The Gallo-Roman mausoleum of Faverolles

Theatrical mask with the face of a Maenad.

About a mile outside the small village of Faverolles in the Haute-Marne, one can find the imposing remains of a Gallo-Roman mausoleum from the early Imperial era. It stood along the road leading from Langres, which was then called Andematunnum, to the valley of the river Blaise and then perhaps on to Reims (Durocortorum). The monument must have been truly gigantic. Its square base measured 7.70 metres on every side and it is estimated that the monument was between 24 and 25 metres high. The mausoleum was basically a tower composed of three different levels.

Unfortunately, like so many monuments from Antiquity, the mausoleum has over the centuries been used as a quarry. Especially the blocks of stone which made up the base of the mausoleum were excellent building material. And that is exactly why one nowadays can only admire the foundations of that base, covered by a provisional roof. Visitors may find this disappointing after the long ride to Faverolles, but the vicinity of the Roman road and a reconstruction of the mausoleum on a 1:4 scale offer sufficient compensation. Visitors should furthermore always go to the Atelier Archéologique de Faverolles, which is the archaeological museum in the village. The museum has tens of thousands of pieces of sculptural work which have been preserved. The largest and most beautiful pieces have been put on display here and enthusiastic employees of the museum give interesting tours. Opening hours of the Atelier Archéologique de Faverolles can be found here.

Remains of the base of the mausoleum.

Scale model of the mausoleum.

The mausoleum

Andematunnum was one of the most important towns of the Gallic tribe of the Lingones. The Lingones sided with the Romans during Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, fought between 58 and 50 BCE. Their allegiance to Rome is proven by the fact that Caesar had his legions winter in their territories[1], and by their refusal to participate in the great assembly at Bibracte that appointed Vercingetorix, leader of the resistance against the Romans, as supreme commander of all the Gauls.[2] The Lingones furthermore provided the Romans with cavalry for their army.[3] Because of their close ties to Rome, the Lingones became Romanised fairly quickly. The most plausible theory regarding the origins of the mausoleum is that it was constructed by and for a member of the tribe who was rich as Croesus. The fact that the monument was situated along the Roman road ensured that future generations would remember him: the sheer size of the mausoleum made it hard to miss. One should also keep in mind that the monument was erected on open terrain: the forest that we see today did not exist back then.

When we visited the archaeological museum, the guide on duty presented us with an alternative theory. The man who had the mausoleum built may also have been a former Roman soldier. When he left the army, he may have been granted land, and on the edge of this land he may subsequently have had his mausoleum constructed. If this theory is correct, then the man can never have been an ordinary Roman soldier. The mausoleum certainly cost him a fortune, so he must have been a high-ranking officer. But whoever commissioned the mausoleum, the man who did had it installed on the western edge of his estate, for we know that a large Gallo-Roman villa was located east of the monument.

Interior of the museum.

It is difficult to establish when exactly the mausoleum was built. We only know for certain that it was during the early Imperial era, possibly in about 20 BCE[4], but perhaps as late as the reign of the emperor Tiberius (14-37).[5] If I remember correctly, the guide at the museum even mentioned a date of about 50 CE. It should be noted that it is conceivable that some elements of the monument were later additions. The original spire of the mausoleum may for instance have been destroyed by lightning, necessitating a replacement.[6] At the spot where the monument once stood one can still see that it was built on a ramp and surrounded by a moat which measured 32 metres on every side. The building literally towered above the adjacent Roman road. An interesting question is whether the man who commissioned the mausoleum was actually buried in it. At present there is no evidence that the building had a burial chamber, which makes it somewhat more likely that it was intended as a cenotaph.

The Gallo-Roman mausoleum of Faverolles was rediscovered in 1980. Since then enough material has been recovered to allow experts to make a fairly reliable reconstruction of the monument. One scale model has been set up in the Atelier Archéologique (see the image above) and another at a small distance from the original location of the mausoleum (see the image above the previous image). The latter model is 6 metres high. It was unveiled in 2009. The reconstruction allows us to conclude that the monument was composed of three separate levels, which were all embellished with Corinthian capitals, reliefs and other sculptural work. As was already mentioned above, the base of the mausoleum was square. The lower part of the base had large steps, and the upper part was provided with a frieze that had a text. We may assume that travellers could read the name of the deceased here, but unfortunately virtually nothing of the frieze has been preserved.

The Roman road.

The base supported a second level, which was octagonal in shape and consisted of pilasters and blind arches. The second level possibly had fake rectangular windows, of which some latticework has been recovered. And then there was a third level comprising a podium decorated with wreaths and presumably with the theatrical masks which will be discussed below. The podium in its turn supported a colonnade of eight Corinthian columns. In the centre of the colonnade was a thicker column decorated with reliefs of weapons and shields (which is ample evidence that the man who commissioned the mausoleum had a military background). The building was topped by an octagonal spire. The tip of the spire may have been a pine cone, a symbol of immortality. If there was such a cone, it was probably made of gilded bronze, as pieces of this material have been found near the mausoleum. The bronze reflected light, which ensured that the monument could have been seen from afar.

The Roman road

Gaul was certainly not a region inhabited by stupid barbarians. Long before the Roman conquest it already had an extensive network of roads. After Gaul had become part of the Roman Empire, the existing roads were improved and new roads were built. The importance of Andematunnum is demonstrated by the fact that it was situated at an intersection of several different roads. The road to Durocortorum, the main town of the Remi, has already been mentioned, but there were also roads leading to Augustodunum (Autun), Lugdunum (Lyon), Vesontio (Besançon), Argentoratum (Strasbourg) and Augusta Treverorum (Trier).

Lion with a calf between its paws.

In spite of its age, the Roman road near Favorelles appears to be in pretty good condition. Even the ruts left by heavy carts can still clearly be seen. One gets the impression that travelling on this road was not the most comfortable experience, although certainly this road was better than no road at all.

The archaeological museum

A ticket to the Atelier Archéologique de Faverolles cost us just 3,50 Euro, which is excellent value for money. It is of course possible to only visit the mausoleum and skip the museum, but people who do so will miss a lot of context and a nice collection of sculptures as well. To sum up, the museum is a must-see. It comprises a single room and unfortunately none of the objects have captions, but this is compensated rather well by the personal tour given by the guide. I particularly liked the interaction with our guide, but do keep in mind that most employees of the museum only speak French.

In the museum, the best finds from the area of the mausoleum have been put up on display. The museum too has a scale model of the monument, but what sets this model apart from the other one outside Faverolles is that an attempt has been made to put the sculptures in the right places. Of course this involves a rather high degree of speculation. Experts assume that there were two stone lions at the foot of the base. One of these lions has been preserved very well and one can still see how the animal is holding a young cow between its paws. Somewhere on the monument a spot was reserved for a bear, of which the head is kept in the museum. A horse and cart were also part of the decorations of the base. The legs of the horse have been preserved and the wheel spokes of the cart have been recovered.

Triton (and archer?).

Sea creatures, also known as tritons, possibly stood on the base and surrounded the octagonal part of the monument. A bust of one of these creatures has been put on display. We know that these sculptures were sea creatures because of the scaly tails that have been found. It is difficult to establish what kind of objects the creatures were holding. The objects may have been shells, but the posture of the creatures reminded me of archers taking arrows from their quivers.

Especially good were three theatrical masks from the third level. The two male faces are those of Bacchus (also known as Dionysos) and his companion and teacher Silenus. The female face is that of a Maenad, a follower of Bacchus. She took part in the ecstatic rituals of the wine god, rituals which had caused great consternation in Rome some 150-200 years before the mausoleum was built. In early Imperial Gaul, however, the cult of Bacchus was no longer controversial. This should not surprise us, given the almost proverbial Gallic love of good wine. The theatrical masks are of very high quality. Note the facial features and small details such as the beards, the hair and the flowers, all very well done.

Masks of Silenus, a Maenad and Bacchus.

As was mentioned above, the third level of the mausoleum was a podium which supported a colonnade of Corinthian capitals. The colonnade surrounded a thicker central column with decorations featuring arms. Parts of these reliefs have been preserved, and we see a sword which is clearly the Roman gladius, as well as shields that are either circular or octagonal. This makes the shields Celtic rather than Roman. This level of the monument must have featured the statues of the deceased and his family. Unfortunately the museum only has a head of a beardless young man, possibly the son of the man who commissioned the mausoleum.

The mausoleum was topped by a spire, which itself may have been topped by a pine cone (see above). A large chunk of the spire has been preserved and can be admired at the museum. Next to it we see an object which may have served as a holder for the cone. The history of this object is quite interesting: according to our guide it was for centuries used as baptismal font at the local church.



[1] De Bello Gallico, Book VI.44.

[2] De Bello Gallico, Book VII.63.

[3] De Bello Gallico, Book VIII.11.

[4] According to this website.

[5] James Bromwich, The Roman Remains of Northern and Eastern France: A Guidebook, p. 291.

[6] According to Serge Février, Le mausolée gallo-romain de Faverolles (Haute-Marne), Supplément à la Revue archéologique du centre de la France, Année 1993-6,  p. 97, note 5.

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