A site in France demonstrates the importance of Christianity in late antiquity


Do you know Autun? Several hundred tombs have been unearthed in this city in the department of Saône et Loire, the ancient Roman Augustodunum. The dating of this necropolis is important since it would have been used during the period of late antiquity, a few centuries before the advent of the Middle Ages. A period in which Christianity developed in Gaul, then under the rule of the Roman Empire.

This necropolis was discovered in this city of Burgundy-France-County by teams from Inrap, the French public institution in charge of preventive archeology, and was in operation between the 3rd and 5th centuries. The hypothesis raised by the archaeologists and anthropologists who participated In these excavations in the neighborhood of Saint-Pierre-l “Estrier it is that some of the deceased buried there were Christians. At that time, in fact, Christianization was still in its infancy outside the Roman Empire.

A great necropolis where “everything is mixed”

The various burials discovered at the site do not follow an identical pattern, according to specialists, which testifies to a “Christianity under construction” that, therefore, is found in non-standard funeral practices.

Thus, archaeologists have discovered a wide variety of burial methods covering the three centuries in which the necropolis was used. Wooden coffins, stone or lead coffins and sarcophagi, or an amphora containing the remains of a baby were unearthed (a fairly common practice from ancient times to late antiquity).

Treasures belonging to the high aristocracy of the city …

For scientists, this site, which undoubtedly houses the last dwellings of the Christian community in the city, is also distinguished by the great variety of social origins. While some burials contain only the bodies of the deceased, others attest to membership in a local aristocracy. Objects that are extremely rare in Roman Gaul were discovered in some sarcophagi, such as amber or jet pins, gold rings or earrings. Clothing woven from gold threads has also been exhumed from these graves.

But an even more rare object was discovered: a diatom vase. To date, only about ten complete examples of these chiseled glass objects have been discovered. They were the prerogative of an elite often close to Roman imperial power.

After the end of this excavation campaign, the discovered objects will be studied in the laboratory to reveal all their secrets.

Autun or the abandonment of a Celtic culture

Autun, or rather Augustodunum, was founded by Emperor Augustus a few decades before our era. In this region lived a Celtic people, allied for a long time to Rome, the Aedui. The Aedui settled in this new city after leaving Bibracte, their former capital. At Autun, they gradually abandoned their Celtic culture. No element of Celtic tradition has been discovered in the necropolis.

The Aedui, in order to protect themselves from other Celtic peoples, such as the Arverni, had concluded an alliance with Rome around the 2nd century BC Although this alliance may have been broken, particularly during the Gallic War, where the Aedui sided with Vercingetorix , they benefited greatly from its proximity to the Roman Empire.


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