Amazing mosaics found in ruins of Roman 'domus'

The Inrap team works on the 5th century domus in Auch in the Gers

Archaeologists have discovered the ruins of a luxurious 5th-century Roman palace in Auch in the Gers – and they face a race against time to excavate it. 

Abandoned some 16 centuries ago, this aristocratic ‘domus’ possessed private baths and splendid mosaics on the ground. It was close to the centre of the ancient Roman city of Augusta Auscorum, which was the capital of the province of Novempopulanie - and near the centre of the modern town of Auch.

Originally found by the landowner digging foundations to build a house, just 50cm below the surface the impressive 2-metre-deep ruins have been revealed.

Since the end of April, l’Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (Inrap) has been bringing to light a part of what was once a vast aristocratic home.

And the team of archaeologists is working against the clock as the land must be returned to the owner in September.

The ruins date from the 1st to the 5th century as the structure was rebuilt several times. “In the beginning,” said Pascal Lotti, archaeologist at the Inrap and scientific leader of the excavation, “it was a private habitat. At the time, it was a building with earth walls.

"In the second century, the cadastre was modified, and in the course of the third century, this great house was set up, which would undergo two major restructurings, as evidenced by the three levels identified by the researchers.”

On top – and therefore on the most recent level – they found large, beautiful, multi-coloured mosaics, due to be removed by mid-July. The mosaics contain numerous geometric and floral motifs; leaves of ivy, laurel and acanthus; friezes with waves, others with egg-shaped patterns, separated by tridents; octagons with five-leafed flowers; squares separated by three-strand braids.

A large-handled 'canthare' vase in the mosaic
A detail of the mosaic shows a wave pattern

“It was not just a dwelling,” Mr Lotti told Le Monde. “It was also a place of representation, so it had to be fairly stunning.”

Due to the discovery of a coin bearing the image of Emperor Constantine I (272-337), the team knew that the final incarnation of the domus came after the year 330.

The house also had two underfloor heating systems, a technique well controlled by the Romans, which required an abundant staff to fuel the homes.

Many of the mosaics incorporate floral motifs

At the edge of the excavation, other mosaics appear from an earlier stage of the house. And, at another even deeper level is a third mosaic embellished with four black tesserae forming a cross.

After the removal of the mosaics, the Inrap team will have to work fast - two complete levels will remain to be examined before the land is returned to the owner at the end of September for building to recommence.

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