A small child, curls bobbing on a head she’s forgotten to cover with the sunhat her mother insists on, crouches down on a Roman mosaic floor in north-east Spain. Mesmerised by the purity of the black and white pattern, the craftsmanship and the tiny marble squares, she almost doesn’t hear her father calling her to the next one.
Jumping up, she eagerly runs to him, babbling questions like many eleven year olds do: who were the people who lived here, what were they called, what did they do, where have they gone?
The father, a numismatist and senior ‘Roman nut’, starts telling her about the Greek town of Emporion founded 575 BC which became Roman Emporiæ in 218 BC, where traders sailed in and out with their cargoes of olive oil, wine, textiles, glass and metals; where people lived in higgledy-piggeldy houses, traded from little shops; where the Roman army based its operations; where money was minted. And the people came from every corner of the Roman Empire to live and work. Boys went to schools and girls learnt to be good wives and mothers.
The little girl listens carefully to every word, sifting the information. Her hand in his, she turns as they leave, looks back at the mosaics and asks her father a final question.
“What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?”
Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain that day – yes, I was that little girl – maybe I was just a precocious kid asking a smartass question.
But clever man, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”
Forty-odd years later, INCEPTIO was published.
Ampurias, now officially Empúries in Catalan, was a town on the north east Mediterranean coast of Catalonia, Spain. It was founded in 575 BC by Greek colonists from Phocaea with the name of Ἐμπόριον (Emporion, meaning “trading place”, cf. emporion). Situated as it was on the coastal commercial route between Massalia (Marseille) and Tartessos in the far south of Hispania, the city developed into a large economic and commercial centre as well as being the largest Greek colony in the Iberian Peninsula.
After the conquest of Hispania by the Romans, Empúries remained an independent city-state. However, in the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar, it opted for Pompey (bad choice), and after his defeat it was stripped of its autonomy. A colonia of Roman veterans, named Emporiae, was established nearby to control the region.
From that time onwards, Empúries began to decline, obscured by the power of Tarraco (Tarragona) and Barcino (Barcelona). At the end of the 3rd century, it became one of the first cities in Spain to admit Christian evangelists. In that century, too, the Greek town was abandoned while the Roman town survived as a mint and the largely ceremonial seat of a coastal county, Castelló d’Empúries. In the Early Middle Ages, its exposed coastal position left it open to marauders, particularly Vikings in the mid 9th century, and the town was eventually abandoned.
More here about today’s Empúries http://www.mac.cat/esl/Sedes/Empuries
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