'do as the Romans Do' - Are the Romans Ancestors to the Present-Day Spaniard?

Published: 2021-09-12 20:35:09
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'Do as the Romans do' - are the Romans ancestors to the present-day Spaniard?


With 70.1% of present-day Spaniards identifying themselves as Roman Catholics (Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, 2011), it is logical to assume that Spanish society as a whole has its roots in Roman civilisation. While there is a detailed history of Roman occupation in Hispania (Roman name for present-day Spain and Portugal) and many contributions by the Romans to the Peninsula, Spain also has a vast history of being occupied by many other civilisations. The Romans ruled Spain for a period of approximately 630 years, from 218 B.C. to 415 A.D. (Payne, 1973), however Spain has also been home to populations such as the Iberians, Celts and Celtiberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Visigoths, and the Moors. The presence of these past civilisations, combined with the population of Jews, the language of the Basque region and the increasing immigration levels in Spain, proves that claiming the Romans as the ancestors of present-day Spaniards to be a problematic and questionable concept.

In truth, present-day Spaniards owe a great deal to the Romans and there are many examples of Roman contributions to the Iberian Peninsula. The initial contributions by the Romans dealt with law and administration. Roman law developed the division between public law, directly involving the state (such as with issues of treason and taxation), and private law, concerned with quarrels between people (such as over contracts). This division provided the basis for the system of civil law and the municipal governments in Spain (Stein, 1999). Castellano, the official language of Spain, is derived from the Latin language of the Roman Empire. The Romans undertook many public work projects, such as the construction of new roads and bridges, to allow the Hispanic people ease of communication and transportation. The innovativeness of Roman aqueducts was a necessity which allowed the expansion of cities in the typical grid-like pattern that can be observed in many present day cities such as Zaragoza, Mérida, Valencia, and León. The strength, size and efficiency of Roman architecture allowed the construction of many theatres, amphitheatres, temples, triumphal arches, and tombs. Mérida contains many of the best examples of Roman contributions to construction, with ruins of the Roman Circus (an ancient chariot racing arena able to accommodate up to 30,000 people), the Roman Theatre (which has remained intact - indicating the longevity of the Roman constructions) and the Mérida Amphitheatre (a UNESCO World Heritage site) indicating the advanced architectural methods for that time period. Finally, the vast majority of the country identifying themselves as Catholics (70.1% - Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, 2011) can also be attributed to being spread by the Romans. With so many contributions to modern Spanish society, it is easy to assume that present-day Spaniards are descended from this influential Roman society.

However, focusing on the Romans and their influence on the present Spanish society is neglecting the earlier inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula. The earliest peoples of Iberia are called Iberians in classical antiquity, this being a blanket term for the Peninsula's inhabitants. These people were not a clearly defined culture or ethnic group, and not all spoke the same language. The Iberians occupied what is now Spain from approximately 2,000 B.C. to 300 A.D. They exploited the mines and mainly worked as farmers. The next group of note in the Peninsula were the Celts. The Celts settled in the northwest of Iberia in approximately 900 B.C. Celts is a collective term used to describe an ethno-linguistic group of tribal societies in the Iron Age who spoke Celtic languages and had a similar culture (Koch, 2005). Celtiberians is a term coined to describe the Celtic-speaking people of Iberia after marriages between the two peoples. They mainly resided in what is now north-central Spain.

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