Tintignac, Where the Gauls’ Favor of the Gods Couldn’t Last Forever
Like many countries in western Europe, France was deeply influenced by the Romans and the Celts who left remarkable monuments that today are major archaeological and historic sites. Because the area was used during both eras in history, Tintignac has provided fascinating insights into the military and religious history of both these ancient cultures.
The History of Tintignac
Tintignac was founded in the 3 rd century BC by Celtic groups, also known as the Gauls. It was a major religious center with a temple and a sanctuary. Weapons and other precious goods were deposited in a pit dug in the sanctuary as offerings to the gods to secure their favor. Some of these were likely booty taken during the many wars of the Celts, not at all an uncommon practice in ancient societies in Europe and beyond.
Archaeologists have found that the temple was made of wood and was surrounded by a timber palisade. It appears that there was a substantial settlement around the complex, and by the 1 st century BC it had developed into a thriving town.
Vercingetorix, statue of a famous Gaul warrior who defied the Roman emperor Julius Caesar in Alesia ( MAMODA / Adobe Stock)
Between 58 and 51 BC Julius Caesar engaged in the war against the Gauls and it is believed that Tintignac and its buildings were destroyed during this time. As the site continued to be used after the Roman conquest, Romano-Gauls made offerings, although their wooden temple had been demolished. A decree of syncretism developed between Celtic and Roman religions in ancient France. A Roman-Gallo temple was built and also possibly a Pantheon, dedicated to the imperial cult.
The remains of a theatre were found, which indicates that Tintignac became a major Gallo-Romano urban settlement. Several other Roman buildings have been excavated but they have been reburied to preserve them.
Famous Dying Gaul statue in Capitoline Museum, Rome ( Natalia Bratslavsky / Adobe Stock)
Evidence suggests that the site was abandoned in the 3 rd century AD, perhaps related to Crisis of the Third Century, which saw the near collapse of the Roman Empire due to plague, civil wars and barbarian invasions. Even though a new village was founded in the area in the 12 th century AD, Tintignac was forgotten.
Archaeology of Tintignac: Offerings to the Gods
The first excavations at the site were carried out by local antiquarians. In 1840 the site was declared a monument by the Inspector of National Monuments, Prosper Merimee, who is best known as the author of Carmen on which the famous opera is based.
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The remains of the temple at Tintignac (Pymouss / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Tintignac was forgotten about again for over a century and was only excavated again in the 1950s. Between 2004-2005, archaeologists made a series of important finds such as the fanum or consecrated ground of the Roman temple, and next to it the remains of a Gallic temple. They also found a pit containing a treasure trove of objects. The find included two helmets, one with a spectacular bird design and several rings. The most remarkable of the finds were two carnyces (gallic war trumpets) which are six feet high. One has the head of a boar and the other the head of a serpent. These trumpets would have been used to give commands during war and used in ceremonies.
Head of one of the carnyx found at Tintignac. (Claude Valette / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Celt and Roman Remains at Tintignac
The remains can be seen at the Tintignac-Naves archaeological site, which is only a few miles from the town of Naves. The low walls of the Roman temple still remain as well as the cellum and fanum, where there are traces of the double sanctuary.
The sacrificial pit and the remains of the Gallic temple are protected from the elements by a tent. Scattered remains have been discovered around the location, including the remains of an aqueduct and colonnades that date from the Roman era. The outline of the Roman theatre reminds us that the inhabitants once enjoyed entertainment as much as we do. Sadly, many of the Romano-Gallo remains are buried.
Visiting Tintignac in France
The site is open for several hours every day and a small car park is available. There are several models and interactive exhibitions at the site and some models illustrate what Tintignac was like in its Gallo-Roman heyday.
Top image: Carnyx, a Celtic war trumpet found in the Gallic sanctuary of Tintignac. Source: Harrsch, M / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
By Ed Whelan
Christophe Maniquet (2004). Le sanctuaire antique des Arènes de Tintignac, Culture et Patrimoine en Limousin
Drinkwater, J. (2014). Roman Gaul (Routledge Revivals): The Three Provinces, 58 BC-AD 260 . Routledge
Available at: https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=AfpQAwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=romano-gallic+culture&ots=26sCjnXeno&sig=hg4hRz0ZRBbz690u90lwnnLb0j0&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=romano-gallic%20culture&f=false>
Maier, B. (1997). Dictionary of Celtic religion and culture . Boydell & Brewer