Julius Caesar rose to power as a result of his extraordinary successes as a general fighting foreign wars, most notably his conquest of Gaul (present-day France) in the Gallic Wars leading up to 51 BCE. Capturing this territory brought him to the banks of both the Rhine and the English Channel, and soon afterwards he would invade across both. On 8 July 52 BCE, his Roman army took the fishing village of Lutetia Parisiorum, which would one day grow into Paris, one of the world’s most magnificent cities. However, Lutetia Parisiorum and Paris have very little in common apart from their geographical location—around the Ile de la Cite, which formed a ford on the River Seine.
Today the Ile de la Cite is the site of Notre Dame de Paris and other architectural wonders, but at the time of the Roman invasion it was only a fishing town occupied by the Parisii—a Gallic tribe that settled in the area sometime in the 3rd century BCE (according to archaeological remains, the area was first settled as long ago as 4,200 BCE). The Parisii had backed a revolt by the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix against Caesar’s armies in 52 BCE, and contributed thousands of soldiers to the cause. However, they were destroyed in battle by the nearby town of Melun, and Lutetia fell immediately afterwards.
The Romans soon founded a new settlement, around the present-day Latin Quarter on the left bank as well as around the Ile de la Cite, and constructed paved roads according to the traditional grid-plan of Roman cities. They also built all manner of monuments—such as an amphitheatre, an aqueduct, baths, a forum and a theatre—and over time it grew into a prosperous city.
In 360 CE, Lutetia Parisiorum was renamed Paris, reverting to its Gallic roots. By this time the Roman Empire was in gradual decline, which would soon be exacerbated by the Germanic invasions into Gaul, and so the settlement was abandoned by most of its inhabitants. It was reduced to little more than a fortified garrison town on a central island, and by the late 5th century it was under the control of King Clovis the Frank, the first of the Merovingian dynasty. In 508, Clovis made Paris his capital city, and it was once again on the rise.
Today there is very little to see of Lutetia Parisiorum; save for its frequent depiction as a bustling and overcrowded metropolis in the Asterix comic books, an Early Christian crypt underneath the forecourt of Notre-Dame, the ruins of the public baths in the Musee de Cluny, and the remains of the Arenes de Lutece amphitheatre in a small park in the Latin Quarter.
Credit: © Aleksandrs Kosarevs / Alamy
Caption: An aerial view of Paris.