Roman Spain: Hispania

The Romans in Spain

When the Romans took on the Iberian Peninsula, they conquered an area that was one of the most fertile throughout the Roman Empire and what in many ways was to be the most important of all the roman provinses. It was rich in minrals and the soil was fertile. A part of the Roman wine production was sold in Rome (visit he Penedès area to see where the Romans produced wine 2000 years ago)

The reason why the Romans got to Spain in the first place was Hannibals trip over the French Alps and therefore a direct threat of an attack on Rome itself. Thus started the Second Punic War and the arrival of the Romans in 218 BC to the Peninsula.

The beginning: the arrival of the Romans
Long before the Romans, descendants of Cro-Magnon-man went from the Iberian Peninsula into northern Europe. In the 7. and 5. Century BC Celts and other people populated the peninsula.

Catalonia and Saint George

The Phoenicians had originally arrived to Spain several centuries before this. Probably they come to the peninsula already around 1100 BC founding several cities in the Sounth and South East of Spain, among them Gadir (modern Cadiz)

Under Hamilcar Barca, who came to the peninsula in 236 BC, the Phoenicians founded Carthago Nova (modern Cartagena). Hamilcar Barca is also supposed to have founded Barcelona and given name to the city (another popular explanation tells that the name Barcelona comes from the tale about Hercules and his loss of the “Barca Nona” (the ninth boat)).Hamilcar died in 228 BC during a fight with local tribes and his son-in-law Hasdrubal followed him.

The Romans made Hasdrubal sign a peace treatise promising that the Phoenicians would stay south of the Rio Ebro. When Hasdrubal was assassinated in 221 BC the son of Hamilcar Barca, who was now 26 years old and took control over the Phoenician army. He threatened taking Sagunto and though the Romans sent ambassadors to Spain warning Hannibal he took the city after 8 months of siege.

This started the Second punic war and in 218 the Romans embarked in Spain to confront Hannibal. But instead of fighting the Romans he started abandoning Spain moving towards Rome crossing the French Alps with a huge army and many elephants (since Alexander the Great elephants were used in war time in Hellenistic times)

The war was to take 17 years before Hannibal finally gave up. This did not happen until Escipion the African cut his supply lines coming from Spain and forced his brother Hasdrubal to come to Italy with his army where he was killed.  

Pax Romana
After the Second Punic War finished it took the Romans almost 200 years to gain control over the Iberian Peninsula and with Emperor Augustus started the peace period that goes under the name pax romana.

In later centuries Hispania (as the Romans called Spain) became a very important province. Emperor Trajan and Hadrian were both born in Hispania (in the city of Italica, West of the modern Seville), as it also applies to the later Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the poet Seneca (born in Córdoba, the Roman Corduba). Trajan and Hadrian were emperors when the Roman Empire reached its largest geographical size.

Spain also came to play a leading role in the Roman Empire for faming. Hispania exported gold, silver, tin, lead, wool, Olive oil, wheat, wine, fish and Garum (salted and seasoned fish that could be mixed up with water, wine, or oil, considered aphrodisiac).

The name Hispania
The Romans called Spain Hispania. There is disagreement about where this word comes from. The origins of the word Hispania has, among others the following explanations: the word may derive from the Phoenician "ishafania", which means Hare island or Rabbit island. Another explanation is that the word comes from the Iberian or Celtic word for Seville, Hispalis, which in turn may descend from Heliopolis (Greek Sun City).

Several cities in the modern Spain takes its name after the original cities, founded by the Romans. This applies to cities such as Zaragoza (named after the Emperor Augustus, Caesaraugusta), Mérida (Augusta Emerita) and Valencia (Valentia, latin for courage).

From two to nine provinces in the Roman empire
Spain was divided into two provinces in 197 BC, Hispania Ulterior and Hispania Citerior. When Augustus came to power the peninsula was divided into three provinces: Tarraconensis, Baetica and Lusitania. Finally Hispania was divided into 9 provinces in the beginning of the 4. Century.

With City Tours Barcelona you can get a guided visit to Barcelona's historical museum with a superb archaeological collection. We also offer visits to Roman Tarragona (Tarraco) for groups, associations aand companies. The group must be at least 10 people, for the trip can be possible.

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