Chateau-Thierry forms an excellent example of a small medieval town, one that is located at the northern frontier of the Champagne.  While a number of geographic and historical studies have been devoted to such small towns, rare are those by archaeologists that systematically exploit the information contained in the archaeological record while simultaneously studying the buildings that remain in elevation.  The favorable archaeological context of Chateau-Thierry allows us to pursue this new dynamic in which the acquisition of new evidence is combined with the reconsideration of written sources in order to understand the evolution of urban topography and the place of structures within the urban fabric.  Thus understood, the «archives of the soil» (that is, excavated material culture recovered in stratigraphic contexts), systematically explored and exploited, form new evidence that encourages reflection on the methodology of urban historical study.  This volume begins with the eighth century, the beginning of the formation of the County of Vermandois, and ends with the sixteenth, when the town affirms its urban status by becoming the capital of a duchy.

The emergence of Château-Thierry is intimately linked to the creation of a castle dominating the Marne river valley.  Archaeology and documentary sources indicate the early formation of a turris (tower) within the castrum during the first half of the tenth century, probably related to the desire to establish a Herbertian territorial principality.  Only the archaeological record can testify to the older origins of this site during the fifth or sixth centuries, when the settlement began either as a gallo-roman castrum or an aristocratic residence of the early middle ages.

Changes in the castle fortifications and the addition of significant components of an aristocratic residence (such as the kitchens and their elaborate water supply system) dating from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries have been revealed by excavation.  The extant architecture and the building records show the magnificence and influence of the prince.  This castle evolution is strikingly original, but is paralleled in the town by a manifestation of public power shown in the construction of city walls, in the control of the bridge over the Marne and in the mastery of the river itself.  Religious and civic spaces are also studied and contribute new elements to the discussion.  Despite the upheavals of war and early modern urbanization, many unknown components that date before the sixteenth century have been recovered and reconstructed graphically.  One such example is the thirteenth-century granary hall located in the commercial and artisanal district of Saint-Crépin.  This building formed part of the domain of the nearby abbey of Chézy.  The role of rural monasteries in urban development should thus be reconsidered.  The organization of the houses in this same area in 1311 revealed the existence of an extramural Tosafist Jewish community, dating from the twelfth century.  Evidence from building analysis and excavation of private housing in the fortified town remain rare.  Other approaches have therefore been undertaken.  A corpus of 200 cellars reveals the organization of the urban fabric and demonstrates indirectly the internal structure of the town.  This is best demonstrated by the typology of forms of the medieval vaults of these cellars that were annexes to houses and were used for craft production.  Such structures have hitherto been ignored in the study of towns.  

An impressive urban heritage has thus been rediscovered.  This reading and re-reading of the evidence allows us to propose a new history of the town.  The changing course of the river, as well as the town’s supply of both potable water and building stone, are all important points at which urban archaeology profits from its alliance with the natural sciences, in particular with geology.  If archaeology appears as the dynamic element, it is because the methodologies for urban history must be multiplied and extended if they are to acquire new data.  Analysis of property subdivisions, the archaeological analysis of buildings and the stratigraphic record need to be related to a rigorous study of written and iconographic sources to create a new approach to the study of urban phenomena.  These methods are not individually new, but they have rarely been used together in the same study area.  Joint implementation results in a single discipline: a fully historical medieval archaeology. This rigorous combination of methodologies reveals a host of questions to which archaeology can provide concrete answers.

Traduction : Sheila Bonde (university de Brown) and Clark Maines (university de Wesleyan)