Tour des Fouilles (7): The land of the Ruteni, or coins, coins, coins

Today, the Tour de France leaves the Mediterranean, and if you look at it from a Roman perspective, it does so through the back door. The rough southern Massif Central never really was densely inhabited - though there are some masively important sites, such as La Graufesenque. The area through which the race goes was bypassed by most Roman roads. There were not many cities - indeed, Albi itself, though it already existed, seems to have been fairly small. Some villa's have been discovered here and there, but for the rest, the archaeological landscape of today's stage is uncomfortably empty. There are few nice pictures of standing remains to be shown. 

Midi-Pyrénées: Hoard of Goutrens - Ruteni coins belonging to the hoard of Goutrens [source]

Yet, this was not an empty country. There was a minor roman road running on the level of the hilltops and connected Béziers to Cahors and Albi. The race today more or less follows its course, but nothing of it can be seen. It was mapped, to great detail, in the early twentieth century, when traces of wheel-ruts still could be seen at many places along its course, but the ancient remains have not survived the emergence of four wheel drive vehicles.

The people living in this country were traditionally called Ruteni. This was a Gaulish tribe that became part of the Roman Empire at a much later stage than the people living along the Mediterranean coast. They lived in small rural settlements that have not really left very impressive remains. But that does not mean that we know nothing of them.

We know from coin finds that the Ruteni, from fairly early on, stood in contact with the Greek colonies in Southern France and Northern Spain, and that they already - like more Gaulish tribes that lived close to Greco-Roman territories, adopted the use of coinage and began to mint their own coins. An impressive hoard of som 20.000 Ruteni-coins of the early first century BC was found in Goutrens

So before they were added to the empire, the Gaulish tribes like the Ruteni were not only already drinking Roman wine on a massive scale, they also were already minting their own coins, and probably also used this money in everyday life. Not only the amphora, but also the coin preceded the sword. This kind of may change one's view of what 'Romanization' (if you still want to use that term) actually meant in this area.

UK: Late Roman Silver Ingots - Royal Museum, Canterbury, Kent. [source]

The Ruteni could easily mint their own coins, since they had direct access to silver - which they could mine at several places. One concentration of (silver and lead) mines was around the Vallée de l'Orb (example), which the race will cross today after some 60 kilometers. Exploitation of the mines continued in the Roman period, and several silver ingots marked with the letters SOC ARG ROT were found in the harbour city of Béziers. This is probably the abbreviation of the Societas Argentifodinarium Rotenorum or the corporation of Silverminers of the Rutenii. 

The silver mines in this region were few compared to the much more numerous mines that the Romans had in Spain, but still, apparently, it was worth the effort. Coins had to be minted, as the army had to be paid, and the land of the Rutenii played it small part in this.



Sahuc, J. (1911) Une voie gallo-romaine de Béziers à Albi et Cahors. Montpellier: Imprimerie Generale.