The Romans in Leon

Present-day Léon is a quite magical city – the Romans did a good thing when, around 29BC, the Legio VI Victrix created a military camp, the beginning of today’s city. On this day we set out to find Roman Leon in Spain.

The Romans in Leon

Servio Sulpicio Galba,  the Governor of Spain (Hispania Tarragonense), brought together two legions in Léon from 74 AD. The legions were the Legio VI Victrix and now the Legio VII Gemina was added, considerably expanding the encampment. His bust is in the Roman Museum, just inside the Puerta Castillo.

The Roman Museum

Inside the Roman Museum of Leon
Inside the Roman Museum of Leon
The Roman encampment in Leon
Model of the Roman encampment
The Puerta Castillo, Leon
The Puerta Castillo in the Roman walls

The uniforms of the soldiers were incredibly heavy and must also have been very hot in the summer. The temperature in Leon in October was 24C – can you imagine the heat in July and August? The shoes seems particularly ‘slight’ for the miles the soldiers tramped. And living quarters were crowded.

There is a display of gladiator ‘costumes’ which is interesting but which I also found quite shocking. Essentially these were men, armed in different ways, who set out to kill one another. The Provocator was most like a soldier; the Retiario fought with a net and a trident; and then there was Commodus, a Caesar who dressed in a lion skin and fought with a club – bizarre.

Roman gladiators
Commodus

Refreshments in Leon

Of course all this research is hard work, but fortunately Léon is also blessed with endless cafés and bars and this particular establishment in the Plaza Santo Martino, near to the Museum and the Basilica of San Isidoro provided very good chocolate sponge cake with morning coffee!

Coffee in the Plaza San Marin
Refreshments in the Plaza San Martin

Once suitably fortified, one can continue exploring! The Park of El Cid is just down the road from the Roman Museum and the Basilica of San Isidoro, and alongside the Roman Wall and here is part of a Roman water conduit found at the Puerta Castillo. Apparently the remains of an aqueduct have been found NW of the city, but I can’t find any further information.

Roman walls
The Roman Wall alongside the Park of El Cid
Remains of a Roman water conduit
The remains of a Roman water conduit in the Park of El Cid

And not very far away is the position of the former West Gate of the encampment. Poor photograph but my only one!

The position of the former West Gate of Leon at the bottom of the Calle Ancha

Some days seemed harder work than others and on this day there was also a little snack in the Plaza San Martin! Squid, morcilla (looks ghastly but tastes delicious), ham, peppers and a little beer!

As you walk past the Cathedral there is a fenced-off section in the paving. Do investigate, because a stair leads down to a display and excavation of the East Gate of the Roman City.

The Cathedral of Leon with the fenced entry to an underground excavation and display
The Cathedral of Leon with the fenced entry to an underground excavation and display

I felt we were only beginning to understand the Romans in this wonderful city and next time I think we should take a guided tour.