A couple of kilometres north of Aix-en-Provence, one finds the oppidum of Entremont, occupied between c. 190 and 90 BCE by a Celto-Ligurian tribe known as the Salyes or Salluvii. The site has been extensively excavated and work is still on-going. Its northern slopes are protected by a still impressive defensive wall. The southern slopes that face towards Montagne Sainte-Victoire, made famous by Cézanne, are steeper and have less elaborate defensive structures except for a nicely constructed “postern“.
View south from Entremont, towards Montagne Sainte-Victoire, on a hazy summer day. Photo: TMK, July 2006.
Entremont is especially famous for the evidence found there of the ‘severed head cult’. This ‘cult’ is mentioned by Strabo (IV.4.5):
In addition to their folly, they have a barbarous and absurd custom, common however with many nations of the north, of suspending the heads of their enemies from their horses’ necks on their return from battle, and when they have arrived nailing them as a spectacle to their gates. Posidonius says he witnessed this in many different places, and was at first shocked, but became familiar with it in time on account of its frequency. The beads of any illustrious persons they embalm with cedar, exhibit them to strangers, and would not sell them for their weight in gold. However, the Romans put a stop to these customs, as well as to their modes of sacrifice and divination, which were quite opposite to those sanctioned by our laws.
The archaeological evidence for this practice is a large number of statues and reliefs that show heads separated from their bodies and with their eyes closed. In the oppidum’s hypostyle hall, one of the of most imposing civic structures in pre-Roman Gaul, there was also found around 20 human skulls that originally were on display on the building’s facade.
There has been much discussion concerning the role of this practice in Gallic society. Seeing Entremont and its peoples as barbaric “headhunters” seems simplistic at best. Among the other statues from the site, among the most striking examples of pre-Roman sculpture from Gaul, are very elaborate portraits of ancestors as well as men and women of high social status. The oppidum itself with its gridded street plan is evidence of a complex social structure. Domestic production of wine and olives was a large part of everyday life, as a total of 15 olive presses have been found. Relations with the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseille) were rocky, but evidently influential.
The fascinating finds from Entremont are now in the recently renovated Musée Granet in Aix. More photos from my visit can be found on The Stoa Gallery.
Closer to the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, there is another Gallic settlement, known as the Untinos oppidum. It has spectacular views of the mountain and the Aix valley, but not many standing remains.
The Untinos oppidum. Montagne Sainte-Victoire is seen in the background. Photo: TMK, July 2006.
Denis Coutagne (ed.) 1993. Archéologie d’Entremont au Musée Granet. 2nd edition. Aix-en-Provence: Association Archéologie Entremont.
I am writing a book on ‘Mysterious Provence’ and there will be a very big chapter on Severed heads and skulls.
I was wondering if I could have your permission to use the photo on your website of the Oppidium. There may also be other photos – but I shall write about them later once we have made contact.
This is initially just to find out if this is going to be OK with you.
have you any suggestions on litterature on the thise celtic-ligurian tribs? I heard abot them in the village of Barjado – a holy place?- in Italia and on Mt Bignione and would love to learn more. I also read abot a big battel on Veramont – but it was in a novel so maybee it’s nit quite true?
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