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Bacchanalian mosaic discovered in France

Archaeologists in France have discovered a Roman site they’ve dubbed “little Pompeii” with a mosaic featuring followers of Dionysus among the star finds.

A 19th century engraving of Dionysus and his triumphant procession, maenads and satyrs among them.

Discovered in Vienne on the upper Rhône, the archaeologists have been working on the site since April this year and have excavated an exceptionally large area where the houses of a prosperous community once stood.

It has been hailed as an “exceptional find” by the French culture ministry and “the most exceptional excavation of a Roman site in 40 or 50 years,” according to the dig leader, Benjamin Clement.

Dating to the first century AD, it is thought the area was occupied for 300 years until a series of fires drove its inhabitants out. The resulting layer of ash however, much like in the famous Campanian town of Pompeii, has wonderfully preserved parts of the buildings, and especially the mosaics, down the centuries.

One of the most impressive finds has been a mosaic in a home that has been dubbed ‘The Bacchanalian House’ and which features a dancing procession of ‘maenads’, the female followers of the god of wine Dionysus/Bacchus.

Translated literally, maenads means ‘raving ones’ and describes the frenzied and ecstatic state into which their devotion to the god supposedly drove them.

Also featured in the mosaic are satyrs, another essential component of Dionysus’ ‘thiasus’ – his euphoric retinue.

Aside from its sumptuous mosaics, the house had all the mod cons of the luxury Roman home, balustrades, marble tiling, a lovely large garden and a water supply system; the layout and other parts of which are so well preserved that the team leader believes it will be possible to recreate the house almost entirely.

The archaeologists believe it probably belonged to a wealthy merchant and, given the subject matter of the central mosaic, perhaps he dealt in wine?

A mosaic in another house meanwhile is slightly more risqué in flavour, with a bare-bottomed Thalia, the comedic muse, being carried off by a lustful looking Pan. A large public building with a fountain adorned with a statue of Hercules may have been a philosophy school.

Even more remarkable is the fact these treasures have been found at all. As the site, which covers 7,000 square metres is earmarked for a new housing complex it may simply have been built over without ever revealing its secrets.

Initially due to end in September, the French culture ministry has extended excavations until the end of the year in order to allow time for further finds.

The mosaics are going to be removed and, it is hoped, will be put on display at the Vienne museum of Gallo-Roman history in 2019.

READ MORE: ‘Be cheerful’ advises wine-drinking skeleton mosaic

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