It was the earthworks necessitated by the redevelopment and extension of the “Pierre de Coubertin” Sports Centre in the centre of present-day Amiens that prompted the archaeological operation called “Palais des Sports/Coliseum”. These works were likely to destroy some remains of the Roman town Samarobriva over a surface of nearly one hectare. A preliminary survey was carried out in 1990 by Noël Mahéo. These test excavations were positive and confirmed that the area concerned by the project was actually within the Gallo-Roman town. A campaign of evaluation of the archaeological potential was carried out subsequently from August to November 1992 by a team from the AFAN (Association pour les Fouilles Archéologiques Nationales). The excavations proper were conducted from May 1993 to March 1994.
The large area involved and the well-preserved state of the remains were of great help in the interpretation of the site, which yielded abundant data on the early urbanization, the organization and the evolution of an urban district between its creation in approximately the first years A.D. and its abandonment shortly before the end of the 3rd century A.D.
During the first half of the 1st century A.D., a number of plots of land, which were to subsist till the abandonment of the district, were delimited by ditches or, less frequently, by fences. Inside these plots, several buildings were found, as well as some pits and silos, which provided a lot of evidence enabling us to obtain a fairly accurate vision of the first occupation - a predominantly rural one, apparently - which was levelled off in the years 50/60 A.D.
Thus, the first houses to be partly built in stone appear in the years 60. Most of the dwellings excavated had floors of trodden earth, and were generally built with walls of timber and cob. This does not exclude the use of stone (notably chalk) in certain noteworthy parts of the buildings, for instance monumental entrances. There, for the first time in Amiens, it was possible to observe the evolution in time and space of 9 houses over a period of nearly three centuries. These vast domus, with a surface area ranging between 450 and over 2800 square metres, belonged to high-ranking individuals.
In the private part of the house, the rooms opened onto the inside of the property, through a portico which separated them from a large inner courtyard. Along the front, some other rooms opened onto the pavement, also protected by a portico. These rooms may have been shops or small workshops.
The biggest unit completely dug, which covered an area of 2800 square metres, helped us to understand the guiding principle of the layout of this type of residence: to make the wealth of the owner clearly visible from the street. This is why the ceremonial rooms, with their particularly lavish decoration, were, though situated at the back of the plot of land, set in line with the entrance door. This reception area was separated from the vestibule which led to the large room serving as an atrium, by the inner courtyard, which, adorned with plant-life, also contributed to the desired effect.
Together with the public monuments, these fine houses, which belong to an architectural tradition found all over the Roman Empire, also played their part in giving certain areas of Samarobriva an aspect worthy of one of the most important towns in Northern Gaul. The study of the architectural data supports this interpretation.
These campaigns produced too a lot of pottery shards which yielded a large amount of information about the modifications of the trading networks, as well as about the evolution of crockery and eating habits. The study of the animal bones too gives clues about the diet of the people who lived in these houses.
Some 1600 “small finds” were also discovered. Whether made of bone, bronze, iron, glass or pottery, they all reflect the everyday life of the people living in one district of Samarobriva during the first centuries of the Roman Empire. They all give evidence on the everyday concerns in such varied fields as social life, home life, economic life or private life. The fact that some of these finds are quite rare and elaborate, technically and aesthetically, strengthens the hypothesis of a district occupied by relatively wealthy individuals.
This campaign of preventive archaeology provided the opportunity to revise and increase our knowledge of Amiens in the Gallo-Roman period in a large number of fields.
Traduction : Margaret & Jean-Louis CADOUX