The conquest of the Iberian peninsula by Rome lasted two centuries from 218 B.C. to 19 A.D. The Romans gave the peninsula its name, Hispania, and carried out the conquest for three main reasons:
- To have control of the western Mediterranean, which they were competing for with
- To take advantage of the wealth that the mines generated, like gold and silver, and also
stock up on wine and oil.
- But also with a geographical goal to conquer the whole of Europe, reaching the cape of
Finisterre (‘the end of land’ in Latin) which was the most western point of the know
world at that time.
The conquest starts with the landing of Publio and Cneo Escipion in Emporion, nowadays Ampurias in Gerona, during the Second Punic War; on the side of the Carthaginians, Amilcar Barca, Asdrúbal and finally Hannibal succeeded each other as leader.
Hannibal left Cartago Nova, nowadays Cartagena, crossed the Pyrenees and the Alps with his army, which included elephants, and arrived at the gates of Rome.
After the Roman victory at the battle of Ilipa, near Alcalá del Rio in Sevilla, the Carthaginians were forced to abandon the peninsula and finally, at the battle of Zama in Africa, they were completely beaten by Publio Cornelio Escipion, The African.
The Romans advanced their conquest through a military unit known as the Roman Legion, which fought not only on flat terrain but also in the mountains. They were made up of 6,000 men and 300 riders and each unit had their own name and number, like, for example, the Legio Seventh Gemina, originally from the city of León, whose name came from Legio.
However, during their advance through the Iberian Peninsula, the Romans met fierce resistance from the tribes.
- Indíbil and Mandonio (206 B. C.) warlords from the Iberian tribes of the Ilergetes and
Ausetanos, fought in the Pyrenees and the Valley of the Ebro against the Romans,
although eventually they were executed for repeated treason against Rome.
- In the south east of the Iberian Peninsula the Romans had to fight against the Portuguese warlord Viriato, who used guerrilla warfare to resist all the Roman armies sent to beat him for seven years. In the end he reached a peace treaty with Rome, but he was assassinated by three of his lieutenants. The story goes that when these three went to collect their reward, the Roman Consul Escipión Emiliano ordered them to be executed for treachery, saying, “Rome does not reward traitors”.
- Another example was the Celtiberian resistance in the city of Numancia, on the outskirts of what is now Soria. In the year 133 B.C. the General Escipión Emiliano laid siege to the city for fifteen months with 60,000 soldiers against 2,500 Numancians. Faced with defeat, the majority of the people inside the city chose to commit suicide rather than become Roman slaves.
The Sertorian Wars, which took place in Hispania between the years 82 B.C. and 72 B.C. and pitted the Roman General Quintus Sertorius against Pompey the Great, also helped in the Romanization of the Iberian Peninsular, with Iberian tribes fighting on both sides.
Julius Cesar’s last battle was Munda, near Jaen, which he won and was then assassinated in Rome a few months later, leading to the period known as the Roman Empire.
The presence of the Romans in the Iberian Peninsula lasted six centuries, from the second century B.C. to the start of the fifth century A.D., when the Visigoths arrived. The Romanization was founded on four main principles:-
- The language: Latin replaced the indigenous languages (Iberian, Celt). It is estimated that approximately 70% of the words in the Spanish language come from Latin.
- The polystheistic religion (many Gods) was replaced by Christianity which became th official religion of the Roman Empire at the end of the fourth century with Emperor Theodosius.
- Roman law which introduced laws and the concept of the State and also the organization of the land in Hispania which in the time of Emperor Octavio Augusto (27 B. C.) was divided in three provinces, Betica, Tarraconense and Lusitania.
- Urban civilization: the Romans created an important network of roadways that joined cities up, such as Cadiz, Cartagena, Córdoba, León, Mérida, Sevilla and Zaragoza. All these cities have a similar pattern, made up of a main road called Cardo (North to South) and also the Decumeno (East to West). Both converge at the Forum, the heart of the city, where the government buildings, temples, baths and markets were to be found.
Great feats of engineering and architecture were carried out, some of the most impressive being:
- The Walls of Lugo
- The Aqueduct at Segovia
- The Alcantara Bridge
- The Amphitheatre at Mérida
Hispania was one of the most Romanized provinces of the Empire. In the third century A.D. Roman citizenship was granted to all the free inhabitants of Hispania.
A number of important figures in the history of Rome were born in Hispania, for example the Emperors Trajan, Hadrian and Theodosius, the philosopher Séneca, the poet Marcial and the public speaker Quintiliano.