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VESONTIO or Visontio later BISONTII (Besançon) Doubs, France.

At the time of the Roman conquest, Vesontio was the maximum oppidum Sequanorum. Caesar (BGall. 38.4-6) and especially Julian (Epist. 26. Bidez, 38 cd.) emphasized the strength of its position, in a bend of the Doubs and at the foot of a hill which forms a natural citadel on its landward side. After the conquest, only one historical event is known to have taken place there: the fight beneath its walls between the forces of Vindex, who had revolted against Nero, and the loyal forces of Verginius Rufus. The battle ended with the defeat and suicide of Vindex (Cass. Dio 63.24). Otherwise, the city must have shared the history of the Sequani (participation in the revolt of Sacrovir under Tiberius, loyalty during the revolt of Civilis, unrest under Marcus Aurelius). The period from the Flavians to the Antonines was its heyday, and after the Tetrarchy it was still the capital of the Provincia Maxima Sequanorum, but by 360 (cf. Julian) it was in decline.

Our knowledge of the topography of the Roman city comes from chance discoveries. The road from Italy crossed the citadel, on which during the Middle Ages four unidentified columns were still visible. It entered the lower city through the “Black Gate,” a commemorative arch built perhaps under Marcus Aurelius and still standing, which is notable for its double rows of columns and for the variety and profusion of its sculptured decoration. From that point on the road formed the principal cardo of the city. On its right, it passed the distribution basin for the water brought from the springs at Arcier by an aqueduct 10 km long, then a square surrounded by porticos with alternating round and rectangular exedrae, which probably also included an underground gallery. In the center of the square was a large temple, which some have called a capitolium. The road finally reached the river, which it crossed on a bridge which, repaired and enlarged, survived until WW II.

Only one public edifice at a distance from the cardo is known with certainty: on the W, at a spot near the river called Chamars (Campus Martius?) a semicircular double wall (exterior diam. 91.4 m), which was built on a cremation cemetery of the Julio-Claudian period. It was most probably a sacred enclosure surrounding a temple (of Mars?). It is not clear where the sanctuary of Mercury Cissonius, mentioned in an inscription, was located. Various cults (Apollo and Mercury combined, the Mother Goddesses, and the God with the Mallet) are attested by dedications or by sculptures. The remains found under the Place du Marché are probably those of large baths, and other ruins are those of private dwellings, often ornamented with mosaics and marble facing.

On the other side of the bridge the road split into three branches, to Lyon, Langres, and the Rhine. On the left of the road to Lyon was an amphitheater, built partly on level ground and partly into a hillside. Two segments of foundations remain. Later cemeteries (after the Julio-Claudian period) lay along these roads.


L. Lerat, in Histoire de Besançon (1964) 27-142 with earlier bibl. Later excavations: Gallia 22 (1964) 386-91; 24 (1966) 354-56; 26 (1968) 440-48.


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