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The "la Duche" figurines

Venus, Apollo and Hecates, three deities, three bronze figurines found in the Rive district in Nyon. What is their story?


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Unexpected figurines

2005, the "la Duche" underground parking's construction works are about to begin. Before it does though, archaeological digs are to take place. We are in Nyon after all, an ancient Roman colony, and the probability of coming across ancient remains is very high.

On the side of the hill, right under the Nyon Castle, a road, pipes and the outline of two buildings appear under the picks' blows and scratching of the archaeologists' trowels. In the demolition layer of a pipe dating of the 3rd century AC, just beside a richly decorated building, appear the greenish shapes of Apollo, Venus and Hecate.

Apollo, the archer, represented nude, holds in his right hand a patera, a broad and shallow dish used for libations to the deities, and in his left hand a bouquet of laurel. A quiver is attached to his back. If Apollo, in this case, is represented as an archer, where is his bow? The laurel is in fact a silver addition. It could be an ancient repair, maybe after the bow broke off. But Apollo, God of the arts, reason and wisdom, is also known to be a bearer of laurel, symbol of victory. The choice of using silver could be to highlight this new attribute.

Venus, goddess of love and beauty is represented nude as well. She holds a mirror in her left hand, and repositions a strand of her hair on her shoulder with her right hand. Venus is very popular in Roman Gaul. A great number of terracotta effigies were found and Nyon is not an exception. However, it is unusual to find such a figurine in bronze, especially in such a good quality.

Hecate, originally from Thrace (southeast Europe, centred on the modern borders of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey), is very rare in our regions. Even more in her triple form: three women leaned against a column, each looking in a different direction. One of them is on the verge of sacrifying a dog, the other carries a jug and a patera, and the last one, with a half-moon enclosed on her forehead, brandishes a torch. Around them and on the pedestal are depicted objects and animals linked to her worship: snake, turtle and lizard, fruits, bread and a tree identified as a pine tree... all symbols of fertility. Goddess related to Hell, mystical sorceress, crossroads mistress, Hecate depicted in this way seems to symbolise something much more joyful: fertility and abundance.

These three figurines were apparently voluntarily deposited in this pipe, which was most certainly already destroyed in the 3rd century AC. Normally, this type of figurines took place in a Lararium, a small domestic altar found in every roman house. The chosen deities' role is to protect the household in exchange of regular offerings.

A few elements give us clues to who the owner of these figurines was: because of the fine quality of these statuettes, the family was probably wealthy. Furthermore, the existence of Hecate in the lot would indicate that  the owner was either from the Balkans, or was a serviceman who served on the Danube border.

But what are Apollo, Venus and Hecate doing in an abandoned sewer? Was it a hiding place against some sort of danger? Did the owner have any intent of coming back to get them when he buried them? We unfortunately have no answers to these questions, but it gives the possibility to imagine at least a small portion of these objects' life.

Malika Bossard
Tour guide and inventory officer at the Roman Museum of Nyon, archaeology graduate

Something to read:

Collectif, Musée romain de Nyon Colonia Iulia Equestris, un site, un musée, Gollion, Infolio, 2019.

CRAMATTE C., « Trois statuettes en bronze provenant de Nyon. Un nouvel aspect de la vie religieuse dans la Colonia Iulia Equestris", Annuaire d'archéologie suisse 92 (2009), pp. 256-264.

Data sheets:

Venus           Apollo           Hecate

For children

Colour Hecate with your most beautiful colours and publish the result on social media using #HecateEnCouleurs (don't forget to mention us in your post so that we can admire your works of art! @museeromaindenyon)

U+21E9.gif Download the drawing down here U+21E9.gif



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