The term Gallo-Roman oppidum seems too sanitised – it was not just a handy look-out camp shared by some Gauls and their chums the Romans. Its an astutely chosen site for a classic épéron barré – a defended spur or rocky promontry defined as a ‘première forme de fortification, les plus anciennes datant de l’Age du bronze. Ce type de fortification a pu donner naissance aux oppida celtiques, voire aux châteaux forts médiévaux.‘ The Volques Tectosages and the Romans were an unlikely pairing – or an unholy alliance. Under their chieftain Copillos, they had repulsed the first Roman attempt on their stonghold Tolosa – ‘old Toulouse’. In the second battle he was captured – and it is thought that some deal was struck to secure his release and the allegiance of his mercenary fighters. It seems that the Volques did not come to the aid of Vercingetorix, in the Roman war against the Celts of Gaul. They were reknowned for their battle prowess, and for their skills in smelting iron and weapon-forgeing. Perhaps also for their ability to pick a winning side – and to strike an advantageous deal. Whichever – within a century or so they had left the region completely – to plunder Asia Minor.
The stronghold looks out across the wide valley of the Aude to Alaric mountain, where a similar fort can been found. It thus controlled a sector of the main trade route from the Mediterranean lagoons of the Golfe du Lion, through the Carcassonne Gap, to the Atlantic coast. It also guarded over the holy pilgrimage site of Centeilles, with its Bronze Age foundry, its necropolis and dolmens, holy wells and springs – and its lucrative pilgrims and market-exchanges.
The walls are neatly faced, with foundation- and corner-stones possibly dressed to sit square. There is evidence of water-conduits, and a deep pit that could have been a cistern [ a dungeon was also suggested by one of the more blood-thirsty women in our party – a coldstore for food was a more peaceable proposal]
We also came upon a circular construction built into the corner of a room or small yard – possibly once waist-high, that might have been a well or a cooking area, or a forge :-
There entire area was the size of two tennis-courts – with much rubble beyond the outer walls, suggesting the walls could have been 2 – 3 metres high:-