previous next

TARRACO or Kallipolis, Cissa, or Cissis (Tarragona) Spain.

One of the most important cities of Roman Spain, identified with Kallipolis mentioned in Avienus (Or. Mar. 514-15). It may have had an old Etruscan population. In the pre-Roman period it was the principal urban center of the Ibenian tribe of the Cessetani. On coins and in some sources (Polybios and Livy), it appears under the name Cissa or Cissis. References to it become more frequent during the Punic Wars. Ancient Cissa was destroyed by C. Scipio in 218 B.C. After that Rome continually beautified Tarraco (Livy 21.60ff; 22.14ff; 26.17ff; 27.7.17; 28.4.13, 16, 17, 21, 42; Polyb. 3.76; 10.6; 11.25; App. 16 c.15; Frontin. Str. 2.3.1) and Pliny refers to it as Scipionum opus, which seems to correspond with the latest and definitive date assigned to the city walls (3d c. A.D.).

After the arrival of Scipio, Tarraco was the base for the Roman wars against the Carthaginians and Iberians. Tiberius Graccus landed in its port in 179 B.C.; Scipio Emilianus, the destroyer of Numantia, disembarked there in 134 B.C. In the wars between Caesar and Pompey, Tarraco was loyal to Pompey, but later, either voluntarily or of necessity, joined Caesar's party. Caesar was the first great protector of the city. In 45 B.C. Tarraco received a colony of Caesar's (not composed of veterans) and was given the title Colonia Ivlia Vrbs Triumphalis Tarraco; the abbreviations CVT or CVTT appear on the coins of the city between A.D. 16 and 22. However, Tarraco received its highest honor and attained its greatest importance when Augustus withdrew to it to recuperate from the illness contracted during the Cantabrian and Asturian wars (26-25 B.C.: Dio Cass. 53.25.2). Thanks to him Tarraco became the capital of Hispania Citenior (Suet. Aug. 26), and gave its name to Tarraconensis.

During the rising of Galba against Nero, the inhabitants sided with the former (Suet. Galba 12). Hadrian spent the winter of the year 121 in Tarraco, calling together an assembly of representatives of all the cities of the province. Septimius Severus governed Tarraconenis from this city and later, while emperor, ordered that the temple of Augustus be restored at his expense.

Imperial Tarraco flourished until 257 when, according to Aurelius Victor (Caes. 33) and Eutropius (Breviarium 9.8), it was destroyed by the Franks. It seems to have revived, however, since the poet Ausonius in 370 refers to it as one of the principal cities of Spain along with Emerita and Corduba, although this may be from a literary point of view. In 476 it was destroyed by King Euric. This was the end of Roman Tarraco, but the city continued, and attained great importance during the Visigothic period.

Tarraco was the seat of the legatus Augusti pro praetore and the nucleus of the administration of Hispania Tarraconensis, as well as one of the seven conuentus into which that province was divided. Once a year it was the meeting place of the 300 municipalities of Tarraconensis and, according to inscriptions discovered there, it had a full detachment of the Legio VII Gemina, established by Galba in Clunia. The founding of Tarraco by Rome was probably because of the need to establish a key post for the later conquest of the middle basin of the Ebro. Strabo considered it the most important city of Spain (3.4.7); and Mela, in the time of Claudius, does not hesitate to state: “urbs erat, in his oris maritimaris opulentissima” (2.6.5).

In the Augustan age Tarraco covered ca. 36 ha and had a population of about 30,000. There were many later alterations to the city and much reuse of material but there are still considerable ancient remains, the best preserved of which are the walls. Probably they were originally 4 km long, 1 km of which survives. Their date has been the subject of controversy, but today it seems clear that they contain features of two periods of construction: the 6th c. B.C. (the Iberian Period), and the 3d c. B.C., which, moreover, agrees with Pliny's description. On a base of Cyclopean construction of huge, rough-hewn blocks, some of which are 3 by 4 m, are preserved some more typically Roman stretches of wall built with parallelepiped, projecting stones.

The plan of Tarraco, as reconstructed today, is composed of three nuclei: the upper city, with the forum and the Temple of Jupiter (now the cathedral); the middle city, with several Imperial buildings; and the lower city near the port, probably the oldest. We know from the inscriptions (CIL II, 4071-4451) that, in gratitude for the honors that the city received from Augustus, it dedicated an altar to him. The altar was replaced in the year 15 of the Augustan age by a temple dedicated to Diuus Augustus; this temple appears on coins with eight Corinthian columns on the facade, a few remains of which are preserved in the Archaeological Museum of the city. The columns were 1.55 m in diameter and 12 m high. The temple was built on the highest point of the city, and the emperor was depicted as Zeus. Suetonius (Galba 12) writes of the existence of a temple dedicated to Jupiter, and Florus tells us that Europa was venerated in the same temple. There is also information on the worship of Jupiter-Amon and Isis. Also worth mentioning are the remains of the Palatine, a palace belonging to Augustus and later to the governor, which contain some mediaeval additions. The city had a theater and an amphitheater (CIL II, 4280), the latter estimated as 93 by 68 m, baths (CIL II, 4112), a forum (CIL II, 4275), a basilica, and a circus. In the Archaeological Museum of Tannagona are sculptures such as a Venus of the knidos type, a Bacchus of the school of Praxiteles, a head of Alexander, fragments of the temples of Minerva and of Tutela, a mosaic with a Medusa motif and one with fish.

On the left bank of the Francoli river, near the city, was found a Romano-Christian necropolis of ca. 2000 sq. m, buried about 1.8 m deep. It dates from the 3d-6th c. and contains about 2000 tombs. Sarcophagi and mosaic tombstones may be seen in the museum in the necropolis. A basilica has been discovered over the sepulchers of the martyrs Fructuosus, Augurius, and Eulogius, who died under Valenian and Gallienus, and the necropolis is now called San Fructuoso.


J. Serra Villaro, “Excavaciones en la necrópolis romano-cristiana de Tarragona, Junta Superior de Excavaciones y Antiguedades,” Memorias 93, 1927 (1928); 104, 1928 (1929); 111, 1929 (1930); 133, 1934 (1935); id., “Excavaciones en Tarragona, Junta Superior de Excavaciones,” ibid. 116, 1930 (1932); A. Schulten, RE IV A (1932) 2398ff; id., Tarraco (1948); P. Pericay, Tarragona: Historia y Mito (1952); J. M. Recasens, La citat de Tarragona I (1966); J. Avella Vives, Tarragona romana (1967); Th. Hauschild, “Römische Konstructionen auf der oberen Stadtterrasse des antiken Tarraco,” ArchEspArq 45-47 (1972-74) 3ff.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: