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Lutetia (sometimes Lutetia Parisiorum or Lucotecia, in French Lutèce) was a town in pre-Roman and Roman Gaul. The town formed the basis for the present-day French capital, Paris.


Celtic origins

Lutetia was founded at the point where the Bièvre stream reaches the river Seine, both on the left bank of the Seine and on an island across from the confluence (modern-day Quartier Latin and Île de la Cité, respectively), in the centre of modern Paris. It was the chief settlement or oppidum of the Parisii, a Celtic people who settled in the area during the 3rd century BC.

The name of Lutetia was first recorded by Julius Caesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars (notably in book 7, chapters 57-58). The name seems to be related to an Indo-European root meaning "mud", reflecting the marshy surroundings.

Roman times

The town was captured by the Roman Republic in 52 BC during the conquest of Gaul under Caesar. It was apparently already quite a prosperous place, as it occupied a very strategic position on the river and was able to control shipping in both directions.

The Lutetians backed the revolt of Vercingetorix against the Romans under Caesar, reportedly contributing 8,000 men to Vercingetorix's army. It was garrisoned by Vercingetorix's lieutenant Camulogenus, whose army camped on the Mons Lutetius (where the Panthéon is now situated). The Romans crushed the rebels at nearby Melun and took control of Lutetia.

Under Roman rule, Lutetia was thoroughly Romanised and grew considerably to become a small city, with a population estimated at around 8,000 people. It did not have a great deal of political importance - the capital of its province, Lugdunensis Senona, was Agedincum (modern Sens, Yonne). It was Christianised in the 3rd century when St Denis became the city's first bishop. The process was not entirely peaceful - in about 250 St Denis and two companions were arrested and decapitated on the hill of Mons Mercurius, thereafter known as Mons Martyrum (Martyrs' Hill, now Montmartre).

Lutetia was renamed Paris in 212, taking its name from the Celtic "Parisii" tribe name. The name had already been used for centuries as an adjective ("Parisiacus"). Around the same time, the city quarter on the left Seine bank, which housed the baths, the theatres and the amphitheatre, was gradually abandoned with the population being concentrated on the island, which received new fortifications.

For the history of the city after its renaming, see the article on Paris.

Present-day remains

Very little is now left of the ancient city. In a small park on high ground in the Latin Quarter of the Left Bank, tucked behind apartment blocks, one may still see some remains of the 1st century amphitheatre (Arène de Lutèce ). Furthermore, there are the remains of public baths at the Musée de Cluny (frigidarium with vault intact and caldarium ), the archeological crypt under the Notre Dame forecourt and the catacombs under Montparnasse.

Further reading

  • Philippe de Carbonnières - Lutèce: Paris ville romaine (Gallimard 20012, ISBN 2-07-053389-1)

Related facts

There is also an asteroid named 21 Lutetia; and the element lutetium was named after the city, in honour of its discovery in a Paris laboratory.

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13