BMCR 2000.04.12

Temples and Towns in Roman Iberia. The Social and Architectural Dynamics of Sanctuary Designs from the Third Century B.C. to the Third Century A.D

, Temples and towns in Roman Iberia : the social and architectural dynamics of sanctuary designs from the third century B.C. to the third century A.D.. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. 1 online resource (xxiii, 346 pages) : illustrations, map. ISBN 9780520917330. $65.00.

For the Roman period, the Iberian Peninsula offers exceptional archaeological documentation associated with remarkable historical continuity. However, the area is often overlooked by scholars, who generally focus on Italy, North Africa or Asia Minor. Recently, there has been a desire among archaeologists, represented chiefly by Simon Keay, to present this abundant evidence to an English-speaking audience through a large range of works.1 The book reviewed here belongs to this category. What is more, it is, to my knowledge, the first attempt to offer a general account of the temples of Roman Hispania, and this adds to the relevance of the study.

The book is a reworked version of the author’s 1987 Brown University dissertation. It contains six chapters organised chronologically, followed by a few pages of conclusion. Each chapter observes the same plan: first a detailed presentation of the structures belonging to the period, then a section devoted to an analysis of data, and finally a brief conclusion that summarises the spirit of the time.

The first chapter (‘The Arrival of Rome’ (1-53)) deals with a few republican temples of the peninsula, i.e. the ones at Italica, Emporiae, Saguntum, Azaila, and Botorrita. In Italica, the temple represents the appearance of new architectural forms within the region; in Emporiae, the sanctuary of Serapis and the forum-temple illustrate the answers of an ancient Greek city to Roman control, while the three other cases considered reveal different native reactions to and adaptations of the Roman model. The analysis shows that the conquest did not bring a significant upheaval, but that trade, the implantation of Roman cities or the reality of administration could play a role in the romanisation of the regions.

The second chapter (‘Augustan Homogenization’ (54-127)) depicts the Augustan era as represented by the important alterations to the fora of Saguntum and Emporiae, and the foundation of cities with a new plan, like Augusta Emerita, Barcino, or even Conimbriga. These examples illustrate well the introduction of a definitively Roman type of urban planning in the peninsula, but also the stylistic choices of the Provincials. The élite played a considerable role in sanctuary design, and homogenisation did not rule out local variations.

In the third chapter (‘New Choices under Tiberius’ (128-172)), M(ierse) seeks to isolate the Tiberian period and show its pecularity through the examples of Tarraco and Bilbilis. At that time, Tarraco experienced the emergence of the Imperial cult, manifested by the construction of the famous temple mentioned by Tacitus ( Ann., I, 78) and represented on coins, while Bilbilis offers a temple-forum-theatre association very similar to what is found in Pergamon. It seems that the introduction of the Imperial cult came with Hellenistic architectural influence that reflected native tastes more than Tiberian policy.

Chapter Four (‘Architectural Experiments during the Mid-First Century’ (173-203)) focuses on the rest of the Julio-Claudian period through the examples of Clunia and Belo, both of which equipped themselves with a homogeneous civic centre made of visual units that could work separately architecturally.

The fifth chapter (‘Flavian Extravagance’ (204-267)) discusses a period that was very important in the history of the peninsula as it includes Vespasian’s grant of Latin rights to the whole of Hispania. In Emporiae, Belo, Conimbriga, Mirobriga and Tarraco, temples and urban space were remodelled, while Corduba and Munigua displayed new constructions. The analysis focuses mainly on how urban space can reflect the composition of municipal society and aristocracy.

Chapter Six (‘The Emperors from the Peninsula’ (268-297)) presents the work carried out under Trajan, in Bilbilis and Ausa, and under Hadrian, in Gades, Tarraco and Italica. The analysis of these constructions reveals regional interpenetration in a fully integrated Empire, and also the influence of Hadrian, who took much interest in architecture, on temple design.

The conclusion (298-304) offers a few reflections about the notion of sacred space, the indigenous substratum that can sometimes be detected under the Roman buildings, the importance of native involvement that reflects local identity, and the value of a study of sanctuary design that offers insights into the complex process of romanisation.

This book certainly has many strengths: descriptions of the sites and structures are precise and detailed, the 79 drawings are clear and well-executed, while the 66 photographs at the end of the book provide good visual support for the account. Here and there, the work produces stimulating discussions, in particular M.’s clear and comprehensive presentation of Augusta Emerita and its urbanism (64-78), or his brilliant and convincing clarification of the double representation of the temple on Tarraco’s coins (135-141). The discovery of a simple system of related units that brings order to the entire ensemble of the Traianeum at Italica is also finely observed (293-296), and it is very useful to find a good description of the Mirobriga forum (220-225). From a comparative point of view, the discussion of the peripteral temples of Emerita, Barcino and Ebora is well carried out (98-119), as is the analysis of the similarities between the Bilbilitan project and the complex of Pergamon (160-163).

However, it must be called to the attention of the potential reader that this work also suffers from serious deficiencies. First, the absence of a proper introduction is disconcerting: it is only as one progresses through the study that it appears that M. will consider only the better-preserved temples (see for instance his remark that he will not discuss two temples because they are not ‘architecturally well understood’ (52)). But it is therefore difficult to understand the inclusion of a discussion (very interesting notwithstanding) of the Hadrianic alterations to the Gades temple (75-277): nothing is known about this intervention, which is attested only on a few coins! But a lot more embarrassing is the omission of many well-preserved temples that M. seems to forget or ignore. In a way, this book is a demonstration by omission of the huge progress experienced by Iberian archaeology in the last ten years. There are very few post-1987 items in the bibliography, and it seems obvious that M. could not have consulted most of the works published since. He would appear to have up-to-date information mainly in the cases of Emerita, Tarraco and Ebora. I must mention here many structures that should have been discussed in order for the book to fulfil its goal (I will deliberately restrict my references to the most recent publications). In Caravaca, near Murcia, the remains of two republican temples have been found; one of them presents very close similarities to a temple at Lagine, which strengthen the case for a Hellenistic koine in republican times. In Carteia, the oldest Latin colony outside Italy, the forum-temple has been excavated and dated, and offers a new illustration of republican architecture in Southern Spain. New excavations have also been carried out in the forum of the colony of Pollentia, founded in 123 BC, and its temple is now far better understood.2

For the Imperial period, one must now take into consideration the temple of the Puerta de Sevilla in Carmo, which provides a good example of an Augustan rebuilding, or the one in Mirobriga Turdulorum, whose archaic plan certainly deserved a commentary. In Termes, not so far from Clunia, the forum temple is now well understood and probably belongs to the Julio-Claudian period. Near Edeta, an interesting tetrastyle temple associated with a bath complex can probably be assigned to the Flavian era. The sanctuary of Panóias, in Portugal, and its very important epigraphic documentation, reveal the introduction of a mystery cult in a native environment during the third century. And one must also consider the forum-temple of Iuliobriga and the one in Almofala (areas certainly less romanised but equally interesting).3

There is no doubt that a close examination of all these examples would have brought M. to a better understanding of the architectural evolution within the peninsula and that he could have refined his analysis with a display of a greater diversity in design and the existence of other models. These omissions are certainly unfortunate; furthermore, a number of buildings that are included in the discussion have been the object of a recent reappraisal, and M. appears unaware of these new developments. For example, the structures found in the Cerro de los Palacios in Italica (2-11) cannot be securely identified as a temple. The lack of a podium and the absence of archaeological material to the west of the settlement (which suggests that the building lay on the edge of the town) are elements that may allow us to cast some doubt on Bendala Galán’s identification.4 In Emporiae, the interpretation has also evolved considerably. It is by no means certain that the temple of Serapis (13-25) was actually dedicated to that divinity. A review of the excavation notebooks from the beginning of the century has revealed that the inscription that secured the identification was actually found near the sanctuary of Asklepios.5 As far as the forum-temple (25-36, 55-59, 204-207) is concerned, it seems to have gone through a first refurbishing by the end of the Republic; then two of the small aediculae that were added were possibly dedicated to Caius and Lucius Caesar in Augustan times; and the other small temples were probably built before the Flavian period and thus cannot serve as examples of ‘Flavian Extravagance.’6 I will not insist here on the very hypothetical nature of the interpretation of the Botoritta structures as a ‘curia-temple’ (44-48); a recent and certainly more convincing discussion identifies them as a horreum.7

The treatment of Córdoba in the book (237-245) spectacularly illustrates how important it is to work with an up-to-date bibliography in the field of Iberian archaeology. There is no doubt that the excellent book of R.C. Knapp, Roman Córdoba, published in 1983 and used by M., was at the time a perfect Forschungsbericht about the topography of the city. However, thanks to the excavations carried out during the 80’s and the 90’s, our knowledge of Roman Córdoba has expanded greatly, and we now know much more of its urban plan.8 As for the temple of the calle Claudio Marcelo (240-245), new excavations have shown that it was part of a monumental area located over the eastern city-wall. New stratigraphical evidence from the fills of the cella and a reassessment of the material from García Bellido’s excavations have provided us with a better chronology: the temple was built by the end of the Julio-Claudian period. Thus it too is excluded as an example of ‘Flavian Extravagance’.9 The arch of Berà (270) has been masterfully studied by X. Dupré i Raventós who has clearly shown that it was built in the age of Augustus and not in the reign of Trajan.10 Therefore it is incorrect to suggest a Trajanic date for the temple of Ausa based on a comparison of its capitals with those of the arch (274); the results of the archaeological excavations support an early Antonine construction instead. I would also like to add that there is a recent guide to the site of Baelo (186-195 and 207-213) that gives a good description of the forum and its development and would correct minor inaccuracies in M.’s account.11

From a historical point of view, the book also presents serious inconsistencies. First, the juridical status of the communities, often linked to the urbanisation process, is not studied with rigour. For example, there is no reason to talk about Latin right in the case of the municipium of Bilbilis (156) when Pliny explicitly names the ciuium Romanorum Bilbilitanos ( NH, III, 24). And Clunia did not experience a juridical evolution in the reign of Claudius (176): the town probably received a privileged status under Tiberius, and was presumably promoted to the rank of colonia under Galba. As for the conuentus iuridici in Hispania Citerior, there is no firm evidence for a Claudian creation (176, 195, 197). In a similar register, one cannot compare the native town of Azaila to the colonies of Pollentia and Valentia (52)! It was also a surprise to learn that the summa honoraria was a Tiberian creation (165): as far as I know, there is no evidence to support this view, while the lex Ursonensis, for instance, already mentions the sums the aediles and duumuiri had to spend for the organisation of games ( lex Urson., 70-71).

The link between public construction and prosperity is also present in the book (See 204: “Moreover, the period was prosperous. The changes to the religious sectors … attest to a secure financial situation”). Yet it has been shown that the embellishment of cities partly escaped an economic logic of profitability and that there is no automatic link between urbanisation and opulence.12 Finally, it seems inappropriate to declare (300): “The north coast was never Romanized”. Urbanisation was certainly less developed there, but the region was undoubtedly romanised (as can be seen, for instance, from the inscriptions).

As a matter of fact, the treatment reserved for epigraphy in this book is appalling. For instance, the bilingual inscription from Emporiae is retranscribed (14), but M. completely ignores the new 1991 edition, based on all known fragments.13 As a consequence, his text presents only a small part of the inscription, whose general meaning eludes us. In almost every chapter, there is also a small discussion of the obvious élite involvement in the financing of the building programs (121-122, 165-167, 257-260), but M. quotes only the inscription from Saguntum that names the Baebii (64), whose name is misspelled throughout the book ( Babii : 122, 165, 302). Moreover, he does not even quote the new 1995 edition by Géza Alföldy ( CIL, II2, 14, 374). He seems to be unaware of the double inscription of (Lucius?) Valerius Firmus, from the forum of Munigua ( CILA, II, 1076-1077), a site that is discussed at length (245-257). In general, his remarks on élite patronage are pure theory, when he could have used the evidence from many inscriptions (for private financing in the construction of temples, in the sole conuentus Astigitanus, see for instance CIL, II2, 5, 276; CIL, II2, 5, 294; CIL, II2, 5, 840).

It is thus clear from what has just been said that, in spite of its strong points, this work displays many deficiencies. There are too many omissions, and even the examples discussed are not exempt from shortcomings, especially in the dating. There is also, in my opinion, another serious problem: some of the hypotheses are treated as facts later in the book. This is the case for the placement of the temple of Tarraco (141-149 and 225-226), the unlikely identification of the ‘curia-temple’ of Botorrita (47 and 52-53) and the alleged promotion of Clunia as conventual capital under Claudius (176 and 195, 197 and 201). For all these reasons, M.’s overall demonstration of the ‘dynamics of sanctuary designs’ proves unconvincing. It remains however that this book can be a helpful first introduction to some of the main temples of the peninsula; and that because it avoids many pitfalls of a ‘regional’ approach, especially through comparisons with the architecture of other parts of the Empire, some of its discussions provide new ideas, which could be profitably used by scholars specializing in the architecture of Roman Hispania.


1. B. Cunliffe, S. Keay (eds.), Social Complexity and the Development of Towns in Iberia from the Copper Age to the Second Century A.D., Oxford, 1995; M. Díaz-Andreu, S. Keay (eds.), The Archaeology of Iberia. The Dynamics of Change, London – New York, 1997; S. Keay (ed.), The Archaeology of Early Roman Baetica, Portsmouth, 1998.

2. S.F. Ramallo Asensio, Un santuario de época tardo-republicana en La Encarnación, Caravaca, Murcia, in Templos romanos de Hispania, Murcia, 1992, 39-65; L. Roldán Gómez, M. Bendala Galán (e.a.), Carteia, Madrid, 1998; Equip Pollentia, Resultat dels treballs d’excavació a l’área central de la ciutat romana de Pollentia (Alcúdia, Mallorca): avanc, preliminar, in Pyrenae, 25, 1994, 217-220.

3. A. Jiménez Martín, La puerta de Sevilla en Carmona, Sevilla, 1989; M. Pastor Muñoz, J.A. Pachón Romero, J. Carrasco Rus, Mirobriga. Excavaciones arqueológicas en el “Cerro del Cabezo” (Capilla, Badajoz). Campañas 1987-1988, Mérida, 1992; J.M. Izquierdo Bertiz, Excavaciones en el foro de Tiermes (1981-1984), in Tiermes III. Excavaciones realizadas en la ciudad romana y en las necrópolis medievales (campañas de 1981-1984), Madrid, 1994, 9-29. A. Torrecilla Aznar, El templo del foro de Termes (Montejo de Tiermes, Soria). Su cronología en función de los datos arquitectónicos, in Actas del XXV CNA, Valencia, 1999, 456-461; V. Escrivà Torres, X. Vidal Ferrús, La Partida de Mura (Llíria, Valencia): un conjunto monumental de época Flavia, in Saguntum, 29, 1995, 231-239; G. Alföldy, Die Mysterien von Panóias (Vila Real, Portugal), in Madrider Mitteilungen, 38, 1997, 176-246; P.A. Fernández Vega, Arquitectura y urbanística en la ciudad romana de Julióbriga, Santander, 1993, 156-173; H. Frade, Novos elementos sobre o templo romano de Almofala, in Conimbriga, 29, 1990, 91-101.

4. S.J. Keay, Early Roman Italica and the Romanisation of western Baetica, in A. Caballos, P. León (eds.), Italica MMCC. Actas de las jornadas del 2200 aniversario de la fundación de Itálica (Sevilla, 8-11 noviembre 1994), Sevilla, 1997, 28-30.

5. J. Ruiz de Arbulo, El santuario de Asklepios y las divinidades alejandrinas en la Neapolis de Ampurias (s. II-I a.C.). Nuevas hipotesis, in Verdolay, 7, 1995, 327-338.

6. R. Mar, J. Ruiz de Arbulo, Ampurias romana. Historia, arquitectura y arqueología, Sabadell, 1993.

7. M. Beltrán Lloris, El valle medio del Ebro y su monumentalización en época republicana y augustea (antecedentes, Lepida-Celsa y Caesaraugusta), in W. Trillmich, P. Zanker (eds.), Stadtbild und Ideologie, Munich, 1990, 181-183.

8. A. Ventura, P. León, C. Márquez, Roman Córdoba in the Light of Recent Archaeological Research, in S. Keay (ed.), The Archaeology of Early Roman Baetica, Portsmouth, 1998, 87-107.

9. J.L. Jiménez Salvador , El templo de la calle Claudio Marcelo en Córdoba: aspectos cronológicos, urbanísticos y funcionales, in P. León (ed.), Colonia Patricia Corduba. Una reflexión arqueológica, Córdoba, 1996, 129-153.

10. X. Dupré i Raventós, L’arc romà de Berà (Hispania Citerior), Barcelona, 1994.

11. P. Sillières, Baelo Claudia. Une cité romaine de Bétique, Madrid, 1995.

12. See for instance P. Gros, Comprendre la ville romaine? Perspectives et problèmes d’une approche structurelle, in La ciudad en el mundo romano, vol. 1, Tarragona, 1994, p. 45-55.

13. G. Fabre, M. Mayer, I. Rodà, Inscriptions romaines de Catalogne, vol. 3, Paris, 1991, n 15. Note that M. quotes it (14, note 64) but has manifestly not seen it.