (1949) 58-65; P. Goessler, “Vasio,” RE 8 A (1955)P; S. Gagnière, “Recherches stratigraphiques dans les fouilles récentes de Vaison,” Journées archéol. d'Avignon 1956 (1957) 126-27; H. Rolland, Vocontii, RE 9 A1 (1961)MP; J. Lassus, “Remarques sur les mosaïques de Vaison,” Gallia (1970) 35-66; Reports in Gallia (1960) 279-83; (1962) 680-85; (1964) 563-68; (1967) 378-83; (1970) 443-47; (1972) 540-42.


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