Athena Review Vol.I, no.4

Sites and Museums in Roman Gaul: Lyon

Lugdunum (Lyon) was founded in 43 BC by Lucius Munatius Plancus, a Gallic War general made governor of the province by Caesar. Located on the hill of Fourvière (Forum vetus, or old forum) at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, Roman Lyon (fig.1) became capital of the Three Gauls (Lugdunensis, Belgica, and Aquitania). The town also lay along two major NS roads connecting Colonia Agrippina (Cologne) to Massilia (Marseille), and linking Lutetia (Paris) to the Alps near Brigantio (Briançon). Lugdunum was birthplace of the emperors Caracalla (AD 188-217) and Claudius (10 BC-AD 54), and probably also of Claudius' brother Germanicus (15 BC AD 19). The town is mentioned in a wide range of Roman writings, from Livy (59 BC-AD 17) to Ammianus Marcellinus (AD 330-400).

[Fig.1: Confluence of Rhône and Saône at Lyon (Athena Review).]

While much of the Roman town lies beneath later construction, the remains of two Roman theaters may be seen on the Fourvière, overlooking the modern city of Lyon (fig.2). The larger theater was built by Augustus ca. 17-15 BC, and was later expanded by Hadrian in the 2nd century. At 108.5 meters wide it could seat 10,000 spectators. Nearby, the smaller Odéon seated 2,500. Still visible is its mosaic floor in opus sectile made of eleven types of stone, brought from across the empire.

Excavations on the Fourvière revealed the foundations of a large monument near the theater. Around the old forum were craft shops and a storage tank, probably the castellum or reservoir at the end of an aqueduct. Excavations under the main theater found remnants of a U-shaped double portico basement which, like the cryptoporticus in Arles, once underlay the forum. It was destroyed along with the forum when the theater was built. The site of a Capitolium has also been found under Lyon's 19th century basilica on the Fourvière. Across the Saône to the north were the city's amphitheater (AD 19), and a circus, as attested by an inscription from Trion. At the nearby Church of Ste. Irénée are three 1st century Roman tombs and a 5th century crypt on Roman foundations.

[Fig.2: Roman theater on Fourvière, hilltop site of the old forum at Lyon (photo: Athena Review).]

The Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine is built into the side of the Fourvière adjacent to the Roman theater. From a 5th floor entrance, the visitor is led through a series of seventeen permanent galleries, beginning with the prehistory of Lyon and continuing through a series of major exhibits on Roman Lugdunum. Progressing in a spiral down three successively lower levels, one is eventually brought to the ground level of the theater stage.

Prehistory and the Bronze Age (Gallery I): The Paleolithic is represented by a small display of stone tools from the Rhône region. The larger Bronze Age exhibit covers the thousand year span between 1700 and 700 BC, divided into Lower, Middle, and Upper time periods. Lower Bronze Age finds (1700-1400 BC) along the Rhône include various forms of choppers and elongated bronze axes made in bivalve molds, and knives including a riveted triangular dagger. Influences from Alsace and Germany are seen in bracelets, axes, trapezoidal daggers, and pins (fibulae).

The Middle Bronze Age display (1400-1200 BC) features weapons (spearheads, shouldered axes and swords with riveted handles) and sickle-like reaping hooks, plus a collection of small bracelets finely decorated with hatched lines and curves.  From the Upper Bronze Age (1200-700 BC) is the Cremlen Sepulcher, containing wheel-shaped pendants, two bronze bracelets and a pin; and axes and bracelets from a hoard of bronze objects known as the "Treasure of Vernaison".

Iron Age: From the Early Iron Age or Hallstatt period (ca. 700-400 BC) are the virtually complete remains of a bronze chariot found at La Côte-Saint-André. Used for ritual processions. each of the the chariot's four wheels were cast in a single piece, and the surviving bucket and pan show stamping, drafting, and burnishing. Burial displays of the Late Iron Age, or La Tène period (ca 400-100 BC) include a curved scimitar with its sheath, several swords, a finely incised shield boss, two pots, and a sample of 81 bracelets found in 1852 on the arms of a skeleton from the Tomb of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne (ca. 400 BC), along with string of small bells and a fibula. The Tomb of Nyons (ca. 350 BC) also contained engraved bracelets, as well as an arm band, and a ceramic ram's head.

Early Lugdunum (Galleries II-III): The Gallo-Roman exhibits begin in Gallery II with a display on the "Founding of Lugdunum" by L. Munatius Plancus, commemorated in a 1st century AD bust, coins, and decorative motifs on terra sigillata. A large medallion shows Tutela, Roman protectress of cities, with two rivers (Rhône and Saône) and the god Coelus, another name for Uranus. Other items in this section include a relief of Roman legionnaires from Glanum and a 1st century bust of the Greek philosopher Zeno, founder of Stoicism in 315 BC.  The adjacent gallery III on urbanism features a topographic model of Lugdunum (fig.3), plans of the city, and photos of Lyon's aqueduct.

[Fig.3: Model of Roman Lugdunum,showing the Fourvière at right (Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine).]

Several sections of lead pipes are shown with various trademarks such as CRTF and S. ATTI Apollonarius L.F. (Sextus Atticus Apollonarius, son of Lucius).  Nearby is a small 3rd century cippus from the Baths of Apollo, reading "Dedicated to Blandinia Martiola aged 16 years, 9 months by her husband Pompeius Catussa, a stucco artisan, under the ascia" (a mason's trowel or adze), one of numerous examples of such dedications from  Lugdunum. A statue pedestal is dedicated to Marcus Inthatius, a wine merchant, Roman knight, and a boatman of the Saône who lived on the island of Lugdunum-Kanabe in the Rhône.

Administration and the Military (Galleries IV-VII): Gallery IV, "Federal Sanctuary of the Three Gauls," shows a plan of the amphitheater, built in AD 19 across the river from the Fourvière, was later modified under the emperor Hadrian. Also displayed is the dedicatory inscription of the amphitheater made to Augustus by a priest named C.F. Rufus (fig.4, left), and inscriptions to Tiberius and Hadrian from tiers of the amphitheater. Gladiators and animal combat are portrayed on lamps and terra sigillata bowls and in graffiti, along with an altar to Mars dedicated by a gladiator named Callimorphus. In the late 2nd century AD, Christian executions were added to the gladiatorial games at Lugdunum, as detailed in the account by Eusebius.

[Fig.4: 1st century AD inscription from amphihteater at Lugdunum (Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine).]

Detailed historical information is presented in the inscriptions shown in these galleries. Displays on Federal Priests serving the Roman Imperial Cult shows bronze figurines and  inscriptions to both priests (ie, C. Catullius Deciminus of Troyes in AD 210) and the Divinities of the Three Gauls: Bonus Eventus, Fortuna, and Augustan gods. Other texts concern political officials from Lugdunum. One celebrates L. Aemilius Frontus, a member of the Latin Quirina tribe and governor of the Province of Lugdunum in the early 2nd century. Another inscription is dedicated to Tiberius Pompeius Priscus, member of the Gallic Cadurcii tribe from Aquitania, who served as a tribune in the 5th Legion and later became Judge of Gallic Funds for the Three Provinces of Gaul.

Here is also perhaps the museum's most important inscription, the Claudian Tablet. Carved on two massive sheets of bronze, it commemorates with beautifully ornate letters a speech delivered by the Emperor Claudius before the Senate in AD 48. In the text of the speech, preserved in Tacitus' Annals (ca. AD 115-117), Claudius, who was born in Gaul at Lyon, argues in favor of granting Gallic chiefs admission to the Roman Senate.

Gallery VI, "The Imperial Presence," begins with a realistic marble bust of Caracalla as Emperor. Born in Lyon in AD 188, Caracalla later campaigned in Britain with his father Septimius Severus. Also displayed is a portrait bust of Timestheus (fig.5), an imperial administrator of the early 3rd century, and father-in-law of emperor Gordian III (AD 238-244). A model shows the municipal sanctuary to the Imperial Cult, and examples of coins and molds from Lugdunum's  mint. This gallery also contains an altar to the forest god Silvanus, dedicated by Tiberius Claudius Chrestus. This individual was a turnkey (guard who kept the keys) at the public jail, the only known reference to this position in Roman Gaul.

[Fig.5: Portrait of Timestheus (Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine).]

Artifacts in Gallery VII, "the Army," are grouped into categories of military equipment, inscriptions, and sculpture. Equipment includes chain mail, swords, spears, lead sling pellets, and pieces of horse harness. Inscriptions record both the 3rd and the 13th Cohorts in Lugdunum. Of particular interest here is a bronze certificate discharging Sextus Egnatius Paulus from the 13th Urban Cohort. Sculptures in this gallery also tell of other units present at Lugdunum. One 3rd century cippus is dedicated to a German standard bearer from the 30th Legion, and another, with the image of an ascia or mason's trowel, is to a warrant officer from the 22nd Legion. There are also reliefs of a Cataphracti (horseman in scale armor) flanked by two footmen, and the 4th-5th century relief of a centurion.

Religion and Funerary Art are shown in Galleries VIII, XVI, XVII. Gallery VIII on religion in Lugdunum has a large collection of sculpture and inscriptions on both Celtic and Roman deities. Prominent among the Celtic deities are the Mother Goddesses, always depicted as a triad. Their portrayal in Lugdunum include one relief in a shell-shaped medallion with a griffin's head; and another dedicated by Flago, a doctor in the Roman town. Another common Gallic deity is Sucellus, a male fertility god depicted with a hammer or long mallet, and often accompanied by a dog. He is shown in bronze statuettes, a small statue, five small altars, and various representations on terra sigillata. Another, unidentified Gallic god is shown wearing a torc or neck-ring, a link with Late Iron Age Celtic practices.

There is much evidence at Lyon for the mixing of Gallic and Roman religions. One altar base has separate reliefs of the Mother Goddesses, Mercury, Sucellus, and Fortuna. Mercury, who according to Caesar was one of the most popular gods in Gaul, is depicted in bronze figurines, two sculpted heads, and a lamp. Inscriptions to Mercury occur on three 1st century AD altars and a bench dedication plaque. A noteworthy Gallo-Roman relief of Mercury shows him and his consort Maia with a goat, cockerel, and tortoise. Remains of Graeco-Roman gods are also plentiful in Lugdunum. Jupiter is portrayed in both marble and bronze sculpture, and has two altars to him, one carved with three bucrania (bull's heads). Other Roman gods celebrated include Neptune, Fortuna, Mars, and Bacchus. Tutela, the protectress of cities, occurs in three bronze statuettes and a copy of a 5th century BC head dedicated by L. Litugius Laena, a Quaestor of Vienne.

People in Roman Gaul also worshipped the Near Eastern deities Silenus, Isis, and Cybele. From the Lugdunum shrine of Cybele, Great Mother of the Phrygian gods, was an altar of ca. AD 160 showing the earliest known evidence of a bull sacrifice to the goddess. There is also a large sculpted head of Cybele with traces of red paint in the hair, topped with a calathos or lily-shaped fruit basket, a common fertility symbol of Mediterranean mother goddesses. Also displayed in the religion gallery is a Souvetaurilia, or a relief of pigs and cows being led to a sacrificial altar (a British example is also documented at Hadrian's Wall). Nearby is a cippus with the epitaph of an Aruspicis, a priest responsible for reading the future in animal entrails. A capital, originally topped with a wreathed column, is carved in the Gallic tradition with reliefs of three faces or severed heads (also common at Glanum).

Gallery VIII contains another highly important inscription, the Gallic Calendar of Coligny (fig.6). This large bronze sheet is engraved with five years of a lunar calendar written in the Gallic language during the late 1st to 2nd century AD. The calendar, not yet fully translated, shows months of 29-30 days, and an intercalary day every 30 months. A word found at the middle of each month, Atenoux, seems to indicate the full moon, while Mat and Anmat may relate to the Graeco-Roman fasti (a public register) and ill-fated days.

[Fig.6: The Gallic Calendar of Coligny (Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine).]

Theater and Circus Games (Galleries IX-X) includes models of the theater, a statue of Apollo from the Odéon, and samples of marble from its orchestra. Gallery X has a relief showing chariot races, as well as the Mosaic of the Circus Games discovered along the rue Jarente in 1806. Surrounded by a guilloche, or braid pattern, the central panel depicts a chariot race in a circus which has a series of ponds replacing the central wall or spina. It is believed that this mosaic depicts Lyon's circus, as a dedicatory plaque  for it was found near the aqueduct, which would have been necessary to fill the ponds.

The next five Galleries (XI-XV), Economy and Domestic Life, displays glass and ceramics (Gallery XI) including terra sigillata and lamps, and craft trades with numerous examples of iron tools, as well as the Treasure of Lyon-Vaise, a 3rd century hoard of worked silver. Of particular interest is the gravestone of Aurelius Leons, a letter engraver, the only known inscription mentioning this craft throughout the Roman Empire.  Merchants (Gallery XIII) are portrayed in displays which focus on amphorae, many with inscriptions, and include examples of scales used to weigh purchases. Bronze household utensils and the relief of a funerary feast are shown along with the Mosaic of the Fish, from the first half of the 3rd century.

[Fig.7: Mosaic of Bacchus, from a 3rd century AD Roman house (Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine; photo: Athena Review).]

Mosaics with earthy mythological themes are displayed in Gallery XV, Domestic Life, along with an ornately decorated bronze brazier from Vienne. Included are a colorful panel with Bacchus' head (fig.7); the Four Seasons Mosaic from the early 3rd century; and a mosaic of Palestre, Eros, and Auteros with an ornate candelabrum. Pan is also featured in this exhibit through both a relief and a mosaic depicting a Pan Pipe, plus the Mosaic of the Fight between Cupid and Pan. The contest is judged by Silenus, the drunken tutor of Bacchus.


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