Bilbilis (Augusta Bilbilis)

Augusta Bilbilis was a city (or municipium) founded by the Romans in the province of Hispania Tarraconensis.[1] It was the birthplace of Martial c. 40 AD. The modern town of Calatayud was founded near this Roman site.


  • History 1
    • Earliest Phase and Origins 1.1
    • The Augustan period 1.2
      • Urbanisation 1.2.1


Earliest Phase and Origins

The site of indigenous Celtiberian Bilbilis was situated on the heights of Cerro de Bambola and part of San Paterno, lying to the North of ancient Segeda and 60 km SW of the Roman colony of Col. Caesaraugusta (modern Zaragoza) in NE internal Spain. Its inhabitants belonged to the group of the Celtic tribes of Hispania Citerior known as the Lusones tribe, of which Bilbilis was their capital. Their earliest coin issue includes a male head facing right, with dolphin to the left of the portrait on the obverse, while the reverse depicts a horseman carrying a spear and the inscription Bilbilis. These date from the late 2nd to the early 1st century BC and a number of these form part of the Iberian coin collection in the British Museum.[2]

The first contact between the eventual conquerors of the area, the Romans, and the Lusones occurred around the 2nd century BC, when Quintus Fulvius Flaccus journeyed from the Mediterranean coast of Spain into the hinterland, a region referred to as Celtiberia. It was not until the 1st century, however, that Roman culture, language and customs, gradually began to spread into the hinterland with the indigenous cultures taking on many and varied aspects of Roman life while still maintaining aspects of their own distinct cultures.

The Augustan period

Changes to the land around the city, and the monumentalization of civic and urban space characterise the Augustan period. The city's heyday was the 1st century, and it rapidly declined in the 2nd century AD, it was gradually abandoned and by the 3rd century it was half-deserted.

With the pacification of Hispania and the death of Julius Caesar, Augustus embarked on a series of administrative reforms including the Convent Bilbilis Legal Caesaraugustano in the Tarragona province. The city obtained the rank or status of Municipium, and became Bilbilis Municipium Bilbilis Augusta and thus enjoyed ever since, the many privileges under Roman law, including the bestowing on all its inhabitants the Roman citizenship. Coins were also minted in the city naming Augusta Bilbilis on the reverse along with the governor's name. There were 10 minted under Augustus, four under Tiberius and one under Caligula.The most intriguing coin is the one naming Lucius Aelius Sejanus as consul. COS (consul) was stamped inside a garland of oak leaves or the corona civica under the Emperor Tiberius on the reverse. The town must have flourished with Sejanus as benefactor. But if this was true the town was ultimately hurt with the demise of Sejanus when he was proved to be a traitor. All statues and monuments were damnatio along with the coinage. Most coins were of the AEas or semi variety. These were filed or stamped to erase his name from memory. Some very rare coins have his name still legible. Dr. Paul L. Maier puts forth a thought-provoking history of how Sejanus played a role in the life of Jesus in his book Pontius Pilate. It seems Sejanus was in a powerful position as co-emperor to appoint Pilate to Judaea as Tiberius was in retirement on the Island of Capri. After Sejanus' fall, his family and supporters were hunted down and eliminated for years to come. This raises the question of why Pilate, a hard and tough governor, caved under Jewish request to hand over Jesus to be crucified. "You are no friend of Caesar" and that was all it took. Pilate knew his head was on the block. In fact, he was recalled to Rome two years later to answer charges but Tiberius died on the way as Pilate took the long winter route.

At this time the city was structured and laid out in Roman fashion through a series of costly and complex works of adaptation to the terrain. This included adaptations to existing and new infrastructures and services, alongside improved communications and equipment, allowing the Municipium to become the political, administrative, economic and social centre of the region. To perform these functions an urban complex consisting of arcaded square, temple, basilica and curia, and theatre was built. Baths were also built, and a complex nymphaeum based on a network of hydraulic tanks adapted to the contour of the land that secured the city a permanent water supply.


The topography of the terrain imposed an ordered terrace system with steep streets, hills and ramps, in contrast to the usual reticular pattern of a Roman villa. Communication between terraces was achieved through ramps, which facilitated the movement of people and vehicles through a twisting path adapted to the slope of the hills. Pedestrian's probably used ladders on both sides and formed the blocks of houses to walk along the roofs and move around.

The middle part of the city was reserved for the main monument, the forum and theatre. Towards this area converged the two main access roads radiating from inwards the gates that were located in the city walls, one on the floor next to the plain of the river Jalón and another to the theatre. This set was visible from the nearby Roman road and therefore would possibly have had served as "propaganda" over the local populations highlighting the benefits of Roman civilization.

  1. ^ See Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, Map 25, D4.
  2. ^ See Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum (SNG) Vol IX. The British Museum. Nos. 858–867
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