Archaeology Odyssey 1:4, Fall 1998

Destinations: Conimbriga, Portugal

Opulent, mosaic-lined villas made this Portuguese site a glamorous outpost of the Roman Empire.

By Julie Skurdenis

Archaeology Odyssey

On a small rocky plateau in central Portugal lie the remains of Conimbriga, one of the Iberian Peninsula’s premier archaeological sites. The city was abandoned in the Middle Ages and largely forgotten until the 1800s. But in Roman times, Conimbriga was an important city, boasting lavish villas and monumental architecture. A grand Roman highway—the ruts of ancient chariot wheels are still visible today—cut through the heart of Conimbriga, stretching north to Bracara Augusta (modern Braga) and south to Felicitas Iulia (modern Lisbon).

Conimbriga was occupied as far back as the eighth century B.C. by a people known to classical authors as the Celtiberians. As their name implies, the Celtiberians were a mixture of the indigenous inhabitants of ancient Portugal and the Celtic tribes that trekked through the western Pyrenees mountains into the Iberian Peninsula. The name Conimbriga memorializes this wedding of cultures: The word conim was probably used by the indigenous (pre-Indo-European) population to signify a plateau, whereas briga is a Celtic suffix meaning fortress.

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