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.

Displaceing the Carthaginians

Hamlicar Barca, the Carthaginian leader, following the losses in The First Punic War against Rome, set out in seek of fortune in Iberia. With the support of the city of Gades (Cadiz) his army either crossed the Strait of Gibraltar or sailed along the coast to Gades in about 238 BC and began the subjugation of the Iberian tribes. 

His immediate priority was to gain control of the Gold and Silver mines of the Sierra Morena. Having achieved this Gades begain minting silver coins from 237 BC.

Negotiations with the Tartissian tribes were successful but he faced hostility from the Turdetani. Moving east he met resistance form the Basenani (Baza). By 231 BC he had established the city of Akra Leuke (Alicanti)

His son Hannibal who had been with is father in Iberia since the age of nine, married a girl from Castulo (near Linares) and following the assignation of his older brother, led an attack on Saguntum (near Valencia) in 218 BC, a city the was an ally of Rome in Hispania. This led to The Second Punic War.  Hannibal then made his famous military exploit of carrying war to Italy by crossing the Alps with his North African war elephants.

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 Betis (Andalucia) into one of Rome's richest and best organised colonies. 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.


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


AD 27 the Emperor Augustus renamed much of Ulterior, Baetica. The name was taken from the River Baetis (now Guadalquivir). 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.

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


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

AD 98 Vespasian's sonTrajan, who was born at Italica, ruled as Emperor of Rome from 98 to 117 AD.

AD 226 Sassanid Empire emerged in the area now known as Iran and started to push the Romans back from the Euphrates.


AD 303 Emperor Diocletian instituted the last ruthless persecution of Christians.

AD 305 Christian Bishops in Hispania Baetica felt sufficiently safe to hold the Council of Elvira ( in the Albaicin of Granada) an ecclesiastical synod and one of three that first approached the general character of general councils. later

AD 324 Emperor Constantine, first to convert to Christianity, built a new city at Byzantium on the Bosporos, which would be named Constantinople as capital of the Eastern Roman Empire which is later refered to as Byzantine Empire.

The Christian presence in what is now the province of Malaga is dated, according to the Diocese of Malaga, by the documents that indicate Saint Patrick as the first bishop of Malaga, which is recorded in the minutes of the Council of Elvira, where he went accompanied by the presbyters of Teba, Acinipo (near Ronda), Singilia Barba (near Antequera) and Iluro (Álora), at the beginning of the 4th century and from whose records it is inferred that he must have been bishop of Malaga from 290. After Saint Patrick there are no successor documents until 578.

AD 376 the Goths invaded the Roman empire to escape the Huns.

AD 406 onward, further waves of Germanic migration occurred, this time across the Rhine. Suevi, Alans and Vandal chiefdoms ravaged Gaul. Romans were overwhelmed the capacity of the empire to assimilate the new migrants who had no loyalty to Rome and meanwhile fight off more invaders.

Christian Visigoths, had allied with Rome and supplied mercenary armies that drove the Vandals, Alans and Suevi chiefdoms out of Gaul into Hispania.

AD 409 Vandal tribes crossed the Pyrenees into Hispania. The Hasdingi (Vandals) went to the Northwest and received land from the Romans under treaty. The Silingi Vandals went to Hispania Baetica (todays Andalucia) and the Alans took lands in Lusitania to the west and around Carthago Nova (Cartagena) to the east

AD 417 The Visigoths, lead by King Athaulf invaded Iberia on the orders of the Roman Emperor Honorius, almost crushed the Silingi Vandals in Hispania Baetica (todays Andalucia) and then the Alans, killing the Alan king Attaces. The remainder of the Alans and the remnants of the Silingi merged under the Vandal King Gunderic.

AD 476 Romulus Augustulus was forced to abdicate to the Germanic warlord Odoacer after loosing the Battle of Ravenna (Northern Italy, last Capital of the Western Roman Empire). Most chronologies place this the end of the Western Roman Empire.


Roman Archaeological Sites in Andalucia

The Roman City of Ocuri sits on the limestone hill of Salta de la Mora, in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, 1km from Ubrique. With the hill descending sharply on all sides of the site, it… More →

The aqueduct was built by the Romans during their reign over parts of Andalucia. The aqueduct would have served, not only as a valuable supply of fresh water to the town's population, but also… More →

The ruins of this 32 hectare city are located at 1.000m above sea level. This is an urban are that thrived in the first century AD when it had a population of 5.000. It was mentioned in Plini and… More →

After one and a half kilometres west from Casares (MA-528) at the junction on the A-377 Manilva - Gaucin road a small track oposite can be seen. This was once the main route to Jimena de la… More →

La Basilica de Vega del Mar was a Paleo-Christian (early Christian) church and necropolis (burial site), located near the coast just east of the mouth of the Guadalmina river, in San Pedro,… More →

Located next to the beach in the Guadalmina urbanisation, the baths date back to the 3rd century and were first discovered in 1926. The solid mortar structure has survived the passing of history… More →

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.

Roman ruins of Italica, near Seville, with remarkable mosaics and an impressive amphitheatre, are located 9 kilometres to the north of the city, just outside the village of Santiponce. Nearby you… More →

You can walk over the Roman bridge in either direction. It is close to the great Mosque and leads to Torre de Calahorra at south end. The Roman bridge which, according to the Arab geographer, Al-… More →

Sulphur is the ninth most abundant element of the universe and is one of nature´s great jokes on the human race. Known to the ancients as "Brimstone" it is one of the elements essential to life as… More →

The ancient site at Rio Verde was once part of the great Roman city of Cilniana. It now houses the remains of a late 1st century AD Roman villa. Sadly all that is left is the floor and a small… More →

Baelo Claudia, near Tarifa, is one of Andalucia´s most significant and well-preserved Roman archeological sites. The extensive ruins are situated on the Costa de la Luz, some 15km north of Tarifa… More →

Next page: Vandals and Visigoths in Andalucia

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.

Next page: Vandals and Visigoths in Andalucia


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