Greco-Roman collection in the Musée d’Archéologie

Greco-Roman collection in the Musée d’Archéologie

Around 2600 years ago, around 600 BC, the Greeks founded a small settlement on the south coast of what is now France as part of their colonization and gave it the name "Massalia". We have already written an article about this.

In doing so, they laid the foundation for a city that has proven its permanence over the centuries and, through its historical significance, has linked the most diverse eras with one another - starting with the Greeks and Romans up to modern times.

Tour of the Greco-Roman Museum of Marseille

museum roemer marseille 1It is clear that these centuries have also left their mark and it is also clear that these finds in the last few centuries, in which people have been intensively studying pre-cultures, have led to collections that provide a deep insight into the Greco-Roman period of Marseille and the surrounding area and its origins.

In the area of so-called classical antiquity, exhibits from the Middle East, Etruria and Cyprus are presented.

The collection from Cyprus with 185 pieces presents two thousand years of history of the Mediterranean island. Ancient Greece is represented with Attic and Corinthian ceramics.

Architectural fragments, coins and portraits from the Roman period can be seen, especially finds from Marseille itself.

Prehistory of Marseille - settlement from Phokaia

museum roemer marseille 2As a reminder: According to Herodotus, around the year 545 BC, immigrants from Phokaia again came to the city. They had fled after Harpagos, general of King Cyrus II of Persia, had conquered Phokaia. Phokaia was an ancient Greek city in Asia Minor on the coast of the Aegean Sea in the Gulf of Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey). The city was founded between the 10th and 8th centuries BC by settlers who came from the Greek mainland. The ancient name is also reflected in the name of today's Turkish city of Foça.

In the year 546 BC In the 4th century BC, Phocaea was captured by the Persians under Cyrus the Great. The rich families of the metropolis had enough time to flee and seek refuge in their colonies, thus contributing to their development. Nevertheless, the site of Phocaea was not completely abandoned, as evidenced by the theater built in the 4th century BC. The famous Temple of Athena collapsed after an earthquake in the 2nd century AD, but was rebuilt in marble by the Romans.

Greek colonists from Asia Minor

museum roemer marseille 3The Greek cities of Asia Minor were prosperous and their wealth grew as they developed relations with the colonies they had founded around the Mediterranean. Thus, in the 6th century BC, Phocaea became the metropolis (mother city) of the Greek colonies in the western Mediterranean.

The Phocaeans founded Massalia (Marseille) near the mouth of the Rhône, then Auenion (Avignon), Agathe Tyche (Agde), Aigitna (Cannes), Antipolis (Antibes) and Nikaia (Nice), Allalia (Aléria), a trading post on the east coast of Corsica, and Hyele (Elea) in southern Italy, as well as powerful colonies in Spain, such as Emporion (Empúries) in Catalonia.

The Greek word ἐμπόριον (empórion) referred to a maritime trading post.

museum roemer marseille 4In the area around Massalia there were repeated conflicts with the Celtic tribes that dominated Gaul. In 125 BC Massalia called on the troops of the Roman Empire for help against the attacks of Gallic tribes (Ligurians, Allobroges, Salluvii, Arverni and Vocontii). The Romans came, won and eventually settled in the area. In the course of the war, the entire area of southern Gaul was annexed by the Romans as the province of Gallia Narbonensis. Massalia itself, however, was not harassed by them. The city itself initially remained an ally of Rome and was able to maintain its independence for several decades.

During the years of the civil war between Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey, Massalia wanted to remain neutral, but Caesar did not tolerate this. It was only when the city decided not to take sides in the civil war between Pompey and Caesar in the years 49-46 BC that it was conquered by Caesar's soldiers and renamed "Massilia". In 46 BC, the city was finally conquered after a six-month siege and soon after was integrated into the province of Narbonensis. It remained part of the Roman Empire until the end of the Empire and gradually lost its Greek character.

Prehistoric local history in the museum

museum roemer marseille 5Here, Celtic-Ligurian pillars with skull cavities from Roquepertuse, a site near the town of Velaux in Provence, are probably one of the highlights.

According to current research, in addition to the building complex interpreted as a sanctuary, there was at least one craftsmen's quarter and one residential quarter.

According to current interpretation, it was completely destroyed in a Roman attack in 124 BC, but the time of destruction is also possible earlier in the 2nd century BC.

During the Second Punic War, the Romans formed an alliance with the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseille).

museum roemer marseille 6Celts living near this town threatened the colonies and attacked Roman legions on their way to Spain.

The Greeks called on their allied partner for help and Rome organized a first punitive expedition in 124 BC. The Celts initially defended themselves successfully.

The Romans lost some soldiers and retreated.

Roman sources report that the barbarians beheaded the bodies of the Romans and nailed the mummified skulls to the walls of their sanctuaries and houses.

The following year, a second expedition followed under the leadership of the consul Gaius Sextius Calvinus.

museum roemer marseille 7The troops now marched with catapults that hurled stone balls weighing 6 kilograms.

The Romans positioned these weapons on the mountain slopes of the capital Entremont and at the sanctuary of Roquepertuse.

After a few days, the Celts gave up and fled, while the Romans completely destroyed Entremont and Roquepertuse.

The wooden buildings collapsed and burned. Reconstruction was prohibited and the legion founded the new city nearby: Colonia Aquae Sextia, today's Aix-en-Provence. The Salluvier people were eliminated and replaced by other Celts, Romans and Greeks. Roquepertuse and Entremont were never rebuilt.

museum roemer marseille 9The exhibits and Celtic-Ligurian pieces shown here in the museum come mostly from the Roquepertuse oppidum and are shown in a separate room. Pillars with oval niches arranged one above the other for the attachment of heads were intended for the Celtic skull cult.

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