It was one of the great university centers of the Empire, especially renowned for its school of law. It declined after Caesar, but maintained its ancient status as a free city, independent of the provincial governor. Farther east were Forum Iulii (Frejus), Antipolis (Antibes), and Nicaea (Nice)- this in the little province of the Maritime Alps. Sailing up the Rhone from Arelate the traveler came to Avenio (Avignon) and Arausio (Orange); here a powerful arch survives from Augustus’ days, and an immense Roman theater still hears ancient plays.
The largest of the Gallic provinces was Gallia Lugdunensis, named from Lugdunum (Lyons), its capital. Situated at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone, and at the crossing of great highways built by Agrippa, the city became the trading center of a rich region and the capital of all Gaul. Iron, glass, and ceramic industries helped to sustain a population of 200,000 in our first century. Northward lay Cabillonum (Chalon-sur-Saone), Caesarodunum (Tours), Augustodunum (Autun), Cenaburn (Orleans), and Lutetia (Paris). “I have spent the winter” (357-58), writes the Emperor Julian, “in our beloved Lutetia, for so the Gauls term the little town of the Parisii, a small island in the river…. Good wine is grown here.”
Belgica, which included parts of France and Switzerland, was almost entirely agricultural; its industry was for the most part attached to the villas whose numerous remains suggest a baronial life of comfort and luxury. Here Augustus founded the cities now known as Soissons, St. Quentin, Senlis, Beauvais, and Treves. The last, Augusta Trevirorum, rose to prominence as the headquarters of the army defending the Rhine; under Diocletian it replaced Lyons as the capital of Gaul, and in the fifth century it was the greatest city north of the Alps. It is still rich in classic remains- the Porta Nigra in its Roman wall, the Baths of St. Barbara, the Tomb of the Secundini family at nearby Igel, and the crude reliefs on the fortress blocks of neighboring Neumagen.
In and around these towns life slowly changed its surface and obstinately renewed its elements. The Gauls kept their character, their breeches, and for three centuries their language. Latin triumphed in the sixth century, chiefly through its use by the Roman Church, but it was already being clipped and nosed into French. In Gaul Rome achieved her greatest triumph in the transmission of civilization. Great French historians like Jullians and Funck-Brentano have thought that France would have fared better without the Roman conquest, but a still greater historian believed that the Roman conquest was the sole alternative to a German conquest of Gaul. If Caesar had not won there, says Mommsen,
the migration of peoples would have occurred 400 years sooner than it did, and would have come at a time when Italian civilization had not become naturalized either in Gaul, or on the Danube, or in Africa and Spain. Inasmuch as the great Roman general and statesman with sure glance perceived in the German tribes the rival antagonists of the Romano-Greek world; inasmuch as with firm hand he established the new system of aggressive defense, down even to its details, and taught men to protect the frontiers of the Empire by rivers and artificial ramparts… he gained for the Greco-Roman culture the interval necessary to civilize the West.