History of Roman Spain

The Romans first came to Spain in 206 BC when they invaded the Iberian Peninsula from the south. They fought the Iberians and defeated them at Alcalá del Rio, which is near today’s Seville. On this site the town of Itálica was founded and Spain fell under Roman occupation for the next 700 years. In the north, however, the Celts and Basques continued to fight the Romans and didn’t fall until 19 BC.  In all it took the Romans two centuries to gain complete control of Spain.

Roman Temple Merida Spain
Roman Mérida

The country was divided into two parts, initially. These were Hispania Citerior in the East and Hispania Ulterior in the South and West. There are many towns and historic sites that you can visit in Spain that show the impact that the Romans had, and still have, on the country.

Roman Itálica

Itálica is an archaeological site close to Seville, in Andalucía. It is one of the largest Roman sites in Spain. In fact work is still continuing today and may never be completed as it covers such a vast area, including the ruins of one of the biggest amphitheatres in Roman Europe. The town was the birthplace of many famous Romans including the emperor Hadrian. Carmona, also close to Seville, contains an amphitheatre and a necropolis as well as impressive archways and mosaics. The necropolis actually holds the remains of over a thousand Roman families that lived around 2,000 years ago. One tomb is the size of a nobleman’s villa.

Roman Córdoba

Another town in Andalucía that was founded by the Romans is the port of Córdoba. It was the furthest point that the Romans could navigate up the Guadalquivir River and became extremely important for exporting olive oil, wine and other goods back to Rome. The bridge over the river, “El Puente Romano”, is one of the few remaining structures that was built by the Romans. Baelo Claudia, near Cadiz, is another coastal town worth visiting. There is a Roman settlement just north of the present village. It was an important link between Spain and Africa and fish salting was its major industry. Other Roman sites in Andalucía include the villa at Rio Verde which has outstanding mosaic floors, the Roman baths at Manilva that were allegedly used by Julius Caesar and Asido Caesarino at Medina Sidonia which has some of the earliest examples of Roman plumbing.

Roman Mérida

In the west of Spain is the city of Mérida which is the capital of Extremadura. This was the capital of the Lusitania region, founded in 25 BC and was linked with Seville by road. It has a huge wealth of Roman monuments including the Trajan archway, Roman bridge over the Guadiana river, remains of a forum, the Temple of Diana, the Circus Maximus, the Milagro aqueduct, the Mitreo villa, the Embalse de Proserpina and Cornalvo reservoirs. In fact there are so many preserved Roman remains here that the town has been declared a World Heritage site.

Roman Toledo

In Central Spain, to the south of Madrid, you will find Toledo which was originally the capital of Spain. It is built on a hilltop, overlooking the plains. The main fortress, the Alcazar, is on the original site of the Roman fortress. The Alcantara Bridge and the many remains of Roman walls signify how important the city was in Roman times. There are also the remains of a Roman circus which was the largest of its time and was remarkably close in style to the Circus Maximus in Rome. Northeast of Madrid,near the town of Soria you’ll find Roman ruins at Numancia. This town was the capital of the Celtiberian people and proved remarkably resistant to Roman rule, only falling after Scipio starved the population into submission.

Roman Segovia

To the north of Madrid is Segovia. By far its most impressive Roman monument is the aqueduct. It is actually used as the emblem of the city. It dates back from the 1st or 2nd century and is held together by the weight of the blocks and gravity. There is no mortar whatsoever. It is 728 metres long with 167 arches. At its highest point, it reaches almost 29 metres. Throughout central Spain you will find evidence of the Roman occupation. Also, there are examples of the traditionally straight Roman roads and the bridges that they had to build over the numerous small rivers to continue the path of the road.

Roman Tarragona

To the north east of Spain is Catalonia, with its capital, Barcelona. However, it is the city of Tarragona that was one of the most important Roman cities during the 3rd century BC. It was a military and political centre and the capital of the largest province in Roman Spain at the time. Because of its mild climate and coastal location it was actually one of the Roman’s first resort towns in Spain. There is a wealth of amphitheatres and aqueducts among other remnants of the Roman occupation. Further north on the coast of Catalonia is Empúries where there are fine remains of a Roman town which was built on a Greek colony.

Spain has a wealth of historic sites that you can visit to see evidence of the Roman occupation. The above is just a small sample of what you can see on your visit to Spain.

7 thoughts on “History of Roman Spain”

  1. I absolutely loved this article. I used it for a project in one of my classes and really appreciated the work that went into creating it. The information was all thorough and valid. Thank you again


  2. I have a soft spot for Cartagena – think Hannibal . Have lived around there on/off for over 30 years : I am English. Be careful though – it has always been “rough ” – probably best to keep to the town centre , unless you speak fluent Spanish and are streetwise !

    Loved the article though so thanx !


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