Vix, France

Hill dominating the village of Vix and the Seine. Mont-Lassois, also called Mont-Saint-Marcel and Mont-Roussillon, consists of two plateaus. The higher of the two, at a height of 100 m above the valley, has remains of prehistoric occupations.

On the lower plateau a necropolis of the 7th c. A.D. is the only archaeological vestige. The importance of the site was revealed in 1929 by excavations which, after being interrupted in 1939, were resumed in 1947, and continue today. Mont-Lassois was inhabited from Neolithic to Merovingian times, but it was the site of an intensive occupation at the end of the first Iron Age, during the 6th and 5th c. B.C.

At that time the site was strongly fortified. A ditch with triangular section, 5 m deep and 19 m wide at the top, surrounded the mountain over a length of 2.7 km. Behind this ditch stood a strong vallum, still more than 3 m in high in places. This vallum is characterized by the presence of an internal facing consisting of an ashlar wall. Several large banks of earth led to the river and to spring, thereby protecting access to sources of water. The dwellings on the summit are poorly known because they are too disturbed, but remains of buildings have been excavated on the sides of the hill.
Reconstruction of wagon from Tomb of Vix in Burgundy (France), Greek Civilization, 6th Century BC

The cabins were built on small terraces with their backs against the rock wall. They were made of plastered wattling and their floors were carefully smoothed; stone was not used. After being abandoned during the 4th, 3d, and 2d c. B.C., the site was reoccupied during La Tène III and a rampart of murus gallicus type enclosed the summit of the upper plateau. Gallo-Roman dwellings on this plateau and a Merovingian cemetery on the other attest to the permanency of human occupation.
Mont-Lassois' interest lies in the abundance and significance of the archaeological material which has been collected there. Almost all fibula types of the end of the first Iron Age are represented there. More than 2 million potsherds dating to about 500 B.C. have been recovered, including 40,000 with geometric barbotine decoration. The remains of more than 50 black-figure Greek vases attest to the existence of a Greek colonization.

In 1953 an exceptionally rich princely tomb was found at the foot of Mont-Lassois. Originally it was a large barrow with a diameter of 40 m. In the middle, in a funerary chamber cut into the ground and lined with planks, lay the dismounted remains of a wagon in whose chassis the body of a young woman had been placed.
The grave goods consisted of an enormous bronze crater 1.65 m high, weighing 208 kg, two Attic bowls, an ancient greek silver vial with a gold navel, three ancient greek bronze basins, and an Etruscan bronze wine jug.

The jewelry included bronze and iron fibulas adorned with gold, amber, and coral; a bronze torque, amber beads, a schist bracelet, and bronze ankle bracelets. A gold diadem weighing 480 gr, of Greek workmanship, still rested on the head of the deceased. This tomb has been dated to 500 B.C. It should be compared to the two barrows of Sainte-Colombe, located 1 km away, which also contained wagon burials attributable to the Greek princes of Vix.

The location of the necropoleis corresponding to the settlement still is not known. However, in the vicinity of the tomb of the princess at Vix, recent excavations have revealed numerous circular enclosures, funerary structures contemporary to that tomb.

Mont-Lassois' importance can be explained by its geographical position. It is located next to the Seine, just where it ceases to be navigable. Thus, it effectively controlled passage through the valley and commercial traffic, including the tin trade.

All the archaeological material collected on the site is deposited in the Musée Municipal at Châtillon-sur-Seine.

In the area, as elsewhere in Central and Western Europe, the early Iron Age led to changes in social organisation, including a marked tendency toward the development of social hierarchies. Whereas large open settlements previously had served as central places, smaller enclosed settlements developed, often in locally prominent locations (so called manors or princely sites). They probably housed an aristocracy that had developed in the context of the increasingly important trade in iron ore and iron. Whether they really were "princesses" or "princes" in a modern sense (i.e., a noble or religious aristocracy) or simply represented an economic or mercantile elite is still the subject of much discussion. In any case, the changed social conditions also were represented by richly equipped graves which are in sharp contrast to the preceding habit of uniform simple urn burials.

Several so-called Fürstensitze (a German term describing such sites, literally "princely seats") are known from Late Hallstatt and Early La Tène Europe, for example, the burials at Hochdorf and Magdalenenberg, the Heuneburg settlement and the Glauberg settlement and burial complex. They are suggested to indicate an increasing hierarchisation of society, with these sites representing the top level, an upper class that lived removed from the majority of the population, and engaged in different social and burial habits to stress its own status.

This separation was based on economic success, connected with the trade of the new dominant metal, namely iron. Iron ores were far more widespread than the rarer materials needed to produce the previously dominant bronze: copper, but especially, tin. Thus, economic success ceased to be determined simply by access to the raw materials, but started to depend on infrastructure and trade.

The increasing economic surplus in well-situated places was invested in representative settlements (and fortifications), jewellery, and expensive imported luxury materials, a differentiation not previously possible. These changes continued even after the end of life. The new social class was not buried in egalitarian urns without much accompanying material, but received individual and elaborate burial mounds as well as rich grave offerings.

Fortifications and architecture
Excavation of the settlement on the summit of Mont Lassois revealed extensive fortifications, with ditches and walls up to 8 m thick. The walls were built in the Pfostenschlitzmauer technique, but also yielded nails of the type common in murus gallicus walls. Excavation inside the enclosure revealed a variety of buildings, including post houses, pit dwellings, hearths, and storage units built on stilts. Geophysical work shows a large planned settlement, with a central, north–south axis and several phases of buildings.

The Greek "Palace of the Lady of Vix"
In 2006, a remarkable architectural unit was discovered at the centre of the site. It is a large complex of two or three buildings, the main one measuring 35 by 21 m, with an estimated height of 12 m: the dimensions of a modern church. The large hall had an apse at the back and a front porch in antis. Overall, the central unit resembles the megaron complex of early Greek architecture. Such a find is unprecedented in early Celtic Europe. Finds suggested domestic use or feasting uses. The structure has been described as the "Palace" of the Lady of Vix (Palais de la Dame de Vix).

The many individual finds from the Lassois oppidum clearly demonstrate the settlement's long and wide-ranging trade contacts, as well as its own role as an economic centre. The most common finds are shards of pottery, with more than 40,000 recorded to date. Many are local products, decorated with simple geometric motifs (checkerboard patterns) and occasional depictions of animals. There also have been finds of imported Attic black figure vases from Greece. Many amphorae and bowls could be identified as coming from the contemporary Greek-settled areas of Southern France. The amphorae had been used for transporting wine.

Jewellery included fibulae, commonly decorated with amber or coral, earrings, beads, slate bracelets, and rings. Glass ornaments also were found. Some small bronze figurines found are Greek origin. Little weaponry has been found as yet, the majority of it projectiles and axes.

Mont Lassois has all the features of a high-status settlement: large fortifications, the presence of a citadel and a lower town, rare and fine imported materials, as well as numerous rich burial mounds in the vicinity.

Vix Grave
The burial of "the Lady of Vix" took place around 500 B.C. Although decomposition of the organic contents of the grave was nearly total, the gender of the individual buried has been interpreted as female: she is accompanied by many items of jewellery, but no weaponry.
Her social status is not clear and other than "Lady," names such as, Queen, Princess, or Priestess of Vix have all been used in various articles involving conjecture. There can be no doubt of her high status, as indicated by the large amounts of jewellery. She was between 30 years and 35 years old at the time of her death.
The inhumation burial was placed in a 4m x 4m rectangular wooden chamber underneath a mound or tumulus of earth and stone which originally measured 42m in diameter and 5m in height.

Her body was laid in the freestanding box of a cart, or chariot, the wheels of which had been detached and placed beside it. Only its metal parts have survived. Her jewellery included a 480 gram 24-carat gold torc, a bronze torc, six fibulae, six slate bracelets, plus a seventh bracelet made of amber beads.

The grave also contained an assemblage of imported objects from the Greek world, all of them associated with the preparation of wine. They included the famous krater, a silver phiale (shallow bowl, sometimes seen as a local product), an Etruscan bronze oinochoe (wine jug), and several drinking cups from Attica. One of the latter was dated as c. 525 BC and represents the latest firmly dated find in the grave. It thus provides the best evidence, a terminus post quem for its date. The vessels probably were placed on wooden tables or benches that did not survive

Vix Krater
The largest and most famous of the finds from the burial is an elaborately decorated bronze volute krater of 1.63m (5'4") height and over 200kg (450lbs) weight.

Further tumuli
Apart from this woman's grave (mound I), there are five further known large burial mounds in the area. Three of them have been excavated so far.

Mound II had a diameter of 33 m; its central chamber contained an urn with cremated human remains, dated by accompanying finds to c. 850 BC.
The mound of La Butte probably dates to the mid-sixth century. As in its famous neighbouring grave, it contained a woman laid in a cart, or chariot, accompanied by two iron axes and a gold bracelet.
A third mound, at La Garenne, was destroyed in 1846. It, too, contained a cart, as well as an Etruscan bronze bowl with four griffin or lioness handles. It is not known whether it contained skeletal remains.

By Paul Lewis
Published: April 1, 1984
Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells of a bronze jar, or krater, so big that it could hold 300 amphorae of wine, the equivalent of nearly 300 gallons. Such a krater, he says, was made by the bronze smiths of Sparta for the fabulously rich King Croesus of Lydia, who reigned from 56O to 546 B.C., about a century before Herodotus was writing. 
For years, modern students of Greek history laughed off the tale of the huge vessel as a typical piece of Herodotean exaggeration. . Kraters were decorated bronze pots in which the ancient Greeks mixed water with their syrupy wine before drinking it. Many such vessels have been found, but they are only a fraction of the size of the one Herodotus mentions and were clearly intended to stand in the middle of a dining table. They served as a punch bowl, allowing feasters to ladle the wine into cups. 
One cold January morning in 1953, near the village of Vix in the Burgundy region of France, Rene Joffroy, a local archeologist, scratched away some mud at a site he was excavating and found a grinning Gorgon sticking her tongue out at him from the handle of an immense bronze jar. Mr. Joffroy had discovered the Krater of Vix, the largest known vessel from the ancient world, and one that corresponds exactly in size, age and magnificence to the jar Herodotus described. (However, whether this krater really is the lost vessel the historian refers to will probably never be known.) 
Today, this superbly decorated krater, over five feet high and capable of holding nearly 300 gallons of wine, stands three miles from Vix in the tiny Municipal Museum at Ch^atillon-sur-Seine, surrounded by the other extraordinary treasures discovered with it. (Ch^atillon-sur-Seine is 45 miles northwest of Dijon.) The museum, in an old house in the center of the town, has an American connection. A plaque just inside the door records that the building was restored in 1951 with a gift of money collected in the United States by a committee headed by Mrs. W. V. Cotchett. About 20,000 visitors a year make their way to see the restored Vix Krater, although in winter the unheated museum is cheerless, cold and empty. 
The vessel, decorated in the Spartan style, stands in an upstairs room, glowing a deep turquoise green. Two handles rise well above the lip, each in the form of a ferocious-looking Gorgon with protruding tongue and legs that turn into curling serpents. Around the neck of the krater marches a frieze of ancient Greek warriors on the their way to battle. Some stride forward on foot carrying hugh circular shields, while others ride in little chariots. All wear high plumed helmets with big cheek guards. Each figure was cast by the ''the lost wax'' method, meaning it was modeled individually. 
Displayed separately from the krater is its perforated lid, with a statue of a goddess in the center.
Wine was probably poured through this lid to strain out lumps of the pine resin Greeks still use as a preservative and which gives their wine its distinctive flavor. The several wine cups found in the krater included one of silver and another decorated with distinctive spiky black pictures of ancient warriors that enable experts to place it as Athenian work made some time between 530 and 520 B.C.
The pleasure of seeing the piece does not come just from admiring its shape and decoration. It stems also from puzzling over the astonishing picture the vessel provides of France 2,500 years ago. 
Ch^atillon-sur-Seine is a backwater, a small, not even attractive provincial town in a region few people have reason to visit. The chateaus of the Loire are well to the west, the spas and wooded hills of the Vosges to the north, the bucolic delights of Dijon, Beaune and Lyons farther south. The motorways, spreading out from Paris, miss it by a wide margin. France's new high-speed train also gives Ch^atillon a comfortable berth. ''Even the ordinary passenger trains don't stop here any more,'' says Andre Paris, the museum director. 
Yet the krater is a reminder that the Ch^atillon-sur-Seine area must have been a special place in ancient times. The vessel is merely part of the rich tomb furniture of a Celtic princess, who was buried there, sitting upright in a chariot of wood bound with bronze, around the year 500 B.C. 
The woman, who was about 30 years old when she died, had a long thin skull and poor teeth. But the objects buried with her and which are all displayed with the krater in the museum, not only show that she was rich and powerful but that she was able to accumulate treasures from the farthest corners of the known world. Her body was bedecked with jewelry, including necklaces of rich amber gathered on the shores of the Baltic, Iron Age brooches and Etruscan rings. Her hair was held in place by a magnificent diadem of pure gold, 17 ounces in weight, and, like the krater itself, without equal in the ancient world. Probably of Greek or Syrian origin, this diadem takes the form of a thick curved band of gold ending in two knobs that went in front of the wearer's ears. Each knob was supported by a lion's paw and decorated with a tiny winged Pegasus. 
The Vix tomb lay at the foot of Mont Lassois, a hill commanding the Seine River and was heavily fortified by Celtic tribes until they abandoned it about 480 B.C. Since the Seine is navigable from present-day Le Havre down as far as Vix, the Celtic warlords of Mont Lassois controlled one of the great trade routes of the ancient world. Tin from the mines of Cornwall, England - along with furs, amber, wood and other northern products - was transported down the Seine, on its way to be smelted into bronze in Greece. 
This trade was probably particularly heavy around the year 500 B.C. when the princess died, for there is evidence that Phoenician pirates, based near the Strait of Gibraltar, succeeded at that time in closing off the sea route from Greece to Britain and the north, forcing merchants to go overland. The local Celtic chieftains must have levied a heavy tribute on this trade as it passed through their kingdom. The magnificent krater buried with the princess at Vix, her golden diadem and all her other possessions from faraway lands, were probably paid to her husband or father by merchants. 
Certainly, many less valuable objects from Greece and southern Europe were also found in the ruins of the ancient Celtic fort on top of Mont Lassois. In addition, similar Greek artifacts have been discovered along a trail of archeological sites stretching to the southeast of Vix and into Switzerland, suggesting the route the traders took. 
The krater is a reminder that a barbarian woman living in this part of France 2,500 years ago may in some ways have led a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan existence than most of the local women a visitor passes in the streets today.


R. Joffroy, La tombe de Vix, Monuments et Mém. (fondation Piot) (1954); L'Oppidum de Vix et la civilisation hallstattienne finale dans l'Est de la France (1960); Les Influences méditerranéennes dans l'oppidum de Vix et dans l'Est de la France à la fin du 1er âge du Fer, Institut de Préhist. et d'Arch. des Alpes Maritimes (1960).
The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites. Stillwell, Richard. MacDonald, William L. McAlister, Marian Holland. Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press. 1976.
The National Endowment for the Humanities provided support for entering this tex
René Joffroy : Le Trésor de Vix (Côte d’Or). Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1954.
René Joffroy: Das Oppidum Mont Lassois, Gemeinde Vix, Dép Côte-d’Or. In: Germania 32, 1954, pp. 59-65.
René Joffroy: L’Oppidum de Vix et la civilisation Hallstattienne finale dans l’Est de la France. Paris 1960.
René Joffroy: Le Trésor de Vix. Histoire et portée d’une grande découverte. Fayard, Paris 1962.
René Joffroy: Vix et ses trésors. Tallandier, Paris 1979.
Franz Fischer: Frühkeltische Fürstengräber in Mitteleuropa. Antike Welt 13, Sondernummer. Raggi-Verl., Feldmeilen/Freiburg. 1982.
Bruno Chaume: Vix et son territoire à l’Age du fer: fouilles du mont Lassois et environnement du site princier. Montagnac 2001, ISBN 2-907303-47-3.
Bruno Chaume, Walter Reinhard: Fürstensitze westlich des Rheins, in: Archäologie in Deutschland 1, 2002, pp. 9–14.
Claude Rolley (ed.): La tombe princière de Vix, Paris 2003, ISBN 2-7084-0697-3
Vix, le cinquantenaire d’une découverte. Dossier d’Archéologie N° 284, Juin 2003.
Bruno Chaume/Tamara Grübel et al.: Vix/Le mont Lassois. Recherches récentes sur le complexe aristocratique. In: Bourgogne, du Paléolithique au Moyen Âge, Dossiers d’Archéologie N° Hors Série 11, Dijon 2004, pp. 30-37.