October 30, 2020

Benidorm, at the time of Quinto Sertorio | Culture

Benidorm, at the time of Quinto Sertorio | Culture

A few years before the political, historical and military career of Julius Caesar, to Lucio Cornelio Sila Felix (Sila) the Roman Senate named him dictator, and the first thing he did was try to finish with Fifth Sertorius, a general (legatus) that was his enemy and dominated with his legions the strategic Hispania in the 70s before Christ. For this, Sila sent his two best commanders, Metelo Pio (79 BC) and Pompey (76 BC), to kill the rebel and destroy his armies. They succeeded, but this action forever changed the orography and urbanism of the current province of Alicante. The professor of Archeology at the University of Alicante Feliciana Sala Selles and her team have discovered it.

The Ministry of Economy and the Levantine university center bet on two archaeological research projects seven years ago. Numerous Iberian villages stretched along the north coast of the province and had not been sufficiently studied. The only major research actions had been carried out in the 1920s, 1943, 1956 and 1986.

Recreation of a Sertorian soldier on the top of the Tossal de la Cala giving notice of the passage of a senatorial ship to the Cilician pirates hidden behind the Cay de Benidorm.
Recreation of a Sertorian soldier on the top of the Tossal de la Cala giving notice of the passage of a senatorial ship to the Cilician pirates hidden behind the Cay de Benidorm.

The team of Sala, before starting the prospections, reviewed all the archaeological museums of Alicante, municipal archives and, even, old photography shops. To his surprise, they found documents and pieces that fit like a puzzle. The result was spectacular: what was believed until now Iberian sites were nothing more than castellums or castella (strong) Romans and that these, in turn, had led to settlements that coincided with such well-known places as Benidorm, Denia, Calpe or Moraira. The archaeologist Father José Belda had already said it at the beginning of the last century ("There are enormous cyclopean stones in Benidorm", he affirmed), but nobody believed him. Until now.

Cut off supplies from Rome

At the end of the first century before Christ, the Iberian world was diluted by the Roman pressure that dominated the Peninsula. The Romans, in turn, were divided by the civil war between Sila and Sertorio, mainly in Lusitania and in the valleys of the Ebro and Duero. Sala's studies have shown that the war also spread through the current province of Alicante, where Sertorio decided to raise a row of castellums off the coast of Ibiza. Why should the conflict take place inside? To prevent supplies from Rome to reach the generals of Sila. As the ships laden with arms and food had to pass between Alicante and the island, the troops of Sertorio were waiting for them there.

It is true that Sertorio did not have any ships, so he reached an agreement with the Cilician pirates (who had settled in Denia) to capture any Roman galley they saw in the distance. Thanks to this agreement, their castellum they were filled day after day with vessels of oil, wine or crockery that were, in principle, intended for their enemies.

Benidorm, in the time of Fifth Sertorio

"It did not make sense," Sala explains, "that we found so many Roman remains in the settlements that they were always thought to be Iberians (in Moraira, for example, up to 40 amphorae). Until we discovered that they never had been. They were totally Roman. " These always rose in coves and in the mouths of ravines and had all the same extension: half hectare. In addition, all could connect visually by bonfires, with which the information passed from one point to another of the thing in a very short time.

One of the most remarkable was the one that was raised on a promontory of 104 meters of altitude (Tossal de Cala) – it still exists although surrounded by skyscrapers among the current ones Benidorm and Finestrat. That was where Father Belda assured to see the big stone blocks found. The excavations of the University of Alicante have shown that he was right: he unearthed an authentic Roman barracks, with its rooms for soldiers and officers, and its defensive wall of almost a meter wide.

In the end, the Cilicians wanted more than Sartorius offered them. An embassy of his king Mitriades VI docked in Denia in 75 BC. Claimed half of the land in Roman hands. But Sertorio, who at heart was the son of Rome, refused. That caused that, little by little, its power diminish and that it lost one by one its forts. Until only Peña del Águila remained. There their legions hoped to be rescued by some faithful ship, but this one never arrived, reason why they were annihilated by the soldiers of Pompeyo.

Wall of manpostería of the fort of the Penya de l'Águila (Dénia).enlarge photo
Wall of manpostería of the fort of the Penya de l'Águila (Dénia).

About fifteen years ago, a young Dutchman leaned against one of the defensive walls that Sertorio had erected on Mount Mongó, in Denia. The stones collapsed and three pieces of gold appeared, which were soon described as a choker and two torques (bracelets) of an Iberian trousseau. But the experts were wrong: they were the decorations in gold that the last soldiers of Sertorio received for their defense of the castellum. They had hidden them because they knew they were going to die. Today you can see them at the MARQ Museum in Alicante.


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