Roman Barcelona

Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Barcino

Plan of Roman Barcelona

Although we know that the Romans arrived in this part of Spain in 218 BC, it is quite difficult to establish precisely when Roman Barcelona was founded because until the 1st century BC information is relatively vague.

We know that there was an Iberian settlement in the area, quite possibly on Montjuïc, and that Barcino was officially established as a Roman colony in 14 AD but whether or not the Romans built some kind of fortified settlement earlier is unclear.

There are many Roman sites to be found around Barcelona City Centre, particularly in the Barri Gòtic, which more or less covers the area which was occupied by the by the walled Roman town that you can see in the map.

A good place to start is to take a Walk Round the Roman Walls and then pay a visit to the MUHBA Museu de l'Història de la Ciutat in Plaça del Rei, where you can see a well-preserved Roman neighbourhood just a few metres below the modern street level.

Other key visits are the Temple of Augustus on Carrer Paradís just behind Barcelona Cathedral and the Via Sepulcral burial site in Plaça Vila de Madrid.

Interestingly, more Roman ruins are coming to light every time renovation work is done and recently interesting discoveries have been made in Sant Antoni Market and during the work on the new AVE station in La Sagrera, where a complete Roman villa has been uncovered on the outskirts of the city, which suggests that that the Barcelona plain was more developed during Roman times than investigators had originally thought.

The graphic below gives a good idea of the what the Roman colony of Barcino might have looked and as this Roman Barcelona section develops, I will be adding links and information to all the Roman sites of interest in the Barcelona area.


The Arrival of the Romans

The reason for the Romans' initial arrival was to challenge the Carthaginians' control of the area and probably originally disembarked in the Greek port of Empúries in what is now Girona Province in the north of Catalonia.

However, they soon began the conquest of the whole Iberian Peninsula and following the establishment of the province of Hispania Citerior, which covered more or less what is now modern Catalonia, established their capital further south at Tarraco, modern Tarragona.

During this period, they founded a number of settlements including the coastal ports of Illuro, Baetulo and Barcino, which are modern Mataró, Badalona and Barcelona respectively.

Not only a sandy port but with the mountain of Montjuïc so close, the colony was also useful strategically.

The Romans ousted the Celt-Iberian Laietani tribe, whose settlement of Barkeno was probably on top of Montjuïc, and established Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Barcino on top of the 25-metre high Mont Tàber.

By the end of the reign of Caesar Augustus, the name of the settlement had been abbreviated to Barcino and probably took the form of a castrum - a square walled encampment enclosing an area of around 12 km with a forum and two streets -  Cardus Maximus y Decumanus Maximus - leading from a central gate in each of the walls.

As a colonia, Barcino was established mainly to distribute land among retired soldiers and Roman geographer Pomponius Mela refers to the colony as one of a number of small settlements under the control of Tarraco.

However its strategic position on a branch of the Via Augusta meant it grew commercially enjoying immunity from imperial taxation and by the 2nd century, the city had the form of an oppidum and a population of between 3,500 and 5000.

The picture above shows the coffin-shapped oppidum form of Barcelona superimposed over today's Barri Gòtic.

The main economic activity was the cultivation of the surrounding land, and its wine was widely exported.

The archeological remains from the period - sculptures, mosaics, amphorae - indicate a prosperous and diverse population and a lot can of this can be seen if you visit the Museu de l'Història de la Ciutat.

However, Roman Barcelona compares very poorly to major Roman centres like Tarraco and possessed none of the major public buildings - theatre, amphitheatre, circus - found there.

The only public building was the temple dedicated to Caesar Augustus, which was probably constructed at the start of the 1st century and was quite large for a city the size of Barcino, 35 m by 17.5 m, on a podium and surrounded by Corinthian columns.

The first raids by the Germanic tribes started around 250, and the fortifications of the city were significantly improved towards the end of the 3rd century under Claudius II.

The double wall, remnants of which can still be seen today, was at least two meters high, up to eight meters in some parts, and was punctuated by seventy-eight towers measuring up to eighteen meters high.

The new fortifications were the strongest in the Roman province of the Tarraconensis, and marked the beginning of the ascendancy of Barcino compared with Tarraco.

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