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

Fréjus Roman Amphitheatre

Fréjus Roman Amphitheatre was built at the end of the 1st century AD. This structure, made of small tiles of local green sandstone, could accommodate up to 10,000 spectators. It most likely hosted gladiator fights and wild beast hunts. Today, this building comes to life every summer: large concerts, dancefloors and various performances form a rich and diverse program.
Founded: 0-100 AD | Location: Fréjus, 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

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 o ...
Founded: 70 AD | Location: Nîmes, 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

Briga

Briga was a medium sized Roman town that was discovered during the digging of a local road shortly after the French Revolution. From the first century AD onwards, the Romans developed a substantial sanctuary complex on the site of what was a Celtic shrine, as well as the other features one finds at Roman towns, such a theatre, bathhouses and a forum.
Founded: 0 - 200 AD | Location: Eu, 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

Roman Pyramid

The Roman Pyramid in Vienne is an emblematic building of the architectural heritage of the city together with the Roman Theatre. It is an unique remain of a Roman circus, where racing took place. The pyramid was the central building of the Roman 'circus maximus'. The 25 meters high obelisk stood in the center of the sand track. Its location on an axial platform (Spina) was confirmed by excavations in the nin ...
Founded: 100-200 AD | Location: Vienne, 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

Vieux-la-Romaine

During the 1st century AD, Aregenua (Vieux) became the capital of the Viducasse tribe. Situated at the crossroads of two Roman roads it became an important commercial staging town. Aregenua and Lillebonne are the only two capital towns in Gallo-Roman Normandy that did not become Medieval towns. A number of buildings have been excavated, and some have been partially reconstructed.
Founded: 0 - 200 AD | Location: Vieux, 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

Château de Brest

The Château de Brest is one of the largest roadsteads (sheltered area outside a harbor) in the world. From the Roman castellum to Vauban"s citadel, the site has over 1700 years of history, holding right up to the present day its original role as a military fortress and a strategic location of the highest importance. It is thus the oldest castle in the world still in use. The structure"s heterogeneous archi ...
Founded: 200 AD | Location: Brest, 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

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

Roman Theatre

The Roman theatre in Vienne was built around 40-50 AD and is considered to be one of the largest theatres in Roman Antiquity with a capacity of 11500 seats and a diameter of 130 metres. In the 2nd century it was double sized by a second smaller theater, the odeon, which was built nearby on the southern slope of the ravine of Saint-Marcel. The annual Vienne Jazz Festival has been held on the ancient theatre since 1980. 
Founded: 40-50 AD | Location: Vienne, 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

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

Tour Magne

The Tour Magne, or the Great Tower, is the only remnant of the ancient Augustan fortifications. Standing at the highest point of the Nïmes, Mont Cavalier, it overlooks the entire plain and is a focal point for all means of communication. The tower was originally a dry-stone oval tower, with a maximum height of 18m and already part of a rampart. A structure that was both prestigious and strategic, it represented sanc ...
Founded: around 0 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

Toulouse Roman Amphitheatre

The amphitheatre of Toulouse-Purpan is constructed on a filled structure, unlike those in Arles, Nîmes, and the Colosseum in Rome, where a hollow structure composed of vaults and pillars supports the tiers. The cavea (the rows of seats intended to receive the public) is fifteen meters wide. This area is separated from the arena by a wall and bound at the outside by a high wall covered in brick. The cavea is divided ...
Founded: 40 AD | Location: Toulouse, France

Saint-Romain-en-Gal

On the border of the Rhône river, the archaeological site of Saint-Romain-en-Gal is home to the Gallo-Roman remains of an ancient district of Vienne. Its museum recounts the ancient history of Vienne and boasts a magnificent collection of mosaics. Saint-Romain-en-Gal is one of the largest Gallo-Roman sites in France. The classified site contains more than 3 hectares, where are located the remains of residential and ...
Founded: 0-300 AD | 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

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

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

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

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Royal Palace of Aranjuez

Palacio Real de Aranjuez is a former Spanish royal residence. It was established around the time Philip II of Spain moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid. Aranjuez became one of four seasonal seats of government, occupied during the springtime (from about holy week). Thereafter, the court moved successively to Rascafría, El Escorial and wintered in Madrid. Aranjuez Cultural Landscape is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After the Christian conquest, Aranjuez was owned by the Order of Santiago and a palace was built for its Grand Masters where the Royal Palace stands today. When the Catholic Monarchs assumed the office of Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, Aranjuez became part of the Royal estate. This fertile land, located between the Tajo and Jarama Rivers, was converted into the Spanish monarchy's most lavish country retreat: during Spain's Golden Age, Aranjuez became a symbol for the perfection of nature by mortal hands, as El Escorial was for art.

Such excellence was based on strong Renaissance foundations, as Charles V envisaged this inherited estate as a large Italian-inspired villa, a desire continued by Philip II who appointed Juan Bautista de Toledo to design leafy avenues that ran through the gardens and farming land. A series of dams was constructed in the 16th century to control the course of the Tajo River and create a network of irrigation canals.

The splendour of the estate was only enhanced by the Bourbon monarchs, who would spend the whole spring, from Easter to July, at the Palace. Phillip V added new gardens and Ferdinand VI designed a new system of tree-lined streets and created a small village within the estate, which was further developed by Charles III and Charles IV. As Ferdinand VII and Isabella II continued to visit Aranjuez during the spring, the splendour of this site was maintained until 1870.

The Royal Palace, built by Phillip II on the site of the old palace of the Grand Masters of Santiago, was designed by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo –under whom construction began in 1564– and later Juan Herrera, who only managed to finish half the project. Although glimpses of the original layout still remain, the building itself is more characteristic of the classicism favoured by the Hapsburg monarchs, with alternating white stone and brick. The original design was continued by Phillip V in 1715 but not finished until 1752 under Ferdinand VI. The rectangular layout that Juan Bautista de Toledo had planned, and that took two centuries to complete, was only maintained for 20 years, since in 1775 Charles III added two wings onto the Palace.

Real Casa del Labrador

As the Prince of Asturias, Charles IV was a frequent visitor to the pier pavilions built by Ferdinand VI and grew up playing in the Prince’s Garden. When he became King, he decided to build a new country house at the far end of these gardens, known as the Casa del Labrador (the labourer's house) due to its modest exterior that was designed to heavily contrast the magnificent internal decor. It was built by chief architect Juan de Villanueva and his pupil Isidro González Velázquez, who designed some of the interior spaces. These rooms, developed in various stages until 1808, are the greatest example of the lavish interior decor favoured by this monarch in his palaces and country retreats. Highlights at this Site include the combination of different types of art and the luxurious textiles, in particular the silks from Lyon, as well as wealth of original works on the main floor, where Ferdinand VII added various paintings and landscapes by Brambilla.

King's Garden, the Island Garden, Parterre Garden and the Prince's Garden

Phillip II, a great lover of gardens, paid special attention to this feature of the Aranjuez Palace: during his reign, he maintained both the Island Garden, designed by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, and the King's Garden, immediately adjacent to the Palace and whose current layout was designed by Philip IV. The majority of the fountains on this island were commissioned by Phillip IV, while the Bourbons added other features such as the Charles III benches.

Phillip V made two French-style additions to the existing gardens: the Parterre Garden in front of the palace and the extension at the far end of the Island Garden, known as the Little Island, where he installed the Tritons Fountain that was later moved to the Campo del Moro park by Isabella II.

The Prince's Garden owes its name and creation to the son and heir of Charles III who, in the 1770s, began to use Ferdinand VI's old pier for his own enjoyment. He also created a landscaped garden in the Anglo-French style that was in fashion at the time and which was directly influenced by Marie Antoinette's gardens at the Petit Trianon. Both Juan de Villanueva and Pablo Boutelou collaborated in the design of this garden.