1. An aerial view of the team of INRAP archaeologists at work on the site of the domus at Auch.

Gallo-Roman 'des res' found in Auch

A vast aristocratic Gallo-Roman residence is being excavated in Auch, the historical capital of the Gers department (formerly known as Gascony) in south-west France. The discovery is particularly important in so far as little had been uncovered from Auch's Gallo-Roman past until now.

The site lies some 100 metres from the forum of Elimberris (the pre-Roman name of the city) which was on the right bank of the River Gers, below the modern urban centre. It was first mentioned by the Romans when they conquered the area, then inhabited by an Aquitanian tribe, circa 50 BC.

2. and 3. Details of the colourful flower and leaf motifs from the 'Aquitanian style' mosaic floors found
at the site at Auch.

Excavation work carried out many years ago and some 10 further diagnoses had detected human settlements dating back to the second half of the 1st century BC, but the first signs of real urbanisation appear only at the beginning of the 1st century AD. That period marks the beginning of urban expansion, structured by a road network oriented on the cardinal points. Archaeological surveys indicate the presence of a forum and quality private residences. The city seemed to thrive during the Late Roman Empire, when luxury residences including thermae and mosaic floors were built. One of them is at present being cleared. The thermae were added to the vast domus around AD 320–30. At least three rooms in a 28-metre-long and 10-metre-wide wing had an under-floor central heating system known as a radiating hypocaust.

Each floor was decorated with polychrome mosaics, two with geometrical patterns, composed of a combination of octagons and squares in one, and rosettes in the other. The third, the largest, forms a carpet of complex geometrical and flower and leaf motifs. Fragments of black, bluish, green and red molten glass tesserae found in the rubble embedded in the ground indicate that some of the walls were also decorated with mosaics.
These mosaics are related to what is called the 'Aquitanian style', which was developed towards the end of Empire
in south-western Gaul.

Such floors were often found in rural villages, but are much rarer in urban buildings – before this they had only been unearthed in Bordeaux and Eauze.

The domus went through two major architectural alterations during its history, as shown by the presence of an older mosaic found under one in the 4th-century remains. This aristocratic residence was abandoned at the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century when it was systematically taken apart. The building material was salvaged: walls were dismantled stone by stone, the marble paving was ripped up and tiles from the heating system were taken away, which damaged part of the mosaic floors.

The archaeologists are now mounting the remaining mosaics on canvas so that they can be removed and sent for conservation and restoration. When this is completed, they will be displayed to the public. In the meantime, the excavation is ongoing on the site, focusing on remaining features from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

(This work is being done by the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeology or INRAP; see www.inrap.fr/).
Nicole Benazeth