Pillar of the Boatmen

Pillar of the Boatmen

The Pillar of the Boatmen ("Pilier des nautes") is a square-section stone bas-relief with depictions of several deities, both Gaulish and Roman. Dating to the first quarter of the first century AD, it originally stood in a temple in the Gallo-Roman "civitas" of Lutetia (modern Paris, France) and is one of the earliest pieces of representational Gaulish art to carry a written inscription (Hatt, 1952).


The main dedication is to Jupiter, alongside Mercury, Mars, Fortuna, Castor and Pollux and Vulcan. Gaulish deities mentioned are Esus, Tarvos Trigaranos (the Bull with the three Cranes), Smertios and Cernunnos.

The pillar is dated by a dedication to emperor Tiberius, who became Emperor in 14 AD. It was offered by the guild of sailors of Lutetia, i.e. merchants that travelled along the Seine. The dedication (CIL 13, 03026; RIG L2-1) is as follows:

:Tib(erio) Caesare / :Aug(usto) Iovi Optum [o] / :Maxsumo / :nautae Parisiaci / :publice posierunt(!) //:Eurises // Senani U [s] eiloni //:Iovis // Tarvos Trigaranus //:Volcanus // Esus //: [C] ernunnos // Castor // [3] //:Smeri [3] os //:Fort [una?] // ] TVS [

Written in the Latin language with some Gaulish language features, some deity names are Latin and some Gaulish. It provides one of the few records of the name "Cernunnos". It is notable that the Gaulish deities are all presented as deity names in their own right, not as epithets of a Roman divinity as would become common in later centuries.


The pillar is made of a type of limestone called "pierre de Saint-Leu-d'Esserent", from Saint-Leu, Oise, France. The original pillar would have been 5.24m high, 0.91m wide at the base and 0.74m wide at the top. (Saragoza 2003).

It is formed in four tiers. Although the order from top to bottom is reasonably certain from the relative sizes of the blocks, we do not know the rotational order in which the blocks were arranged; there are 64 possibilities.

The top tier, of which only the top half remains, depicts Cernunnos, Smertios, Castor and Pollux. Cernunnos (see picture) has stags antlers from which hang two torcs. From the amount of the body in the top half, Cernunnos is assumed to have been depicted in a cross-legged seated position as with other Cernunnos depictions; there is insufficient room for him to be seated on a chair or standing. Smertios is shown kneeling, brandishing a club and attacking a snake. Castor and Pollus are shown standing beside their horses, each holding a spear (Busson p.451).

The second tier, which is complete, shows Jupiter, Esus, Tarvos Trigaranos and Vulcan. Jupiter is shown standing, holding a spear and a thunderbolt. Esusis shown standing beside a willow tree, which he is cutting down with an axe. Tarvos Trigaranus is depicted as a large, heavy-set bull standing in front of a willow tree. Two cranes stand on his back and a third on his head. Vulcan is shown standing, with hammer and tongs. (Busson pp.449-450)

The third tier, of which we have the top half, bears the main dedicatory inscription on one face. Since this has a border and appears complete, we do not know what was on the bottom half of this face. The other sides show a group of three young men with shields and spears; a group of three older, bearded men with spears and shields, bearing the inscription "Iurises"; and a group of three figures, at least one of which is female. They are unarmed, dressed in flowing gowns, and have an inscription "Senani U [s] eiloni". (Busson p.448)

The fourth, lowest tier is slightly wider than the upper three. Only the top half remains, and the inscriptions are badly damaged. Each face shows a pair of standing figures. Mars, with spear and sword, is accompanied by a female deity with large round ear-rings and a flowing garment which is held over one arm. Mercury, with caduceus and is She may be Rosmerta, a frequent companion to Mercury in Gaulish art. Fortuna is accompanied by another female deity, perhaps Juno. Two other unidentified female deities are on the fourth face, the one to the left is naked to the waist and holds a large cloak behind her with upraised arms; the other is clothed and has large round ear-rings. (Busson p.447)

Original Location

The Gaulish town of Lutetia was built on the Île de la Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine; a good defensive position and well suited to controlling trade along the river (Carbonnières pp.13-15, 35-40). It is mentioned by Julius Caesar in the "Gallic Wars". The Gallo-Roman town extended onto the south bank of the river, but the island remained the heart of the city and it was here that the forum and several temples were built. The pillar was erected outside one of these temples.

History of the Pillar

Some time in the third century, the stone blocks that formed the pillar were broken into two and used to reinforce the foundations of the walls along the riverbank. Over time, the island grew slightly so that the third-century wharfs are nw a dozen metres from the banks of the modern river (Kruta 1883).

The Christian cathedral of St. Etienne was founded by Childebert in 528 on the site of the Gallo-Roman temple; Notre-Dame de Paris was in turn built over this in 1163.

The pillar was found on 6 March 1710 ("not" 1711, as is often erroneously stated) during the construction of a crypt under the nave of Notre-Dame de Paris and first published by Baudelot de Dairval in 1712. (Busson pp. 445-446). Not all of the pieces were recovered; for three of the tiers we have only the top half.

After discovery, the stone blocks were taken to the Hôtel de Cluny, a mediaeval ecclesiastical building constructed over the remains of a second century Roman bath house. This became the "Musée du Cluny" and then, the "Musée national du Moyen Age".

In 2001, the blocks were restored, removing the black patina of grime that had accumulated on the surface of the stone over the three centuries since discovery (Saragoza 2003). The restored stones are once again on display in the museum.


* Busson, Didier (1998) "Carte Archéologique de la Gaule: 75, Paris". Paris, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. ISBN 2-87754-056-1 Entry on Notre-Dame, incoudes detailed photos and line drawings, plus a reconstruction of the block ordering.

* Carbonnières, Philippe (1997) "Lutèce, Paris ville romaine". Paris, Gallimard/Paris-Musées. ISBN 2-07-053389-1

* "Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum" (CIL), XIII "Inscriptiones trium Galliarum et Germaniarum Latinae"

* Hatt, Jean-Jacques (1952) "Les monuments gallo-romais de Paris, et les origines de la sculpture votive en Gaule romaine. I. Du pilier des nautes de Paris à la colonne de Mayence". "Revue Archéologique" I pp.68-83

* Kruta, V. (1983) "Le quai gallo-romain de l'Île de la Cité de Paris". "Cahiers de al Rotonde" 6 pp.6-34

* Lejeune, Michel (1988) "Recueil des Inscriptions Gauloises", volume 2-1 "Textes Gallo-Étrusques. Textes Gallo-Latins sur pierre". Paris, Editions du CNRS. pp. 166-169

* Saragoza, F.; Pariselle, C.; Meyohmas, M.-E. "et. al" (2003) "Le Pilier des nautes retrouvé". "Archéologia" 398, March 2003.


* d'Arbois de Jubainville, G. (1898) "Esus, Tarvos, Trigaranus" "Revue Celtique" XIX pp. 245-251

External links

* [http://www.fdn.fr/~rebours/dieux.htm French language site with more images of the pillar]

ee also

*Gallo-Roman culture

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