Marseillan the oldest village?
When the Greek Massaliotes were opening the north coast of the Mediterranean to trade they looked for safe harbours, one day’s journey apart. The conjunction of the river Rhone with the sea, and a sheltered anchorage, caused them to found a colony that is today’s Marseilles.
Their next colony was established at Agde - then a volcanic peninsula at the mouth of the river Hérault. Following the coast they proceeded to develop a series of colonies/trading posts all the way down to what is today Gibraltar.
Arguments for our claim that Marseillan is, at the very least, one of the most ancient villages are based on one presumption and one solid fact.
The first priorities for the Agde colony must have been security, food and water. The sea, of course, would provide protein in abundance - but the sea was even more dangerous than it is today. The boats would have been suited to inshore fishing, in clement weather.
Fortunately the Etang de Thau was only five kilometres across salt marsh, full of fish, and sheltered. Year round fishing was possible then, as it is now. So inevitably the new Agatois would have drawn on the Etang for much of their basic needs. And, also inevitably, would have created a base on the shore of the Etang. Marseillan is sited on the nearest dry land to Agde.
Today the Etang de Thau is a salt water ‘lake’ with canal connections to the sea, the river Rhone, the river Hérault… and the Atlantic, via the Canal du Midi.
Two-and-a-half-thousand years ago it was a ‘tranquil inland sea’ that stretched from the river Rhone to Marseillan. As late as the 17th century the Etang extended from Marseillan to the Camargue, and the silting up continued until today’s string of Etangs was formed.
Thus it was far safer to leave the open sea at the Rhone, and sail along the inland waterway as far as possible. Viola! Marseillan.
The Languedoc coast in 1645 and today.
(The Etang de Thau officially became the Bassin de Thau following a 1946 recommendation from the Etang villages……but it is still commonly known as the Etang.)