(Mérida) Badajoz, Spain.
Town at the confluence of the Guadiana (the Anas
of the Romans) and the Albarregas. It was founded by
P. Carisius, the legate of Augustus, in 25 B.C. for the
veterans discharged after the Cantabrian wars. It came
to outrank all other towns of Lusitania and was one of
the most important Roman settlements of the Iberian
peninsula: chief town of the Conventus Iuridicus, according to Pliny (4.117
) and a colony attested by Pliny,
by the coins minted there, and by numerous inscriptions.
Augustan boundary stones show the extensive territory
of the colony—they have been found 100 km from the
town—and Frontinus (De controversiis agrorum
Lachmann) says that even after several land distributions there was still land left over. The original colonists
were apparently veterans of the Legiones V Alauda and
X Gemina but the sources, in addition to Frontinus, allude to later settlers of more obscure origin: the families
sent there by Otto in A.D. 69 for example (Tac., Hist
1.78). Inscriptions refer to colonists from the legiones
VI Victrix and VII Gemina. Emerita was also important
during the age of the Visigoths and has been inhabited
without a break ever since.
The rectangular plan typical of Roman camps is still
reflected in the modern town. The decumanus maximus
survives almost unchanged from the head of the Roman
bridge over the Guadiana to the site of the so-called
town gate; the cardo maximus ran from Trajan's arch
to the problematic Arch of Cimbron (no longer extant).
Probably there was originally a walled enclosure framing
this central quadrilateral. There are no visible remains
of this enclosure, only references to the sites of the gates;
but Trajan's arch, which some think is a monumental
gateway in the wall, and the stretch of wall recently unearthed during excavation of the Moorish citadel may
be remains of it. This wall runs SW-NE, parallel to
the river. There are also stretches of a larger circuit wall,
obviously of a much later date and including the theater
and amphitheater. Although it has not been dated accurately, it is interesting to note that the wall stopped
up one of the gates of the amphitheater and affected part
of the walls of the so-called House of the Amphitheater.
These facts indicate a later date: not only is the house
essentially a 2d c. construction, but the wall is typical
of defensive works hastily thrown up when danger is
imminent. It appears to date from the second half of the
3d c. A.D., the time of the invasions of the Franks and
The Roman road N to Asturica and S to Italica ran
over the bridges, still extant, across the Albarregas and
the Guadiana respectively. The first is the smaller (130 m
long), but retains much of its original Roman design.
The larger bridge (792 x 4.5) over the Guadiana has
been rebuilt at various times; the reconstructions are well
documented. At present it has 57 arches of various periods. The best-preserved Roman part, the structure of
which is still intact, is between the town and the first of
the two ramps off the bridge, the one to the island that
splits the river. In this stretch the cut-waters, built of
rusticated ashlar masonry like all the original work, are
rounded, and above them between the larger arches are
spillways to reduce the resistance to floodwater. Along
the wall of the citadel and near the ramp to the island
there are extensive remains of what must have been
wharves; at that time the Guadiana was navigable up
Nothing is known of the forum, which must have
been near the modern Plaza Mayor, at the intersection
of the cardo and decumanus, but extensive remains of
two of its temples survive. Near the decumanus some
parts of a temple, for no good reason usually called the
temple of Diana, have been incorporated into a 16th c.
house: a few granite columns, several of them still supporting fragments of the architrave. It was a hexastyle
peripteral temple set on a high podium, with the entrance
probably on the N. On its E side are six columns without
capitals, half-covered, in the main facade of the house.
On the S side are six more columns, but parts of the
shafts have disappeared. These columns, from one of
the smaller sides of the temple, are so arranged that the
central intercolumniation is slightly wider than the
others. The W part, visible from the patio of the house,
consists of five columns with Corinthian capitals, four of
which still support the architrave over three intercolumniations. The columns are 8 m high and their
diameter at the bottom is 0.85 m; the intercolumniations
are 2.1 m; the podium, still partly buried and over 2 m
high, is 21.5 m long and 15.6 m wide. It is made of granite and must have been adorned with stucco or marble.
Fragments of a temple dedicated to Mars have been
incorporated into the so-called Hornita de Santa Eulalia
chapel. They consist of two engaged columns with Corinthian capitals supporting stretches of the entablature
profusely decorated on the frieze with heads of Medusa
and palms, and with plants, animals, and military regalia
on the soffits, all from about the middle of the 2d c. Set
into the frieze is a cartouche with the inscription MARTI
SACRUM/VETTILLA PACULI. The material is marble of
In the SE part of the town was a religious complex
where the mystery cults of Mithras, Serapis, and other
exotic gods were celebrated. The finds include a seated
Mercury whose lyre bears an inscription, dated the 180th
year after the foundation of the colony (A.D. 155) and
showing C. Accius Hedychrus, the pater of the Mithras
cult known from other inscribed stones from Emerita.
Recent excavations have revealed the remains of Roman
houses undoubtedly connected with the Mithraeum, with
patios, cisterns, bathing facilities, and mosaic pavements. The mosaic of the creation of the universe, one
of the most important ever found in the Empire, can be
dated from the end of the 2d c. B.C. Another villa, mentioned above, has been unearthed near the amphitheater.
It consists of several rooms, some with large mosaics,
arranged around a small central peristyle and along a
broad corridor. Painted stucco is preserved at the bottom of the walls. A few private back-to-back baths seem
to be those of a neighboring house not yet excavated.
The material found in the House of the Amphitheater
suggests a date between the latter part of the 1st and
the second half of the 3d c., when it was destroyed.
Mosaic pavements in houses have also been found in
other parts of the town.
Ruins of the theater and the amphitheater formed a
complex E of the town; the circus is farther off. The
theater is outstanding. A large cavea of concrete and
granite ashlar blocks has 13 entrances, 13 vomitoria, and
two large side entrances between the seats of the cavea
and the scaena, the lintels of which bear inscriptions of
M. Agrippa dated 16 B.C. Some marble from the scaena
has fallen but most of it is still in place, including
statues in the intercolumniations of the two tiers of
colonnades, on a high podium, which constituted the
scaena. Three valvae gave access to a spacious porticoed
patio behind. The maximum diameter of the building
is 86.82 m. The structure, perhaps begun by Agrippa,
was later reconstructed.
Across a paved highway 6.5 m wide, the amphitheater
consists of a large ellipse; the N-S diameter is 126.3 m
and the E-W one 102.65 m. It has 16 entrances, each of
which gave access to a stairway connecting the 32 vomitoria that open into the cavea. There are two aditus on
the longer axis, and four tribunes placed at the poles
of each diameter. Inscriptions, preserved in part, mention the probable date of construction, 8 B.C., under
Augustus. Construction is of concrete and granite ashlar,
and there is a large cruciform pit in the arena similar
to that in the amphitheater at Italica.
About 500 m to the E are the remains of the circus.
Its plan is the usual one, long and narrow, with two almost parallel tiers of seats closed at one end by a semicircle and at the other by the main facade. The central
spina is slightly out of line with the main axis. The whole
building (433 x 114 m) is in worse condition than the
other two public buildings.
The town was supplied with water by an hydraulic
system consisting basically of two capacious reservoirs,
the dams of which, restored at various periods, are still
in working order; two main aqueducts, and several secondary conduits. One of the reservoirs is now called
the Proserpina reservoir because an inscription to Ataecina-Proserpina was found nearby. The dam has a sloping wall more than 400 m long and 6 m thick. It has
been calculated that it can impound more than S million
cu. m of water. Large parts of the aqueduct still survive, particularly a series of arches, ca. 825 m long, that
cross the Albarregas valley on slender pillars with alternating granite and brick courses. They appear to date
from the second half of the 3d c., although earlier dates
have been suggested.
The dam of the so-called Cornalvo reservoir is 220 m
long; the wall has a very steep batter and rows of steps
along the part of the dike facing the water. The Roman
structure has been badly disfigured by subsequent restorations except for the water tower, which is in the
reservoir and has well-preserved rusticated ashlars.
Water from this reservoir was carried by several aqueducts, remains of which can be recognized in the E
part of the town. The San Lazaro aqueduct, however,
ca. 1600 m long and not far from the circus, took its
water from springs and water courses in the environs
of the town and not from the Cornalvo reservoir. A few
pillars of the arches with alternating granite and brick
courses still survive.
Many other Roman remains have been found, some of
which have disappeared. Scattered remains of baths have
been recognized, and the cemetery areas identified. On
the San Albin hill, between the Mithraeum and the public buildings, various types of tombs have been discovered, including columbaria with two burial chambers, one
rectangular and the other trapezoidal, with fresco paintings and funerary inscriptions. Apparently the town was
not extended to the E, and all this area was for cemeteries. Funerary remains have also been discovered at
the two exits of the Roman road near the two bridges.
Recent excavations in the Arab citadel have uncovered
streets and houses of the Roman era. The sewer system
is well preserved and part of it is still in use; its network
is complete and provides an accurate idea of the topography of the ancient town.
Most of the finds are in the Mérida Archaeological
Museum. The sculpture collection includes objects found
in the theater and the Mithraeum; there are epigraphic
and coin collections, ceramic and glass household ware,
and a large number of domestic utensils and tradesmen's tools. Other material is in the Badajoz and Sevilla
Provincial Museums and the National Archaeological
Museum in Madrid.
J. R. Mélida, El teatro romano de Mérida
; id., Memorias de la Junta Superior de
Excavaciones y Antigüedades
Catálogo Monumental de España. Provincia de Badajoz
; A. Floriano, “Excavaciones en Mérida,” ArchEspArq
17 (1944) 151-86; J. A. Sáenz de Buruaga &
J. García de Soto, “Nuevas aportaciones al estudio de
Ia Necrópolis oriental de Mérida,” ibid. 19 (1946) 70-85; id., “Museo Arqueológico de Mérida,” Memorias de los Museos Arqueológicos Provinciales
; A. García y Bellido, Esculturas romanas de Espana y Portugal
; id., “Mérida. La gran necrópolis romana de la salida del puente,” Excavaciones Arqueológicas en España
11 & 45 (1962-66)I
; id., Les réligions orientales dans l'Espagne romaine
(1967); E. García Sandoval, “Informe sobre las casas de Mérida y excavaciones en la ‘Casa del Anfiteatro,’” Excavaciones
Arqueológicas en España
L. G. IGLESIAS