Space and Movement in an Iron Age Oppidum: Integrating Geophysical and Topographic Survey at Entremont, Provence

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The degree to which urbanisation in the indigenous societies of temperate Europe was a direct reflection of Mediterranean prototypes is a recurrent question in Iron Age studies. The organisation of social space within indigenous centres is an important element in this debate, and in particular the degree to which elements of Mediterranean urban infrastructure were adopted and transformed. Southern France, lying at the western limits of the Alps and connected to western Central Europe via the Rhone-Saone corridor, represents one of the most direct interface zones between the two regions. The Greek colony of Massalia, while forming an important and influential neighbour from its foundation around 600 BC (Rothe & Treziny 2005), existed on the edge of a region dominated by 'barbarian' communities with strong cultural links to the broader Iron Age societies of temperate Europe.


The Iron Age oppidum of Entremont was one of the key settlements in this region, and was active at a pivotal time in relations with the Greek and Roman worlds. Occupying a prominent hilltop overlooking the modern city of Aix-en-Provence in southern France (Figure 1), the site is widely believed to have been the political/military capital of the Saluvian confederacy that emerged during the second century BC as the major indigenous power in the region. Indeed it was the threat of Saluvian aggression to the nearby Greek colony of Massalia (modern Marseille) that led to Roman military intervention in Gaul and ultimately to the creation, in the late second century BC, of Rome's first major territory outside Italy; the province of Gallia Narbonensis (Ebel 1976). Entremont itself is thought to have been sacked by the Roman army around 125 BC, and ultimately abandoned in favour of the new town of Aquae Sextiae (modern Aix) around 90 BC.

The visible remains of the oppidum comprise a fortified enclosure known as the 'Upper Town' (Habitat 1), built around 180/170 BC, and the much larger 'Lower Town' (Habitat 2) which was added a generation or so later, around 150 BC (Figure 2). Entremont is perhaps best known, however, for the remarkable series of carved stones that pre-date the oppidum and appear to derive from an earlier sanctuary on the hilltop. These famously include several statues of cross-legged warriors clutching severed human heads (Figure 3), as well as pillars and lintels bearing carved heads and/or niches for the display of real ones (Salviat 1993; Armit 2010, 2012). Although dating from around the fifth to third centuries BC (Arcelin & Rapin 2003), some of this material (including the third-century BC warrior statues) remained on display in secondary contexts within the oppidum, principally in and around the 'hypostyle': an unusually large building with internal pillars and a portico along its frontage (Figure 2).


Archaeological excavations, carried out intermittently since the end of the Second World War, have exposed a dense pattern of streets and buildings in both the Upper and Lower Towns. The former in particular appears to have been a crowded settlement of essentially repetitive blocks of small rectangular houses separated by narrow roads arranged in a grid pattern. Further rows of more or less identical structures lined the inner edge of the ramparts. The Lower Town contains a more varied array of house forms (McCartney 2006), some composed of multiple units with evidence for craft specialisation, but it remains nonetheless a tightly-packed mass of buildings grouped into 'islets', divided by narrow roads (Benoit 1975; Arcelin 2006). Although the hypostyle was probably a public building of some kind, excavations have revealed no evidence for public open spaces (e.g. markets, ritual precincts, spaces for livestock) or distinctive architectures (e.g. warehouses, storage facilities, workshops, temple complexes) which might unlock our understanding of settlement organisation within what is often regarded as an urban, or at least proto-urban, centre. …