While we have many working documents from the investigations led by the Commission de Topographie des Gaules, we have little to clarify the exact objective of the epigraphic project.
An ambitious but little-known epigraphic project
The investigations carried out were unprecedented in terms of their scale. They took place against the backdrop of a general trend for building archaeological records, and in particular epigraphic records, in France and elsewhere. At the same time, the Prussians had developed the idea of creating a general corpus of Latin inscriptions covering the whole of the empire, which led to the production of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum that we still know today. The objective of the CTG’s epigraphic project, as much as we can deduce from the information that we have concerning its continuation following the commission’s end, was to be national in scope and exhaustive, a common feature in the context of the establishment of ancient sciences as scientific disciplines in the 19th century.
Putting “France’s archives” on display
Today we only have a small part of the results of the epigraphic work carried out by the commission, 500 watercolour plates of copies of inscriptions, intended to go on display at the musée gallo-romain, which opened its doors in 1867. As shown by Gabriel de Mortillet in his book Promenades au musée de Saint-Germain, the museum was intended to exhibit “France’s archaeological archives”. The inscriptions discovered across Gaul were clearly an important part of this, and from its beginnings the museum had several rooms for epigraphic exhibits, which stood out for the number of documents on display. It was natural that the inscriptions should be presented, in the form of casts or, in particular as prints, alongside some original stones, in order to offer the public the most complete view possible of inscriptions from Gaul.