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Title: Lyon
Original Title: Lyon
Volume and Page: Vol. 9 (1765), pp. 776–778
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: Nelly S. Hoyt; Thomas Cassirer
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer, trans., The Encyclopedia: Selections: Diderot, d'Alembert and a Society of Men of Letters (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965).

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America.

Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Lyon." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Lyon," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 9. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Lyon." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Nelly S. Hoyt and Thomas Cassirer. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Lyon," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 9:776–778 (Paris, 1765).

By Jaucourt. The Encyclopèdie contains articles on all the important cities of Europe, except for Amsterdam. Most of them are by Jaucourt, who seems to have had a particular interest in cities and their history. [...] The articles on cities all follow the same pattern as "Lyon" and are particularly rich in information on historical monuments and on famous men native to the particular city. See also: Thomas Cassirer, "Awareness of the City in the Encyclopédie," Journal of the History of Ideas, XXIV, 3 (July–September 1963), 387–396. [Translator note]

Lyon. A large and beautiful old French city, rich and famous as well. Next to Paris it is the biggest city in the kingdom. It is the capital of the Lyonnais . Its name in Latin is Lugdunum, Lugudunum, Lugdumum Segusianiorum, Lugdumum Celtarum , etc. See Lugdunum.

Lyon was founded in the Roman year 712, forty-one years before the Christian era, by Lucius Munatius Plancus who held the consulate together with Aemilius Lepidus. He built Lyon on the banks of the Saône at its junction with the Rhone, and settled it with the Roman citizens who had been driven from Vienne by the Allobroges.

We find in Gruter [1] an inscription where the founding of this colony is mentioned. It was not given the privileges of a Roman name, however, but received the Gallic name Lugdun from the mountain which today is called Forvières and on which the original settlement was established. Libius Sequester maintains that the name Lugdun meant "Crow's Mountain" in the Gallic language. However that may be, Lyon is almost as often called Lugudunum in the inscriptions dating from the first two centuries A.D. M. de Boze owned a medal of Mark Anthony on the reverse of which could be seen a lion and, separated into two parts, Lugu-duni .

Lyon was founded, as we stated, on the Forvières mountain, called Forum-vetus or, according to some, Forum-veneris. It spread rapidly over the hills and along the banks of the Saône, and soon became a flourishing city and the center of a lively commerce. Augustus designated it as capital of Celtica which received the name of Province Lyonnaise . Since Lyon was the principal Roman fortress beyond the Alps, it was from this city that Agrippa laid out the first military highways of Gaul. He chose Lyon for its location at the junction of the Saône and the Rhone and its good communications with all parts of Gaul.

No more famous edifice existed in our country than the temple of Augustus which sixty tribes of Gaul built in Lyon to the glory of the emperor. Its altar was decorated with sixty statues, one for each tribe.

It must not be forgotten that when Caligula assumed his third consulate in Lyon, he endowed all sorts of games in the city and, most especially, the famous academy called "Atheneum," which used to meet before the altar of Augustus, ara lugdunensis . It is there that the competitions for the prizes in Greek and Latin eloquence took place. They were carried out according to the strict laws laid down by the founder. One of the unusual prescriptions of these laws was that the vanquished would not only have to provide the prizes for the victors at their own expense, but that they would also be forced to wipe out their own works with a sponge. If they refused, they were to be beaten with rods or even thrown into the Rhone. This is the origin of Juvenal's proverb (Satire II, verses 44 and 45):

Palleat ut nudis pressit qui calcibus anguem, Aut Lugdunensem rhetor dicturus ad aram. [2]

The temple of Augustus, its altar and the academy of Caligula, all mentioned by Suetonius and Juvenal, stood on the present location of the Abbey of Aisnay, a corrupted form of Atheneum.

Lyon soon became famous for the remarkable way in which the city was beautified. But, a hundred years after its founding, it was destroyed in a single night by an extraordinary fire, unparalleled in the annals of history. Seneca ( Epistulae Morales XCI, to Lucius), with great wit, says of this fire that only a night lay between a great city and a city that no longer existed. The Latin version is more forceful: Inter magnam urbem et nullam una nox interfuit . When Nero learned this sad news, he immediately sent a sizable sum to rebuild the city. This sum was put to such good use that less than twenty years later Lyon was strong enough to resist Vienne, which was taking the side of Galba against Vitellius.

Some paltry ruins of the magnificent works with which the Romans had beautified the city can still be seen in Lyon. The theater in which the people gathered for entertainment was located on the mountain of Saint-Gust, on the land taken up today by the convent and vineyards of the Minims. Aqueducts were built to bring water from the Rhone into the city, and so were reservoirs to store it. All that remains are a rather ancient reservoir called the Berelle Grotto, the ruins of an arcade, and some piles of stone.

The palace used by the emperors and the governors when they resided in Lyon stood on the slope of this same mountain, within what is now the monastery of the nuns of the Visitation. One can scarcely dig on this property without coming upon some antiquaille [worthless antique]. We may use the word antiquaille in this connection since part of the hill has kept this name.

In the fifth century when Gaul was invaded by barbarian nations, Lyon was taken by the Burgundians. Their king became a vassal of Clovis at the end of that century. The sons of Clovis destroyed the state of the Burgundians and became lords of Lyon. In the following centuries, however, the city changed hands several times and its archbishops had violent quarrels with the lords of the Lyonnais concerning questions of jurisdiction. When the inhabitants had finally gained their freedom, they forced the archbishop to place himself under the protection of the king of France and to recognize his sovereignty. This took place in 1307 under Philip the Fair, who then elevated the seigniory of Lyon to a county and bestowed it on the archbishop and the chapter of Saint John. This is the origin of the title "Count of Lyon" given to the canons of this church.

In 1563 the archbishop's judicial rights were put up for sale and awarded to the king who was the highest bidder. Since that time the administration of justice in Lyon has been entirely in the hands of the king's officers.

The city has at present a governor and an intendant. It is the seat of a seneschal's court and a presidio, both of which are under the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris. Lyon also contains a municipal court, an arsenal, an office of the French treasury, a cour des monnaies , [3] and two famous fairs.

The archbishopric of Lyon has an income of approximately fifty thousand livres. When it is vacant the bishop of Autun administers it and is the beneficiary of its revenue, but he is obliged to come in person and request it from the chapter of Saint John in Lyon. The archbishop of Lyon likewise administers the diocese of Autun when it is vacant, but he is not the beneficiary of its revenue.

Since several writers have given extensive descriptions of Lyon, I refer the reader to these descriptions and will not go into detail here. I shall only point out that the city lies in the center of Europe, so to speak, at the junction of two rivers, the Saône and the Rhone, and that due to such a fortunate location it is flourishing and prosperous, deriving its wealth especially from trade. The city has a very ancient and substantial customs privilege. It is very strange that not until 1743 were goods destined for foreign countries exempted from customs duties. The fact that this was done so belatedly, said a man of wit, proves sufficiently how long the French remained blind to the science of commerce.

Lyon lies six leagues northwest of Vienne, twenty leagues northwest of Grenoble, twenty-eight southwest of Geneva, thirty north of Avignon, forty southwest of Dijon, sixty northwest of Turin, a hundred southeast of Paris. Its longitude, according to Cassini, is 22° 16′30″, its latitude 45° 45′20″.

It is well known that the emperor Claudius, the son of Drusus and nephew of Tiberius, was born in Lyon in 10 B.C. But the city cannot derive glory from a man whose mother, when she wanted to describe a blockhead, said that he was as stupid as Claudius. His freedmen governed the empire and disgraced it. Finally he himself brought about the greatest disaster when he adopted Nero as his successor to the detriment of Britannicus. Let us then speak of the men of letters whose birth can honor Lyon, for the city has brought forth some illustrious men.

Sidonius Apollinaris must be mentioned first, being one of the great bishops and famous writers of the fifth century. His father was prefect of Gaul under Honorius. Apollinaris became a patrician, a prefect of Rome, and bishop of Clermont. He died in 480 at the age of fifty-two. Of his works nine books of epistles and twenty-four poems have survived. They have been published with notes by Jean Savaron and Father Sirmond.

Lyon is the birthplace of such modern writers as Terrasson, De Boze, Spon, Chazelles, Lagni, Truchet, Father Ménétrier, etc.

The Abbé Terrasson (Jean), a philosopher during his life and even at the moment of death, has earned our gratitude by his elegant translation of Diodorus of Sicily. In spite of all the criticism that has been voiced against his Sethos , it must be admitted that it contains admirable character portraits and passages which at times are sublime. He died in 1750. Two of his brothers devoted themselves with great success to preaching; their printed sermons run to eight duodecimo volumes. The lawyer Terrasson has gained no less distinction by his works on jurisprudence. He was the oracle of the Lyonnais and of all the provinces that follow Roman law. [4]

Boze (Claude Gros de), an able antiquarian and learned man of letters, has gained distinction with several treatises on ancient medals, as well as by his library of rare and unusual books, and, in particular, the first fifteen quarto volumes of the transactions of the Académie des Inscriptions, [5] of which he was the permanent secretary. He died in 1754 at the age of seventy-four.

The public owes to Spon (Jacob) several folio volumes of interesting studies on antiquities, an account of his travels in Greece and the Levant, which has been frequently reprinted, and a good history of Geneva. He died in 1685, at the early age of thirty-eight.

Chazelles (Jean Mathieu de) was the first to devise a way of sending galleys out on the ocean, an undertaking in which he was successful. He traveled in Greece and Egypt, measured the pyramids, and discovered that the four sides of the largest pyramid face the four regions of the world, that is to say east, west, north, and south. He was an associate member of the Academy of Sciences and died in Marseille in 1710 at the age of fifty-three.

Lagni (Thomas Fantet de) has published several treatises on mathematics in the volumes of the Academy of Sciences to which he belonged. He died in 1734 at the age of seventy-four. See his eulogy by M. de Fontenelle.

Truchet (Jean), a famous student of mechanics, who is better known under the name of Father Sebastian, was born in Lyon in 1657 and died in Paris in 1729. He enriched the factories of the kingdom by several very useful machines, the fruits of his discoveries and genius. He invented mechanical pictures, [6] the art of transporting large trees uncut without damaging them, and a hundred other devices. In 1699 the king named him one of the honorary members of the Academy of Sciences to which, as Academician, he contributed several papers, among them one on an elegant machine that uses Galilei's system for heavy bodies and another on the possible combinations of two-colored tiles, [7] which have incited other scientists to pursue this research.

The Reverend Father Ménétrier (Claude François), a Jesuit who died in 1705, rendered service to Lyon, his native city, by writing a consular history of the city. He must not be confused with the two able antiquarians of Dijon who have the same name, Claude and Jean-Baptiste le Ménestrier [ sic ], both of whom published interesting works on the medals of Roman antiquity.

I might praise the poet Gacon (François), born in Lyon in 1667, if he had published nothing more than his translations of the odes of Anacreon and Sappho, The Birds of Aristophanes, and the Latin poem on painting by Dufresnoy. He died in 1725.

Vergier (Jacques), a poet from Lyon, is to La Fontaine, according to M. de Voltaire, what Campistron [8] is to Racine, an undistinguished yet spontaneous imitator. His convivial songs are charming, full of elegance and simplicity. It is well known how this poet met a sad end: in 1720 he was assassinated by thieves in Paris, at the age of sixty-three.

Lastly, Lyon has produced famous artists, for example, Antoine Coysevox whose sculptures decorate Versailles, Jacques Stella who became the chief painter of the king and succeeded so well in the pastoral genre, Joseph Vivien who excelled in pastel painting before the famous artist of our century who has brought this type of painting to its ultimate perfection, [9] etc.


1. Jan Gruter (1560–1627), a famous scholar who published a compendium of Greek and Latin inscriptions, Corpus Inscriptionum (Heidelberg, 1601).

2. Actually from Satire I. 43–44: "Let him turn as pale as a man who has trodden on a snake barefooted, or as one who awaits his turn to orate before the altar at Lugdunum."

3. A special court to judge offenses by employees of the royal mint.

4. I.e., the southern provinces.

5. See footnote 4 of "Langres," p. 191.

6. See Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Automata (Neuchâtel: Editions du Griffon, 1958), Chap. VII, "Mechanical Pictures and Picture-Clocks."

7. One of the plates in the Encyclopédie is devoted to showing these combinations. See Architecture and Related Subjects – Floor Paving, Plate II, Tile Layer.

8. French dramatist, 1656–1723.

9. Probably an allusion to the painter Maurice-Quentin de la Tour (1704–1788).