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Augusta Emerita (Mérida)


Temple of Diana. Photo Marco Prins.
The so-called Temple of Diana (more...)
Augusta Emerita: Roman city in western Spain, modern Mérida, capital of the province of Lusitania.
 
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According to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, the emperor Augustus, (r.27 BCE - 14 CE)  founded Augusta Emerita after the end of the Cantabrian War, in 25 BCE (Roman History, 53.26.1). From inscriptions, we can deduce that the first inhabitants were veterans, emeriti, of two legions, X Gemina, V Alaudae, and perhaps XX Valeria Victrix. The symbol of the fifth legion was a lark, and Latin valeria means "eagle"; this may explain why wings were shown on Emerita's coins.

Probably, the city was not a completely new foundation. Archaeologists have found several objects, including a cult wagon made of bronze, that suggest that there was an indigenous settlement on the site of Emerita.

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Model of Augusta Emerita in the second century. Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, Mérida (Spain). Photo Marco Prins.
Model of Augusta Emerita in the second century (Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, Mérida)

The town, which had the rank of colonia, was situated on elevated ground above the plain of the Extremadura, near a crossing of the river Guadiana; the Roman road that passed through the city connected the city to Felicitas Julia Olisippo in the west (modern Lisbon). Another road led to Hispalis in the south and to the gold mines in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Other roads connected the city to Corduba and Toletum.

It soon became one of the largest cities in Hispania, with a territory of some 20.000 square kilometer, to which the emperor Otho added even more in 69 (Tacitus, Histories, 1.78). The city itself must have been very large: it needed no less than three aqueducts and two fora. Augusta Emerita was the capital of the province of Lusitania.

The city became remained important in Late Antiquity, when the cult of Saint Eulalia gained great popularity and Emerita became a center of pilgrimage. Its bishops were among the most important men in the Visigothic kingdom, which succeeded the Roman Empire in the second half of the fifth century. In 666, the city was the site of an ecclesiastical synod.

The site is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage.

A satellite photo can be seen here.


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Revision: 20 July 2012
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