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Remote Sensing Technology Uncovers 66 “Hidden” Roman Bases In Spain

Remote Sensing Technology Uncovers 66 “Hidden” Roman Bases In Spain

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Utilizing advanced aerial imaging and state-of-the-art remote sensing techniques, a team of historical and archaeological researchers have been able to chart the location of 66 previously undiscovered Roman bases in Northern Spain . These newly discovered sites have been dated to the end of the first century BC. They reveal the lasting footprints of temporary settlements that were built to support the Roman army’s ongoing campaign to conquer the entire Iberian Peninsula, which the Romans called Hispania. Up until the 1990s AD, only a small number of Roman bases had ever been detected in Northern Spain. This led to speculation that few battles had occurred there and the belief that Rome had never deployed its military en masse in this region. But thanks to the advent of digital sensing capabilities and more precise airborne photographic technology, more and more signs of Roman activity in the area have been revealed. This impressive recent discovery shows that the Romans actually had a major military presence in this part of the Iberian Peninsula.

Roman bases found with high-tech scanning and imaging techniques in the area around Castile, Northern Spain, as published in the recent breakthrough research paper. (RomanArmy.eu)

Roman bases found with high-tech scanning and imaging techniques in the area around Castile, Northern Spain, as published in the recent breakthrough research paper. ( RomanArmy.eu)

High-tech Reveals Extensive Footprint Of Iberian Roman Bases

The material evidence of these Roman bases was long ago destroyed or buried deep under the soil. But the abandoned forts and fortified enclosures , and the people who once occupied them, still left behind subtle traces of human activity that trained observers were able to spot.

“We have identified so many sites because we used different types of remote sensing ,” said Dr. João Fonte , an archaeological researcher from the University of Exeter who participated in the study (the results of which were published in December in the journal Geosciences). “Airborne laser scanning gave good results for some sites in more remote places because it showed earthworks really well. Aerial photography worked better in lowland areas for the detection of cropmarks.”

The Roman bases were found in the foothills of mountainous terrain in northwestern Spain, in the northernmost section of the River Duero Basin.

“The remains are of temporary camps that the Roman Army set up when moving through hostile territory or when carrying out maneuvers around their permanent bases,” Fonte explained. “They reveal the intense Roman activity at the entrance to the Cantabrian Mountains during the last phase of the Roman conquest of Hispania.”

The northern seacoast of Spain lies just over the Cantabrian range on the other side. This means the Spanish indigenous resistance had been pushed back almost as far back as it could go, signaling that the end of their struggle to maintain their independence was near.

The researchers used high-tech aerial scans and imaging to much more easily find what was long ago hidden from sight beneath the soils of Northern Spain. (RomanArmy.eu)

The researchers used high-tech aerial scans and imaging to much more easily find what was long ago hidden from sight beneath the soils of Northern Spain. ( RomanArmy.eu)

The Roman Empire In Hispania

The terrifying scope and vision of the Roman campaign to overrun and rule the Iberian Peninsula is revealed through its astonishing length. The Romans first moved onto the territory currently occupied by Spain and Portugal in 218 BC, and they stayed there until the last remnant of indigenous resistance collapsed in 19 AD.

The Roman motivations for the invasion of Hispania were complex. They certainly included territorial ambitions. The Iberian Peninsula is massive, covering an area of 225,196 square miles (583,254 square kilometers). Gaining unfettered access to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar and coastal settlements was undoubtedly another goal of the Romans, since control of the seas has always been vital for every empire.

They also hoped to secure ample quantities of valuable natural resources, including gold and tin, which they believed could be found in abundance in Hispania. Finally, they used Hispania as a military proving ground, where Roman generals and soldiers could be tested in battle and new or innovative tactics could be tried out, before being used in campaigns against other enemies.

The Roman attitude toward Hispania reveals a young and vigorous imperial power in its prime, filled with self-confidence and self-assurance. They were not intimidated by the challenges of conquering such a large landmass with so many indigenous settlements, which if acting in unity could have presumably formed the core of an effective resistance. They were not discouraged by the unfathomable investment of time (237 years) it required to fully seize control of the peninsula, which only occurred under the authority of the very first Roman Emperor, Augustus, in 19 AD.

Instead, they saw their victory in Hispania as inevitable. The investment of time and loss of life entailed in the centuries-long campaign on the Iberian Peninsula was simply the price of doing business, and more than worth it, if the result was the establishment of an enduring and unconquerable empire that extended all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

And don't forget the ancient Italians left more than Roman bases across Iberia such as this Roman temple still standing in Evora, Portugal. (ho visto nina volare from Italy / CC BY-SA 2.0)

And don't forget the ancient Italians left more than Roman bases across Iberia such as this Roman temple still standing in Evora, Portugal. (ho visto nina volare from Italy / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Uncovering Still More Roman Secrets

The discovery of the ancient Roman bases in Northern Spain offers a snapshot from the distant past, taking us back to a moment in time when final triumph and vindication were near (from the Roman perspective). The Roman invasion had begun in the south of Spain and Portugal more than two centuries earlier, and their massive deployment of soldiers in a concentrated region in the north in the late first century BC made it clear that they were closing in on total victory.

Through detailed analysis of the airborne imagery captured and the three-dimensional models generated from that data, archaeologists and historians will be able to learn more about the specifics of Roman activity in Hispania in the days shortly before the region was annexed into the empire.

Their studies will help fill in some of the blanks that have existed up until this time, giving researchers more insight into the exact nature of Roman military tactics, and the logistical efforts and strategies they relied on to make those tactics work.

Top image: Using advanced aerial imaging and state-of-the-art remote sensing techniques researchers were able to discover long “hidden” Roman bases beneath the soils of Northern Spain.  Source: RomanArmy.eu

By Nathan Falde

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