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Tolosa in Narbonensis

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
Pre-Roman Toulouse

The populating of Toulouse’s plain is witnessed during protohistoric period. This period, also called the Metal Age, spans from 2300 to 50 years before the Common Era (BCE). The end of this period is marked in Western Europe by development of the Celtic culture. The authors of Antiquity named the Celts who settled in Gaul “Gauls.” Thanks to Cesar’s and Strabon’s texts, we learn that Toulouse, then called Tolosa., was the capital of the Tolosates, a population included in the confederation of Volcae Tectosages. The texts do not provide the precise location of Gallic Tolosa. However, important remains allow us to hypothesize that the capital of the Tolosates was made up of several major sites.
In Old Toulouse, the remains of a noble Gallic village were excavated on the hills overseeing the Garonne’s right bank. This oppidum dominating the plain of Toulouse was likely Tolosa’s center of political and religious power.
Other discoveries allow us to imagine the vast area of Tolosa described by the ancient authors. The Gallic oppidum of Old Toulouse is abandoned at the beginning of the reign of Emperor Augustus (between 27 BCE and 14 CE), with the creation of the Roman province of Narbonne.  It is then taken over by the capital of the city. In the plain and on the right bank of the Garonne, a new Toulouse is founded conserving its name, Tolosa, a rare occurrence during this epic.

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
Toulouse during the Roman epic

The City of Tolosa is one of the vastest Roman provinces in Narbonensis, and its capital is one of the great cities of the Western Roman world. While it is difficult to estimate the size of the population, the layout of its surrounding fortification, three kilometers long, allows us to determine its area to be ninety hectares.

The Roman city is organized around streets equipped with a sophisticated sewage system, constructed before the roadways. Two of the principal streets intersect at the forum, a large public square surrounded by buildings linked to the city’s social, political, economic, and religious life. A market was probably next to the civil basilica (where justice is mete out), a curia (where the municipal council meets) and temples.

Of these buildings, only one monumental temple was located and partially excavated. This imposing structure is called capitolium like that in Rome. 
Dedicated to three divinities, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, it towers over the large esplanade with arcades supported by columns surrounding it. Other known public buildings inside the city’s ramparts include another temple, a theater built near the Garonne, maybe an amphitheater, and public thermae built between the forum and the Narbonensis gate. The city is supplied with water by an aqueduct that crosses the river before entering into the city. Outside of the city wall, four kilometers northwest of Tolosa, we find a village, a sanctuary of the confluence, comprised of a temple, an amphitheater, and at least two large public thermae. Established at the confluence of the Touch and the Garonne, at the site of the present district Ancely, this city witnesses a burgeoning population during certain celebrations that attract the inhabitants of the City of Tolosa as well as their representatives.
Tolosa oversees Late Antiquity in the far West of the province of Narbonensis. The city benefits from its status as a Roman colony beginning at an uncertain date. Possibly when it is authorized to build a wall (at the beginning of the 1st century BCE) or under the reign of Emperor Domitian (between 51 and 96 BCE) who gave it the title Palladia Tolosa, thus placing the city under the protection of Pallas-Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

Circa the third or fourth century, we notice numerous modifications in the city planning. The rampart is completed along the Garonne. The forum’s large temple is closed following imperial edicts forbidding the practice of traditional religions. Part of it is dismantled and its materials salvaged.

The beginning of the fifth century is marked by the arrival of the Visigoth kings in Toulouse. They arrive with the authorization of the imperial power to settle in the southwest of Gaul.

© J.-B. Pech
© J.-B. Pech
The roman province of Narbonnaise

The founding of the province of Transalpine was completed between 122 and 118 BCE and may be attributed to Domitius.
Between 58 and 44 BCE, Cesar begins a new process of colonization which sparks the Gallic War, in which the province of Transalpine served as the rearguard. He restructured the colony in Narbonne.

In 27 Common Era, Augustus, his successor, convenes an assembly in Narbonne to take a census of the Gauls and decide on their civil and political state. This may be the date of the designation of Narbonensis, la Narbonnaise. Narbonensis is totally integrated into the Roman world. Augustus expands his colonial power and founds Beziers, Orange, and Fréjus. Plans for monuments linked to the imperial cult are quickly achieved, particularly that of Augustus which can be witnessed in the portraits of Beziers exposed in this section.

The monuments, in addition to being magnificent architectural works, become the frame of a new social structure and a new way of life.

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