Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Amphitheater Found Volume 50 Number 4, July/August 1997
by Andrew L. Slayman

[image]Recently discovered Roman amphitheater in Nyon, Switzerland, was dedicated to the emperor Trajan, according to an inscription (inset) found at the site. (Fibbi-Aeppli) [LARGER IMAGE]

Ruins of a Roman amphitheater were discovered in Nyon, Switzerland, on Lac Léman, during excavation for the construction of an apartment building. A fragmentary inscription found at the site, a dedication to the emperor Trajan, refers to the year A.D. 111, perhaps when the structure was finished.

The amphitheater's outer walls and tiers of seats were dismantled following the end of Roman rule in the fourth century A.D., and their large, rectangular stone blocks were reused in other structures in the area. The arena, however, is well preserved; at 120 by 165 feet it is the third largest in Switzerland. A seven-foot-tall wall separating it from the first row of seats, and originally covered with slabs of white limestone and topped with a cornice, has also survived largely intact. The foundations of the tiers have been uncovered, along with the thresholds of two gateways, two animal cages built into the arena wall, and the arena's rainwater drainage system. Nearly 350 coins from the excavations date from the Roman occupation through the seventeenth century, indicating that the ruins remained at least partly exposed until fairly recently.

When the amphitheater was found, the canton of Vaud (the region north and east of Lac Léman) halted construction and commissioned the contract archaeology firm Bureau Archeodunum to conduct excavations. The canton is considering whether to turn the amphitheater into an open-air museum or, more ambitiously, to restore it for outdoor performances. The land, however, is privately owned, and before taking further action the canton or the city must acquire it.

A veterans' colony founded by Julius Caesar ca. 45 B.C., Nyon was originally known as Colonia Julia Equestris; the current name derives from a Celtic name, Noviodunum. Remains of a forum and a large building near the amphitheater, perhaps a bath, are known from isolated test pits. In 1974 a first-century A.D. Roman basilica was uncovered only a few hundred yards away.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America