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Lugdunum: ‘Natural Capital’ of Gaul?

  • J. F. Drinkwater (a1)
Extract

Strabo's appreciative evaluation of the site of Lugdunum is powerful in its simplicity and has been found constant employment by generations of ancient historians as the basis of a neat and convincing explanation for the unquestionable pre-eminence of the city in the Tres Galliae under the Early Empire, ‘l’ombilic éternel de la Gaule entière'. The booming prosperity of Lugdunum's present-day successor seems only to underline the continued effectiveness of the city's ‘natural advantages’ throughout the ages. Yet perhaps this argument is too simple. For some time geographers have been questioning the validity of ‘physical determinism’ in their own areas of research; there is surely the need for students of the ancient world to take a fresh look at similar situations in their own field with a view to reassessing the respective influences of the physical environment and of man. In fact in the case of Lugdunum I believe that modern thinking has been unduly influenced by the verdict of Strabo and by the success of modern Lyon. Sufficient information has long been available to present quite a different picture of the development of the city; to date it has simply never been treated with adequate objectivity.

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1 Strabo iv.6.II (Loeb transl.).

2 Jullian, C., Histoire de la Gaule (Paris, 1920), i7, 36 f.; Wuilleumier, P., Lyon, métropole des Gaules (Paris, 1953), 7: ‘Le site de Lyon convenait à une capitale'; A. L. F. Rivet, Oxford Classical Diet. 2 (1970), s.v. Lugdunum: ‘Its position led to its becoming the centre of Agrippa's road system in Gaul, the capital of the Augustan province of Lugdunensis, and the financial centre of Gallia Comata…’

3 See Pinchemel, P., France, a geographical survey (London, 1969), 368 f., 405.

4 Carter, H., The study of Urban Geography (London, 1972), 116. I must express my thanks to my colleague, Mr. H. D. Watts, of the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield for a number of valuable suggestions about this and other related topics of geography in the Roman west. Needless to say he must be absolved from any criticism which the following historical examination of the problem may call forth.

5 My debt to Audin, A., Essai sur la topographie de Lugdunum (Lyon, 1956—henceforth ‘Audin’) and Kleinclausz, A., Les origines d'une grande cité (Lyon, 1922—henceforth ‘Kleinclausz’) will become apparent in all that follows. (Unfortunately Kleinclausz's more extensive work, Histoire de Lyon i (Paris, 1939), was unavailable to me.) It is to be noted that Kleinclausz came very close to some of the sentiments which will be expressed below (e.g. p. 4: ‘L'histoire des origines de Lyon ne se présente done pas sous l'aspect d'une evolution harmonieuse et paisible, ainsi qu'on a tendance a l'imaginer, mais comme un lent, Laborieux et parfois douloureux enfantement’), but also that he in his turn fell under the influence of the prevailing deterministic tradition (ibid.: ‘II lui (sc. the Roman people) parut impossible de mieux instituer la capitale de sa nouvelle conquête qu'au point où se recontraient les débouchés des Alpes, de la vallée du Rhône et des routes de la Germanie’).

6 Audin 8, 16 (‘L'installation d'une cité sur la colline de Fourvière se heurtait à la lourde hypothèque de son alimentation en eau’).

7 Audin 10 f., 14.

8 Audin 23 f., followed by Wuilleumier, op. cit. (note 2), 10, supposes the existence of Celtic cult-centres at both Condate and Lugdunum, but this is pure philological speculation; every feature of the Gallic landscape must have had its Celtic name, but this does not necessarily imply human settlement. Hard evidence, whether literary or archaeological, is conspicuously missing.

9 Audin 19.

10 Audin 20 f.

11 Cassius Dio xlvi.50.4; Jullian, C., Histoire de la Gaule (Paris, 1931), iii,5 122. Audin 27 admits that these people could not anyway have settled at Fourviére itself because of the lack of water.

12 Caesar, BG i.2.1 (M. Messalla et M. Pupio Pisone coss).

13 The story of Lugdunum's rise to prominence under the Early Empire is sufficiently wellknown for it to be omitted here; for the details see Wuilleumier, op. cit. (note 2).

14 Such is the characterisation of the Peutinger Table.

15 See Audin's street plan, pp. 88 f. Audin (49 f., following Jullian) argues that the roadpattern at Fourvière was disrupted by the Roman surveyors' desire to respect the routes of the already-existing Celtic trackways. This is probably true, but it should then also be borne in mind that the line of these trackways themselves was determined by the difficulties of the location (Audin 20 ff.); they could not be redirected!

16 Audin 9 f.

17 Audin 82–86; 162.

18 Audin 71 f.

19 Audin 161 f.

20 Audin 162 f.

21 Wuilleumier, op. cit. (note 2), 24; A. Pelletier, ‘Vienne et la réorganisation provinciale de la Gaule au Bas-Empire’, Latomus 1967, 491–98, esp. 498.

22 Audin 163 f.

23 Audin (164) suggests that the damage was done by barbarians; in view of the future troubled history of the town I consider natural disaster to be just as likely a cause.

24 Gregory of Tours, Hist. Franc, v.33; Audin 167.

25 Kleinclausz 7 f. (the earthquake).

26 Kleinclausz 9 ff.

27 Kleinclausz II ff.

28 Kleinclausz 14 f.

29 Kleinclausz 15.

30 Kleinclausz 16 f.: ‘II ne parait pas douteux…que, vers le milieu du quinzième siècle, Lyon n'ait été qu'une petite ville dont les habitants, fatigués de lutter contre un fleuve rebelle et contre les maux de la guerre, hantés par le peril extérieure, se blottissaient apeurés derriére leurs murailles.’

31 Cambridge Economic History of Europe iii (1963), 141: ‘…the characteristic interventionism of the nascent mercantilism peculiar to the centralised state. Whereas all the preceding fairs—even if the territorial authority controlled and protected them very efficiently—were in a large measure the spontaneous result of economic circumstances, the Lyons fairs are essentially a royal creation.’

32 Gascon, R., Grand commerce et vie urbaine au xvie s. (Paris, 1971), 47 (‘Celui qui serait né ou début du régne de Louis XI n'aurait pas reconnu, dans les premières années du règne de François Ier, la ville de sa jeunesse’); 56.

33 Wadsworth, J. W., Lyons 1453–1503 (Cambridge Mass., 1962), ix.

34 Floods in 1570 and 1654 (Wuilleumier, op cit. (note 2), 8; Kleinclausz 31 f.). The fact that Lyon, however thriving in the sixteenth century, still had a long way to go before regaining her full antique splendour deserves to be noticed: Coppolani, J., Le réseau urbain de la France (Paris, 1959), 32: ‘Lyon…c'était…en 1789 la capitate d'un gouvernement, et d'une généralité qui comptaient parmi les moins entendus du royaume.’ The truly great days were to come in the nineteenth century.

35 Lafferrère, M., Lyon, ville industrielle (Paris, 1960), 4 (discussing the parks and gardens which now cover Fourvière): ‘… elle doit cette verdoyante profusion à des pents accentuées, d'accès difficile: d'assez vastes clos religieux ont done pu s'y maintenir, à l'abri du foisonnement urbain des habitations collectives.’

36 Audin 28 (following Jullian); Wuilleumier, op. cit. (note 2), 13; Hatt, J. J., Histoire de la Gaule romaine (Paris, 1959), 83, is more cautious, but is prepared to adopt the prevailing tradition (‘On peut fort bien admettre que César ait pensé à Lyon avant Plancus et le Sénat’).

37 Audin 28 (‘Pendant les semaines passées au camp de Fourvière César eut l'intuition des possibilités de Lugdunum. II devina qu'une ville, établie en ce lieu serait une admirable base de départ pour la romanisation de la Gaule, une fois celle-ci entre les mains’—my emphasis); Wuilleumier, op. cit. (note 2), 14 (‘Lyon… devait constituer la capitale de la Gaule Chevelue’). Such unhappy thinking is derived ultimately from Camille Jullian. His influence has been chiefly responsible for the long-standing misinterpretation of the history of Lugdunum.

38 So the lively debate about Caesar's ‘imperialism’, and its effect on the ‘veracity’ of his Commentaries; for a summary see D. Timpe, ‘Caesars gallischer Krieg und das Problem der römischen Imperialismus’, Historia 1965, 189-214. A. N. Sherwin-White ‘Caesar as an Imperialist’, Greece and Rome 1957, 35–45, has no illusions about Caesar's early lack of decision (36, ‘He had no reason as yet to regard himself as a thunderbolt of war’).

39 Timpe op. cit. (note 38), 211f.; at this date the Province itself was still lacking a clear-cut administrative structure—Barruol, G., ‘Les peuples préromaines du sud-est de la Gaule’, Revue archéologique de Narbonnaise, Supp. i (1969), 169 ff.

40 E. Meyer, ‘Neuere Forschungsergebnisse über die Schweiz im römischer Zeit’, Museum Helveticum 1962, 144 f.; Wells, C. M., The German Policy of Augustus (Oxford, 1972), 35 f.

41 Sherwin-White op. cit. (note 38), 43; Hatt op. cit. (note 36), 91.

42 D. van Berchem, ‘Zur römischen Kolonisation in der Schweiz’, Jahrbuch der schweizerische Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte 1957, 16.

43 He visited Gaul four times, and involved the imperial family intimately in its government: Hatt op. cit. (note 36), 85 f.

44 Jullian op. cit. (note 2), iv, 67–81.

45 Camulodunum was later to serve the same purpose in Britain. Tacitus, Ann. xii. 32.4: subsidium adversus rebellis et imbuendis sociis ad officia legum. Indeed the layout of the Colchester site was very likely modelled on that of Lugdunum: the original, pre-Boudiccan, colony stood to one side of and dominated the sacred precinct of the Imperial cult; see Current Archaeology No. 43 (March 1974), 238 f. (I am indebted to Prof. Rivet for this observation.)

46 In this respect, i.e. the geographical and historical eccentricity of Lugdunum as both a provincial and Gallic capital, note Seneca's remark, Ep. xci.10: Ornamentum provinciarum, quibus inserta erat et excepta.

47 The major aqueduct known as La Craponne was probably built at the time of Agrippa; that of Mont d'Or shortly after: Audin 81 ff.

* I am grateful to Prof. A. L. F. Rivet for reading and commenting upon an earlier version of this paper

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