Tour des Fouilles (3): une étape sans histoire?

So  yesterday, I already wrote that there was little Roman archaeology going on around Ajaccio. To be fair, this is true for the entire west coast of Corsica. This is, obviously, for a reason: as the Tour direction proudly advertised, in today's stage, no meter is flat. This is great if you want to have a cycling race, but it is a little bit less of a pro if you are a preindustrial farmer looking for fertile land and a market to sell your surplus. There is no fertile land, and few people interested in your stuff. Lack of land fit for agriculture determines the low density of Roman sites in western Corsica. If you look at it from the perspective of the Romans, it was a marginal zone. Much more marginal than areas that, in terms of sheer distance, were much further away, such as Southern Spain, which supplied the city of Rome with large quantities of olive oil. People from southern Spain have left their mark on Roman history, and can be traced in inscriptions in the city of Rome. Not so for western Corsica.

Sagone: View of the former cathedral of Sant'Appianu at Sagone - [source]

Yet western Corsica was not completely empty either. A couple of farmsteads are known and a couple of late antique churches - always a great indicator of where people lived in antiquity. The problem is more complicated: low expectations means low interest from archaeologists (after all, fieldwork is expensive), and thus a lower density of knowledge. It is very well possible that there is a clear expectation bias that further complicates our view on what happened in West Corsica in the first centuries of our era. At the same time, I am not really a specialist of Roman Corsica, and while I have done my best to see what is out there, I may have missed something. I emphasize this for a reason: marginality, like knowledge, tends to reinforce itself. 

Sagone: The valley of the Sagone - The location of the Roman villa of Sagone is indicated by the black spot (Photo: Miko Flohr [2013])

So, is this, then, an 'étape sans histoire'? Not really. The intermediate sprint, after 28.5km, is at Sagone. Here, there is a bit of Roman archaeology underneath and around the former cathedral of Sant'Appanu - again, a stand-alone cathedral, more-or-less, in the middle of nowhere, and it has been attested since 594. Recent excavations have, like at Mariana, brought an older, paleochristian church to light, as well as remains of a Roman villa. If you look at the picture above, the raison d'être of this villa quickly becomes clear: this is one of two or three valleys along the west coast where there is a reasonable amount of farming land, providing space for a couple of farmsteads. They must have been largely self-sufficient, but they may have shipped off some of their surpluses to overseas destinations. But this is what this part of Corsica was like, in the Roman world: a little bit of agriculture, and a lot of mountanous forest.


Istria, D. (2007) 'Fouille programmée du siège épiscopal de Sant'Appianu de Sagone'. .