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The Roman Origins of Our Historic European Cities.

Updated on November 24, 2019
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Asp52 studied History at University and has a keen interest in all aspects of the two world wars.

The great and mighty Roman Empire and its legions marched their way across the continent of Europe, back into the northern lands of Africa and then attempted to colonize the Middle East and Asia. Over two thousand years later and their influence is still felt and noticed in our modern world.

So many an ancient civilizations legacy and culture have been either lost to the sands of time or their fallen majesty now lay catalogued in the vaults of the New World's museums. The Roman influence upon the modern world is hidden insight, it is on the streets we drive down, the months of our year, in the language we speak and we find its foreign roots deeply entrenched in our own national identities.

One major area you can see the influence of the Roman Empire upon Europe is in our capital cities and favourite European tourist destinations.

Roman soldiers
Roman soldiers | Source

French Cities With Roman Origins

Paris is perhaps the most recognisable capital city in modern-day Europe, It is centred on the strategically and economically important Seine river. The area which Paris now occupies had been a trading centre many years before the Romans conquered the lands from the Celtic inhabitant's in the time of Julius Caesar. The Romans originally called the city Luteria, and they made this area a fortified town in which they could expand their empire and increase their hold on European trade. The area we now know as Paris was home to Palaces, Public baths, Forums, Temples and everything the citizens of Rome would have expected. By the start of the fifth century, as the Western Roman Empire started to crumble, the Roman settlement was effectively abandoned by the majority of its citizens. Gradually the Garrison town reclaimed its population and began to surpass its former Roman prestige. Luteria took on the name Paris in homage of the Gallic tribe that had previously ruled the area before the Roman settlement, this Gaulish tribe was known as the Parisii. Over the next hundred years, the people of Paris carved out an identity which differed from their Celtic/Roman heritage, but also embraced the Roman sense of comfort and style. It is maybe this hybrid heritage and identity that is reflected today in the Parisian way of life.

The power of Rome was their ability to build infrastructure.
The power of Rome was their ability to build infrastructure.

Roman Settlements in Germany

The country we now know as Germany has had a long history of division and in the past, a lot of the power of this great nation lay in the power of the Germanic Princes and Barons. In the time before the Roman conquest of Germania, the country was ruled by numerous Germanic tribes who were barbaric by the standards of Roman civilization. The warriors of Germania posed a serious threat to the Roman Empire, so after the region of Gaul was subdued the Germanic homeland was Romes next target for the Empire's expansion.

The capital of what the Romans called Germania Inferior was named Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. It was more commonly called Colonia Agrippa, and from this, the modern-day German city of Cologne gets its name. Cologne was an important Military, Economic and manufacturing centre and in 83AD became Germania Inferior provincial capital. Colonia Agrippa's strategic position on the River Rhine allowed the Roman Legions to police the wider frontiers on the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire took the original Ubi tribe settlement of Oppidum Ubiorum in 50AD and in 300 years built a city which even today has a very strong Roman presence. The area around the Rhine river still turns up archaeological evidence of its Roman history.

The Legion allowed the new Roman settlements to flourish.
The Legion allowed the new Roman settlements to flourish.

The Roman Empire had over its existence had many rivals for its dominance over the trade and resources of the Mediterranean Sea. One of Rome's greatest rival's was Carthage, which was a power with influence spanning across North Africa and the lands we now recognise as modern-day Spain. The city of Barcelona has it's root's in the collective history of the Roman Empire and its Carthaginian rival. Barcelona is thought to take its name from the father of Rome's old adversary Hannibal, his father Hamilcar Barca. Although upon the Roman invasion of the Spanish lands Barcelona had a different name. The Romans referred to Barcelona originally as Faventia, with its full Latinized name been Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Barcino. The city was not initially as important as its neighbour Tarrogona although the settlement did have a garrison. But its versatile and stunning harbour soon increased the Roman Empires interest in the city. Barcelona became wealthy and the riches the city generated were largely untouched by invading forces.

Today you can still see evidence of Barcelona's Roman past in the street plan of the city and on closer inspection, Barcelona's cathedral has remains of the Roman wall incorporated into its construction. Barcelona is today like it was in Roman times a desirable tourist destination for visiting European peoples. Roman trade influenced Barcelona's growth and wealth but was also able to keep its regional identity which it cherishes and protects in this modern age.

The Roman Empire was adept at conquering the many peoples of Europe and taking their existing major settlements and exposing them to continental trade. Through the combination of foreign trade and military protection, these relatively obscure tribal settlements became the commercial, industrial and cultural capitals of modern Europe. Although the three cities have mentioned owe their existence and status in some part to Roman infrastructure, they have evolved a separate identity which captures elements of their tribal past in their modern persona.


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