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ALBA HELVIORUM (Alba) Ardèche, France.

The capital of the Helvii, in Gallia Narbonensis. Their territory on the right bank of the Rhône corresponds almost exactly to the department of Ardèhe. A Roman colony under Augustus, the Alba prospered from the 1st c. until it was sacked by the Alemanni in the 3d c. The city owed its prosperity to its location in the fertile plain below the basalt massif of the Coiron, which shields it on the N and makes it a rich wine-growing region; Pliny (HN 14.43) mentions a local wine of good repute. It was also important as a road junction: three major roads go from Alba to Lugdunum, Nemausus, and Gergovia. A Christian community grew up there in the 4th c.; it was the seat of the first five bishops, but in the 5th c. the bishopric was transferred to Viviers. At that time the city belonged to the Viennoise province.

The earliest of the principal monuments, excavated 1935-39 and from 1964 on, is a theater (65 m in diam.) built under Augustus. It could hold 5000-6000 spectators. The cavea, which is built against a hill, is edged by two parallel semicircular walls; five entrances give access from the top. Between the radiating walls piles of basalt blocks supported the seats, which have nearly all disappeared. The orchestra level was recently determined by the discovery of a number of stone slabs. The scena has mostly disappeared, but the back wall of the stage qas uncovered in 1968. On the W side of the two lower qntrances are some unusual semicircular abutments. Behind the scena is a large monument, not yet identified; in the Late Empire some little shops were put up against its S wall.

At the spot known as La Planchette are some small baths consisting of five adjacent rooms (apodyterium, frigidarium, two tepidaria, caldarium) with apsidal and kidney-shaped pools. A curious water system 150 m W of the theater includes a principal main, one wall of which has small openings in its upper section while the other discharges at floor level into small, steeply sloping arched channels. This arrangement made it possible to recover the infiltrating water and use it for irrigation elsewhere. The forum has been only partly uncovered. On a slight rise 150 m NW of the theater, it is a huge esplanade 42.8 m wide, with porticos the back walls of which are decorated with alternately rectangular and semicircular exedras. The W side of the piazza is lined with shops and to the N is a large monument (temple or curia?).

In the center of the city are two houses, separated by a road running E-W. One of them has 13 rooms, seven of them with mosaics; it is set in the middle of a peristyle with an oblong pool. The cardo maximus has been located for 150 m, and one section paved with massive polygonal stone slabs has been uncovered. The sidewalks are made of the same hard limestone blocks as the curbstones. The road crosses the city N-S and runs along the W side of the forum. The forum and all other monuments excavated or located have the same orientation—Alba was laid out on a grid.

At the spot called Saint-Pierre, NW of the town, is a monument built over two others. At the bottom level is a Severan building with a portico 3.5 m wide, which has been traced for over 23 m. It has a gutter on either side, and runs around an esplanade with a large pool (10.75 x 7 m). The portico opens onto some large rooms, many of them with mosaic floors; according to two inscriptions citing the presence at Alba of four corporations associated with viticulture—the dendrophori, fabri, centonarii, and utriclarii—this may have been a building reserved for collegia, possibly a meeting-place for corporations. This monument was destroyed at the end of the 3d c. In the 4th-5th c. an Early Christian group of buildings was erected: a baptistery (?) approached by a corridor and a small courtyard, both paved; adjacent to it and reached by a long paved corridor, a central building (18 x 17 m) which has a raised presbyterium with a flat chevet (martyrium?); and N of this monument and reached by the same corridor, the cathedral with three aisles, the floor crammed with tombs. These tombs are on two levels: some are tile-covered tombs in the Roman tradition, others are Merovingian sarcophagi, nearly all made of reused material. Finally, a Romanesque chapel was added in the 12th c. over the N part of the church.

A small museum is being set up to house the mosaics, inscriptions, and other objects. Various finds are in the British Museum, the Musée Calvet at Avignon, and in private collections.


C. Filhol, “Alba Helviorum,” Rhodania 1243 & 1245 (1927); F. Delarbre, Alba Augusta Helviorum (1958); H. P. Eydoux, Lumières sur la Gaule (1960) 295-306; M. Leglay, “Las fouilles d'Alba Augusta Helviorum (Ardèche),” CRAI (1964) 401-15; id., “Autour des corporations d'Alba,” BAntFr (1964) 140-52; id., “Informations,” Gallia 24 (1966) 522-25; 26 (1968) 596-99; id. & S. Tourrenc, “Le forum d'Alba Augusta Helviorum,” Hommages à M. Renard III, Coll. Latomus 103 (1969) 346-59PI; id., “Alba Augusta Helviorum: un curieux ouvrage hydraulique,” Hommage à F. Benoît IV (1972) 131.


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