Spain History - Roman Period (210 BC - 476 AD)

The Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsular was firmly established by 133 BC with the exception of the north-west coastal area. The Consuls named it Hispania and it was to stay in their hands until 409 BC. Their influences coupled with their marvellously and practical constructions that were mainly built by slaves turned the basically primitive Iberian occupants into one of the most advanced countries in Europe. Language, laws, religion and forceful control, all had the effect of binding together a previously divided mass of different and very individualistic rulers. The Romans built 34 excellent major roads which ran over 21,000 kilometres, linking all parts of the Peninsular. Its first Roman settlement was Italica just outside Seville. General Scipio celebrated his victory by building the town as a place for the wounded and retired victorious soldiers. However, the price paid for this eventual success by the Romans was some 150.000 lives and two centuries of battles.

The fighting was never over as battles were engaged periodically between the Romans and local rebel forces. In 150 BC some 8,000 Lusitanians were killed and it took some eight years to eventually kill their folk hero leader Viriathus and his army which at one time controlled the best part of the central Peninsular. During the same period there was the Celtiberian War which lasted twenty years. It was eventually broken by another Scipio (a grandson), when he took the town of Numantia near Soria but with a loss of over 20,000 Roman soldiers.

The Romans divided the Peninsular into two main provinces, Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior, with Cartagena and Córdoba as their respective capitals. The political upheavals in Rome for leadership caused an influential warrior named Quintus Sertorius to be banished to Hispania who immediately organized a local rebel army but as he was not very successful in battle he was eventually killed in 73 BC by Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey the Great). Some 18 years later Pompey was appointed the ruler of Hispania. Upon his later return to Rome he claimed victory over 876 rebel Hispanic towns. It was during this campaign that Julius Caesar first showed his military skills and became a popular Hispanic leader. In 49 BC he led a rebel army and started a civil war against Rome and in a battle near Córdoba he successfully routed the Roman army and went to Rome to claim the seat of power. In 38 BC Hispania was officially declared part of the State of Rome and a tax was applied on the population throughout the Peninsular. The Cantabrians and Basques took to arms and though subsequently defeated, the Basques were never Romanized. Emperor Augustus returned to his birthplace Hispania and lived at Tarragona for some years whilst occupied in quelling the rebels.

It was following this period that Hispania entered its most peaceful period and society and culture developed to the high point that Augustus granted 50 towns the rights of Roman citizenship. The central town of all was Mérida as capital of Lusitanian province. This town boasted a 25,000 seat theatre for chariot racing in which a Diocles became famous for his 1,462 victories. It also had an amphitheatre which could be flooded to simulate naval battles.

The Romans thoroughly enjoyed celebrations and worship was nearly always connected with blood or had sexual overtones. A leading deity was Mithras which was originally conceived as a divine figure in Persia. In a ceremony very popular with soldiers, men were anointed with the blood of freshly killed bulls as it was believed that they became invincible to death in conflict. Another popular deity was Cybele a mother goddess who was worshipped with pomp and pageantry, and particularly self-flagellation and again the fresh blood of slain bulls was applied.

Christianity as a religion is said to have appeared in Hispania in 40 AD through the teachings of Saint James the Elder (reportedly half-brother of Jesus). Settling in Zaragoza he built a temple to the Holy Virgin. His remains by tradition are reported to have later been brought back from Palestine, where he died, and placed later to rest at Campos Stellae (Santiago de Compostela). The spread of his word took over two centuries through the conversion firstly through the rural population and later in urban areas. As the official Roman religion offered no moral code, afterlife and no mysticism, this new religion found appeal with the country folk who have always been subject to forms of superstition. Apparently, the independent minded Basques were the last to be converted and then became one of the most enthusiastic followers of the teachings of Christ in the peninsular. Two of the he most notable followers were St Vincent who is connected with the history of Portugal and St Engracia who at 13 years of age was put to death in Mérida in the most gruesome manner.

When the Emperor Nero died his position in Rome was taken by the then ruler of Spain, Galba. The first Roman Emperor to be born in Hispania was Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Traianus), who was born in Italica. Under his successful rule from 99 to 117 AD the Roman Empire became as large as approximately the area of the USA and had a population of over 100 million people. He controlled more than 300,000 kilometres of roads and the whole coast within the Mediterranean. In 110 AD he ordered the construction of the impressive aqueduct in Segovia. Upon his deathbed he appointed his adopted son Hadrian to succeed who had also been born in Italica.

The year 248 AD marked the 1,000th anniversary of Rome but is also marked the beginning of a downward path of the Empire. In the 3rd century Spanish towns were already building stronger defences and massive protective town walls for protection from rebels and possible invaders. It is noted that the thick strong walls of Barcelona were built in the last part of this century to protect the town from attacks from Franks and Alemanni, and these invaders were long before the later wave of Barbarians. The final Hispania born ruler of Rome was Flavious Theodosius in the later part of the 3rd century banned all forms of paganism, outlawing games, burning temples, and generally taking the fun out of the traditional way of life to the Romans. When in 395 AD he died he split the remaining empire into two parts and only 14 years later Hispania was invaded by the Barbarians in the shape of three tribes, Alans, Sueves and Vandals.


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