ROMANS RUINS IN FRENCH-SPEAKING SWITZERLAND

The Romans


History


Rome was born in 753 BC. From its capital it will extend over the centuries on a huge territory around the Mediterranean Sea. It will take the name of Roman Empire from 27 to 476 BC, the official date of the disappearance of its western part under pressure from the Germanic tribes.

At the beginning of the 5th century, the Roman Empire was divided into two empires, the Western Roman Empire, which disappeared in 476, and the Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire with Constantinople (now Istanbul) as its capital manages to survive 1000 years longer than its Eastern neighbour before being defeated in 1453 by the Ottoman Empire, it is sometimes called the Byzantine Empire.

An animated gif showing the territorial evolution of the Roman Empire.
An animated gif showing the territorial evolution of the Roman Empire.

A very beautiful video animation shows the territorial evolution of Rome.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZWaFvLot6k

Legacy


The heritage left by the Romans still has a profound impact on the lives of the European peoples in many ways. Here are some examples:

  • Vestiges: Many buildings from the Roman period are still clearly visible today, such as the amphitheatre of Avenches or Martigny in French-speaking Switzerland.
  • Road network: Many of today’s roads are built on stone roads from the Roman era.
  • Languages. The European languages of the Mediterranean basin are very strongly influenced by Latin such as French, Italian or Spanish and even English.
  • Code of law

The amphitheatre of Avenches with the tower built in the 11th century.
The amphitheatre of Avenches with the tower built in the 11th century.

Christianity


Christianity, initially seen as a source of threat to power, was finally adopted and encouraged by the Roman Empire.

Christians were persecuted in the Roman Empire until the beginning of the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. At the beginning of the 5th century, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity a state religion.

An example of the persecution of Christians in French-speaking Switzerland is the massacre of the Theban Legion. During this event, Roman troops were sent to the Martigny region in the 3rd century to persecute Christians. A Roman commander named Maurice, originally from Thebes, now Luxor in southern Egypt, and of Coptic Christian faith, refused to obey orders and was massacred with his men by other Roman troops. However, this episode is controversial due to the lack of historical validation.

In memory of Maurice, a church and then an abbey were founded on the site of the massacre. The city named Agaune by the Romans will then take the name of Saint-Maurice.

Excavations near the Abbey of Saint-Maurice on the first memorial sites dedicated to Maurice.
Excavations near the Abbey of Saint-Maurice on the first memorial sites dedicated to Maurice.

The Romans in French-speaking Switzerland


Before the arrival of the Romans, the territory of Switzerland was occupied by Gallic populations called Helvetians. It was gradually colonized by the Roman Empire from a few decades BC by Julius Caesar.

The Roman Empire is divided into provinces, most of the French-speaking part of Switzerland is part of the province of Upper Germany with the western part of German-speaking Switzerland. Graubรผnden is part of the Rhetia province and Valais of the Graiae Alps or Poeninae Alps province, which include the Great St Bernard.

After several centuries of incursion by the Germanic peoples to the north and east of the Rhine, the beginning of the 5th century marked the withdrawal of Roman troops and the invasion of the territory by the Burgundians and Alamans of the Swiss territory.

The segmentation into provinces of the Roman Empire.
The segmentation into provinces of the Roman Empire.

The main Roman cities of French-speaking Switzerland


  • Forum Claudii Vallensium (Martigny)
  • Vivscus (Vevey)
  • Uromagus (Oron)
  • Minnodunum (Moudon)
  • Aventicum (Avenches)
  • Eburodunum (Yverdon)
  • Urba (Orbe)
  • Lousonna (Lausanne-Vidy)
  • Colonia Iulia Equestris or Noviodunum (Nyon)
  • Genava (Geneva)
  • Sedunum (Sion)
  • Pennelucos (Villeneuve)
  • Tarnaiae (Massongex)
  • Agaunum (Saint-Maurice)

The city of Avenches is by far the largest in Switzerland and has a maximum population of around 20,000, making it a major city at the time.

A map presented at the Roman Museum of Avenches showing the main roads and sites of the Roman Empire in Switzerland.
A map presented at the Roman Museum of Avenches showing the main roads and sites of the Roman Empire in Switzerland.

Museums in French-speaking Switzerland


Many museums include locally found objects from the Roman period. Some museums are completely dedicated to the Roman period and others to regional history by dedicating part of their museum to this period.

Legend:
๐Ÿ›๏ธ: Minor interest
๐Ÿ›๏ธ๐Ÿ›๏ธ: Average interest
๐Ÿ›๏ธ๐Ÿ›๏ธ๐Ÿ›๏ธ: Major interest

๐Ÿ†“: Free museum

Museums dedicated to the Roman period:

Museums partially dedicated to the Roman period:

The Geneva Museum of Art and History has two sections dedicated to the Roman period.

  1. Regional archaeology in the second basement presents, like the other Roman museums in French-speaking Switzerland, objects discovered regionally.
  2. The “Rome” part of archaeology in the first basement, a unique case in French-speaking Switzerland, shows imposing objects from the Roman period brought back from elsewhere or offered to the museum by collectors.

Geneva’s Museum of Art and History.
Geneva's Museum of Art and Historyย 

The Roman ruins


Among the most important Roman ruins that remain today are the amphitheatres of Martigny and Avenches. This last city has the most Roman ruins in Switzerland. Martigny and Vidy offer an archaeological visit of ruins while Geneva, due to urbanization, has very few.

The Martigny amphitheatre.
The Martigny amphitheatre.

The most famous objects found in French-speaking Switzerland are the famous Roman gold bust of Marcus Aurelius in Avenches and the three-horned bull’s head in bronze discovered in Valais.

The reproduction of the bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at the Roman Museum of Avenches and the remains of the bronze bull with a leg and head at the Gallo-Roman Museum of the Gianadda Foundation.
The reproduction of the bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at the Roman Museum of Avenchesย the remains of the bronze bull with a leg and head at the Gallo-Roman Museum of the Gianadda Foundation.