Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta
Lugdunum (modern: Lyon, France) was an
important Roman city in Gaul. The city was founded in 43 BC by
Lucius Munatius Plancus. It served as the capital of the Roman
Gallia Lugdunensis and was an important city in the
western half of the
Roman Empire for centuries. Two emperors, Claudius
and Caracalla, were born in Lugdunum. In the time period
69–192 AD the city population could be as large as 50,000 to
100,000. Even figures of up to 200,000 people are proposed by Albert
The original Roman city was situated west of the confluence of the
Rhône and Saône, on the
Fourvière heights. By the late centuries of
the empire much of the population was located in the
valley at the foot of Fourvière.
2 Pre-Roman settlements and the area before the founding of the city
3 Founding of the Roman city
4 Attention from the Emperors
5 Growth and prosperity in the first centuries of the Empire
6 Christianity and the first martyrs
7 Battle of Lugdunum
8 Decline of
Lugdunum and the Empire
9 See also
12 External links
The Roman city was founded as Colonia Copia Felix Munatia, a name
invoking prosperity and the blessing of the gods. The city became
increasingly referred to as
Lugdunum (and occasionally Lugudunum)
by the end of the 1st century AD. During the Middle Ages,
Lyon by natural sound change.
Lugdunum is a latinization of the Gaulish *Lugudunon, meaning
"Fortress (or hill) of (the god) Lugus" or, alternately "Fortress of
the champion" (if *lugus is a common noun cognate with
Old Irish lug
"warrior, hero, fighter").
The Celtic god
Lugus was apparently popular in
Ireland and Britain as
is found in medieval Irish literature as Lug(h) and in medieval Welsh
literature as Lleu (also spelled Llew).
According to Pseudo-Plutarch,
Lugdunum takes its name from an
otherwise unattested Gaulish word lugos, that he says means "raven"
(κόρακα), and the Gaulish word for an eminence or high ground
(τοπον έξέχοντα), dunon.
An early folk-etymology of Gaulish Lugduno as "Desired Mountain", is
recorded in a gloss in the 9th-century Endlicher's Glossary, but
this may in fact reflect a native Frankish speaker's attempt at
linking the first element of the name, Lugu- (which, by the time this
gloss was composed, would have been pronounced lu'u, the -g- having
become silent) with the similar-sounding Germanic word for "love",
Another early medieval folk-etymology of the name, found in gloss on
the Latin poet Juvenal, connects the element Lugu- to the Latin word
for "light", lux (luci- in compounds) and translates the name as
"Shining Hill" (lucidus mons).
Pre-Roman settlements and the area before the founding of the
Archeological evidence shows
Lugdunum was a pre-Gallic settlement
as far back as the neolithic era, and a Gallic settlement with
continuous occupation from the 4th century BC. It was situated on the
Fourvière heights above the
Saône river. There was trade with
Campania for ceramics and wine, and use of some Italic-style home
furnishings before the Roman conquest.
Gaul was conquered for the Romans by
Julius Caesar between 58 and 53
BC. His description, De Bello Gallico, is our principal written source
of knowledge of pre-Roman Gaul, but there is no specific mention of
Founding of the Roman city
In 44 BC, ten years after the conquest of Gaul,
Julius Caesar was
assassinated and civil war erupted. According to the historian Cassius
Dio, in 43 BC, the
Roman Senate ordered Munatius Plancus and
Lepidus, governors of central and Transalpine
Gaul respectively, to
found a city for a group of Roman refugees who had been expelled from
Vienne (a town about 30 km to the south) by the
were encamped at the confluence of the
Saône and Rhône rivers. Dio
Cassius says this was to keep them from joining
Mark Antony and
bringing their armies into the developing conflict.
Epigraphic evidence suggests Munatius Plancus was the principal
founder of Lugdunum.
Lugdunum seems to have had a population of several thousand at the
time Roman foundation. The citizens were administratively assigned to
the Galerian tribe. The aqueduct of the Monts d'Or, completed around
20BC, was the first of at least four aqueducts supplying water to the
Within 50 years
Lugdunum increased greatly in size and importance,
becoming the administrative centre of Roman
Gaul and Germany. By the
end of the reign of Augustus,
Lugdunum as the
junction of four major roads (the Via Agrippa): south to Narbonensis,
Massilia and Italy, north to the
Rhine river and Germany, northwest to
the sea (the English Channel), and west to Aquitania.
Antoninianus struck under
The proximity to the frontier with
important for the next four centuries, as a staging ground for further
Roman expansion into Germany, as well as the "de facto" capital city
and administrative centre of the Gallic provinces. Its large and
cosmopolitan population made it the commercial and financial heart of
the northwestern provinces as well. The imperial mint established a
branch in 15 BC, during the reign of Augustus, and produced
coinage for the next three centuries (see picture).
Attention from the Emperors
Ancient Theatre of Fourvière
In its 1st century,
Lugdunum was many times the object of attention or
visits by the emperors or the imperial family. Agrippa, Drusus,
Germanicus (born himself in Lugdunum) were among the
governor generals who served in Lugdunum.
Augustus is thought to have
visited at least three times between 16 and 8 BC. Drusus lived in
Lugdunum between 13 and 9 BC. In 10 BC his son
future emperor) was born there.
Tiberius stopped in
5–4 BC, on his way to the Rhine, and again in 21 AD,
campaigning against the Andecavi. Caligula's visit in 39–40 was
longer, stranger, and better documented by Suetonius.
Nero also contributed to the city's importance and growth.
In 12 BC, Drusus completed an administrative census of the area
and dedicated an altar to his stepfather
Augustus at the junction of
the two rivers. Perhaps to promote a policy of conciliation and
integration, all the notable men of the three parts of
invited. Caius Julius Vercondaridubnus, a member of the
was installed as the first priest of the new imperial cult sanctuary,
which was subsequently known as the Junction Sanctuary or the
Sanctuary of the Three Gauls. The altar, with its distinctive vertical
end poles, was engraved with the names of 60 Gallic tribes, and was
featured prominently on coins from the
Lugdunum mint for many years.
The "council of the three Gauls" continued to be held annually for
nearly three centuries, even after
Gaul was divided into provinces.
Amphithéâtre des Trois-Gaules, in Lyon
Gaul became increasingly Romanized. By 19 AD at
least one temple, and the first amphitheater in
Gaul (now known as the
Amphithéâtre des Trois-Gaules) had been built on the slopes of the
Croix-Rousse hill. In 48 AD, emperor
Claudius asked the Senate to
grant the notable men of the three Gauls the right to accede to the
Senate. His request was granted and an engraved bronze plaque of the
speech (the Claudian Tables) was erected in Lugdunum. Today, the
pieces of the huge plaque are the pride of the Gallo-Roman Museum in
Suetonius reported Caligula's visit to
Lugdunum in 39-40 AD at
the beginning of his third consulate as characteristic of his reign.
Spectacles were staged at the amphitheater to honor and entertain him
and his guest, Ptolemy, king of
Caligula later had
murdered). A rhetoric contest was held in which the losers were
required to expunge their work with their tongues. He auctioned
furniture brought from the palace in Rome, assigning prices and
Claudius was born in
Lugdunum in 10 BC and lived there for at
least two years. As emperor, he returned in 43 AD en route to his
conquest of Britain and stopped again after its victorious conclusion
in 47. A fountain honoring his victory has been uncovered. He
continued to take a supportive interest in the town, making the
notables of the town eligible to serve in the Roman Senate, as
During Claudius' reign, the city's strategic importance was enhanced
by the bridging of the Rhône river. Its depth and swampy valley had
been an obstacle to travel and communication to the east. The new
route, termed the compendium, shortened the route south to Vienne and
made the roads from
Germany more direct. By the
end of his reign, the city's official name had become Colonia Copia
Claudia Augusta Lugudunenisium, abbreviated CCC AVG LVG.
Nero also took an interest in the city. Citizens of Lugdunum
contributed four million sesterces to the recovery after the Great
Fire of Rome in 64 AD. In reciprocal appreciation, Nero
contributed the same amount to the rebuilding of
Lugdunum after a
similarly devastating fire a few years later. Although the
destructiveness of the fire is described in a letter from Seneca to
Lucilius, archeologists have not been able to uncover a
confirmatory layer of ash.
The Lyonnais admiration of
Nero was not universally shared; tyranny,
extravagance, and negligence fostered resentment, and coups were
planned. In March 68 AD, a Romanized Aquitainian named Caius
Julius Vindex, who was governor of
Gallia Lugdunensis led an uprising
intended to replace
Nero with Galba, a Roman governor of Spain. The
citizens of Vienne, however, responded more enthusiastically than the
Lyonnais, most of whom remained loyal to Nero. A small force from
Vienne briefly besieged Lugdunum, but withdrew when
defeated by the Rhine legions a few weeks later at Vesontio. Despite
the defeat of Vindex, rebellion grew.
Nero committed suicide in June
Galba was proclaimed emperor. The loyalty of
not appreciated by his successor, Galba, who punished some of Nero's
supporters by confiscations of property.
In another turnabout for Lugdunum, Galba's policies were immediately
unpopular, and in January, 69 AD, the Rhine legions quickly threw
their support to
Vitellius as emperor. They arrived at friendly
Lugdunum, where they were persuaded by the Lyonnais to punish nearby
Vienne. Vienne quickly laid down weapons and paid a "ransom" to
forestall plundering. Meanwhile,
Vitellius arrived in Lugdunum, where,
according to Tacitus, he formally declared himself Imperator, punished
unreliable soldiers, and celebrated with feasts, and with games in the
amphitheater. Fortunately for Lugdunum, the would-be emperor and his
army hurried into Italy, defeated Otho, and was in turn defeated by
Vespasian and the army of the East, bringing the chaos of the Year of
the Four Emperors to an end.
Despite a lack of imperial visits for most of the next century,
Lugdunum prospered, until
Septimius Severus and the Battle of Lugdunum
(see below) brought devastation in 197 AD.
Growth and prosperity in the first centuries of the Empire
Aqueduct of the Gier
In the 2nd century,
Lugdunum prospered and grew to a population of
40,000 to 200,000 persons. Four aqueducts brought water to the
city's fountains, public baths, and wealthy homes. The aqueducts were
well engineered and included several siphons.
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It continued to be a provincial capital with additional government
functions and services such as the mint and customs service. Lugdunum
had at least two banks and became the principal manufacturing center
for pottery, metal working, and weaving in Gaul. Lyonnais terra cotta,
pottery and wine were traded throughout Gaul, and many other items
were crafted for export.
The city itself was run by a "senate" of decurions (the ordo
decurionum) and a hierarchy of magistrates: quaestors, aediles, and
duumvirs. The social classes of the time consisted of the decurions at
the top, who could aspire to Senate status, followed by the knights
(equites), and the Augustales, six of whom were in charge of the
municipal imperial cult. This latter status was the highest
distinction to which a wealthy freedman could aspire. Many of the
wealthy merchants and craftsmen were freedmen. Below them were the
workmen and slaves.
The Rhône and
Saône rivers were navigable, as were most of the
rivers of Gaul, and river traffic was heavy. The Lyonnais company of
boatmen (nautae) was the largest and "most honored" in Gaul.
Archeological evidence suggests the right bank of the
Saône had the
largest concentration of wharves, quays and warehouses. Lyonnais
boatmen dominated the wine trade from
Narbonensis and Italy, as well
as oil from Spain, to the rest of Gaul.
The heavy concentration of trade made
Lugdunum one of the most
cosmopolitan cities of Gaul, and inscriptions attest to a large
foreign-born population, especially Italians, Greeks, and immigrants
from the oriental provinces of
Asia Minor and Syria-Palestine.
There is evidence of numerous temples and shrines in Lugdunum.
Traditional Gallic gods like mallet-bearing
Sucellus and the mother
goddesses called the
Matres (depicted with cornucopiae) continued to
be worshiped somewhat syncretistically along with the Roman gods.
Additional religious cults came with the oriental immigrants, who
brought the eastern mystery religions to the Rhône valley. A major
shrine of the Phrygian goddess
Cybele was built in nearby Vienne, and
she also seems to have found special favor in
Lugdunum in the late 1st
century and 2nd century.
Christianity and the first martyrs
The cosmopolitan hospitality to eastern religions may have allowed the
first attested Christian community in
Gaul to be established in
Lugdunum in the 2nd century, led by a bishop Pothinus (fr:Pothin de
Lyon)—who probably was Greek. In 177 it also became the first in
Gaul to suffer persecution and martyrdom.
The event was described in a letter from the Christians in
counterparts in Asia, later retrieved and preserved by Eusebius. There
is no record of a cause or a triggering event but mob violence against
the Christians in the streets culminated in a public interrogation in
the forum by the tribune and town magistrates. The Christians publicly
confessed their faith and were imprisoned until the arrival of Legate
of Lugdonensis, who gave his authority to the persecution. About 40 of
the Christians were martyred - dying in prison, beheaded, or killed by
beasts in the arena as a public spectacle. Among the latter were
Bishop Pothinus, Blandina, Doctor Attalus, Ponticus, and the deacon
Sanctus of Vienne. Their ashes were thrown into the Rhône.
Nevertheless, the Christian community either survived or was
reconstituted, and under Bishop
Irenaeus it continued to grow in size
Battle of Lugdunum
Main article: Battle of Lugdunum
The 2nd century ended with another struggle for imperial succession.
Pertinax was murdered in 193, and four generals again
"contended for the purple". Two of the rivals,
Clodius Albinus and
Septimius Severus, initially formed a political alliance. Albinus was
a former legate of
Britannia and commanded legions in Britain and
Septimius Severus commanded the Pannonian legions, and led them
Didius Julianus near Rome in 193, and defeated
Pescennius Niger in 194. Severus consolidated his power in Rome and
broke his alliance with Albinus. The Senate supported Severus and
declared Albinus a public enemy.
Clodius Albinus had settled with his army near
Lugdunum early in 195.
There, he had himself proclaimed
Augustus and made plans to counter
Severus. Under his control, the
Lugdunum mint issued coins celebrating
his "clemency", as well as one dedicated to the "Genius of Lugdunum."
He was joined by an army under Lucius Novius Rufus, the governor of
Hispania Tarraconensis. They successfully attacked the German troops
Virius Lupus but were unable to deter them from supporting Severus.
Severus brought his army from
Germany toward the end of 196.
The armies fought an initial, inconclusive engagement at Tinurtium
(Tournus), about 60 km up the
Saône from Lugdunum. Albinus
retreated with his forces toward Lugdunum.
On the 19th of February, 197, Severus again attacked Clodius Albinus
to the northwest of the city. Albinus' army was defeated in the bloody
and decisive Battle of Lugdunum.
Dio Cassius described 300,000 men
involved in the battle: although this was one of the largest battles
involving Roman armies known, this number is assumed to be an
exaggeration. Albinus committed suicide in a house near the Rhône;
his head was sent to Rome as a warning to his supporters. His defeated
cohorts were dissolved and the victorious legions punished those in
Lugdunum who had supported Albinus, by confiscation, banishment, or
execution. The city was plundered or at least severely damaged by the
Legio I Minervia
Legio I Minervia remained camped in
Lugdunum from 198 to 211.
Lugdunum and the Empire
Historical and archeological evidence indicates that
fully recovered from the devastation of this battle. A major
reorganization of imperial administration begun at the end of the 3rd
century during the reign of
Diocletian and completed a few decades
later by Constantine further reduced the importance of Lugdunum. This
reorganization standardized size and status of provinces, splitting
many of the larger. The new provinces were grouped in larger
Lugdunum became the capital of a much
smaller region containing only two cities besides Lugdunum:
Langres. The new governor bore the title of consularis. The mint was
retained at Lugdunum, as was an administrative tax office and a
state-run wool clothing factory.
Lugdunum was no longer the chief city and administrative capital of
Gaul. Although the city continued, there seems to have been a
population shift from the Fourviere heights where the original Roman
city was situated to the river valley below. Other evidence suggests
other cities surpassed
Lugdunum as trading centers.
Though the Western Empire persisted another century and a half, the
border regions extending along the
Rhine River in
Germany to the
Danube River in
Dacia became far more important from a military and
strategic standpoint. Cities like Augusta Treverorum (Trier) eclipsed
Lugdunum in importance. The status of the western provinces declined
further when Constantine made
Byzantium (later named Constantinople
after his death), the capital of the Eastern part of the Empire.
As the Western Empire disintegrated in the 5th century, Lugdunum
became the principal city of the Burgundian kingdom.
History of Lyon
^ Travel Lyon, France: Illustrated Guide, Phrasebook & Maps, p. 9,
at Google Books
^ The Roman Remains of Northern and Eastern France: A Guidebook, p.
388, at Google Books
^ Roman Cities, p. 176, at Google Books
^ Roman Cities, p. 335, at Google Books
^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 46: Lepidus and Lucius Plancus
[...] founded the town called Lugudunum, now known as Lugdunum
^ Delattre, Charles (ed.), Pseudo-Plutarque. De fluviorum et montium
nominibus et de iis quae in illis inveniuntur, Presses Univ.
Septentrion, 2011, pp. 109-111.
^ Lugduno - desiderato monte: dunum enim montem Lugduno: "desired
mountain"; because dunum is mountain"
^ Endlicher Glossary
^ Toorians, Lauran, “Endlicher’s Glossary, an attempt to write its
history”, in: García Alonso (Juan Luis) (ed.), Celtic and other
languages in ancient Europe (2008), pp. 153–184.
Lugdunum est civitas Gallie quasi lucidum dunam, id est lucidus
mons, dunam enim in Greco mons.
^ Andreas Hofeneder, Die Religion der Kelten in den antiken
literarischen Zeugnissen: Sammlung, Übersetzung und Kommentierung,
Volume 2, Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2008, pp. 571-572.
^ Mathieu Poux, Hugues Savay-Guerraz,
Lyon avant Lugdunum, Infolio
éditions, 2003, 151 p. (ISBN 2-88474-106-2)
^ Epistulae ad Lucilium, 91.
^ See the magazinz L'Express n°3074
Dio Cassius. Roman History. XLVI, 50.
André Pelletier. Histoire de Lyon: de la capitale les Gaules à la
métropole européene. Editions Lyonnaises d'Art et d'Histoire. Lyon:
2004. ISBN 2-84147-150-0
Seneca. Apocolocyntosis. VII.
Media related to
Lugdunum at Wikimedia Commons
Roman colonies in Europe
Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa
Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium