Local History

Aventicum vers 200 après J.-C., maquette du musée romain d'Avenches. Photo/Foto: TES.

The Roman History of Avenches

The story of the migration of some Celtic tribes (Helvetians, 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 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 and it should last, with some violent interruptions (in particular in the years 68/69 AD) until 260 AD. The city of Aventicum (nowadays Avenches) had become a true capital of the Helvetians by this time with around 20 000 inhabitants. As in any other city in the Empire, imperial power could be seen everywhere in the city. The emperor concentrated in his hands the political, legislative, military, religious and juridical power. The gold bust of the emperor Marcus Aurelius was discovered in 1939 in Avenches. Many other findings, 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 the Roman society and the theatre seems to have been driven largely by social and political forces, it was a place to see and to be seen. It 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 the expensive and sumptuous edifices and spectacles was mainly provided by the members of the local elite (ordo decurionum). The imperial cult was an important facet of each spectacle, including processions and sacrifices. The amphitheatre became in particular popular 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. Statutes and monuments were erected in honour of the imperial family or local notables as a sign of respect and gratitude for their euergetism (generosity by financing public buildings, games, distribution of food 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 life of a provincial Roman town and shows many finds. The theatre complex, including what is left of the temple(le Cigognier), the amphitheatre, some burial places and other remains of Roman Avenches can also be visited. (Source and further information: www.avenches.ch).