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Musée Saint-Remi: cenotaph to Lucius and Gaius Caesar ("Principis Juventutis", Princes of Youth) by "Civitas (Foederata?) Remorum" which was discovered in the 1970s near Porte Bazée
To his mother. Rheims, June 21, 1739 -
We have now been settled almost three weeks in
this city, which is more considerable upon account
of its size and antiquity, than from the number of
its inhabitants, or any advantages of commerce. (..) The streets in
general have but a melancholy aspect, the houses
all old; the public walks run along the side of a
great moat under the ramparts, where one hears a
continual croaking of frogs; the country round
about is one great plain covered with vines, which
at this time of the year afford no very pleasing
prospect, as being not above a foot high. What
pleasures the place denies to the sight, it makes
up to the palate; since you have nothing to drink
but the best champaigne in the world, and all sort
of provisions equally good.
Thomas Gray - Letters from France and Italy in 1739-1741
Rheims or Reims is the capital of the province of Champagne in France. This is one of the most elegant cities in France, situate in the middle of a large plain, on the river Veste, and encompassed with a wall about three miles in circumference. The houses are in general well-built, the streets wide, and the churches and other public buildings magnificent. (..) The inhabitants of Rheims have a considerable trade in wine, the neighbouring country producing excellent Champagne. (..) 'Tis a very ancient city, as appears by the several Roman monuments that have been found here of late years; and it is even mentioned by Caesar, under the name of Civitas Rhemorum, as one of the most potent cities in Gaul.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
Pliny mentions the "federal Remi" in a list of Gallic nations, by this indicating that they were bound by a foedus (alliance) to the Romans and thus enjoyed a privileged legal status.
Porte de Mars (external side) in a plate from "Alexandre de Laborde - The Monuments of France Chronologically Classified - 1816-1836"
Caesar leads back his army to Durocortorum of the Remi, having summoned a council of Gaul to assemble at that place (Book VI). Caesar, being informed by frequent embassies from the Remi, that the Bellovaci (..), and the neighboring states, (..) were raising an army, and assembling at a general rendezvous, designing with their united forces to invade the territories of the Suessiones, who were put under the patronage of the Remi: and moreover, considering that not only his honor, but his interest was concerned, that such of his allies, as deserved well of the republic, should suffer no calamity; he again draws the eleventh legion out of quarters, and writes besides to Caius Fabius, to march with his two legions to the country of the Suessiones; and he sends to Trebonius for one of his two legions (Book VIII).
Julius Caesar - The Gallic Wars - Translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn
But the most noteworthy of all the tribes in this region of Celtica is that of the Remi; their metropolis, Duricortora, is most thickly settled and is the city that entertains the Roman governors.
Strabo - Geography - Book IV - Loeb Classical Library - 1923
Durocortorum/Civitas Remorum, owing to its loyalty to the Romans, became the capital of Gallia Belgica, one of the provinces into which the territories conquered by Caesar were divided into by Emperor Augustus.
Porte de Mars: (above) town side; (below) external side
This city, so inseparably connected with the history of the Frankish monarchy, retains many vestiges of the Roman domination. The 4 gates of the city were called respectively the Porta Martis, Porta Cereris, Porta Veneris and Porta Bacchi; the first two still preserve their appellations. The ancient Porta Martis (..), though in ruins, is a splendid triumphal arch. The fragments of the Corinthian columns are most delicately fluted. (..) This noble relic has undergone strange vicissitudes. It was employed as the city gate until 1554 when earthworks were raised against it and the adjoining gate opened. It was uncovered in 1595, but afterwards walled over again. In 1677 it was uncovered, but the apertures were walled. (..) The ramparts and fosse have been planted and converted into agreeable public walks surrounding the town.
John Murray III - Hand-book for Travellers in France - 1843
The antiquities of this city particularly merit a traveller's attention, among which the triumphal arch, dug up in 1677, is the most remarkable. This arch was formerly the northern gate, supposed to be erected to the honour of Julius Caesar, or according to others of Julian the Apostate, when after the conquest of the Germans he passed by Rheims in his way to Paris. It is composed of three arches of the Corinthian order, that in the middle being thirty-five feet high, and twelve broad, the basso-reliefs of which represent a woman with a Cornucopia to show the fertility of the country. That on the right hath Remus and Romulus sucking a wolf, with the shepherd Faustulus and Laurentia his wife, standing by them. On the third arch, Leda is seen in Jupiter's embraces, metamorphosed into a swan, and Cupid holding a lighted torch in his hand. Nugent
Today, in the lack of epigraphic evidence of a dedication, the arch is dated ca 180-230; the reliefs do not seem to suggest it was erected to celebrate a military victory. The reference to Mars origins from a small temple to the god which according to tradition was situated near the arch.
Porte de Mars: (left/centre) elements of the original decoration; (right) XIXth century reconstruction of the assumed aspect of one of the pillars
Do not let us talk then of restoration. The thing is a Lie from beginning to end. You may make a model of a building as you may of a corpse, and your model may have the shell of the old walls within it, as your cast might have the skeleton, with what advantage I neither see, nor care: but the old building is destroyed, and that more totally and mercilessly than if it had sunk into a heap of dust, or melted into a mass of clay. (..) But, it is said, there may come a necessity for restoration! Granted. Look the necessity full in the face, and understand it on its own terms. It is a necessity for destruction. Accept it as such, pull the building down, throw its stones into neglected corners, make ballast of them, or mortar, if you will; but do it honestly, and do not set up a Lie in their place. And look that necessity in the face before it comes, and you may prevent it. The principle of modern times (..) is to neglect buildings first, and restore them afterwards. Take proper care of your monuments, and you will not need to restore them.
John Ruskin - The Seven Lamps of Architecture - 1849
Some Roman and medieval monuments of France were restored/reconstructed in the XIXth century in a way which deprived them of their antique and venerable decay. Narcisse Brunette, who restored the arch in 1845, was criticized for having created a new ancient monument.
A remaining pillar of Porte Bazée (after "Porta Basilicaris", gate leading to the basilicas/early churches) at the southern end of the Roman town; (centre/right) two bizarre reliefs "à l'antique" which were placed on the site of the main arch when it was pulled down in 1753
About two hundred paces from the town, you may see the ruins of another triumphal arch. Nugent
Porte de Mars and Porte Bazée were placed at the ends of cardo maximus, the main north-south street of the Roman town; it was very long, while decumanus maximus, the main east-west street, was comparatively short, judging from the locations of the two (lost) arches at its ends. Cardo maximus was the urban section of a road which linked Lugdunum (Lyon) to Bononia (Boulogne-sur-Mer on the English Channel) across Durocortorum. Its construction was ordered by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, son-in-law of Emperor Augustus, who played a major role in structuring the Roman presence in Gaul.
(left) Cryptoporticus at Place du Forum; (right) Musée Saint-Remi: old photo of the interior
The stranger who has heard Rheims described as one of the oldest towns in France, will be surprised to find that it has so very little appearance of antiquity. Murray
In 1922 the demolition of the central food market to make room for a new one led to the discovery of the northern portico of the Forum of Durocortorum. Archaeologists would have liked to expand excavations, but Reims was recovering from the destructions of WWI and they were not allowed to do so. The tourism development strategy of the municipal authorities has not given much attention to this memory of the ancient town, which today serves as an uninspiring background for an open air theatre.
Almost all the monuments have been swept away from the Cathedral, but the sarcophagus of Jovinus, prefect of Rheims is here brought from the Abbey of St Nicaise (which was entirely demolished after 1793). It is composed of a single block of pure white marble, about 9 ft in length and 4 in height. Jovinus is represented in fine bas relief on horseback having just broken his spear in the neck of a lion which was leaping on a man. Many figures surround Jovinus, some, as well as himself, apparently portraits, beautiful in countenances, and perfectly made out in dress and accoutrements. A dead boar and other animals are in the foreground. (..) Much learned controversy has been excited on the subject of the bas reliefs. Some antiquarians are of opinion that they refer, though how it would be difficult to conjecture, to the defeat of the Alemanni ad 367 by this consular general. Jovinus was a Christian, but there is no token of his faith upon this very curious monument. Murray
The sarcophagus was most likely bought in Rome by Flavius Valerius Jovinus, commander in Gaul in ca 360-370, or by another important personage of Durocortorum. The identical faces of the knight and of a standing Roman military officer were reworked; it is very similar to a sarcophagus at the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna in which the head of the knight was left unfinished, and its overall design calls to mind Sarcofago Grande Ludovisi and a sarcophagus found along Via Appia.
Durocortorum was linked by roads to Colonia Agrippina (Cologne) and Augusta Treverorum (Trier) and close contacts with Roman Germany are testified to by the presence at Reims and its environs of several Columns to Jupiter, a monument which was typical of that country. The pedestals or the shafts of the columns were decorated with reliefs portraying other gods, very often Hercules who was popular with the troops on the Rhine border. You may wish to see similar columns in the museums of Frankfurt, Bonn and Mainz.
Reliefs on altars and tombstones are the most frequent exhibits of the Roman period in French and German archaeological museums. That portraying Cernunnos shows a step in the integration of local cults with the Roman/Greek ones. Cernunnos was a horned god of fertility; he wore a torc, a necklace/amulet which can be seen in other depictions of Gallic gods and warriors. Eventually Cernunnos and similar Gallic fertility gods were directly symbolized by Mercury who was portrayed having a horned animal at his side.
Archaeologists have not found an illustrated Roman book on the daily life in one of their towns, but a very large number of tombstone reliefs in France and in Germany, both near the Rhine and the Danube, can be used in place of it. It was not unusual for a Roman shoemaker, e.g. C. Julius Helius, to want a reference to his trade on his tombstone, but that which was found in 1852 at Reims shows the shoemaker in his shop and tells us a lot about how he worked, his clothes and his tools.
Musée Saint-Remi: (left) Mosaic of Bellerophon found in 1938 in the city centre; (right) Mosaic of the Two Gladiators found in 1890 in the environs of Reims
The myth of Bellerophon seems to have been particularly popular in Gaul (see a mosaic at Autun), Spain and Britain. The Mosaic of the Two Gladiators might not actually depict gladiators who entertained audiences in the amphitheatres (that of Durocortorum was situated north of Porte de Mars), but Greek heroes who were traditionally portrayed in heroic nudity. You may wish to see a floor mosaic in the Mosel valley and a much more dramatic one in Rome which depict gladiatorial combats.
Musée Saint-Remi: wall painting depicting the Death of Adonis, between Venus and Cupid
In 1984 a small Roman building was found at Boult-sur-Suippe, 15 km north of Reims, along the ancient road to Cologne. It contained fragments of a painted wall which were carefully reassembled at Musée Saint-Remi. The myth of Adonis hinted to some form of resurrection, or rather reincarnation, because the blood of Adonis and the tears of Venus gave rise to the anemone flower, thus archaeologists suggest that the building was a IInd century mausoleum.
The image used as background for this page shows a fragment of a fresco depicting Bacchus which was found in 1981 near Porte Bazée.
The abbey of S. Remy, of the order of S. Benedict is a spacious building with a fine large Gothic church, in which are the tombs of Lewis de Outremer, Lothaire and Lewis V. who were of the line of Charlemain. Nugent
The Abbey Church of St Remi is the burial place of St Remigius, the Apostle of the Franks died 545. Clovis and Clotilda founded the Church. (..) The original buildings of the Merovingian dynasty have wholly disappeared. As it now stands the principal portions were erected between 1048 and 1162; the choir is of the latter period of a fully developed and beautiful Gothic. (..) The Church was extremely injured during the Revolution. Murray
The Revolutionaries beheaded the statues of the royal tombs. The head of Lothair was found in 1919 during restorations of the church after WWI; it was made in the XIIth century and it is a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture. Lothair, King of France in 954-986 directly controlled only the north-eastern part of the country and usually resided at Laon.
There is little in it worth a stranger's curiosity,
besides the cathedral church, which is a vast Gothic
building of a surprising beauty and lightness, all
covered over with a profusion of little statues, and
other ornaments. It is here the Kings of France
are crowned by the Archbishop of Rheims, who is
the first peer, and the primate of the kingdom:
the holy vessel made use of on that occasion, which
contains the oil, is kept in the church of St. Nicasius hard by, and is believed to have been brought
by an angel from heaven at the coronation of
Clovis, the first christian king. Gray
The cathedral, dedicated to our Lady is a magnificent old building, remarkable for the architecture of the front, and the beautiful figures in relievo, with which it is adorned. It is said to have been built by Clotildis, the wife of Clovis, the first Christian king of France. The ceremony of the French king's coronation is always performed in this cathedral, by the archbishop, assisted by the bishops of Laon and Langres. Nugent
The towers are unfinished; they were to have been crowned by open work spires (..) and by their absence the elevation loses much of its completeness. Murray
Eugène Viollet-le-Duc conducted a very creative restoration/completion of the Cathedral in 1860-1874.
Disasters menace, and indeed have partly befallen the splendid architecture of North-Eastern France, the very flower of the style, which may already have become a thing of the past before these pages reach publication. Since the following chapters were written, the Germans have battered the Cathedral of Reims, destroying much if not all of its inimitable sculpture.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Gothic Architecture in France, England, and Italy - 1915
Jackson referred to the shelling of Reims which began in September 1914 and caused immense damage to the architecture, sculptures and stained glass of the Cathedral. The town was on the front line during the whole WWI.
Plan of this section:
Atuatuca or Civitas Tungrorum (Tongeren)
Bagacum Nerviorum (Bavay)
Mediolanum Santonum (Saintes)
Vindunum (Le Mans)
Roman villa of Montcaret
and an excursion to Laon