Bavay is a small village in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, less than an hour’s 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 AD 4 (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
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. Disproportionately big compared to the town’s size, the forum is the only entirely 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 there. 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 archaeological site. It houses an important pottery and bronze collection. Two exhibition spaces are dedicated to the permanent collection. 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