Sertorio against Metellus: the great battle between the Romans comes to light in a town of Teruel | Culture


Excavation of the acropolis of the city of Azaila around 1941.
Excavation of the acropolis of the city of Azaila around 1941.J. Cabré

Hispania was on fire. The Roman armies of Sertorio against the also Roman ones of Pompey and Metellus. Bloody battles in the most diverse places of the Citerior province during the so-called Sertorian wars (82 to 72 BC). The Hispanic peoples – forced – sided with one side or the other. The Iberian who inhabited the town (fortified city) of Cabezo de Alcalá (Azaila, Teruel) he did it in favor of Sertorio. Metellus consequently besieged him. The inhabitants fled terrified before the arrival of the soldiers: there was no mercy with the enemies. Only Romans were left against Romans. Professionals against professionals. The same techniques, the same preparation, the same weaponry. Archaeologists believe that it was Sertorius’s troops, locked in a city with walls up to 12 meters high, fighting against those of Metellus, displaced from Marseilles and in charge of the siege.

The only solution to take the city was, therefore, to create a real headquarters under the citadel and try to break it by means of a technique called The blockade (blocking). But how to assault her? The solution was to create a sloping path (agger), a kind of gigantic staircase of earth and stones, about five meters wide, from the barracks to the town. Soldiers and war machines would come up through it, leading the attack. They have even found the barricades that the defenders erected in the streets to prevent the advance. The study The offensive system and battlefield around the ancient city of Cabezo de Alcalá de Azaila (Teruel). First results, that will appear soon in Magazine Gladius, of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), signed by Francisco Romeo Marugán, an archaeologist from the Government of Aragon, thus gives an answer to an enigma that began in 1868, when the expert Pablo Gil y Gil wondered, for the first time, what all those stone structures scattered at the foot of the river mean. town in the small municipality of Azaila.

The first clue to complete the puzzle was found by the archaeologist Juan Cabré when in 1942 he found “a trench that was partially excavated and the nature of which he could not pinpoint,” says the study. It was a moat 130 centimeters wide and 190 deep and in reality, it has now been known, was part of a system of seven small consecutive moats that defended a large square-plan enclosure.

In 2017, prospecting and remote sensing campaigns were carried out around the acropolis using the latest existing technology. The magnetic research works thus revealed “the presence of a battlefield at their feet; a complex horizon in which the construction of an enclosure of important dimensions stands out [el centro de mando del asedio], and a combat that, given the conservation of the localized remains, necessarily had to mean the destruction of the settlement ”, approximately between 75 and 74 BC. C.

In addition, when analyzing the topographic files of the National Geographic Institute (IGN), it was confirmed that from the “square structure”, about 2.2 hectares in size, a ramp of about five meters wide started that went directly to the southern part of the town; the area with the worst defenses. The drone images also revealed that the city was surrounded by a wall and a moat between 160 and 230 centimeters wide.

Excavation in 1942 of the starting ramp of the siege of the Iberian city of Azaila.
Excavation in 1942 of the starting ramp of the siege of the Iberian city of Azaila.

The study estimates that the artificial access ramp had a slope of 3.21%. Its construction was not easy, since the soldiers of Sertorio fired everything in their reach against those who were building it. “Concentration of slingshot shells, pile catapult [artillería] and battery [jabalinas de los legionarios] it is equally revealing, despite the limited amount of land inspected; the projectiles appear concentrated in the start of the ramp and in the front of the line that seems to encircle the acropolis from the east ”, indicates Romeo.

Reproduction of the heavy 'pilum' made by the company Vida Primitiva, from Azaila.
Reproduction of the heavy ‘pilum’ made by the company Vida Primitiva, from Azaila. Primitive life

The subsequent magnetic prospecting carried out with detectors has allowed, the study reads, “the location of a relevant repertoire of disposable weapons, pieces that tend to remain on the battlefield both for their low value and for their mass production, as well as glans. of sling, darts and coinage related to the army and other usual pieces in the impedimenta ”.

Specifically, in just four hectares, archaeologists have recovered 639 metal pieces, despite the fact that the area has been looted by poachers for decades. Of these objects, 23 are pre-Roman, 275 are Roman-republican, one is medieval, four are modern, 23 are contemporary, 46 are from the Civil War, and another 266 are of indeterminate chronology and function.

Two archaeologists during the detection and location of the remains in Azaila with submetric GPS.
Two archaeologists during the detection and location of the remains in Azaila with submetric GPS.Francisco Romeo

“Among the repertoire of indigenous and Roman-republican pieces, 113 of weapons and 138 other fragments of lead related to the production stand out. in situ of slingshot shells, followed by 16 coins, 6 fibulae and several fragments of metal china for military use ”, recalls Romeo’s study. Among this armament there are also 86 a bullet shot (lead projectiles) together with two impacted and fragmented points of catapulting pile, three of pilay 15 sagitta (arrows) in different state of conservation.

“Unfortunately, none of the recovered pieces had epigraphic remains due to the intense looting that this area has suffered, since projectiles with epigraphy or decoration have more value on the black market. 87.2% of them are clearly impacted ”. In other words, they are the reliable proof of “a war scenario compatible with an attack on the city.”

Of the battery located, there is one that has especially attracted the attention of specialists, because it is “an unprecedented model in the Iberian Peninsula” and that preserves the pressure hub and a large part of its metal spike. “It is”, Romeo emphasizes, “an exceptional piece, since only three similar ones have been recovered in the siege of Alesia”, the battle that faced the Gauls of Vercingetorix with Julius Caesar, in 52 BC C.

Celtiberian coin from the Belikiom mint (Zaragoza) located at the foot of the city.
Celtiberian coin from the Belikiom mint (Zaragoza) located at the foot of the city. Francisco Romeo

Also, a bronze bowl and strainers used by the soldiers and associated with the consumption of wine have been found. Similarly, six fibulae have been recovered, a silver Roman denarius, the first to appear in Azaila after more than a century of excavations, and several indigenous coins, possibly used by Sertorio to pay the troops.

“We are facing a war event that we have only begun to know; a complex system that, for the moment, raises more questions than certainties, as befits a research process in its early stages. It seems clear, therefore, the function of the enclosure, which, far from being a camp or camp in the usual terms, it stands as a command center that appears to preside over the attack on the city. A real assault camp ”, concludes the study.


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