Period I newsletter

The Amfitheatre of Avenches. Photo:

Romanisation in Switzerland

The story of the migration of some Celtic tribes (Helvetii, Rauraci) in 58 BC to eastern France is known because of the book de bello gallico by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC).

Far less known outside present-day Switzerland is the history after their defeat in that year (Bibracte), and the return to their homelands in Switzerland.

Two colonies were founded by the Romans (Colonia Iulia Equestris (Nyon) and Augusta Raurica (Augst) around 44 BC, and the tribes became allies of the Romans (foederati). The Pax Romana was about to begin;  it would last, with some violent interruptions (in the years 68/69 AD), until 260 AD.

The city of Aventicum (nowadays Avenches), with around 20 000 inhabitants, became the provincial capital of the Helvetians.

Imperial power could be seen everywhere in the city. The gold bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius was discovered in 1939. Many other finds — coins, medallions, ivory objects, portraits, statues, mosaics, symbols of power and religion and myths — are witnesses of ceremonies of the imperial cult, honouring the semi-divine imperial family.

One of the main centres of this cult was the theatre. Theatre plays were an essential part of life in Roman society. The theatre was a public medium, a place of propaganda and self-representation. The audience was strictly seated according to their ranks and the hierarchy, like in the much bigger amphitheatre of Aventicum.

The financing of these expensive and sumptuous edifices and spectacles was provided mainly by the members of the local elite (ordo decurionum).

The imperial cult was an important ceremony of each spectacle, including processions and sacrifices.

The amphitheatre became popular in particular in the second century, after the Colosseum in Rome (around 70 AD) became the model of the Roman way of life.

Roman society was also deeply religious, and the main temple stood opposite the centres of judicial affairs, administration, politics and business, such as the curia, the forum and the basilica.

Monuments and statues were erected in honour of the imperial family or local notables. They showed respect and gratitude for their euergetism (generosity by financing public buildings, games, food distribution etc.).

The small, but beautiful Roman museum in Avenches (musée romain) housed in the medieval tower of the Roman Amphitheatre, provides a good overview of the life of a provincial Roman town.

The theatre complex, including what is left of the temple (le Cigognier), the amphitheater, some burial places and other remains of Roman Avenches can also be visited. (Source and further information: