Tour des Fouilles (13): A theatre on the riverside

A couple of kilometres south of St. Amand Montrond, on the shore of the Cher River, lies the small village of Drevant. It has 510 inhabitants, a chapel rather than a church, one restaurant, and no supermarket, but it does have a Roman Theatre - right on the riverside. It used to be a regionally famous post-card spot in the late 19th and early 20th century, as you can see on the image below (and on this picture). More than 1500 years after it lost its primary function, it is still the most important place in the village. It is certainly not the only place in the village were Roman remains have turned up, but it certainly is the most spectacular.

Drevant, Théâtre: Old postcard of the theatre -

The theatre dates from the late first or early second century of our era and was partially built into a natural slope, which made construction cheaper and made it easier for the structure to stand the test of time. The orchestra - the space surrounded by the seats - is round, and could be used as an arena as well; as you can see, it was also surrounded by a high wall that protected the public from eventual wild animals. Yet, at the same time: at the back, there clearly are the remains of a rectangular stage building. It was, thus a multifunctional building: a theatre and an amphitheatre in one. Such structures were not uncommon in Roman Gaul - of course, it is a convenient solution if your city is not too big, and you still want to be able to do both  performances and the more bloody gladiatorial stuff.

This, of course, brings us to the issue of what kind of settlement ancient Drevant was. Actually, this opens up quite a debate, as Drevant does not really easily fit into any ready definion. It clearly was not a city - there are no signs of urban planning, there are no city walls, and there is no other evidence a city existed at this place. Still, besides this remarkably monumental theatre, two bath complexes have been found, as well as a large monumental complex which may either be a forum or some kind of sanctuary. In recent years, houses have been exacvated a bit further away from the river. 

Drevant: Overview of the site - [source]

Some (see map) have maintained the site was a big rural sanctuary, and this cannot be excluded, but another attractive option is that it was a regional meeting place which, because of its central function, became a place where people invested in monumental architecture - even though it was not in itself a real city. The term some scholars have used for these places is conciliabulum. In this view, the big complex would have been a forum - even though it clearly (also) has a religious side to it: as you can see on the map, there is a temple-like building standing in the middle of it. 

In any case, what the site of Drevant shows is that the Gallo-Roman settlement system was varied and complex - more complex than the picture of cities and villas that has long dominated our way of thinking about the Roman past. 

 

 

Bibliography

Cribellier, Chr. (1996) 'Un quartier d'habitat de l'agglomération antique de Drevant (Cher) / A residential quarter in the antique agglomeration of Drevant (Cher)'. RevArcCentre 35, 113-152.
Méténier, F. (2011) 'Le sanctuaire gallo-romain de Drevant (Cher): état des connaissances et nouvelle approche archéologique des façades sud et est'. RevArcCentre 50, 385-452.