The southern province and ceremonial statuary

From at least the beginning of the sixth century bc, following the establishment of the Greek colony of Massilia, the Mediterranean coast of Gaul had been exposed to external influences and imports, acquiring a domestic material culture in terms of settlements and architecture as well as in pottery that was distinct from that of the barbarian hinterland. After the end of the fifth century, Massilian coastal trade declined, but by the third, Hellenistic influence is clearly visible in the appearance of urbanized settlements, the pragmatic adoption of literacy, the use of coinage and, not least, in artistic products. The specific works of relevance here are the stone heads and seated figures and related carvings that are found in the sanctuaries at Entremont, in the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence and at Roquepertuse, near Velaux, to its west. Both these sites were violently destroyed, Roquepertuse by fire in the early second century, Entremont by the forces of C. Sextius Calvinus, who defeated the local Saluvii in 124/3 bc in the process of establishing the province of Gallia Narbonnensis as the southern corridor from Italy to the Roman province in Spain. These sacred sites, at Entremont evidently destroyed in what might have amounted to a purge of paganism, therefore, plainly antedate the Roman annexation, and in all probability date from at least the third century if not earlier. The native communities of southern Gaul were on the fringes of the Celtic linguistic zone at the interface with the Mediterranean world. La Tène artefacts, as we have seen, including weaponry, are found at a number of sites, including, for example, the cemetery at Ensérune, near Béziers in the Languedoc, indicating contacts with regions further north and east. The sanctuaries of Provence are therefore commonly described as 'Celto-Ligurian', the Ligurians being a tribal group whom Strabo (IV, 6, 1-2) and Diodorus Siculus (V, 39), both drawing upon the earlier accounts of Posidonius, described as occupying the coast from the Rhône delta to the Arno.

Celto-Ligurian sanctuaries are not easily reconstructed from excavated evidence. At Roquepertuse, as at Glanum near St Rémy-de-Provence (Figure 9.3A), the focus of ritual was apparently fronted by a series of terraces, at the top of which was the shrine itself. The structure evidently consisted of a façade, incorporating pillars with niches for the display of human heads, and the statuary was doubtless part of the structural ensemble. Two pieces of sculpture are of particular importance from Roquepertuse. The first is the double-head of local limestone (Figure 9.4, 1), carved as Jacobsthal supposed by a sculptor trained in a Greek school at Massilia, but seemingly also deeply imbued with Celtic spiritual symbolism. The faces, with their squared jaws, well-defined mouths and noses drawn straight from the forehead, are more sophisticated than Celtic renderings, even though the lentoid eyes and eyelids could be matched in examples from Central Europe. More important, as Jacobsthal recognized, the damaged upstanding projection between the two back-to-back heads was evidently a leaf-crown, shared between the two faces in the manner of the Heidelberg head and Holzgerlingen pillar, both of the fifth or fourth centuries bc. This, then, is a defining feature of a Celtic deity or hero, the double or Janus portrayal also conveying omnipercipience. As Jacobsthal declared, the 'Celticity of the heads is proven beyond doubt', though the rendering bears signs of 'Greek humanity' (1944, 4). The second crucial fragment from Roquepertuse is the headless figure of a squatting god or hero in cross-legged posture (Figure 9.4, 2). The figure is depicted wearing an armless tunic, belted at the waist, and an overgarment on the shoulders that could be a ceremonial cape or body-armour. The arms are unfortunately broken, but the left is bent upwards, and surely held a symbolic object such as a torc, while the right was extended towards the knee, where a break could indicate the former presence of a severed head, upon which the right hand rested. The survival of faded paint-work serves as a reminder that this was surely not colourless statuary, but that features of the faces and the clothing worn by the squatting figures may well have been highlighted in some detail (Barbet, 1991). There are other carvings

Figure 9.3 Celto-Ligurian sanctuaries. A: Glanum, St Remy-en-Provence. B: Entremont, Aix-en-Provence. Photos by D. W. Harding.
Entremont Aix

Figure 9.4 Celto-Ligurian statuary. 1, double head from Roquepertuse, Bouches-du-Rhône;

2, squatting god or hero, from Roquepertuse, Bouches-du-Rhône (sketch drawings from various published photographs of objects in the Museé d'Archéologie Méditerranéenne, Marseilles); 3, squatting god or hero from Glanum, St-Rémy-de-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône. Adapted from Weber (2002). Not to scale.

Figure 9.4 Celto-Ligurian statuary. 1, double head from Roquepertuse, Bouches-du-Rhône;

2, squatting god or hero, from Roquepertuse, Bouches-du-Rhône (sketch drawings from various published photographs of objects in the Museé d'Archéologie Méditerranéenne, Marseilles); 3, squatting god or hero from Glanum, St-Rémy-de-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône. Adapted from Weber (2002). Not to scale.

at Roquepertuse reinforcing its spiritual ambience, including a sculpted goose, and a frieze of carved horses that Jacobsthal dismissed as 'bad and timeless' (1944, 3). Regrettably the excavations at Roquepertuse did not produce datable associations, so that it is difficult to assign the statuary a dating closer than somewhere between the fourth and second centuries. The recent restoration and reinterpretation of the Roquepertuse statuary has placed a greater emphasis on the idea that the sculpted figures were not deities but representations of the military and political elite of Celto-Ligurian society, in poses reflecting their role in life. Their association with cult symbols nevertheless underlines the continuum between the heroic and the supernatural.

At Entremont, problems of chronology are compounded by the fact that the city underwent more than one major phase of rebuilding. Within the upper precinct of Entremont III there appears to be evidence within the urban street plan for a colonnaded building, built between the bastions of the earlier city (Entremont II) beside the so-called Sacred Way (Figure 9.3B). One pillar from this building bore simple carvings of heads and a serpent, while along the street were scattered crushed skulls, some with nail perforations for ritual display. Among the fragments of statuary found along the Sacred Way was a carved head, with a human-like left hand resting upon it, most probably originally from a squatting hero or deity in the manner of the Roquepertuse sculpture. The eyes are closed and mouth down-turned, and remarkably the ear appears to be back-to-front. Elsewhere were single and grouped heads, some wearing leather helmets, and a torso, headless but apparently wearing a torc, like a cross-legged companion from the shrine at Glanum. From the presence at Entremont of both La Tene 1 and 2 brooches, and the absence of Arretine pottery, terra sigillata or Roman imperial coins, it is reasonable to believe that its destruction did indeed coincide with the annexation of southern Gaul at latest, and that much of the evidence for its ritual focus therefore derives from the third or fourth centuries bc.

The emphasis on the human head in the iconography of the Celto-Ligurian sanctuaries is demonstrated in no more gruesome form than in the sculpture that Megaw succinctly described as a 'great ithyphallic carnivore' (1970a, 78), the so-called Tarasque de Noves from the Bouches-du-Rhone. This fearsome creature - assuming it to be an authentic antiquity and not of much later date - belongs within the broad category of oriental-inspired 'voracious beasts', grasping in its jaws a human arm complete with bracelet on the wrist. Its triangular claws are firmly holding a pair of human heads, eyes shut like the depressed head from Entremont that was suffering the same fate and flowing, forked beards that are much more extravagant than the usual Celtic rendering. The closest parallel is the unprovenanced sculpture, formerly assigned to Linsdorf in Alsace, a scaly monster with enlarged eyes and flaring nostrils, holding a pair of clean-shaven heads, which has very similar triangular teeth and claws. The fact that the voracious lion from Cramond, Edinburgh, apparently of Roman date, displays similar features, however, shows the potential longevity of this tradition in sculpture.

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Responses

  • Jess
    Why are dieties sculpted with eyes closed?
    6 years ago

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