1902 Encyclopedia > Paris > History - Ancient Paris

(Part 19)

History - Ancient Paris

At its first appearance in history there was nothing to for show the important part which Paris was to play in Europe and in the world. An island in the Seine, now almost lost in the modern city, and then much smaller than at present, was for centuries the entire site. The sole importance of the town lay in its being the capital of a similarly insignificant Gallic people, which navigated the lower course of the Seine, and doubtless from time to time visited the coasts of Britain. So few were its inhabitants that they early put themselves under the protection of their powerful neighbors the Senones, and this vassalship was the source of the political dependence of Paris on Sens throughout the Roman period, and of a religious subordination which lasted till the 17th century. The capital did not a once take the name of the Parisii, whose center it was, but long kept that of Lucetia, Lucoteria, or Lutetia, of which Lutece is the generally recognized French form.

During the war of Gallic independence, after being subjugated by Caesar, who even in 53 B.C. made their territory the meeting-place of deputies from all Gaul, the Parisii took part in the great rising of the year 52, at the same time separating their cause from that of the Senones, who were held in check by Caesar’s lieutenant, Labienus. They joined their forces to the army commanded by an Aulercian, the old Camulogenus, which in turn was to unite with the Bellovaci to crush Labienus advancing from Sens to attack the Parisians. Having marched along the right bank of the river till opposite Lutetia, Labienus learned that the Bellovaci were in arms, and, fearing to find himself between two armies at a distance from his headquarters, he sought to get rid of Camulogenus, who, posted on the left bank, endeavored to bar his way. The bridges had been cut and the town burned by order of the Gallic chief. By means of a stratagem Labienus drew his opponent up the river to the district now occupied by the Jardin des Plantes, and quietly by night crossed the Seine lower down in the neighborhood of Grnelle, near a place which Caesar calls Metiosedum, identified, but not conclusively, with Meudon. The Gauls, retracing their steps a little, met the Romans and allowed themselves to be routed and dispersed; their leader fell in the fore-front of the battle. Still unsubdued, the Parisii were called upon by the general council assembled in Alesia to furnish eight thousand men to help in raising the siege of that city. It is doubtful whether they were able to contribute the whole of this contingent, when their powerful neighbors the Bellovaci managed to send only two thousand of the ten thousand demanded of them. this was heir last effort, and after the check at Alesia they took no part kin the desperate resistance offered by the Bellovaci.

Lutetia was somewhat neglected under the Roman emperors of the first centuries. Its inhabitants continued quietly carrying on their river traffic, and devoted part of their wealth to the maintenance of a great temple to Jupiter built on the site of the present cathedral of Notre Dame. It is not known at what date Christianity was introduced into the future capital of France; but it is probable, judging by the use of the title "city," that Lutetia was the see of one of the earliest of the bishoprics of Gallia Celtica. The name of the founder of the church is known, but a keen controversy, not yet settled, has recently been raised with regard to the date when the first Roman missionary, St Dionysius or Denis, reached the banks of the Seine, along with his two deacons Rusticus and Eleutherius. A pious belief, which, in spite of its antiquity, has its origin in nothing better than parochial vanity, identifies the first-named with Dionysius the Areopagite, who was converted by St Paul at Athens, and thus takes us back to the middle of the 1st century of the Christian era. Better founded is the opinion which dates the evangelization of the city two centuries later; the regular list of bishops, of whom, after Denis, the most famous was St Marcel,, begins about 250.

Lutetia was in some sort the cradle of Christian liberty, having been the capital, from 292 to 306, of the mild Constantius Chlorus, who put an end to persecution in Brittany, Gaul, and Spain, over which he ruled. This emperor fixed his residence on the banks of the Seine, doubtless for the purpose of watching the Germans without losing sight of Brittany, where the Roman authority was always unstable; perhaps he also felt something of the same fancy for Lutetia which Julian afterwards expressed in his works and his letters. Be that as it may, the fact that these two princes chose to live there naturally drew attention to the city, where several buildings now rose on the left side of the river which could not have been reared within the narrow boundaries of the island. There was the imperial palace, the remains of which, a magnificent vaulted chamber, beside the Hotel de Cluny, are now know, probably, correctly, as Julian’s baths. At some distance u the river, in the quarter of St Victor, excavations I 1870 and I 1883 laid bare the foundations of the amphitheatre, which was capable of holding about 10,000 spectators, and thus suggests the existence of a population of 20,000to 25,000 souls. Dwelling-houses, villas, and probably also an extensive cemetery, occupied the slope of the hill of St Genevieve.

It was at Lutetia that, in 360, Julian, already Caesar, was in spite of himself proclaimed Augustus by the legions he had more than once led to victory in Germany. The troops invaded his palace, which to judge by various circumstances of the mutiny, must have been of great extent. As for the city itself, it was as yet but a little town according to the imperial author in his Misopogon. The successive sojourns of Valentinian I. and Gratin scarcely increased its importance. The latest emperors preferred Treves, Arles, and Vienne in Gaul, and, besides, allowed Paris to be absorbed by the powerful Armorican league (c. 410). When the patricians Aetius, Aegidius, and Syagrius held almost independent sway over the small portion of Gaul which still held together, they dwelt at Soissons, and it was there that Clovis fixed himself during the ten or eleven years between the defeat of Syagrius (486) and the surrender of Paris (497), which opened its gates, at the advice of St Genevieve, only after the conversion of the Frankish king. In 508, at the return of his victorious expedition against the south, Clovis made Paris the official capital of his realm- Cathedram regni constituit, says Gregory of Tours. He chose as his residence the palace of the Thermae, and lost no time in erecting on the summit of the hill, as his future place of interment, the basilica of St Peter and St Paul, which became not long afterwards the church and abbey of St Genevieve. After the death of Clovis, in spite of the supremacy granted to the kingdom of Austrasia or Metz, Paris remained the true political center of the various Frankish states, insomuch that the four sons of Clothaire, fearing the prestige which would attach to whoever of them might posses it, made it a sort of neutral town, though after all it was seized by Sigebert, king of Austrasia, Chilperic, king of Neustria (who managed to keep possession for some time, and repaired the amphitheatre), and Gontran, king of Burgundy. The last sovereign had to defend himself in 585 against the pretender Gondowald, whose ambition aspired to uniting the whole of Gaul under his dominion, and marching on Paris to make it the seat of the half barbarian half Roman administration of the kingdom of which he had dreamed.

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