Gaius Coelius and the confusing inscription

C(aius) COELIUS ATISI F(ilius) (duum)VIR QUIN(quennalis) MUR(os) TURRES PORTAS FAC(iendas) COER(auit).

Gaius Coelius, son of Atisius, Quinquennial Duumvir, ordered walls, turrets and doors built.

Above you have a reference about one of the oldest inhabitants of Barcino: Gaius Coelius, the Quinquennial Duumvir who ordered built the first walls, doors and turrets of Barcino. You can see it at the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia (MAC) in Barcelona.

Duumvirs came in pairs (duum + viri; thank you, etymology) and were the high magistrates in Roman cities, both in Italy and the provinces. They are well documented, and a special category are the Duumviri Quinquennales, elected every 5 years and who were in charge of the census. It was a high-level position.

This is the one and only mention we have of him. It has been speculated that the lack of Cognomen and the name of the father point to a Celtic origin, or that he could be part of those legionary families who were rewarded with becoming local elite in new cities, such as Barcino. That would be it, as we don’t have much more to explain, if it wasn’t because where and how this inscription was found has created a conundrum over the past 100 years.

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What’s in a name?

Colonia Iulia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino

The inscription above is the one and only found with the whole name of Barcino, and you can see it at the Museum of Barcelona History (MUHBA). It’s from the 2nd century CE and as of today it’s pretty established this was the most usual name for the city. It’s quite a long name, but its meaning can tell us a lot. Let’s get started.

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Introduction & links

Recreation of Barcino. Sàpiens Magazine

We don’t have a specific foundation date for Barcino, although historians cite around 10 b.c.e. You can, however, pick a legendary founder hero between Hercules or Hamilcar Barca. Not bad. We do know that there are evidences of Roman structures related to trade quite early, that the Romans really got serious about the territory 218 BCE when they arrived at Empúries during the Punic Wars. (I’m not getting into that, except for the bits that involve Barcelona, that’s what podcasts are for, pick your choice between Mike Duncan‘s History of Rome or Jamie Redfern‘s A history of Hannibal). The whole thing went pretty good for the Romans, who ended up ruling the whole Iberian Penninsula. Delenda est Carthago and all that.

We don’t really know what was going on in Barcelona during those times, but by 14 CE, Colonia Julia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino (or Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Barcino) was well established and official. The name Colonia tells us that it was created to settle roman legionaries, like many other cities around the empire. Augusta means that it was formalised during Augustus reign. The other stuff… Stay tuned for next post. The city was not that big, the important one was Tarraco (modern day Tarragona), who had the “Imperial” name, the famous inhabitant (Scipio Africanus), the cool mentions in the sources, and the big buildings. It was the capital of the province, after all.

Barcino was middle of the road for a long time. It had some famous people during the Flavian dynasty (we’ll talk about that), but things didn’t become really interesting for the place until much later, when the Roman Empire had already fragmented, and from there it became an important city. If you come here, the Roman stuff is not your priority, you want to see the Sagrada Familia & the rest of the Modernism buildings or perhaps some of the Gothic quarter.

But if you walk around the old city, you will see that a lot of the structures belonging to the Royal Palace, the Cathedral or the Bishop’s palace are built on either the Roman Wall itself or Roman buildings, as you see on the picture. You may also find some columns of a temple. Or lots of signs in shops saying “Roman remains inside”. Because Barcino is all there, under layers of newer buildings, a shape that you can still see in an aerial view. There is enough for me to write for a while.

There is also a lot of material published, although the majority is not in English. It can be split in 3 categories:

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Mirābile Dictū in English

As you may have noticed, this blog is in Catalan. Well, and some Latin too. However, given that I can also write in English, I thought it would be nice to throw in some content in that language. At first I thought about translating some of the podcast or book reviews, as I’m going to review mostly English content. However, I don’t really like translating, and I’d end up bored.

So I needed to find something different that could be of interest to potential readers. I am writing mostly for myself, but at the same time I’m posting this on the internet, so I’ve tried to find a niche to fill. Here it is: Barcino. It fits the theme of the blog, I live in the place, and I think the English posts might be of some use because I have access to local sources and most of the documentation is not in English.

I’ll write on where to find the sources (how very librarian of me) and then… well, I’ll read and review some of them & the information they cover. I have access to both popular and academic content and there is quite a lot of open access material that I can sift through and summarise.

I want to do good research but this is not an academic blog and I’m not in the business of doing literature reviews or writing a dissertation, so if you have ended up here and you have to do your own academic work, be warned that my content has not been been peer reviewed. However, the sources are legit and I’m a librarian with a degree in humanities working in the world of academic publishing. Still, this is my hobby, not my job. End of the caveat.

There might be mentions of later periods, due to the layout of archaeological remains and there is also the fascinating theme of reception across time, especially in the early 19th and early 20th centures, when most of the remains were discovered. Still, the theme stands. Colonia Iulia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino. My hometown.

You should expect monthly updates, but as this is just an introduction, you’ll get another one tomorrow, an intro to the city & a list of places, sources & websites.

Let’s get started and see how far we go!

Image credit