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SAGUNTUM (Sagunto) Valencia, Spain.

City near the coast 25 km N of Valencia, built above the Palancia river on the top and slope of a mountain, the last spur of the Iberian range towards the sea (Polyb. 3.17; Plin., HN 3.21; Mela 2.92; Strab. 3.4.9). The destruction of the earlier Iberian city, Arse, by Hannibal in 219 B.C. (Livy 21), caused the second Punic war. Influenced by its indigenous name, Silius Italicus (Punica 1.271) and Livy thought it was founded by the Ardea, whereas Strabo (3.4.6) and Pliny (16.216) associate the name Saguntum with a hypothetical Zacynthian colony (neither theory is tenable). Arse (high fortress) changed its name to Saguntum, and these two names have led to the theory that there were two cities, Iberian on the mountain top and Roman in the plain, but this does not seem probable. The barbarian invasions of the 5th c. left it mostly in ruins, and from the time of the Arabs on it was called Murbiter, Murviedro, Morvedre (murus vetus), and regained the name of Sagunto only in 1868. The river flowing through the city (erroneously called Palancia from the 16th c. on) must have been the Udiba (Plin. 3.21), known in the Middle Ages as Riu de Sogorb, after the town upstream from Sagunto.

There are abundant pre-Roman and Roman remains. The plateau, about 1000 m long, on which the indigenous city was built, continued to be inhabited in Roman times and was later used as a fortress, a key point in the defense of coastal and inland roads. Excavations have located various Roman buildings, including the peristyle of a possible temple, part of the forum, cisterns, and the theater, much damaged, on the E slope of the mountain. Only the hemicycle preserves the infrastructure carved in the rock, showing three lower rows of seats, six of the ima cavea, seven of the media cavea, and ten of the summa cavea, separated by horizontal aisles. Radial stairways divide the rows of seats into sections. The maximum width of the building was 89.85 m, and the pulpitum was 54.75 by 6.5 m. Its capacity is estimated at 10,000. Its acoustics are extraordinary, as confirmed by modern performances. No dating material has survived, but comparison with other Roman theaters suggests the 1st c. A.D.

The so-called Temple of Diana (Plin. HN 16.216) was probably on the acropolis, but today it is identified with some large wall surfaces inside the city, constructed with care about the 5th c. B.C. The circus is located between the river and the mountain. Until recently its perimeter, the outline of the spina, part of the lateral walls, and the hemicycle facing the carceres could be traced, although the porta triumphalis had disappeared. The whole length of the spina was excavated in 1945, but urbanization of the area has now covered the circus, with the exception of a side gate. It was 354 by 73.4 m, and the spina, composed of two parallel walls, 190 by 3.4 m. It is estimated that it held 10,000 spectators, and it dates from the 2d c. or the beginning of the 3d.

Epigraphical remains are rich: 173 Roman tablets have been published (CIL II, 3819-57, 6019-24, 6026-37, 6039-53). Later finds make a total of ca. 225 whole inscriptions and fragments, and a Corpus is in preparation. Mosaics are also numerous (Archaeological Museum). In 1745 an opus tesselatum mosaic (7.36 x 5.06 m) was found with Bacchus on a panther in the center and, in the four corners, kantharoi from which rise vines with branches and bunches of grapes being harvested by twelve cupids. This mosaic disappeared shortly after its discovery, as have several others of opus signinum and opus sectile found in the area of the acropolis. Others, however, from the 2d c. exist.

Little sculpture has been found, a few togate figures, one female head, one Bacchic Hermes, and two reliefs depicting an animal tamer or Epona (Fine Arts Museum, Valencia). There is, however, terra sigillata from various periods and studios.

Saguntian coins are abundant, but there is disagreement on their chronology. The most ancient coins are of silver and give the name of the city as ARSE-ETAR (of the people of Arse), ARS-GIDAR (silver of the people of Arse?), and ARSA-GISGUEGIAR in Iberian. There is only one known specimen with ARSESKEN (of the people of Arse). The heavier of these coins probably date from 212 to 195 B.C., the lighter from 195 to 94 B.C. On the face is the head of Pallas or Hercules, and on the reverse, a bull. Towards the middle of the 2d c. B.C. the reverse shows the typical Iberian horseman and the inscription ARSE. On bronze coins the prow of a ship replaces the horseman about 133 B.C., but the Iberian ARSE remains. Shortly thereafter the bilingual ARSE-SAGUNTINU appears, and later only the Latin inscription SAGUNT. The quadrans has a scallop shell on the face, a dolphin and SAGUNT on the reverse; the sextans has a scallop shell and, on the reverse, a caduceus and UNT. It seems that minting was suspended about the end of the Sertorian War and resumed from A.D. 14 to 20, under Tiberius. Coins bearing the inscription AIDUBATS, attributed to Sagunto, probably come from another town nearby.


A. Chabret, Sagunto. Su Historia y sus Monumentos (1888); D. Fletcher, “Que fueron los barros saguntinos?” Arse 1 (1957) 3ff; id., “El teatro Romano de Sagunto,” BIM 55 (1967) 26-43; M. Vall, “Mosaicos romanos de Sagunto,” Archivo de Prehistoria Levantina 9 (1961) 141-75; 5. Bru, “El circo romano de Sagunto,” ibid. 10 (1963) 207-26; id., “El Castillo de Sagunto,” BIM 55 (1967) 5-25; A. García y Bellido, “Das Artemision von Saguntum,” MadrMitt 4 (1963) 87-98; E. Pla, “Los Museos de Sagunto,” BIM 55 (1967) 44-59; L. Villaronga, Las monedas de Arse-Saguntum (1967).


hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Strabo, Geography, 3.4.6
    • Strabo, Geography, 3.4.9
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 16.79
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.21
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