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Landmark Find: Spanish Archaeologists Locate Long-Lost Janus Augustus Arch

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German archaeologists were close to a major find in the 1980s, but it took another three decades before the ruins of the long-lost Janus Augustus Arch have finally been unearthed. A team of Spanish researchers have now found the elusive monument in Mengíbar, Jaén, Spain.

National Geographic reports that the arch marked the beginning of the province Baetica in Hispania and was “kilometer zero” of the Via Augusta in Roman Baetica. Crossing over 1,500 km (932 miles), the Via Augusta was the longest Roman road in Hispania. It weaved a path from the Pyrenees Mountains all the way to Cadiz, in the south of Spain.

“Thanks to this find, you can pinpoint down to the last centimeter where you are on the Via Augusta – the main road through Baetic Hispania that leads to Rome in one direction and to the Atlantic in Cádiz in the other. It was a way of measuring distance and a reference point,” Juan Pedro Bellón, researcher and head of the Iliturgi Project at Jaén University (UJA), said.

Remains of the Via Augusta in Sagunto. (Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez/CC BY SA 3.0)

Remains of the Via Augusta in Sagunto. (Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez/CC BY SA 3.0)

A team from the German Archaeological Institute made several attempts to find the arch in the 1980s and reports the researchers were close to the location where the arch has finally been found.

Manuel Molinos, director of the University Institute of Iberian Archeological Research of the UJA, has touted the Janus Augustus Arch discovery a major find, saying:

“it’s being called one of the most important discoveries in the last few decades as it relates to the end of the Iberian world and the start of Rome’s presence.”

Bellón also explored another aspect of the discovery, suggesting that the arch was more than just a simple monument in Roman times. He said, “It’s interesting too to think that people would have carried out certain rituals here in order to cross the border. This arch marked a sacred frontier in the area and there would have been an awareness of crossing this.”

The Arch of Bará, north of Tarragona, was also on the Via Augusta. (CC BY SA 3.0)

The Arch of Bará, north of Tarragona, was also on the Via Augusta. (CC BY SA 3.0)

It has taken time, but now archaeologists state they’ve unearthed the two bases of the Janus Augustus Arch. Bellón said archaeologists have been able to identify some details on the style, order, proportions, and modules of the arch, even though they only have fragments to work with.

They estimate that the monument measured between 6-7 meters tall (19.69-22.97 ft.), 15 meters wide (49.2 ft.), and four meters (13 ft.) deep. It was built from local sandstone during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus. El País reports that Bellón believes that the rest of the remains of the arch may have been used in the construction of Mengibar Tower, a 13th century Arabic fort.

Remains of the Janus Augustus arch. (UJA)

Augustus has been credited with having given a large amount of time, attention, and money to the expansion of Roman roads across the empire. He realized that easier access between locations meant a facilitation in trade and trade means money.

Cameo of the emperor Augustus. (Public Domain)

So that explains the Augustus part of the Janus Augustus Arch’s name. You may be wondering now about Janus. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings. He was a doorkeeper of their heavens and thus has been linked to portal, doors, and arches. The Conversation explains some of his significance for the ancient Romans:

“Janus assumed a key role in all Roman public sacrifices, receiving incense and wine first before other deities. This was because, as the doorkeeper of the heavens, Janus was the route through which one reached the other gods, even Jupiter himself. The text On Agriculture, written by Cato the Elder, describes how offerings would be made to Janus, Jupiter, and Juno as part of the pre-harvest sacrifice to ensure a good crop.”

Bust of the god Janus, Vatican museum, Vatican City. (Public Domain)

Bust of the god Janus, Vatican museum, Vatican City. (Public Domain)

Returning to the Janus Augustus Arch, Andalucía información says that the team is exploring the area around the arch with georadar to see if they can pinpoint the existence of a temple. So far, Bellón said they’ve dug up “ornamental remains and decorative vegetable molds.”

The researchers have also begun the process to see if they can have the arch recognized as a World Heritage Site. Bellón has stressed the importance and possible dangers of the find, stating, “This is not simply of local significance. It has international repercussions. These are the remains of a Roman road that has lasted 2,000 years and we want to raise awareness of its significance. If it’s not properly protected, a tractor could remove it in no time.”

Top Image: Source: A researcher at the remains of the Janus Augustus Arch. Source: UJA

By Alicia McDermott

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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