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Gaul's University Town

New excavations have revealed the wealth and prestige of an ancient center of learning

November/December 2021

Autun Saint Pierre L Estrier NeighborhoodAutun MapThe Roman orator and rhetorician Eumenius delivered a speech to the Roman governor of Gallia Lugdunensis in A.D. 298 advocating for the restoration of the famous schools called the Maeniana in the city of Augustodunum, at the center of the province. At the time of Eumenius’ speech, the once-thriving city had fallen on hard times. In A.D. 269, its residents had taken sides against Victorinus, the emperor of the ill-fated breakaway state now known as the Gallic Empire (ca. 269–271 A.D.), and the city was besieged for seven months. Access to the high level of culture and education that had been central to Augustodunum’s identity fell victim to a combination of circumstances, perhaps including damage to the Maeniana, funding diverted to the conflict, or a diminished student population.


Augustodunum (modern Autun) had been founded around 13 B.C. by the emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14) as a new capital for the Aedui, a Celtic tribe that was—mostly—allied with the Romans. By 121 B.C., the tribe had been awarded the title of “brothers and kinsmen of Rome.” The Aedui largely supported Julius Caesar in his campaigns in Gaul, with the exception of a brief defection in 52 B.C. when they joined an unsuccessful rebellion led by Vercingetorix, the doomed chief of the Arverni tribe. The capital of the Aedui had been located at the settlement of Bibracte, but when the tribe became a civitas foederata, or allied community, of Rome, it was moved 15 miles east to its new location. It was given a name that combined its Roman and Gallic identities: Augusto- for Augustus, and -dunum, the Celtic word for “hill,” “fort,” or “walled town.”


Autun Amber Jet Pins



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