The Colonia Iulia Equestris
Around 45 BC, a little after the conquest of Gaul, the Romans founded the Colonia Iulia Equestris on the shored of Lake Geneva. If we are to believe the sources (ancient and medieval), it covered the right bank of the Rhone, between the region of Gex, the Jura Mountains and the Aubonne river in Switzerland.
The Colonia Iulia Equestris, apparently a military style colony, was intended for the veterans of Caesar's army, probably mounted troops (hence Equestris). It seems slightly older than the two nearby colonies of Lyon (Copia Felix Munatia Lugdunensis) and Augst (Colonia Raurica) near Basel, also founded just after the Gallic Wars. The urban centre of the territory, Noviodunum, was built exactly where the town of Nyon stands today.
What is a Roman colony?
Originally, a colony was comprised of a territory, its land distributed among the new settlers, with an urban centre centralising the political and administrative structures. Some cities were given colony status as an honorary gesture.
When a colony was founded, the territory selected was demarcated and divided into plots in the form of a grid in a ceremony which played a fundamental role in its foundation. This division was known as "cadastration" or "centuriation". The Roman State then conferred a specific political status on the colony modelled on the institutions of the city of Rome.
Nyon seems to have belonged to the category of colonies founded on unoccupied territories, or land taken from the enemy with a view to settlement or the consolidation of Rome's presence.
A long history and urban excavations
From the 19th century on various personalities in Nyon were fascinated by the town's prestigious Roman past. Already in 1860 a local history museum had been founded. In the 1930's, Edgar Pelichet, curator of the Museum and cantonal archaeologist, undertook numerous studies and on-site research. Knowledge of Roman Nyon progressed rapidly up to the spectacular discovery in the forum in 1974 of the foundations of the basilica.
Archaeological excavations in Nyon are the responsibility of the Vaud Office of Cantonal Archaeology and since 1988 have mainly been conducted by Archeodunum SA, the company commissioned by the Office. Urban excavations require the support of the local political authorities and of the population, who are often curious to discover what traces of their past exist within the town itself.
Archaeological research is regularly carried out in situ in the course of construction or engineering projects. It has been possible to preserve the basilica, which has housed the Roman Museum since 1979, and the amphitheatre, discovered in 1996. Most of the Roman remains, however, are recorded and then reburied. Signs on the paving stones indicate the most important discoveries.
The Roman villa of Commugny, known mainly from the remains of mural paintings of exceptional artistic value discovered early in the 20th century, belonged to the territory of the colony.
The Museum's phone number has changed, please be sure tu use the new number, thank you!
+41 22 316 42 80
Every two years, The Roman day of Nyon shares archaeological research with the public, in a lively and accessible way.
Reservation form for your visit
Discover Nyon's archaeological site and its finds!
Would you like to support the Roman Museum?
Then join the AMN (Association des Amis des Musées de Nyon) or make a donation to the Roman Museum!