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ROMAN FRANCE - Julius Caesar's GAUL

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Bianca
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« on: May 17, 2009, 09:10:07 am »



The Pont du Gard, an aqueduct in southern France.








                                                          R O M A N   F R A N C E






ELAINE SCIOLINO
The New York Times
May 17, 2009

THE summer evening was autumnally cold and damp, the backless stone seats in the outdoor theater unforgiving. Many of the 8,000 spectators were irritable; most of us had shown for a rained-out performance the night before.

And frankly, I’ve seen better productions of “Carmen.” But as the performers began to move, their
shadows rose 100 feet and danced across the imposing backdrop of a yellow limestone wall. A marble statue of Caesar Augustus stood ghostly white upon his perch in the wall, his right arm raised as if he
had just commanded the singers to begin their performance. When Carmen sang for the last time, a bird somewhere in the black sky sang back as her shadow fell.

I had been transported into the past, watching a performance in a semicircular Roman theater in the southern French city of Orange much as spectators had done 2,000 years ago. In front of me was one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering to have survived the cruelty of the centuries: a theatrical wall. Despite its scarred and stained stones, the wall stands defiantly. It is still deserving of the description: “The finest wall in my kingdom,” bestowed by Louis XIV.

The performance ended, and the crowd spilled out into the streets below, just as it did in Roman times. Augustus, embraced by the shadows coursing across the theatrical wall, seemed to move as well.

Visitors to France do not usually seek out evidence of Rome’s conquest of what was then called Gaul (now essentially modern-day France and Belgium). Indeed, the French do not dwell on their colonization by ancient Roman imperialists. Instead, they celebrate the “Gallic” part: the stories of proud, strong natives who thrived in that era. (The most popular contemporary portrayals of Roman rule in France are the comic book and film adventures of Astérix and Obélix, the Gallic village heroes who use stealth and cunning against the Roman invaders.)

Over the years, I have discovered traces of Roman civilization throughout the country, from Arras in the north to Dijon in the center and Fréjus in the south. My hunt for Roman Gaul has turned up treasures in the oddest places, including the middle of wheat fields, the foundations of churches and the basements of dusty provincial museums.

Then I asked Patrick Périn, the director of the Musée des Antiquités Nationales just west of Paris, which houses the country’s finest Gallo-Roman collection, the best way to explore Roman France. He said he had two words for me: “Go south.”

Set aside for a moment images of Provence’s lavender fields, the Riviera’s beaches and Marseille’s bouillabaisse. The southeastern swath of the country seems as crammed with ancient Rome as Rome itself: temples, theaters, amphitheaters, aqueducts, roads, arches, monuments, mosaics and every sort of object from daily life.

The South of France was the first region annexed by the Romans, in about 125 B.C., decades before Julius Caesar brought the rest of Gaul under his control. The area was ancient Rome with a French twist, a synergistic blend of two cultures and lifestyles that left a permanent imprint on both of them.

The Romans relied on the native aristocracy to administer local governments. Many Gauls became citizens of Rome. Gallic silver, glass, pottery, food and wine were exported to Italy. At a factory near Millau in the Massif Central, for example, slaves mass-produced pottery for the western half of the Roman Empire, including the entire Roman army.

To appreciate the best of Gallo-Roman France today requires only a vivid imagination and surprisingly little driving. I visited the area in several trips from Paris, but it can be covered in three or four days.

If French history books tend to underplay ancient Roman rule, local politicians and entrepreneurs in the south do not. In the summer, area restaurants offer “Roman” menus with 2,000-year-old recipes: dishes prepared with cumin, coriander, mint and honey.

In Orange, the Théâtre Antique d’Orange hosts “Roman” festivals twice a year, featuring fake gladiators, processions and demonstrations of ancient Olympic games.

The Mas des Tourelles vineyard in Beaucaire organizes “wine harvests” in which Roman methods for making wine are re-enacted: grapes are crushed under the feet of “slaves” (staff members who work at the winery). On hand is a replica of a Roman wine press and amphorae for storing the wine; of course there are also wine tastings.

Residents co-exist with their antiquities with a blend of pride and nonchalance. A seller of old books in Nîmes displays his collection of Roman artifacts in a glass case; the Hôtel d’Arlatan in Arles has a glass floor on which guests can walk and peer down at the remains of ancient baths more than 20 feet below.

For me, the epicenter of Roman Gaul is Nîmes, once one of the largest cities of the empire, called by locals “the Rome of France,” and like Rome, built on seven hills. Its amphitheater, although heavily restored, is well preserved. Unlike at Rome’s Colosseum, where passing cars and motorbikes pierce the tranquillity of the site with their noise and fumes, traffic is restricted around the Nîmes amphitheater.

Le Petit Bofinger is more than the brasserie across the street. A well-positioned sidewalk table becomes the perfect perch to absorb the grandeur of the site. I felt that the visual exploration deserved a café gourmand — an espresso served in a gold-trimmed claret-colored cup and saucer along with miniature servings of crème brûlée, chocolate cake and fromage blanc with raspberry sauce.

My guide to the area was Sophie Bouzat-Wildbolz, a Swiss-American who has been giving tours throughout this part of France for 20 years. (She works through the Nîmes Tourism Board and offers both tours of the city and custom tours of the region.) She led me up stairs and through stone corridors to the highest point of the unusually shaped elliptical amphitheater. Gladiators once did battle here; now crowds come to watch modern-day re-enactments, as well as bullfights, which have been held in the amphitheater since the mid-19th century.

“The only way you can understand an amphitheater is to feel like a spectator,” Ms. Bouzat-Wildbolz said. “Imagine all the seats filled, the cries of the crowd, the gladiators in battle below.” She told me that although Nîmes’s amphitheater is smaller than the Colosseum, it suffered much less degradation.
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« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2009, 09:21:16 am »









“Once you’ve seen the amphitheater of Nîmes, do you have to go to Rome?” she joked. From there, we headed to the Maison Carrée, an almost perfectly preserved Hellenistic-style temple in the city’s center. The temple is undergoing a major renovation and its stone is being cleaned. The limestone on the south side shines so brightly in the afternoon sun that some residents complain that it looks too new. The inside of the building has been converted to a movie theater where visitors can pay to see a 22-minute 3-D gladiator film, “Heroes of Nîmes.”
 
With access to some of the best keys of the city, Ms. Bouzat-Wildbolz took me into private residential courtyards, including 8, rue de l’Aspic, where a Roman grave marker stands. The less grand but most intimate site came last: the so-called temple of Diana tucked away in a corner of the city’s formal 18th-century public Fountain Gardens. In the Middle Ages it was used as a church and attached to a convent built next door. In a small garden filled with succulents and cactuses, we sat on a stone bench under an Aleppo pine. We were not very far from ancient Rome.

The city of Arles, 20 miles southeast of Nîmes, is best known as the place where Vincent van Gogh did some of his most ambitious painting. But it is also home to an ancient theater, which is missing its top layer of stones; an amphitheater; and an underground vaulted gallery that supported the esplanade around the Forum.

The Musée Départemental de l’Arles Antique, meanwhile, housed in an airy, modern building, boasts the best collection of local sarcophagi outside of Rome.

The museum sits on the bank of the Rhône River, and in the fall of 2007 it announced an extraordinary find: scuba-diving archaeologists, working on occasion in secret at night to avoid discovery by pirates, had pulled 20 Roman sculptures and bronzes from the river’s depths. Among them was a treasure that has shaken the archaeological world: a realistic marble bust dating from around 49 B.C., believed to be the oldest representation of Julius Caesar made during his lifetime.

Claude Sintès, the museum’s director, gave me a private viewing of the objects, which are currently undergoing restoration and will be publicly displayed for the first time this fall. Among them are a tall marble statue of Neptune, still in three pieces, and a small bronze sculpture of a bearded man, probably a slave or captive, bending as if to genuflect.

Then he led me up a flight of stairs into a locked workroom. On a shelf inside a blue metal cabinet was a plastic foam box that he carefully set on a table. Inside was the life-sized head of a man in his 50s, small-eyed, balding, with deep lines around his mouth. Mr. Sintès cradled the head in both hands and shined a light on its face.

“Here he is — Caesar,” Mr. Sintès said. “The wrinkles on his neck match those on Roman coins. There’s the Adam’s apple, just like Caesar’s. He’s balding, just as Caesar was balding. He’s human, no?”

When I looked into Caesar’s eyes, he stared back at me, his face a mix of pride and power tinged with weariness, even melancholy.

From Arles, it is an easy 24-mile drive north to the Pont du Gard aqueduct. With its three tiers of receding arches, it is the highest Roman bridge-aqueduct in the world. It is also as worthy as the Eiffel Tower for consideration as the national symbol of France.

Once you have gone through the rather sterile visitor’s center, find a perch on the bank of the river Gardon to take in the grace of the aqueduct’s architecture and the genius of its engineering. Its blocks of limestone were pieced together without cement or mortar; it took 15 years to build. Using gravitational force, the aqueduct carried water from Uzès to Nîmes 30 miles away.

Since I was part of a prearranged tour, I was allowed to climb up a winding stone staircase to the top level of the aqueduct, which stands around 49 meters high, or 160 feet (about the height of a 16-story building). From its far edge, I looked down to the river, where people fish for carp and trout in summer and walk on the stones along the bank. I continued along the path and discovered other Roman ruins in a 400-acre expanse of fields and sparse forests with laurel, oak and juniper trees.

With a bit of patience and over time, I uncovered dozens of other hidden and less-traveled sites. Outside the town of St.-Rémy-de-Provence, 15 miles east of Arles, is a 60-foot mausoleum — one of the best preserved of the Roman world — and a triumphal arch.

A stone relief carved into the base of the arch is a tribute to movement: a horse rearing up on its hind legs looks as if it’s dancing; a fallen warrior is so alive that you can feel his struggle to get up. The limestone of both structures gleamed golden-white in the sun.
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« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2009, 09:24:49 am »








Across from the arch and the mausoleum, and a short way down a lane, are the Roman ruins of the town of Glanum. There, visitors can picnic under olive trees and walk along the paths of imagined streets, strolling among the ruins of fountains, shops, baths and houses.
 
At Vaison-la-Romaine, near Orange, the ruins of another provincial Roman town are smack in the center of the modern town. As I walked among the ancient villas floored in colored marble, I shut out the noise of passing cars. A short walk away, I found the one-arch Roman bridge over the Ouvèze River. It survived a German bomb in World War II and a flash flood in 1992 that killed 35 villagers.

In the end, what makes discovery of this terrain so memorable are the encounters with those who revel in their experiences with it.

Late one Sunday afternoon in July, I went exploring near Arles with Luc Long, an archaeologist and scuba diver who specializes in recovering aquatic artifacts. It was his team that had found the trove with the bust of Caesar.

He parked the car on a quiet road in front of a hand-painted sign wired to a tree with the address of a farm that sells olive oil. We walked down a dirt path along a wall of crumbling arches that had once been two parallel aqueducts. The site is called Barbegal, although it is hard to find in any guidebook.

Suddenly, we were at the top of a hill of stone, an expanse of farmland below us. He showed me the site of what had once been a vast flour mill powered not by animals, but by two rows of eight waterwheels fed by the aqueduct. Nothing resembling a mill remains — although there is a small architectural model of it at the Arles museum. Only the series of stones bear witness to what once stood. We climbed down the slippery rocks to a vault at the bottom, the place where wheat had been ground into flour.

“Imagine a great factory,” Mr. Long said. “There is poetry to be found here.” By then, a sliver of a moon had risen; the sky had turned from red-orange to slate blue. The only sound was that of a dog barking from somewhere in an olive grove at the top of the hill.

It reminded me of the bird at the amphitheater in Orange, the one that had sung to Carmen as her shadow moved.



http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/travel/17romfrance.html?pagewanted=1&8dpc
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« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2009, 09:31:57 am »








                                  Amid the Glory of France, the Grandeur That Was Rome





By MAÏA DE LA BAUME
The New York Times
May 17, 2009

The most efficient way to discover Roman France is to take the high-speed train from Paris to Nîmes and rent a car. From there, head northeast to the Pont du Gard, then south to Arles and then north to Orange. The ruins of the provincial towns of St.-Rémy-de-Provence and Vaison-la-Romaine are easy detours along the way. (Don’t try to drive in the towns of Nîmes or Arles; there is little parking, a lot of traffic and both are walkable.)

If there is an extra day, take the train from Orange to Lyon. Once the capital of Roman Gaul, with Gallo-Roman and Renaissance sites, if offers a handful of must-see museums, plus some of the best dining in France. There you will find Jacques Lasfargues, the director of the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine of Lyon, a natural-born storyteller who will hold you in thrall.
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« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2009, 09:35:07 am »









WHERE TO STAY



New Hôtel La Baume (21, rue Nationale, Nîmes; 33-4-6676-2842; www.new-hotel-baume-nimes.federal-hotel.com) is a former private mansion with an enchanting open-sky courtyard, a 17th-century staircase and a vaulted breakfast room. The 34 rooms are modern and well-equipped; a double room starts at 140 euros ($190.40 at $1.36 to the euro).

Hôtel d’Arlatan (26, rue du Sauvage, Arles; 33-4-9093-5666; www.hotel-arlatan.fr) has double rooms starting at 107 euros in a 15th-century building; in addition, the building houses the remnants of ancient baths.

Grand Hôtel Nord-Pinus (Place du Forum, Arles; 33-4-9093-4444; www.nord-pinus.com) is a hotel haunted by the memory of its illustrious former guests including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and a number of famous bullfighters. Double rooms start at 160 euros.
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« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2009, 09:36:17 am »









WHERE TO EAT



Le Restaurant de la Reine Jeanne (12, boulevard Mirabeau, St.-Rémy-de-Provence; 33-4-9092-1533; www.auberge-reinejeanne.com) is open every day during the summer and closed on Mondays from November to January, offering a variety of meats prepared à la provençale. Try the roasted loin of lamb with herbes de Provence and mustard; pair it with a glass of Tavel, the local rosé. A three-course menu (with cheese or dessert) costs 29 euros.

Aux Plaisirs des Halles (4, rue Littré, Nîmes; 33-4-6636-0102; www.auxplaisirsdeshalles.com) is closed on Sunday and Monday. This elegant bistro has a lavish regional menu for 27 euros. Try the signature brandade and savor it on the patio.

Le Petit Bofinger (2, boulevard des Arènes, Nîmes; 33-4-6667-6869; www.la-grande-bourse.com/fr/petit_bofinger.html) is open daily. This popular brasserie has a prime location opposite the arena. For 27.50 euros, the menu includes a starter, main course, dessert and wine.

La Chassagnette (Le Sambuc, Arles; 33-4-9097-2696; lachassagnette.blogspirit.com) is open from Thursday to Monday (reservations suggested). The chef is known for his inventive cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients from his organic vegetable garden nearby. The lunch menu with aioli hake and spring vegetables costs 34 euros (the menu changes occasionally). Dinner menus with starter, main course and dessert run between 57 and 95 euros.

Le Galoubet (18, rue du Docteur Fanton, Arles; 33-4-9093-1811) is a five-minute walk from the arenas. The bistro, renowned for its foie gras, was once frequented by Vincent van Gogh. The 25-euro menu with starter, main course and dessert includes braised stuffed artichokes and hand-minced tartar. Closed Sunday and Monday at lunchtime.
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« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2009, 09:38:18 am »









WHAT TO DO




At the Théâtre Antique d’Orange, the Roman theater in Orange, the annual festival of Les Chorégies d’Orange will showcase five operas and concerts, performed between July 11 and Aug. 4.

Verdi’s “Traviata,” which will be conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, will be performed on July 11 and July 15. Georges Prêtre will conduct Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” on Aug. 1 and Aug. 4.

The symphonic concerts will take place on July 18 with a program of Tchaikovsky and Berlioz conducted by Mr. Chung with Renaud Capuçon as the violin soloist, and on Aug. 3, featuring works by Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, with Eivind Gullberg Jensen conducting and the pianist Hélène Grimaud as soloist.

Tickets can be reserved by phone (33-4-9034-2424) or through www.choregies.com (English version available). Opera tickets are 50 to 223 euros and concert tickets are 17 to 63 euros; tickets are half-priced for students under 25.

From Aug. 23 to 30, the Roman Festival of Arles will host free theatrical performances in the major Roman sites of the city, and on Aug. 29 there will be gladiator tournaments, chariot races and Roman parades as part of an 8-euro spectacle.



Information available only in French at www.festival-arelate.com.
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« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2009, 09:39:39 am »








ADDRESSES



Musée Départemental de l’Arles Antique; Presqu’île du Cirque Romain, Arles; 33-4-9018-8888; reservations (individual and group activities): 33-4-9018-8908; www.arles-antique.cg13.fr.

Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine; 17, rue Cléberg, Lyon; 33-4-7238-4930; reservations: 33-4-7238-8191; www.musees-gallo-romains.com.

Tourism Board of Nîmes; 6, rue Auguste; 33-4-6658-3800; www.ot-nimes.fr.

Pont du Gard aqueduct; 400 route du Pont du Gard in Vers-Pont-du-Gard; 33-8-2090-3330; reservations (for groups): 33-4-6637-5110; www.pontdugard.fr. The Pont du Gard museum is closed from Nov. 17 until Dec. 21 and from Jan. 5 until March 15. However, there is free access to the bridge during these periods.
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« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2009, 11:04:11 pm »








Traces of Roman Gaul remain throughout the French countryside, from Arras in the north to Dijon in the center and Fréjus in the south.

The Pont du Gard aqueduct is the highest Roman bridge-aqueduct in the world.



Photo:
Ed Alcock
for The New York Times
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« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2009, 11:12:44 pm »



ROMAN GAUL
50 BCE-486CE
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« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2009, 07:09:58 am »



In 7 B.C., at a point along the Via Aurelia, the Romans erected a monument to the emperor Augustus.









                                                         V I A   A U R E L I A




                                                 The Roman Empire's Lost Highway


                               French amateur archaeologist Bruno Tassan fights to preserve


                           a neglected 2,000-year-old ancient interstate in southern Provence






By Joshua Hammer
Photographs by
Clay McLachlan
Smithsonian magazine,
June 2009

At first glance, it didn't appear that impressive: a worn limestone pillar, six feet high and two feet wide, standing slightly askew beside a country road near the village of Pélissanne in southern France.

"A lot of people pass by without knowing what it is," Bruno Tassan, 61, was saying, as he tugged aside dense weeds that had grown over the column since he last inspected it. Tassan was showing me a milliaire, or milestone, one of hundreds planted along the highways of Gaul at the time of the Roman Empire. The inscription had worn away ages ago, but Tassan, a documentary filmmaker and amateur archaeologist,
was well versed in the artifact's history.

This particular stone, set in place in 3 B.C. during the reign of Augustus, was once a perfect cylinder, set along the nearly 50 miles between Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) and Arelate (Arles). "It's one of the last standing," Tassan said.
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« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2009, 07:23:00 am »











In 12 B.C., Augustus, at the height of his power, commanded his legions to build a highway that would traverse the province of Gallia Narbonensis, or southern Gaul, the last of whose unruly tribes had only recently been subdued. Over the next ten years, surveyors, engineers and construction crews carried off one of antiquity's greatest feats: grading and paving a road from the mountains above the Mediterranean near modern Nice to the Rhone River, 180 miles distant. For nearly four centuries, the Via Aurelia served as the region's principal artery, over which armored legions, chari­oteers, couriers, traders, government officials and countless others passed. It was the Interstate 95 of its time, complete with rest stops and chariot service stations every 12 to 20 miles—a crucial part of a 62,000-mile road network that extended from the Iberian Peninsula to Asia Minor. Along this paved and finely graded route, Rome maintained its control over far-flung provinces, developed commerce, and disseminated its culture and architecture. But as the empire began its long decline—Rome would fall in the fifth century A.D.—the Via Aurelia began to disintegrate. In contrast, the Via Domitia, an even older Roman route, constructed around 122 B.C. in neighboring Languedoc-Rousillon, has been well preserved, thanks to the intervention of local governments and private interests.
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« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2009, 07:24:40 am »










Tassan and a handful of fellow enthusiasts have appointed themselves custodians of the Via Aurelia. During the past few years, he has matched pre-medieval maps to 21st-century aerial photographs, located broken bits of ancient macadam and tried to protect a handful of 2,000-year-old stone walls, sarcophagi, aqueducts, bridges and road markers that point to the engineering sophistication, as well as the reach, of ancient Rome. He has created a Web site devoted to the Via Aurelia, conducted tours for growing numbers of Gaulophiles and hopes to make a documentary about the road.

Tassan has also sought to solve some of the lingering questions about the highway, including how the Romans managed to transport milestones, weighing an average of 4,400 pounds, from rock quarries to road-building sites, often a dozen or so miles away. The Roman legal code in place at the time forbade chariots from carrying loads heavier than 1,082 pounds, the maximum that the vehicles' wooden axles could safely support. "Did they carry them on foot? Did they get a special exemption?" Tassan wondered aloud, as he scrutinized the worn Pélissanne pillar. "It remains," he says, "a mystery."

Experts on the era acknowledge that Tassan has made a unique contribution to ancient Gaulian scholarship. "Everyone knows about the Roman amphitheaters of Arles and Nîmes," says Michel Martin, curator in chief of the library at the Museum of Arles and Ancient Provence. "But the Via Aurelia is a largely lost piece of Roman history. Bruno has done much to keep it alive and to protect the little that's left."

A series of military triumphs paved the way for construction of one of the greatest roads through the empire. During the second century B.C., the region that is now France was a no man's land of warring tribes—a vast stretch of untamed territory lying between Rome and its colony of Hispania (present-day Spain and Portugal). In 125 B.C., citizens of the Greek colony of Massalia (Massillia in Latin), now Marseille, a port since 600 B.C., came under attack from the powerful Salyen tribe, a Celtic confederation whose holdings extended from the upper Rhone to the Alps. Marseille appealed to its nearest power, Rome, for help; in 123 B.C., Roman consul Caius Sextius Calvinus led a force of legionnaires to face the Celts, who were legendary for their ferocity. ("They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses," the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote of them in the first century B.C.) The Roman legion thrashed the tribe at the Celtic garrison of Entremont, a fortification set on a 1,200-foot-high plateau. The victorious Sextius Calvinus then founded the settlement of Aquae Sextiae on the site of nearby thermal baths, giving the Romans a firm foothold in southern Gaul.
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« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2009, 07:27:19 am »











Nearly 20 years later, a Teutonic horde stormed across the Rhine River intent upon seizing Aquae Sextiae. A small force of Roman soldiers lured the invaders toward the town; 3,000 troops then attacked the Teutons from behind, killing 90,000 and capturing 20,000. "By the conditions of the surrender [of the Teutons] three hundred of their married women were to be handed over to the Romans," the Christian scholar Jerome wrote in the fifth century A.D. "When the Teuton matrons heard of this stipulation, they first begged the [Roman] consul that they might be set apart to minister in the temples of Ceres and Venus; and then when they failed to obtain their request and were removed by the [guards], they slew their little children and next morning were all found dead in each other's arms, having strangled themselves in the night."

After the slaughter of the Teutons, Rome consolidated its control over the region. In 62 B.C., the last southern tribe to rise against the empire was subjugated. Julius Caesar established a naval base at Fréjus and founded Arles as a settlement for retired veterans of his Sixth Legion, whom he had led to a series of bloody victories in Asia Minor. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C., his adopted son Octavian, later renamed Augustus, rose to power and made the development of Gallia Narbonensis, his province in southern Gaul, a priority.
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« Reply #14 on: July 12, 2009, 07:31:57 am »









One afternoon I drove through a series of long tunnels north of Nice to La Turbie, a medieval village hugging the hills 1,600 feet above the Mediterranean. Here, where the Alps jut sharply down to the sea, the Romans built a section of their new highway in 12 B.C. Surveyors, engineers and construction crews improved and linked paths that had existed since the time of the Greeks, cleaving passes through the mountains, introducing a sophisticated drainage system, erecting milestones and standardizing the road width to 15 feet—wide enough for two chariots to pass. It wound along the rugged coast to Fréjus, then cut across fertile plains to the Rhone. There, the thoroughfare merged with the Via Domitia, running west through the Spanish Pyrenees. When the two roads met—a convergence comparable to the 1869 linking of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah—Roman control over the Mediterranean basin was cemented.

The Romans commemorated the feat with a victory monument at La Turbie, placing, in 7 B.C., a statue of Augustus on a limestone cylinder surrounded by 24 Doric columns. This is what I had come to see: I hiked along a wooded footpath to a hilltop clearing, from which the 115-foot-high Tropaeum, or Trophy, of Augustus—still partially standing after two millennia—dominates the landscape. The emperor's statue has disappeared, and only four of the marble columns that encircled the monument remain intact. One side of the great marble base features reliefs of winged deities flanking a Latin inscription that hails Augustus and the pacification of Gaul. Sheltering myself from a fierce wind, I gazed down the rocky coast of Italy; directly below, the hotels and villas of Monaco glittered at the edge of the turquoise sea. It seemed a fitting place to proclaim Rome's glory.

The Via Julia Augusta, as the highway was initially called, greatly improved overland travel in the empire. Roman legions could shuttle long distances along it at an average speed of almost four miles per hour. Messengers could travel between Arles and Rome, a distance of about 550 miles, in a mere eight days. "The highway was a means for Rome to assert its power," curator Martin told me. "Its real purpose was to move troops and public couriers at the fastest rate possible." By the third century A.D., the highway was known as the Via Aurelia and regarded as an extension of the empire's road from Rome to Pisa, commissioned in 241 B.C. by the censor Caius Aurelius Cotta.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2009, 07:34:55 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.
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