(ORDO NEWS) — The Roman city, which stood on the site of the capital of modern Andalusia, was exposed to a devastating natural phenomenon at the beginning of the 3rd century AD.
In the 1970s, in Ecija, a city in the Spanish province of Seville, archaeologists discovered two Roman inscriptions made on tablets dating back to 245-253 AD.
They say that the emperor of that time exempted the Roman province of Baetica from taxes (roughly corresponds to modern Andalusia, a region in southern Spain). But what was the reason for the imperial mercy remained a mystery.
In a new study published in the journal Natural Science in Archeology , an international team of scientists led by Mario Gutiérrez-Rodríguez from the University of Jaen (Spain) offered their explanation for the ancient riddle.
Researchers claim that a giant tsunami that began in the Gulf of Cadiz hit the land, destroyed numerous coastal settlements and reached Seville – although it is located tens of kilometers from the sea coast. This discovery was made after excavations and study of a public building from the Roman era.
The work says that in 400 BC, the Atlantic Ocean formed a large lagoon, known in antiquity as Lacus Ligustinus, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River – now it is Las Marismas, the coastal swamps of the Andalusian lowland. Today, the mouth of the Guadalquivir is an estuary up to seven kilometers wide.
About 70 kilometers from the mouth, on both banks of the Guadalquivir, is Seville. A settlement on this site was founded by the Phoenicians as early as the 3rd millennium BC (then it was called Sefele).
And in the middle of the II century BC, the Romans founded the city of Hispalis there, which became the center of the Roman colony. In Roman times, the distance from the sea coast to Hispalis was about 40 kilometers.
Guadalquivir became the key to the prosperity of Hispalis. The river was large enough that medium-sized ships carrying minerals, oil, wines and other goods could reach not only Hispalis, but also further inland, to modern Alcala del Rio (about 16 kilometers from Seville).
The Seville port itself was quite large: its length exceeded a kilometer, about 18 thousand tons of goods per year passed through it.
From 2009 to 2014, a group of archaeologists carried out excavations on the territory of one of the Seville squares. Archaeological layers from the 9th century BC to the 13th century AD have been excavated. Among the finds is a well-preserved Roman public building built during the Late Republic (60-30 BC).
The building surrounded a central courtyard with a gallery of columns in its southern part. Scholars have identified this site as a commercial and administrative building associated with the river port of Hispalis.
Analyzing the ruins of the building, the first group of archaeologists who studied this object came to the conclusion that the ancient structure was slightly repaired several times during the Flavian dynasty (end of the 1st century AD).
But later, under the Sever dynasty, between 200 and 225 AD, it was seriously rebuilt. According to the researchers, then there was “a widespread destruction of architectural remains, [and] most of the southern walls, apparently, were displaced from their original position [by an external force], always in the same direction, to the northwest.”
At that time, archaeologists ruled out a tsunami for two main reasons: because the site is six meters above sea level, and the distance between Hispalis and the coast of the Gulf of Cadiz, into which the Guadalquivir flows, is too great for a tsunami.
In other words, for a building to be destroyed by a tsunami, it had to be larger than anything recorded so far.
The authors of the new work decided that a conclusion based on a visual analysis of the object was not enough, so they conducted an interdisciplinary study that combined macro- and micro-scale methods and techniques.
The scientists used carbon-14 dating, micromorphology, mineralogy, geochemistry, micropaleontology, ultraviolet fluorescence microscopy, accelerator mass spectrometry, and other techniques to re-examine the site and find new answers.
They found that many architectural elements (shards of marble, pieces of tiles, etc.) did not belong to this building: it was built from other materials and using other technologies.
Most likely, these architectural details got into the building as a result of the tsunami, and then remained in place due to the flood. According to the authors of the report, the flood occurred between 197 and 225.
In addition, scientists have found the remains of marine fauna and traces of plants characteristic of the Guadalquivir estuary, in which the fresh water of the river mixes with the salty water of the Atlantic.
This confirms their conclusion that the city, so far from the coast, was the victim of a tsunami and subsequent flooding: the waters of the Guadalquivir receded, pushed by high-energy sea waves.
According to the researchers, this explains the mystery that we mentioned at the very beginning: why the emperors gave Baetica the status of prouincia immunis – that is, a province exempt from taxes. According to scientists, this status was most often assigned after natural disasters – for example, a tsunami.
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