Bagacum (Bavay)

Bavay is a small village located in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, less than an hour drive from Lille and Brussels. In the 1st century AD, Bagacum, as it was called back then, was the capital (civitas) of the Nervii, the most powerful Belgic tribe living in northern Gaul. Being located on the spot where seven major routes met, Bagacum was an important stopping-off point between the provinces of Germania and Britannia. This strategic emplacement allowed the city to become an important urban centre of Belgian Gaul. The future emperor Tiberius passed through Bagacum with his armies around 4 AD (an inscription attesting to his presence was found in 1716). Here the Romans built one of the largest forums in the Roman Empire.

Coordinates: 50° 17′ 53.16″ N, 3° 47′ 56.04″ E

BavayFrom the Claudian period and later under the Flavians the city of Bagacum expanded quite rapidly. Large monuments were built: a forum, thermal baths fed by an aqueduct and other buildings with a seemingly official nature adorned the city. Disproportioned in relation to the size of the town, the forum is the only fully preserved example of a roman forum in France. Its basilica is one of the largest known to have existed in the entire Roman Empire.

Trade and commerce flourished following the construction of the roads and the exploitation of the river network. The city became a major market centre for pottery and workshops have been found in the city. Merchants sold sigillata, wickerwork, cloth, food and bread. An exceptional set of over 300 objects in bronze (the “Bronze Treasure”) was discovered in Bagacum. Current estimates suggest the town ultimately covered about 40ha and may have counted a population of 15,000.

The gradual decline of Bagacum started in the 3rd century AD and a massive defensive wall was built at the turn of the 4th century AD. Today the fortifications are one of the most imposing elements of the archaeological site. Bagacum was destroyed during the barbarian invasions and never recovered its former influence. It would not be rediscovered until the eighteenth century.

The museum is located right next to the archeological site. It houses an important pottery and bronze collection. Two exhibition spaces are dedicated to the permanent collections. The first room presents the public areas of a Roman city; the second room concerns the private life of the inhabitants of Bagacum.

Portfolio

The Forum of Bagacum was 240 m long and nearly 110 m wide. It was one of a series of forums known as “tripartite forums”, which included three main parts: the esplanade, the basilica and the temple.
The esplanade was a large paved square in the centre of the forum, surrounded on the longer sides by porticoes.
The esplanade was a large paved square in the centre of the forum.
The Forum of Bagacum was surrounded on the longer sides by porticoes. A series of administrative offices were to be found under the porticoes. Citizens came to these offices to exchange money, use the weights and measures service (ponderarium) or to consult a lawyer.
The Forum of Bagacum had a line of shops facing the street. Some forty shops offered a variety of products and services. Merchants sold pottery, wickerwork, cloth, food and bread.
The remains of the semi-underground galleries known as the cryptoporticus. It was probably used as a walking area since the quality of the structure and its decoration are outstanding.
The remains of the semi-underground galleries known as the cryptoporticus.
The remains of the semi-underground galleries known as the cryptoporticus.
The remains of the semi-underground galleries known as the cryptoporticus.
The remains of the semi-underground galleries known as the cryptoporticus.
The remains of the semi-underground galleries known as the cryptoporticus.
The sacred area is found on the west side of the esplanade and is smaller but on a higher level.
The sacred area of the forum located on the west side of the esplanade on a higher level.
on the side of the esplanade are the ruins of a large building that was on a higher level than the esplanade: this was the basilica.
On the side of the esplanade are the ruins of a large basilica which was the centre of legal and political activity. The basilica of Bagacum was one of the largest in the Empire, measuring 98 m long.
The remains of the basilica.
The remains of the basilica.
The remarkably well preserved defensive wall built in the 4th century AD.
The remarkably well preserved defensive wall built in the 4th century AD.
The Archaeological Museum of Bavay.
The Archaeological Museum of Bavay.
The first exhibition space dedicated to the public areas of a Roman city. Some monumental architectural features allow visitors to appraise the size of the site. The finely worked pillars and capitals show the care taken by the Romans in constructing the forum of Bagacum, the capital city of the Nervian tribe. Some of these monumental pieces are on now show for the first time.
The first exhibition space is dedicated to the public areas of Bagacum. Some monumental architectural features allow visitors to appraise the size of the site. The finely worked pillars and capitals show the care taken by the Romans in constructing the forum of the city.
The second exhibition space presents the private life of the inhabitants of Bagacum.
The second exhibition space presents the private life of the inhabitants of Bagacum. On display are decorative items for the home, toilet implements or tools for working the land, all revealing aspects of everyday life as well as the different classes of people.

3D reconstruction of the Forum of Bagacum in the 2nd century AD

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4 thoughts on “Bagacum (Bavay)

  1. Pingback: Gallo-Roman Museum of Tongeren (Belgium) – following hadrian photography

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