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Home News Roman Paris was not in Paris, but Nanterre

Roman Paris was not in Paris, but Nanterre

Published on 26/02/2004

PARIS, Feb 26 (AFP) - The historic Paris - the Gallic town of Lutetia captured by Julius Caesar in 52 BC - lay not on the island in the centre of the modern French capital but in a suburb 10 kilometres (six miles) to the west, according to archaeological evidence published on Thursday.

Recent excavations at a building site in the suburb of Nanterre have brought to light a pre-Roman settlement that far outstrips in density and sophistication traces discovered on the Ile de la Cite – until now regarded as the main base of the Parisii tribe.

“Nanterre is the only agglomeration of size identified on the territory of the Parisii. Until now no significant remains from an occupation predating the Roman conquest have been found on the Ile de la Cite,” said Alain Bulard, of the directorate for cultural affairs for the Paris area.

The Nanterre site, discovered near the bank of the river Seine at the end of last year, has revealed a rigidly planned urban area constructed around two parallel cobbled streets and a market square, Le Monde newspaper reported.

Ditches drained away waste water and each home, constructed out of wood and a clay-straw mixture, possessed its own stone-lined well. Items found on the scene include bronze brooches, coins and a cooking fork.

Taken together with a previously discovered site – also dating from around 200 BC – containing kilns and other evidence of handicrafts, the entire Gallic settlement spread over 15 hectares (37 acres), which is nearly double the size of the supposed proto-capital in central Paris.

First mentioned in book seven of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, where it is described as being on an island on the river Seine, the Lutetia of the Parisii has traditionally been identified with the Ile de la Cite – not least because it went on to form the centre of the Roman town and the later French capital.

However a revisionist school of archaeologists challenges the accepted wisdom and the Nanterre dig has boosted their counter-theory.

“The topographical situation of the site was remarkable. In a great loop of the Seine it was at the time like a peninsula and easily defensible. In a siege the population could live off the … fields, grassland and forest. The Roman invader would not have been indifferent to these assets,” Bulard told Le Monde.

Unfortunately the vagueness of Caesar’s description means the argument is unlikely to be settled.

“The debate is all Caesar’s fault. He was too imprecise in his description of the oppidum of the Parisii. Until we find an inscription saying “Id est Lutetia” (This is Lutetia), we will never be able to prove definitively that it lay in Nanterre,” Bulard said.


                                                              Subject: France news