As a minimalist with very rigid rules regarding aesthetics and beauty, I prefer my honor arc to be uncluttered by contemporary life. Naturally, nobody pays any attention to my ideas. For several weeks now, workers and their machinery polluted the right bank of the Charente river with their industrious presence, not to mention perambulating families, school children and their teachers dispensing history lessons, teenagers on skateboards and homeless men with their dogs et cætera.
Then, at 12h46 today a foghorn rang out and the brand new Bernard Palissy III swept beneath the main bridge of the City of Saintes on her maiden voyage toward her permanent home at the pier of Place Bassompierre.
For the next seven months, the #III will moor beneath our arch to execute her mission of providing tourists and locals alike with the adventure of river cruises on the Charente. Since the Bernard Palissy III is an electric boat – hence the foghorn to announce her stealth approach – entirely powered by solar energy, she is a major factor in the city’s determination to move ever closer to sustainability.
For the time being, I have abandoned all hope to continue my research regarding TIBERIVS CÆSAR DIVI AVGVSTI FILIVS AVGVSTVS, the unhappy Roman Emperor Tiberius, who was born into the gens Claudia as Tiberius Claudius Nero but eventually became a member of gens Julia after his mama Livia divorced his father and married dashing Gaius Octavius Thurinus, the future emperor Augustus, who himself started out in the Octavia clan but became a Julian after Gaius Julius the Dictator adopted him posthumously. Don’t you just love these Roman puzzles? We shall return to Tiberius and his connection to Germanicus and thus our arch as soon as possible. For now, let’s just enjoy some Arc de Germanicus images taken over the last few days.
For a couple of weeks now, the City of Saintes has been installing cobblestone pavements along the river bank. Such works of beautification of public spaces are taken very seriously in Saintes because the town carries the designation 4 flower town which is the highest ranking nationally.
The guys work tirelessly rain or shine.
On rainy and triste March 17th, we were honored with a lucky rainbow, perfect for St. Patrick’s Day! Just look at the time stamp of that first rainbow picture 😎
Owing to the heavy cloud cover and changing rain intensity, the northern end of the double arch glowed quite fiercely for a moment.
When the rain suddenly stopped, the atmosphere changed again and both banks of the river Charente were bathed in candy-pink for the final moments of the sunset.
Since it happens to be a lazy Sunday afternoon, I thought you might enjoy a post with nothing but arc pictures. None of my usual lectures, no Roman emperors or historical references. Just our arch expressing its many moods while standing guard over the neighborhood.
In the still of the night
As I gaze from my window …
In the still of the night
All the world is in slumber … after Cole Porter, 1937
Throughout history, Gaius Julius Caesar has been judged harshly for his heavy-handed administration of governmental affairs, his disrespect for the Roman Senate, and his autocratic bypassing of constitutional rules. However, when you take a closer look at the last century of the Roman Republic, you’ll gain some insight in Gaius Julius’ attempt to quell civil unrest and to reorganize an outdated administrative system of rampant corruption and personal enrichment. His enormous discipline in military strategy and statecraft made Gaius Julius the spiritual predecessor of the House of Hohenzollern, a veritable Prussian bureaucrat! As his life was brutally cut short, the Dictator’s long to-do list was left forever undone and we will never know if he truly believed in the Roman Republic.
And speaking of dictators, the meaning of that term has changed a little over the intervening millennia. The constitution of the Roman Republic was specifically written to prevent the rise of a single person to power. Offices in government, as well as religious positions, were carefully distributed across a range of eligible members of the gentes and the most important offices were usually shared by at least two elected officials. Except during times of dire crises. During periods of either internal or external peril, the Senate appointed a solitary strongman, a dictator, to take care of the problem in the name of the Republic. Usually, such a mandate expired after six months, when the Senate resumed control. Against constitutional intent, Gaius Julius Caesar had been named Dictator in perpetuity shortly before he was assassinated.
Having insulted too many weak and vengeful characters, he paid with his life in a conspiracy of 60 plus resentful senators. The most avid conspirators removed this towering and sublimely arrogant threat to their cushy, lazy lives by pulling gentlemanly daggers from the recesses of their togas in a frightened frenzy, lashing out blindly from within an anonymous cluster of hysterical wannabe “Saviors of the Republic”, slashing and cutting the defenseless man trapped in their unholy circle twenty-three times. We don’t know, who inflicted the only lethal wound, a deep cut to his chest. The panicked senators fled while the Dictator Gaius Julius Caesar, Pater Patriae & Imperator slumped to the white marble floor bleeding out, dying alone while Rome wept behind barred doors.
After Gaius Julius Caesar’s death, civil war ensued which culminated in the elevation of his adopted son and avenger, Gaius Octavius, commonly known as Augustus, to rule as the first Roman Emperor. Actually, it was neither quite that easy nor that straight-forward. Nor did the citizens ever consider Gaius Octavius an Imperial Highness. They did, however, deify him, just like they did with their hero Gaius Julius. Gods are so much easier to handle than princes, aren’t they?
Two thousand years ago, your average Roman was staunchly Republican and displayed a decidedly antimonarchical attitude. These Roman citizens loved Gaius Julius Caesar because he had struggled to reach his exalted position on merit and they considered him one of their own. Therefore Gaius Octavius the adopted son and victor, not only over the assassins but also over his competitors, had to be extremely careful never to appear to reach for royal insignia. His ascent to the position of Roman Emperor was a tricky game of ruling with an iron fist while stroking pitiful egos into happy submission.
It took Gaius Octavius nearly twenty years to climb from posthumously adopted son of a murdered icon to ruler of a vast empire. However, at no time during his career did he actually proclaim himself as such. Au contraire, he astutely manipulated the members of the Roman Senate to willingly dispense additional titles and ever higher honors, clever bastard that he was. On paper, he even had co-rulers.
By following the future emperor’s name changes over the years, we can track his illustrious career. At birth, he was named Gaius Octavius after his biological father. With his adoption by Gaius Julius Caesar, he changed his name to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. It was customary according to Roman tradition to add the name and family name of one’s adoptive father. In 42 BCE, after the deification of his new papá, Octavius chucked his birth name and added “son of a God” to his adopted name, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Divi Filius. Meanwhile, around 38 BCE, he had concluded so many successful military campaigns that his troops proclaimed him Imperator, meaning supreme commander. Henceforth young Octavius, who was still only 25 years old, dropped his first and family names and restyled himself as Imperator Caesar Divi Filius. Roughly ten years hence the Senate award him his final official title, Augustus – Exalted One, thus Octavius became Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus. Any number of other titles and honors were bestowed upon Octavius over the years, he was Pontifex Maximus, Pater Patriae, Princeps Senatus, and so forth, but never ever even a hint of a royal honor. Nevertheless, it is interesting to consider with which persistence a military accolade, Imperator, and the former nickname of a Julian ancestor, Caesar, morphed into royal titles globally.
In due course, Augustus divided transalpine Gaul into four Imperial Provinces under his direct administration. His “Gallia Comata” was composed of three parts, Belgica, Lugdunensis, and Aquitania. Saintes was destined to become the capital of Aquitania.
It didn’t take long before the Roman occupational forces elevated this thriving Celtic town with its estuary harbor and navigable river to their trade center near the Atlantic coast.
Eventually, a road called via Agrippa would lead in a straight line West from Lugdunum to Mediolanum Civitas Santonum, otherwise known as Lyon and Saintes. But before we get to this exciting stage of Gallo-Roman local culture – and the Arch, of course – we have to meet one more Roman Emperor and learn of much heartache.
On this grey, misty, and miserable winter afternoon, I take the opportunity to settle down comfortably with a glass of wine and a stack of ancient history volumes to tell you a story about the Saintonge, our neighborhood. Although, in our day and age, it’s my computer rather than musty, fragile parchment that provides food for the inquisitive mind thus helping to undertake an imaginary trip into the olden days of this region, so very rich with historical events. But first, we have to lay the groundwork.
* Borrowed from Creative Commons, Author: Feitscherg, posted 15/01/2005
Roughly 2700 years ago, a Celtic tribe called the Santones established its territory at the central Atlantic coast of Europe. The Saintonge, this Celtic province, extended just a little bit further north and east than the modern French administrative department of the Charente-Maritime. Owing to its location bordering both the Atlantic ocean and the Gironde estuary, the chalky coastal region composed of protective limestone cliffs alternating with littoral tidal zones for salt harvests and alluvial marshes for rich grazing turned the Santones into affluent traders. They built a harbor at the estuary near the contemporary town of Barzan, which was considered to be Saintes’ harbor facility for ocean-going vessels throughout antiquity. Thus Barzan and with it Saintes became an important trading center along the tin trade route from Cornwall to the Mediterranean Sea during the late Bronze Age.
Coastal regions of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, plus major waterways have consistently driven economic fortunes in the Greco-Roman world. The Greeks knew this well when they settled Massilia, Marseille, at the juncture of the sea and the Rhône river, coincidentally like the Saintonge also in the seventh century BCE and developed a thriving harbor city servicing what is now called North Africa, the Near East, Turkey, the Balkans, Italy, France, and Spain. Back then, this was the core and the heart of the known Western World, where philosophy and science, poetry and statesman craft flourished among Egyptian, Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, and Persian thinkers.
Meanwhile, the Roman Republic became stronger, eventually taking over from the Greek City-States and advanced their terrestrial expansion quite nicely through the Balkans and the Near East, as well as into the Iberian Peninsula. Massilia was incorporated into the Roman Republic during the 2nd Punic war. Around 120 BCE it became the trade center for the newly established Roman Province of Cisalpina which extended from the Mediterranean coast and Marseille all the way to modern-day Grenoble in Switzerland. The popular Provence region in the South of France still echoes the ancient name of this original, Roman “Province”.
Eventually, CAIVS IVLIVS CAESAR [100 – 44 BCE] of the House of Julia came along, changing the European power grid in favor of the Roman Republic for a long time to come. Let’s face it, that man had a knack for empire-building. Historians will tell you that he was possibly the most ingenious military tactician ever. He was also an inspired engineer in regard to pontoon bridges and siege implements and a superb administrator and demagogue. Good old Gaius Julius excelled equally in warfare logistics and smooth communications with Headquarters, aka the Roman Senate. Like Napoleon, Gaius Julius didn’t need much sleep. Both of these warmongering geniuses only slept three or four hours a night. Gaius Julius was the original multi-tasker. During the Gallic Wars, when the Roman army marched through Gaul at breakneck speed at his initiative and command, Julius was carried in a litter with as many as five scribes riding next to him. He dictated several letters, his personal diary, and, most importantly, reports to the Senat simultaneously while planning the siege tactics for the next battlefield stopover. If you haven’t read the “Commentarii de Bello Gallico”, Gaius Julius’ very own words about warfare and the building of a coherent society among alien nations, I can highly recommend it. You’ll be surprised about his insides!
To illustrate this claim, you only have to look at his intimate knowledge of “Gallic” tribes. Before Gaius Julius and his detailed and discerning classification of savages, meaning non-Romans, there were two distinctions attributed to the barbarians living north of the Alps. One was “Gaul Comata” meaning Celts with long hair, not to mention scraggly beards. The other was “Celts in Breeches”, raving lunatics wearing, imagine that, woolen pants as opposed to elegantly flowing Roman togas. It was also rumored in Rome that their womenfolk fought alongside the men. Scary indeed. Gaius Julius recognized that there were many peoples with as many cultural and legal and administrative distinctions as there were non-Latin languages. By the way, in case you wondered, there were about 12 million of these transalpine barbarians threatening the well-being of proper Roman citizens at the time.
Because he understood tribal relationships, Gaius Julius divided trans-alpine Gaul into three administrative regions, Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Celtica, and Gallia Belgica. Everything else was Germanica on the right bank of the Rhine river and beyond, as you can see on the map above. Since the Santones were Celts, the Saintonge fell squarely into Gallia Celtica.
At this point in our story, we’re still fifty plus years short of the Augustan redistribution of Gallic lands and the building of the Arc de Germanicus. Hold that thought ’til the next post.
Welcome! This is my new blog dedicated to the Arc de Germanicus. The Gallo-Roman stone edifice will be 2000 years old in 2018, at which time the City of Saintes, the arches’ birthplace and hometown for all these years, will commence a year-long period of celebration.
For roughly three years now, minus extensive travel, we have lived opposite this majestic landmark. Most days during our tenure, I have taken at least one picture of the arch, on some days many, many more. In the morning, when I step up to the window with my first cup of coffee, I check on the Arch – as if something might have happened to it overnight! My last glimpse out the window goes toward the arch before I turn off the lights in the living room and climb up the stairs to our bedroom which has, naturally, windows overlooking the Arch. One might deduce I suffer from a certain preoccupation with the Arc de Germanicus.
The Arc de Germanicus has anchored our town in history more visibly than the other artifacts from Gallo-Roman times that can be found across Saintes. More so than les Arènes, the Roman amphitheater or les Thermes de Saint-Saloine, the Roman baths or the remainder of Roman ramparts which can be seen right behind our house. 2000 years ago, Mediolanum Santonum was the Capital of the Roman province Gallia Aquitania, and it was here that the formidable arch signaled the terminus of the Roman trade route from Lyon to the Atlantic coast, the Via Agrippa. In our time and age, the town is called Saintes and its former political and spiritual might has been ceded to La Rochelle a long time ago, but thanks to the recent administrative reforms we are again in the Aquitaine region, called Nouvelle Aquitaine this time around.
Through two millennia, the lights and shadows of sunsets and moonrises washed over the stoic monument,
often creating dramatic scenes for the beholder.
I am looking forward to telling you stories about the arch and its history, highlighted by some of the pictures I’ve taken. When I heard of the upcoming celebrations planned by the city, I wanted to show my devotion to this revered Roman veteran by contributing an Arch-in-Pictures project:
2000 Years – 2000 Pictures
Let’s see if we can achieve this goal!
Most of my pictures were taken from the right-hand window in the premier étage of the little house across the Charente river which is framed inside the right arch, as seen above.
This picture, taken on Tuesday, December 12 at 08 h 12, is a farewell shot of the river cruise boot “Bernard Palissy II”. Later that day, while we were in Cognac, she was transferred to drydock for the winter. She will, however, not return to her customary mooring beneath the Arc in the next season. Her replacement, the “Bernard Palissy III” is under construction right now. She will be a streamlined, slick, contemporary riverboat and, most importantly, the Palissy 3 will be a more environmentally friendly electric vessel powered by batteries charged through solar panels. No more stinky exhaust clouds hovering over the river! And the arch will watch over its newest summer companion as always. The Palissy 2 is for sale, should you be interested. Btw, did you notice the cormorant getting ready to dive for his breakfast?