My History Review of France : De la Préhistoire au Moyen Age
1. Le paléolithique: « Paléolithique » relates to the time from 35,000 BC to 5000 BC. Anthropologists found in Dordogne, France, a “Cro-Magnon” man, cave paintings and decorative figurines. Cro-Magnons lived in environments which constantly changed due to the rhythm of glaciations and climate warming. They chased now extinct animals such as mammoths, cave lion, the aurochs and the woolly rhinoceros. They have built their habitat, invented a powerful tool, buried their dead, created the splendors of Chauvet or Cosquer caves, and thus laid the fundamentals of our humanity.
The most famous are the paintings of the Grottes de Lascaux, illustrating horses and cows with human figures, found after WWII. Lascaux was open to the public until 1963, but the carbon dioxide from human’s breath began to damage the paintings. Therefore, today we have to rely on pictures and video to see these ancient paintings.There is also an excellent video presentation (in French) by Patrick Lostcathare on Youtube.
.2. Le néolithique (between 5000 BC to 1500 BC) “Néolithique” refers to the period characterized by farming, the domestication of animals, the development of crafts such as pottery and weaving and the making of polished stone tools (34). Throughout France, one can find remnants in Bretagne and Auvergne regions such as les menhirs, stone circles and chamber tombs and les dolmens (similar to Stonehenge in England). The most famous of these are the Carnac stones (3300 BC) and the stones at Saint-Sulpice-de-Faleyrens.
3. L’âge des métaux (1000 BC to 700 BC) The « Bronze Age » . Tools and houses are made in the form of a rectangle.
1. La civilization celtique: In 700 BC, The Celts, the Belges and the Iberes began to settle in Gaul (now France) around Paris, which they called « Parisii ». Julius Caesar reported that people known to the Romans as Gauls called themselves Celts. In 58 BC the Helvetii planned to migrate westward but Caesar forced them back. In 52 BC Vercingetorix, a Gaulois commander, led a revolt against the Roman occupation but was defeated at the Siege of Alesia and surrendered (Ravise).
2. La Gaule Romaine: (120 BC to second half of 5th Century AD):
The Romans began to make Gaul resemble their home land. They built temples, theaters, arenas, aqueducs and arcs de triomphes. At this time, Paris was called « Lutece ». There are still many remnants of the Gallo-Romaine period in France :
South of France: Le Pont du Gard, La Maison Carrée de Nîmes, L’Arc de Triomphe Aix Les Bains, Théâtre Romaine de Lyon, Théâtre Romaine d’Orange
In Paris : Thermes de Cluny, Arènes de Lutèce, Crypte Archéologique Parvis Notre Dame, Forum Lutetia (present day Pantheon on rue Soufflot and rue Saint-Jacques)
As the Romans began to settle in Gaul, Pliny the Younger wrote: “I did not think they(Gaul) had booksellers in Lugdunum (modern day Lyon, the first capital of France)! “This joke is a measure of Romanization. It was not enough for the Romans to reconstruct their public life or to identify the remains of Roman architecture; they had to make their new home what we would call today “Roman way of life.”
- La Christianisation (end of 1st century) : After the death of Jesus Christ, around 33 AD, Christianity began to spread around Europe. In Gaul, Saint Denis introduced Christianity through the catholic religion around the 3rd century. Legend says that he was beheaded on le mont des Martyres (present day Montmartre) and carried his own head down to Lutece. The church of Saint Denis (north of Paris) was built upon this site (Depaepe).
In 312, Emperor Constantine converted to Catholicism and in 313, with the Emperor Licinius, they made the Edict of Milan which enforced freedom of religion.
In 451, Saint-Genevieve organized troops to fight against Attila the Hun. He attacked Orleans instead. Louis XV had a church built in Saint-Genevieve’s honor; after the Revolution, it became known as the Pantheon.
Les Invasions barbares: (5th century):
Gaul was “invaded” by Barbarians in the 5th century: The Wisigoths and the Alains from Aquitaine, The Francs from the north (Belgium), The Burgondes from the Saone and Rhone valleys, and the Alamans from Alsace. However, these were not hostile people, as the name barbaric suggests in English. The Romans and Greeks before them, were grouped together under this term as “ those who did not speak their language and did not share their model of civilization based on the city and writing”. The same was true of the Barbarians arriving in Gaul with non or weakly Christianized populations. Hence the pejorative sense of uncivilized that was associated with that term and consequently the prejudices of “cruel,” “fierce”, “inhuman”. One can think, for example, of the colonization of America where Europeans gradually took over the land occupied by indigenous populations. Les Gaulois eventually became Francs during this time and adopted the Latin language. This also began the period known as Le Moyen Age. (See blog post “My History Review of France: Le Moyen Age)
Depaepe, Pascal. La France du Paléolithique. Inrap, Paris 2009
Kessler, M. Cours de Civilisation de la Francaise, Sorbonne Université. 2012
Ravise, J. Suzanne. Tableaux culturels de la France.NTC Publishing, 1995
Copyright 2015 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)