Rising back up the oldest monument of Paris : quite a challenge!


The year 1711 in Paris, a significant archeological find has been unearthed from the Notre-Dame cathedral foundations: some remains of the Pillar of the Nautes, boatmen of Lutetia.

This noteworthy building was buried there since Antiquity or the High Middle era. Since the nineteenth century, several of its blocks are shown at the Musée de Cluny - Musée National du Moyen-Âge, but the whole stays little unknown to the public.

Today, the association Gladius Scutumque wishes to reproduce it according to a scientific hypothesis of restitution and erect it again in Paris. An exciting adventure of experimental archeology. But, before expanding further, let's go back in time.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, King Louis XIV had a new high altar built for the cathedral of Paris. By digging the foundations of the monument, the workers pull up off the ground five blocks of carved stone. The discovery is a sensation and a matter of debate in the high society at the time. Since then, interpretations and their critics have followed.

Excerpt from the documentary "The Pillar of the Nautes of Lutetia"

The mysterious offering of the Brotherhood of Merchants of the Seine

To date, this monument is the oldest in Paris, but it is incomplete, like a puzzle whose pieces are missing. Historians and archaeologists always try to unveil its secrets. The offering of the Nautes retains a great deal of mystery as to its origin and meaning. The questions are many: what is the sacredness? Who are the men in arms represented on one of the sides? who ordered the pillar? Why and when was it torn to pieces and then buried under the cathedral of Notre-Dame?

Engraving. Extract from L'Histoire de Paris, tome 1, by Michel Félibien, 1725. Public Domain.

But scientists have already provided some answers. On the main face of one of the blocks, the Nautes present their monument as an offering to the Roman emperor Tiberius and to Jupiter. Their dedication allows to date the monument of the 1st century AD On other blocks, bas-reliefs represent Gaulish and Roman deities.

It is therefore the Nautes Parisiens, shipowners and boatmen traders of the ancient Lutetia, who have built this monument. Gathered within a powerful brotherdhood, these boatmen held the monopoly of trade on the Seine. Their monument was possibly located in the port of Lutetia, of which a piece of the wall of the quay was found under the forecourt of the Ile de la Cité. Besides, it is in this district that the association Gladius Scutumque, would like to raise the reconstructed pillar. It is a huge project because the restored monument would measure 5 meters high and weigh more than 5 tons of limestone!

3D restitution of the Ile de la Cité (Lutetia) in the Gallo-Roman era. Excerpt from the documentary "The Pillar of the Nautes of Lutetia"

An outstanding monument

After the failure of the Gallic revolt of Sacrovir in the year 21, the Roman domination is strengthened. Prosperity and peace are then confirmed. The mixing of peoples operates, coming to the Gallo-Roman culture. Being evidence of it, the union of the Celtic and Roman gods in the religious beliefs of the Gallo-Roman inhabitants. The votive statue of Lutetia boatmen is a good example of it.

Engraving. Extract from L'Histoire de Paris, tome 1, by Michel Félibien, 1725. Public Domain.

The crucial part played by the Nautes in the city of Lutèce, The engraved traces of syncretism between the Celtic and Roman pantheons. and the fact that the pillar is the oldest monument in Paris found to date is giving its rare character. Its inscriptions and engraved figures are precious clues to understand the founding of Paris during Antiquity.

New technology is helping archaeologists

The preliminary work will be done through historical and artistic research and crossed-referenced with the hypotheses of a group of experts: geologists, archaeologists, historians and curators.

Excerpt from the documentary "The Pillar of the Nautes of Lutetia"

Important technical means will be used to put back together the reconstructed blocks and then be able to present the assembly of it to the public during a multimedia exhibition. The 3D scanning of the existing parts of the pillar is conducted in collaboration with the digitization service of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux. This analysis will enable to develop a 3D model helping artisanal sculpture of patterns and inscriptions on Oise limestone.
After completion, the pillar would be then erected in a museum or a park in Paris. On its base, visitors would find multimedia information about the monumental work.

Public support

The association Gladius Scutumque is calling the history and culture enthusiasts to participate in this project of restitution, on which a TV documentary is being prepared. It invites the public to contribute through crowdfunding and thus to do its bit to reconstruct the pillar.

Gladius Scutumque members in front of Notre-Dame cathedral

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Iconography - Credits (photos/images) : Sequana Média, Gladius Scutumque