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CENABUM or Genabum (Orléans) Loiret, France.

The name Orléans, still written Orlians or Orliens in the 14th c., derives from Aurelianis, which appears under the form Civitas Aurelianorum for the first time in the Notitia Provinciarum ca. 400.

It replaces the Gallic name Cenabum or Genabum, formed on the Celtic root Gen, meaning mouth, in the sense of the mouth of a small tributary of the Loire. Strabo indicates (4.2.3) that a river port was located there. The port was dominated by the oppidum, of which nothing survives except the remains of a murus gallicus found in 1902 at a depth of 13 m.

At dawn on 13 Feb. 52 B.C. the Carnuti massacred the Romans installed at Cenabum. That very evening the news reached the Arverni and provoked the general uprising of Vercingetorix.

Caesar returned hurriedly, rejoined his legions at Agedincum (Sens), captured Vellaunodunum (Chateau-Landon?) on the way, and arrived at Cenabum. His scouts warned him that the Carnuti were escaping, trying to cross the bridge over the Loire under cover of night. Caesar had the gates set on fire, took the town, and gave it over to pillage and flames. Then he crossed the Loire.

The Romans rebuilt the town, but its monuments have been destroyed. Some remains were found in 1741 and immediately buried in the foundations of the Church of Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, a location now occupied by the Prefecture. Even the ruins of the theater (buried until the 19th c.) were torn down in 1821 or covered 20 years later by the fill of the Vierzon railway line.

During the crisis of the 3d c., the town underwent fires and pillagings. For defense it was surrounded by a wall of ashlar masonry with chain bondings of flat bricks. Sections of the wall can be seen in many cellars, and several towers still stand among the houses of the old town. The modern town grew up around this square castrum.

Probably in about the same period the town lost its name Cenabum and became the capital of the civitas Aurelianorum, a name which an erroneous tradition links to the emperor Aurelian. Attribution to M. Aurelius Probus (276-282) would be preferable.

In the spring of 451 the city was besieged by Attila and his Huns. The bishop Anianus (St. Aignan) went to ask help from Aetius, who finally arrived just when the town was about to fall. Be that as it may, Attila withdrew towards Troyes and was defeated at the campus Mauriacus near this town.

In the Orléans historical museum (Hôtel Cabu) are the treasures of Neuvy-en-Sullias (30 km upstream from Orléans), including six large animals of hammered bronze, one of which is the magnificent horse dedicated to the god Rudiobus, and a dozen statuettes whose style, simultaneously stripped-down, archaizing, and “modern,” is world famous.


Caesar, Bell.Gall. 7; Gregory of Tours, Hist. Francorum II 7; Buzonnière, Histoire architecturale de la ville d'Orléans, 2 vols. (1849); see Bull. et Mém. de la Soc. Arch. et Hist. de l'Oréanais, dont Mantellier, Mém. sur les bronzes de Neuvy-en-Sullias (1866) IX; A. Nouel, Les origines gallo-romaines du sud du Bassin Parisien (1968); J. Debal, “Les travaux archeologiques dans la Civitas Aurelianorum,” Actes du 93 Congrès nat. des Soc. sav. (1968); id., “De Cenabum à Orleans,” ibid. (1970); id., Les Gaulois en Orleanais (2d ed., 1974).


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