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History - The Romans in Andalucia

Roman monuments in Andalucia © Michelle Chaplow
Roman monuments in Andalucia © Michelle Chaplow

Romans in Andalucia

The South of Spain is rich with Roman sites, from hidden paths to entire towns. Many of the more prominent ruins, such as Baelo Claudia, Italica and Acinipio are open to the public and well worth a visit. Some, such as Baelo Claudia, have excellent interpretation centres.

As part of the Roman struggle against Carthage, the Romans invaded the Iberian peninsula in 206 BC. Scipio Africanus was victorious at Alcalá del Rio near Hispalis (present-day Seville) and founded the city of Italica. His army crushed the resistance of the native Iberians and soon transformed Andalucia into one of Rome's richest and best organised colonies, called Betis. Cadiz became Roman in 200 BC.

Roman galleys sailed up its main river, now called the Guadalquivir, as far as Cordoba, where they took on board amphorae of olive oil and wine for exportation to Rome. The Romans remained for 700 years.

Julius Caesar

Rome divided Spain into two: Hispania Citerior (Nearer Spain) was the eastern part. and Hispania Ulterior (Further Spain) the South and West. Julius Caesar was promoted to Governor of Hispania Ulterior (Spain) in BC 61, but was soon to be embroiled in a Civil War. 

The sons of his deceased arch rival Pompey escaped to Spain. Caesar gave chase and defeated the last remnants of opposition in the Battle of Munda in 17 March 45 BC. This was the final battle of Caesar's civil war against the leaders of the Optimates. With the military victory and the deaths of Titus Labienus and Gnaeus Pompeius (eldest son of Pompey), Caesar was politically able to return in triumph to Rome, and then govern as the elected Roman dictator. 

The exact location of Munda has long been a matter of debate. Some Spanish historians assert that Munda was the Roman name for modern-day Ronda, where the battle of Munda may have been fought. Other early researchers localized the battle in various other places, e.g. near Monda or Montilla. At the outset of Hispanist Prosper Mérimée's novella Carmen, source of George Bizet's opera, the narrator clearly states that, according to his research, Munda was near Montilla.

Other experts have asserted that the battle was fought just outside Ecija or Osuna, in the province of Seville. This was supported by ancient slingshot bullets that were excavated near La Lantejuela, halfway between Osuna and Écija. The theory is further supported by ancient inscriptions found in Écija and Osuna that honour the town of Astigi (Écija) for standing firmly on Caesar's side during the battle. The Battle of Munda may have taken place on the Cerro de las Balas (hill) and the plains of Llanos del Aguila near the village of La Lantejuela, between the towns of Ecija and Osuna.

While Caesar was still campaigning in Spain, the Senate began bestowing honours on him. Great games and celebrations were held in April to honour Caesar's victory at Munda. Caesar returned to Italy in September 45 BC and was named Dictator, although he was murdered soon after, and later the Roman Empire was founded.

Seneca the elder was born in Corduba in BC 55. In AD 65 his son Seneca the younger committed suicide after plotting against Emperor Nero.

In AD27 the Emperor Augustus renamed much of Ulterior, Baetica. The name was taken from the River Baetis (now Guadalquivir) provinces. This region corresponded to roughly what is present day Andalucia. Corduba was the capital.

Via Herculea or Via Exterior was the longest and busiest of the Roman Roads in Hispania. with a length of about 1.500km, and reaching Cadiz. The road was renamed Via Augusta after the emperor who ordered it to be renovated between 8 BC and 2 BC. It ran from Narbonne in France (joining Via Domitia) down the Mediterranean coast; the current N-340 / A-7 follows many sections of the Via AugustaRead more about Roman Roads in Andalucia.

In AD 69 the Emperor Vespasian, who was born at Italica, granted Roman status to all the towns in Hispania.

His son Trajan, who was born at Italica, ruled as Emperor of Rome from 98 to 117 AD.

Things started to change with the spread of Christianity from the first to the forth century. St.Paul had identified Spain as a target for conversion in his Epistle to the Romans. He toured Spain in AD 62.

The Spanish Bishops held their first open Council at Elvira in AD 300. The Emperor Diocletian instituted the last ruthless persecution in AD 303. As Spain became a Christian country, the Spanish language, perhaps the closest modern tongue to Latin, began to take its current shape.


Roman Archaeological Sites in Andalucia

Acinipo - Ronda Roman Theatre

Ronda la Vieja, Old Ronda is 20km north of modern Ronda has an impressive Theatre and unexcavated city. More >

Baelo Claudia - Roman City

At Bolonia 10km north of Tarifa, a large fish salting city is located by the coast.. More >

Carmona - Roman City

Puerta de Córdoba, Roman walls, and Roman Amphitheatre are main sights to visit in Carmona. More >

Carteia - Roman City

San Roque. Large Roman town with houses, public Forums and baths. Surrounded by oil refinery. More >

Cordoba- Roman Bridge

Unfortunately little remains except the large Roman Bridge. More >

Seville - Italica Amphitheatre

9km North of Seville - Extensive Roman city and amphitheater. More >

Manilva - Roman Baths

Roman Baths said to have been visited by Ceasar. Access from Manilva. More >

Marbella - Roman Villa

West of Marbella centre near Puerto Banus at Rio Verde is a Roman Villa with exceptional Mosaic floors. More >

Roman City of Ocuri

Extensive remains of Roman city, with mausoleum, baths and forum. On hillside, with spectacular mountain views. 1km from Ubrique. More >

Malaga City - Roman Theatre

El Teatro Romano is the oldest monument in Málaga City; it is situated in the cultural heart of Málaga city, at the foot of the famous Alcazaba fortress. More >

Almuñécar - Roman Aqueduct -

The aqueduct would have served as a valuable supply of fresh water and vital for the fish salting industry. More >

Asido Caesarino

Medina Sidonia Some remarkable Roman sewers still exist More >

Casares - Roman Bridge and Town

Roman bridge and fortified yet little excavated town to the west of Casares. More >

Guadalmina - Roman Baths

8 km West of Marbella - Roman Bath house vaults. More >

Estepona - Roman Villa

Roman Villa - Story of the excavations at Torre Guadalmansa. More >

Where to see Roman artefacts

Several museums in Andalucia also have spaces dedicated to artefacts drawn from many of the sites above, or simply found in various locations over the years. Most towns have a municipal museum with local finds. However the main museums include Huelva Museum, Seville´s Archaeological Museum, Seville´s Antiquarium, Seville´s Palacio de Lebrija, as well as the Antequera Municipal Museum, Malaga Museum and Almeria Museum and Cadiz Museum Jaen Museum.