Conimbriga, a Roman town in Lusitania

By Conimbriga Monographic Museum

Created in 1962, the "Museu Monográfico de Conimbriga-Museu Nacional" (Conimbriga’s Site Museum) manages the ruins of the Roman city (open to the public since 1930).The most emblematic of archaeological sites in Portugal, it is a public service of the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage (Ministry of Culture).

Gold decorated piece (4th c. BC) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The pre-Roman site

Conimbriga was inhabited long before the Romans.  The oldest remains are fragments of pottery dated to the Late Bronze Age (around 1000 BC), and include a variety of materials, locally produced and imported, all along the Iron Age.

The presence of Phoenician material is especially important.

‏‏‎ ‏‏‎ by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Head of Augustus (First half of 1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Conimbriga under Augustus

Conquered in 138-136 BC, by the expedition of Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus, Conimbriga would live, apparently uneventfully, under the Roman rule for a century.

Everything would change under the emperor Augustus, who reorganizes the provinces, creating Lusitania, around 25 BC.

Conimbriga receives a large urban program, including a forum, baths and an aqueduct and a city wall.

Roman republican coins (2nd and 1st c. BC) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The monetarisation of the economy was one of the first and most important impacts of the Roman presence in the region.

Selecion of latin-inscribed objects (1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The diffusion of the practice of writing and the use of Latin was one of the essential elements of the Romanization of the local populations.

The Insula of the aqueduct (Last quarter of 1st c. BC) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The aqueduct (Last quarter of 1st c. BC) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The Conimbriga aqueduct, which carries water from the Alcabideque spring to the city, was built around 10 BC.

Dedicatory inscription to the Remetes Augusti (1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The inscription dedicated to the Remetes Augusti is one of the best examples of syncretism between the indigenous religion and the imperial cult from Conimbriga.

Model of the forum (Last quarter of 1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The municipium

In 75 AD the emperor Vespasian grants latin rights to all the Hispanic towns, which turns many that were simple oppida in cities properly governed by elected officials. Conimbriga adopts the name of the emperor’s family and becomes (at least officially) Flavia Conimbriga.

It is a moment of profound urban renovation, most public monuments are refurbished or completely remodeled and the economy thrives.

Altar to Flavia Conimbriga (Last quarter of 1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The forum of Conimbriga (Last quarter of 1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Foot of a statue of a cuirassed emperor (First half of 2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The great baths of the town (Last quarter of 1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The wall's baths (Last quarter of 1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Imperial coins (1st and 2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Statuette of Minerva (2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The local aristocracy

The cultural revolution that successive urban renovations provoked completely engulfed the aristocracy of the town.

Being almost undetectable any significant flux of immigrants (colonists) of italic origin, these are the local, traditional families, adopting new ways of life, becoming Roman.

House of Cantaber (1st to 3rd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

At more than 3200 sq. m, the House attributed to Cantaber is the largest residence of the town.

‏‏‎ ‏‏‎ by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

House of the Skeletons (2nd to 3rd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Central peristyle of the House of the Fountains (First half of 2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The restoration of the central perystile and its water features, in 1953, made the House of the Fountains a central attraction of Conimbriga.

Decoration of the House of the fountains (First half of 2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Mosaic and fresco paintings combined to produce the artistic environment Romans sought in their houses. These arrangements were often substituted according to fashion.

Nimphaeum of the House of the Fountains (First half of 2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Altar to the Lares of the waters (First half of 2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The water architecture had a climatic utility and a playful aspect in the sound provided, but also a very important magic-religious value, which is attested by the dedication of votive altars to the waters’ Lares.

Comercial building south of the main road (1st-2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The economy of the town

Roman influence spread through all levels of society and on all kinds of activities, old and new.

This reflected on the structure of the town, with new buildings, most of them residential, of a traditional plan, but newly built using stone and lime mortar, but some devoted to specifically Roman activities.

Basins of a fullonica (laundry) (1st-2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The diffusion of Roman customs and ways of life created the widespread need for the use and maintenance of new types of clothing, which led to the appearance of laundries (fullonicae).

Kitchen of a caupona (pub) (1st-2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The same type of phenomena led to the emergence of public establishments for the provision of prepared food and drink, such as this one located next to the baths of the wall, of which the kitchen is identifiable.

Autumn (Second half of 2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Works of art and ingenuity

Mosaics are the better known and admired evidence of the adoption of Roman techniques, ideas and tastes. They decorated most of the rich residences of the town and are today a major point of interest for visitors.

But the archaeological site and its museum is rich in objects which demonstrate the richness of the Roman lives that were lived in Conimbriga.

The deer hunt (First half of 3rd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The favorite subject, at least in House of the Fountains, was hunting, seen by the proprietary aristocrats as the privileged field where the dominus (the lord of the house) demonstrates his virtus (virility).

The servant with a piglet (Second half of 2nd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Conimbriga’s mosaicists appreciated genre scenes, like the servant of the house carrying a suckling pig and fruits of the field in a basket. The attention to detail of clothing is striking.

The Labirinth with the Minothaur (First half of 3rd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The house owners and mosaicists also devoted their attention to mythological themes like Theseus, represented through the Minotaur in the center of the Labyrinth.

Floral medallion (Second half of 3rd c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The art of mosaic reached its splendor in Conimbriga between the 2nd and 3rd centuries of our era.

Inscribed brick (1st c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

One of the many industries that the city housed was the production of ceramic building materials. A leading man of this industry, Maelo, was greeted by one of his workers: "Ave Maelo".

Handle attachment and mould (4th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The production of metallic vases was another local industry of great expression, which is documented by the presence of cast molds of handle attachments.

Christian object (5th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The Late-Empire

Around 300 AD the town sees its urban area reduced and an important wall built around it. It was a sign of troubled times, wich culminated in the mid-5th century with raids by the Suebii.

Conimbriga witnessed in those times another important cultural phenomenon: the spread of Christianity.

Gate of the Late-imperial wall (Late 3rd or early 4th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

At the end of the 3rd century of our era the city was surrounded by an imposing defensive wall, a great military engineering work built according to the model of the walls of Aurelian in Rome.

Lamp with the chrismon (5th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The representation of Christ's monogram replaces ancient representations of pagan deities, mythological scenes or aspects of everyday life in objects of common use, such as lamps.

Fragment of a plate with the cross (5th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Epitaph of Serenianus (579 AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The funerary tombstone of Serenianus dates from the year 579.

Palaeo-christian basilica (4th to 7th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

One of the most significant monuments of the last phase of occupation of the city is the Palaeo-Christian basilica, a church that was adapted from a previous domestic building.

The baptistry (4th to 7th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

Essential element of the basilica was the baptistery. The large dimensions of the bassin document the fact that baptism was, in those early days, received in adulthood and by total immersion.

Vine branch (7th to 9th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

One of the main motifs of the decorative sculpture of the late period is the branch of vine with its clusters.

Vine branches in a pilaster (7th to 9th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The architecture of Conimbriga at this time reveals the artists' contacts with the new languages of sculpture and architecture.

Medieval graves (9th to 11th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

The end of the town

The Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula dealt Conimbriga the last blow to its existence.

The town was finally abandoned and its area devoted to agricultural use, with Christian buildings surviving as country churches, surrounded by cemeteries.

Arab coins (8th c. AD) by Unknown authorConimbriga Monographic Museum

At the beginning of the 8th century, the Arab invasion occupied almost all of the Iberian Peninsula. Conimbriga witnessed and suffered the effects of this invasion already in a state of great urban and demographic degradation and the Arab period marked the last phase of abandonment of the city.

Credits: Story

Photographs:
Delfim Ferreira, José Pessoa, José Paulo Ruas, Luísa Oliveira, Humberto Rendeiro.

Credits: All media
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