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AUGUSTA EMERITA (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 2.52, 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 Alamanni.

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 to Mérida.

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 various hues.

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 (1915)PI; id., Memorias de la Junta Superior de Excavaciones y Antigüedades 2-118 (1915-31)I; id., Catálogo Monumental de España. Provincia de Badajoz (1926)I; 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 4-22 (1943-61)I; A. García y Bellido, Esculturas romanas de Espana y Portugal (1949)I; 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 49 (1966)PI.


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