05 Oct

The legendary “treasure lake” idea from medieval traditions [regarding the lakes where the Treasure of Toulouse was buried] ..... hardly survived the 16th century, even if we still note some echoes of it in the 17th and 18th centuries (Chabanel and Montégut for example). The re-examination of Strabo's text, effective in the 17th century, led certain authors to translate limne by palus (Chabanel) and therefore to search from that time for the trace of these "sacred marshes"; even if most authors also retain the translation by “lac”, which is in fact an echo of Justin’s “lacus” (Chabanel, Laf).

But, from the beginning of the 18th century and until today, we envisage other meanings, for the “limai” of Strabo and the “lacus” of Justin, other than “lake” or “marsh”. Dom Martin suggests “chasm”, Audibert “artificial lake” or “fountain”, Desazars (1916-1918, p. 290) “artificial ponds”, “basins”, Bourgeois (1991-1992, p. 94-95) “monument waters ". From this point of view, the position of Mr. Labrousse (1968, p. 38, 42-44) is revealing: although having made a documented assessment on the subject of the former "wet" areas around Toulouse, he does not comment on the exact nature of the “lakes” of Strabo, nor on their location. Reading his work carefully, we think that Mr. Labrousse did not believe in this story of “treasure lakes”. By schematizing the current proponents of Strabo's text that imagine swamps; the [new] researchers referring to Justin think rather the area was a building related to water. The location of the limai and/or the lacus has not been resolved either and we are essentially considering two possibilities: Vieille-Toulouse or the marshy areas south of the Roman city.

To tell the truth, despite the strength of Strabo's text and the evocative power of medieval legends, the "lakes" of Toulouse have perplexed many historians from the 17th to the 20th century, even though they are fully convinced of their existence. The major problem remains the absence of areas that could be described as "lakes" or "marshes" around Toulouse, as noted at the beginning of the 17th century by Catel, then Caseneuve, Lafaille, Lagni, Dom Martin, De Rozoi. The argument put forward to counter this absence is a significant modification of the environment since the time of Caepio. It should be noted that none of these authors from the 17th and 18th centuries mention the unsanitary areas of the outlet of the Sauzat as a possible location of these “lakes”. The contradiction between this observed absence of “lakes” and ancient texts sometimes generates a strange argument, even for the 17th century: the network of underground pipes recognised under the ancient city is in fact interpreted as... the drainage system of “lakes” ! (Lafaille, taken up by De Rozoi). In the 20th century, authors such as Ph. Wolff (1958) and M. Labrousse (1968) half-heartedly doubted the very existence of these “lakes”. However, suggestions for a location south of Toulouse, in the Sauzat outlet area, have recently been put forward (Moret 2001, Moret 2002, Arcelin and Brunaux 2003) (37).

But the root of the problem stems from the non-existence – as far as we know – of “lakes”, “ponds” or “marshes” likely to have hosted the gold of the Tectosages in Gallic Toulouse or its periphery (38), this while the medieval legends clearly show that the memory of the true place(s) of the deposit(s) is lost, with the corollary a memory of the episode of Caepio recomposed in the universe of medieval Christian thought.

Unless we abandon the analysis here, on an admission of ignorance, a path deserves to be explored, at least from a theoretical point of view: do ancient sources really tell us about "lakes" or "marshes" of which no trace has been found so far, or is there something else?

Once the late avatars of the legend have been discarded, there remain the limnai of Strabo and the lacus of Justin, which describe, each in their own way, a Tectosage reality of 106 BC. Now the two terms are not unrelated: if we follow the passage from Strabo, limnai = certain types of thesauros (39); moreover according to Latin grammarians, thesauros = favissae (41) (Hackens 1963). Justin's lacus, if we accept that it designates the same object as Strabo's limnai, can then cautiously be considered here as a synonym for favissa, which also preserves the idea of water (40). Between lacus and limnai, we find the Greek lakkos: "hole, pit, reservoir", transposed into laccus in Latin with the meaning of "pit, cistern" and whose meaning is fully included in lacus (41).

We can postulate that the primary source, contemporary with the events and therefore probably Roman, included a mention of lacus or laccus – in the sense of the Greek lakkos – translated into Greek by limnai in Strabo. In this hypothesis, the use of lacus by Justin, faithful to the primary source, would be perfectly logical and this term could better reflect than limnai the nature and appearance of these places of deposit of values. If we take into account the common meaning of lacus (reservoir, basin, vat, fountain, cistern, pit), we can consider that these are deposits made not in marshes but in hollow containers and/or underground tunnels made by human hands. This translation of lacus makes Justin's description very coherent; its application to Strabo's text does not create any inconsistency: underground deposits ensure both storage (and therefore availability) and protection of values. Of course, if the “sacred lakes of Toulouse” are simply – and in a banal way – only deposits in pits of riches in precious metals, this allows us to encounter an archaeological reality well known among the Celts of the end of the Iron Age (Stead 1991 and 1995 for example); for Toulouse, we will recall for memory the deposit of gold torques of Fenouillet (Belhomme 1840-1841). But the deep burial of deposits, including sometimes expensive metal objects the well of Vieille-Toulouse (Labrousse, Vidal, Müller 1971), is also one of the characteristics of the famous “funeral wells”, a spectacular tectosage practice whose epicentre is located, according to the current state of knowledge, in the oppidum of Vieille-Toulouse. From the more or less precise knowledge that the Greco-Roman authors had of these deposit rites, the limnai of Strabo and the lacus of Justin could have been born.

37. The mapping of these “wetlands”, which some researchers suggest could contain the “limnai” of Strabo, is based only on the work, also highly controversial, of G. ASTRE (1963, 1964). The argument developed to demonstrate the effective existence of “lakes” or “sacred ponds” to the south of the Roman enclosure of Toulouse appears to us to be based on shifting bases.

38. Cf. the ongoing work of Laurent Bruxelles on the geomorphology of Toulouse in Antiquity and of Henri Molet on the occurrences of water points around the city, in the Middle Ages and in modern times.

39. During Late Antiquity, thesauros can also mean water reservoirs (PROCOPE, De Aedificiis, II, 2, 17 and II, 4, 13).

40. For favissa, cf. Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, Leipzig, TEUBNER, 1900, sv; GAFFIOT F. and FLAUBERT P., Le grand Gaffiot, Latin- French dictionary, Paris, 2000, sv “Vaults under the temples serving as stores for expired material”; ERNOUT A. and MEILLET A., Etymological Dictionary of the Latin Language, Paris, 2001, sv which cites the definition of Festus: “Favissae locum sic appellabant, in quo erat aqua inclusa circa templa. Sunt autem qui putant favisas esse in Capitolio cellis cisternisque similes, ubi reponi erant solita quae in templo vetustate erant facta inutilia”.

41. ERNOUT A. and MEILLET A., Etymological dictionary of the Latin language, sv lacus. Finally, we cannot exclude that limnai simply meant “basin, reservoir” in Strabo, a rare but attested meaning, cf. PESSONNEAUX E., Greek-French Dictionary, Paris, 1944, 1604 psv; FEUILLET L., French-Greek Lexicon, Paris, 1933, 484 p., sv “basin”: “3°: body of water, reservoir”.

Excerpt from: Mémoires de la Société Archéologique du Midi de la France, t. LXVI (2006)


Par Jean-Luc BOUDARTCHOUK, Patrice CABAU, Philippe GARDES, Henri MOLET et François QUANTIN

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