Basin formation dynamics of the Tertiary Piedmont Basin (TPB) are here investigated by means of cross-section numerical modelling. Previous works hypothesised that basin subsidence occurred due first to extension (Oligocene) and then to subsequent loading due to back-thrusting (Miocene). However, structural evidence shows that the TPB was mainly under contraction from Oligocene until post Pliocene time while extension played a minor role. Furthermore, thermal indicators strongly call for a cold (flexure-induced) mechanism but are strictly inconsistent with a hot (thermally induced) mechanism. Our new modelling shows that the TPB stratigraphic features can be reproduced by flexure of a visco-elastic plate loaded by back-thrusts active in the Western Alps in Oligo-Miocene times. Far-field compression contributed to the TPB subsidence and controlled the basin infill geometry by enhancing basin tilting, forebulge uplift and erosion of the southern margin of the basin. These results suggest that the TPB subsidence is the result of a combination of mechanisms including thrust loading and far-field compressional stresses. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.