Tour des Fouilles (10): a temple for Mars in the middle of nowhere

After the rest day, we are suddenly in the land of Asterix, par Toutatis. This is a completely different area, but it does have its Roman past, and quite dramatically so. The large Roman remains at Haut Bécherel, near Corseul, some ten kilometers east of Dinan, look, on first sight a little bit out of place. It seems like an urban monument from somewhere in Roman Italy that, in some way or another, ended up in the periphery of northwest Gaul, and not in a city, but on the countryside. Its thick walls are made of heavy Roman concrete, and you can see the beam holes for the scaffolding at regular distances of about one man's length. There are not that many well-preserved monuments of true opus caementicium north of the Alps (though there are some), and most are in cities. Not this one. But what, exactly are we looking at?

Corseul, Haut-Bécherel: The cella of the temple at Haut-Bécherel -

The standing remains - which have been standing out in the open air since antiquity - are the outer walls of a cella, the main room of a Roman temple. It is believed that this temple was dedicated to Mars - not because any remains of a cult statue or epigraphy have been found, but because, on the Peutinger Map, there should be a place called Fanum Martis ('Temple of Mars') somewhere in this region, and this big sanctuary seems like a reasonable candidate. It is, in any case, a remarkably big sanctuary, and it must have been quite an expense.

Corseul, Haut-Bécherel: The Sanctuary of Haut-Bécherel - [source]

The region through which the last part of today's stage goes was, in antiquity, inhabited by the Coriosolites - who indeed probably have given their name to the village of Corseul, where remains of a large settlement have been found. It is likely that these local people paid for the construction of the temple - and they may have had it built by an architect who was closely familiar to the Italian way of constructing monuments - somewhere in the early second century of our era. This sheds an interesting light on what happened - culturally - with the Gauls in this area, after the conquest: they embraced the Roman style of building large rural sanctuaries.

Yet, if we assume the idenfitication of this sanctuary with the Fanum Martis is correct, there is of course another issue to be raised: did the Gauls take over the divine world of the Romans, at the expense of their own? Generally, this was not the case: local gods were linked to gods from the Roman canon, and both names were used in the dedication. Mars, in this area, was associated with the celtic god Mullo and with the more widely known god Toutatis. It is not excluded that this sanctuary was associate with either one of these gods as well. 


Monteil, M. (2012) 'Corseul'. AnnBret 119.2, 195-196.
Provost, A.; Mutarelli, V.; Maligorne, I. (2010) Corseul. Le Monument romain du Haut-Bécherel. Sanctuaire public des Coriosolites. Rennes: PUR.