An Urnfield culture at Rennes-les-Bains and beyond?

In 1709 the local priest of Rennes-les-Bains named Delmas wrote in a Memoire:

"At Bains, in the countryside, pieces of urns, sometimes almost whole ones with just the neck or arm missing are to be found in abundance: the priest has two of them .... removing the ashes himself, [he] found some bones which had not been fully burnt". 

He goes on to say; 

'...this place was frequented as much because of the baths as because of .... the ..... mines that are found in abundance. So many people died here; that is what is surmised by so great a number of pieces of urns, which are found not only in the valley but also in the surrounding mountains".

Delmas suggests that the village of Bains and the surrounding countryside and mountains were effectively one large cemetery! He infers that the people came here and that they stayed to die here! 

We know there are several gold mines in the area that were mined by the Volcae Tectosages [see HERE]. One can imagine these Gaulish tribes controlling the area for gold as well as for access to the thermal waters. And of course, the urns Delmas speak of are suggestive of deliberate burial and cremation as opposed to some conflagration [Delmas thought the village of Rennes-les-Bains was put to flame at some point] such as the current evidence is. 

But why so many cremation urns? Why such a large open cemetery? What has Bains got that allowed this kind of activity? What are the pattern of the burials? Is it communities burying their dead or a wholesale burial of those who had come to Bains to be healed and if they were not healed never left? If so, was Rennes a kind of pilgrimage site? A healing sanctuary? Or did a small village  grow up around an original villa? Did an important person own a villa originally which turned in to a pilgrimage site and then a village? Is the answer to be found in all three scenarios? 

There are several ways of approaching the subject. One is the investigation of the Pre-Roman era - that of the occupation of earlier indigenous peoples and their practices. This would be touching upon the Urnfield culture - which itself grew from a preceding tumulus culture -   the tumulus culture distinguished by the practice of burying their dead beneath burial mounds (tumuli). The Urnfield culture had however abandoned this practice. 

The Urnfield culture was a late Bronze Age culture of central Europe, often divided into several local cultures within a broader Urnfield tradition. The name comes from the custom of cremating the dead and placing their ashes in urns which were then buried in fields. This is exactly what Delmas describes in the Rennes-les-Bains area. Who were these people?

The Urnfield culture first appeared in east-central Europe and northern Italy; from the 12th century BC onward, however, the use of urn cemeteries, or urnfields, gradually spread to Ukraine, Sicily, Scandinavia, and across France and as far west as the Pyrenees. It is at this time that fortified hilltop settlements and sheet‐bronze metalworking also spread widely across Europe, leading some authorities to equate these changes with the expansion of the Celts. The movement is perhaps associated with folk migrations. In most areas the genuine Urnfield tradition of flat graves was continued; occasionally, however, the urns were covered by round barrows.

Interestingly the Urnfield culture used wagons such as this depiction below; 

This is a Bronze “cult-wagon” of the Urnfield culture, found in a crematory grave, Strettweg, Austria, 8th–7th century BC; in the Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria. [Courtesy of the Steiermärkisches Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria].

Wheels such as these depicted have been found in the Rennes area. 

The uniformity of the Urnfield culture and the persistence of certain pottery and metal forms seemingly had great influence on the later culture of the Early Iron Age. 

Archaeologists have argued that the Late Bronze Age saw the emergence of a warrior aristocracy, men whose prestige was maintained through success in combat. The principal evidence for this is the elaboration of weaponry and armor and its appearance in elite burials, as well as the widespread occurrence of fortified sites. Some have painted a picture of a society permeated by fear and anxiety, dominated by an armed aristocracy.

Yet most people continued to live in small farmsteads and hamlets much as they had for centuries, and it is difficult to characterize their relationship to the presumed warrior elite and its conflicts. It is possible that they were largely unaffected by them. The variation among graves in the Urnfield cemeteries suggests clear differences in status and wealth, and we can presume a continuation or even elaboration of the differentiation between elites and commoners inferred from the evidence of the Early and Middle Bronze Ages.

The Urnfield complex of the Late Bronze Age at Rennes-les-Bains could represent the adoption of a new set of shared values across much of continental Europe, especially a new attitude towards death and the role of the body. It was also a time of technological advances, particularly in the mastery of bronze metallurgy, and of social transformation, quite possibly including the appearance of a class of elite warriors. The Urnfield complex very much set the stage for subsequent developments of the first millennium b.c. The Early Iron Age (also known as Hallstatt C and D) that began around 750 b.c. saw the continuation of the practices of cremation burial and settlement fortification.

Over much of Europe, the Urnfield culture was succeeded by the Hallstatt culture. 

The numerous hoards of the Urnfield culture and the existence of fortified settlements (hill forts) were taken as evidence for widespread warfare and upheaval by some scholars. Written sources describe several collapses and upheavals in the Eastern Mediterranean, Anatolia and the Levant around the time of the Urnfield origins:

    •    End of the Mycenean culture with a conventional date of ca.1200 BC

    •    Destruction of Troy VI c. 1200 BC

    •    Battles of Ramses III against the Sea Peoples, 1195–1190 BC

    •    End of the Hittite empire 1180 BC

    •    Settlement of the Philistines in Canaan c. 1170 BC

Some scholars have postulated a Europe-wide wave of migrations. Perhaps with these migrations came the spread of folk legends and culture into Europe?

The so-called Dorian invasion of Greece was placed in this context as well (although more recent evidence suggests that the Dorians moved in 1100 BC into a post Mycenaean vacuum, rather than precipitating the collapse). Better methods of dating have shown that these events however, may not be as closely connected as once thought.

More recently Robert Drews, after having reviewed and dismissed the migration hypothesis, has suggested that the observed cultural associations may be in fact partly explained as the result of a new kind of warfare based upon the slashing Naue II sword, and with bands of infantry replacing chariots in warfare. Drews suggests that the political instability that this brought to centralised states based upon maryannu chariotry caused the breakdown of these polities.

This is known as the Late Bronze Age collapse -  a transition period in a large area covering much of Southeast Europe, West Asia and North Africa (comprising the overlapping regions of the Near East, the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, with the Balkans, the Aegean,  Anatolia, and the Caucasus), which took place from the Late Bronze Age to the emerging Early Iron Age. It was a transition which historians believe was violent, sudden, and culturally disruptive, and involved societal collapse for some civilizations. The palace economy of the Aegean region and Anatolia that characterized the Late Bronze Age disintegrated, transforming into the small isolated village cultures of the Greek Dark Ages. 

A range of explanations for the collapse have been proposed, without any achieving consensus. Several factors probably played a part, including climatic changes (such as drought or those caused by volcanic eruptions), invasions by groups such as the Sea Peoples, the effects of the spread of iron metallurgy, developments in military weapons and tactics, and a variety of failures of political, social and economic systems.

The number of Urnfield settlements increased sharply in comparison with the preceding tumulus culture. Fortified settlements, often on hilltops or in river-bends, are typical for the Urnfield culture. They are heavily fortified with dry-stone or wooden ramparts. Excavations of open settlements are rare, but they show that large 3-4 aisled houses built with wooden posts and wall of wattle and daub were common. Pit dwellings are known as well; they might have served as cellars. 

Fortified hilltop settlements become common in the Urnfield period. Often a steep spur was used, where only part of the circumference had to be fortified. Depending on the locally available materials, dry-stone walls, gridded timbers filled with stones or soil or plank and palisade type fortifications were used. Other fortified settlements used rivers-bends and swampy areas. Metal working is concentrated in the fortified settlements. Hillforts are interpreted as central places. Some scholars see the emergence of hill forts as a sign of increased warfare. Most hillforts were abandoned at the end of the Bronze Age. 

The early Urnfield period (1300 BC) was a time when the warriors of central Europe could be heavily armoured with body armour, helmets and shields all made of bronze, most likely borrowing the idea from Mycenaean Greece. The leaf-shaped Urnfield sword could be used for slashing, in contrast to the stabbing-swords of the preceding tumulus culture. The hilt was normally made from bronze as well. It was cast separately and consisted of a different alloy. These solid hilted swords were known since Bronze D (Rixheim swords). Other swords have tanged blades and probably had a wood, bone, or antler hilt. Protective gear like shields, cuirasses, greaves and helmets are extremely rare and almost never found in burials. Bronze dishes (phalerae) may have been sewn on a leather armour. Graves of richly decorated sheet-bronze are known from Kloštar Ivanić (Croatia) and the Paulus cave near Beuron (Germany).

About a dozen wagon-burials of four wheeled wagons with bronze fittings are known from the early Urnfield period. In Alz, the chariot had been placed on the pyre, pieces of bone are attached to the partially melted metal of the axles. 

Hoards are very common in the Urnfield culture. The custom is abandoned at the end of the Bronze Age. They were often deposited in rivers and wet places like swamps. As these spots were often quite inaccessible, they most probably represent gifts to the gods. Other hoards contain either broken or miscast objects that were probably intended for reuse by bronze smiths. As Late Urnfield hoards often contain the same range of objects as earlier graves, some scholars interpret hoarding as a way to supply personal equipment for the hereafter. 

In the earliest phases of the Urnfield period, man-shaped graves were dug, sometimes provided with a stone lined floor, in which the cremated remains of the deceased were spread. Only later, burial in urns became prevalent. Some scholars speculate that this may have marked a fundamental shift in people's beliefs or myths about life and the afterlife.

Urnfields are found in the French Languedoc and Catalonia from the 9th to 8th centuries. The change in burial custom was most probably influenced by developments further east. Placename evidence has also been used to point to an association of the Urnfield materials with a Proto-Celtic language group in central Europe, and it has been argued that it was the ancestral culture of the Celts. In fact it is stated the La Tene Celts of the classical period developed their culture from two earlier cultures- the Urnfield and the Hallstatt. 

The warrior on the left is from the Urnfield Culture which was a Bronze Age group which were the ancestors of both Celts and Germanic peoples. 

Even though the origins of the area of Rennes-les-Bains and its people can therefore be seen as at least Celtic and proto - Celtic,  local historian Gourdon suggested that the origins of Rennes-les-Bains was as follows;

" several areas of the village today, mainly between Bain-Fort and the hamlet of Le Cercle, it has been recognized, at various depths, a great quantity of remains of Roman buildings: constructions of buildings, fragments of mosaics, etc, which may have been part, either of private houses or monuments of another order, or perhaps villa's". 

The literal space occupied by these objects indicated to him an extended and fairly large city, in the Valley, spread out to the broader and more Southern area of the village. For him Rennes-les-Bains begins with the Romans, suggesting it was the Romans who essentially built the town and also beautified the place.

If we start with the Roman transfer to the Southern Gaul area  - we know that after the indigenous people were 'conquered' Ceasar gave Tiberius Nero [father of the later Emperor Tiberius] the job of creating and over-seeing the creation of colonies in the area. We know that the most important colony was at Narbonne  because the historian Mela wrote:  'one [colony] that surpasses them all is the colony of the Ataciniens and veterans of the Tenth Legion, which once gave their support and now has a glorious name - that of: Narbo Martius and that Ceasar gave land here to the Tenth Legion'. 

Just a few miles up the road, the Seventh legion veterans had also been given land to begin a new life in Beziers. According to Delmas those who lived at Bains were indeed veterans of the Seventh Legion. His evidence for this were the great many coins he found on the territory.

However Narbonne and the surrounding area had much more magnificent baths and water sources than those at Bains de Rennes. Why would the Romans come to Rennes from Narbonne, which would have surely been difficult to get to? 

In answer to this connundrum others have suggested the baths were really a local place for the Romans who lived at Carcasso. For example there is some direct evidence of the so called Voltinia tribe in the Rennes area. 

The Voltinia tribe was originally a Roman landowning and aristocratic  tribe - traditionally being listed along with 31 other smaller rural tribes of ancient Rome. A tribe might be "urban" or "rustic", and it is known that citizens from Gallia Narbonensis tended to be enrolled in the Voltinia tribe and we also know that the old Samnite tribes were impelled to join the Voltinia tribe after the Roman Social War. A significant Samnite is Pontius Pilate. The name Pontius indicates that he belonged to the Pontii family, a well-known family of Samnite origin which produced a number of important individuals in the late Republic and early Empire. It is interesting that this part of Gaul should be associated with Tiberius, a Samnite among the many Samnites of the Voltinia Tribe at Carcassonne. 

We know from the sources that the big towns of Narbonne and Beziers would have been created by leaders of the Roman Legions and that "the colonists entered the conquered city in military array, preceded by banners, and the foundation was celebrated with special solemnities. The coloniae were then free from taxes, and had their own constitution, a copy of the Roman one, electing from their own body their Senate and other officers of State". We also know that the indigenous populations that had been living on an adjacent oppida and archaeology has shown that this oppida became deserted when the Romans arrived. This probably reflects the intermingling of the populations.

There is one very common practice that could explain the use of Rennes by populations from wide areas. This was the practice of a pilgrimage to sanctuaries on religious and health grounds. 

Celtic deities were venerated as indwelling spirits of natural sanctuaries: the waters, rocks and peaks, groves, the land itself. A multitude of names in Roman-era inscriptions name the attributes of Gaulish goddesses: Artio (bear), Epona (mare), Nehalennia (sea), the Matres or Matronae (Mothers). Celtic deities were also found at Thermal water sites. Perhaps a Celtic prior healing sanctuary associated with thermal hot springs and a deity was readily available to the Voltinia tribe of Carcassonne? 

It is possible that a rich landowner may have built a villa at Rennes-les-Bains. Another answer may lie in the idea that a rich Roman landowner built a villa here and utilised the baths for profit. In fact you could speculate on this in the ancient name of the town.  We see in 1162 the baths were registered as Aquis Calidis. Admittedly we are hundreds of years later but Calidis seems to be from the Latin word - caleō (“I am warm or hot; glow”) + -idus. 

1. warm,hot

2. fiery, fierce, vehement.

The French equivelent is chaud -  warm, or hot and the Occitan equivalent is caud - from Latin caldus, from calidus.

Remotely Calidus may also be a Roman surname which could suggest the baths were owned by a Roman called Calidus. [See HERE]. However, on balance its succinct meaning probably refers to the hot waters of the village, a village that had several sources which are quite unique, and which in 1162 which was owned by the Monastery of Alet. 

Daniela Ugolini & Christian Olive have looked into the indigenous people's present when the conquering Roman legions arrived in Southern Gaul. Looking at the sources critically they felt that "as part of the study of the pre-Roman peoples of the South, the old sources that deliver information are late, with a few exceptions: they date back to the time of the Conquest and even, for the most part, of the Roman era (from the second half of the first century. B.C.)"

They continue; "We only have rare texts, always succinct and relatively vague, where the local people are "Celts" in Greek-language authors and "Gaulish "by those of the Latin language. It is sometimes specified that the indigenous peoples are Volques, with two sub-groups - the Arécomiques and the Tectosages, sharing the land". 

Pomponius Méla reports that among the flourishing cities of the South, "omnis antestat Atacinorum Decimanorumque coloring nie, unde olim his terris auxilium flees, nunc and nomen and decus is Narbo Martius" (II, 5, 75). So we also have, appearing, for the first and last time in history, the Atacini, which, given the context of this unique mention, are located in the Narbonne area. The existence of a vicus Atax - possibly a neighbourhood in the Narbonne area, on the banks of the Aude was belatedly suggested by Suetonius, then continued by St. Jerome and Prosper of Aquitaine"

The Atacini were located between the Sardones and the Volques Arécomiques, they are named after the Atax Aude, which bathes their country. They occupied a portion of the department of the Aude around Alet and their capital was Atacinus vicus (Aussières), a village near the Ausson stream; 12 kilometers from Narbonne.

A writer, one P. Terentius Varro, had a nick-name of Varro called Atacinus, probably at a time when the term Atacinus had obvious significance. The adjective atacinus suggests the Atax (the River Aude) and this was thought correct for a long time, indirectly, by Suetonius himself, as well as a scholium of Porphyrius about Varro de l'Aude. It is worth emphasizing that Varro died around 36 BC i.e. he belongs to one of the first generations of settlers after the founding of Narbonne [-118BC] & Beziers. His nickname is old [the first century BC] and has some meaning - historian Mr. Gayraud sensed that the name was created at this time - yet we know that it was the Atacini that Mela attached to the foundation of Narbonne. Ultimately, it appears that the Atacini are so called because they live on the banks of the Aude: they are the "Audois" in the strict sense of the word. In other words, Pomponius Méla claims that Narbonne was populated by the "local residents" and the veterans of the Roman armies that colonised there". 

The Atacini would become Roman civilian settlers in the first generation, installed in the Atax area in Cesarean times, when veterans of the Tenth legion (Decimani) joined the population. The location Narbo Martius was not chosen abruptly. Research is increasingly highlighting the importance of the italic trade in western Languedoc from the second half of the third century BC. It is therefore likely that links (at least negotiatores) lived and prospered without doubt alongside the indigenous peoples, in the place (or near) the place of the future colony, at least at the second half of the 2nd century BC. Here (in the Vicus Atax? On the site of Montlaurès?) there could have been created, over a few centuries, a form of integration between the Italians and their native partners, members of a composite community bearing the name of the Atacini and who would be the first settlers of the city. The problem is that the foundation of Narbo Martius results from cross-border interests in Italy itself and that the Italians, probably relatively numerous, came to take possession of the new area. 

These individuals and family groups were able to join the Atacini (in the sense of this mixed community). The text of Méla puts the Atacini on the same plane as the Decimani. He seems to refer to the caesarean colony when, around 45 BC veterans were given land there. One can detect further evidence in the names chosen by many authors, which seem to echo Caesar himself. Indeed, during the revolts of -52BC some indigenous peoples did not participate and remained faithful to Rome, but they also lent a hand to Caesar in the defense of the Province. We know that Narbonne played an important role during these events and that it served for Caesar as a base for certain operations. Indigenous members of the colony probably brought their support and it then seems quite plausible that, as a sign of recognition, they were incorporated into the cesarean section with all rights."  

The research that has been going on for a dozen years now by C.-A. Chazelles and his team at Montlaurès - which is, remember, the nearest native oppidum site to Narbonne - show that there was great flourishing there as early as the second half of the second century BC, after this it is largely depopulated during the second half of the first century BC. It is probable that its inhabitants, who have been in permanent contact with Rome (economically, but probably also culturally and perhaps even politically) and the Narbo Martius settlers, ended up integrating with the colony and receiving Roman citizenship.

At least from the late third century  - the coastal peoples of Languedoc-Roussillon were led by regali, a sort of tribal leader - at the time of Hannibal (Livy, XXI, 24) and found also in the title of some as ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ  - which were attributed to those at Béziers.  This may be interesting. 

Some have asserted that the waters at Rennes-les-Bains were seen as 'royal'.  Thus before the Romans, according to the 19th century historian Fedie, the hot springs of Rennes had always existed and that the Atacins [we mentioned above] had to have known of them and therefore frequented the territory, after giving it the name of Reynès. This name meant 'royal waters'. Fedie described this as a celtic word, with the end suffix of 'es', which meant water. If this is correct then it would be the indigenous population that had made these waters royal to start with. Were they named royal waters for a king of theirs, a regali? Perhaps it was a regali of the Atacini that made the waters royal at Rennes? 

But some research on word origins and one can easily dispute Fedie. The word REYN - in old French means the reins of a horse. Probably from the Latin 'retina'. However reyna with the plural as reynes is the obsolete spelling of reina which means (“queen”). And this Catalan form is itself from the Old Occitan, and before this from the Latin rēgīna. The Latin rēgīna f (genitive rēgīnae); first declension means 

  1. queen
  2. princess
  3. (Later Latin, chess) queen.

The French Reine is from Old French reïne, reyne, royne, from Latin rēgīna.

If we follow the logic of Fedie, the Gaulish name Rēnos (Proto-Celtic or pre-Celtic *Reinos) belongs to a class of river names built from the PIE root *rei- "to move, flow, run", also found in other names such as the Reno in Italy. The word Reinos apparently comes from the Proto-Indo-European *h₃riH-nós, from *h₃reyH- (“to boil, churn”). The proto-indo-european word h₃reyH- has as its derivatives the following;

Celtic: *rēdeti, Old Irish: réidid (“to ride, drive”), Celtic: *rēdos (“ride”, noun),  Celtic: *uɸorēdos (“horse”), Old Irish: ríad (“riding, driving, voyage”, Gaulish: rēda (“chariot”). This we see is the popular word rēda leading to Rhedae - another name for ancient Rennes. 

Interestingly the name Rennes was adopted by Rennes-le-Chateau and Rennes-les-Bains to commemorate the visit of a Queen. According to local legend this was Blanche de Castile. Blanche de Castile seems never to have come to the Languedoc and is seems that in popular lore she has been confused with Blanche to Bourbon the unfortunate wife of Peter the Cruel. It is plausible that Blanche de Bourbon passed through here on her way to Puilaurens for her marriage to Peter. 

It is probable that a capital of a small "kingdom" of the Aude can be found - confined - to the west - within the territory of the Sordes (which Pomponius Mela also knew), and - in the East - with that of Béziers, where lived the Longostalètes and their "kings" [attested from coinage - see picture below and text]. Moreover, the boundary between Narbonnais and Biterrois is then clear, at least from the linguistic point of view. This "border" is materialized by the Orb: on the one hand the monetary terms using the alphabet or the Iberian language and on the other hand the  language, even if Iberian was sometimes added. 

These hypotheses find again an archaeological confirmation in Montlaurès. From the middle of the 2nd century. BC. Montlaurès is fully restructured and is experiencing intense economic activity. These phenomena may well correspond, on the one hand, to the increase in the Italian commercial activity in the region and, on the other hand, the reorganization of the local population, to which Rome concedes, for the first time, a status of controlled autonomy that no doubt translates the right to coin money. 

The above coin depicts a Basileus of the LONGOSTALETES as mentioned above. The kingdom of the Longostaletes had their own coinage and this is a Bronze coin depicting a King, a KAIANTOLO / BASIL - On the obverse: ANEPIGRAPHE. Obverse Description: Men's head to the right, of Iberian stytle, a club behind the neck. Reverse Description: Lion pouncing on the right; legend in two lines in exergue. Reverse legend: KAIANTOLO / BASIL.

The LONGOSTALETES are the people who occupied the greater part of the departments of Aude and Hérault but are not cited by Ptolemy or Strabo, nor by Caesar. Their coinage is known to us only by the treasures of Béziers (Hérault) discovered in 1871 and which contained between 750 and 800 currencies of style as well as that of Moussan in the Aude Languedoc, discovered in 1967 and which contained 28 drachmas "Languedoc" style.

βασιλεύς is a Greek term and title that has signified various types of monarchs in history. In the English-speaking world it is perhaps most widely understood to mean "king" or "emperor". The title was used by the Byzantine emperors, and has a longer history of use by sovereigns and other persons of authority in ancient Greece, as well as for the kings of modern Greece.  The etymology of basileus is unclear. The Mycenaean form was *gʷasileus (Linear B: 𐀣𐀯𐀩𐀄, qa-si-re-u), denoting some sort of court official or local chieftain, but not an actual king. Its hypothetical earlier Proto-Greek form would be *gʷatileus. Most linguists assume that it is a non-Greek word that was adopted by Bronze Age Greeks from a pre-existing linguistic Pre-Greek substrate of the Eastern Mediterranean. The first written instance of this word is found on the baked clay tablets discovered in excavations of Mycenaean palaces originally destroyed by fire. The tablets are dated from the 15th century BC to the 11th century BC and are inscribed with the Linear B script, which corresponds to a very early form of Greek. The word basileus is written as qa-si-re-u and its original meaning was "chieftain".  Most of the Greek leaders in Homer's works are described as basileís, which is conventionally rendered in English as "kings". However, a more accurate translation may be "princes" or "chieftains", which would better reflect conditions in Greek society in Homer's time, and also the roles ascribed to Homer's characters.  In a number of places authority was exercised by a college of basileis drawn from a particular clan or group, and the office had term limits. However, basileus could also be applied to the hereditary leaders of "tribal" states, like those of the Arcadians and the Messenians, in which cases the term approximated the meaning of "king".

The ability of various groups to coin their own money was very important.  Numismatics shows that in the Narbonnais, other sites benefited from this right tp coin their own money: all we can say is that, among the audois sites, Montlaurès is the first to be deserted, probably because they were too close to the young colony of Rome. It is tempting to admit that the Caesarean re-foundation of Narbonne has definitely integrated the indigenous people, which has erased them as partners. Even if other sites of the Audois basin (Mailhac, Ensérune) continue to be occupied after -45, it is more than likely that now their autonomy is largely restricted. The Atacini may well be all these natives of the Aude - of Montlaurès also. 

We should probably remember that the Atacini were part of those "obscure peoples" that Strabo had situated on the coast and that he did not equate them - rightly or wrongly - with the Volques. They were the Sordes / Sardines,  Atacini, Longostalètes and Piscenae - described all as "dark peoples" as Strabo says, they occupied small territories and did not have any really important (political) power or autonomy. 

One other indigenous people of importance were the Élisyques. They were a small people of the region of Narbonne and Béziers, settled for a long time, with a culture and Iberian language. Open to Hellenic and Celtic influences, they nevertheless retained most of their culture until Roman colonisation. The history of the Elisyques originate, according to the sources of historians and archaeology, from the Iron Age (6th century BC), perhaps even a little before, until a few decades after the Roman conquest: the first colonisation of Narbonne takes place in 118 BC &  it took about a century for the aboriginal culture to disappear. It is thought that there was a long continuity of settlement on the Languedoc and Roussillan littoral since the Neolithic period, but at the beginning of the Iron Age there was a beginning of differentiation between two groups of populations. This was in the East and the other west of the Hérault valley. It co-incides with the Urnfield culture. Located west of this river, the Elisyques seem to be an indigenous people, even though, in this crossroads region, population movements and merges may have existed at various times. 

Based on a study of "Launacian deposits", archaeologists hypothesize that a people, who could be the Elisyques or their ancestors, settled from the Aude coast to the Montpellier region, and organised in the 7th and in the 6th century  BC. a trade of objects in bronze coming from other regions of Gaul to be diffused then by the ship merchants of Hellenic, Italic or Etruscan descent towards Greece (& Sicily in particular). In the 6th century, numerous archaeological elements attest that the Elisyques are a people of farmers (cereals, vines, breeding) and fishermen. We refer to their 'civilising oppida". They seem to have taken refuge on the heights to protect themselves from danger, perhaps represented by the migration of the Celts  - "from the fields of urns" coming from Central Europe and en route to Spain (around 750 to 650 BC). This Celtic wave, of which traces have been found (necropolis) in the Languedoc plain, was not established durably.

From the 6th century, the oppida of Pech Maho (Sigean), the Mill (Peyriac-de-Mer), Montlaurès (Narbonne), the Moulinasse (Salles-d'Aude), the Cayla (Mailhac), Bassanel (Olonzac), Ensérune (Nissan-lez-Ensérune), Béziers, La Monédière (Bessan), Cessero (Saint-Thibéry) and Monto (Magalas) were strongholds of the Élisyques. Montlaurès (near Narbonne) was their most important city. These oppida seemed to be relatively independent of each other, while belonging to the same culture. Their territory seems to have extended from Cap Leucate to Cap d'Agde, and inland from the threshold of Naurouze and Corbières to the middle valley of the Hérault. This is until the fourth century when Elisyque culture lost ground between the Hérault and Orb. 

The Elisyques were in contact with the trading peoples of the Mediterranean (Phoenicians, Greeks) to which they provided agricultural products and mineral resources from their territory or more distant regions (iron, silver, copper from the Montagne Noire, the Cevennes, Corbières, Brittany ...) and which were transported to their commercial places where they were exchanged for wine, olive oil and ceramics. They also exchanged their products for tools, weapons and jewellery with the Celtic regions of South West Gaul and Spain. According to J. Jannoray, there is "an undeniable original unity of the oppida culture throughout the entire plains of the sea, from the Ebro to the Arno" since the end of the Neolithic period: the cultivation of polished axes [Boudet is obsessed with these polished axes in his book La Vrai Langue Celtique], centered on agriculture, extends throughout this region until the Iron Age. This does not last. Hecataeus of Miletus says: "In the past, the Elisyque people lived in these places, and the city of Naro - this was the great capital of their bellicose power. There, the Attagus River rushes into the sea. Next to it is the marsh of Helicé. From there was Besara (Beziers) following the saying of an ancient tradition. Now the rivers Heledus (Lez) and Orobus (Orb) glide through devastated fields and heaps of ruins, signs of past prosperity."

The region remains oriented towards the Hellenic civilization transmitted by the merchants of Massalia while undergoing Celtic influences more and more perceptibly.

The arrival of the Romans completely changes the situation.

The Hellenic presence was primarily commercial, through the Hellenic cities founded by the Phoenicians, Massalia and Emporion. Note also the presence of Agathé Tyché (Agde), on the edge of the Elisyque territory. The Iberian influence is real: the Elisyques had, it seems, along with the tribes settled in Catalonia, a kinship of original settlement and a close way of life; both spoke the Iberian language, but the Elisyques may also have had their own language;  external influences, Hellenic or Celtic, acted on them in a parallel manner;  but there does not seem to have been an Iberian migration to the Languedoc, or in any case of political unity between these two regions. The Celts (Volques), on the other hand, established themselves physically, mingling with the local populations (while remaining a minority). It is from 218 BC. that the Volques arrive. They have two main branches, the so-called Arecomic Volques , whose capital will be Nemausus [Nimes] and the Volque Tectosages, whose capital will be Toulouse. All the plain regions between the Rhone and Garonne will be occupied by the Volques. The Arecomics and Tectosages are their most important tribes but there seems to have existed, if we rely on the discovery of coins, several others, such as the Longostaletes, which as we saw above could have settled in the region of Béziers, that of the Seloncen (of an unknown geographical establishment). The Elisyques themselves continued to populate the region under the political domination of petty chiefs who issued a coin bearing the "Neroncen" tribe name.

According to a hypothesis of Jürgen Untermann, this ethnonym is not of Celtic origin but Iberian and would refer to the Neri tribe. These Neroncen lived at Montlaurès and perhaps other Elisyques oppida. At this time, the Volques impose their power on the Elisyque people, without upsetting their customs. Less in number than the aboriginal population, they seem to play the role of a military and political elite. They are open to Hellenic culture just as much as the Elisyques are. The arrival of the Romans from 121 BC on the other hand, will put an end to the "civilization of the oppida". 

The choice of Narbonne as the capital of the Roman province is strongly linked to its position as a crossroads and the prosperity of the trade that passed it. It is unclear whether the Roman conquest was made without a fight or by arms, but it may have been followed by revolts. 

In any case, the Romans imposed their political organization and drained the economic wealth of the region to their profit, and to the detriment of the Massalian tradesmen and the natives, by seizing the ports, by renovating the Heraclean Way (which becomes Domitian Way ), by appropriating the lands of the natives and their commercial activity to create colonies in which they installed their veteran legionaries and Roman plebians, by forbidding the natives to cultivate the vine and the olive tree, and by imposing taxes on them. The oppida's will be depopulated little by little (their definitive abandonment is dated from the first decades of our era), the economic activity being centered in the plain, and the Roman power and manners will be imposed on the local populations.

So did these ancient Celts, Elisyques, etc worshipp the springs and thermae at Rennes, their town of royal waters - a town which would later be taken over by the Roman Colonies, even when these colonies had their own bigger baths which were nearer and much more luxurious.  We know that the Tectosages are part of the Tène culture - a European Iron Age culture named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. This Tène culture developed out of the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture without any definite cultural break, under the impetus of considerable Mediterranean influence from the Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul, the Etruscans. The Hallstatt culture as we have seen developed from the Urnfield culture (c. 1300 BC – 750 BC) - the late Bronze Age culture of central Europe. 

The name comes from the custom of cremating their dead and placing their ashes in urns which were buried in fields. From the evidence given by Abbe Delmas - i suggest that the area of Rennes-les-Bains may have had ancestors related to this Urnfield culture - because he writes [as we saw above]: 

"At Bains, in the countryside, pieces of urns, sometimes almost whole ones with just the neck or arm missing are to be found in abundance: the priest has two of them .... removing the ashes himself, [he] found some bones which had not been fully burnt". 

The size of the urn fields is variable. In Bavaria, they can contain hundreds of burials, while the largest cemetery in Baden-Württemberg in Dautmergen has only 30 graves. The dead were placed on pyres, covered in their personal jewellery, which often shows traces of the fire and sometimes food-offerings. The cremated bone-remains are much larger than in the Roman period, which indicates that less wood was used. Often, the bones have been incompletely collected. Most urnfields are abandoned with the end of the Bronze Age, only the Lower Rhine urnfields continue in use in the early Iron Age (Ha C, sometimes even D). The cremated bones could be placed in simple pits. Sometimes the dense concentration of the bones indicates a container of organic material, sometimes the bones were simply shattered. If the bones were placed in urns, these were often covered by a shallow bowl or a stone. In a special type of burial (bell-graves) the urns are completely covered by an inverted larger vessel. As graves rarely overlap, they may have been marked by wooden posts or stones. 

The urn containing the cremated bones is often accompanied by other, smaller ceramic vessels, like bowls and cups. They may have contained food. The urn is often placed in the centre of the assemblage. Often, these vessels have not been placed on the pyre. Metal grave gifts include razors, weapons that often have been deliberately destroyed (bent or broken), bracelets, pendants and pins. Metal grave gifts become rarer towards the end of the Urnfield culture, while the number of hoards increase. Burnt animal bones are often found, they may have been placed on the pyre as food. 

The cult of the Urnfield culture show that from caves in Thuringia headless skeletons and split human and animal bones have been interpreted as sacrifices. Other deposits include grain, knotted vegetable fibres and hair and bronze objects (axes, pendants and pins). The Ith-caves (Lower Saxony) have yielded comparative material. In the Knovíz-culture, human bones with cut-marks and traces of burning have been found in settlement pits. They have been interpreted as evidence for cannibalism. As these bones form a large part of the burials known this may have been a quite regular treatment including the ritual manipulation and dismemberment of human corpses. Moon-shaped clay fire dogs are thought to have a religious significance, as well as crescent shaped razors. An obsession with waterbirds is indicated by numerous pictures and three-dimensional representations. Combined with the hoards deposited in rivers and swamps, it indicates religious beliefs connected with water. This has led some scholars to believe in serious droughts during the late Bronze Age. Sometimes the water-birds are combined with circles, the so-called sun-barque-motif.

It was in the late Bronze Age [ca. 1300BC] that water started to be used and considered ritually, and then became the focus of ritual activity. There is a certain symmetry with the descriptions by Delmas of the urn field vases of cremations vastly spread over the valley and at Rennes-les-Bains itself - from a culture that lived just as water sources were becoming sacred and perhaps associated with the shift from their burial practices in man made graves to cremated remains in burial urns. 

During the later Iron Age water spirituality began to be manifested in the development of healing sanctuaries at thermal spring sites. By now the population would be seen as Celtic - and in fact - the earliest archaeological culture that may justifiably be considered as Proto-Celtic is the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture from the last quarter of the second millennium BC which we discussed extensively above. The Iron Age Hallstatt culture of around 800 BC then superseded the Urnfield culture and had by then become fully Celtic.

For the Celts water became the most important element in their mysticism. From it, life emerges. Through it, we pass from weakness to strength, from sickness to health and then from this world into the Otherworld. Springs were a primary symbol in Celtic consciousness for the connection with water, wells were another. The ancient Celts honoured springs and wells through a host of spiritual practices. They gravitated to water, used water imagery in their tales and treated water as sacred. While earth was likewise revered, water seems to have been understood as the source of earth. In one sense, water comes out of earth and returns to it. In another sense, "earth floats on water." To live on an island is to experience the preeminence of water, while to live near great rivers - like the Seine, the Danube and the Shannon - as the Celts did, is to experience the power of water; especially when it rises over banks and floods the land. Water can define our horizons. It can revive or drown us. It percolates up out of the Earth from mysterious, unseen realms. For the Celts, water was a primeval source of everything living; it was mysterious and as such it was the fount of many magical-mystical phenomena. Throughout Celtic myth & legend, worlds - both human & supernal - rise out of water and later return to them.

In mythical terms - which are usually a 'logical' extension of the natural symbolism - springs are often thought of as 'tended' by a god or goddess. Some springs were the haunt of a goddess of healing, while at other springs a god - unseen to the visible eye but 'apparent' to the senses or perhaps the imagination. Other areas associated with water also took on mythical characteristics. A well became a place haunted by many spirits. Earthy goddesses often become manifest at wells in a peculiarly potent way, thus, throwing coins and other offerings into wells has long been seen as a primary way of insuring the fertility of the land and of those who make the offerings. Every year on Beltaine & Samhain, sacred wells throughout Celtic lands were decorated and offerings thrown into them as a way of asking the goddess of the well for either the renewal (in the Spring) or the preservation (in the Autumn) of fecundity.

These created very strong links between religion and medicine. Sick people in antiquity depended on the healing skills of the supernatural deities as well as any residing doctor. Healing cults linked healing, regeneration and fertility - and this further associated divine healers as female. This made sanctuaries also associated with the Mother Goddess [i.e Sequana of Burgundy, Sirona [a healer goddess]. In Eastern Gaul, the local healer Goddess was Damona and she was first and foremost a healer goddess. Her main sanctuary was at Alesia - the sick bathed in the pool in hope of a cure. Damona is represented with a stone snake curled around her arm. She was an independent native divinity, and she was worshipped in preference to any of the Greek or Roman healer gods and goddesses. When Christianity took over the sanctuaries these attributes transferred to the Virgin Mary [as a healer]. 

Rivers, like springs, were regularly associated with Gods and Goddesses. The Romans attached special significance to the confluence of rivers. In Nimes, the goddess Nemausus lived in the sanctuary and sacred spring, and her spirit acted as patron of the community. In Gaul, temples to rivers were rare, but most sanctuaries were associated with water sources, thermal etc and this not only confirms the religious feeling generated by the qualities of running numinous water but it also contributes to regional worship. Themes of rivers and legends of them with divine intervention [eg the Greek river Alpheios] abound. There is also the cleansing power of water/purifiction, and female rivers [the river Styx]. Generally though rivers are male and springs are female.  

Pilgrimage was seen as a journey with the purpose of reaching a sacred destination. These sanctuaries were usually found within settlements. They could have a theatre, baths, open spaces and hostels. Smaller temple areas could be found in the sub-divisions of the civitas, that is the 'pagi'. These pilgrimages were invariably connected with the healing thermal springs. Like trees, caves and rivers, springs - hot and cold - were considered sacred. Among their numinous properties water gushing from the earth had a sacralising action and meant that the print water was always kept pure. 

Damona was very common in Gaul, and dedications to Asclepius was hardly known. The locals preferred worship of a local divinity. Rennes-les-Bains was probably a healing kind of sanctuary where people made pilgrimages for a cure. A gourd found by Boudet may even be a pilgrim flask which contained sacred water from the springs at Rennes. A famous Roman head found at Rennes-les-Bains has been associated with Damona. This has probably been going on since the indigenous peoples of the Iron Age lived there, when the springs began to take on the properties of divine attributes.  It may explain the appearance of the Urnfield culture [field of urns] that Delmas mentioned. 

Local archaeologists speculated on this head [pictured below] as follows;

"...A. GREENER [wrote that] "The sanctity of sources, writes FRONTIN at the end of the first century of our era, is not forgotten and is still the object of a cult, it is believed that it brings health to the sick. It is not the liquid of the water which heals, it is its divinity. The cities of water (...) are not simply spas, inscriptions, sculptures and sometimes even buildings, indicate places of worship at the same time as a cure. A cure is a pilgrimage (...) When the water gushes hot, this miracle arouses a particular veneration ... ". Thus, wherever there are waters that heal, there are deities; it is to the divinity of water that we ask for healing, and to whom ex-votos are addressed. But we know of the ex-voto in Rennes. Among the objects found in the spa at Rennes-les-Bains by Dr. GOURDON he lists:

    •    A complete forearm, with outstretched hand holding an egg, in white marble, length 0.60 m.

    •    A hand holding a snake in a coat hook, white marble, length 0.31 m.

    •    A hand holding a linen, white marble, length 0.18 m

He gives drawings of these fragments, which he says belonged to statues. This is a mistake, and we are probably in the presence of ex-voto, because it would be extraordinary that we could not find fragments of these statues representing other parts of the body.

    •    The objects held by these hands are symbolic (which has been noted by Dr. GOURDON); the egg shows the rebirth to life provided by the use of water, the snake is the emblem of medicine (Aesculapius), linen, image of the baths.

    •    There are other examples of "hands holding various objects" which are works complete by themselves and are simply ex-votos.

We add to the list above a small hand (length 35 mm), terracotta, brick red paste, hard, recently found by Mr. SIRE of Rennes-les-Bains, which could also be an ex-voto.

Rennes thus possessed a goddess or goddesses of the sources. Would not our head represent one of these deities? If at first sight it seems frustrating, because of its wear and the lack of fineness of the material, it can be seen from the in-depth examination that the artist was clearly influenced by the provincial Roman statuary. The hair, separated into two bands, but without a marked central line, is frequently found in our region from the beginning of the Roman Empire and the first century. Only the front part is indicated here and it is difficult to prejudge the presence or absence of mat. The face, although of rather heavy form, a character often found in native works, seems to be treated in a classical way, as well as the rendering of the different parts, given the material, we underline it again.

As we said above, the place of the find eliminates its attribution as an antefix or as a decorative element placed on a building for public use or worship. It seems that the size and the form forbid to see there: either an ex-voto, or a fragment of funerary stele, or the personage is represented in bust or in foot. We think that we must see in this figuration one of those innumerable minor goddesses, more or less Romanized Gallic pantheon.

Toponymy reinforces our hypothesis: the place of the find is located above the source feeding the brook called "de las Brueissas " ie witches, at a place that dominates all the hot springs. A. GRENIER underlines this evolution of cults at length: the mother goddesses became the Fairies. In our region the presence of "Dones" or "Dames" at the sources and streams are very frequent. This term, a local synonym of Fée, seems to be a survival of the worship rendered to the equivalents of the nymphs of Italian sources. We have an illustration of Roman times on the dedications on the lead plates of Amelie-les-Bains where the protectors of the fountains are called "Niskas" (Demoiselles). These terms have often degenerated to more recent times, and this may be the case here, in "Brueissas" or witches.

As Camille JULLIAN points out about the "Masters" in Narbonnaise and in the rest of Gaul, the name is still used in the plural, these protectors of sources being generally associated by three, only the patronage important sources being granted to a greater deity. If we adopt this latter hypothesis, accredited by the probable presence of two male and female heads, we might find ourselves in the presence of a Gallic local deity, more or less Romanized, accompanied by his consort. It is certain that in both cases our figuration does not correspond to the classical canons and moves away from the known reliefs in Gaul, representing masters, nymphs or deities of the waters, generally figured in foot or at least in bust. But what do we know about this part of the Narbonnese where they are almost absent today? It should be noted that in our region, the representation of the head alone was very much in favour from the ancient period until the middle ages, it is often equivalent to the representation of the whole body. What date can we assign to this job? It must not be forgotten that we are here in front of an indigenous work and therefore do not interpret the heaviness of forms as a late sign; it suffices for that to compare with certain sculptures of the Lapidary Museum of Narbonne, of the same style, carved in a similar sandstone, and which, however, are of a good period. If one refers to the criterion, generally the most valid, of the hair, one is led to consider it as relatively old: the captive statue of the trophy of St Bertrand de Comminges, given as previous to the beginning of our era is capped in a similar way. Geographically close, the statue of the deceased heroine Bourièges has a similar arrangement of the hair of the cut head. It seems, therefore, that it can be situated towards the beginning of our era, but with reservations motivated by the fact that it is an isolated object. It nevertheless coincides with the most flourishing period of the spa, which was already of great importance in the first century BC, as evidenced by the recent finds of ancient Italian amphorae, very much earlier than the early days of the Roman Empire, which we have pointed out in our previous "surveys".

This prosperity, at its peak, in the Augustan period, must extend until the beginning of the first century, if we believe the monetary finds. The site seems to have been occupied permanently until today. It seems, therefore, that the Romanization of an older water cult should be considered the most likely." 

This pilgrimage and healing sanctuary centre at Rennes would most probably have had much gold offerings and treasures attached to it. The Celts exploited gold mines from the Bronze Age (around the 13th century BC) to the Roman conquest. According to Diodorus Siculus: 

"In Gaul, we do not extract money but a lot of gold and the nature of the place allows the inhabitants to collect this metal without the work of the miner ... so large a quantity of gold is amassed ... that not only women but men make them adornments, so they wear gold bracelets on their wrists and arms, big gold necklaces around the neck, and even cuirasses of gold. In the temples and sacred places of this country, they consecrate in honor of the gods much gold spread there and although the Gauls are very stingy, nobody dare touch them .... as they are scrupulous in the religion." 

So perhaps we have a royal residence, of perhaps a king of an old tribe indigenous to the area, alongside a healing sanctuary attached to the religious rituals associated with the mythical waters, with much gold in the healing sanctuaries and votive temples - and that Rome was aware of this and the new colonies took over the running of the site and pushed out the prior population, or even, as much archaeological evidence shows, they intermingled and lived side by side. 

One wonders then if the preponderance of Boudet signifying an important burial in the environs of Rennes-les-Bains in his book La Vrai Langue Celtique might not be based around these historical facts?