Tour des Fouilles (9): The Nymphs of the two Bagnères

There were no big Roman cities in the Pyrenees, and the mountain passes of the central zone of the mountains played only a marginal role in the Roman road system - only the route over the Col du Somport further to the west had some official status, as is suggested by the discovery of a milestone in Urdos; most of the land traffic seems to have opted for roads closely to the sea. In fact, the onlu urban centre in the area was the settlement at Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, Lugdunum Convenarum. Yet, the valleys were generally inhabited, and have returned some remains from the Roman period, and this is especially true for the two Bagnères: Bagnères-de-Bigorre and Bagnères-de-Luchon. Both are on the route of today's stage.

Bagnères-de-Luchon: Two dedications to the Nymphs - (Drawing: Miko Flohr [2013])

Bagnères-de-Bigorre was known as Vicus Aquensium and probably was part of the territory of Lugdunum Convenarum. Some Roman remains have been found over the years, but there has been no big excavation, and nothing is visible. As the name of the Vicus suggests, something related to water was happening there - in other words: the hot springs, which of course gave the village its present name, were also known, and exploited, in the Roman period. As far as I know, no remains of the Roman baths have ever been excavated or identified, but the city's epigraphic record makes patently clear that the springs played a central role in local life.  Two of the four Roman inscriptions that have been found in Bagnères are actually votive altars dedicated to the Nymphs. Mythologically related to springs and rivers, Nymphs seem to have played a key role in the religious life of hot springs.

Bagnères-de-Luchon: Two dedications to the Nymphs - (Drawing: Miko Flohr [2013])

Remarkably, almost precisely the same is true at Bagnères-de-Luchon, which is passed after the Col de Mente in today's stage. This Bagnères was known by the Romans as Aquae Onesiorum, and besides more than a few inscriptions, some Roman remains seem to have been found in the 19th and early 20th centuries - though no plans or photos exist. Here, eleven of the twenty-seven inscriptions refer to the Nymphs. 

The Pyrenees, it seems, in some sense were seen by the Romans as the land of the Nymphs, which the sick could visit to get better - one inscription even makes this explicit: a certain Severius Seranus dedicated an inscription to the Nymphs pro salute sua - to thank them for his recovery. Yet the inscriptions also reveal how far Roman culture penetrated into conquered areas: this went further than just the cities, and also concerned (rural) hot springs (and probably also sanctuaries, to some extent): these dedications to the Nymphs were part of the Greco-Roman way of thinking, not of Gaulish culture. However, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges was at least a day travelling away, and neither of the two hotsprings seems to have been close to a major road. You basically only went there if you had to go there.

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