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 (likely), and Theodosius (possibly). It flourished under the reign of Hadrian, becoming an elaborate urban centre and obtaining the highest status of Roman city. The modern town of Santiponce overlies the pre-Roman Iberian settlement and part of the well-preserved Roman city.

The Roman amphitheatre at Italica seated 25,000
Shown within Spain
LocationProvince of Seville, Spain
RegionHispania Baetica
Coordinates37°26′38″N 6°02′48″W
Founded206 BC
Site notes

Roman history

The nearby native and Roman city of Hispalis (Seville) was and would remain a larger city, but Italica was founded in 206 BC by the great Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio (later given the nickname Africanus) to settle his victorious veterans from the Second Punic Wars against Hannibal and the Carthaginians, and close enough to the Guadalquivir to control the area.[1] The city was built upon a native Iberian town of the Turdetani dating back at least to the 4th c. BC. The name Italica reflected the veterans' Italian origins, i.e from auxiliary Italic units.

The vetus urbs (original or "old" city) developed into a prosperous city and was built on a Hippodamian street plan[2] with public buildings and a forum at the centre, linked to a busy river port. At some point members of the Roman tribes Gens Ulpia and Aelia had moved to Italica, as these tribes were the respective families of the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian who were later born here.[3]

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".[4] He also added temples, including the enormous and unique Trajaneum 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; 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 whilst Hispalis continued to grow nearby.

The city may have been the birthplace of the emperor Theodosius I.[5]

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.[6]

Rediscovery and excavations

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 urbs vetus 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 20 Roman inscriptions in the vicinity of Italica in the 1820s that were later donated to the British Museum.[7] Regular excavation, however, did not materialise until 1839-1840. 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 site

As no modern city covered many of Italica's buildings, 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 colossus of Trajan.

The archaeological site of Italica encompasses mainly the urbs nova with its many fine buildings from the Hadrianic period. The original urbs vetus (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 Traianeum

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.


The aqueduct[8] 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. It fed a huge cistern at the edge of the city which remains intact. Some of the piers of the arches are still visible near the city.

See also


  1. Appian, Iberian Wars 38
  2. City of Italica; Roman architecture;
  3. Bennett, Julian (2001). Trajan. Optimus Princeps. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. P. 1-3. ISBN 0-253-21435-1
  4. Aulus Gellius (Noct. Attic. XVI, 13, 4)
  5. Marcellinus Comes: Annales
  6. John of Biclaro, Chronicles
  7. British Museum Collection
  8. Roman Aqueducts:
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