This was the logistics center of Rome in Madrid just before the fall of the empire

It was in 1982 when the mayor of the municipality of San Martín de la Vega (Madrid) and the researcher Magdalena Barril Vicente climbed up two rocky plateaux, about 100 meters high, on the right bank of the Jarama River. There they found some ceramic fragments dating back to places as far away as Africa and times as disparate as the Roman Empire or the Middle Ages. The objects therefore pointed to an occupation of the place for centuries. Between 2015 and 2016, other archaeologists returned to the double knoll and, through the use of aerial photography and LiDAR laser technology, determined that it was a settlement of about 10 hectares (similar to 10 football fields) surrounded by a powerful wall from which its name was unknown, despite its large size and having been occupied well into the Middle Ages. Now, the study SLate ancient Mediterranean igillatas in a Madrid site: La Marañosa, the specialists Luis Carlos Juan Tovar, from the Society for the Study of Ancient Ceramics in Hispania; Javier Martínez-González, Alfonso Martínez Requejo and Pablo Gutiérrez de León, all from the Complutense University, give an answer to the reason for this miscellany of ceramic elements from such diverse times and places in a solitary hill in Madrid: it was a very powerful point of commercial distribution, a kind of logistics center that functioned just as Rome was disappearing and the world was heading towards the Middle Ages.

Until now, it was thought that the arrival of products from the Mediterranean, especially from Africa and the East, to the interior of the peninsula during late antiquity (the passage from the Ancient to the Middle Ages, between the 5th and 6th centuries) was limited to a few “examples anecdotal”. In fact, it was believed that Recópolis (a Visigothic city about 70 kilometers from San Martín de la Vega) was, between the 7th and 8th centuries, the great import center from which this type of much-needed ceramic material was supplied to the kingdom. But of the previous centuries, nothing was known about it.

Prospecting carried out on the slopes of the La Marañosa deposit between 2015 and 2016 showed that this fortified settlement was a “central place, a focal point for consumption”. “The elites who resided in it were part of supralocal and local commercial networks, as suggested by the variety and quality of products found, including glass containers, amphorae or millstones of volcanic origin intended for grinding,” the authors state. . Likewise, archaeologists have found certain elements, such as large ashlars, that seem to indicate the presence of prestigious buildings within this community.

View of the late-antique site of La Marañosa (San Martín de la Vega, Madrid).
View of the late-antique site of La Marañosa (San Martín de la Vega, Madrid).Javier Martinez-Gonzalez

In view of the rich variety of products detected, La Marañosa could have been operating since the first half of the 5th century and throughout the 6th century as a redistribution center for imported products, it seems to indicate the terra sigillata Late Hispanic (Roman luxury tableware) found. “What we can say with some certainty, based on the remains found, is that we are facing a site of exceptional importance to understand the transition from the late empire to late antiquity in the center of the Peninsula, one of the largest castrate [asentamientos fortificados] known in the interior of Hispania, a center of power, but comparable in population to the capital Recópolis or Toletum [Toledo, la capital del reino godo]Yes, at least with enough economic power to assume the importation of a wide and rich variety of products from the most diverse origins, “says the study.

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Continuing with the investigation, between 2021 and 2022, the team of María del Rosario Cebrián Fernández, Manuel Retuerce and Javier Martínez-González, from the Faculty of Geography and History of the Complutense University of Madrid, carried out a systematic survey on the two hills, which are located on land protected by the Ministry of Defence, which has allowed their conservation. The aim was to identify possible structures that could still exist and to give greater chronological precision to the archaeological materials of the great castrum of La Marañosa.

Centuries of occupation

The results obtained have allowed us to find an outstanding set of materials, among which prestigious elements stand out, such as glass or imported ceramics, acquired at medium and long distances, which testify to an occupation at least from the middle of the 5th century to medieval times. Christian (12th century), in discontinuous sequence. The height to which the castrum above the level of the river allowed it to have a wide visual control of the lands of the Jarama plain, while its wall, located on the northernmost hill, gave it powerful protection to protect its population and stored products.

According to the study, it had at least one access door located to the east of the enclosure. The surveys have also made it possible to specify the successive occupations of these hills, which include objects from the Middle Paleolithic (between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago), the Bronze Age (between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago), the Second Iron Age IV-II BC), the High Empire (1st century), the Islamic phase, from the 9th to the 11th century, and a presence that reaches the Low Middle Ages (14th century), apart from the late antiquity period.

Panoramic view of the fertile plain of the Jarama River from the La Marañosa site.
Panoramic view of the fertile plain of the Jarama River from the La Marañosa site.Alfonso Vigil-Escalera Guirado

In total, there are more than three hundred ceramic fragments found from different periods. Of all of them, those of African and Phocaean origin (Phocaea, Asia Minor) stand out, also dating from late antiquity. “Despite the humble aspect of the materials, their small number and their fragmentation, their significance in this territory is truly extraordinary”, including terra sigillata African, from the 6th century, produced in the workshops of Sidi Khalifa in the north of present-day Tunisia.

In 578, the Visigoth king Leovigild ordered the construction of Recópolis, a palatine city in what is now Zorita de los Canes (Guadalajara), which “was considered a paradigm of African imports in the Visigoth kingdom, quantitatively and qualitatively, in terms of trade refers”, between the end of the 6th century and the 7th. However, there remained a gap of a century and a half, at least, of possible commercial relations, a period on which now, thanks to La Marañosa, new light can be shed, although, for the time being, the name of the great commercial city is unknown. of a collapsing world.

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