The Pont Flavien (Flavian Bridge), with its surviving triumphal arches at each end, is one of the most beautiful surviving Roman bridges outside Italy. The ancient bridge stands near the modern town of Saint-Chamas in southern France and consists of a single arch spanning the Toulourde River on the Via Julia Augusta.
The name “Flavien” refers to a local Roman-Gaul aristocrat called Lucius Donnius Flavius, and a Latin inscription on the bridge itself states that it was built at his instigation. In translation, it means:
Lucius Donnius, son of Caius, Flavos, flamen [priest] of Rome and Augustus, has ordained in his will that [this monument] be built under the direction of Cauis Donnius Vena and Caius Attius Rufius.
As the inscription indicates, the bridge was constructed at Flavius’ instigation following his death. It was completed around 12 BC. The bridge measured 21.4 metres long by 6.2 metres while the arches at either end each stood 7 metres high.
Following excavations, one can see the remnants of the Roman road with ruts worn by chariots and carts. The bridge was heavily used until fairly recently but it is now reserved for pedestrian use only.
The Pont Flavien has been subjected to repetitive damages. In the 18th century, the western arch collapsed destroying the Roman lions on top of the pediment (the only surviving original lion is on the right-hand side of the eastern arch). Then the same arch was damaged by a German tank during the Second World War and finally collapsed when it was hit by an American truck. It was rebuilt in 1949 and some years later.
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.
From 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.
3D reconstruction of the Forum of Bagacum in the 2nd century AD