Tour des Fouilles (11): Legedia, city of the Abrincates

Avranches: View from Avranches towards the Mont-Saint-Michel -

There is nothing Roman to be seen in Avranches. Yet, that the city had a Roman past is known through finds and excavations - finds from recent years include a hypocaust system, probably belonging to a small private bath complex, and parts of a paved Roman road. Probably, the city was known as Legedia, and later as the Civitas Abrincatum - from which, obviously, the name Avranches derives. It does not seem to have been very wealthy, and did not have many inhabitants. No public buildings have been identified, and there is no evidence for the presence of a theatre or an amphitheatre. The epigraphic record consists of ten inscriptions, with one word each. Even from Utrecht, of all places, more Roman inscriptions are known. We are talking about a city of, maybe, 1000 or 1500 inhabitants. 

Yet, what is interesting is the location of the city. It was built along the road connecting the major centre of Rennes with the city of Coutance, further to the north, in a strategically highly important place: as you can see, Avranches was built on a low hill, and from the city, even nowadays you have a very good view over the environment, including large parts bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. Its location makes it a natural central place in the region, and one where several trade routes may have joined together. 

The picture also shows the strong visual connection between Avranches and the Mont-Saint-Michel: from the city, you can easily see the small tidal island - and the same was true in antiquity. This of course raises the question as to whether the inhabitants of the Civitas Abrincatum also used the Mont-Saint-Michel: it must have been a very special, puzzling, dot on their horizon, and they were the closest urban centre, so whatever took place at the Mont-Saint-Michel probably was oriented towards this place.

It is clear from archaeological finds done over the centuries that Le Mont-Saint-Michel was the focal point of human activities in the Gallo-Roman period as well: coins, pottery, and (allegedly) even mosaics have been found on the island. Perhaps there was a small sanctuary where some Gallo-Roman deity was honoured; there are some finds known from the pre-roman period as well. In that case, the abbey could be another example of religious activity continuing right from pagan antiquity into the christian middle ages - as indeed we have seen already a couple of times in this series. Unfortunately, however, this is bound to remain speculative at this point: the evidence is too fragmentary. 

Bibliography

Levalet, D. (1979) 'De la cité des Abrincates au diocèse d'Avranches. Contribution à l'étude du peuplement de la Normandie.'. AnnNorm 29, 3-22.