Lyon in Roman Empire

Founded on the banks of the Rhône and the Saône, surrounded by two hills, Lyon was originally a place of refuge for the Celtic peoples and was known as Condate.

Named Lugdunum by the Romans (probably coming from “Lug” the name of the God of the Sun), the next milestone in Lyon’s history was the arrival in 43 BC of Lucius Munatius Plancius with citizens chassed from Vienne. This colony consisted of merchants, soldiers and ferrymen organised in corporations.

In 1 BC, the Emperor Augustus created the Three Gauls: Lyonnaise, Belgium and Aquitaine and proclaimed Lugdunum capital of the Gauls. This status enabled the city to become in three centuries a major economic, military and religious centre, its influence stretching far afield.  The city had a population of 40 000 to 60 000, making it the second town in the Empire after Rome.

Located at the crossroads of the Roman ways in western Europe and on the confluent of the Rhône and Saône, the town developed a major trading activity benefiting from its land and river trade routes. Wine from Italy, oil from Spain and Gallic corn passed through the city. From Fourvière Hill, the Roman town spread to Croix-Rousse. The town’s expansion can be seen by the constructions of the Fourvière theatre, the Odeon, thermal baths, forum, amphitheatre, etc. Sumptuous residences were built and numerous merchants set up along the rivers, expressing the wealth of Lugdunum.

It is at this time that Lyonnaise arts and crafts became renowned throughout the Empire, with potters, glassmakers and bronze-smiths opening their workshops along by the Saône. Road works (laying of flat stones), installation of waste water pipes in the city and, above all, the construction of four aqueducts, the remains of which can be seen, all bear witness to the city’s importance.

The military role of Lugdunum was very clear when it was founded: to survey the Gauls and the new territories. To fulfil this function some 1200 legionaries lived in the city and ensured its security, in particular that of the main trading routes. It is from Lugdunum that Christianity spread out throughout western Europe but it was also a cosmopolitan town where Eastern religions developed, in particular the worship of the Great Goddess Cybele. In the year 177 Christians were persecuted and Lugdunum witnessed the martyrdom of Elandine, Pothin and Irénée...

At the end of the 3rd century, the Roman Empire fell, bringing Lugdunum down with it. Barbarians from the north destroyed the aqueducts. Deprived of water, the population had to leave Fourvière Hill, settling along by the Saône and on île Saint-Jean. This marked the end of the history of Lugdunum that became in turn Lugdon, Luon, Lion then Lyon.


    * 43 BC: Founding of Lugdunum by Lucius Munatius Plancus.

    * 16 to 14 BC: Emperor Augustus proclaimed Lugdunum the capital of the Gauls.

      Building of the Fourvière theatre.

    * 10 BC: Birth of Tiberus Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus in Lyon, future Emperor Claudius.

    * 19 AC: Construction of the Three Gauls amphitheatre

    * 65 AC: Lugdunum fire

    * 121 AC: Embellishment of the city by Hadrian.

      Extension of the theatre, restoration of the amphitheatre.

      Construction of the Gier aqueduct.

    * 160 AC: Construction of the Odeon.

    * 177 AC: Martyrdom of the Christians Pothin, Blandine and Irénée.

    * 275 AC: First invasions of barbarians.

      Decline of Lugdunum.

Tags: | France | Lyon | History | Roman Empire |


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