Press release
September 11, 2007

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The history of Troyes written in wax

On line since September 25, 2009 · Updated November 18, 2009
An archaeological excavation was conducted Place de la Libération in Troyes, from 2004 to 2006 before the construction of an underground car park. The results of an interdisciplinary approach paint a picture of an emerging ancient city and the daily life of a newly Romanized urban population in the early years AD, particularly social status, dietary customs and state of health.

Progressive urbanization in an inhospitable environment

During prehistory, the environment was particularly inhospitable owing to frequent floods followed by the development of marshland.
It was not until the reign of Augustus around 20 BC that the area was drained by a network of ditches. An early habitat was characterized by pits and wooden houses.
Starting in the 30's AD, the building of Augustobona began with land drainage. The programme probably began under the reigns of Tiberius (14-37 AD) and then Claudius (41-54 AD), reaching its peak during the Flavian period (around 60-85). The city declined towards the end of the 3rd century.

Objects made from perishable materials: an aspect of Roman culture

During the excavation, around twenty latrines and wood lined wells, reused as waste pits, were found. These fragile constructions, perfectly preserved due to the permanent humidity of the soil, contained food remains. Coriander, oregano and grapes were some of the rich food products imported from the Mediterranean world. Around fifty wooden objects were discovered in the latrines and wells: a comb, a wooden box, maplewood spindle, wicker basketry, and especially spruce and fir tablets.
One of the most remarkable objects is a Gallo-Roman 1000 litre barrel. Preserved to a height of 1.3 m, with a diameter of nearly 1 m, it is formed of 19 staves (spruce and fir) encircled by hazelwood hoops. The barrel was reused as a well lining, thus permitting its perfect conservation. Fabricated around 47 BC, it must have originally been over 1.8 metres high. It was used to transport acetum—sour wine or vinegar—used in the preparation of posca, Roman soldiers' favourite drink, made from 1/10th acetum and 9/10ths water.
Is this one object sufficient to prove the temporary presence of a legion in Troyes, vector of Romanization under the Emperor Claudius (41-54)?

The tabulae ceratae of the Place de la Libération

In the Roman world, wax tablets were widely used for correspondence or official documents. Generally made from boxwood, these ten to twenty centimetres long plaques have a depressed surface into which a thin layer of tinted wax was poured, creating an infinitely erasable and renewable surface on which it was possible to write with a stylet.
The plaques were usually joined together in groups of two or more. Though several frescos from the 1st century in Pompeii illustrate their use, these wooden objects are rarely preserved.
Except for two made from spruce, all the elements are made from fir, some from the same trunk. These tablets are attributed to the second half of the 1st century and two of them are precisely dated by dendrochronology to 50 and 51 AD.
Some, which have surfaces with incisions in the wood that resemble writing, are in the course of study by epigraphists. Graffiti on the back of some tablets could indicate the contents or authors of the document.
The 26 objects from Troyes constitute a unique corpus in France, which resembles the finds at the small Roman fort of Vindolanda in England.

See images

  • General view of the site. Troyes, Place de la Libération
    General view of the site. Troyes, Place de la Libération
    © Loïc de Cargouët/Inrap
  • Barrel made from spruce and fir, reused as a well lining, in the process of excavation. Middle 1st century AD. Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Barrel made from spruce and fir, reused as a well lining, in the process of excavation. Middle 1st century AD. Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Philippe Kuchler/Inrap
  • Close-up of the barrelmaker’s mark on one of the staves of the barrel, middle 1st century AD. Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Close-up of the barrelmaker’s mark on one of the staves of the barrel, middle 1st century AD. Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Willy Tegel-Dendronet
  • Painted and decorated boxwood box, middle 1st century AD. Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Painted and decorated boxwood box, middle 1st century AD. Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Inka Potthast & Ralf Riens-Konservierrungslabor
  • Wicker object, end of 1st or beginning of 2nd century AD. Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Wicker object, end of 1st or beginning of 2nd century AD. Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Patrick Barbier-Les brins d’osier
  • Boxwood comb, Flavian period (60/65-80/85 AD). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Boxwood comb, Flavian period (60/65-80/85 AD). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Inka Potthast & Ralf Riens-Konservierrungslabor
  • Spruce tablet with two inscribed faces, middle 1st century AD (interior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Spruce tablet with two inscribed faces, middle 1st century AD (interior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Inka Potthast & Ralf Riens-Konservierrungslabor
  • Spruce tablet with two inscribed faces, middle 1st century AD  (exterior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Spruce tablet with two inscribed faces, middle 1st century AD (exterior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Inka Potthast & Ralf Riens-Konservierrungslabor
  • Fir writing tablet with one inscribed face and engraved graffiti on the back, middle 1st century AD (interior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Fir writing tablet with one inscribed face and engraved graffiti on the back, middle 1st century AD (interior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Inka Potthast & Ralf Riens-Konservierrungslabor
  • Fir writing tablet with one inscribed face and engraved graffiti on the back, middle 1st century AD (exterior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Fir writing tablet with one inscribed face and engraved graffiti on the back, middle 1st century AD (exterior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Inka Potthast & Ralf Riens-Konservierrungslabor
  • Fir writing tablet with one inscribed face and engraved graffiti on the back, middle 1st century AD (interior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Fir writing tablet with one inscribed face and engraved graffiti on the back, middle 1st century AD (interior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Inka Potthast & Ralf Riens-Konservierrungslabor
  • Fir writing tablet with one inscribed face and engraved graffiti on the back, middle 1st century AD (exterior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    Fir writing tablet with one inscribed face and engraved graffiti on the back, middle 1st century AD (exterior). Troyes, Place de la Libération.
    ©Inka Potthast & Ralf Riens-Konservierrungslabor