Arnesp, the villa of a provincial aristocrat (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

An ambitious architectural composition

This imposing residence was built near the Garonne River, some fifteen kilometres from the main town of the civitas, Lugdunum Convenarum (Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges). Some discoveries were made in the 19th century, but most of what we know derives from the tireless efforts of Georges Fouet, who excavated the site between 1941 and 1981.

This was a monumental villa with a number of peristyles, fitted with a separate bathing establishment. One hundred metres south of the villa, on the other side of a road, there was a religious and funerary edifice. The surface area of the residential part of the villa measured 90 x 160 metres. Its axial organisation was emphasised by an enormous public courtyard measuring 3,000 sq. metres. The main entrance was likely located to the south, in a large part of the structure. To the north, opposite the entrance, there is a gallery over 6 metres wide – wider than the other tributary corridors leading off the courtyard's peristyle – and flanked by apses at either end. It is a transitional space between two other courtyards that organise the various parts of the villa, and it also gives access to an S-shaped peristyle around a pool, thus underscoring the axial nature of the composition. An octagonal reception room, although part of the rooms surrounding the southernmost peristyle, opens onto the semi-circular pool. With a surface area of slightly under 100 sq. metres, this remarkable space is fitted with apses. The luxurious nature of the room is evident from the marble opus sectile floor decoration. Nymfius, a landowner from Late Antiquity

The construction of this impressive residence can be dated to the 4th century CE, and significant refurbishment effort were undertaken in the following century. It was extremely luxuriously decorated, with extensive use of marble cladding and an entire series of mosaics with geometrical and plant motifs. There is no question about the high social status of the villa's owner, and his identity is perhaps known to us from an exceptional epigraphic source: the epitaph of Nymfius.

This is a literary document as well, consisting of twenty-four verses divided into two parts. The first part consists of a eulogy by the province in praise of its leading figure and his role as a philanthropist who organised public games that earned him "cheers from the crowd in the stands". The second part speaks of public mourning at the loss that the death of this distinguished personality represents for his provincial "homeland", but also hints at a more private grief with the mention of his wife, Serena. Certain modes of expression have led some to seek a Christian dimension to this inscription, which dates to the early 5th century CE at the latest.

The block, which was reused as an altar and moved over time, may have come from a mausoleum that was almost completely dismantled for use in Christian constructions, and that was located to the south of a road separating the funerary space from the villa. Sarcophagi were placed inside the main monument, and a necropolis developed in the surroundings up until the High Middle Ages.
Interactive document - Layout of the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

Layout of the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)


© Alain Bouet
Interactive document - Aerial view of the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

Aerial view of the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)


© J.G. Rossini – Mairie de Valentine
Interactive document - Official courtyard of the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

Official courtyard of the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

This vast 3,000-square-metre courtyard linked the main building with the entrance to the estate.
© Karin Réali – Mairie de Valentine
Interactive document - Hypocaust of the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

Hypocaust of the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

The residential apartments were heated by a cross-shaped system of hypocaust tubing.
© Karin Réali – Mairie de Valentine
Interactive document - Sigma-shaped portico and semi-circular pool from the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

Sigma-shaped portico and semi-circular pool from the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)


© Karin Réali – Mairie de Valentine
Interactive document - Epitaph of Nymphius

Epitaph of Nymphius

Funerary epitaph of Nymphius, Late Antiquity, from Valentine (Haute-Garonne). Later used as an altar in the Valentine church, this epitaph comes from the mausoleum of the owner of the Arnesp Villa. Nymphius was an important figure from the local aristocracy, as indicated in this long inscription, which recalls his influence and the games that he paid for.
© Musée Saint-Raymond, musée des Antiques de Toulouse / Photo J.-F. Peiré.
Interactive document - Ritual and funerary ensemble from the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)

Ritual and funerary ensemble from the Arnesp Villa (Valentine, Haute-Garonne)