THE HARBOR OF FOS


Peutinger's table

Because the ancient harbor of Fos had been completely submerged, all memory of it had been lost. Nevertheless, its name in Antiquity, Fossae Marinae, was mentioned in an ancient document, which was a virtual road map of the Roman Empire, known as Peutinger's table.

 



Peutinger's table
(Detail)

The ancient harbor of Fos
In 102 BC, General Marius ordered his troops to dig a canal linking Arles with the sea. Roman tradeships had difficulties negotiating the Rhône through its mouth, where sandbanks posed grounding hazards.
The exact route of Marius's canal (Fossae Marianae) could not be traced, but toponymy makes it certain that its mouth was close to present-day Fos.
The port developed a large traffic. All the boats coming from the Mediterranean and planning to ascend the Rhône had to pass through it. The largest ones were unloaded and their cargoes transported on small boats that could be towed along the river. Furthermore, ships dealing in coastal trade could land there. In the second and first centuries BC, commerce came from Rome, with destinations of Gaul, Spain, and even Great Britain. This marks the beginning of the expansion of the port of Fos. In addition, after the capture of Marseilles by Caesar, Fos absorbed the traffic previously handled by Marseilles.
In the first century AD, commerce was reversed: up to the third century, we see a Golden Age of exports from Spain and Gaul to Rome. During this period, the importance of the port of Fos peaked, but continued until the fifth and sixth centuries.
The harbor of Fos today
During the 1960's, extensive digging work was conducted at the probable site of the mouth of Marius's Canal. Large dredging machines were imported from Holland to dig basins in the large embankments that had been constructed. Their excavator shovels, filled with earth and archeological materials, were emptied into the sea. Thus, the complete northern part of the site was destroyed.



Funerary steles

Today, the exact location of the port is still undetermined. Meanwhile, funerary steles were found in the water.



Funerary steles
I

Their location, together with other observations, led to the conclusion that the sea had moved about 300 meters inland throughout the Gulf of Fos. As a result, it covered an important zone of deposits from the Gallo-Roman period.