You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Greek walls (above) and harbour (below) of ancient Emporiae
From Figueras there is a wild and
picturesque riding route into France,
along the coast of the Gulf of Rosas.
On one side Castellon de Ampurias, now
a miserable ruined fishing hamlet, is
all that remains of the ancient commercial Emporiae, Emporium. This colony of the Phocean Greeks from Marseille, founded
550 B.C., became the rendezvous of
Asia and Europe. It traded then in
linen as now in calico. The Iberians
beheld these foreign settlers with great
jealousy, and after many contests came
to a singular compromise: the Greeks
were allowed to occupy the island rocks, but their city, Paleopolis, was divided from the Iberian
town by a party wall, which was regularly guarded as in a case of siege, all intercommunication being cut off. The
Romans, when Spain was conquered,
broke down the barrier, and united
the two portions under their paramount authority.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
Southern walls of the Greek town (IInd century BC)
The sites of the Greek town and of the Roman one are clearly identifiable; the former along the sea and the latter on slightly higher ground to the west. The remains of the Greek town however are mainly of the period which followed the Roman conquest of Emporiae during the Second Punic War.
(left) Archaeological Museum of Catalonia - Empuries branch: detail of a Greek vase depicting a satyr; (right) Archaeological Museum of Catalonia - Barcelona branch: Etruscan vase from Empuries (IVth century BC)
Initially the Greeks founded their settlement on an islet (today the site of Sant Marti d'Empuries outside the archaeological area) then they built a second settlement on the mainland near an Iberian village. Eventually these three locations became collectively known as Emporion, the Greek word for trading centre. Some of the exhibits in the local museum show the trading links of Emporion before the Roman conquest.
Asklepion in the Greek town (IInd century BC) with a cast of a statue in the local museum which is known as the "Asclepius of Empuries", but perhaps it does not portray the Greek god
Asclepius, Greek god of Medicine to whom a famous shrine was dedicated at Epidaurus was highly regarded by the Romans too who built a temple to him on Isola Tiberina. The temple at Emporiae might have had facilities for medical treatment similar to those at the Asklepion of Pergamum.
The concourse of invalids to this temple was almost without number or cessation. They passed the night there to invoke the Deity, who communicated remedies, either in dreams or by the mouths of his priests, who distributed drugs and performed chirurgical operations.
James Dallaway - Constantinople Ancient and Modern with Excursions to the Shores of the Islands of the Archipelago and to the Troas - 1797.
Serapeum in the Greek town (Ist century BC)
The worship of Serapis and Isis spread to the whole Roman Empire after the conquest of Egypt by Emperor Augustus. The temple to Serapis however might have been built by merchants from Egypt who already lived at Emporiae. Contrary to the accounts by many early Christian writers the Romans had a tolerant approach towards the gods who were worshipped in the countries they conquered and they often included them in their pantheon. So did Emperor Hadrian who built a temple to Serapis in his villa at Tivoli.
(left) Cisterns; (right) water filters
Evidence of an aqueduct supplying the town with water has not been found and only one public fountain has been identified. A number of public and private cisterns were used to store rainwater and that of a nearby small stream. The long and tall cylindrical jars which have been found in the Greek town were most likely used to filter the water of the stream with sand or gravel.
"Opus signinum" (aka "cocciopesto") floor with a name written in Greek
What is there that human industry will not devise? Even broken pottery has been utilized; it being found that, beaten to powder, and tempered with lime, it becomes more solid and durable than other substances of a similar nature; forming the cement known as the "Signine" composition, so extensively employed for even making the pavements of houses.
Pliny the Elder - Historia Naturalis - Book XXXV:46 (translation by John Bostock and Henry T. Riley)
A similar floor with an inscription can be seen at Italica; they both are decorated with a Greek key pattern.
Main/southern gate of the Roman Town and Cardo Maximus behind it
In the early IInd century BC the Romans built a military fort which eventually developed into a civilian settlement which was entirely redesigned in ca 100 BC. It had the traditional rectangular shape of a Roman town with a very long Cardo Maximus, north-south street. It was clearly separated from the original Greek settlement until towards the end of the Ist century BC when the two neighbourhoods were united into the municipium of Emporiae, which enjoyed a degree of self-government.
Site of the Forum
The site of the Forum of Emporiae has been identified. A long rectangular square was surrounded by a portico and it had a Basilica on the eastern side and a Capitolium on the northern one. Only the foundations of these buildings still exist (you may wish to see the Capitolium of Thugga, a Roman town in Tunisia, and the Basilica of Pompeii).
(left) Cryptoporticus in the Forum and a detail of a relief depicting the leg of an animal; (right) floor mosaics near the Forum
The Capitolium was adjoined by a two-storey building which had an underground passageway which has been partially reconstructed. The fact that so little has been found of the above-ground ancient structures of the Forum is most likely due to the fact that Emporiae greatly declined in the early IInd century AD, perhaps because of the silting of the harbour. It thus became an open air quarry much earlier than other Roman towns.
"Calidarium" (hot room) of the Roman baths with evidence of its heating system
Notwithstanding the lack of an aqueduct the inhabitants of Emporiae could enjoy the benefit of spending some hours at a bath establishment which was located near the main point of access to the Roman neighbourhood from the Greek one. It appears that the baths were in use until the IIIrd century AD.
Large house with (much restored) floor mosaics
The best preserved part of the Roman town is a residential quarter near the baths with some fine black and white geometric floor mosaics. These were very popular in Rome, rather less in most provinces of the Empire (you may wish to see those at Villa di Livia and at Villa Adriana and rich collections of coloured mosaics in the Museum of Bardo in Tunis and in that of Antioch).
Site of the amphitheatre outside the Roman wall
Archaeological excavations began in the early XXth century, but large areas of the ancient town and of its immediate environs are yet to be investigated. It is very likely that the town had a theatre and perhaps also a circus, but for the time being only the site of an amphitheatre has been identified. Because near Emporiae no important towns developed in the Middle Ages of afterwards it is likely that the stones of the ancient monuments were transported by ship to far away locations along the coast.
Christian basilica in the Greek town (IVth-VIIth century)
The Goths used Emporiae kindly,
and raised it to a bishopric. Ford
A number of Bishops of Emporiae are recorded among the participants to councils held at Tarragona. The diocese was not re-established after the Christians reconquered the area in the late VIIIth century. In the Xth century a new town (Castellon d'Empuries) was founded on a hill some miles inland and it shortly became the main centre of the region which was known as County of Empuries.
The image used as background for this page shows a Christogram on a fragment of a sarcophagus in the local museum.
The fragments of the Asclepius of Empuries were found in 1909. They were united in order to form a statue of a bearded god who was identified as Asclepius because of other pieces depicting a serpent which were found in the same area. Today the accuracy of this reconstruction is challenged chiefly because the lower part of the statue is made of Pentelic marble whereas the upper part is made of marble from Paros. The two sections might have belonged to different statues of the same size. You may wish to see statues of Asclepius which were found in Rome showing the serpent-entwined rod of the god.
Archaeological Museum of Catalonia - Empuries branch: (left) Altar of the Cock (Ist century AD); (inset) rear side; (right) two "oscilla"
The altar was found inside one of the houses which were decorated with black and white mosaics. The cock is a symbol of Mercury (see a mosaic at Pompeii), but when depicted in the same altar with serpents it could be a reference to Asclepius as shown in an altar found at Pergamum.
Oscilla were small marble reliefs which oscillated from the branches of trees during country festivals or in the garden of a Roman house during a party. A fine "oscillum" was found at Baetulo, a Roman town near Barcelona and oscilla are depicted in a mosaic in the main hall of Villa Romana la Olmeda.
(left) Poster of the Mosaic of the Sacrifice of Iphigenia on a building at L'Escala; (right) Archaeological Museum of Catalonia - Empuries branch: image of the mosaic which was being restored in April 2017
The best known mosaic found at Emporiae is advertized in a nearby seaside resort of Costa Brava, a coastal region south of the French border which was identified by Spanish authorities in the 1950s as suitable for becoming a mass holiday destination. The mosaic is actually pretty small (less than two feet wide) and it was found in 1849. It depicts Iphigenia being led to the altar of sacrifice by Ulysses who is identifiable by his pileus, a conical felt cap. The mosaic shows also Artemis with a deer in the upper right corner.
By the craft of Ulysses, they took me from my mother, pretending a marriage with Achilles. I came to Aulis; held up high over the altar, I, the unhappy one, was about to die by the sword; but Artemis gave the Achaeans a deer in exchange for me and stole me from them.
Euripides - Iphigenia in Tauris - translation by Robert Potter
Archaeological Museum of Catalonia - Empuries branch: (above) two small "emblemata" depicting a theatrical mask and a partridge picking jewellery from a box; (inset) an identical mosaic from Pompeii at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples; (below) Christian funerary mosaic
Emblemata (images) were small framed sections of a large floor mosaic having a figurative content; theatrical masks were a very frequent subject for emblemata (see a much finer mosaic found in Rome).
As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.
Jeremiah 17:11 King James Version.
Partridges were ill-reputed also among the Romans although over time in Italy the charge of stealing jewels was associated with magpies, hence La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie), an opera by Gioacchino Rossini.
Some fine mosaic decorated gravestones have been found also at Tarragona, a usage which was typical of the Province of Africa (Tunisia). The gravestone at Empuries was discovered in 2003 outside the town in a medieval church which was built above a previous one. The first line of the inscription with the name of the dead is lost; the last line says he lived "more or less" sixty years which per se is a symptom of the decline of the town in the Vth-VIIth centuries.
Archaeological Museum of Catalonia - Barcelona branch: fragment of a mosaic found at Empuries
This fragment is by far the finest mosaic found at Empuries. It decorated a house and it was discovered in 1912. It very accurately depicts four fishes, a crab, a kingfisher with a shrimp and the antennae of a lobster. A mosaic found at Tarragona depicts 47 sea creatures, but it is not as finely executed as this one.
Archaeological Museum of Catalonia - Girona branch at Sant Pere de Galligants: (above) Sarcophagus of the Seasons from Empuries; (below) detail showing scenes of vintage
This sarcophagus is dated IVth century AD but it is not believed to be a Christian sarcophagus, although a Good Shepherd is depicted on the left side. Under the image of the dead the relief is worn out, but it clearly shows the myth of Selene and Endymion. The decoration of the box portrays personifications of the Four Seasons together with Winged Victories and Genii (a similar sarcophagus at the Museum of Bardo shows the Four Seasons only and the Good Shepherd is a symbol of Winter). The lid is decorated with scenes of vintage on the left and of olive oil making on the right. The scenes of vintage had always been popular and they were not affected by the move to the Christian faith as one can see at S. Costanza in Rome.
Archaeological Museum of Catalonia - Girona branch: (left) capital and altar from Empuries; (centre) altar dedicated to Iovi Optimo Maximo for the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the VIIth Legion by Emperor Galba in 68 AD from Empuries; (right) altar from Mas Castellar, an inland location west of Empuries
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|