Gaul, as a whole, began to participate in antique civilisation under the Roman rule. A highly centralised administration united the provinces which extended from the Rhine to the Pyrenees, from the ocean to the Alps, imposing a common existence and a common culture upon them. When one travels along a Roman road it is very easy to understand how the dwellers in these regions were sensible of a distant solidarity. Their roads, even when disused, are not obliterated; they still indicate the ancient route across fields. Stretching in purposeful rigidity from point to point, regardless of mountains and valleys, they bore the legions to the frontier, and carried the will of Rome into the interior.
Dying Gaul, Roman Marble Copy of a Hellenistic Original of 230-220 BCE Giclee Print
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Every halting-place along them was the nucleus of a future city of France. At the cross-roads we shall find the active centres of Roman art. A network of more natural and less geometrical highways, corresponding to the local geology, was related to this vast system of main roads. And yet the extremities, from Arles to Cologne, from Lyons to Saintes, felt that they were members of one body. Thus the solid causeways, built for eternity, were the channels of human intercourse during the Middle Ages; they transported pilgrims and merchants to sanctuaries and fairs respectively. From Burgundy to Provence, from Tours to Roncevaux, they maintained uninterrupted communication, even when these provinces were no longer united by Roman centralisation.
The conquerors brought their Latin habits with them; buildings akin to those of Italy rose in the cities where they established themselves; an official art, easily imposed on a country innocent of architecture, and immune from all local influence, manifested its identity at Narbonne, Bordeaux, and Reims: it was an urban and utilitarian art, created for the enjoyment of great cities. After the decay of Marseilles, Narbonne and Fréjus rose to importance, and close at hand, Orange and Nîmes, whose ancient monuments are among the finest in the world.
Arles, the Rome of Gaul, began her glorious existence as a capital, a city of luxury, art, and pleasure. But this municipal clvilisation soon outgrew Provence. Municipalities raised triumphal arches dedicated to emperors; Trèves, Reims, Besançon, Langres and Saintes have preserved these proud structures. Towns of second and third rate importance had their amphitheatres; the more wealthy among them boasted thermae. Temples were no doubt numerous; they disappeared to furnish columns for the new basilicas of youthful Christianity.
Around the great cities rose the rich villas of the Gallic aristocracy, and beyond these a vague population, the Pagani, long recalcitrant to Latinism and subsequently to Christianity. Roman culture had penetrated only into the towns; but monkish hosts ploughed the fallows of the countryside; after the municipal art of the Gallo- Romans came the rural art of the Romanesque epoch.