According to Mireille Berthier, in la revue “Histoire et Civilisation en Uzège” n°107, 2008
Location and site
Between the Cévennes mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, Montaren-et-Saint-Médiers is located in what is called the ‘Garrigues’, medium altitude plateaus and low altitude folds bordering the Cévennes. What is special about them in the Uzège region (in contrast to the rest of Lower Languedoc) is that they run east-west.
During the Mesozoic period, the sea covered the region and huge deposits of sedimentary limestone accumulated there. In the Tertiary period, the lifting of the Pyrenees mountain range caused deep cracks to form, resulting in the rise of the Cévennes. The sea surged into this space and covered the Languedoc area once more; new deposits then formed there, such as sandstone and marl. Just below the Larnac mas building at the bend on the D979 road, you can see the line of the former bank by the difference in the rocks – cretaceous limestone above, sandstone below. The sea only completely withdrew around -7 million years B.C.
In addition to the brief geological explanation above, chemical, wind, and water erosion also played a role. This explains the differences between the depressions, which were often flooded and were also significant routes (for invasions as well as trade), and the Garrigues: limestone plateaus that often suffered from the leaching of soils, from fire (excessive drought) and from destruction by humans, such as deforestation and moving livestock.
The village of Montaren is situated on the edge of the plain and the plateaus. The town hall is at 103 m altitude, the Tour Sarrazine at 118 m, Carcarie at 189 m and the hamlet of Saint-Médiers is at 175 m altitude. The Larnac mas is at an altitude of 179 m.
The Commune is bordered on the west and crossed in the south by the river Seynes, while a temporary stream, the Rieu, an affluent of the Seynes, borders it on the east. It is one of 31 Communes in the Uzès region, with a surface area of almost 1850 hectares and currently just over 1500 inhabitants.
The Roman era
Without excavating, it is impossible to have precise information about prehistory. However, Montaren is next to the old Roman Helvian road between Nîmes and Alba which more or less followed the same path as the current D979 road from Uzès to Lussan. From this, we know that in the Iron Age, towers – used for storage or trade – sometimes marked these roads, and some historians think that these were the original ‘Saracen’ towers. Abandoned after the Roman conquest, they were reused during the barbarian invasions. (Pierre Fabre, Du Gardon à l’Ardèche, Lacour 1989)
Romans occupied the region in the 2nd century B.C. Traces of Roman life in Montaren are naturally all due to chance but are not surprising. During their work, farmers have often dug up pieces of amphoras, clay jars and other objects used in the villas which must have surrounded Uzès between the land used to grow cereal crops and the saltus, the forest on the lower slopes of the Garrigues occupied by vines and olive groves. This was the case next to the D979 (Helvian road). The mas buildings still there today are mostly all at the same altitude (approximately 110 metres). It is at around this altitude that in the 1880s the Montaren station and the crossing warden’s house were built. When the foundations were dug, two small Roman monuments were discovered: a votive altar bearing a dedication to Jupiter by Gallus Julius Honoratus, and a fragment of a statue of a figure naked up to the hips with the lower part of the body covered by a drape over the left shoulder (height 1 metre). These two objects were deposited at the Uzès town hall in 1880 and repatriated to the Montaren town hall in 2003.
In Saint-Médiers, the remains of mosaics, amphoras, clay jars and tiles have been found.
They date back to the Roman Republic (so 2nd or 1st century B.C.) and apparently come from a small agricultural estate.
Existing evidence, in particular the north rampart of the Tour Sarrazine, shows the remains of the Roman wall with the characteristic filling system* and the stone cladding. The mas buildings, especially the town hall and its similarity in appearance to the oldest mas buildings along the Lussan road (D979), remind us of those belonging to Roman villas.
* Roman mortar: mixture of slaked lime and sand with added crushed brick or tile. A homogeneous mixture is required, which is extremely hardwearing and resistant. It allowed the construction of cast arches that were much stronger that the lintels or flagstones.
At the beginning of the 5th century, the Vandals devastated the Rhône valley but the Uzège area remained untouched. In 412, after the Sack of Rome, the Visigoths destroyed the Narbonnaise region. Once they had settled in Spain and despite the advantages they had, they multiplied their incursions. It was at this time that oppida settlements were used again by very poor peoples. In the 6th century, Uzège became Frankish with, at the head of the bishopric, bishops who took the side of the Franks: Rovice and his nephew Firmin, then Firmin’s nephew, Ferréol.
The Arabs: towards 719, the Emir Al Samba reached the Rhône and took Uzès, which had to pay an enormous ransom. The people there fared better however under the Arabs’ rule than under the Franks’. In 738, Charles Martel withdrew and took a scorched-earth approach in Uzège, as was practised elsewhere.
In 739, Uzès was taken once again, plundered and burned. Churches and monasteries, including Saint-Ferréol, Saint-Génies and Saint-Eugène du val d’Eure were destroyed.
It was only around 788 that the Carolingians (in spite of raids by Saracens, Vikings and Hungarians) managed to re-establish anything resembling peace. It did not last long: after the division of the empire, disorder took over again until around 923 when Uzège was attached to the Gothic Marquisate.
Curiously, it was the Saracens who left the most substantial mark on the region; many place names, e.g. Roquemaure, are attributed to them, as are ‘Saracen’ (sarrasine) constructions, such as opus spicatum, a herringbone design where the lines of stone are inclined alternately to the left and right.
As of the 4th century, slaves gradually disappeared from the villas and were replaced by settlers attached to the land and who lived in the farmhouses (mas) attached to the villas. Some of these settlers were ‘settled’ barbarians.
All sorts of hypotheses have been produced about the name of Montaren. (Sometimes they are quite quaint: ‘the round mountain’!). In 1830 the town council discussed the matter and gave the only correct version (the same as for Montaury in Nîmes): Mons Arena i.e. the mountain of sand in Latin. (Sand is sedimentary rock of detritic origin). In the 17th century, one area was called ‘the sandpit’ and until the 19th century, Montaren’s inhabitants were permitted to fetch sand for free from Carcarie for their own personal use. It should be noted that in the Occitan langue d’oc language, the Latin endings ‘enus’ and ‘ena’ became the ending ‘en’.
A Montaren town council meeting on 25th January 1830 declared ‘…sandy land as seen from the etymology of the name’.
Again, there were many ridiculous theories on the origin of the name. (Maurice, Médard and others, with sometimes varying tastes). The name comes in fact from Saint Héméter (or Emétère), a Roman solder in 4 A.D., martyred in Spain with Saint Chelidoine (The Book of Saints, edited by the Benedictines in Ramsgate, translated in 1991). In Occitan, ‘Hémétèr’ became Meterius then Médier or Médiers and in Old French langue d’oïl it became ‘Emetery’ (a church and an area of Chusclan on the banks of the Rhône have the name ‘Saint-Emetery’).
In 1815, due to insufficient revenue, the Commune of Saint-Médiers was integrated into the Commune of Montaren by order of the Prefect of Gard.