The Gold of Tolosa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Boums lake
Boums Lake in Haute-Garonne, one of the many lakes near Toulouse suspected to have held the 'cursed' riches

The Gold of Tolosa (also the aurum Tolosanum) existed as a hoard of treasures plundered from Greece (allegedly the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi) in 279 BC by Gallic invaders of the Volcae (often denoted incorrectly as Galatians, despite the later migration of some Volcae Tectosagi to Galatia). It was often noted that, during the siege of Apollo's sanctuary at Delphi, the Gallic leader, Brennus, was badly wounded (many contemporary sources state some kind of divine intervention, and the battle was lost against a combined force of Thracians, Macedonians, Triballi and Illyrians). Many, after their fortunes reversed, retreated back into the Balkans, some to the Volcae heartlands, and many others back to Gaul itself, dumping their plunder into the lakes near Tolosa (modern-day Toulouse), believing that the loot was cursed. The faltering of Brennus's great expedition, however, helped create the Gallic exclaves around Tylis and in Galatia, the latter of which remaining de facto independent for centuries to come.

For the curse to be lifted, according to Celtic paganism, the treasure had to be offered back to the Celtic gods, and so was left in the lakes. Other guilty warriors hid their treasure in the vegetation around the lakes. The lakes at Tolosa were used many years thereafter as a place of pagan worship, but nobody (who believed in the curse) dared recover the glinting treasures from the sandy lake bed. Some of the treasures, however, did find their way into the temples of Tolosa, but the same religious taboo of their theft still presided.

Roman history of Tolosa and Strabo's account[edit]

The course of Volcae migration in the 3rd centuries BC
The course of Volcae tribal migration throughout the 3rd centuries BC, noting the destination of some Tectosages and the Arecomisci to the area around Tolosa

And it is further said that the [Volcae] Tectosages shared in the expedition to Delphi; and even the treasures that were found among them in the city of Toulouse by Caepio, a general of the Romans, were, it is said, a part of the valuables that were taken from Delphi, although the people, in trying to consecrate them and propitiate the god, added thereto out of their personal properties, and it was on account of having laid hands on them that Caepio ended his life in misfortunes — for he was cast out by his native land as a temple-robber, and he left behind as his heirs female children only, who, as it turned out, became prostitutes, as Timagenes has said, and therefore perished in disgrace. [Note that Strabo here is mistaken, since Caepio did have a son, the maternal grandfather of Marcus Junius Brutus, the principal assassin of Julius Caesar.]

However, in 105 BC, the proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul, Quintus Servilius Caepio, reported the discovery of the gold at Tolosa to the Senate, and was charged with sending the treasure back to Rome. Over 50,000 15 lb. bars of gold and 10,000 15 lb. bars of silver were found. The gold disappeared en route, with Strabo mentioning that "it was on account of laying hands on them that Caepio ended his life in misfortunes...". It was reported that the gold was stolen by a band of marauders, with many contemporaries and modern historians believing that Caepio himself had hired them. Indeed, Caepio did go on to lose the Battle of Arausio by his hubris, and was prosecuted for corruption by the Senate. He spent the rest of his days in exile at Smyrna, tried for the loss of his army by Gaius Norbanus. The curse was reported to have continued with his son, Quintus Servilius Caepio the Younger, who fought for Rome in the Social War. He barely escaped an accusation of maiestas ('diminution of the majesty of the people of Rome') after disputing with the tribune Marcus Livius Drusus who was also his brother-in-law, and princeps senatus Marcus Aemilius Scaurus. Caepio perished in an ambush executed by the general Quintus Poppaedius Silo. The gold of Tolosa itself was never found, and was said to have been passed all the way down to the last heir of the Caepiones, Marcus Junius Brutus.

But however, the account of Poseidonius is more plausible: for he says that the treasure that was found in Tolosa amounted to about fifteen thousand talents (part of it in sacred lakes), unwrought, that is, merely gold and silver bullion; whereas the temple at Delphi was in those times already empty of such treasure, because it had been robbed at the time of the sacred war by the Phocians; but even if something was left, it was divided by many among themselves; neither is it reasonable to suppose that they reached their homeland in safety, since they fared wretchedly after their retreat from Delphi and, because of their dissensions, were scattered, some in one direction, others in another. But, as has been said both by Poseidonius and several others, since the country was rich in gold, and also belonged to people who were god-fearing and not extravagant in their ways of living, it came to have treasures in many places in Celtica; but it was the lakes, most of all, that afforded the treasures their inviolability, into which the people let down heavy masses of silver or even of gold. At all events, the Romans, after they mastered the regions, sold the lakes for the public treasury, and many of the buyers found in them hammered mill-stones of silver. And, in Tolosa, the temple too was hallowed, since it was very much revered by the inhabitants of the surrounding country, and on this account the treasures there were excessive, for numerous people had dedicated them and no one dared to lay hands on them.

All above quotes: Geographica (Strabo), Book IV Chapter I

The lakes at Tolosa were also briefly mentioned in Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods (Chapter 30), referencing political scandal in the late Roman Republic: "Consider other judicial inquiries, the one in reference to the gold of Tolosa, and the one on the Jugurthine conspiracy...".


See also[edit]