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AUGUSTA EME´RITA (Αὐγούστα Ἠμερίτα: Merida, Ru.), the chief city of Lusitania in Spain, was built in B.C. 23, by Publius Carisius, the legate of Augustus, who colonized it with the veterans of the 5th and 10th legions whose term of service had expired (emeriti), at the close of the Cantabrian War. (D. C. 53.26; Strab. iii. pp. 151, 166.) It was, of course, a colonia from the first, and at a later period it is mentioned as having the jus Italicum. (Paullus, Dig. viii. de Cens.) It was the seat of one of the three juridical divisions of Lusitania, the conventus Emeritensis. (Plin. Nat. 4.22. s. 35.) It speedily became the capital of Lusitania, and one of the greatest cities of Spain. (Mela, 2.6.) Ausonius celebrates it in the following verses (Ordo Nobil. Urb. viii., Wernsdorf, Poet. Lat. Min. vol. v. p. 1329):--

“Clara mihi post has memorabere, nomen Iberum,
Emerita aequoreus quam praeterlabitur amnis,
Submittit cui tota suos Hispania fasces.
Corduba non, non arce potens tibi Tarraco certat,
Quaeque sinu pelagi jactat se Bracara dives.”

Emerita stood on the N. bank of the Anas (Guadiana), but a part of its territory lay on the S. side of the river, on which account Hyginus places it in Baeturia. (Hygin. Lim. Const. p. 154.) From its position on the borders of Lusitania and Baetica, we have various statements of the people and district to which it belonged. Strabo assigns it to the Turduli, a part of whom certainly dwelt at one time on the right bank of the Anas (comp. Plin. l.c.); Prudentius to the Vettones (Hymn. in Eulal. 9.186). Ptolemy simply mentions it as an inland city of the Lusitani (2.5.8). It is one of his points of astronomical observation, having 14 hrs. 15 min. in its longest day, and being 3 1/2 hours W. of Alexandria (8.4.3).

Emerita was the centre of a great number of roads branching out into the three provinces of Spain; the chief distances along which were, 162 M. P. to Hispalis; 144 to Corduba; 145, 161, and 220, by different routes, to Olisipo; 313 to the mouth of the Anas; 632 to Caesaraugusta, or 348 by a shorter route, or 458 by the route through Lusitania. (Itin. Ant. pp. 414, 415, 416, 418, 419, 420, 431, 432, 433, 438, 444.) Its territory was of great fertility, and produced the finest olives. (Plin. Nat. 15.3. s. 4.) Pliny also mentions a kind of cochineal (coccus) as found in its neighbourhood and most highly esteemed (4.41. s. 65).

The coins of Emerita are very numerous, most of them bearing the heads of the Augustan family, with epigraphs referring to the origin of the city, and celebrating its founder, in some cases with divine honours. A frequent type is a city gate, generally bearing the inscription EMERITA AUGUSTA a device which has been adopted as the cognizance of the modern city. (Florez, Med. vol. i. p. 384; Eckhel, Doctr. Num. Vet. vol. i. pp. 12, 13.)

And well may Merida, though now but a poor [p. 1.339]neglected town of 4500 inhabitants, cling to the memory of her past glory; for few cities in the Roman empire have such magnificent ruins to attest their ancient splendour. It has been fitly called “the Rome of Spain in respect of stupendous and well-preserved monuments of antiquity.” (Ford, p. 258.) Remains of all the great buildings which adorned a Roman city of the first class are found within a circuit of about half a mile, on a hill which formed the nucleus of the city. The Goths preserved and even repaired the Roman edifices; and, at the Arab conquest, Merida called forth from the Moorish leader Musa the exclamation, that “all the world must have been called together to build such a city.” The conquerors, as usual, put its stability to the severest test, and the ruins of Merida consist of what was solid enough to withstand their violence and the more insidious encroachments of the citizens, who for ages have used the ancient city as a quarry. Within the circuit of the city, the ground is covered with traces of the ancient roads and pavements, remains of temples and other buildings, fragments of columns, statues, and bas-reliefs, with numerous inscriptions. A particular account of the antiquities, which are too numerous to describe here, is given by Laborde and Ford. The circus is still so perfect that it might be used for races as of old, and the theatre, the vomitaries of which are perfect, has been the scene of many a modern bull-fight. The great aqueduct is one of the grandest remains of antiquity in the world; and there are several other aqueducts of less consequence, and the remains of vast reservoirs for water. The Roman bridge over the Guadiana, of 81 arches, 2575 feet long, 26 broad, and 33 above the river, upheld by Goth and Moor, and repaired by Philip III. in 1610, remained uninjured till the Peninsular War of our own time, when some of the arches were blown up, in April 1812. (Florez, Esp. Sagr. vol. xiii. pp. 87, foll.; Laborde, Itinéraire de l'Espagne, vol. iii. pp. 399, foll, 3rd ed.; Ford, Handbook of Spain, pp. 258, foll.)


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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 15.3
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.22
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