Posted on Jun 18, 2010 in category

Gergovie is the one place that Caesar could not brag 'Veni, vidi, vici" (I came, I saw, I conquered). Caesar's 4 legions, close to 30,000 men including auxiliaries and allied tribes, were unsuccessful in dislodging the Arverni tribes from this stronghold. Similarly, Gergovie defeated me today in that a 'pea soup' fog covered the hill's plateau. When we first arrived at 9.15 a.m. we could actually make out the shape of the Vercingetorix monument on the hill's plateau. Within 10 minutes the fog was so thick I wondered if we'd be able to find our car in the carpark. In terms of outside photos it was a 'no-go' day.

The monument built in 1900 celebrating Vercingetorix' victory

However, the Gergovie plateau has a very modern museum that entertains and informs with multi-media displays. We were fortunate to have an appointment with the museum's director, Arnaud Pocris. Arnaud showed us through the museum explaining in detail a number of the museum's displays of relevance to my project.

Arnaud and his assistant, Nadia, braved the misty conditions to show us how part of the rampart was constructed in phases from 500 B.C.

The top half of the wall was dry stone basalt that had been quarried from the bottom half of the rampart. It is dated at 52 B.C. the time of Caesar's siege.

The museum's highlights were a Bronze Age skeleton of a young female aged around 25 who had her left hand missing; distinctive grey ceramics from Gergovie; a film explaining Caesar's defeat at Gergovie and most importantly, information about a new excavation taking place at the temple found within the oppidum.

Distinctive grey Gergovie ceramics

The temple is quite unique in that it has two fanums or temples and was the site of pilgrimage long after the Arverni moved from this hillfort to the new town of Augustonemetum- today's Clermont-Ferrand. This is a similar story to the Aedui tribe's move from Bibracte to Augustodunum. It begs the question were these moves forced upon the Gauls or was it voluntary?

A reconstruction of the double fanum construction at Gergovie that is exciting archaeologists

Archaeologists at Gergovie do not have it easy because the soil layer above the basalt rock is very thin making stratigraphical archaeology (used for dating sites) very difficult; also, this combined with the wet weather conditions has led to artifacts especially metal objects being poorly preserved.

Gergovie oppidum is an interesting and unusual site in its Celtic context because it was one of three oppida within close proximity of one another. Corent (65 hectares) and Gondole with 10 metre high rampart walls seemed to have been hastily abandoned during the Gallic Wars in favour of Gergovie. At Corent archaeologists have revealed many interesting Celtic structures and artifacts such as a stone Celtic sanctuary dating originally from 130 B.C. and evidence of ritualistic feasting practices.

Gambling was popular in Gallo-Roman times too. A lucky 6!

Arnaud told us that some recent trial excavations along the inner oppidum road are revealing a number of metal workshops - shades of Bibracte here.

Here's something special: a toiletry set with tweezers and ear wax remover that has an attachment ring.

The thick fog and the constant drizzle prevented us from visiting the temple complex and some of the other sections of the rampart walls. However, 'de rien' we put PLAN B into operation: visit the Bargoin Museum in Clermont-Ferrand.

The Bargoin Museum has a good collection of Celtic and Gallo-Roman artifacts from the Auvergne region. One cabinet displayed a range of everyday life items from Gergovie.

A blue glass bangle and a bronze bangle from Gergovie

A Celtic Gaul bronze helmet found in one of the many graves at Martres-de-Veyre in the 1850's. Poor excavation work in those days has made dating difficult.

An amazingly, conserved Celtic tunic. This bloke was 'grande'! The Celts produced superb woven 'tartan-like' material.

There are plenty of stone sculptures, ceramic figurines and bronzes in this museum too. Here is Ceres, a Gallo-Roman agricultural deity. Although the Celts and Gallo-Roman worshipped their male deities such as Mercury among the Arverni tribe, the female deity such as Rosmerta, Venus, Minerva and of course the Mother or 'Matres' goddesses are very popular. It strikes me that this is still true today with Mother Mary statues so prevalent in towns and village churches and wall niches. On the World War 1 Memorials it's the grieving mothers and their deceased 'enfants' that prevail as the major nationalistic symbols. The list goes on with 'The Statue of Liberty' a gift to America from France and of course the symbol of the French Revolution itself, Mariane. Perhaps I'm drawing a long bow to say that not much changes. Here are three examples of Gallo-Roman goddesses.

Minerva Venus Rosmerta

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