Ancient History of Paris

The Roman baths today, now part of the Cluny Museum

Paris is one of the most visited cities today, and it is the heart of France. It is considered by millions to be the hub of romance, high fashion, luxury, culture, arts, and politics. But Paris is a lot more than that – the history of Paris is one of the most exciting aspects of it. 

Paris in Prehistory

Archaeological records have shown that humans have inhabited Paris as far back as 8000 BC during the Mesolithic era. This stunning discovery was made in 2008 by French archaeologists digging near the Seine. They stumbled upon humans’ oldest remains at a settlement for hunters and gatherers in the prehistoric time. 

 In 1991, scientists were also able to confirm that humans were already in Paris in 4500 BC, and anyone can see the remains found at Bercy in the Carnavelet Museum today. Some other excavations like the ones done at the Rue Henri-Farman site revealed settlements from the Neolithic period, early Bronze Age, and the first Iron Age. 

The Parisii and Conquest by the Romans (250 – 52 BC) 

In the time between 250 and 225 BC, which was during the Iron Age, a tribe of Celtic people referred to as the Parisii settled on the River Seine banks. They constructed an oppidum at the beginning of the 2nd century BC, bridges over the River Seine, and a fortified complex in Nanterre. They called the settlement Lucotocia, and it means swamp or marsh. 

Gold coins minted by the Parisii (1st century BC)

Between the period 58 and 53 BC, Julius Caesar and the Roman army were campaigning in Gaul using the pretext of offering protection to the territory from the invading Germanic tribes. But the Romans’ true intention was to subject it to conquest and annex it as a part of the Roman Republic. 

Caesar would visit the city in 53 BC and address the delegates representing the Gallic tribes who had assembled at the temple and demanded that they contribute troops and funds to the campaign. 

The Parisii were very cautious of the Romans, but they listened to all that Caesar had to say. They agreed to give some cavalry, but they later established a secret collaboration with the Gallic tribes. This military alliance was headed by Vercingetorix, and they would proceed to launch a shocking uprising against the Roman Empire in January 52BC. 

Caesar responded decisively against the insurgents, and the Parisii were defeated. But the defeat did not stop them from resisting the Romans. The resistance was so strong that the Parisii contributed 8,000 soldiers to fight alongside Vercingetorix against the Roman troops in the Battle of Alesia. 

Roman Lutetia (52 BC – 486 AD) 

A Gallo-Roman stele of Mercury, from Lutetia. The people of Lutetia worshipped both Roman and Celtic gods. (Carnavalet Museum)

The Romans constructed a whole new city, which was used as a base for their soldiers and auxiliaries from the Gallic tribes. The goal was for the military base to serve as a watchtower for the troublesome province. They named this new city, Lutetia or Lutece, and it got the attention of Caesar. 

6th to 11th Centuries – Clovis to the Capetian Kings

Clovis I and those who succeeded to the Merovingian throne constructed some religious buildings in Paris and several impressive monasteries like the one that is now the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. They also constructed the Basilica of Saint-Denis, which was later used as the graveyard of France’s royal figures. 

12th to 15th Centuries – the Middle Ages

When the 12th century started, the kings of France of the Capetian dynasty were able to control Paris and the nearby regions, and they also did a lot to build up the influence of Paris. It was at this time that the iconic nature of the city districts started to come up. 

The Plague and War

Paris faced two major disasters in the middle of the 14th century, and these were the Bubonic Plague and the Hundred Years’ War. Many Parisians were killed in the process, and the plague came in different cycles, but the war was even more tragic as more Parisians lost their lives.

16th – 17th Centuries

By the beginning of the 16th century, Paris had bounced back, and the population had soared to 250,000. Every new king came up with more structures like bridges, buildings, and fountains to make the capital more beautiful with Italy’s designs. The 17th century was dominated by the works of the kings with expansive projects. 

18th and Beyond

The death of Louis XIV dominated the beginning of the century and soon entered a phase of expansion. By 1789, the population had reached 700,000, but London surpassed it. Then there was the Age of Enlightenment, and there was an increase in the number of buildings. Then, of course, there was the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799. 

Then there was Napoleon I’s reign from 1800 to 1815, and this saw a lot of development and projects like the Rue de Rivoli and the iron bridge named the Pont des Arts. There was a restoration period from 1815 to 1830. The two world wars were to come later and shaped Paris in many ways, like France’s invasion by the Nazis. 

Paris Today

Paris today is one of the most impressive cities in the world. It is a global center of culture, arts, technology, entertainment, science, government, and economy. It remains one of the most visited cities, and it is the hub of futuristic technology leading the world in several ways. 

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