Giving to Caesar What is Caesar’s: The Role of Commerce in Lattes

Nik Pontasch / Dr. Sarah Jane Murray / French Art & Architecture / 3 February 2011

The modern notion of the melting pot would seem applicable to the protohistoric city, Lattes.  A port-city, its population, trade, and culture reflect a great diversity of people coalescing into one populace.  While such diversity is seen to be rich and valuable in modern society, it would also seem that such unity through diversity requires a great amount of time to become successful.

Since its inception, the location of Lattes on the coast of southern France was such that the city became an important crossroads of trade and culture between the cultures to the east (first Greece, later Rome, and even Egypt) and large parts of France itself (the website suggests fluvial trade extending far throughout inland France).  With a great amount of trade going in and out of the city of Lattes, commerce necessarily became the driving force of the culture.  Combining this notion with the idea that the city really was quite different amongst its peoples, it would seem that Lattes was not a melting pot by choice, but by reluctant necessity.

Because Lattes was indeed a crossroads and catalyst for a fierce and powerful reaction between different entities and cultures, the sheer greed and profit associated with commerce seemed to be the most important thread tying the city together.  It is therefore not too hard to believe that each identity in the city was pulling in its own direction, threatening to draw and quarter the city itself, but compromising when needed in order to maintain the proliferation of trade.

Such discord contrasts starkly with the megaliths of Morbihan or the paintings found in the Lascaux caves.  Whereas the atmosphere of Lattes seems to be of “mixed air,” Morbihan and Lascaux typify societies which were bonded together strongly by more than the practicalities of trade.  Art, religion, and tradition were incredibly strong unifying forces which convinced both the Morbihan and Lascaux peoples to collectively move massive stones over kilometers and paint deep in dark, dank caves.  Lattes, on the other hand, seemed to lack the same kind of nationality (on a city level) until a conquering power like Greece came into full swing.

The most telling sign about the culture of Lattes is that one of the only religious items recovered from the city is a statue of Mercury, god of trade.  The relentless capitalism which ruled (and was worshipped by) Lattes made it both a place of prosperity and a place of potential chaos.  What I found to be particularly peculiar was that, for causes unknown, the Etruscan district of Lattes burned down.  With Etruscans dominating trade at that time, it would not be too great of a stretch to imagine such upheaval in the city through motives of specific people groups seeking to change the focal point of trade.

Lattes, though well-protected and well-positioned to develop into a place of great prosperity, seemed to lack the same emphasis on cooperation and lasting artwork in the same way of Lascaux and Morbihan.  Though it remains unknown whether the lack of lasting art was caused by civic unrest, or by a preoccupation with commerce and trade, Lattes is an interesting example of a city whose greatest threat did not come from outside of its well-bolstered walls, but rather the people within.

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