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The countryside surrounding the archaeological area
We devoted this morning to an excursion in search of the ruins of Italica (..) at this blooming season of the year, when every thing is in full vegetation, green and fresh, I don't remember to have seen a finer country. An old peasant set my heart at ease (..) by informing us that (..) Sevilla Vieja, or old Seville (the name they give to Italica) was a little beyond a great church of Hieronymites, a league to the north, in the skirts of the plain. (..) We trotted away through the flats to that convent, and there picked up a fellow without shirt or stockings, with a patched cloak, white hat, and long black beard; which gentleman undertook to shew us the antiquities. (..) Of the ancient colony of Italica (..) scarce the least vestige remains. (..) Being very hot and hungry, we made the best of our way home, through large plantations of orange-trees, which here grow to the size of moderate timber-trees.
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated.
Large Baths which have been unearthed near a residential neighbourhood (see page two) on high ground
It is said the Moors destroyed it, not to have a rival so near Seville, where they intended to fix the seat of their empire; but I doubt this is the mere surmise of some modern historian. I could not positively ascertain it, but from a view of the ground, I am apt to believe it was built in imitation of Rome, on seven hills, and that the river Baetis (Guadalquivir) ran at the foot of them. By accidental obstructions and banks of sand, accumulated in a long series of inundations, the river may have been driven from its ancient bed, and forced more into the heart of the plain, where it now takes its course. Such an event as this would account for the ruin of so considerable a city as Italica; and without supposing that the Saracens were at the pains of demolishing it, would afford sufficient cause for giving the preference to Seville, which stands upon the Guadalquivir. Swinburne
Small Baths which have been discovered at Santiponce, a village which occupies the lower part of Italica
Following the banks of a stream we
reach the miserable village of Santi
Ponce (..) it was the once ancient
Italica, the birthplace of the Emperors
Theodosius (who is now believed to have been born at Coca in Castile); it
was founded by Scipio Africanus and destined as a home for his
veterans.(..) Copper or small silver coins, are found and offered for sale to foreigners by the peasants, who, with a view of recommending their wares, polish them bright, and rub off the precious bloom, the patina and aerugo (verdigris), the sacred rust of twice ten hundred years.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
On the most distant eminence are considerable remains of an amphitheatre, built with pebbles, and brick arches; most probably the marble casing has been carried away, or destroyed by burning to lime. The form is a most perfect oval; the arena measures, as near as the corn would allow me to be exact, one hundred yards in its greatest length, and sixty in its greatest breadth; some of the vomitoria, cells, and passages, are yet discernible, but scarce any traces of the seats; however I made out twenty rows, two feet six inches wide, and two feet high; each step of the stairs of communication is one foot high, and one wide. This amphitheatre is now more like Stonehenge than a regular Roman edifice. Swinburne
(left) Ancient column with an 1862 inscription celebrating the restoration of the amphitheatre at the initiative of Queen Isabella II; (right) seating section
adorned by Adrian with sumptuous
edifices. (..) The
amphitheatre, in 1774 was used by the
corporation of Seville for river dikes,
and for making the road to Badajoz (in the 1840s). The form
is, however, yet to be traced, and the
broken tiers of seats. The scene is sad
and lonely (..) a few gypsies
usually lurk among the vaults. (..)
The rest of Italica either sleeps
buried under the earth or has been
carried away by builders. Ford
The first archaeological excavations began in 1856 and were limited to the restoration of the amphitheatre which was completed by 1862. Other excavations and restorations were carried out at the beginning of the next century and continue to the present day.
Italica: Roman amphitheatre: (left) one of the galleries supporting the seating section; (right) detail of a bronze inscription containing parts of "Senatus Consultum de Pretiis Gladiatorum
Minuendis" (original at the Archaeological Museum of Madrid)
In 1888 a very long bronze inscription was found at Italica. It shed light on two different topics: a) the legislative process during the last years of the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, when his son Commodus was associated to the throne; b) the organization and cost of the gladiatorial combats in the amphitheatres.
The inscription reports a commentary by a Roman Senator on a decree issued by the Emperor; the text highlights the rationale of the new law and it shows the degree of cooperation between the two highest Roman institutions: the Emperor and the Senate. The commentary, a sort of explanatory note, was sent to provincial authorities as a support for the proper implementation of the law. At Italica (and at Sardis) this specific commentary was given special attention and it was incised in bronze (marble at Sardis) so that the public at large could be aware of it.
The purpose of the decree was to limit the cost of gladiatorial combats by establishing maximum prices to be paid to the lanistae (owners of gladiatorial school) for each participant. The gladiators were classified in five grades according to their experience. It was an attempt to reduce the burden on the local upper classes of the shows they offered to their fellow citizens, usually when they were elected to an important position. The enforcement of the law was clearly spelt out: In order that the lanistae may be compelled to observe this rule as carefully as possible, competence must be assigned to provincial governors and their legates, or to quaestors, or to legates in command of legions, or to senatorial iuridici, or to procurators of Their Majesties upon mandate of the provincial governor.
|Other ancient amphitheatres in this web site:|
The Colosseo of Rome
The Amphitheatre of Capua
The Amphitheatre of Albano
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii
The Amphitheatre of Catania
The Amphitheatre of Syracuse
The Amphitheatre of Sutri
The Amphitheatre of Urbs Salvia (Urbisaglia)
The Amphitheatre of Pola in Istria
The Amphitheatre of Salona in Dalmatia
The Amphitheatre of Caesarea Maritima in Israel
The Amphitheatre of Mactaris (Makhtar) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Djem) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Uthina (Oudna) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Leptis Magna in Libya
(left) Inscription on an "opus signinum" floor mentioning M. Trahius, an ancestor of Trajan who was the head of a religious college in Italica; (right) Trajan in heroic pose (see other Roman statues in this pose at Pergamum, Herculaneum and Formia): copy at Italica and original at the Archaeological Museum of Seville
Italica was founded by Scipio as a Municipium Civium Romanorum, a town of Roman citizens, to house the veterans of his Spanish campaigns. In the following centuries other Roman families settled there, mainly from central Italy: among them the Ulpii, the Trahii and the Aelii. Marcus Ulpius Traianus (Trajan) was a descendant of two of these families. Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian) also descended from a Roman family and his father was a cousin of Trajan. Italica was founded in the proximity of Ispal, an existing town which was renamed Hispalis (today's Seville) by the Romans. In 45 BC Julius Caesar granted Hispalis the status of colony and renamed it Colonia Iulia Romula Hispalis.
In 29-19 BC the Romans completed the conquest of the Iberian peninsula by submitting the tribes who lived in its mountainous northern regions. Augustus wanted to personally lead the campaign of the year 25. He reorganized the Roman presence in Spain and founded new towns (e,g. Merida). It is likely that the colossal head of the Emperor was part of an acrolith (see another colossal head of Augustus in Rome).
Hadrian extensively travelled across the Empire; it does not appear that he returned to Italica when he was emperor, but he did not forget his birthplace. He granted the town a higher legal status and renamed it Colonia Aelia Augusta Italica, in addition to promoting its enlargement and the construction of public facilities.
"Opus sectile" (marble inlay) floor in Edificio de la Exedra
Archaeological excavations in the XXth century identified a residential neighbourhood near the amphitheatre. It included a large building which cannot be classified as a house. It had a number of shops or taverns along the street front and a palaestra and small baths inside. It might have been the seat of a religious college or of a guild where members gathered for leisure and meetings. It is named after an exedra in the palaestra. In general opus sectile floors are an indication of great wealth. You may wish to see those at Villa dei Quintili near Rome and at Ostia (Domus del Ninfeo and Domus dell'Opus Sectile).
Site of Traianeum
In the early 1980s archaeologists identified the site of a temple to Trajan near the residential neighbourhood. It was situated at the centre of a large portico. The Forum and some of the temples of Italica lie beneath the houses of Santiponce.
Theatre at Santiponce
The amphitheatre lies outside the
old town. On the way ruins peep out
amid the weeds and olive-groves, like
the grey bones of dead giants. Ford.
Most likely Ford came across some walls of the theatre which stands near the former river banks. It could seat an audience of some 3,000 and it was adjoined by a large portico. It was excavated in ca 1900 and in the 1980s a modern seating section was built to house a yearly ballet festival, thus depriving it of its evocativeness, similar to what has occurred to many other ancient theatres, e.g. those at Caesarea Maritima and Carthage.
(left) Columns from the portico adjoining the theatre; (right) Archaeological Museum of Seville: Diana
The theatre and the adjoining portico had fine marble-veined columns in line with the prevailing fashion of the IInd century AD. In 1900 the excavations led to finding a beautiful statue of Diana in the theatre. The goddess is portrayed as a huntress next to the skin of a fawn. Her diadem is a crescent as she was goddess of the Moon, something she shared with Isis, to whom a small temple was dedicated in the theatre premises.
Archaeological Museum of Seville: altars from the theatre of Italica
The first theatre of Athens was dedicated to Dionysus, god of ritual madness, religious ecstasy and winemaking (Bacchus, his Roman equivalent, was mainly associated with wine and drunkenness). Thiasos, the god's retinue of satyrs and maenads (ecstatic female dancers) was frequently depicted in sarcophagi (as at Perge), floor mosaics (as at Thysdrus) and theatres (as at Philippi). The reliefs of the altars found at the theatre of Italica show excellent workmanship, especially in the depiction of the dancers' veiled legs.
Archaeological Museum of Seville - IInd century AD statues from Italica: (left) Hermes; (right) Meleager
The torso of Hermes/Mercury was found in 1788 and the right leg in 1901 (the left leg is a 1945 addition). The god wears a chlamys (a traveller's short cloak) and holds infant Dionysus on his left arm similar to a famous statue of the god at Olympia (you may wish to see other statues of Hermes in the museums of Rome - it opens in another window).
Another torso found at Italica is believed to portray Meleager, the Greek hero who killed the Calydonian boar and who was often depicted wearing a chlamys, as in a sarcophagus found at Vicovaro in Italy, but also other mythological personages were often depicted in the same way, e.g. the Dioscuri (in a sarcophagus from Konya and in Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome).
Archaeological Museum of Seville - statues from Italica: (left) Venus Rising from the Sea; (centre) Tyche/Fortuna, goddess of towns; (right) Alexander or Antinous, Hadrian's favourite
The origin of the statues found at Italica and other Spanish locations is debated. We know that in the finest days of the Roman Empire there were workshops which specialized in making marble copies of famous Greek statues and then shipped them to the four corners of the Empire. They were mainly located in today's Turkey, e.g. at Afrodisias and Docimeium, in Athens and in Rome. It is possible that some sculptors moved to provincial towns with an expanding economy (this occurred especially in the IInd century AD) and established workshops there. Physical and chemical analyses have ascertained that the statue of Trajan was made with marble from Paros and thus it is very likely it was made abroad by order of Hadrian, but for other statues even the use of a foreign marble does not exclude the hand of a local sculptor.
Archaeological Museum of Seville: exhibits from Italica: A) milestone of the time of Hadrian; B) inscription celebrating the donation of four silver statues for the decoration of the (lost) temple to the Genius of "Coloniae Splendidissimae Italicensis"; C) relief which decorated a mithraeum; D) votive plaque with two sandals, one of several which were found in a room of the amphitheatre (see similar votive plaques in Rome)
Plan of this section:
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|