Italica (Spanish: Itálica) north of modern-day Santiponce, 9 km northwest of Seville in southern Spain, was an Italic settlement founded by the Roman general Scipio in the province of Hispania Baetica. It was the birthplace of Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and possibly Theodosius.[1][2][3] It flourished under the reign of Hadrian, becoming an elaborate urban centre and achieving a significant political and economic status in the region. The modern town of Santiponce overlies the pre-Roman Iberian settlement and part of the well-preserved Roman city.

Amphitheatre Italica, Spain.jpg
Italica is located in Spain
Shown within Spain
LocationProvince of Seville, Andalusia, Spain
RegionHispania Baetica
Coordinates37°26′38″N 6°02′48″W / 37.44389°N 6.04667°W / 37.44389; -6.04667Coordinates: 37°26′38″N 6°02′48″W / 37.44389°N 6.04667°W / 37.44389; -6.04667
Founded206 BC
Site notes
Map of the site



...from this time, which was a little before the 144th Olympiad [206 BC], the Romans began to send prætors to Spain yearly to the conquered nations as governors or superintendents to keep the peace. Scipio left them a small force suitable for a peace establishment, and settled his sick and wounded soldiers in a town which he named Italica after Italy...

— Appian, Iberian Wars, Book VII, Chapter 38

Italica was the first Roman settlement in Spain and the first Roman city outside of Italy.[4] It was founded in 206 BC by Publius Cornelius Scipio during the Second Carthaginian War upon a native Iberian town of the Turdetani (dating back at least to the 4th c. BC) as a settlement for his Italic veterans, likely a majority of socii and a minority of Roman citizens, and named Italica after its inhabitants.[5] The nearby native and Roman city of Hispalis (Seville) was and would remain a larger city, but Italica's importance derived from its illustrious origin and from the fact that it was close enough to the Guadalquivir to control the area.[6]

Statue of Trajan

As time progressed, Italica attracted new settlers from Italy and also grew with the children of Roman soldiers and native women.[7] A branch of the Gens Ulpia from the Umbrian city of Tuder (the Ulpi Traiani) and a branch of the gens Aelia from the Picenian city of Atri (the Aelii Hadriani) were either among the original settlers of Italica or among the groups that later moved in the town (at any time between the third century BC and first century AD), as these tribes were the respective families of the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian who were born there.[8] This is the traditional viewpoint, held by a majority of historians such as Julian Bennet and Anthony R.Birley. On the other hand, the Spanish historian Alicia M. Canto has argued since 2003 that the Trahii, a family which is usually also thought to be Umbrian and that intermarried with the Ulpii, were the original paternal family of Trajan and a relevant local indigenous family rather than Italic immigrants.[9]

The vetus urbs (original or "old" city) developed into a prosperous city and was built on a Hippodamian street plan[10][11] with public buildings and a forum at the centre, linked to a busy river port. Italica thrived especially under the patronage of Hadrian, like many other cities in the empire under his influence at this time, but it was especially favoured as his birthplace. He expanded the city northwards as the nova urbs (new city) and, upon its request, elevated it to the status of colonia as Colonia Aelia Augusta Italica even though Hadrian expressed his surprise as it already enjoyed the rights of "Municipium".[12] He also added temples, including the enormous and unique Traianeum in the centre of the city to venerate his predecessor and adopted father, and rebuilt public buildings.

The city started to dwindle as early as the 3rd century when a shift of the Guadalquivir River bed, probably due to siltation, a widespread problem in antiquity that followed removal of the forest cover, left Italica's river port high and dry while Hispalis continued to grow nearby.

Late AntiquityEdit

The city may have been the birthplace of the emperor Theodosius I[13] and of his eldest son Arcadius (born in Spain in 377 A.D., during his father's exile).[14]

Italica was important enough in late Antiquity to have a bishop of its own, and had a garrison during the Visigothic age. The walls were restored by Leovigildo in 583 AD during his struggles against Hermenegildo.[15]

Rediscovery and excavationsEdit

In recent centuries, the ruins became the subject of visits, admiration and despair by many foreign travellers who wrote about and sometimes illustrated their impressions. Italica's prestige, history and fame were not enough, however, to save it from being the subject of continued looting, and a permanent quarry for materials from Ancient times to modern ones. In 1740 the city of Seville ordered demolition of the walls of the amphitheatre to build a dam on the Guadalquivir, and in 1796 the vetus urbs was used to build the new Camino Real of Extremadura. The first law of protection for the site took effect in 1810 under the Napoleonic occupation, reinstating its old name of Italica, and allocating an annual budget for regular excavation.

One of the first excavators was the British textile merchant and Seville resident Nathan Wetherell, who uncovered nearly ten Roman inscriptions in the vicinity of Italica in the 1820s that were later donated to the British Museum.[16][17] Regular excavation, however, did not materialise until 1839–1840.[18] By Royal Order of 1912 Italica was declared a National Monument, but it was not until 2001 that the archaeological site of Italica and the areas of protection were clearly defined.

The siteEdit

Major baths of Itálica: the Hadrianic Baths
Mosaics in Italica

As no modern city covered many of Italica's buildings of the nova urbs, the result is an unusually well-preserved Roman city with cobbled Roman streets and mosaic floors still in situ. Many rich finds can also be seen in the Seville Archaeological Museum, with its famous marble statue of Trajan.[19]

The archaeological site of Italica encompasses mainly the nova urbs with its many fine buildings from the Hadrianic period. The original vetus urbs (old town) lies under the present town of Santiponce.

Extensive excavation and renovation of the site has been done recently and is continuing.

The small baths and the Theatre are some of the oldest visible remains, both built before Hadrian.

Italica’s amphitheatre was the third largest in the Roman Empire at the time, being slightly larger than the Tours Amphitheatre in France. It seated 25,000 spectators, about half as many as the Colosseum in Rome. The size is surprising given that the city's population at the time is estimated to have been only 8,000, and shows that the local elite demonstrated status that extended far beyond Italica itself through the games and theatrical performances they funded as magistrates and public officials.

From the same period is the elite quarter with several beautiful (and expensive) houses decorated with splendid mosaics visible today, particularly the:

  • House of the Exedra
  • House of the Neptune Mosaic
  • House of the Birds Mosaic
  • House of the Planetarium Mosaic
  • House of Hylas
  • House of the Rhodian Patio.

The TraianeumEdit

The Traianeum was a large, imposing temple in honour of the Emperor Trajan, built by his adopted son and successor, Hadrian. It occupies a central double insula at the highest point of nova urbs. It measures 108 x 80 m and is surrounded by a large porticoed square with alternating rectangular and semicircular exedra around its exterior housing sculptures. The temple precinct was decorated with over a hundred columns of expensive Cipollino marble from Euboea, and various fountains.[20]


Route of aqueduct

The aqueduct[21] of 37 km total length was first built in the 1st c. AD and extended under Hadrian to add a more distant source for supplying the expanded city.[22] It fed a huge cistern at the edge of the city which remains intact.[23] Some of the piers of the arches are still visible near the city.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ According to Hydatius and Zosimos, Theodosius was born at "Cauca in Gallaecia" (modern Coca, Segovia, Spain), while Marcellinus Comes and Jordanes place his birth at Italica (near Santiponce) in Baetica, the same as the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Aurelius Victor, Themistius, Pacatus Drepanius, and Claudian, although not explicitly mentioning Italica, also state that Theododius had the same roots as Trajan. This inconsistency among ancient authors has been explained in a variety of wats by modern scholars, who have also attributed it to mistakes or interpolations. Those favoring Cauca as the actual birthplace have also argued that Italica is a later invention precisely intended to connect Theodosius with Trajan. Martin Almagro Gorbea, although also favouring Cauca over Italica, states that modern historians are divided on the issue.
  2. ^ El Disco de Teodosio, Martin Almagro Gorbea, 2000
  3. ^ Alicia M. Canto
    "Sobre el origen bético de Teodosio I el Grande, y su improbable nacimiento en Cauca de Gallaecia", Latomus. Revue d'Études Latines 65.2, 2006,388-421.
    "Itálica, sedes natalis de Adriano. 31 textos históricos y argumentos para una secular polémica", Athenaeum. Studi di letteratura e Storia dell'Antichità 92.2, 2004, 367–408. (in Spanish)
  4. ^ Livy (25 June 2009). Hannibal's War: Books 21-30. ISBN 978-0-19-955597-0.
  5. ^ Roman-Italic migration in Spain, in The origins of the Social War, Emilio Gabba
  6. ^ Appian, Iberian Wars 38
  7. ^ Italica's core of ' Italianized ' , if not Romanized , citizens gave it its importance in Ulterior. As the second century B. C. progressed Italica probably attracted new settlers from Italy and the sons of Roman soldiers and native women
  8. ^ Bennett, Julian (2001). Trajan. Optimus Princeps. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. P. 1-3. ISBN 0-253-21435-1
  9. ^ cf. Las raíces béticas de Trajano: los 'Traii' de la Itálica turdetana, y otras novedades sobre su familia, Seville, 2003, based especially on an extraordinary republican mosaic that appeared in 1984, which can be dated to 100-60 B.C. and reveals the position of praetor of the Latin colony of Itálica exercised by M(arcus) Trahius C(aii) f(ilius).
  10. ^ Alicia M. Canto, "Die 'vetus urbs' von Italica: Probleme ihrer Gründung und ihrer Anlage", Madrider Mitteilungen 26, 1985, 137-148 (spec. fig. 1).
  11. ^ City of Italica; Roman architecture;
  12. ^ Aulus Gellius (Noct. Attic. XVI, 13, 4)
  13. ^ Marcellinus: Chronicon Marcellini comitis, ad ann.. 379 A.D.: Theodosius Hispanus Italicae divi Traiani civitatis a Gratiano Augusto apud Sirmium... imperator creatus est..."
  14. ^ Cf. A.M. Canto, op.cit 2006, 413, nr. 6 and pp. 398, 405, 409 and 415.
  15. ^ John of Biclaro, Chronicles
  16. ^ British Museum Collection
  17. ^ For the study of the inscriptions cf. Alicia M. Canto, Epigrafía romana de Itálica, Madrid, Complutense University, 1985, nr. 39, 71, 82, 86, 106, 115, 132, 150, 152 and 154.
  18. ^ Alicia M. Canto, "Ivo de la Cortina y su obra "Antigüedades de Itálica" (1840): Una revista arqueológica malograda", Cuadernos de Prehistoria y Arqueología de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid 26, 2001, págs. 158-165.
  19. ^ Website
  20. ^ P. León, Traianeum de Itálica, Sevilla, 1988.
  21. ^ Roman Aqueducts:
  22. ^ Alicia M. Canto, "El acueducto romano de Itálica", Madrider Mitteilungen 20, 1979, 282-337. There is a more complete 2002 digital version.
  23. ^ M. Pellicer, "Excavaciones en Italica (1978-79). Muralla, cloacas y cisterna", Itálica, Santiponce (Sevilla), E.A.E. nr. 121, Madrid, 205-224: The reconstruction

External linksEdit