Before the Roman conquest of northern Gaul, Reims had served as the Remi tribe's capital, founded circa 80 BC. In the course of Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul (58–51 BC), the Remi allied themselves with the Romans, and by their fidelity throughout the various Gallic insurrections secured the special favour of the imperial power. At its height in Roman times the city had a population in the range of 30,000–50,000 or perhaps up to 100,000. Reims was first called Dūrŏcortŏrum in Latin, which is hypothesized to derive from a Gaulish name meaning "Door of Cortoro-". The city later took its name from the Remi tribe (Rēmi or Rhēmi). The modern French name is derived from the accusative case of the latter.
Christianity had become established in the city by 260, at which period Saint Sixtus of Reims founded the Diocese of Reims (which would be elevated to an archdiocese around 750). The consul
Jovinus, an influential supporter of the new faith, repelled the Alamanni who invaded Champagne in 336; but the Vandals captured the city in 406 and slew Bishop Nicasius; and in 451 Attila the Hun put Reims to fire and sword.
, Bishop of Reims, begging of Clovis
the restitution of the Sacred Vase taken by the Franks in the pillage of Soissons. — Costumes of the court of Burgundy in the 15th century. — Facsimile of a miniature in a manuscript of the History of the Emperors
(Library of the Arsenal
In 496—ten years after Clovis, King of the Salian Franks, won his victory at Soissons (486)—Remigius, the bishop of Reims, baptized him using the oil of the sacred phial–purportedly brought from heaven by a dove for the baptism of Clovis and subsequently preserved in the Abbey of Saint-Remi. For centuries the events at the crowning of Clovis I became a symbol used by the monarchy to claim the divine right to rule.
Meetings of Pope Stephen II (752–757) with Pepin the Short, and of Pope Leo III (795–816) with Charlemagne (died 814), took place at Reims; and here Pope Stephen IV crowned Louis the Debonnaire in 816. King Louis IV gave the city and countship of Reims to the archbishop Artaldus in 940. King Louis VII (reigned 1137–1180) gave the title of duke and peer to William of Champagne, archbishop from 1176 to 1202, and the archbishops of Reims took precedence over the other ecclesiastical peers of the realm.
By the 10th century Reims had become a centre of intellectual culture. Archbishop Adalberon (in office 969 to 988), seconded by the monk Gerbert (afterwards (from 999 to 1003) Pope Silvester II), founded schools which taught the classical "liberal arts". (Adalberon also played a leading role in the dynastic revolution which elevated the Capetian dynasty in the place of the Carolingians.)
The Coronation Chalice, also known as the Chalice of Saint Remigius (Palace of Tau
The archbishops held the important prerogative of the consecration of the kings of France – a privilege which they exercised (except in a few cases) from the time of Philippe II Augustus (anointed 1179, reigned 1180–1223) to that of Charles X (anointed 1825). The Palace of Tau, built between 1498 and 1509 and partly rebuilt in 1675, would later serve as the Archbishop's palace and as the residence of the kings of France on the occasion of their coronations, with royal banquets taking place in the Salle du Tau.
Louis VII granted the city a communal charter in 1139. The Treaty of Troyes (1420) ceded it to the English, who had made a futile attempt to take it by siege in 1360; but French patriots expelled them on the approach of Joan of Arc, who in 1429 had Charles VII consecrated in the cathedral. Louis XI cruelly suppressed a revolt at Reims, caused in 1461 by the salt tax.
During the French Wars of Religion the city sided with the Catholic League (1585), but submitted to King Henri IV after the battle of Ivry (1590). At about the same time, the English College had been "at Reims for some years."
The city was stricken with plague in 1635, and again in 1668, followed by an epidemic of typhus in 1693–1694. The construction of the Hôtel de Ville dates back to the same century.
Monument to king Louis XV of France, at the center of Place Royale
The Place Royale was built in the 18th century. Some of the 1792 September Massacres took place in Reims.
In the invasions of the War of the Sixth Coalition in 1814, anti-Napoleonic allied armies captured and re-captured Reims. "In 1852, the Eastern Railways completed the Paris-Strasbourg main line with branch lines to Reims and Metz." In 1870–1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, the victorious Germans made it the seat of a governor-general and impoverished it with heavy requisitions. In 1874 the construction of a chain of detached forts started in the vicinity, the French Army having selected Reims as one of the chief defences of the northern approaches to Paris.[a] In the meantime, British inventor and manufacturer Isaac Holden had opened plants at Reims and Croix, which "by the 1870s [...] were producing almost 12 million kilograms of combed wool a year [...] and accounted for 27 percent of all the wool consumed by French industry."
A month after Blériot's crossing of the English Channel in a biplane, the aviation week in Reims (August 1909) caught special attention.
On 30 October 1908, Henri Farman made the first cross-country flight from Châlons to Reims. In August 1909 Reims hosted the first international aviation meet, the Grande Semaine d'Aviation de la Champagne. Major aviation personages such as Glenn Curtiss, Louis Blériot and Louis Paulhan participated.
Hostilities in World War I greatly damaged the city. German bombardment and a subsequent fire in 1914 did severe damage to the cathedral. The ruined cathedral became one of the central images of anti-German propaganda produced in France during the war, which presented it, along with the ruins of the Ypres Cloth Hall and the University Library in Louvain, as evidence that German aggression targeted cultural landmarks of European civilization.
From the end of World War I to the present day
an international effort to restore the cathedral from the ruins has continued. The Palace of Tau, Church of Saint-Jacques and the Abbey of Saint-Remi also were protected and restored. The collection of preserved buildings and Roman ruins remains monumentally impressive.
During World War II the city suffered additional damage. On the morning of 7 May 1945, at 2:41, General Eisenhower and the Allies received the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht in Reims. General Alfred Jodl, German Chief-of-Staff, signed the surrender at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) as the representative for German President Karl Dönitz.
The British statesman Leslie Hore-Belisha died of a cerebral haemorrhage while making a speech at the Hôtel de Ville in February 1957.