Arènes De Lutèce Attests to a Gory Past of the City of Love
Paris, ‘the city of love’, is the world-famous capital of France and is renowned for its culture, art, architecture and more. The metropolis’ humble beginnings date back to 3rd century BC when it was founded by the Parisii Gauls. In 52 BC, Julius Caesar founded a Roman town on the earlier settlement and impressive Romans ruins remain to this day, such as the Arènes de Lutèce, which served as both a theatre and an amphitheater.
The Often Savage History of Arènes De Lutèce
In the Roman era, Paris was known as Lutetia, thought to mean ‘place near the swamp’. It was little more than a provincial town during the rule of the empire, but an amphitheater was built, a typical process of Romanization that took place in Ancient Gaul and beyond.
Based on the archaeological evidence, it appears that it was built in the First Century AD, which was something of a golden age for the Roman Empire. The structure was designed to accomodate public events and had the dual use of both theatre and amphitheater. Other examples of this have been found in Roman Gaul.
Gladiators fighting on the arena of the Colosseum (Fotokvadrat / Adobe Stock)
Brutal contests were held during which slaves fought to the death or until they were granted mercy by the onlookers. There is also evidence that animals fought each other, or men, for the enjoyment of the crowd. Criminals were executed during the intermissions of gladiatorial bouts.
Arènes de Lutèce could hold more than 15,000 people at its peak and attracted spectators from all over the region. The local elite sat on the lower tiers, shaded by awning, while the poor and slaves sat on the upper tiers.
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The seating of the arena was divided between rich and poor. (hdemestier / Adobe Stock)
During the Third Century Crisis, Lutetia was sacked by Germanic tribesmen and stones from the amphitheater were used to build defensive walls. Despite the decline of the Roman Empire in the west, the arena was used, and remained in use, until after the collapse of Roman Gaul. The occupying Franks even used the arena for spectacles and public festivals in the 6 th century AD.
The Roman arena later became a burial ground, but during the reign of the French King Philippe Auguste, who ruled from 1180 to 1223, it was filled with soil. The area around it was built up and became the famous Latin Quarter. When a local convent was demolished much of the original arena was uncovered and it was only in the 19 th century that the site was excavated. The monument is possibly the oldest structure in Paris.
Arènes de Lutèce as it was during the occupation of the Roman Empire
Arènes De Lutèce As It Once Was
The historic structure is situated in a residential district and it is not uncommon for boys to play football against the white limestone walls of the structure. Access to the site is by a gateway that takes you from the busy Parisian streets of into the Roman world.
The actual arena, the circular space where the gladiators fought and died, is open and is the same size as it was in its heyday. Parts of the terraced seating, known as the cavea, remains and unlike other Roman amphitheaters they did not fully surround the central space. It is unusual in that it was more akin to a Greek-style theatre than a typical Roman arena.
The base of a platform of what was possibly a stage can still be seen, as well as two side entrances. One of the most remarkable features of Arènes de Lutèce is the niches in the walls which were once used for cages where the doomed animals were kept. The beasts were released directly into the amphitheater to face each other or tear apart unfortunate war captives and criminals.
Modern Tranquility of Arènes de Lutèce
Arènes de Lutèce is one of the last vestiges of Rome in Paris along with the famous baths known as the Thermes de Cluny. The arena is also not far from other incredible sites such as the Louvre Museum and the Paris Catacombs.
The entrance to the Arènes de Lutèce, at Capitan Square, which is a public park that contains the remains of one of the largest amphitheaters built by the Romans. (lembi / Adobe Stock)
The surrounding area is now a public park where children play football and adults play the French game boules. Admission to the site is free and it rarely overcrowded.
Top image: Arène de Lutèce - Paris Source: Atlantis / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
Blonce, C. (2013). Lutetia (Paris). The Encyclopedia of Ancient History
Futrell, A. (2001). Blood in the arena: The spectacle of Roman power. University of Texas Press
Available at: https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=lang_en&id=3ZK9AAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR1&dq=gallo-roman+arena&ots=gpQe6mlfxW&sig=-Wrx-DWGuHZjJCpxB4TRqouGjiQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=gallo-roman%20arena&f=false
Klee, B. B. (1975). Three Gallo-Roman Multi-Purpose Theatres. Educational Theatre Journal, 27(4), 516-520
Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3206386?seq=1