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Bill Thayer

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Ch. 18
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Romans
on the Riviera and the Rhone

by W. H. Hall

originally published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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 p179  Chapter XIX
Via Aurelia (continued)

Sections 4 and 5.

That the original constructors of the first road used by the Romans beyond the Alps, i.e. from the Var onwards into Gaul, were the Massiliots about the year B.C. 154, I have already explained, and at the same time pointed out that the Massiliot road could only have been of use to the Romans as far as Forum Julii, because it there branched off to the southward, being under the obligation of keeping within a mile and a half of the sea.

It seems therefore right to call Section 4 of the Via Aurelia from the Var to the Forum Julii after its original constructors, 'Via Massiliensis.' That it was taken in hand and utilized by Augustus as a continuation of the Julia Augusta is however proved by a milestone bearing his name, of which I shall say more further on.

But from the absence on any of the milestones discovered westward of the Var of any reference to the total distance in miles either from Rome, or from the Trebia, Section 4 cannot be considered as belonging to the Italian system of roads, which stopped at the Var in the time of Augustus. It was at a much later period that frontiers were ignored by the Via Aurelia.

 p180  When we come to consider Section 5 more in detail, I shall be able to adduce proof that Forum Julii was the 'Caput' of that section.

The course of the Massiliot or No. 4 Section of the Via Aurelia from the Var westwards was, as far as Cannes, as nearly as possible identical with the modern high road, which runs parallel to the railway, along the shore. The two Roman milestones, inscribed respectively with the names of Tiberius and Constantine, which are now placed side by side at the foot of the staircase of the Hotel de Ville of Vallauris, were both transported there from the side of the high road, where they originally stood. But, as might be expected, all traces of the Roman road itself have been obliterated by the modern highway constructed on the top of it.

As I observed in the previous Chapter, it was at Antibes that the Roman road (Via Vintiana) branched off from the Aurelia to Vence (Vintium), whence it was carried further inland to "Ad Salinas" (Castellane). Several milestones have been discovered beyond Vence, of which full particulars are given in Les Inscriptions de Vence by M. Bourguignat, and in Vol. XII of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum.

Carried through the centre of Cannes, on a higher level than the railway, past la Chapelle St Nicholas, the Via Aurelia, no longer identical with the main thoroughfare, is carried over the insignificant bed of the Riou by the Pont Romain, at the foot of La Croix de Garde. In the steep winding track, which from the bridge may be followed for at least two miles across the ridge of La Croix de Garde till it becomes again obliterated by the broad road-way of a modern boulevard, it requires considerable experience of Roman roads to recognize the famous Via Aurelia.

On its descent from La Croix de Garde, the road was carried over the plain of Laval past the isolated hillock of St Cassien (Arluc, Ara-luci) on the raised causeway along which the modern high road passes.

 p181  As the Station, 'Ad Horrea,' has to be fixed at some point 12 Roman miles to the west of Antipolis, and 17 or 18 (according to the Table or Itinerary respectively) to the East of Forum Julii, there is little doubt that it should be identified with Napoule, which agrees with this double condition of distances, and where remains of extensive granaries have been discovered.

At no other point in its course along the coast can the Greek traders of Marseilles have encountered more formidable obstacles to the passage of their road than in carrying it over the jagged porphyry promontories, which descend into the sea from the Esterel mountains between Napoule and Agay.

That they succeeded however in keeping, as they were bound, near the coast, is proved by a milestone found on the road, where it passed round the base of the "Sainte Baume" — the name by which the landward face of the Cap Roux is locally known.

This milestone,1 which stood midway between the Station Ad Horrea and Forum Julii, as is proved by the number VIIII engraved at its base, is inscribed with the name of Augustus, proving that he utilized the Massiliot or Greek road for a time, pending the construction of the more convenient Roman road, which crossed the Esterel by what is now known as the old road to Cannes on the north side of the range.

Several milestones, two of which are preserved in the Museum at Frejus, have been discovered on the Roman rectification of the course of the Massiliot road. One of these states that the Emperor Nero restored the rectification, proving that it was carried out considerably before his time — either by Augustus himself or by Tiberius.

Entering Forum Julii by the Porta Romana, of which the stately double archway was still standing in  p182 the beginning of the last century, the Roman road, afterwards Via Aurelia, formed the main thoroughfare of the city, passing out of it at the Porta Gallica.2

Whether the original Massiliot road also entered Forum Julii at the point where the Porta Romana was afterwards erected, it is not easy to determine. It is probable, however, that it did not issue from the walls by the Porta Gallica, but by a lower gate facing south and nearer the shore. Here, however, we part company with it.

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Ancient and modern Fréjus

That Forum Julii was the Caput of Section 5 of the Via Aurelia is proved by the numbering of the miles on a milestone originally found on the Via Aurelia at Camp-Dumy, and now standing in a sheltered corner, outside the parish corner of the adjacent village of Cabasse (Matavone).

The milestone in question is one of the series erected by the Emperor Constantine the Great. It is numbered 5470 on p40 of Vol. XII of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, where the inscription is given in full.

The number of miles, which is always found at the end of the inscription, when specified at all, is here


corresponding as near as possible with the actual distance by road from Frejus.

If only the practice of engraving the total distance from the Caput Viae on every milestone had been universal, we should have had an invaluable means of correcting the inaccuracies and discrepancies in the distances given by the Itinerary and Table respectively.

While the Itinerary and the Table give the distances from Forum Julii to Forum Vocontii as XII and XVII,  p183 and from Forum Voconii to Matavone as XII and XXII respectively, making a total of XXIV by the Itinerary and XXXIX by the Table, the actual distance is XXXIII as marked on the milestone.

The actual measurement on the milestone also corroborates the statement in the letter of Plancus to Cicero3 that Forum Voconii was 24 miles from Forum Julii, for Camp-Dumy where the milestone was found is about nine miles from Forum Voconii (le Luc).

The milestone found there is by no means the only evidence of the passage of the Via Aurelia at Camp-Dumy. For I followed the unmistakeable track of the road itself for more than a mile westward from the end of the picturesque mediaeval bridge, replacing the Roman structure, which carried the Via Aurelia over the stream of the Issole, which vies with the Argens in its silvery limpidity.

In the town of Brignollesº some 10 miles further west a square-shaped milestone, 6 ft. high, similar to that in the museum at Frejus, is now erected in a market garden formerly within the precincts of a Capuchin monastery. It bears witness to the activity of the Emperor Nero in repairing this portion of the road.

A precisely similar milestone, with a similar inscription — both unfortunately wanting in the item of the total of miles from the Caput Viae — is to be seen on the lofty terrace of the Château of Tourves, splendid even in its ruins, which look down on the town of Tourves, the Roman station of Ad Turrem.4

Between the Station Ad Turrem and the next, Tegulata (see Section of Peutinger's Table), I walked over the Via Aurelia itself for at least four miles, picking  p184 up the thread of it where it crosses the high road, about a mile to the south of the town of St Maximin.

A facsimile of a milestone erected by the Emperor Claudius (father of Nero by adoption), the original of which is to be seen in the cloister of the Monastery, attached to the magnificent church of St Maximin, has been placed in situ on the road, whence the monks removed the original.

The Via Aurelia, in its passage to the south of the town, avoids the plain in which St Maximin lies, by insinuating itself amongst the mountains, the most striking of which is called 'Mont Aurèle' — presumably after the road. The milestone stands at about a mile from the point where the stony track representing the Via Aurelia rejoins the high road from St Maximin to Aix.

On emerging from the mountains, where it crosses the watershed dividing the basin of the Argens from that of the Arc, the Via Aurelia proceeds onwards to Aquae Sextiae across the battle-field of Marius, running between the elongated ridge of the Mont Sainte Victoire and the River Arc for several miles.

From Aquae Sextiae to Arelate5 (Arles) as is clearly shown in the Table of Peutinger, the Via Aurelia forms a loop, one branch leading by Massilia (Marseilles) and the Fossae Marianae, while the other and more direct passes by Pisavis (near Salon) and across the plain of La Crau. The former is adopted by the Itinerary of Antonine to the exclusion of the latter, whereas both are indicated by the Table of Peutinger, which makes the distance from Aquae Sextiae to Arles 114 miles via Marseilles and only 58 via Pisavis (Salon).

It is certain that the original Via Domitia followed the latter route, as being the shortest cut from Forum Julii to the Rhone at Arles. To have taken their road as the Itinerary does through Massilia and Greek territory would have been contrary to Roman policy at the date  p185 of its original construction, when Marseilles was an independent Republic and faithful ally of Rome.

As my final contribution towards the elucidation of this intricate question I submit, in tabular form for the sake of clearness, the best conclusions I can arrive at as to the course and nomenclature of the coast-road, styled by the Itinerary of Antonine

Via Aurelia
A Roma per Tusciam et Alpes Maritimas Arelatum usque m.p. DCCXCVII.

Original Name Author Starting Point Finishing Point Date B.C.
Section 1 Aurelia C. Aurelius Cotta Rome Vada Volaterrana 241
Section 2 Aemilia Scauri M. Aemilius Scaurus Vada Volaterrana Vada Sabata 109
Section 3 Julia Augusta Augustus Vada Sabata Var 12
Section 4 Massiliensis Unknown Var Forum Julii 154
Section 5 Domitia Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus Forum Julii Arelate 121

Whether we are justified in calling it Via Aurelia or not, is perhaps of less importance than the fact which is universally admitted, that there was at one time a continuous coast road from Rome to Arles.

The Author's Notes:

1 This milestone was rescued from oblivion by the author, who finding it in two pieces cast away in an abandoned cemetery, had it put together and set up in the esplanade at St Raphael.

2 In order to prove beyond a doubt that the now banked up central portion of the gateway was formerly open, I had the ground excavated till wheel-ruts, worn in the pebble pavement leading right up to the centre of the structure, were laid bare.

3 See p159.

4 To my great surprise, and no small satisfaction, I found in the ancient hostelry of St Jean at Tourves (a station on the railway between Carnoulles and Gardanne) a nicely furnished sitting room and clean bedrooms, which combined with the attractions of the ruined Château and its grounds render it the most desirable stopping place between Frejus and Aix-en‑Provence.

5 The ancient name for Arles, Arelate (or Arelatum), becomes Arelato in the ablative case, as in the Table of Peutinger.

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Page updated: 26 Aug 16