Lyon, capital of the Gauls (Lugdunum)

Lyon, capital of the Gauls (Lugdunum)

Lyon, future capital of the Gauls was probably founded by a Roman legate of Caesar, Lucius Munatius Plancus, governor of Hairy Gaul, on October 9, 43 BC on the hill of Fourvière. The city is then called Lugdunum which means Hill of Light (the hill facing east, on the side of the rising sun). The city is positioned at the crossroads of the great Roman roads of the West, at the crossroads of the Rhône and the Saône. It was in Lyon that the first Christian Church of Gaul was founded in the second century, and the city became a center of persecution against Christians.

The capital of the Gauls

The creation of a Roman colony is accompanied by a deduction, which consists in installing in the new city a contingent of Roman citizens (generally veterans of the legion). As such, we find many military objects in the strata dating back to the founding of Lugdunum. Very quickly, particularly because of its geographical position, the city developed on the peninsula and the slopes of the Croix Rousse. The expansion of the city allows the authorities to erect a forum, a theater, the temple of Cybele, the Odeon, monetary workshops, a barracks, terms or four aqueducts which supply the city with pure water.

Lugdunum quickly becomes and especially thanks to the imperial will, the capital of the Three Gauls with political, military, economic and religious functions but it is also a city of art whose artists are renowned throughout the Roman Empire. The importance of the city is also due to the Roman general Agrippa who chooses Lyon as the central point of the road network that he organizes in Gaul, which allows it to become the capital of the province. But the apogee of the city is during the reign of Augustus who chooses to organize the imperial worship in Lugdunum (in particular by the creation of an altar on the slopes of the Croix Rousse in 12 before JC) which confers to the legate of the city a power superior to that of the other provinces and makes of Lyon the Capital of the Gauls.

Lugdunum, cradle of Christianity

In Lugdunum, religion is present in all moments of public and private life. The inscriptions and the burials found show the coexistence of three groups: the Gallic deities, who sometimes keep their Celtic names but who are often assimilated to a close Roman deity; the Greco-Roman goddesses and gods, whose names are accompanied by qualifiers; finally, foreign divinities imported to Rome from Egypt, Asia Minor or Iran. But the city gradually becomes the cradle of Christianity in Gaul. Indeed, since the second century, another power is being born and gradually settles in the city, that of the Christian Church. Places of worship will appear as well as the graves of the first Christians and martyrs.

In 177, the execution of 48 Lyonnais martyrs, including Saint Blandine and Pothin, the first bishop of Gaul, allows us to see that this religion is already widespread and controversial. Bishop Irenaeus, who succeeds Bishop Pothin, is also one of the most famous theologians of early Christian times. The development of Christianity asserts itself after the Edict of Milan in 313, under the Emperor Constantine. It allowed the appearance of religious buildings from the 4th and 5th centuries, in particular the cathedral group and the baptistery on the banks of the Saône, and several funerary basilicas built around tombs of venerated figures on the Fourvière hill (such as Saint Just). The adoption of Christianity does not however modify the material framework and the Roman way of life which will be maintained in Lugdunum at least until the 7th century.

The end of Lyon's power

The city will have a strong political and religious influence for about three centuries. A great center of commerce and business, it is a must for merchants but is also a great center of craftsmanship whose productions are renowned throughout the empire. The city did not survive the Roman decadence, however, and went through a long period of upheaval. Lugdunum is, in fact, repeatedly engulfed in flames for not having chosen the right camp in the power struggle between the Roman generals. At the end of the third century, the decline of Roman power exposed Lugdunum to the violence of the Barbarian invasions, in particular those of the Burgundians in 470-474, which drove the inhabitants of the upper town. The activity of the city then moves to the foot of the hill, around the episcopal group, the new center of power.

Even today, the remains of the Roman period are visible, especially on the hill of Fourvière. You can thus visit the amphitheater of the three gaules and the remains of the Roman forum and discover at the Gallo-Roman Museum of Fourvière the remains of this ancient civilization. The Saint Georges and Saint Jean cathedrals, Vieux Lyon and the peninsula offer remarkable testimonies of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

For further...

- When Lyon was called Lugdunum, by André Pelletier. Editions Lyonnaises d'Art et d'Histoire, 2016.

- Roman Gaul, by Fustel de Coulanges. De Fallois, 1994.

- Jean-Claude Decourt and Gérard Lucas, Lyon in Greek and Latin texts - The Geography and history of Lugdunum from the founding of the colony, 43 BC to the Burgundian occupation, 460 AD -C, House of the Orient and the Mediterranean, Lyon, 1998

- Gallo-Roman Museum of Fourvière


Video: What is Lugdunum? Explain Lugdunum, Define Lugdunum, Meaning of Lugdunum