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Roman Jublains – Noviodunum

The modern-day town of Jublains has its origins as the Gallic capital of the Diablintes tribe. By 65 AD, the town had taken on many distinctive Roman features. The public baths, the theatre, the temple, and the fort are strikingly well preserved and attest to the Roman town’s strategic significance positioned on an important route between the Loire Valley to the south and the channel to the north. An on site museum has an extensive and interesting set of displays of some of the finest artefacts from various locations around he Roman town.

From the 4th century the Gallic tribe of the area, the Diablintes, had a sanctuary to the north of what is today the town of Jublains. Romans started to build houses near this sanctuary in the first few decades of the first century AD.

An important commercial town developed over the years that became a political centre for the area, and the capital of the Diablintes people. As a result of this political and economic significance the town had a forum, a theatre, temple and large public bath house. The remains of these still accessible today.

Towards of the end of the 3rd century AD, with the weakening of the Roman Empire, all areas of Gaul and the Romans were under attack from various groups in Europe including the Saxons from Germany. A fortified building with earthen ramparts was constructed on the southern edge of the border, later followed by the addition of a surrounding stone wall. A significant portion of this fort is still standing and is said to be one of the most well preserved Roman fortifications in France.

Painted wall fragment from the temple depicting a pigeon. Now in the onsite museum.

Where is Jublains?

The town of Jublains is about 10 kilometres to the south east of Mayenne, the capital town of the Department of the same name, in the Pays de la Loire region of north western France.

Roman Points of Interest in the town of Jublains:

Seemingly scattered about Jublains are the remains of various Roman structures and features. Walking from the bath house to the temple, passing by where the forum once stood, visitors encounter a wide open grassy, parkland space. The grass is dissected by grit roads, which mark the position of roads that would have divided the urban part of the town into insulae, or islands. These insulae are where the remains of various urban buildings have been found.

The Temple

The remains of two theatres can be seen at Jublains. The second theatre was built directly on top of the first, probably during the second half of the first century AD. Much of the structure of the second one is very noticeable, including the tiers for seating, the entertainment area and the vomitorium. But the foundations of the first theatre are also visible – and as the second was built on top of the first, it can be confusing. But, there is a very good information board that gives a clear plan showing which is which.

The Bathhouse

A substantial public bath house was constructed towards the end of the first century in the centre of the town. With the spread of Christianity and the withdrawal of Roman control in the area, the bath house was converted into a church sometime during the fifth century by removing inner partition walls and filling in the baths. Consequently, the church retained its Gallo-Roman appearance. In 1877 the church was fully renovated to produce the church we see today. More recently the foundations of the baths have been excavated and put on display. The church is open to see the remains of the bath house during the same hours as the museums’s opening hours.
Roman Theatre Jublains
Remains of the second theatre built at Noviodunum, in the 2nd century AD.

The Fortress

Of all the Roman monuments in Jublains, the fort is by far the largest and in the best condition. In fact, it is also said to be the best preserved Roman fortifications in France. There are three main components to the fort: a central building that surrounded by an earthen rampart, which is in turn surrounded by quite a substantial stone wall. The exact function of the fort is unclear, as is the reason for its construction. Although always said to be a fortress, some archaeologists also think that the inner building started out as a civic warehouse. The earthen rampart and stone wall appear to have been built at times of known local troubles. So some believe that the civic warehouse was being fortified against piracy acts and peasant revolts.

Musée de Jublains

Given the extensive excavations carried out in the 1990s, there is an extensive collection of artefacts, and much is now known about Noviodunum. A relatively new and state of the art museum is now open to the public in Jublains – right next to the fort. The exhibits include displays about the prehistory of the area, prior to the arrival of the Romans, but obviously has extensive displays on the Gallo-Roman period – including a spectacular model of the town, and an excellent aerial view of the town showing where all the features of the Roman town are. Some of the objects on display are truly exquisite.

Archaeology Travel Tip

Jublains is not a large town, but there is a lot to see. For visitors who have a few hours to spare, or the better part of a day, this is a great attraction to visit. It may not compare to some of the cities of the south of France with their extensive and monumental Roman remains, but for northern France Jublains is one not to miss. I recommend starting at the museum to get your bearings, and then visiting the other features as time permits. If you are pressed for time, it is possible to drive to the various sites – and see most in two hours at least. But, it is equally possible to walk between them all, take a picnic or eat at one of the restaurants, and enjoy a great day out.

Archaeology Travel Writer

Thomas Dowson

With a professional background in archaeology and a passion for travel, I founded Archaeology Travel to help more people explore our world’s fascinating pasts. Born in Zambia, I trained as an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and taught archaeology at the universities of Southampton and Manchester (England). Read More

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