chapter  3
Christianity and the city in Late Roman Gaul
ByJILL HARRIES
Pages 22

Despite the ravages of the third-century barbarian invasions and only partial recovery in the fourth century, cities, civitates, in fifth-century Gaul were still the main centres for the activities of local careerists and Christian leaders. The spread of Christianity in Gaul caused profound changes in the physical appearance of cities, which reflected both the emerging power of a new Christian élite and a shift in the identities of cities themselves. But despite the transformation of the urban landscape brought about by new church buildings, elements of continuity with the past remained. Bishops expressed a city’s Christian identity often in terms of its past glories or present secular status. At Arles, for example, newly elevated to the status of provincial capital in 407 (Chastagnol 1973), a series of bishops sought, with mixed success, to assert a corresponding pre-eminence in the ecclesiastical sphere (Griffe 1966, 146-64). Conversely, for cities without secular status or economic power, the problems of decline or political impotence could be alleviated by the acquisition of the relics of saints or the skilful promotion of a local dead bishop, such as Martin of Tours (d. 397) or Germanus of Auxerre (d. 448).