Roman Gaul

History of France between 58 BC - 485 AD

Gaul (Gallia in Latin) was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine.

The Roman Republic began its takeover of Celtic Gaul in 121 BC, when it conquered and annexed the southern reaches of the area. The Roman general Julius Caesar pushed his army into Gaul in 58 BC. With the help of various Gallic clans (e.g. the Aedui) he managed to conquer nearly all of Gaul. While militarily just as strong as the Romans, the internal division between the Gallic tribes guaranteed an easy victory for Caesar, and Vercingetorix's attempt to unite the Gauls against Roman invasion came too late. As many as a million people (probably 1 in 5 of the Gauls) died, another million were enslaved, 300 clans were subjugated and 800 cities were destroyed during the Gallic Wars. The entire population of the city of Avaricum (Bourges) (40,000 in all) were slaughtered.

The Gaulish culture then was massively submerged by Roman culture. In the five centuries between Caesar's conquest and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Gaulish language and cultural identity underwent a syncretism with the Roman culture of the new governing class, and evolved into a hybrid Gallo-Roman culture that eventually permeated all levels of society. The Romans divided provinces into civitates corresponding more or less with the pre-Conquest communities or polities. These administrative groupings would be taken over by the Romans in their system of local control, and these civitates would also be the basis of France's eventual division into ecclesiastical bishoprics and dioceses, which would remain in place—with slight changes—until the French revolution. The Druidic religion was suppressed by Emperor Claudius I, and in later centuries Christianity was introduced.

Roman control over the provinces deteriorated in the 4th and 5th centuries, and was eventually lost to the kingdoms of the Franks, Visigoths and Burgundians. The Roman administration finally collapsed as remaining Roman troops withdrew southeast to protect Italy. The last vestiges of any Roman control over parts of Gaul were effaced with the defeat of Syagrius at the Battle of Soissons (AD 486). Almost immediately afterwards, most of Gaul came under the rule of the Merovingians, the first kings of a proto-France.

Certain Gallo-Roman aristocratic families continued to exert power in episcopal cities (as in the cases of the Mauronitus family in Marseilles and of Bishop Gregory of Tours). The appearance of Germanic given- and family-names becomes noticeable in Gallia/Francia from the middle of the 7th century on, most notably in powerful families, thus indicating that the centre of gravity had definitely shifted.

Popular sites founded between 58 BC and 485 AD in France

Arles Amphitheatre

The two-tiered Roman amphitheatre is probably the most prominent tourist attraction in the city of Arles, which thrived in Roman times. Built in 90 AD, the amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting as well as plays and concerts in summer. The building measure ...
Founded: 90 AD | Location: Arles, France

Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne

Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, ...
Founded: 333 AD | Location: Carcassonne, France

Arles Roman Theatre

Arles Roman Theatre was built in the time of Augustus and. It had a capacity of seating for 8,000 on 33 tiers of steps. In the early Middle Ages the theater was used as a quarry, and with the material it provided the town wall was erected. Of the rear wall of the stage only a few stumps of pillars and two more or less complete columns remain. Since the theater is now used again during the summer it is protected on the out ...
Founded: 90 AD | Location: Arles, France

Thermes de Cluny

The Thermes de Cluny are the ruins of Gallo-Roman thermal baths lying in the heart of Paris" 5th arrondissement. The present bath ruins constitute about one-third of a massive bath complex that is believed to have been constructed around the beginning of the 3rd century. The best preserved room is the frigidarium, with intact architectural elements such as Gallo-Roman vaults, ribs and consoles, and fragments of original d ...
Founded: c. 200 AD | Location: Paris, France

Arena of Nîmes

The Arena of Nîmes is a Roman amphitheatre built around AD 70. It was remodelled in 1863 to serve as a bullring. The Arenas of Nîmes is the site of two annual bullfights during the Feria de Nîmes, and it is also used for other public events. The building encloses an elliptical central space 133 m long by 101 m wide. It is ringed by 34 rows of seats supported by a vaulted construction. It has a capacity of 16,300 specta ...
Founded: 70 AD | Location: Nîmes, France

Arles Obelisk

The Obélisque d"Arles is a 4th-century Roman obelisk, erected in the center of the Place de la République, in front of the town hall of Arles. The obelisk is made of granite from Asia Minor. It does not feature any inscription. Its height together with its pedestal is approximately 20 m. The obelisk was first erected under the Roman emperor Constantine II in the center of the spina of the Roman circus ...
Founded: 300-400 AD | Location: Arles, France

Arles Cryptoporticus

The cryptoporticus (covered corridor or passageway) of Arles, dating from the 1st century BC was built as foundation for the forum, which has since been replaced by the Chapel of the Jesuit College and the City Hall. Three double, parallel tunnels arranged in the form of a U are supported by fifty piers. Masons' marks on the stonework indicate that it was built by Greeks, probably from Marseille. Similar structures in Nar ...
Founded: 0-100 BC | Location: Arles, France

Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in southern France. The bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50-kilometre system built in the first century AD to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). Because of the uneven terrain between the two points, the mostly underground aqueduct followed a long, winding route that called for a bri ...
Founded: 40-60 AD | Location: Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France

Thermae of Constantine

The Thermae of Constantine (Baths of Constantine), the Roman bathing complex, dates from the 4th century AD. Of the once-extensive series of buildings, which resembled a palace, only the Caldarium (warm bath) and parts of the Hypocaust (underfloor heating) and the Tepidarium (warm air room) remain. The Thermae of Constantine has been listed as World Heritage Sites since 1981.
Founded: 300-400 AD | Location: Arles, France

Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls

The Amphitheatre of the Three Gauls was part of the federal sanctuary of the three Gauls dedicated to the cult of Rome and Augustus celebrated by the 60 Gallic tribes when they gathered at Lugdunum (Lyon). The amphitheatre was built at the foot of the La Croix-Rousse hill at what was then the confluence of the Rhône and Saône. Excavations have revealed a basement of three elliptical walls linked by cross-wall ...
Founded: 0-100 BC | Location: Lyon, France

Maison Carrée

The Maison Carrée is one of the best preserved Roman temple façades to be found in the territory of the former Roman Empire. In about 4-7 AD, the Maison carrée was dedicated or rededicated to Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar, grandsons and adopted heirs of Augustus who both died young. The building has undergone extensive restoration over the centuries. The Maison Carrée is an example of Vitruvi ...
Founded: 4-7 AD | Location: Nîmes, France

Cemenelum

The Roman city of Cemenelum was founded in the 1st century AD as a staging post for Roman troops in the Alpes Maritime region and it later became the regional capital. Favorably located, Cemenelum was chosen as the principal seat of the province of Alpes Maritimae by Augustus in 14 BC. Later, the Romans settled further inland, on the opposite side of the river Paillon. Remains of the town on the Hill of Cimiez date to the ...
Founded: 0-100 AD | Location: Nice, France

Porte Mars

Porte Mars is an ancient Roman triumphal arch in Reims. It dates from the third century AD, and was the widest arch in the Roman world. The arch stands 32 metres long and 13 metres high. It was named after a nearby temple to Mars. The arch has many highly detailed carvings on its exterior and on the ceilings of its three passageways. Local folklore says that the inhabitants of Rheims built the arch in gratitude when the ...
Founded: 200-300 AD | Location: Reims, France

Fourvière Roman Theatre

The Roman theatre is a Roman ancient structure in Lyon built on the hill of Fourvière, which is located in the center of the Roman city. The theatre was built in two steps: around 15 BC, a theatre with a 90 m diameter was built next to the hill. At the beginning of the 2nd century, the final construction added a last place for the audience. The diameter is 108 m, and there were seats for 10,000 people. Having been well ...
Founded: 15 BC | Location: Lyon, France

Le Mans Roman Walls

The Roman wall in the old town of Le Mans is one of the best of its type still extant in France. The 1300m long construction is laid out with 12 towers wraps around the immaculately preserved and restored Plantagenet Old City. There are only two longer ancient Roman walls left, in Rome and Istanbul (Constantinopole). These walls are highlighted every summer (July and August) evening in a light show that tells the history ...
Founded: 300 AD | Location: Le Mans, France

Arènes de Lutèce

The Arènes de Lutèce are among the most important remains from the Gallo-Roman era in Paris (known in antiquity as Lutetia, or Lutèce in French), together with the Thermes de Cluny. Lying in what is now the Quartier Latin, this amphitheater could once seat 15,000 people, and was used to present gladiatorial combats. Constructed in the 1st century AD, this amphitheater is considered the longest of its ...
Founded: 0-100 AD | Location: Paris, France

Jardins de la Fontaine

The Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Fountain) are built around the Roman thermae ruins. The remains of Roman baths were discovered on the site in the eigheenth century and the gardens were laid out using the old foundations with canals, terraces and water-basins.
Founded: 100-200 AD | Location: Nîmes, France

Temple of Diana

The so-called Temple of Diana was part of the Roman sacred complex but it was not a temple, rather it was a library that originally faced onto a portico that enclosed much of the spring sanctuary. The date is uncertain; some scholars suggest the first century, others the second. It was used as a church from the Middle Ages till the 16th century when it was damaged in the Wars of Religion.
Founded: 0-200 AD | Location: Nîmes, France

Fréjus Cathedral

Fréjus cathedral, dedicated to Saint Leontius of Fréjus, has been the seat of the Bishop of Fréjus since the 5th century. It is located close to what appears to have been the Roman forum of Fréjus. Elements of Roman buildings, such as columns and walls, were incorporated into its structure. Beginning in late Roman times, the town suffered a series of invasions and was pillaged by Goths, Burgundians, Franks, ...
Founded: 5th century AD | Location: Fréjus, France

Cryptoporticus

The Cryptoporticus of Reims is is a very well preserved third century AD Roman passageway. At the time, Reims was a Gallo-Roman town known as Durocortorum. Like other structures of this kind, the Cryptoporticus of Reims was a semi-subterranean arched passageway, the roof of which would have been a walkway. It would have been one of three such passageways surrounding the forum of Durocortorum. The Cryptoporticus of Reims ...
Founded: 200-300 AD | Location: Reims, France

Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains

The Basilica of Saint-Pierre-Aux-Nonnains is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world still standing. Erected sometime in the 4th century AD, it was originally part of a Roman-era spa when Divodurum, the former name of Metz, was a major military and trade center along the Germanic frontier. Specifically it was used as a pagan gymnasium when Christianity in Western Europe was still in its infancy. It was one of th ...
Founded: 4th century AD | Location: Metz, France

Temple of Augustus and Livia

Temple d"Auguste et de Livie is a well-preserved Roman place of worship constructed around 10 BC and dedicated to Rome and Augustus. Built on the holy area of the forum, its was converted into a church at the beginning of the 5th century. The building was restored in between 1823 and 1853.
Founded: 10 BC | Location: Vienne, France

Roman Bridge

The Roman bridge in Sommières is 190m long. It was built on the instructions of Emperor Tiberius at the start of the 1st century. It was restored in the 18th century. At the town end of the bridge is the gothic town gate known as the "Tour de l"Horloge". Only 7 of the 19 arches can be seen, the others lie beneath the town where they act as cellars.
Founded: 0-100 AD | Location: Sommières, France

Vaison-la-Romaine Roman Bridge

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine (Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine) is a Roman bridge over the river Ouvèze in the southern French town of Vaison-la-Romaine. The bridge was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, with a single arch spanning 17.20 m. It is still in use, and has survived severe flooding that swept away some more recent bridges.
Founded: 0-100 AD | Location: Vaison-la-Romaine, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Hochosterwitz Castle

Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.

The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.

In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.

Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.

About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.

Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.

A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.